Essay, Magazin

Graphic listening

Visualizing The Bøyg: About my tribute to Oskar Fischingers concept of visual music in my film Bøygen (2016).

When making films tied to poetry or prose, I find abstraction to be a successful vessel. Like music, it can connect directly to emotion, and facilitate individual experience. I always turn to history of visual music – these works of art, some of them close to a century old, still stand as monuments of inspiration. The masters of abstract cinema paved such a vast area of experimentation, and stunningly beautiful works, there is always something new to learn from them. In every case, I always come back to Oskar Fischinger (1900–1967).*

This was especially significant with my visual music short Bøygen of 2016: From deep in the misty Norwegian mountains comes the unnerving sense of numbing apathy. This is The Boyg, in old Norwegian folklore known as a large, invisible serpent that seem to surround you and suggests you avoid challenges. Made famous by playwright Henrik Ibsen, the Boyg is today a term for a formless obstacle; lack of initiative, creeping anxiety or a problem difficult to untangle.

To express an abstract idea with an abstract visual language was a labyrinth of trial and error. But a successful marriage of sound and image can open a doorway directly into the synapses. Research for this project covered both ancient Norwegian folklore and film history. The starting point was a journey to the Center of Visual Music in February 2015.**

The pilgrimage from Oslo to Los Angeles lead me to the heart of the Fischinger legacy at the Center for Visual Music. Not only was this a lush, archival haven of abstract cinema masters, I was presented with actual, original Fischinger artwork. A specific work I had only seen as the finished film: white graphics on black background. Here, the original was negative: black shapes drawn on white paper. This was a direct inspiration for later ways of working, and parts of The Boyg are a homage to these hand made, pre computer age visuals.

For my films, the research leads to rooting the visuals in a theme, abstracting it and connecting it to the soundscape. It is not always a linear process, these steps are often in fluxus. In development I often search the soundtrack with motion graphics to see where it fits. Like I’m searching the wall for a door in the dark – it can fail for a while, and then it hits, clicks and opens a door into another room.

An excerpt from the film Bøygen

Notes about visualizing The Bøyg 

Following here, are glimpses from the process; source material and bits that didn’t make it into the finished film.

LEFT: Symbol for the visual music short film Bøygen: The serpent is coiling trough the symphony orchestra. RIGHT: Inspiration: Universal maps of orchestra instrument seating.

How does the Boyg manifest in graphic form? What kind of movements and behaviour can mirror an experience of distortion or anxiety? The search for a simplest possible appearance leads to a number of sketches that need to be brought to life to see if it works with sound and music.

LEFT: Is it something that distorts what used to be in order? RIGHT: Does it squeeze empty space, leaving no room to breathe?

LEFT: Is it blocking my path, too heavy to move out of the way? RIGHT: Is it something hiding in the dark?

Visualizing The Bøyg: If it is something heavy blocking my path, how do I animate one shape fighting another? A small square tries frantically to push away a form that only grows stronger:

Inspired by Fischinger original artwork:

Some scenes in The Boyg went through a process of digitial and analogue production. They were forst animated black and white, printed out frame by frame on paper, and scanned back in high resolution and inverted. This technique provides a tactile and hand made expression.

Visualizing music:

Some testing involved trying to represent details in the music with motion graphics. What does bass or treble look like? How does dark or light notes behave, and what color are they? Do I follow the high pitch staccato rhythm, or the slow and heavy horns in the background? All together the visuals should correspond with the temper and emotion of the composition.

What does pizzicato look like?

A dance of woodwinds, pizzicato and contrabass.

Analyzing the serpent:

The coiling ornaments of serpents go far back in nordic folklore and symbolism. Something in its nature speaks to us, and has been used for centuries to represent the inner workings of human psychology, or outer warnings of movement in society or warfare. The serpent (and the Boyg) goes deep in our mythos.

Old norse mythology, carving from ancient stave church:

LEFT: Sigurd Fåvnesbane (also Siegfried/Nibelungenlied) fights the serpent. RIGHT: Detail from stave church portal, ca. 1150.

Research trip to Oslo Reptile Zoo and study of the serpents:

In addition to theoretical research, it can be helpful study up close how the snake looks, feels and behaves. Something about this animal resonates with our primordial fear of danger.

It is coiling and shifting, hiding right in front of our eyes. It is difficult to get a grip on, or it hides in from the light. All of these can rightly be used as metaphores for anxiety.

Searching for a visual representation of the serpent, requiers a process of distilling the image of snake down to simple graphics.


Stills from finished film

* Read more about Oskar Fischinger:
** Read more about the Center:

About the Artist

Foto: Paloma Llambías

Filmmaker and designer Kristian Pedersen graduated with an MA in Visual Communication from Bergen Academy of Art and Design. Working as a freelance animator and designer in Oslo, he has produced animated poetry films in collaboration with the small press Gasspedal and editor Audun Lindholm, the publishing house Gyldendal, and the Norwegian National Library. His films have been featured at festivals for film, animation, literature and poetry.