The Text of Light group was formed in 2001 with the idea to perform improvised music to the films of Stan Brakhage and other members of the American Cinema avante garde of the 1950s-60s (Brakhage's film 'Text of Light' was the premiere performance and namesake of the group). The original premise was to improvise (not 'illustrate') to films from the American Avante-Garde (50s-60s etc), an under-known period of American filmic poetics. Members of the group include Lee Ranaldo and Alan Licht (gtrs/devices), Christian Marclay and DJ Olive (turntables), William Hooker (drums/perc), Ulrich Krieger (sax/electronics), and most recently Tim Barnes (drums/perc).Various combinations of these players attend 'Text' gigs, depending on individual schedules, so the group takes on various permutations---sometimes all members participate, sometimes not.
To date the group has performed with the following films: Brakhage's Text of Light, Dog Star Man, Anticipation of the Night, Songs; Harry Smith's Mahagonny outtakes, Oz-The Approach to the Emerald City, and Late Superimpositions. The group has headlined the Victoriaville Music Festival, Canada (2002); Three Rivers Film Festival, Pittsburgh; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; and have done 2 tours of Europe to date, as well as performing in New York City and other USA club and cinema venues.
Text of Light does not perform soundtracks to the films of Stan Brakhage. Rather it uses the film as a further element for improvisation, almost as a fifth (or sixth) performer. While Brakhage intended for these films to be screened silently as films , when framed in and of themselves in a movie theatre,in Text of Light presentations they are being juxtaposed with the music, in a kind of real-time performance, mixed-media collage. Any of the Text of Light performers may or may not be viewing the film as it unspools, and may or may not be reacting to what's happening on screen--just as they may or may not be reacting to the sounds of any of the other individual performers. AMM used to loop the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann" and improvise with the loop running, but they would not necessarily be "accompanying" the song, or even reacting to it. Derek Bailey would prepare a tape of silences broken by brief interludes of guitar and perform solo improvisations with it, never knowing exactly when the taped guitar would come in. Text of Light represents an extension of these free improvisational experiments into an intermedia environment. What is exciting is when certain members are engaged in a kind of dialogue with the film, and the others are just reacting to this, setting up a chain of events that is unique in audio/visual performance situations. Also of note is the role of records and the turntablist, which is crucial to Text of Light.
The records, like the films, are "canned" documents that have already been carefully edited and prepared. The turntablist deconstructs them in any number of ways--changing playback speed, effects processing, scratching, skipping, looping.So in any given Text of Light performance, there is one fixed pre-recorded element unfolding without interference or variation in real time (the film), multiple pre-recorded elements that are manipulated and re-designed on the spot by a performer (the records), and multiple live elements are creating their own sounds and structures on the spot (the instrumentalists). The records bridge the gap between the predetermination of the film and the spontaneous composition of the instruments/instrumentalists.
The film's running length is used as a frame for the duration of the improvisation (although commonly the improvisation lasts slightly longer than the running time of the film). Having this frame sets Text of Light apart from other free improvisational situations, in which the duration of any individual "piece" is not determined beforehand (although in a normal free improv concert situation, a standard concert length will be in mind, i.e. if you've played a 40 minute improv and then a 20 minute improv, you might stop or continue with only a short 5 or 10 minute piece). The cumulative result is a new chapter in the annals of free improvisation and mixed media.