Friday, August 05, 2016

Circle of Light


Circle of Light is a fascinating new vinyl release on Trunk Records - the soundtrack to a film made in 1972 by Anthony Roland.  A hauntological mixture of electronics and field recordings, it was composed by Delia Derbyshire (in collaboration with Elsa Stansfield) and, at 32 minutes, is the longest surviving piece of her music.  The film itself can be seen online for a small fee as part of the The Roland Collection, where it is filed under the heading 'Landscape into Art' (other subjects include Turner, Friedrich, Corot and the mountain painter I wrote about here last month, Giovanni Segantini).  I have embedded above a short preview which he has made available free of charge.  So much for the filmmaker and composer, but what of the relatively obscure subject of this film, 'The Art of Pamela Bone'?  Jonny Trunk provides some background information on his website:
'The origins of the film can be traced back to 1952 when Pamela Bone, a student at Guildford School Of Art, bought her first camera for £6. This was the start of a long symbiotic journey with photography, Bone developing peculiar techniques, adapting cameras and always trying to somehow replicate the visions she had in her mind’s eye.  ... In 1959, and having had work featured in Vogue, Queen and House And Garden, she was invited to stay with a student friend in Calcutta. It was her escape.  The trip enabled Bone to travel and photograph extensively in exotic locations across India, including Sikkim and Kashmir. On returning home, she began working on a conceptual slide show of her travels and transparencies, one that began to slowly morph over the next seven years into a show of slides influenced by travel, the seasons, children, still life studies and landscapes. The working title of the show was Circle Of Light. ...
'Things took an unexpected turn in 1969 when she was introduced to Anthony Roland ...  Roland was quite overwhelmed by the images in many ways and suggested he made a film with them. Together they began work on Circle Of Light.  Bone had also written poetry and wanted this narrated over the film. But Roland knew that the images needed something a little more abstract. So for a soundtrack Roland commissioned Delia Derbyshire (moonlighting from the Radiophonic Workshop). ... Circle Of Light premiered at the Academy Cinema in Oxford Street on 28th March 1972, and three months later was selected to represent Great Britain in the Art Film class at the very well respected Cork International Festival. It won first prize. ...  There have been very occasional sightings of the film over the last few decades, but it has come into focus more recently because of the unreleased music and the dramatic rise in interest for all things Delia.'
Detail from the cover of Seven Doors by Pamela Bone

Pamela Bone gave up photography in 1992, soon after a retrospective exhibition at West Dean College (the former home of Surrealist patron Edward James).  However, in 2009 she published in a very limited edition a book about her work, Seven Doors: Finding Freedom of Expression Through Photography.  In this, she looks back on Circle of Light and recalls her first experience of the soundtrack: 'how well I remember being startled by the crash of a wave with the shell picture, and the hoot of an owl echoing through the Devon woods.'  The most interesting parts of the book explain how she created her transparencies, operating rather like an electronic composer by overlaying elements to build up an atmosphere.  Pale Balloon for example, started as a photograph of a child's balloon tied to a dead tree, to which she added clouds and sea texture.  Then ‘to give interest to the blurred colour of the foreground reeds, I added the pattern of sea foam that I had taken using lithographic film.  Binding together these four layers of film, the pale balloon had become the moon in my imagination.’

I will end here with Pamela Bone's memories of Dartmoor, where she searched for flowing water that could be captured and used later, almost like a painter applying a wash to a watercolour.
‘High on the moors one day, I followed a track leading to these woodlands.  I could hear falling water far below, and I scrambled down over the granite clitter to the upper reaches of the East Dart river.  Sitting on a boulder beside a little waterfall, I watched the bubbles whirl away beneath the water.  As the water flowed beside me, so the landscapes of Van Gogh flowed through my mind; could this be the answer to my pictures.  Between 1967 and 1972 I wandered each springtime beside those lonely reaches of the Dart, photographing again and again the ever changing patterns of sunlight through pools of still and swirling water alike, for I could not tell what the results might be, sometimes beautiful, sometimes useless for my purpose.  The idea worked by combining a water texture transparency with the transparency of the subject I had in mind, allowing their colours to mingle and flow.’

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