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By David Finkelstein | March 4, 2005

“Sigh” is a composition, mostly from found footage, which presents a theme and variations on the general idea of transmission, both the transmission of information and of physical energy and force. Some of the footage includes what appears to be a scientific experiment in telepathy, where a woman tries repeatedly to send the word “sigh” as two different men, intently listening on headphones, try to pick up the message. The film begins and ends with images of the earth rotating rapidly, seen from the turning window of a space station. The other footage includes enormously slowed down pictures of a housefly and a moth in flight, birds, dragonflies, a pole vaulter, and 4 boys, each throwing a ball. The beautifully composed soundtrack includes the blips and white noise of radio and telegraph communication, electronic sounds, the slowed down sounds of the fly’s wings, the woman’s repetition of the word “sigh,” and classical music.

This collage, despite it’s feeling of effortless flow, has a very tightly organized musical structure. It both begins and ends with the images of the earth. The sequence of the boys throwing the ball (which they throw “the way boys do,” i.e. using their whole backs to get the maximum force) is used regularly as a kind of punctuation. A sequence near the beginning, in which a red canoe slowly floats on a river, crossing the frame in the exact same duration as an old 78 recording of “The Minute Waltz” is balanced out by a sequence near the end where a slow-motion moth is accompanied by a female opera duet (reminding us of the obscure and precise network by which insects, birds, and flowers transmit their sexual messages).

The repeated footage of the telepathy experiment creates an urgent, strangely thrilling undercurrent to the video. Throughout, Steuernagel’s sophisticated skill at orchestrating sounds and images keeps us fascinated by this meditation on the mystery of how information is sent and the sometimes garbled forms in which it is received.

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