After my grandfather passed away, a collection of 8mm film reels of his were found. For the last years of his life he experienced the degenerative influences of Alzheimer’s, moving through stages of increasing memory-loss and confusion. ‘Light Noise’ is a creative project that draws together my Grandfather’s 8mm footage with my own passion for film, sound and poetry; I have been creatively committed to its evolving form(s) since 2013. Ultimately, I am aiming to platform a sequence of short films online (collaged from my Grandfather’s reels and new footage) that will then accompany and interact with a book-length poem. The subject of both the poem and the film will be the personal – and depersonalising – process of Alzheimer’s: synaptic decay as embodied experience explored in parallel with the decay of film-stock, disintegrating celluloid nitrate as a metaphor for the blistering and break of the brain’s passages. To create films in a disappearing conversation between family memory and film history; merging the personal and the cinematic in an archaeology of recording as it recedes from sight or recollection.
a no place when light
of neurons leave their branches
of birds startled from a tree
wings clap sky and run together
the emulsion becomes adhesive
whole sections degenerate
and the horizon is left guessing
to misplace in light a when to miss
the place where light is misting and
the words missing
My Grandfather was not an ‘easy’ man and, at times, an actively difficult man. Often grumpy and sometimes, it seemed to me as a child, unpredictable with his temper. I think he was someone for whom old age was experienced prematurely, as a kind of betrayal; the unjust failing of a body (and mind as body) earlier than seemed fair. As the Alzheimer’s began to take hold more obviously, I was struck by how reluctant everyone seemed to talk to him about it or to even mention it. One day, as my Mum and Grandmother left the room, I asked him: how does it feel?
barely moving from your chair
you look up – suspended
in the eye contact between
those present and no longer there
to try in faces of those you love
to find the faces of those you love
He looked at me, with uncharacteristic eye-contact (he had quite startlingly blue eyes) and said: It’s scary, it’s really frightening…to feel it just go…
In ‘Light Noise’ I want to explore the interference and disruption, the looping and lapsing, of signals – of our recording, the history of visual recording, of filming…using his 8mm and home-video to collage and elaborate the vacillations of memory that shaped his last years.
burnt in from the corners – lens questioning
whose other time enacts its daily stroll
grandfather – whose minutes wake the clock
with actors to resume its role
to pick up from where your life left off
and take the light in desperate gulps
of film and air and always there
rehearse the flickered day
The first of these films was supported by ACE and the BBC (via Tyneside Cinema), and will be aired on BBC 4, November 24th at 11:00pm. These are images of my family and how my Grandfather filmed and recorded his life. It is a film of trying to remember and remembering the ways we forget.
I want to express my deep gratitude to the incredible sound art of Jamie Cook. His imagining of the sounds I described were so uncannily true to what I had hoped for, that it startled me…in that strange (and uncommon) way that takes what you have imagined for so long into an exact actuality, and so the expected is encountered as entirely familiar and totally alien. It was a joy to collaborate with such an incredible artist.
The audio and visual coordinates for Light Noise have taken, and are taking, various and appropriately morphing forms: Leyland Kirby, Tim Hecker, William Basinski, Guy Maddin, Andrew Kötting, Bill Morrison, Jack Smith – that has been a constellated starting point – I am looking forward to the next film, and the recollecting and reimagining of noise, memory and film in the growing book.
Footfalls in Noise
Which we do not hear
– Robert Duncan