Public Works Productions

Public Works present The Tape-beatles (and Vice Versa)

Conceptual Overview of ‘Expanded Cinema’

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General description

Conceptual overview


Technical requirements

Screening diagram

Setup examples

Projector distances

Show posters (1) (2) (3)

Show reviews

The Chicago Reader

at the Empty Bottle

at the ATA Gallery

at Illinois State U


BEGINNING ABOUT ten years ago, we embarked on a series of major works, each using a three-screen presentation format that we call ‘expanded cinema.’ Though adapted from historical sources (such as Napoléon vu par Abel Gance, 1927), our use of this format ignores Gance’s use of the wide screen effect to replicate naturalistic panoramas (much like the later CinemaScope). On the other hand, Gance also produced ‘synthetic’ scenes where he constructed the image field symbolically, using different images in each of his three projections. Taking our cue from this, our work makes use of semantic-conceptual constructs (drawn from Eisenstein and others), rather than spatial ones, by placing images side by side that are apparently unrelated, but are made to comment on one another by simple juxtaposition.

To Gance’s mechanically reproducible cinematic spectacles, our work adds a human element, that of the projectionist/performer. Each of these works makes use of three motion pictures presented live by these performers (consisting of us) to a musical score consisting of electronic music and audio works that we composed. In editing and assembling these ‘expanded cinema’ works, we take this collaborative sound work as our starting point and inspiration for the selection and sequencing of the segments of film. In addition, we assemble a list of specific cues that we, as projectionists, must respond to, resulting in what effectively becomes a ‘performed’ cinema.

Thematically, the works deal with themes on two fronts: technological and sociocultural.

Technologically, these presentations are a mixture of ‘high-tech’ and ‘obsolete’ machinery. The sound is produced and presented digitally, and uses computers to create sound experiences that would be impossible using analog techniques. In a few cases, Dolby 5.1 digital signal processing is used to better spatialize the sound. The visuals, on the other hand, are presented on refurbished 16mm equipment, and the film itself, edited from ‘found’ and otherwise acquired reels (that have usually seen a lot of use before they come into our hands) bear every mark of their analog nature. This hybrid approach is effective, we believe, in mating the as yet unsurpassed spectacle of celluloid with the unsurpassed flexibility and expressiveness of digital audio techniques.

Socioculturally, these presentations are commentaries on the state of modern life in the West. For example, in The Grand Delusion (1994), footage from old war newsreels, educational films, and oil industry films, are combined into a somber commentary on how humans are conditioned in the first place to see war as a suitable method for resolving conflict. In Matter (1997), footage from chemical laboratories, group therapy sessions, the timber industry, and others, are interwoven to examine how the manufactured, highly artificial material reality with which we surround ourselves has made the individual wholly subservient to other concerns, analogous to the cells of the body. Our most recent work, Good Times (2001) critiques the U.S. economy (especially the so-called ‘long boom’ mentality of the 1990s) and its crucial role in determining human possibility, usually over arching all other concerns.

Each of our presentations — Music with Sound (1991), The Grand Delusion (1994), Matter (1997), Good Times (2001) — is a large undertaking, and undergoes several stages of production. Good Times, for example, is a 51-minute collaborative musical composition, which was released on CD in 1999. Over the next two years, it also became an ‘expanded cinema’ presentation, now largely complete (but still being adjusted). Like each of these works, the ‘expanded cinema’ version of Good Times takes its cue from the themes in the music. Still we consider it to be an independent, new work, because much of the music from the CD is substantially altered, edited, added to, or otherwise rearranged to better fit the cinematic experience and the pacing of the visual material. The same is true in Matter, where the visuals in the video tape version are substantially different from those in the ‘expanded cinema’ (film) piece, as well as differing noticeably in audio content from the original CD release.

These works are complex, and like in many multimedia pieces, we make use of several interwoven tracks of information. In the case of the ‘expanded cinema’ works, we use a digitally-produced stereophonic soundtrack that is accompanied by three simultaneous 16mm movie projections. We arrange these on the screen side by side, so the effect is that of a moving triptych of images producing a ‘wide screen’ effect. The images are not used merely to illustrate or represent the content in the audio; instead, they stretch and deflect the interpretation of the musical content in specific directions to at times bring into sharper focus, and at other times, expand outwards the likely interpretation of the piece and its effect on the audience.

In addition, the central image of the triptych is a carefully edited reel that we have edited to run in synch with the music. The flanking images are film loops which not only serve to create striking, often symmetrical, wide screen panoramas of motion, they also contrast with or enrich the main themes of the music and the center projection. The fact that they are loops also helps to underscore the rhythms inherent in the musical score. In addition, we have created a variety of visual effects which are applied live by the performer/projectionists using colored gels and other filters.

Because these ‘expanded cinema’ works require our personal involvement with the projection and audio equipment during the screenings, and because of their technical complexity, they have only been seen in public somewhat rarely, often in conjunction with festivals and special events. Therefore, in order to expose these presentations to a larger audience, we have adopted digital video production techniques to create adaptations of them so that they may be viewed conveniently on any television or video projection device. Beyond that, these works have also been encoded for delivery on the internet, and are freely available to visitors to this web site.

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