The subject of Christian Marclay’s fourteen-minute installation Video Quartet is sound. Shown on four contiguous video screens, it is a montage of more than 700 individual film clips—appropriated from popular feature movies and documentaries alike—in which characters play instruments, sing, or make noise in one form or another.
The artist’s use of turntables in previous performance pieces influenced his approach in Video Quartet: “It’s the same vocabulary of techniques, using snippets of sound and putting them all together to create a new unified composition,” he explained.
Much of Marclay’s work in collage, photography, video, and performance concerns not only sound but its various visual and material incarnations, and Video Quartet is simultaneously a sonic and visual composition, with the two modes inextricably layered and entwined. Certain clips are repeated on different screens, prompting the viewer to register not only aural but visual patterns and correspondences. Although at points the work has an improvisatory feel, Marclay structured it as a score with discrete movements and motifs, and spent a year meticulously composing and editing it on a home computer. [source]
The clips included in Video Quartet, which Christian Marclay edited in his New York studio using the software programme Final Cut Pro, are taken mainly from Hollywood feature films, both colour and black and white productions. Dating from the 1920s to the early twenty-first century, and featuring actors such as Liza Minnelli, Rita Hayworth and Jack Nicholson, these source materials have been described by Marclay as ‘fragments of our cultural baggage’ (quoted in González, Gordon and Higgs 2005, p.89).
Video Quartet begins with scenes of an orchestra tuning up, a segment which builds to a crescendo before it is followed by clips in which characters play musical instruments and sing. The work also includes scenes featuring shouts, screams and close-ups of various noisy objects, such as a spinning roulette wheel. At some moments the same image appears in all four projections; occasionally a single clip seems to bounce between them. As the musician, composer and writer Alan Licht has suggested, ‘As carefully composed and edited as it is, there is also an improvisational feel to parts of Video Quartet, as if each clip is reacting to another spontaneously’ (Licht 2003, p.103). The overall effect is to create a fourteen-minute musical symphony – one with its own distinct rhythms and sections, including moments of calmness and dramatic counterpoints – out of fragmented elements. With visual and audio finality, Video Quartet ends with the sight and sound of a door slamming. [source]