Oct. 25--BEIRUT -- In 1961 British duo Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville created the "Dream Machine," the first work of art designed to be viewed with the eyes closed. The machine, a cylinder perforated with slits through which light shone, was placed on a record turntable and rotated, causing the lights to flicker across the closed eyelids of the viewer, inducing a trance-like state. Two years later, in 1963, film director Antony Balch added an audio element to this visual experience when he made "Towers of Fire," in which he set footage of people testing the device to a multilayered soundtrack that intensified the effects of the Dream Machine.
"The device, which was invented around the beat generation and the beat culture at the time, was intended as an altered or a skewed exercise in perception," explains Hisham Awad, one of the programmers of this year's "The Dream Machine: Beirut Festival of Audiovisual Art."
"This device and the way it was filmed ... were the two starting points for this festival, which is focused on this disjointed but also synchronous relationship between sound and imagery."
The second edition of the festival kicks off Friday at the Beirut Art Center in Karantina and runs for six days. No Dream Machine will be present, but the comprehensive program is likely to appeal to anyone interested in the territory where auditory and visual experiences meet.
"Last year it was a much smaller edition, which focused more on performances and musical events and concerts," Awad explains. "This year it's much more enhanced. It stretches over five days and features conversations, talks, lectures, panels, audio essays, film screening, concerts."
Musician Sharif Sehnaoui, who founded the festival last year and programmed this year's event along with Awad and Beirut Art Center Director Lamia Joreige, explains that the original Dream Machine inspired him after he saw it in France a decade ago.
"It was a big inspiration in the sense of blurring the boundaries between different senses -- seeing without the eyes and hearing without the ears," he says.
This year's festival is loosely centered on two themes.
"One of the two main focuses of this year's festival," Awad says, "is the convergence of the film soundtrack and montage ... lots of the artists you see are developing projects or talks around the soundtrack and later iterations ... such as the audio essay format.
"This very notion of creating sound for a moving image in conjunction with a moving image or against a moving image is being examined.
"The other main section is the field recording and the sound map ... the relationship between sound and space."
Sehnaoui programmed the first edition of the festival with the help of artist Radwan Moumneh and musician Nadim Mishlawi.
"From the beginning the idea was that I didn't want to do it by myself," he explains, "but rather work with other individuals who had similar concerns and a similar love and experience of things that make sound and image."
The first two days of the festival, he explains, will focus mostly on live performances that employ images and music simultaneously, the third and fourth days will be loosely based around the role of the soundtrack, and the final two days will tackle field and in situ recordings.
The opening night will feature a trumpet performance by Mazen Kerbaj, accompanied by live video by Katherine Liberovskaya. "N + M," an installation by New York-based composer and filmmaker Phill Niblock fusing live music and video, will be on show Saturday.
"One performance that I'm really happy to have a chance to set up is the Phill Niblock installation," Sehnaoui says, "in which a wonderful pianist called Magda Mayas is going to perform live.
"Although this installation has been around for a few years it's the first time that it reaches its full potential ... Initially the idea was to have Magda performing with the videos of herself playing, but there was actually never a chance for Magda to perform, so it's the first time it's happening."
Other highlights include Monday's showing of "On Vanishing Land" an audio essay by British artists Mark Fisher and Justin Barton describing a walk along the Suffolk coastline that will be followed by a filmed conversation between the artists.
"The audio piece uses music, recorded sound and a voice-over in order to control the space and the transformation of the space," Awad says.
"It's asking how one can convey or control sound, and that relationship is very abstract -- how does one elicit a visual representation of space through sound and sound alone?"
Awad also recommends Berit Schuck and Julia Tieke's installation "Beirut Street Project," an aural map of the city created using field recordings from a variety of neighborhoods, and Ali Cherri's installation "Magnetic Liaisons," in which he plays with the soundtrack of an old film to give it a spatial element.
Both pieces can be experienced Tuesday and will be followed by an artist's talk.
Awad and Basia Lewasdowska Cummings will also be presenting their text-based project "void.cut" in a talk Monday.
"The main goal of the project is to examine the role of montage and film editing today and in the past and map and identify what single cuts or a sequence of cuts prompt or trigger," Awad explains.
"This new talk pertains to disorientation and how it is constructed and designed in cinematography, so we're looking at films such as 'Vertigo,' 'Enter the Void' by Gaspar Noe and ... recent films like 'Gravity.'
"We're looking at how sometimes specific locations, such as the sea or space, alter cinema's preoccupation with the horizontal line and put in motion instead dizziness and confusion related to loss of orientation.
"How does that loss of orientation in turn trigger a different and more difficult recognition of audiovisual design?"
"The Dream Machine 2: Beirut Festival of Audiovisual Arts" runs from Oct. 25 to Oct. 30 at the Beirut Art Center in Karantina and Dawawine in Gemmayzeh. For more information please call 01-397-018.
(c)2013 The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
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