A series of snapshots are matched with voiceovers from randomly selected audience members.
This strange concept is the outline of a film produced by Ian Svenonius, an anti-authoritarian musician and writer, who screened his work, “The Backward Message,” Monday at the local bookstore Detritus at Project Storefronts on 71 Orange St. Svenonius also gave a talk at the event, which was attended by roughly 15 people. The screening marked the inauguration of SOUND HALL, an event series of speakers and performances presented by Championsound and co-sponsored by Detritus and Yale’s Public Humanities Initiative. Brian Francis Slattery, a writer and editor at the New Haven Review, moderated the talk with Svenonius.
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Van Truong, one of the collaborators for the event and a graduate student in the American Studies program at Yale, explained the purpose of SOUND HALL was to create a dialogue about art in the community, which she concluded was successful.
“The whole intention behind the series was to create a forum for exchange of ideas […] outside the university and academic setting,” she said.
Svenonius, who took the stage without an introduction, added that the purpose of his talk was to introduce a new art-making theory, one which he has been exploring throughout his work.
“Thank you for coming to the first annual convention of radical artists of New Haven and Washington D.C.,” he said. “I’m here to propose a new art form where we don’t have to have patrons anymore.”
Svenonius described his new art form, the “post-apocalyptic film,” as standing alone without need for funding or celebrities. He also emphasized the interactive quality of the particular style of film. To illustrate this quality, he asked for four volunteers from the audience to read from a script, providing voices for the four silent characters in the film.
As he began to click through the images loaded onto a traditional slide projector, Svenonius told the audience to ignore the actors reading the scripts.
“Focus on the images,” he urged.
The four characters in the film were listening for hidden messages produced by spinning a vinyl record backward on a record player. The characters in the film began with the Beatles’ “White Album,” listening in for a hidden message, and ended with the sounds on an obscure Soviet record, which they said they assumed would not have a hidden message when played backward. All along, the audience members in Detritus read from the script, explaining the plot.
To their surprise, the Soviet record had the longest backward message of them all and detailed the birth of rock and roll, which the film explained was produced from the matrimony of the blues and capitalism.
The voice on the record insisted that rock and roll could be turned into a weapon against capitalism and was about to provide the necessary instructions when the music enthusiast spinning the record could not bear to spin it any longer, ending the film abruptly and ambiguously.
The audience clapped enthusiastically as Svenonius walked up to answer questions following the film. Though he would not give direct answers to questions, he did provide some insight on his view of modern punk rock.
“Punk now is like Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck,” he said. “You know, [who can] say the nastiest thing?”
He spoke of his perception of the artist in relation to the rest of the world by saying that the artist is a “magical character” whose goal is to highlight class differences. But regarding his own work, he said he was uncertain of its purpose.
“I have no ambition or desire,” he said. “It’s just a way to tell a story, that’s all.”
Following the talk, Truong, the graduate student at Yale who worked as a collaborator on the event, concluded the event by saying how pleased she was with Svenonius’s visit to Detritus.
People milled around afterward and discussed the event. Donald Brown, a writer for the New Haven Review, emphasized the ambiguous nature of the film.
“[Svenonius] refused to make any kind of statement about what the images were trying to portray,” Brown noted.
Beth Royer, who was pulled from the audience to do a voiceover for the film, described her experience as interesting but not necessarily ideal due to her inability to appreciate the content of the work as she focused on her lines.
An afterparty, titled “Taco Party,” followed the event at Partners Café. It featured Svenonius as a Guest DJ.