Last week Brooklyn’s Where Gallery celebrated the close of its inaugural show with Dark Side of the Rainbow, the live overdubbed experience of Victor Fleming’s The Wizard of Oz (1939) as synchronized with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon (1973).
The gallery’s first exhibition, Where 1, explored the way humans develop strange habits and gestures in consequence of changing technology. Fittingly, the uncanny correspondence of The Wizard of Oz and Dark Side was first noticed in the 90s when home video equipment provided the opportunity to watch classic films in conjunction with whatever music one chose to play on the stereo.
Instructions for recreating Dark Side of the Rainbow proliferated on the internet, and the phenomenon is still with us today: pop in your Dark Side of the Moon CD (or cue up your MP3), set your playback setting to repeat, press play on the MGM lion’s third roar, sit back and experience a series of supposedly uncanny coincidences.
The Where Gallery, an inconspicuous shipping crate planted on the curb of a thru-street in Bushwick, could be easily mistaken for a piece of forgotten detritus in the borderline industrial neighborhood. Appropriately enough, the randomly situated box conjures up the sight of Dorothy’s house as it landed out of the sky on the Wicked Witch.
In the late 1930s The Wizard of Oz’s makers pioneered the use of the Technicolor 3-strip process, a complicated system of simultaneously exposing three separate film rolls of alternately red, blue and yellow emulsion, then soaking them in their complementary CMYK colored dye. This once state-of-the-art technique for teasing out the richest color possible could be said to resonate with the promised layerings of sound and visual text .
The event took place at the Where Annex, a minimal upstairs apartment that doubles as the gallery’s headquarters. I was running an hour late and readying myself to slink into a colorful psych-prog mash-up in full swing. The screening hadn’t yet started, however, and the space was dark and cozy. A maximum 6 or 7 people were scattered around the room on chairs and floor pillows, their faces aglow with blue light that bounced off the screen.
A Dark Side of the Moon vinyl LP was taken from its black gatefold jacket, set onto a record player, and cued. Our host announced that using vinyl was the authentic method. In the back of the room, a young woman set up a pirated Wizard of Oz download. The lion roared once, twice …
“Was it on the third roar or after the third roar?” someone asked. So we started over, this time forgetting to factor in the initial seconds of silence present on nearly every LP. We tried again. The faint heartbeat that begins the album grew in amplitude and coincided with the film’s titles, ominously suggesting the dark side of this fairytale. Enraptured, we watched as the dusty sepia of Kansas meshed with the album’s opening sound collage of cash registers, ambient voices, and maniacal laughter.
Cresting at a tortured scream, the music transitioned to longing guitar strains and hope-laced lyrics, “Look around; choose your own ground.” I felt invited to muse on the toil of a hard day’s work on a Midwestern farm, day in and out, and how a young girl might dream of something more—it was working! Or at least it seemed to be.
Something seemed off … Dave Gilmore’s voice a little pinched, the music a little up-tempo maybe? I didn’t want to be the bad guy, but I increasingly suspected that the record was playing fast. There seemed to be points where a song/film synch should occur, like the swirling synth of “On the Run” and the appearance of the wild tornado, but didn’t.
A self-proclaimed tonal expert among us declared that the record was playing in B sharp, when it should be in C major. The host wasn’t sure, but others concurred. To slow it down, he began piling small objects on its center. I wanted so much to remain under Dark Side of the Rainbow’s spell, but trying to jury-rig the mystical congruencies dampened my pseudo-religious experience. The ritualistic air diffused and the audience began to chat; it was a relief to laugh at my own seriousness.
Still, there were points of contact between the film and album that hinted at something truly clandestine, even occult. As Dorothy’s fortune was told in a crystal ball, a gentle singing implored her to ‘hear the softly spoken magic spell.’ Dorothy sadly remembers her Auntie Em, and a lamenting piano follows. The most famous synch point, when Kansas transitions to the Land of Oz and sepia to dazzling color, did not disappoint, with the swaggering “Money” ushering Dorothy towards the yellow brick road and her stunning ruby slippers. During “Brain Damage,” Dorothy meets the Scarecrow just as “the lunatic is on the grass” and the two come upon the tin man with his mouth rusted shut as a voice murmurs, “I can’t think of anything to say.”
Dark Side of the Moon is shorter than The Wizard of Oz by about almost an hour, hence the instruction to “repeat.” The first half is certainly marked by undeniable synchronicities. Once the album repeated, such coincidences were less punctuated, though not completely farfetched. The dreamy “Us and Them” played as Dorothy and her gang dozed off in a snowy field of poppies. The uplifting synthesizer arpeggios of “Any Colour You Like” perked up our ears as candy-colored horses paraded through the extravagant Emerald City. Perhaps merely imagined, these charged correspondences were enough to make Dark Side of the Rainbow work for me.
Where Gallery cited Dark Side of the Rainbow as the “coda” to Where 1, the group show that was closing. An intriguing work by Alexandra Lerman was a small series of iPhone-sized clay slabs, each with a unique set of indentations that mimics finger swipes on the device’s screen. Similarly, the Dark Side of the Rainbow screening ritual requires a sensitive negotiation between mechanical and human variables: strict linearity should not be expected. The perfect match-up is well documented, but elusive, dreamlike, and happily so. Better to relish the singularity of each reenactment, because the multiplicity of technological combinations is certain to grow with time. Perhaps a 16mm print with a cassette? A Criterion edition with a mini-disc? The possibilities are endless. Stand ready!
Dark Side of the Rainbow took place at Where Gallery on December 3 at 8 pm.