The work of artist, musician and composer Jem Finer often demonstrates a fascination with immensities of scale, be it a musical composition lasting an entire millennium (Longplayer), or a cartographic quest to inscribe a star-map on the surface of the earth (On Earth as in Heaven). In 51º 30’ 44” N, 0º 0’ 38’ E, his ongoing film project for Stay Where You Are, his attention is circumscribed by a more immediate locale: Trinity Buoy Wharf, where he has a studio. Marking the point where the Lee and Thames Rivers meet, this area – like much of this once mighty swathe of East London docks and wharves – exists because of industry. Today, these historical traces are evident in the heavy barges that lurch past Jem’s studio and up the Lee, or in the peaked-roof warehouse architecture on the opposite bank of Bow Creek, both of which lend a particular maritime feel to the sonic and visual textures Finer’s films explore. As the seasons change, so does Finer’s environment. For all the attention it pays to a particular place, 51º 30’ 44” N, 0º 0’ 38’ E is equally a study of temporal, meteorological and emotional change.
The first film in the quartet, Night, explores the shifting sonic textures of winter through the dark lens of the early morning hours. Much of the film is shot in black and white; parts of it, in fact, are entirely black, lacking imagery of any kind: we are plunged into a world of sound. A haunting piano refrain, like a pub song echoing in your head on the long walk home, deepens the atmosphere of isolation and coldness. Night is dominated by the sound and fury of natural forces, not deliberate human activity. Rain lashes down on an abandoned landscape. The river heaves and gurgles. Distant lights burn through the darkness.
Finer’s lyrical filmmaking, though focused on small details, builds entire worlds. Drawing on a deftly controlled range of sounds and images, Night creates a sense of atmospheric hostility and subjective contemplation. With Morning, however, the world grows brighter, warmer, and more open: the black box of the night unfolds. Fresh sounds flow into the soundtrack, and new colours bleed into the palette. This desolate stretch of the Thames begins to flourish with activity: aeroplanes, boats and cable cars, but also the mesmeric patterns of light that float upon the surface of the water. The soundtrack modulates from a hypnotic, raga-like drone to a crescendo of screaming aeroplane engines. Where Night conjures the dark, primordial forces of the natural world, Morning could be construed as a study of transport, and how technology alters the pace and sound of the environment. If winter encourages a solipsistic frame of mind, then spring quickens attention outwards, toward the world of commerce, transport, technology and trade.
Day marks a departure from the first two instalments in Finer’s 51º 30’ 44” N, 0º 0’ 38’ E. He appears in front of the camera. The soundtrack is constructed – construction seems an apt metaphor – from an interlocking sequence of performances: a metronome, a prepared piano, turntable, glockenspiel, a handful of bolts (presumably salvaged from the riverbanks outside) and a pinball machine each contribute to the intimate, intricate symphony. There are echoes here of Things: Winter, Ben Rivers’s first instalment for Stay Where You Are, which explores an interior world of his flat and, through a system of interrelated objects, creates a sensation of roaming thought. It is through the layered interplay of Jem’s instruments that the soundtrack of Day emerges. Day is a time of work, of productivity, following the emptiness of night and the blurry rush of morning. Finer’s studio is presented as a kind of factory, and each frame of the unfolding film acts like another cog in the machine.
The final film of the quartet, Evening, will be released in Autumn 2014.