Music video for artist Hatis Noit contextualising BFI archive films on Japan with new footage to explore notions of the past, present and a future

This music video for Japanese vocal performer Hatis Noit was commissioned by the UK label Erased Tapes for the title track from her album “Aura” in August 2022. The video revisits visual material we created during our project “縁:Tracing The Circle”, a collaboration with the British Film Institute which re-contextualized a collection of restored archive films about Japan with new material and new music for their Japan On Film season in 2020.

This project was originally initiated as a new live cinema project in partnership with the Southbank Centre to create a new performance to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. This project involved a new musical collaboration with legendary Japanese composer Midori Takada. Due to the global pandemic, this performance was pivoted into an installation called “時の河: Tokinokawa” which was displayed in the foyer of the BFI Southbank between December 2021 and February 2022.

After this installation finished, and venues re-opened after the pandemic, we were keen to explore ways of re-visiting the material and ideas in this project through the development of a longer form film and performance. We approached Hatis Noit as a potential collaborator as long-term fans of the Erased Tapes label and her haunting vocals.

This installation wove together past and contemporary views gathered in Japan in response to the archive films. It deconstructed the processes and implicit bias in the film as a medium, placing its viewers outside of the timeline of the proposed longer performance piece. It is an audio-visual installation work that contemplates how archives function as these collective memory banks of the past and present and how that is in constant flux and being re-evaluated in this perpetual “now”.

In the video, we see these windows on the past and present being analyzed by an undefined “system”. This layer in the work was created by developing some custom software in collaboration with our friends at Artists & Engineers. The graphical interfaces generated in the software add a meta-layer and narrative to the video, they remind us how film, history, and cultural identities are “read”, or are potentially “misread” by humans and machines, now and in the future.

The video weaves together various themes from the installation work; focusing mainly on our relationship with nature and the built environment, but also hinting at Japan’s fascinating juxtaposition of ancient traditions and extreme modernity. Although the video focuses its lens on Japan, we hope it provokes its audience to contemplate how all archives, past, present, and future, form a collective social memory. We want people to consider how our understanding of our cultural histories might be affected by the rise of AI and machine learning tools and the issues these technologies represent for understanding the past in the future.

This future is not far away. It is where archives and media are continually being examined and mined by semi-autonomous programs, sentient, non-human, virtual entities. These AI entities participate in an endless form of data archaeology and memory retrieval. Their “artificial gaze” is continually studying the past to understand the present moment. We wanted to ask a question about the potential problems and bais with this technology and to consider the externalities that are baked into archives in general.  

Uniting the visual material from our “時の河: Tokinokawa” installation with Hatis’ track “Aura” deepened the ideas and themes in it for us.  Her other-worldly, transcendental vocal tracks speak of our shared humanity somehow, together they create a unique meditation on time, memory, and the politics and meaning of archives.

The archive films featured in this video can be seen for free (in the UK) on BFIplayer here.


Creative Direction:Christopher Thomas Allen & Tim Cowie
Producers:Christopher Thomas Allen & Youki Mikami
Filmed and Edited by: Christopher Thomas Allen
Animation by:Tim Cowie and Louis Walters
Technical Consultants:Special Circumstances
Software Development:Artists & Engineers
Special thanks to:Noriko Okaku & Robert Raths

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