- Seven Animations
The convergence of abstract images and music often brings to mind dry, academic showpieces whose theoretical concept eclipses their content, music therapy workshops, or early 1990s trance videos. But within the stratum of non-figurative computer art, only a few artists produce compelling work that instills feelings beyond technical admiration. Dennis Miller's work successfully negotiates this bridge, spanning evocative, creative expression and the clinical precision bred from working in a high-tech academic arts environment. The pieces that make up Seven Animations exhibit a scholarly approach to their maternal technology, while also demonstrating a warming sense of experimentalism and intuition.
Mr. Miller, a composer by trade, currently serves on the music faculty at Northeastern University in Boston. His Web site (www.dennismiller.neu.edu/) reveals a deep-rooted interest in computer generated imagery (CGI), particularly in the abstract field, and the relationship between sound composition and visual images. Seven Animations represents Mr. Miller's output over a seven-year period, comprising roughly one nine-minute piece from each year between 1999 and 2007. Given this time span, it seems appropriate to review each track individually and in sequence. The DVD has just been re-released and the videos are arranged more or less chronologically.
Residue (1999) presents a rotating cube in space. The first thing to strike the viewer is its rather sinister rate of movement: somewhere between fast and slow; hurried yet glacial; machinic yet fluid. Perhaps it's just that this is the first piece, but its calculated feel lends a creeping sense of anxiety. Recurring orange nebulae build on this, complementing the almost electroacoustic soundtrack, which segues into Ligeti-esque "cloud" arrangements, bringing the audio and visuals into a rewarding alignment. Some daring cuts provide the key for a narrative, though this doesn't develop—and has no need to—at such an early stage.
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Second Thoughts (2000) heralds a more glitchy dimension (present in one form or another hereafter) as Mr. Miller enters the 21st century. Electromagnetic spectral lines and grainy fuzz combine with Geiger clicks to imply, if one suspends disbelief, a sense of radiation sickness and toxicity. High contrast imagery gives way to more standard fare (floating shapes in space), although there is a greater sense of environment, with a less sterile feel than previously. Black on red is used to menacing effect, suggesting a multitude of ills.
This thematic focusing is extended in Vis a Vis (2002). Simple oscillation dominates, as refracted light patterns sway back and forth with a naturalistic swing. The colors are vivid, yet there is an underlying haunted feel, like a distorted analog signal hiding behind a high definition veil. Watery [End Page 80] sounds reflect the fluidity of the images and shapes imply themselves, yet never quite materialize. A sudden "crack" near the middle suggests genuine technical failure, giving the impression of Mr. Miller as a seasoned tinkerer and breaker of things, a far cry from the contrived glitch often encountered in similar work.
Faktura (2003) begins in darkness, before homing in on some unidentifiable light source. Shattered landscapes dissolve into infinity. These are of that "plasticky," synthetic quality that much early CGI seems to have, where surfaces and lighting are too "perfect" and negate credibility. This gives way to a complex layered section, swiftly refocusing the attention. Movement hints at tangible imagery, like an autostereogram, and is emphasized by a dynamic audio palette. Layers of perspective shift like desert sands, light melts on and off the screen like an aurora, and objectsmove in and out of existence as if the perspective is at a quantum level.
Halfway through and the selection is impressive. A sense of darkness underpins the technical wizardry, indicating deftness and restraint in composition. The soundscapes are less memorable, although extremely complementary to the visuals, thus fulfilling a large part of the motivation behind...