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By David Finkelstein | January 5, 2004

Raymond Salvatore Harmon creates his films by superimposing images from several projectors. The films are often hand-processed, and the projectors have also been electronically and manually modified. Thus, his films have a live, partly improvised feel to them. The resultant compositions are then captured to digital video for presentation, making in effect single channel works which retain a multi-channel look.

“Sixways Sideways”  11 min. One layer in this composition is footage from an educational film detailing the life cycle of silk worms. This footage is bathed in an orangey beige color. Another layer is rapidly shifting white stripes, slashes, and scratches from hand-processed film. Harmon constantly shifts the projector of these white marks into and out of focus, so they alternate between creating a distinct layer ‘on top of’ the silkworm images, and forming a white blur.

The overall effect for me was a film event which, like the productions of silkworms, was not a meticulously planned construction, but was more a kind of organic accretion of a multiplicity of individual threads and moments which nevertheless build themselves into a definite form and structure. The musical score of freely improvised jazz sounded tantalizingly powerful and beautiful, and it could have been a force which would have lifted this piece up and taken it to another level. However, at least on the preview tape I received, the sound quality was so bad that it could barely be heard, and thus it did not contribute to the overall effect.

“Staticerosion”  4 min. Time-lapse shots of flowers opening. Slashes and scratches of hand-processed film, suffused with a deeply glowing green color. A saxophone plays a soulful, spiritual-like solo. A feeling of effulgent, green, organic growth.

“Tiny Inconsistencies”  This hauntingly beautiful collage is constructed from superimposed loops of a black and white Hollywood film, taken from two different scenes showing a man and a woman in evening dress on a balcony (or possibly two different parts of one scene.) In one part of the loop the couple embraces. In another part, the man says something to the woman which causes her to look shocked and distressed. In still another shot, a third man comes out on the balcony and confronts the couple. Yet another layer of imagery consists of flame-like flashes of white light.

The beautiful Middle Eastern soundtrack is mixed with what sounds like surface noise from a vinyl LP, except that the noise has the same rhythm as the flame-like flashes of light, and so may be part of an optical soundtrack. There are also electronic noises that sound a little like chickens.

It was not immediately obvious to me why I found this combination of simple, seemingly disparate elements to be so entrancing and moving. The Middle Eastern sound of the music at first seemed to be at odds with the Hollywood setting, but it actually made a beautiful accompaniment. Like the evening party depicted in the film clip, the music was highly formal, yet contained elements of sorrow as well as passion. The ‘tiny inconsistencies’ of the title could refer to the abstracted, theme and variations structure of the film collage, which highlights the way the different film loops go in and out of phase with each other, but could equally refer to the look of shock and dismay on the woman’s face when she realizes her lover is not what he seems to be. The subdued flame-like flashes and sounds reinforce the feeling of quietly smoldering passion. Together, these elements come together to create a delicate composition which is abstract, yet full of feeling.

“The Koan of Sisyphus”  A collage of loops made from found footage of steam shovels, trains chugging up mountainsides, and various scenes of hard physical labor in industrial settings, all colored a garish red. A layer of marks, like red snow, drifts across the screen. A harshly discordant electronic score reinforces a sense of a hellish, senselessly repetitive nightmare of meaningless toil.

“Ambientlight” ^Flashes of light slash across the screen in shallow diagonals and triangles, edged in yellow and brown, in patterns reminiscent of video feedback but which I suppose are somehow made from altered film projectors. The sound track consists of more of Harmon’s chicken-like electronic sounds. This extremely brief ambient piece manages to create an ecstatic and elevated mood with very simple means.

“Les Fantomes de Lumiere”  This collage is made from a negative print of a vintage black and white porn film. A second copy of the same footage, delayed by about 10 seconds, is superimposed on the first, creating the visual equivalent to a musical ‘canon.’ The surprisingly dumpy looking performers pretend to smoke and chat, and then pretend to struggle with each other as they have sex, looking just as fake as contemporary porn stars do.

The negative stock and the visual echo of the superimposed images make the film look both more abstract and prettier. Some of the close up shots of genitals look like certain erotic Indian paintings which depict mandalas of a sexualized, tantric universe. The erect prick looks like a dark heart plunging into the light which erupts from the vulva. The new age-y electronic music reinforces this sense of meditative, spiritualized sexuality. The negative images also look like x-rays, which, along with the age of the film, reinforces the idea of the impermanence of the body and of sexuality. I got the impression of sex as pure energy, as a force of light passing through the mortal body.

This collage is truly experimental in the sense that Harmon seems to have thought of an interesting formal idea, and tried it out to see what it would look like. As in scientific experiments, parts are quite interesting and even beautiful, while much of it is not. I wished he could have shaped and edited the material more, bringing out his own point of view about the material more clearly, instead of, as seems to be the case, merely letting the clip and it’s echo play through from beginning to end.

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