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Ryoanji (1990)

From the FILMS for MUSIC for FILM series
16mm Color
20 min


Music by John Cage
Performed by the Buffalo New Music Ensemble
Countertenor: Scott Gray-Vickrey
Flute: Rosemary Vecere
Oboe: Paul Schlossman
Percussion: Robert Schulz

Restoration funded in part by Yvar Mikhashoff Trust for New Music

Digital transfer by Gordon Nelson, The George Eastman Museum, Rochester NY, USA


The cinematic challenge here was to create a visual image of musical glissandi. In his notes on Ryoanji, composer John Cage requested that the glissandi be “non-vibrato and as close as possible to the sound events found in nature rather than those normally occurring in music. The score is otherwise a ‘still photograph’ of mobile circumstances.”

The images are put onto this film by hand. Rather than a series of photographs one after another, the image on the screen is of lines etched along the entire length of the film, providing a sustained, continuous image. This establishes a visual continuum. Also, using images of nature, I take these moving images and stack-print them onto each other six, twelve, or even twenty-four times to create another kind of movement.

The film is treated as another soloist in the ensemble. The score is recorded three times. In performance, the live vocalist, for example, will interact with three other versions of the song. The same holds true for the other instrumentalists as well. It is quite a full garden of sound.

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