Absolute Film

2 Synthetic Sound, Direct Film, and Visual Music

Fischinger’s Studie Nr. 2 (Study No. 2) (DE, 1930), on the other hand, is probably the first precursor to the music clip, for like his later studies Nos. 3, 4, and 5, it is not only synchronized to a popular song, in this case to Vaya Veronica, but the availability of the recording in stores is also mentioned in the film’s end credits. Fischinger did not consider his works to be illustrations of music, however, but as a means of transporting his abstract art. The direct accessibility achieved in this way made his studies very popular with audiences and therefore, unlike most other experimental films, also commercially successful.

Based on the conviction that there were fundamental relationships between sounds and forms and the conclusion that the abstract figures used in his films were similar to the patterns on an optical soundtrack, in ca. 1931 Fischinger finally began experimenting with Tönende Ornamente (Sounding Ornaments) by exposing painted forms onto the image tracks and soundtracks of the filmstrip. The synthetic wave forms produced in this way were transformed into sounds with the aid of the projector’s photocell so that the viewers could see and hear the respective forms simultaneously.

With the end of the Golden Twenties, the first heyday of experimental and thus abstract film ended on the European continent. In 1929 in London, the New Zealand-born Len Lye produced Tusalava, the first abstract film that did not stand in the tradition of European painting but was based on Samoan motifs. The accompanying original composition for two pianos has unfortunately been lost. In the color film A Colour Box (UK, 1935), Lye painted abstract motifs directly onto the film, dispensing with a camera and the photographic process — a method that is known as handmade, direct, or cameraless film. He used a Cuban melody for the soundtrack that served as the basis for the creation of associative references between certain sounds and forms.

Mary Ellen Bute is one of the pioneers of abstract film in the United States — beginning in 1934 she shot more than twelve abstract films. Because they were often used as supporting movies in commercial movie theaters, besides Oskar Fischinger she was probably the abstract filmmaker with the most audience appeal. Like Fischinger, she synchronized the images to popular music, which was intended to make them accessible to a wide audience. However, her actual goal was to produce visual music by using structural analogies, that is, through the transfer of principles of musical composition to the organization of pictorial elements.