Ambarchi and Ng: Fateless

Australian duo guitarist Oren Ambarchi and turntablist Martin Ng collaborate with Robin Fox and in-house Mego designer Tina Frank on two forty-minute audio-visual pieces on Fateless, Asphodel's premiere DVD release.

In Frank's “Vigilance” video (generated in real-time to the performance recorded live on May 29, 2003 at MUTEK), geometric patterns come to vivid life as lattice-like spirals and grids twist and turn alongside the concurrent high-pitched harmonics and resonating electrical fields of the musicians; hints of gamelan emerge periodically with the muffled tinkles of bells (needless to say, conventional guitar and turntable sounds are absent, though some vinyl surface noise surfaces near the end). Frank's multi-hued patterns mirror the fluctuating intensity of the music but grow increasingly colourful as the piece develops. What is initially a stark achromatic display of spidery lines eventually transforms into pulsating rainbows of densely-layered geometric bars, grids, and shapes.

At the start of Fox's “8 Seconds of Weightlessness,” a slightly tilted empty frame and rapid-fire flickers accompany a high-pitched whistling drone that largely persists throughout (Ambarchi and Ng recorded the music in Sydney during September, 2005). Initially, the visual treatment feels too rigidly fixed in place when seen after Frank's free-flowing piece but the imagery soon begins to exert a hypnotic force and one finds oneself transfixed by the mercurial display (apparently, Fox programmed a computer algorithm to alter an oscilloscope display in response to the musicians' sounds). After about ten minutes, the frame dissolves, allowing the patterns to open up more freely, and the screen becomes an amorphous mutating grid of skeletal, green-tinged lines against a black base. The shapes morph into dense animated clusters, sometimes orienting themselves around a center, sometimes not. Interestingly, the originating frame briefly re-establishes itself in the piece's closing third though quickly gives way to elastic re-definition before returning in the final moments. It's worth noting that, though Fox's piece is the less visually expansive of the two (at least in terms of colour), the visual approach matches the skeletal audio content.

Though MUTEK 2003 attendees had a chance to experience Fateless in concert, those who missed it now have the DVD as a credible substitute. Naturally, the average home setup will pale in comparison to the festival's large-screen presentation. To re-create the experience as closely as possible, turn the lights down low and the volume up high (on hopefully a large-screen display) and prepare to surrender to the DVD's psychotropic effect. Fateless manages to be that rare thing: uncompromisingly abstract and experimental without being alienating or inaccessible.

November 2006