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Christophe Auger Christophe Auger
photo Tom Hall

Musical lynchpin Jerome Noetinger’s tape loops are a signature element of the band’s highly evolved but still frenetic shows which combine spectacularly sensual audiovisual experiences with a subtle critique of digital hegemony. Noetinger has said that he still hasn’t “exhausted the tape recorder” as he discovers things every time the band plays. He argues that “today there’s this spurious idea of ‘progress’, this imposition of new technology by the market. There’s something totalitarian about it. It’s like asking a violinist why he doesn’t play a computer.”

Noetinger’s description of Cellule d’Intervention Metamkine as “a band” is instructive. Key to the Metamkine approach and aesthetic is the careful positioning of the players; projectionists Christophe Auger and Xavier Querel face the audience like musicians, bouncing their beams off two large mirrors at the front of the stage, ‘playing’ their projectors like musical instruments. In the band’s shows at film festivals and music events, Auger and Querel operate up to eight aged 16mm film projectors, ‘performing’ the projection with various creative interventions into the beams, including moving projectors, using prisms and lacing up custom-made loops of the band’s distinctive luscious hand-processed abstract film. On their 2007 Australian tour, Querel spoke about the group’s approach and aesthetics.

Querel recalls that his “first experience of expanded cinema was through Christophe Auger, whom I’d come to know socially. I went along to one of the performances in the early days and really liked it. I was born in Saint Gervaus, a small skiing village in the French Alps, with only one cinema, and it was bullshit. No art cinema, just ‘classics’—‘the movies,’ in other words. As soon as I could I got out, and got to Grenoble with the wish of seeing lots of different films. And then…I discovered Metamkine performances. My grandfather and father were electricians so I used to work with them a lot and I am sensitive to light, but when I arrived, I had absolutely no background in film, cinema or music. But I was curious about everything—and, most importantly, I was in that state of mind to find avant-garde film. When I discovered Metamkine, even though it was only slides at that point, I thought immediately about Man Ray’s and other avant-garde films, and I understood: this is a new type of cinema. I was excited. Pretty soon I began to help Christophe and the other guys. The band and I clicked and we decided to work together, processing the films.”

For Metamkine, the key question, says Querel, is “What is cinema?” He explains, “For this we have a very empiric procedure—we try something, if it works, great, if it doesn’t, why? We are always asking ourselves, ‘where can I make a modification?’ We have an empirical method, not a structure.”

The other motivation was “the wish to be independent, to make films by ourselves, that special political situation, that led to Cellule d’Intervention Metamkine. Why? It’s political, of course: it’s to be outside the market. But it’s two things, really, it’s political/economical, but also aesthetic. On the one hand we want to control everything, make everything ourselves, take control of the process! Most people, even filmmakers, are happy to shoot film themselves, but then they have to hand it over to a lab for processing [where] it will be processed to exactly the same ‘standard’ as everywhere...This is why it’s very important to us to have our own lab, to process and explore film ourselves...the processing is as much a part of the filmmaking as the filming. To do it without participating in the industry is both an aesthetic and a political agenda.”

Querel says that when you take control of processing “you can make crazy experiments, such as the lab could never allow! This is more about aesthetics, obviously. A big part of our aesthetics, actually. We explore with black and white film a lot, processing it to two-colour separation, for example. Working with film, learning its ways, coming to know it, love it, work with it constantly, we have ‘become’ our own style of image. We’re not working on reproducing reality; it’s more to go deep into what film is as a ‘thing’, as matter, or substance, material, a tool rather than a medium for representation. Yes, I suppose there is some illusionism in our performances…it’s not with characters and reality, though, it’s not using recognisable images, and we don’t mean to have signification of some ‘thing’—it’s about matter, grain, colour, rhythm, light, particles, cells, flow…If there is an illusion, it’s a trick of your eye, or of the light itself.”

On his attitude to mainstream cinema Querel says he’s not really hostile. “I can accept the cinema for what it has become today—mass entertainment, it’s an industry, sure. An enormous amount of money involved—yes, I’m a bit hostile to that, sure...when I think about what it could have been. There are still some things that are interesting for me in the cinema—South American film, South East Asian film, African films can be quite intense. That intensity is critical to my creative life, it’s why I do Metamkine—the important thing to me is the play, that live moment, because it gives me such great pleasure. It’s intensely pleasurable to work with the loops and lenses and prisms and make something that’s different to normal cinema, something that’s unpredictable, where you have to react and really be there in that unique moment, that ‘now.’”

Querel recounts the many moments he loves in performance: “I actually love the space in between the so-called ‘perfect’ moments most of all; sure, it’s great when it’s all going well, but there is also excitement when I see something not going right and think, ‘oh, shit…’ There are always accidents occurring; it’s a door opening, where you can discover all sorts of new things. People tend to think of film as very fragile and get precious about it, but I don’t; if I break a loop or ruin a length, no problem, I react, improvise. I’ll just make some more. It’s great that it (the film) had a good death! Film for us [is] matter, demystified, you can work with it, and love it, and also love the destruction of it, scratch it, burn it, damage it voluntarily, and then you can create more. And we’re always creating more. When we’re playing, I am responding to Christophe and Jerome and they are responding to well as to the venue, the performance space, the ambient light, the day you had before and maybe will have tomorrow, the audience…These things will all interfere a little bit, and charge up the performance with a unique energy each time.”

Read reviews of Metamkine in RT81, p46 & RT80, p51;

RealTime issue #82 Dec-Jan 2007 pg. 22

© Danni Zuvela; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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