Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine

Tscherkassky concentrates on central motifs from Sergio Leone’s classic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, zeroing in on Eli Wallach stumbling across a vast cemetery and the anti-hero’s head as he dangles from the gallows. Tscherkassky intercuts the latter image with countdown leader, ironically delaying the saving bullet shot by Clint Eastwood. Hereby the very film tears and suddenly descends into pure, soundless whiteness. Only by way of its defects is the medium of film made tangible. The flaws in the system ¬– blisters, scratches, distortions and cracks ¬– overwhelm and overlay the narrative, shatter the illusion and give rise to a richly ambiguous, new story. (Stefan Grissemann)

In the above-mentioned ranking of the Greatest Films of All Time (see Outer Space), Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine was honored with the ranking of position #894 (Critics poll).

More Texts

Sean Uyehara on "Instructions..."

„The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is retold through intense, widescreen 35mm warping and warbling techniques. It will change your ideas about the expressive potential of optical printing and sound remixing.“ (Sean Uyehara, San Francisco International Film Festival Catalogue)

Michael Omasta in Falter, Wien (Critique)

„Tscherkasskys Gesamtwerk ist der prädigitalen Bilderwelt verpflichtet und „Instructions“ sein bislang zwingendster Versuch, die haptischen Potenziale der Kinematografie noch einmal sichtbar, nein greifbar zu machen, ehe sie eines Tages endgültig verschwindet.“ [...]

[...] „Tscherkasskys Filme sind nicht allein künstlerische Ereignisse, sondern ebenso Kinoereignisse. Seine 17 Minuten Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine kann man noch mit Gewinn gegen Leones Gesamtwerk eintauschen.“ [...]

(Michael Omasta, Falter)

Christoph Huber, Cinema Scope (Critique)

„Peter Tscherkassky’s new 17-minute found-footage masterpiece Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine not only was the uncontested highlight of the entire Quinzaine des réalisateurs sidebar, in its way it was also the best of the many revisionist Westerns that haunted this year’s Cannes film festival. (Christoph Huber, Cinema scope)

Stefan Grissemann, kolik Film

„Ironischerweise betont gerade der ekstatische Materialismus Tscherkasskys das rauschhafte Potenzial des Kinos eher als dessen aufklärerische Kapazität. Das Instruktive wird bei Tscherkassky, auch wenn es schon im Filmtitel steht, entschieden poetisiert, in die zweite Linie zurückgenommen. Wenn hier etwas bewiesen werden soll, so sind es paradoxerweise gerade jene Dinge, die sich jeder Beweisführung entziehen: die transzendente Schönheit der schieren Klang- und Bildgewalt, die gespenstische physische Präsenz der lebenden Toten, die das Kino bevölkern.“ (Stefan Grissemann, kolik Film II/2005)

"Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine" - texte français

Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine a un héros que l'on identifie immédiatement. Marchant en toute innocence le long d'une rue, il s'aperçoit soudain qu'il est soumis aux caprices cruels de certains spectateurs et du réalisateur. Malgré ses efforts héroïques pour y échapper, il finit suspendu à la potence où il meurt de mort cinématographique par rupture du film.
Notre héros est alors précipité dans l'Hadès, le royaume des ombres. Ici, dans le monde clandestin de la cinématographie, il est confronté à une multitude d'instructions qui, au laboratoire de tirage, garantiront l'existence de toutes les créatures cinématographiques de l'ombre. Ce qui revient à dire que notre héros accède aux conditions de son possible, aux conditions de sa propre existence en tant que créature cinématographique de l'ombre...

Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine est la tentative de transformation d'un western romain en tragédie grecque. (Peter Tscherkassky)

Seven Instances of the Austrian Avant-Garde, by Ed Halter

Thomas Bernhard tells the story of two professors at the University of Graz who move themselves and their families into a single house together for the purpose of continuing an entrenched, decades-long philosophical argument. After embroiling a third colleague in the dispute, they invite him over to their shared home, then blow up the building—thus ending the discussion. “They had spent all the money they had left,” Bernhard writes, “on the dynamite necessary for the purpose.”

Imagine this tale as a parable of the distinctive paradoxes of avant-garde cinema. Exceedingly erudite conceptual structures and complex aesthetic systems achieve realization through collisions of light and sound, designed to throw the viewer into a confrontation with the barest elements of cinematic form, made possible with the slightly antiquated products of 19th century science. The formalist edge of Austrian filmmaking has always pushed such extremes—machine flatness and spiritual emotion, animal shock and cognitive puzzle, fleshy materialism and ghostly mystery.

Austria’s success in fostering such a powerful experimental film scene is well known among cineastes worldwide. A conflux of generative factors can be cited: the storied history of avant-garde art and literature in Vienna; the influence of filmmakers such as Valie Export, Peter Kubelka and Kurt Kren, who attained international renown decades ago; the success of shorts distributor sixpackfilm, which has helped keep Austrian artists prominent in international festivals; and, not least, the long-standing commitment of governmental organizations such as Film Division of the Department of the Arts to fund such adventurous, non-narrative films. Dynamite doesn’t come cheaply.

Look at a sample seven titles underwritten by the Film Division, and the impact of this sustained support will be made clear.

1. Kurt Kren, 49/95 Tausendjahrekino (1995)

There is a discernable sensibility to Austrian experiments—a cluster of threads that run through many of finest examples of filmmaking. Commissioned to mark the cinema’s centenary, Kren’s Tausendjahrekinoopens with a title screen speckled with black bits of dust and detritus, then volleys through staccato flashes of tourists pointing cameras up at the St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Each of their banal snaps is countered by Kren’s guerrilla anthropology, captured with his shaking, zooming lens. Like this one, the best Austrian films are short, brutal and dirty.

2. Martin Arnold, Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (1998)

Arnold takes Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney, two icons of innocent 1930s Americana, then stretches and remixes their language and body movements into a minuet of robotic jitters and beastly bleats, uncovering an uneasy sexual tension in the triangle of girl, boy and mother. The filmmaker digs deeps, hits nerves.

3. Elke Groen, Tito-Material (1998)

From the rubble of a decimated cinema in Bosnia and Herzogovina, Groen found propaganda newsreel footage of Yugoslavian President-for-Life Tito. Reprinted, Tito moves silently under layers of decay. Peter Gidal once defined materialist cinema as trafficking in “that space of tension between materialist flatness, grain, light, movement, and the supposed reality that is represented.” To this Tito-Materialadds the tension between past and present, state-sponsored fantasy and political reality.

4. Gustav Deutsch, Film Ist. (1998/2002)

The past becomes an ever stranger land in Film Ist. , filled with disjunctive colonialist mansions, supernatural religious footage, and accidentally surrealist science documentaries, all snatched from the era of silent cinema. These fragments are slowed down, re-cut and set to staticky electronic soundscapes. The flicker and hum evoke a hypnotic state: revisiting times lost as a form of disembodied dreaming. The soundtrack itself presages the experiments in digital, visual glitch seen in a more recent generation of Austrian video art.

5. Siegfried A. Fruhauf, Exposed (2001)

White oblong shapes float like clouds across one another, sailing across an expanse of movie-screen blackness, each glowing box in the round-cornered shape of a 16mm sprocket hole. One again a spirit is summoned from the very materials of the machine.

5. Kerstin Cmelka, Camera (2002)

In Cmelka’s earlier films, Mit Mir and Et In Arcadia Ego, the filmmaker plays with her own doppelgangers, superimposing herself upon herself multiple times. Camera uses similar optical tricks to print moving images of woodlands on the interior walls of a small room. Recall that “camera” merely means “room” or “chamber” in Latin: so is the film camera offer a window on the world, or merely in illusion of one? Maybe we can’t really leave the room—or camera—after all.

7. Peter Tscherkassky, Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005)

American critics blithely assume that films from outside our borders always comment on our own culture—as if the world’s artistic output had the mere function of an elaborate vanity mirror for us (“So, tell me honestly, how do I look?”). But here such a claim does not feel like this kind of indulgence. Tscherkassky takes moments from The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and handprints them into a rat-a-tat-tat wartime montage. The throb of exploding bullets reminds us of the clacking of the projector over our heads: the reflection throws us out of the theater and back into the world.

* * *

Certainly not every nation that has chosen to invest its capital into filmmaking has been as fortunate as Austria with the cultural returns. In many other nations, governmental financing and grant foundations make the mistake underwriting the bland and inoffensive. The strategy in Austria seems to have been to support the strongest elements of the idiosyncratic and rebellious fringe, to encourage daringly noncommercial work, and to strive for art, rather than mere entertainment.

Look at key words from these seven titles: kino, waste, material, film, exposed, camera, light and sound machine. Austrian experimental cinema always returns to contemplate its own being, but in doing so, seeks new engagement with the world.

Jury Statement GRAND PRIZE - Holland Animation 2006 (Award)

For its deconstructive visual power and meta-cinematic approach, for its contribution towards expanding our experience of the film medium, and for reacquainting us with the basic tools of cinema, the Grand Prix 2006 for Best Non-Narrative Independent Shorts goed to Peter Tscherkassky for instructions for a Sound and Light Machine (Austria, 2005)

Jury Statement GRAND PRIZE - Holland Animation 2006
Orig. Title
Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine
17 min
Orig. Language
No Dialogue
Peter Tscherkassky
Sound Design
Dirk Schaefer
Available Formats
Digital File (prores, h264) (Distribution Copy)
35 mm (Distribution Copy)
Aspect Ratio
1:2,35 (CinemaScope)
Sound Format
Dolby stereo
Frame Rate
24 fps
Color Format
DCP 2K scope (Distribution Copy)
Aspect Ratio
1:2,35 (CinemaScope)
Sound Format
Dolby 5.1.
Festivals (Selection)
Sao Paulo - Short Film Festival
Fantoche - Animationsfilmfestival Baden
London - BFI International Film Festival
Milano Aiace - Invideo
Vancouver - Int. Film Festival
Montréal - Festival International du Nouveau Film et de la Video
Toronto - Int. Film Festival
Olympia - Film Festival
Rio de Janeiro - Mostra Curta de Cinema
Belford - Entrevue, Festival Int. du Film
Seoul - SeNef Net & Film Festival
Sarajevo - Int. Film Festival
New Zealand Int. Film festival
New York - Film Festival
Imola - Corto Imola Festival
Paris - L'Etrange Festival
Melbourne - Int. Film Festival
Denver - TIE Int. Experimental Cinema Exposition
Vila do Conde - Festival Internacional de Curtas-Metragens (Grande Premio Experimental)
Cork - Int. Film Festival
Uppsala - Int. Short Film Festival
Austin - Cinetexas - Int. short film&video&new media festival (Gecko Award)
Barcelona - L’ALTERNATIVA - II Mostra Internacional de Cinema Alternatiu
Zagreb - 25fps Film & Video Festival (main award)
Jihlava Documentary Film Festival
Cannes - Quinzaine des Réalisateurs
Sitges - Festival de Cinema Fantastic de Sitges
Ankara - Festival of European Film / Festival on Wheels
Madrid - Semana de Cine Experimental
Helsinki - Avanto Media Art Festival
Taipei - Golden Horse Film Festival
Leeds - Int. FilmFestival
Brest - Festival du Film Court
Brisbane - Int. Film Festival
Ljubiljana Animateka - Int. Animation Film Festival
Viennale - Vienna Int. Film Festival
Pesaro - Film Festival
Onion City - Film Festival Chicago
Windsor - Media City (Honorable Mention)
Basel - VIPER Festival für Medienkunst
Rotterdam - Int. Filmfestival
Edinburgh - Kill your timid notion
Graz - Diagonale, Festival des österreichischen Films
Paris - Némo Festival
Oberhausen - Int. Kurzfilmtage
Hong Kong - Int. Film Festival
Sundance Film Festival
Singapore International Film Festival
Istanbul - Int. Short Film Festival
Paris - Tout Court Festival
Osnabrück - EMAF - European Media Art Festival
Zürich - VIDEOEXperimental; Video & Film Festival
Hamburg - Int. Kurzfilm-Festival & No Budget
Barcelona - Sonar Int. Festival of Advanced Music
Teplice - Int. Art Film Festival Trencianske
Seoul - EXis (Experimental Film- & Videofestival)
Victoria - Antimatter Underground Film Festival
Athen - Synch Festival
Utrecht - Impakt Festival
Wiesbaden - exground on screen
Gran Canaria - canariasmediafest
Weimar - back-up festival. new media in film
Regensburg - Kurzfilmwoche
Utrecht - Holland Animation Film Festival (Grand Prize)
Clermont-Ferrand - Festival de Court Metrage (Special Mention of the jury)
New Jersey - Black Maria Festival (Director’s Choice Award (3rd place))
Norwich - AURORA International Animation Festival
Brighton - Cinecity Film Festival
Lyon - Les Inattendus Film and Video Festival
Amsterdam - Sonic Acts Festival