Frans Zwartjes – Masterpiece / Spectator

Within our little bubble of avant-garde, experimental, and underground sound, with its endless web of recordings from the past and present day, it can be easy to forget that these contexts are rarely as hermitic as they seem. Many of the great creative accomplishments of the last century have been a result of interdisciplinary conversation - the marriage between image, action, and sound - collaborations reaching toward new forms of “total” art. This is particularly true of the historical dialog between experimental film and music. Countless composers at the vanguard of their craft - James Tenney, Tony Conrad, Terry Riley, Philip Glass, Steve Reich,  Bernard Parmegiani, Luc Ferrari, etc, have composed specifically for film, helping to expanded the potential and meaning of both platforms. One of great examples of this can be found within the the revolutionary films of Frans Zwartjes (1927-2017) - one of the most important experimental filmmakers to have emerged from Holland. Zwartjes’ films were almost always comprised of an equal split between image and sound - each element as radical and psychologically effecting as the next. At long last, emerging in the hands of Purge, an imprint founded with the express purpose of highlighting the artist’s often overlooked efforts in, and relationship to, sound and, we have a stunning LP - Masterpiece / Spectator, featuring two beautiful works created by Frans Zwartjes & Lodewyijk de Boer and the Frans Zwartjes Sound System, respectively. A truly essential revelation, and a window onto an often overlooked tributary of experimental sound.

Regarded by Susan Sontag as "the most important experimental filmmaker of his time”, Frans Zwartjes covered a great deal of ground in the arts before he arrived at the medium for which he became most well know. Trained as classical violist, spending five years playing with the Netherlands Opera, before exploring the worlds of painting and sculpture, finally arriving at film. He created over 50 between the late 60s and death, many being grainy black-and-white efforts, known for being highly stylised, poetic, and claustrophobic, delving into the themes of voyeurism, and sensual and domestic intimacy and tension - forgoing dialog and letting disconcerting close-ups, distorted angles, rhythmic editing, and hypnotic, minimal sound design speak on its own. While fundamentally conceived dialog with filmmaker’s images, Zwartjes’ life as a musician clearly served him well. The sounds he constructed easily stand on their own.

The first side of Purge’s latest LP, part of a string of limited releases highlighting Zwartjes’s musical efforts, is dedicated to Masterpiece, created with his regular sonic collaborator, Lodewyijk de Boer, on synthesiser - weaving a network of minimal, repetitive tone. The second side’s work - Spectator, draws the ear toward the soundtrack of one of Zwartjes’s most radical and noted films of the same name, realized by the Frans Zwartjes Sound System, an officially sanctioned live music project by Stanley Schtinter (prepared piano, voice), Samuel Kilcoyne (moog, organ) and Takatsuna Mukai (violin), drawing on the filmmaker’s completely unique system of sonic creation.

A beautiful, often startling, expanse of sound. The depths of human psyche, which take us back to multidimensional realm of creative possibility and optimism which springs from the revolutionary unity of sound and image. Absolutely fantastic! Masterpiece / Spectator is released in an edition of 500 copies and there will never ever be a repress. The record is produced on 180 gram vinyl, with two custom inners and a screen-printed plastic outer (sealed). Each copy comes with a double-sided riso print of Zwartjes at work, along-with a separate insert featuring an original text on Zwartjes by Schtinter.