By David Finkelstein | November 5, 2008

In “Monograph in Stereo,” Darrin Martin has used his own experience of hearing loss from a damaged eardrum (and the surgery which attempts to improve his hearing) as a jumping off point for artistic exploration. The video is a collage of many images and sounds: Martin with a big bandage over his head wandering in a field under a power line, a field filled with grazing cows and miniature corners (like the corner where two walls meet the ceiling), pairs of naked legs spread to form a “corner,” and quite a few abstract, computer generated landscapes.

The complex soundscore mixes tones from a hearing test, electronic music, ordinary sounds such as birdsong, and a computer-generated voice reading texts about hearing and perception. As befits a piece about the difficulty of perception, the images are mostly distorted (overlapped, cut in half, slowed down, altered colors), the voices have their pitch altered, the texts are partly unclear, and the sounds form a jumble. The film is divided into several short sections with titles such as “Diagnostic” and “Corner Frequencies.”

Martin succeeds in evoking the altered state caused by an abnormality in one’s perception, but he also succeeds in using his unusual experiences as a catalyst for creating his own visual/sound compositions that are beautiful and fascinating in their own right. The computer-generated images are lovely, and the collage of sounds in the film is beautifully realized, even as it evokes a sense of anxiety.

I was particularly interested in Martin’s images of the “corners,” because I have spent years using eye exercises to improve my own nearsightedness. Looking into the corner of a room is an especially useful technique when working on my distance vision, but apparently corners produced an especially difficult sound situation for Martin, due to his hearing problem.

The film makes clear that the experience of having to relearn how to hear teaches one that perception is not simply a passive act of apprehending what is around one, but is a complex negotiation between inner and outer space. Hearing, like vision, is a very physical process that takes place on the inside of your body. Some of the abstract sections of “Monograph in Stereo” show odd landscapes made of the kind of bumpy foam rubber often used for soundproofing, which create a vivid image of the space inside one’s head where hearing takes place. “Monograph is Stereo” is a beautifully made video, which clearly demonstrates how one can turn an experience which might seem like an unfortunate disability into an opportunity not only to explore consciousness and perception, but also to create new and striking worlds of color, form, and sound.

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