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INTERVIEW: Jeremy Shaw On Variation FQ
Mat Colegate , May 19th, 2015 17:05

tQ film editor Mat Colegate talks to the director of the Leiomy Maldonado film before Vinyl Factory release its soundtrack

Image courtesy of Jeremy Shaw

Artist and musician Jeremy Shaw's film Variation FQ is a hymn to movement. Consisting of footage of legendary voguer Leiomy Maldonado dancing to the accompaniment of a simple piano-led score, it invites comparison to Norman McLaren's filmed ballet study Pas De Deux, as well as early 20th century studies in kineticism such as Duchamp's Nude Descending A Staircase or Maya Deren's A Study In Choreography For The Camera. Now the Vinyl Factory are releasing the soundtrack - composed by Shaw himself, who used to record under the name Circlesquare for Trevor Jackson's Output Recordings - on a screen printed, limited edition 12". The Quietus sent Shaw a few questions relating to the project.

What was the genesis of the project?

Jeremy Shaw: The film evolved out of a very early experience with a Norman McLaren ballet film from 1968 named Pas de deux. I saw it only once, during a rainy lunch hour in elementary school and yet it stayed with me for years. I may have caught clips of it on TV at some point as well, I'm not sure - but the image of it haunted me. I came across it again during art school and was able to then really scrutinize what the allure had been. Again, quite a few years later I came back to it as a starting point for a work of my own.

What was it that attracted you to Leiomy as a subject?

JS: I had been following Leiomy for years on YouTube - watching hundreds of clips of her at balls over and over, totally enamored with her unique style within the parameters of vogueing. She has these moments where she moves in ways that seem almost inhuman, or superhuman; truly defying expectation and transcending the reality of the moment - it's like she has the ability to manipulate time. I kept thinking about what it would be like to be able to further embellish these moments with media and special effects - to zoom in and amplify and extend them and make this all the more visible.

You're a musician as well and the music was composed by you. Did the images or music come first or was the relationship between the two more symbiotic?

JS: The images came first with this piece. I always had an idea of the type of score Variation FQ would have, but had not written anything until the editing process began. The relationship between image and music and which comes first varies from piece to piece.

What kind of influences go into your music making on a project like this? Or does everything become subservient to the need to serve the film?

JS: Although there is very often a sound component to my visual artwork, it's largely dictated by what is necessary to further the conceptual element of the work. So the influences can vary widely, but they tend to stay focused around pushing the theme rather than simply what I feel might nicely accompany the visuals.

A lot of your work has to do with psychedelia and altered states. Do you see Variations FQ as being in any way psychedelic?

JS: Yes, in the canonical pop sense. To me, Leiomy dances in a way that flips between being totally in control to being completely out of her mind - tapping into these cathartic, transcendent areas. So with Variation FQ there is a already a document of her attainment of altered states that is then embellished further with use of slow motion and step-and-repeat effects - stretching these moments way out and repeating them with ghost-like visual echoes that definitely fit within the common parameters of what is considered 'psychedelic'.

There's a tension in the film between the movements of the dancer and the music. Although there are elements of more traditional 'dance' music that come through - such as the synths and the looped vocals - the overall mood is very restrained. Were you ever tempted to go in a different direction with the piece?

JS: Not really, no. I wanted the bulk of the song to be quite hypnotic and feel like a subtle moment taken from a solo ballet score and looped. This was all recorded mono to tape to keep with the antiquated 16mm sound but then countered with the digitally chopped vocals and trance stabs that break this restraint and build more tension towards the climax of the film.

I've never seen the piece in a gallery, only on a screen. How do you think the experience differs and am I missing anything by not seeing he film in its 'natural' environment?

JS: It differs greatly. It's exhibited on 16mm, so there is an immediate reference to the past from the presence of the projector as well as any personal associations or memories of the viewer. There is an undeniable physicality that comes with seeing/hearing actual film projected now that we are so accustomed to video. A lot of my art is set up working initially with outmoded mediums. I find that this is a very effective way of establishing a comfort or familiarity with the viewer from which I can then subvert. With Variation FQ, the antiquity of the film and its installation paired with the aped aesthetics of this '60s ballet film creates an initial uncertainty as to the film's date of production, which leads to more questioning when the shift in the audio and visuals happens.

How do you see the record that's being released? Is it a memento, an art piece in its own right, or simply a piece of music on vinyl?

JS: I see it like a good soundtrack to any film - a piece of music that can exist on it's own, but that is also connected to your memory of the experience of seeing the film. It's a numbered edition and silk-screened and on heavy white vinyl, so it's definitely a collector's record, but one that I hope will be played and not simply preserved under glass. I grew up a mega-fan of music and the accompanying merchandising of it: shirts, records, posters, zines, books, etc. These are things that I have been actually able to collect and continue to do so. With my visual art, I like to maintain a similar element of this type of merchandising. I almost always have a poster or print or something that accompanies an exhibition that people can take away with them. It's important to me to be able to share my art with people who are interested, not only card-carrying art collectors.

Would you ever be tempted to go back to simply making music?

JS: Well, I've always worked on both simultaneously to varying degrees, I just took a few years off music after ending Circlesquare in 2009. I don't think I would ever be tempted to choose one for the other entirely, but I am definitely more focused on the visual art side these days. That said, Konrad Black and I have started a new project named There in Spirit and we'll be putting out a record sometime soon, so I guess I have gone back to simply making music in a way.

The Variation FQ soundtrack is out tomorrow on Vinyl Factory; head to their website to get hold of it

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