Norman McLaren
Norman McLaren, another pioneer of handmade filmmaking, began painting on film around the same time as Lye. He worked at the GPO before moving to the National Film Board of Canada. By the time of Begone Dull Care (1949), McLaren had mastered a vast array of handmade filmmaking techniques. The film is his greatest abstract direct film and deserves special mention here. No less an authority on color and form as Picasso delighted in the film, declaring after seeing it, "Finally, something new!" McLaren made the film in collaboration with Evelyn Lambart, and the two artists applied paint directly to the film with brushes, stencils, spray containers, fabrics, and even crumpled bits of paper. They also scratched the film, creating jagged zigzag and ladder forms, circular squiggles and clouds of white overlapping lines, the latter bringing to mind Willem de Kooning's contemporaneous monochrome paintings of 1948 and 1949. McLaren worked closely with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, who improvised the film's soundtrack after many back-and-forth listening sessions with the animator, to create a three-part jazz suite. McLaren and Lambert worked on the film in roughly five-second intervals, repeating imagery as the Oscar Peterson Trio repeated musical phrases, in an effort to embrace the improvisatory fervor and switchback mastery expressed by the playing of Peterson, Auston Roberts (bass), and Clarence Jones (drums). McLaren was also a great innovator of synthetic sound. He drew sound directly on film, and quickly adopted Pfenninger's card system, drawing lines and wave patterns on paper strips that eventually comprised an extensive index of precise musical tones and effects. According to Richard James, "By 1953, McLaren had refined his abilities to such a degree that he could specify tenths of a tone, about one hundred dynamic shadings and durations of 1/150th of a second. He had six basic timbres and could mix these to create additional ones." McLaren's ability to meticulously synthesize sound and image reached its apotheosis in his 1971 composition Synchromy. Using his card system, McLaren created the soundtrack for the seven-minute, nineteen-second film by photographing the images frame by frame onto the optical soundtrack. Once it was finished, McLaren replicated the soundtrack on the visual portion of the filmstrip. As in Spinello's Soundtrack, there exists a one-to-one correspondence between what is seen and what is heard. The film begins minimally, with a single light-blue film "strip" standing in the center of the frame, set against a royal-blue field. The strip is filled with shifting patterns of perpendicular and diagonal bars. The bars and their movement relate to the synthetic bleeps, rumbles, and glissandi the viewer hears. The film's method of presenting the synergy of sound and image is didactic--one quickly apprehends, for example, that as the bars become smaller, the volume diminishes, or that as more lines appear in the strip at the same time, a higher pitch is produced. McLaren thus directs the viewer's attention toward the relationship between what is being seen and what is being heard. McLaren subsequently multiplies the strips until there are eleven filling out the entirety of the frame. Near the end of the film, every strip is "playing," allowing McLaren to exhibit the full range of his animated sound techniques. The viewer sees/hears simultaneity, harmony, and counterpoint, all in a dazzling display of linked sound and shifting color. As McLaren's colleague at the National Film Board of Canada Claude Jutra wrote, Synchromy presents, "for a fraction of a second, a landscape too vast for the eye to grasp in its totality. What we do see sears the retina and brands itself on the memory. It is a vision of the unknown, denied us until then. An original, almost blinding vision."

Sample Media:

Synchromy (1971)