Dutch experimental filmmaker Zeno van den Broek discusses his new short film which “revolves around the relation and tension between the human and the digital,” with SEE NL's Nick Cunningham. The film world premieres at Rotterdam 2023.
From Voice to Pulse by Zeno van den Broek
Coming in at just under 11 minutes, Zeno van den Broek’s highly experimental From Voice to Pulse plays like a sonata or a musical poem, or even a concerto in which voice is the primary instrument. That said, custom robotics, played at breathtaking speed, provide an equally important role in driving (or accompanying, depending on how you interpret it) the shifting landscape on screen.
What we see is digital and linear. Sometimes the visuals resemble a giant set of library shelves, or a futuristic memory bank as imagined in the 1950s. At other times a river of digital particles floats by (the direction of flow can be imagined either way) or a fizzy tower block appears. In essence, what you see is open to whatever interpretation you wish to apply.
And then there is the narration, generated by the GPT-2 AI and trained on wordsmith Georges Perec’s Species of Spaces, as well as pages from Wikipedia that deal with the theme of spatial perception. Throughout the film we hear, on repeat, reference to that monk, (or is it that Munch?) as well as memories, fragmentation, permanence, surroundings and destination. At the end, after a period of frenetic visual and sonic activity, the screen settles on ten thin vertical lines and a gentle ping to herald the credits.
In his notes for the work, Van den Broek states how his film revolves “around the relation and tension between the human and the digital,” with the whole piece taking form “in an algorithmic composition for percussion, performed by custom robotics, and for voice, performed by a human. The visuals are inspired by the weaving loom and self-playing musical instruments such as the Componium, bridging the physical and the digital.”
But Van den Broek is touching on something even more primal or elemental within the work, he tells SEE NL. “This combination of percussion and vocals is the oldest form of music,” he says. “I can imagine when human forms were living in caves, hitting the rhythms with their hands and singing along. It’s the most ancient form of music, but I was also looking for its most contemporary manifestation in which a machine and a human come together.”
Not that the experience is designed to be harmonious. At times the juxtaposition of what we see, as generated by what we hear, can be jarring. “Yes, the sound feeds into the visuals, so it's all interconnected. I really like to get the human performer to look for the most human dimension, through improvisation a little bit and the expression of emotion. But then at the same time, the robotic parts have to play as fast and as precisely and in as a-human a way as possible, and come up with rhythms which a human would have a really hard time to perform. Scientifically or mathematically the rhythms make sense, but for our body it doesn't really feel nice.”
Given the intensity and vibrancy of his work, Van den Broek underlines how the short film format is preferable. “I would rather have the audience leave the cinema with a feeling of ‘I want more. I'm interested. I'm grasped by something within that.”
What’s more, when it comes to programming alongside other short films, he is just as eager to explore and accompany a diverse range of forms, whether animation, live action or documentary. “This work is about how we, as humans, relate to other forms of intelligence or other forms of creation, so perhaps other movies that also touch on that subject, or how we as humans relate to each other, or to the environment, or to nature,” Van den Broek ends.
For a full overview of all Dutch films screening at IFFR 2023, click here.