DVD Review: Colorfield Variations

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The Color Field movement, defined by abstract canvases featuring broad fields of solid color, flourished in the post-war era of the 1940s and ’50s. Inspired by European modernism and closely mirroring the works of artists like Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still, and Barnett Newman, the Color Field movement was born when artists began to break away from the gesture and angst of abstract expressionism, opting instead to examine the subtleties of clear surfaces and pure color.

Fast-forward about 50 years to a new DVD released by Taylor Deupree’s minimalist label Line. The limited-to-1000 Colorfield Variations (Line; $22) takes Color Field’s central ideas and reinterprets them with stunning audio-visual mood pieces created by a host of critically acclaimed artists from all across the globe. Wonderfully assembled by curator and sound artist Richard Chartier, the DVD is an excellent way for viewers to absorb the Color Field movement from all spectrums—from the warm and milky deluge of vibrant oranges and reds bleeding into one another in Steve Roden’s 13-minute “Dark Over Light Earth” to the three-dimensional world of skittering neon blocks in Tina Frank and General Magic’s “Chronomops.”

The music accompanying each of the pieces comes from a wide array of experimental sounds, from drone and ambient to the clicks, gurgles, and pops of borderline-IDM. Ryoichi Kurokawa’s masterpiece “Scorch” blends blurred, origami-like geometry in pinks, pastels, and carnation colors to a fuzzy, ambient soundscape. Crinkly shapes multiply like bacteria on a microscope lens, crunching and fizzling as new transparent bodies dissolve and reappear over them.

“Chronomanic Redux,” by Throbbing Gristle members Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, is another beauty, both aurally and visually. During the piece, a giant block of rich red inches down the screen to what sounds like an orchestra conducted by ghosts. As more classical-sounding instrumentation makes its way into the thick blanket of drone and whir, the red block becomes textured and flows like debris slithering across an ocean floor.

In college, I used to enjoy sitting in my dorm room on acid, staring at a blue TV screen while Roni Size or the Pi soundtrack boomed in the background. Colorfield Variations reminds me of those days, as it’s a great (non-narcotic) way to get lost in beautiful sights and sounds.