Steven Ball
Marie Craven
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Melbourne independent filmmakers

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Steven Ball

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A selection of excerpts from articles about Steven Ball's Australian filmworks

... using Super-8 as a visual artist with both aesthetic and philosophical/ideological concerns, he has produced a body of work over the last few years that goes beyond conventional avant-garde practice in that it not only fractures and critiques traditional metaphysical views of the world, but it then pieces together its fractures in totalizing ways, even if the totalizations are sometimes ironic.

- Bill Mousoulis, "The Ball Bounces...", Melbourne Super 8 Film Group Newsletter, Issue 92, June 1994.

Pools Between Land

A broadcast from the undergrowth.

A transmission from the fields of electrical and emotional energies imprinted on the landscape, recorded in the water.

Snatches of a disembodied voice were recorded, subjective glimpses cut through the electrical crackle of the carrier frequency on the monitor.

A fragmented world of reconstructed space and time in a claustrophobic environment beneath the canopy of trees.

- Steven Ball, programme note for Pools Between Land.

Earth and Channel Part 2

The early Earth and Channel Part 2 is a seminal film in Steven Ball's work precisely because it acts as an instruction manual for the viewer as to what to expect from his subsequent films. The idea of exploring real and imagined terrains and of the relationship between real and imagined terrains, is a concise summary of the raison d'être of Ball's films. More importantly, Ball's work shows a commitment to abstraction; the representation of real places in the form of a cartographer's charts or the use of extreme close-ups which baffle us to speak of an aesthetic of abstraction which acts to confront us with our own desire for the familiar, the ordinary and the easily appropriated.

(Harmonic Three Three (Maheno) is...) a film of formal sureness and integrity, it is Ball's masterpiece to date and the one film which best illustrates the preoccupations found in the earlier Earth and Channel Part 2. Harmonic Three Three (Maheno) is a devastatingly apocalyptic vision of a place which is as much a place of the imagination as it is of the world; a place found only in one's dreams, but is that not what cinema is for anyway?

- Michael Filippidis, Review of Quiet Passages (screening of Steven Ball's Super 8 films), Melbourne Super 8 Film Group Newsletter, Issue 74, October 1992.

Harmonic Three Three (Maheno)

I had employed the practice of reshooting/copying Super 8 in a number of my other films. This had arisen out of an interest in the film's material and temporal properties, the possibility of manipulating the time base and the 'readability' of the image. The first concerted attempt at this resulted in Harmonic Three Three (Maheno) (Super 8, 1991, 23 mins). I was also concerned with the notion that the formal process had a parallel with the 'subject', in this case a rusting shipwreck on Fraser Island. The filmic processes of image 'decay' and entropy (in a communication model sense through the addition of a 'noise source': the grain and slower movement introduced by reshooting through a number of generations.) paralleled the physical decay and scientific notion of entropy that the shipwreck was undergoing (metal in contact with salt water over time producing other compounds, rust for example). This was not however merely a reductionist formal exercise, something else happens in the process of watching the film, in its own time, to do more with perception.

I tend to work on image and sound tracks quite discretely; although in the working process there is a often a methodological, conceptual or temporal connection and the two elements are usually produced within the same time span of days, weeks, or months. I usually finish soundtracks on separate audio cassette, bringing the two components together at the last minute, sometimes at the first public screenings. As precarious as this may sound it keeps the film fresh, unfinished, at least, until screened and perhaps beyond. One risk involved can be the unpredictability of a viewers perception.

- "...Testing 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9...However, the Autodidact" by Steven Ball, Cantrills Filmnotes, Nos. 75/76, 1994.

Sevenths Synthesis

(on Quiet Passage) There used to be a warning on LP records that during quiet passages some surface noise may be heard. The main passage of this film however is far from quiet. It was the first of my rare excursions into the realm of sound film. Three cartridges shot in three different locations: North Sydney, the Blue Mountains and East Gippsland. The sound in camera was malfunctioning and I was obliged to post dub each roll: a repeated sustained piano phrase, running water and an old Xavier Cugat recording. I couldn't conceive of the possibility of editing the film without exploring the possibilities of the 18 frame delay. I cut the film into 36 and 18 frame sections and spliced to a structure that allowed for a number of different sequential orderings of the originating material. As a result the sound in slippage against the image that it 'corresponds' to does not allow for a determinable relationship between the two. From this point structure and the film's passage through the projector determines perception, which is where the resonance is constructed.

- Steven Ball, "Edit-Aurally-All", Sonic Eight, Melbourne Super 8 Film Group Newsletter, Issue 102, May 1995.

Earth and Channel Part 2

He had captured an experience that was more real to me than any truth that a narrative cinema or the documentary form often claims to possess. It makes me think about the difference between knowledge and information which is often overlooked in this post info-exploded world, in whose rubble we live our daily lives; where there is often a lot more info to sift through and a lot less personal sense made of it than ever before. Harmonic Three Three (Maheno) is imbued with a sense that transcends such a dichotomy.

This lack of knowledge in an ocean of information creates a sense of gridlock for those trying to function within it. This somehow reminds me of an experience Steve related about an ambivalence in the landscape itself which had occurred while travelling through the outback near Cooper Pedy:

There was one particular experience which was driving out of Cooper Pedy on the Oodnadatta track, I think it was, it was a very flat landscape, totally featureless apart from the occasional rock, and there is a very clear distinction between the blue sky and the dry arid ground and I remember at one point looking out of this car and thinking I can look at that point on the horizon and I know how far away the horizon is in miles but it appears very close. I had this incredible sensation of knowing that I was in a big wide open space but feeling very claustrophobic because there was nothing to focus on, there were no points of reference, no scale. That notion of bringing claustrophobia into openness, that notion of conflicting psychological states is partly what came into Earth and Channel.

This appears to be a seminal experience in Steve's engagement with the Australian landscape that finds a voice in Earth and Channel Pt 2 and Middle Distance Distant, and a resolution in such works as Harmonic Three Three (Maheno) and particularly in Land Gauge in which the film maker's pronouncements are imbedded in a white noise, the sonic communication of radio waves that suggest an endlessness, a distance. This is a satisfying resolution of this problem of showing the vastness and the "void" of our landscape, so far removed from our experience of the sliced up, the compartmentalized architectural time-space of our cities and rim settlements.

- "On Triggering Steve Ball: Beginning to think through the implications of his labour" by Dirk de Bruyn, Melbourne Super-8 Film Group Newsletter, Issue 109, December 1995.

Periscope 180

The title indicates both the scopic and conceptual territory of the film: taking a look around from west to east and back again (...surveying through a full half circle). The first part shot in Fremantle with nautical references (ocean, masts, lighthouses). The second part shot in East Gippsland, Victoria, with still blurred images of beach, sea, sky and black and white footage of fishermen, the voice-over taking up notions suggested by the first part of early settlement (at sea when it began, three months of water and then down the west coast of Australia), the uncertainty of migration (He is English and he's here on some sort of scientific job, or is it geographic? What does he do exactly?) towards notions of nomadism and states of continual arrival (The horizon distant in such a shallow field of sea, never returning to the same spot or putting down roots) and the paradox of return, the refrain (...and every day after that I went to the beach). The third and final part in aerial transit, an arrival denied by the film's ending.

- Steven Ball, programme note for Periscope 180

Receiver, by Steven Ball, is the sort of film you could easily drift through. The images are like shadows, vague in substance and languishing in an ambient stasis, supported by a soundtrack that gives contextual nuances to each scene. The total effect is a kind of somnolent nostalgia, like the disconnected stream of consciousness one might experience in a dream in which you are forced to squint. Steven Ball uses a technique to reduce the detail and clarity of the image, turning it into a ghost of the original. In this way he seems to draw attention to the flimsiness of the cinematic illusion that confuses the projected image with real, three-dimensional substance.

- Heinz Boeck "Naked 8", Cinema Papers, February 1997.

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Melbourne independent filmmakers is compiled by Bill Mousoulis