Northern Lights (Cambridge)

Northern Lights (Cambridge) is the first in a series of related works that touch on themes of perception, coincidence, and the phenomenology of memory. The film employs anachronistically lo-tech optical effects to simulate Aurorae, the luminous atmospheric phenomena that appear as curtains of colored light over certain regions of the Earth and are popularly known as "The Northern Lights." The apparatus that generates the film's images is in fact a work of light art from the early 1980s by artist Earl Reiback that is owned by Tribe's parents and resides in their home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

The film's musical score was performed by Cambridge composer Jorit Dykystra on the Lyricon. The Lyricon is an obsolete synthesizer-like instrument that was also produced in the early 1980s near Cambridge. The Lyricon's "optical sound" technology is analogous to that employed by 16mm film: in the Lyricon, the musician's breath moves a membrane that allows light to hit a photo cell which generates "sound"; with 16mm film, an "optical soundtrack" runs parallel to the picture track and plays back sound according to the amount of light it allows to hit a photo cell. In this way, in both apparatuses, sound becomes light becomes sound again.

 

The Lyricon was also chosen for the score because its sound resembles the eerie "music" that the Northern Lights generate as they disturb the Earth's own natural radio frequencies. While the images and sounds of Northern Lights (Cambridge) might appear to be cosmic nebulae, cellular processes in the brain, atmospheric distortions, or simple smoke and mirrors, its structural synesthesia tries to evoke the destabilized and slippery experience of memory itself.

Music composed for Lyricon: Jorrit Dijikstra

Object filmed: Earl Reiback, Lumia Ori, c. 1980

Northern Lights (Cambridge), 2005

16mm color film with optical sound, 4 minutes