Rahma Khazam: "Tabula Smaragdina" (The Wire 12/97)
Thomas Köner's name is generally associated with the meditative drift of albums such as Permafrost , Aubrite, or his contribution to the recent Driftworks box set. His substantial body of recorded work has tended to overshadow his parallel involvement in film-based projects . Köner has provided the musical accompaniment for silent films on several occasions and regularly takes part in groundbreaking live shows in collaboration with German experimental film maker Jürgen Reble . An opportunity to verify the current state of play of the Köner -Reble partnership was provided by the recent 3D film season organised by the Museum of the Louvre in Paris. Thanks to the imaginative, open-ended approach of its curator, the spacious, modern expanses of the Louvre Auditorium have become one of the breeding grounds for the small but hardy experimental film scene currently blossoming in France.
Like previous film sea sons at the Louvre, this 3D festival was conceived as a response to art historical preoccupations. Three- dimensional imagery represents a departure from the aesthetics of painting which dominate the history of cinema: These techniques break up the flat surface of the cinema screen, producing an illusion of depth. The films on show ranged from 50s and 60s sci-fi and horror movies, to the recent cathartic experiments of American film maker Ken Jacobs, who creates a three-dimensional effect through the use of alternating images. Jacobs put his eager audience of film buffs through a gruelling yet strangely uplifting test using a shutter and two projectors that advanced frame by frame, he produced flickering images of waves that moved slowly but relentlessly forward in almost total silence for its 107 minute duration.
Jacob's film proved a challenging experience, and Köner and Reble's show the following night was informed, as always, by a similarly uncompromising, hard-bitten attitude.
Their previous collaboration, Alchemie , which was presented at the Louvre in 1995, featured a ten metre film loop subjected to chemical treament and destroyed at the end of the performance. Projector noises and the hiss of the chemicals as they corroded the film provided the sound sources for Köner's musical accompaniment. It was an intense, holistic experience that married the complex, rich timbres of the music with the fizzing energy of the film treatments . This time round, the duo presented Tabula Smaragdina, a live as always unrehearsed performance. Reble projected a print of a film to which he had applied layers of chemical substances. His customised projectors spewed out superimposed images that modulated into kaleidoscopic mosaics, grid like patterns and strange mythological creatures before disintegrating and reforming anew. Dressed in a white outfit and black cap, Köner cut a striking figure in the half-light, as he selected tracks from a reservoir of treated, pitched and harmonised sounds stored on CDs. Gongs samples merged with noises sourced from a projector, providing the soundtrack to a shadowy, dream-like half-world awash with low frequencies and de caying timbres. Eschewing traditional notions of rhythm and melody, the soundtrack underscored the tensions in the pulsating colours and shapes. Likewise, the images were bereft of structure and narrative. More than just a film, Tabula Smaragdina is a visual and auditory experience in equal measure, that seals new and exciting connections between sound and images.