They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The same holds true with art. One man's Monet is another's makeshift birdcage liner. While there are some universally held examples of aesthetic acumen, most audiences for the medium make up their minds ala the famous assessment of obscenity by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart - "they know it when they see it." This is especially true of modern and post-modern art. Critics and the public alike seem far more comfortable with paints and canvases than they do with glass abstractions and/or garbage derived monuments. And when you add in a new technology, the results are often ridiculed before they are understood. As part of an ongoing desire to give digital artisans a gallery-esque voice, Universal Everything has 'curated' a DVD collection entitled Advanced Beauty. Featuring 18 computer-generated "video sound sculptures", these films use the actual backing by musician Simon Pyke (as Freeform) to guide the end result. Sometimes it works wonderfully. Other efforts are not so successful.
A little research turned up an interesting fact about this production. All 18 entries here were made with the help of an open source animation program from MIT called Processing 1.0. It is software that allows for easier integration and manipulation of images using music and other variables. This may account for a sense of sameness. In the meantime, those who want to check out the names involved, or are just curious about the themes explored in the dozen and a half titles present, here is a rundown of the 44 minutes of visual curio on display:
Robert Seidel - a rainbow of random color splashes linked by an ever changing focal point.
Carl Burgess - a polymorphous blob throbs and mutates as colors cascade around it.
Karsten Schmidt - angular patterns are joined together and accented with color.
Universal Everything/MiniVegas - a series of tiny orbs are menaced by a much larger ball.
Mate Steinforth - a rainbow of foamy shapes swell and fill the screen.
Robert Hodgin - what looks to be the dividing nucleus of a cell is given a white hot solarizing treatment.
Jelle Feringa - a flat plain is inundated with tiny metallic spheres that ebb and flow.
Universal Everything - multicolored spikes appear randomly from a hole in the space.
Marc Kremers - a DVD slowly melts in a pool of multihued liquid.
Panda Panther - sunflowers multiply and maneuver around a white backdrop.
Thomas Traum - a landscape reacts to the elements.
Paul Simpson - various specks, like droplets of water, interact and meld.
Maxim Zhestkov - white orbs build upon each other like a self-generating science project.
Tom Scholefield - a jungle scene springs to life.
Panda Panther - a collection of colored spheres coalesce to create a continuous shifting shape.
Paul Emery/Alex Peverett - a sea of spiking objects pulse and swell.
PepperMelon - a series of colored scarves billow and blow in the wind.
Universal Everything - from a well in the middle of a setting, an endless volcano of color erupts.
At less than an hour, Advanced Beauty is more of a curiosity than a pure piece of visual entertainment. Just as you are getting the hang of one particular sequence, the ambient music ends and we are off to another interesting exhibit. Granted, it does feel like you are being rushed through a particularly engaging museum, but at least there is an option to stop and restart a specific "viewing". There is also a Photoshop similarity to a lot of these works. Since the concept provides that the images coordinate with the soundscapes supplied, there is an inordinate amount of beat timed throbbing and pulsing. Objects always seem to be in touch with the inherent rhythm of a piece, even when one doesn't necessarily exist. It's a unique idea, but not a completely effective one. There are times when the aural aspects are more compelling than the visuals, and definitely visa versa.
Of the many intriguing offerings, there are a couple that truly stand out. Carl Burgess' effort seems oddly organic while also approaching an almost alien ideal. Mate Steinforth's colorful fluff is like getting lost in a rainbow's frothy aftermath, and Universal Everything's three efforts stand out as more linear and "narrative" than the others. The finale is especially effective, as the bubbling brew of pigment spills and fills the screen. Yet there are times when the pieces feel one note and routine. Karsten Schmidt's angular shapes say nothing particularly novel, and the flower power of PandaPanther grows tired quickly. Tom Scholefield's starts out strong, but then fades rather quickly, as does the effort by Thomas Traum. As a chill out title, as something to put on in the background during a party of social get together, Advanced Beauty does have its benefits. It's the perfect wall mounting for your oversized plasma screen, a bright and bubbly spin through a series of inconsistent conceits.
Presented in a gorgeous 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, the image for Advanced Beauty is magnificent. It captures all the colors, all the shimmering "whiteness" of the backdrop, without ever once faltering or failing. There is a depth and a dimension to the picture that is hard to shake, and even though this is a standard DVD, the quality looks HD in execution. Kudos all around to the individuals behind this definitive digital master.
With the option to "experience" the show in either Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or standard 2.0 Stereo, Advanced Beauty sets up a sonic dilemma. Unless you have a highly technical home theater set-up that will allow you to experience the immersive qualities of the music, the two channel option may be the best. This is one of those mixes that requires careful speaker positioning and placement. Without sad attention to detail, the 5.1 looses a little. It's still good, but your components need to be perfect it sample its flawlessness.
Aside from a cardboard flipcase containing information on the artists involved (including web addresses for those who want more examples of their work), there is no other added content to speak of - and that's a shame. A little info on the Processing software seems warranted, at the very least.
As the first in a series of ongoing 'commissions', Advanced Beauty is definitely worth checking out. It represents an innovative approach to what is often looked at as a less than artistic endeavor. Sure, some can argue that the computer is just as important as the programmer when it comes to the creation of CG canvases, and the graphics here don't redefine the possibilities in the bitmap. But for what it does offer and the way it is presented, this collection deserves a Highly Recommended rating. Gorgeous to look at, relaxing to listen to, Advanced Beauty is often quite brilliant. While it might not be a full blown masterpiece, this kind of art clearly remains in the purview of the person watching it. In the case of this critic, it was far more hit than miss.
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