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Melbourne independent filmmakers

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Barry Brown


Industrial Vesper #11

by Barry Brown and Irene Proebsting

This is an excerpt from an article that was originally published in Cantrills Filmnotes, Issue No.79-80, November 1995.

THE push for privatisation throughout the power industry in the Latrobe Valley, initiated in the late eighties by the former Labor Government and continued with accelerated abandon by the present Liberal Party, spawned numerous catch phrases — restructuring, industrial democracy, multi-skilling, redeployment, voluntary departure package (VDP) — terms apparently meant to signify a redistribution of renewed fortunes, to usher in a more equitable phase of late capitalism for employer, worker and consumer. Although, as shrinking personnel data bases attest, downsizing echoed the loudest, as a strategy of redundancy was increasingly promoted as the dominant yardstick of efficiency. Attrition rates soared and within six years job shedding has decimated a workforce of 22,000 to well under half, culminating in the present full scale sell-off of assets and threats of further retrenchments.

PRIOR to the turn of events, such a scenario appeared unimaginable. Vast coal deposits stretching for miles in almost every direction throughout the region and forecasts of unparalleled expansion. Plans for a network of twenty-one power stations had been mapped out and touted as the future direction, immense ecological disturbances aside, such proposals reinforced the perception of an ever-continuing arena of expansion, a program of exaggerated development reinforcing inter-generational job security.

THE establishing stages of restructuring were infused with a sense of blurred optimism. Suggestions that increased productivity, via the adoption of competitive market strategies, would lead to improved job opportunities, extended career paths, flexible working hours, and expanded leisure times, filtered throughout the workplace. A voluntary departure package was also announced if you weren’t suited to such gains, a retrenchment plan calculated on years of service as an incentive to depart. Although labeled voluntary, many tacit pressures evolved as the package had certain conditions—assessment for suitability, a fixed closure date like a never to be repeated sale concurrent with an unofficial policy of boredom as work was mysteriously withheld from various work spaces.

AN escalating barrage of conflicting rumours circulated daily, undermining purported benefits and intentions, claims of immanent closures, mass sackings, forced redeployment, a bankrupt State, alarming claims triggering many to sign up in uncertain agitation. (A brief respite would ensure, figures tallied, and a new last-chance VDP closing date announced, like an unrelenting series of false endings.) Memos full of disclaimers were distributed frequently to allay fears and dispel rumours; but for many such an air of uncertainty created mistrust, anger, apathy and fear. Gradually various positions were declared unnecessary and numerous locations targeted as obsolete, openly destined for closure or put onto the market.

INDUSTRIAL VESPER #11 (computer + tapestock, 18 mins, 1995) a comic assault, presented in the form of an electronic desktop memo. Comprising a series of actual and imaginary text snippets drawn from the language of memoranda, workshop slang, obsolete engineering manuals, conversational fragments etc. The accumulative displacement of modes of address generating various absurd juxtapositions as mounting directives, productivity claims and counter claims collide, destabilising a unified reading akin to the multiple mis/dis/in/formations reverberating throughout restructuring; blurring who is actually addressing whom. As the piece progresses the problematic of allegiances is increasingly amplified, as fragments oscillate in ambiguity as to whether the piece is anti-government, anti-union or anti-worker.

INTERSPERSED throughout are a number of recomposed digitised archival photographs, predominantly technical inspections monitoring structural damage to mechanical components, training exercises, locations and farewells; rhythmically paced in an undulating meditative fashion of exaggerated neutrality. The images were processed and modified employing techniques such as transparent overlays, distortion and resizing, abstracting and highlighting inherent contrasts and tonal qualities to manufacture constructivist designs, minimalist collage and trash alien mutations. The image and text components were assembled in a basic presentation package which allows durations and transitions to be designated and also enables the piece to run as a continuous loop direct from the hard drive.

THE accompanying soundfield is a re-working of an earlier sketch, four pitches from a violin performed by Peter Schneider, (1min, tapestock, 1993) from a diary of brief improvisations and events that utilise limited pitch configurations and are concerned with exploring accidental sonic occurrences. Many of the pieces are derived from fairly amusical approaches, for trained and/or untrained players via non-traditional notations, ranging from suggestions of simple activities or deliberate attempts to frustrate normalised playing techniques. Selected fragments are then fed through various gradualist processes of transformation, pitch inversions, subtle equalisations, deploying numerous recording and transmission devices to recombine slightly different versions. For Industrial Vesper #11 the four pitches were continually layered and relayered onto a 4 track recorder. At random, a brief portion was digitised and transferred back to tapestock for further layering and temporal transpositions. The resultant mix an ambivalent, deskilled, uneasy listening.

INDUSTRIAL VESPER #11 was recently screened as part of Virtualities an exhibit of computer and video art held at Science Works Museum, presented by MIMA as part of the Centenary of Cinema.

See also (silent cinema) or the lazy fitter

Barry Brown and Irene Proebsting, November 1995.

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Melbourne independent filmmakers is compiled by Bill Mousoulis