Cinematic Poetry

Tidelight 16mins, 16:9 HD Video (2015)

Tidelight is set on Cornwallis wharf near Auckland: a much favoured location for local fishermen. It is choreographed as an ‘infinite’ zoom along the wharf, exploring the changing light from dawn to midday and the observed activities of the fishermen. Each shot represents one progressive fragment of time, slowly leading the eye towards a vanishing point beyond the wharf. These shots are seamlessly layered to create intersecting time windows, which advance towards the camera as the eye is led forwards via the zooming lens. This creates the illusion of seeing forwards in time as one looks towards the horizon. At one moment several morning suns can be seen simultaneously, as they rise in the sky and the dawn light moves from shades of orange into blue.

As the film progresses, the camera moves step by step up the wharf, capturing ever more intimate observations of the activities taking place. More fishermen arrive, the wharf fills and conversations become more animated. We hear fragments of chatter as the fishermen share notes about their craft. One visitor asks about this film and its intentions: “Are you time travelling as you move up the wharf?…When you see the next star after the sun…you are seeing it as it was a year and a half ago!

The interwoven montage of time windows gradually increases in complexity, abstracting the imagery, creating visual echoes, repetitions and cadences as the journey progresses. Lines are cast, gulls wait for morsels of bait, and the gentle lapping of the waves pervades everything.

The film pays homage to the work of Michael Snow and his seminal, structuralist work Wavelength in its use of a ‘perpetual’ zoom, the exploration of a single pro-filmic space using a fixed tripod and its choreography of moments in time. However, rather than construct a narrative mise-en-scene, a purely observational stance is adopted, with no attempt to influence the activities being captured by the camera.

First screened at Lyrical Visions 2015. Also on Auckland Live Digital Screen, Aotea Square 2019

The Descent 8 mins HD Video (2016)

The Descent is a portrait of Taranaki Falls in Tongariro National Park, New Zealand. The film takes a visual journey from a familiar, representational view of the falls towards an ever more painterly, expressionistic response, as the stream and falls are transformed into an abstract kinesis of light and form.

The film is structured around a selection of quotations from the journals of John Muir, the pioneer conservationist who wrote extensively about his wanderings in America’s National Parks from 1867-1911. His quotations form a highly personal, visionary meditation on the beauty of the natural world, becoming an elegiac conversation between a poet and the landscape. They also read as a commentary on the film making process, as a lyrical response to the spirit and atmosphere of the place. The spoken words become one element in an electro-acoustic soundscape built from ambient sources collected near the falls.

The film’s ‘heart beat’ is a visual pulse, created by radically slowing the perceived movements of light and water. The pulse also acts as a reflexive examination of the persistence of vision, and the moments when a sequence of still images first create the illusion of movement. The film combines time lapse cinematography with intimate studies of the water surfaces and surrounding vegetation. The dynamics of the montage act as metaphor for the water’s journey, tracing a path from the alpine plateau, over the edge of the lava flow and onwards towards the gorges of the Wairere Stream at dusk.

“How grand to move about in the very tissue of falling columns, and in the very birthplace of their heavenly harmonies, looking outward as from windows of ever-varying transparency and staining!” John Muir (describing Yosemite Falls).

First screened at Lyrical Visions 2016.

Breathe 12 mins 30 secs Stereo HD Video (2017)

Breathe is a collaboration with UK based electro-acoustic composer Monty Adkins. Both the sound piece and its visual counterpart share similar concerns. Adkins soundtrack, entitled Mapping depicts the slow evolution of a landscape. In his own words, it “leads the listener through unknown territory, arriving at landing points from time to time by means of transformed sounds whose origin is from the real world. The work unfolds structurally as material emerges and is incorporated into the musical construction.”

Likewise, the moving imagery explores an ‘unknown’ landscape, accessible only via the optical characteristics of a macro lens, and transformations derived by slowly pulling focus from extreme close up to the horizon. It is a meditation on sunlight, shadow and natural form, shot along a number of bush walks in the Waitakere Regional Park near Auckland.

Its formal structure explores the relationship between the observer and the act of quiet observation. The observer’s presence is alluded to via a visual pulse, whose pace is often suggestive of slow inward and outward breaths. These visual transformations are echoed by the musical form of the soundtrack, as natural sounds evolve, mutate, then return to their points of reference. Simultaneously, the eye journeys through a range of colour fields and tonal moods, observing the ways sharp outlines dissolve and reform within seas of bokeh, as pathways are traced through the undergrowth, towards the sun.

“His intensely tuned use of macro and long lens to move the viewer’s gaze between the extreme close up and beyond was beautifully shot and edited and demonstrates Sercombe’s attention to detail, his analytical skills and drive to discover a new poetic and musical moving image language.” Diane Blomfield Producer, Going West Festival, Auckland

“..this is exquisite. The most beautiful video I’ve ever watched. I shall revisit it often.” Deborah Wilkinson, Film Director

First screened at Lyrical Visions 2017. Also on Auckland Live Digital Screen, Aotea Square 2019

Find Me a Word 4 mins 47 secs HD Video (2017)

This cinepoem is a collaboration with performance poet Gus Simonovic and composer Sylvi MacCormac. It was shot along the Laingholm Estuary and around the South Titirangi peninsula in the winter of 2017. It explores ways in which kinetic text can be ‘absorbed’ into the details of the landscape it refers to, rendering the two elements as a symbiotic whole. It was commissioned for screening at the Going West Writers Festival, Auckland 2017. Also at Lyrical Visions 2017

Detritus 5 mins 51 secs HD Video (2017)

A genetically modified performer, reconstructed painstakingly for the silver screen, delivers a word harvest with a nod and a wink to T.S Eliot’s The Waste Land. The pro-filmic treatment deconstructs and reorganises a visual record of the poet’s reading in ways which echo the sentiments being expressed. Poem written and performed by Gus Simonovic.

First screened at Lyrical Visions 2017.

Crossings 10 mins HD Video B&W (2018)

The film is a visual journey, set in Whatipu, West Auckland, undertaken via infrared cinematography. It represents a personal response to the qualities of austere beauty, solitude and grandeur experienced by many visitors to this wild, remote area.

It uses time lapse and repetition as a means to articulate kinetic elements within the observed landscape, such as wave, water and cloud motion. These are then choreographed in both visual and musical terms, by scoring each musical element in direct response to the visual movements, their sense of tidal and temporal flow and overall mood. These natural rhythms create a sense of the space as a living, breathing organism, prone to sudden and dramatic changes of temperament.

The journey begins at Paratutae Island, and moves slowly inland via the dunes and marshes towards the Waitakere Ranges, before returning to a wide open expanse of sand and sky.

Music composed and performed by Brigid Ursula Bisley.

First screened at Lyrical Visions 2018. Also Bueu International Short Film Festival, Spain 2018. Auckland Live Digital Screen, Aotea Square 2019

If They Ask 3 mins 40 secs HD Video (2018)

A collaborative cinepoem exploring ideas of family, the ever changing bonds of love, and anxiety for the future. It was made by Martin Sercombe (camera and editing), Gus Simonovic (poem and performance), Siri Risnes and Livnola Risnes Simonovic (performance).

First screened at Lyrical Visions 2018.

Storytelling 9 mins HD Video (2019)

Two poems by Gus Simonovic challenge our familiar perceptions of the words and objects which surround us. Martin Sercombe undertakes a parallel, visual exploration of a domestic environment, using a macro lens to transform everyday objects into odd and unfamiliar states. The electro-acoustic soundtrack by Yota Kobayashi and others builds a rich atmosphere of suggested off screen activity, drawing the viewer into imaginary worlds beyond the camera frame.

“The seemingly banal is taken to new levels of magnificence.” Patricia Wilden, Photographer

“Beyond Brilliant you two… Applause… Appreciat’d & Charm’d. Subscrib’d and Share’d” Poetry Train

First screened at Lyrical Visions 2019.

This is the Garden 3 mins HD Video (2019)

A visual response to the e.e. cummings poem of the same name, about the cycle of life and death. The macro imagery is set in a suburban garden in West Auckland.

First screened at Lyrical Visions 2019.

One Sunday in Winter 5 mins 50 secs HD Video (2020)

This film poem was inspired by a day trip to Karekare, a wild and beautiful expanse of untouched coastline in West Auckland. Expressionist in approach, it tells its story via hand written haikus, digital painting, ambient sounds and treated flute. Each sequence is composed of many layers of moving imagery, each with its own rhythmic pulse. Animation of waves, clouds and gulls in flight combine to form an abstract landscape of minimal brush work and painterly textures. The film evokes the sudden changes in weather typical of a winter’s day, as the film moves from sunlit calm, across a windswept ocean into rain drenched twilight.

The music was composed by Richard Ingamells and Richard Reynolds.

This film is like a moving watercolour. A calming film with perfect musical composition.” Top of the South Film Festival, New Zealand

Festival screenings:

Lyrical Visions V, Auckland 2020.

The 9th International Video Poetry Festival, Athens, 2021

13th Seoul Yeongdeungpo International Extreme-short Image & Film Festival 2021

Nature and Culture – Poetry Film Festival, Copenhagen 2021

Zebra Poetry Film Festival – Berlin, November 2021

still … life 5 mins 17 secs HD Video (2020)

Gus Simonovic’s poem and performance is a bitter sweet observation of life under the threat of Covid. Martin Sercombe’s camerawork transforms the poet’s gestures and expressions into a sequence of painterly tableaux that echo the poem’s sentiments, balanced between fear, foreboding and a reassuring connection with nature.

With music by The Mind Orchestra.

First screened at Lyrical Visions V, Auckland, December 2020.

sundial 1 minute UHD Video (2022)

This is the first in a series of one minute videos. Each short film was initially inspired by a still photograph. The films investigate the notion of extending a photograph into the time preceding or succeeding its moment of creation, via time lapse or other structural means.

the gap (if waves could dance) 1 minute UHD Video (2022)

Set in Piha, New Zealand, this is the second in the series on one minute videos. Each video takes its inspiration from one photograph by the artist, which is then extended using a variety of time based strategies.

flow flutter flower 1 minute UHD video (2022)

The third in the series of one minute videos. It investigates how the eye reads static images as they become ever more fleeting. The soundtrack is an electroacoustic piece by Jaap Blonk.

finger painting 1 minute 10 secs UHD video (2022)

A further edition in the one minute video series, extending still images back and forth in time.

Night is Paper 4 mins 28 secs UHD Video 2022

Night is Paper is a cinepoetic collaboration with novelist Dr Thom Conroy. The artistic process began with a series of images generated in Midjourney, using artificial intelligence. The images prompted a sequence of text-based fragments which combine to evoke a sense of eves-dropping into a shadowy, indistinct world where nothing can be fully understood. A mix of found sounds and electroacoustic music from the Free Music Archive build upon this mood of unexplained mystery.

Songs 10 mins 25 secs UHD Video 2022

The American poet E. E. Cummings’ work began to enter the public domain in 2019, which then allowed other artists to make use of his poetry in derivative works across a range of media. Taking advantage of this, Songs chooses five short poems from his first three volumes: Tulips and Chimneys, & and XLI Poems as the basis for extension into the realm of the moving image.

The translation poses a number of challenges, namely finding ways to preserve the lyrical flow of Cummings’ language as it might be read or spoken, whilst preserving his idiosyncratic use of syntax, line breaks and punctuation. The second challenge is finding appropriate ways to illustrate Cummings’ word images without over defining or misconstruing their meanings or intents. These five works make no claims to have solved these problems. Rather, they attempt to preserve the spirit of the original works via complementary sounds, music and imagery, reinventing and reimagining them in the process.

All the images were generated using Midjourney, and the soundtracks comprise of public domain music selected from the Free Music Archive.

Te Marae o Hine 11 mins 30 secs Double Width UHD Video 2022

Te Marae o Hine is a moving image portrait of The Square, the central park in Palmerston North. Its name was originally gifted to the first Major of the city by the Maori chief, Matene Te Whiwhi, as a gesture of peace between all its citizens. This portrait explores its matrix of paths, trees, grass and architectural landmarks, as they are traversed from dawn to dusk by visitors and city dwellers from many different cultures.

The film adopts a mirroring technique which divides each frame into four interlocking sections, together creating panoramic views of the park. The intention is to underline the geometries of the space and view the relationships between its built and natural environment in a fresh and idiosyncratic way. At the same time, this device shows passing movements of people and objects four times, creating a kind of surreal, synchronized choreography.

The film begins at dawn when there is little or no human activity in the park. The camera observes the changing light and movement of birds and clouds, establishing a contemplative mood. Activity peaks around the middle of the day and returns to quiet meditation as dusk turns to nightfall, and the lights on the clock tower are illuminated.

The soundtrack music, entitled Slumber, was recorded live at Te Kōpū Mānia o Kirikiriroa Marae and performed by Dr. Mesmer’s Private Army. It opens to the sound of the Taonga Puoro, resonating with the park’s identity as a place of peace. The work as a whole is intended to evoke mindfulness and meditation. Combined with the imagery, it seeks to further extend the sense of the space as a sanctuary in the heart of the city, a place to breathe and relax.

Dr Mesmer’s Private Army are Eszter Le Couteur – Violin, Horomona Horo – Taonga Puoro, Yotam Levy – Cello, Kent Macpherson – guitar, keyboards and treatments and Jeremy Mayall – keyboard and electronics.