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16 Nov 2018 / by Ellen Oredsson

Experimenting with Live Cinema

A man stands at the front of a cinema underneath a screen with a turntable in front of him. The screen is showing a moving image work, depicting a surreally stretched-out Hong Kong street. Numerous people sit on the cinema chairs in front of the man and the screen.

Lim Giong doing live scoring to Static No. 23 (Revolve) by Daniel Crooks during Haunting Images: Live Cinema by Lim Giong

What is live cinema? Unlike a traditional film screening, live cinema is a performance in which artists experiment and improvise with the moving images on display. M+ recently held the museum’s first ever live cinema event, Haunting Images: Live Cinema by Lim Giong, inviting Taiwanese composer and musician Lim Giong to create live sonic and musical scoring to the images on screen. Lim started working in the late '80s and early '90s as a boundary-pushing electronic musician, and over the decades, he has developed his practice to include film scoring, thinking about moving images in a very particular way.

For Haunting Images, he put together a programme of moving image works including three works selected from the M+ Collections. Below, we show how Lim scored these works, and why.

Daniel Crooks

Static No. 23 (Revolve), 2017

Still from a moving image work depicting a busy street in Hong Kong that has been stretched out in a surreal fashion. The people on the street are wavy and flat, looking almost two dimensional.

Daniel Crooks, Static No. 23 (Revolve) (still), 2017, video on a loop (colour, stereo sound), M+, Hong Kong. © Daniel Crooks

Static No. 23 (Revolve) by Daniel Crooks was shot in 2015 on Wan Chai Road in Hong Kong, and uses the moving image to express the morphing of time and space. Using a static, fixed-position camera, the work transforms people and buildings into moving streaks of colour and texture that seem to occupy multiple points in time at once. Time stretches and contracts, and in doing so transforms the city and its inhabitants into otherworldly entities.

Lim selected this work to start the programme because it visualises the idea that what audiences are about to witness is out of the norm. The original soundtrack for this work features string instruments arranged with a reverb-like effect. The soundscape that Lim instead created is composed of distorted electronic sounds that moves in time to the images, interspersed with pre-recorded field recordings. Just like Crooks moulds and plays with time and space in this work, Lim signalled that he would be moulding and playing with music and sound throughout the live cinema show.

Haunting Images Live Cinema by Lim Giong: 'Static No. 23 (Revolve)'
Haunting Images Live Cinema by Lim Giong: 'Static No. 23 (Revolve)'

Excerpt from Lim Giong’s live scoring of Static No. 23 (Revolve) by Daniel Crooks during Haunting Images: Live Cinema by Lim Giong

Chang Chao-Tang

The Boat Burning Festival , 1979

Monochrome still from a moving image work in which a group of men dressed in traditional Taiwanese clothing pose for an orderly group shot in front of the camera. They are looking straight ahead with blank expressions. Behind them is an old-fashioned wooden boat with big sails sitting on land.

Chang Chao-Tang, The Boat Burning Festival (still), 1979, film transferred to MP4, M+, Hong Kong. © Chang Chao-Tang

The Boat Burning Festival was directed in 1979 by Chang Chao-Tang, one of the forefathers of contemporary photography in Taiwan. In 1979, he was starting his career as a photojournalist and working for television in Taiwan with a young Christopher Doyle. They visited Sucuo Village in Taiwan to capture a biannual ritual in which villagers pay homage to the gods through the burning of a sacrificial boat. The work takes us through the enthralling process of the festival: the rites that come beforehand, all the way to the complete obliteration of the boat.

After the strangeness of Static No. 23 (Revolve), the traditional folkloric festivals of Lim’s homeland are more familiar territory. Reflecting the complex cultural environment in late-1970s Taiwan, The Boat Burning Festival was originally edited to the first movement of Ommadawn, the Celtic-inspired progressive rock album by Mike Oldfield. During Haunting Images, Lim started off sparse and mysterious, and then built to various crescendos of sounds. He communicated with Chang, the director, about the work, who encouraged him to ‘disregard the emotional and intellectual aspects of what happens on screen. The music should be liberated; the freer the better, especially for the last half when the festival gets burning...the music or sound effects for that part should be as unrestrained, as wild as possible, to subvert everyone's imagination.’

Haunting Images Live Cinema by Lim Giong: 'The Boat Burning Festival'
Haunting Images Live Cinema by Lim Giong: 'The Boat Burning Festival'

Excerpt from Lim Giong’s live scoring of The Boat Burning Festival by Chang Chao-Tang during Haunting Images: Live Cinema by Lim Giong

May Fung

She Said Why Me, 1989

Still from a moving image work depicting a young woman viewed from the back from the shoulder up. Her head is turned over her shoulder, looking back at the camera. She is standing on a Hong Kong street, and the street and traffic on the road is visible behind her.

May Fung, She Said Why Me, 1989, VHS transferred to digital (colour, mono sound), M+, Hong Kong. © May Fung

May Fung has been active for over forty years in the Hong Kong film and arts community. Her work She Said Why Me (1989) depicts a woman walking blindfolded through the bustling streets of Hong Kong, interspersed with archival footage of women being filmed in various different public contexts. It questions the objectification of women on film and in society, emphasising the idea of Hong Kong as a place to be subjected to public and global scrutiny.

Lim selected this work to appear last out of the three. In an interview with M+, he stated that this was because of his initial difficulty interpreting it. It was his way of explicitly communicating that he’s not from Hong Kong and is addressing the city from an outsider’s perspective. The original soundtrack for She Said Why Me is an atmospheric mood piece featuring keyboard and piano music, developing into an increasingly unsettling coda. During Haunting Images, Lim instead played with the contrast between the work’s grainy, black and white archival images, spliced with modern shots of a woman walking through the city. He used melodic cues and sonic impressions of classical Chinese instruments to signal the interspersing of these more modern images amongst the archival shots.

Haunting Images Live Cinema by Lim Giong: 'She Said Why Me'
Haunting Images Live Cinema by Lim Giong: 'She Said Why Me'

Excerpt from Lim Giong’s live scoring of She Said Why Me by May Fung during Haunting Images: Live Cinema by Lim Giong

Rain, Sunshine, and Harbour City

Haunting Images explored how moving image works over the past six decades have addressed and portrayed Hong Kong and Taiwan. The works were selected and put in order by Lim not only to tell this story, but also to take the audience on a journey of mood and atmosphere.

A man stands in front of three camera reels. He is reaching out toward the reel closest to him.

Simon Liu performing his work Harbour City through the live dual projection of two 16mm films

After the three pieces from the M+ Collections, the programme continued with works outside of the collections: two Michael Rogge pieces, Rain and Sunshine, put the audience in a more meditative and calm state, with Lim referencing the nature of Hong Kong through water and bird sounds. Finally, New York-based artist Simon Liu was present to perform Harbour City, his live dual projection of two 16mm films. Placed at the end, this piece brought out another aspect of live cinema and took audiences into a fully experimental electronic music world.

Learn more about Haunting Images: Live Cinema by Lim Giong here. Live cinema is something that we’re really interested in at M+ and want to do on a regular basis—watch this space! All photos © M+, Hong Kong, unless otherwise noted. This article was originally published on M+ Stories.

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