Mika Taanila

Mika Taanila, Optical Sound

10 – 17 February

Optical Sound (2005) 6 min, 35mm

Short film or single channel video installation

Screening format: 35 mm film or file

Original format: 16/35 mm film, DVCAM; 1:2.35; colour and b&w; Dolby Digital 5.1, no dialogue.

Director, editor and co-script: Mika Taanila

Cinematography and co-script: Jussi Eerola

Music: [The User]

Sound design: Olli Huhtanen

Graphic design: Timo Mänttäri

Production: Kinotar/Cilla Werning, Ulla Simonen, Lasse Saarinen

We live in a wold steeped in technology. Optical Sound is based on a live performance of Symphony #2 for Dot Matrix Printers by [The User]; obsolete office tools transformed into musical instruments of the future. The film combines nocturnal time-lapse footage, miniature surveillance camera images and a musical score photocopied directly onto clear celluloid.

A Physical Ring (2002) 5 min, 35 mm

Short film or multi-screen video installation

Screening format: 35 mm film or file

Original format: 35 mm film; 1:1.37; b&w; Dolby SR/stereo, no dialogue.

Director: Mika Taanila

Music: Mika Vainio of Pan Sonic

Special effects/ cinematography: Jussi Eerola

This ready-made film is based on anonymous footage of a physics experiment filmed in Finland in the early 1940s. Taanila discovered an abandoned film can at the Finnish Film Archive labelled with a dirty sticker saying ‘physical ring’. His attempts to find out more led nowhere. All we apparently see are kinetic ‘magic’ elements: fire, magnets, heat, metal and motion.

Verbranntes Land (2002) 6:36 min, video

Short film or video installation for a monitor with headphones.

Screening format: DVD or files Original format: VHS; 1:1.33; colour; stereo, no dialogue.

Director: Mika Taanila

Music: Kiila

Use and the passage of time wipe out the electromagnetic data on VHS tape. For Taanila, this gradual, inevitable decay is a painful reminder of his own inevitable ageing, of no longer being able to remember names, places and numbers as well as he once did; a metaphor for memory processes; a seven minute brain scan. The no-budget music promo clip commissioned by the Finnish band Kiila is based on an instructional videotape.

Mika Taanila (b.1965) lives and works in Helsinki. Solo exhibitions include Aikakoneita – Time Machines, Kiasma, Museum of Contemporary Art, Helsinki, Finland; My Silence, Mediabox, ForumBox, Helsinki, Finland; Tomorrow’s New Dawn, CAM, Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, USA (all 2013); Installaatioita – Installations, Galleria Heino, Helsinki (2010); On The Spot 4, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe, Germany (2008). Group exhibitions include Aichi Triennale, Nagoya, Japan (2013); dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Saska, Germany (2012); Architektonika, Hamburger Banhof, Berlin, Germany (2011); La chanson, Seville Museum of Contemporary Art, Spain (2011); Artctic Hysteria: New Art from Finland, touring exhibition including P.S.1, New York; Ludwig Museum, Budapest; Kunsthalle Helsinki, Finland (2008-10).

Click here to download Ken Hollings’ essay ‘Activate Only When Necessary: Utopian Memories in the Documentary Films of Mika Taanila’, published in the catalogue for Taanila’s exhibition Human Engineering at Migromuseum, Zurich, April 2005.

Click here to download Olaf Möller’s article ‘Picture-Perfect Future’, published in Film Comment, May – June 2005.


All my films are based on some already existing phenomenon, person, atmosphere or musical work.  To me, the most stimulating time begins when I have stirring material on the editing table and a long intimate working spell with it ahead.  My films are constructions put together piece by piece; they float in the temporal dimension like some light cubist sculptures.

Optical Sound – constructing film from a music performance

I was really fascinated when I first saw the Symphony #2 for Dot Matrix Printers live. The composition was so delicate and the live performance amazed me.  After that I got to know Emmanuel and Thomas of [The User] a little, then I started to dream of making a film inspired by this lovely piece of musique concrète, not only by documenting it but rather going inside it, like being an  injection.  I tried to figure out and fantasise what would the inner life of a printer be like. I was maybe thinking of the science fiction film Fantastic Voyage (1966), combined with the mechanical humour of Tati’s Playtime (1967).

The idea was to go into the mind-set of the machine.  What are they telling us?  What are they dreaming of?  The microscopic scale was on my mind.  Then Jussi Eerola (cinematography, co-script) came up with the idea of these wide time-lapse shots of office buildings.  The combination of these office windows, walls and a bunch of people working there overtime, together with the inner close-ups have a strong contrast of scales here.  Also the rapid images of [The User]’s original score are important part of the film.  I made them with a small xerox machine, copying directly on 35mm film, so this part of the film was made without a camera or a computer.

More thoughts on Optical Sound

Optical Sound is a time travel on three levels.  The music composed by [The User] for matrix printers still echoes the sound of a future society yet unknown to us.  At the same time, the bulky computers take us back to the end of the 1980s and at the level of thought, even further back – to the 1910s and the early dream of the Italian Futurists:

“For years, Beethoven and Wagner were in our hearts.  But now we are fed up with that and we receive a lot more pleasure from the noise of the trams and the whirring of engines.  We receive pleasure from the swirls of water, air and gas in round pipes. We enjoy the mental orchestrations, which are formed by clanging store windows, banging doors and electric plants. … Now, as we have perhaps a thousand different kinds of machines, we can distinguish between a thousand different kinds of sounds.  In the future, as the number of new machines increases, we will be able to distinguish between ten, twenty or thirty thousand different sounds!” Luigi Rosso, The Art of Noises, 1913

Physical Ring – constructing film from found footage

When I first encountered the found footage I was mesmerised by just watching that un-edited film.  I wanted to make a new piece from that can, but to keep it very simple, very close to a “ready made” film.  So I kept the editing very simple – only throwing away the parts that were originally under-exposed and very dark; everything else is there.  At first the film was silent, but this felt too nostalgic and sentimental.  I asked Mika Vainio of Pan sonic to compose music to follow the flow of the edit.  I think my suggestion to him was to create music from 60 years into the future.

In the single channel version (here Onsceen), there is a beginning, a middle and an end.  However, I also show this piece as a site-specific multi-channel installation.  On the editing table I enjoyed watching the elastic movements, which I thought should never stop.  I wanted to create a flow of movement.  I guess the installation version came out of this: it should never stop.  The images rotate out-of-sync on separate walls thus creating a nice elastic, physical bend sinuously moving to the music.

The onscreen programme

To me these three pieces are about human engineering.  I’m intrigued how technology affects our psyche.  It’s all around us, and we can celebrate it or be critical towards it or whatever.  Nevertheless, it’s hard to escape.  I guess these three pieces address some of the more fragile sides of the techno-craze: obsolescence, ageing and collapsing.  The digital perfections of images and archiving sometimes feel scary; I grew up with now vanishing analogue mediums, like cassettes and VHS.  Not to be able to restore and remember everything is a merciful idea.