(1976, 35mm, b&w/sound, 37min)
Original Music by Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley
Restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive
Courtesy the Conner Family Trust and Kohn Gallery
(c) Conner Family Trust
The most controversial film by avant-garde icon Bruce Conner, consists solely of images of atomic tests, set to music by Patrick Gleeson & Terry Riley.
Conner finagled the Department of Defense into releasing actual Army footage of the atomic bomb tests in the Pacific to make the iconic image of the atomic age.
Years ago, the original 35mm film version of Conner’s assemblage of US government footage of the iconic Bikini Atoll atomic bomb test blew my mind. With the slow-motion replays of the mushroom cloud (the single most recorded event in human history) Conner captured mankind’s drive to self-destruct.
Last February, I had my head in the clouds again with the 4K restoration of this film. Scratches on the original film print didn’t bother me, but the newly restored version makes the soundtrack come alive! Especially the sound world Patrick Gleeson created comes out way clearer than the old print.
Gleeson who was experimenting in the San Francisco Tape Music Center switched to a Moog synthesizer after hearing the music of Wendy Carlos. In Carlos’ 1972 record Sonic Seasonings he believed all sounds were made by this synthesizer. Not knowing there’s a lot of field recordings in Sonic Seasonings, he felt inspired to minutely synthesize an on-location soundtrack. What you hear are realistic syntheses of bird-sounds, wind, waves on the beach, human voices and explosions synchronous to Conner’s images.
Gleeson, was approached by Conner to work together with Terry Riley to compose the soundtrack.
Because they didn’t want to work together, Conner made the brilliant choice to let them each compose half the film. After the precisely edited electronics ambient sounds of Patrick Gleeson, Terry Riley improvised multiple tracks on organ while seeing his part of the film edit. The sound on the old 35mm film print is mono, but the restored version offers Riley’s original stereo tracks!
Thanks to Lipman who carried out the 4K restoration of the film and Michelle Silva who’s currently setting up Conner career retrospective in Reina Sofia, Madrid.
Perfect Lives, A Television Opera (1978–83)
Robert Ashley, solo voice; Jill Kroesen and David Van Tieghem, chorus; “Blue” Gene Tyranny, keyboards; David Van Tieghem, non-keyboard percussion; Peter Gordon, music producer; Paul Shorr, soundtrack producer.
Perfect Lives has been called “the most influential music/theater/literary work of the 1980s.” At its center is the hypnotic voice of Robert Ashley. His continuous song narrates the events of the story and describes a 1980’s update of the mythology of small town America. Perfect Lives is populated with myriad characters revolving around two musicians — “R”, the singer of myth and legend, and his friend, Buddy, “The World’s Greatest Piano Player”. They have come to a small town in the Midwest to entertain at the Perfect Lives Lounge. As Robert Ashley describes in the opera synopsis, “they fall in with two locals to commit the perfect crime, a metaphor for something philosophical: in this case, to remove a sizable about of money from The Bank for one day (and one day only) and let the whole world know that it was missing.”
The eloping couple, Ed and Gwyn, the old people at the home, the sheriff and his wife (Will and Ida) who finally unravel the mystery, and Isolde who watches the celebration of the changing of the light at sundown from the doorway of her mother’s house are some of the characters who journey through the seven episodes of the opera.
Derived from a colloquial idiom, Perfect Lives transforms familiar material into an elaborate metaphor for the rebirth of the human soul. It has been called a comic opera about reincarnation.