Interview by Claudio Koremblit

– I started to do animation thanks to the help, encouragement and example of Norman McLaren. Without him and his work I guess I would never have started this. He was the one who introduced me to the animation producers of the National Film Board of Canada. I stayed there 34 years, until the end of 1999. So without Norman, my career in animation if there were to be one, would have been very different. I got from him the idea of scratching directly on film which became my main technique of animation for almost 40 years. I learned from him a certain way to relate to the technology of film in the most direct manner. His movie Blinkity Blank remains one of my main references.

– Esthetically though, I felt closer to Len Lye who had a more radical attitude towards animation. He strongly needed to have a philosophical background behind his practice of animation. He was more conceptual than Norman but albeit he always remained very physical in his work, Free Radicals and Particles in space are my absolute cult movies.

– In my early year of animation, I was very much under the general influence of the American underground filmmakers, Robert Breer, Stan Brackage, the Withney’s, etc. The overall carreer of Stan Brackage impresses me a lot. I meet Vanderbeek several times but I did not have a good knowledge of his work. Fishinger is of course a reference but I don’t think I was much influenced by his work because it was too closely devoted at interpreting music in a literal way.

– My relationship to music and musicians is much freer and less formal than the project of «visual music» that Finshinger had. My interest in doing live animation performances developed in the mid 80’s when I came to be in contact with musicians that were active on the new music scene in Montreal, René Lussier, Jean Derome and Robert Marcel Lepage with whom I did my first performances. It was also for me a way to escape from what I was perceiving as the ghetto of animation film. It is through them that I got to know Fred Frith, and through Fred I got to know Bob Ostertag at the time he was starting to do music again, that is in 1989. We very quickly became friend and found that our respective work would readily connect without any effort and it remained so until now. We regularly made projects together during the 90s and at the turn of the millennium we started to work together on a regular basis with the Living Cinema project.

– If the Living Cinema performances are so thematically oriented, it is in great part due to circumstances. More specifically, the fact that we performed it on September 20 2001 in the United States, forced us to comment or reflect on the attack of the World Trade Center. We had no choice but do this. This was the defining moment of Living Cinema. And we went on accepting that the fact of responding to the world situation while it is evolving was the essence of our work. And it makes sense, because the fact that we do every presentation from scratch allows us to actually be able to react to what is happening as it happens and stay on the razor blade. It as also has to do with the fact that Bob and I both have a political background and that we are deeply concerned with the current catastrophic course of world affairs. We also like when we can set ourselves in situation which directly have to do with the theme of the performances, like when we did Between Science and Garbage in Minneapolis on 20/11/01, when we did an extended European tour weeks before the invasion of Iraq, or, more recently, when we did the world premiere of Special Forces (which is a piece inspired by the bombing of Lebanon at the Summer of 2006) in Beirut in April 2007.

– For me experimental cinema does not exist in the absolute, like if there was a certain limited number of areas to experiment and that after a number of years, 50, 60 , 90 or whatever it could be said that everything has been tested or experimented, that all the items on the list have been checked. It does not work that way. My view is that «experimental cinema or animation» is a needed critical counterpart at every moment or the evolution of cinema. It is a needed element at every moment, so it cannot be said that it was already done, it always has to be done again as if it had never been done. There is always an element of formal exploration in experimental animation, but it is not the essential of it. This not why it is needed. The necessity of experimental cinema is related to the fact that cinema (in the wider sense of the term which for me is not restricted to the narrower definition of cinema in the twentieth century) is a technology based art. Main stream cinema seems to always aim at a petrified definition of its technological base and consider it as a black box that is taken for granted. This attitude, which is particularly evident in most of the critical work about cinema in the restricted sense, amounts to negate that the ground on which this art stands is bound to change constantly and, more so. in dependence to factors which are mostly economic, industrial, scientific and in a very little way artistic. Thus, the need of experimental cinema does correspond to the necessity of constantly questioning the relationship between the artistic objectives and the almost independent «progress» of the technological base, the never ending necessity of breaking the toy, the necessity of opening the black box. And this always has to be done again. The word experimental is probably not the best word to describe the nature of this necessity and it probably has a perverse effect on the actual practice of «experimentation». I would prefer the world «critical» in the philosophical meaning of the term. Critical cinema.

– I suppose that there is a lot of performance of moving images because with digital tools it has become possible and easy to do. Since it is possible to do it, people are doing it, thus all the vj’ing that can be seen along with dj’ing. But this is not the reason why I do it, because I was doing it at the time when it was not so obvious how to do it especially talking about live animation. Live scratched animation performance were not at all the obvious thing. The deeper reason why I started doing this was a concern about the relationship, in animation, between the body of the animator, the energy he develops while animating, and the motion that can be seen witnessed on the screen. The animated motion seen on the screen is an artificial fabrication, synthesized motion through frame by frame drawing and through the action of the technology of projection. So there is a technical black hole between what the animator does with his body while animating and the resulting motion. Mainstream animation, especially in its industrial variant, totally accepts this hiatus and makes no effort in trying to connect the two instances of motion. To the contrary, it aims to erase as much as it can the disruptions that could emerge from the idiosyncratic character of a given animator way of moving. My objective in doing live animation has always been to explore this uncertain zone between the body of the animator and the resulting motion and try to create the conditions so that a connection as direct as possible between the two spheres emerges. It maybe impossible to achieve this fully because technology will always remain as an inevitable part of the process, but I do believe that trying to do it help make the process transparent and has a «critical» value toward mainstream animation which values opacity. I am not very concerned by the problem of whether doing live cinema has a future, whether it is a new form of art. I would rather think that the very idea that it could be a new form of art is actually weakening the critical potential of such practices and is beginning to enclose it in the petrified straight jacket of esthetics. I will continue to do this as long as I can feel the critical bias in it.

– But I must also say that I started doing performances also to do something that would attract attention and help the distribution of my work. And it is still a little bit like that. I know very well that there is currently a fashion of live cinema performances and that I benefit from that. It still helps attracting attention to my work even if, somehow, it appears in contradiction with my profound objective of «critical» work. But it is all right with me, contradictions are part of this world. I don’t reject being part of this trend and I enjoy being and older man doing what only young people are suppose to do. I must also add that I do this for pleasure. Right from the start, I found it much more exciting to «perform» than to watch the projection of a finished work. The relationship with the work and with the public is totally different. Another point is that going back and forth between performing and filmmaking quickly became a way of working. Performances often served as a way of exploring and developing idea and my style in filmmaking became very influenced by the special breath that can happen only in performance situation. I don’t know how long I will continue to do it, but I certainly have many reasons of doing it. I see now that I am starting to do some films about places and landscapes that are done in a more meditative manner. My last film Herqueville is an example of this. This new approach appears to be developing independently of my performance work.