Filmmaker: Valerie Kampmeier

Noman’s Land Common by Robert Peake

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A new videopoem by Robert Peake (poem, concept) and Valerie Kampmeier (original music). With all the thousands of poetry videos I’ve watched over the years, I’ve never seen someone use footage shot through a kaleidoscope before—leave it to an endlessly inventive tech geek and poet like Peake to come up with it. I find the effect mesmerizing and an apt complement to the text. As usual, he’s posted the poem at his blog, along with some process notes:

With the tenth anniversary of the birth and death of our son James fast approaching, I find myself writing about the ongoing effects, including sudden and overpowering moments of grief. The text came first. I then shot time-lapse of clouds through an inexpensive toy kaleidoscope using a Raspberry Pi camera. I also shot real-time nature footage through the same kaleidoscope by holding it up to my smartphone camera. Valerie composed and performed the music. The title refers to a nearby patch of common land in North Hertfordshire that we frequent. One year, after extensive tilling, a field adjacent to the common erupted in red poppies, not unlike the no-man’s land of the First World War.

The Essence of Instinct by Robert Peake

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The first use of Google Deep Dream technology for poetry film of which I’m aware. American-British poet and filmmaker Robert Peake worked with his usual collaborator, Valerie Kampmeier, who created the soundscape. Robert shared some process notes (along with the text of poem) on his blog:

This film-poem began as an exploration of the possibilities of using Google Deep Dream technology for film. I ran the Deep Dream software on frames of time-lapse clouds. Initial experiments were not deterministic enough, flickering wildly between very different images from frame to frame. I then composited dreamed-upon frames with their siblings to create a kind of motion blur frame, which when dreamed upon a second time created greater continuity both of movement and shape. To create further continuity, I also morphed various dream frames into each other.

The process is an attempt to simulate pareidolia — the phenomenon whereby we “recognise” patterns in random data, which is very much what Deep Dream is doing here, and what we humans do when we see shapes in clouds. The solid, iridescent imagery reminded me of William Blake, but the constantly-changing nature of these creatures made me think of the evolution of species. In researching Charles Darwin’s early life, the poem took shape. Valerie then designed the soundscape to accompany and complete this piece, drawing on her own childhood experience of hearing distant, indistinct voices.

To see more of Robert’s experiments with Deep Dream and morphing technologies, check out his recent uploads to Vimeo.

Namesake by Robert Peake

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A witty animated poem by American-British poet Robert Peake that begins with a Google image search and gets progressively more surreal. It’s based on what he calls “a poem for my nemesis“—the 17th-century court painter Robert Peake the Elder. That original posting included links to the referenced paintings which appear as pop-ups on hover, so a visual component was part of the poem from the beginning, as Peake acknowledged in a more recent blog post about the video:

Having already enhanced this ekphrastic poem with imagery, I decided that a film-poem seemed like an obvious next step. Visually, the film follows the poem’s concerns about different kinds of reality — personal, virtual, and historical — by playing with dimensionality.

It gave me the opportunity to try out parallax 2.5d animation using all open-source tools (Gimp and Blender), which I found both painstaking and enjoyable. I also mocked up flat animations in HTML and Javascript — such as the opening search scene and ending Matrix-style text, using screen capture to convert it to video. Valerie Kampmeier wrote and performed the score, inspired by courtly dances and the D-minor feel of a dial-up modem sequence.

It’s interesting to compare this with Ross Sutherland’s “Poem Looked Up On Google Streetview.” Google has more to offer videopoets than just search-query poems, it seems.

One Stop by Robert Peake

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We often, perhaps inevitably, envision history unfolding as a sort of cartoon, and our perceptions of combat these days are liable to be colored by video gaming. This new film-poem by Robert Peake and Valerie Kampmeier turns that on its head, with live-action footage of World War II glimpsed from a present-day machinima world, through the windows of a moving train. See Peake’s blog for the text of the poem. He adds:

Our recent film-poem collaboration “One Stop” was nominated for best music/sound at Liberated Words III in Bristol, where it premiered. The original soundtrack was composed and performed by Valerie Kampmeier. The film commemorates the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. […]

I sourced archival colour footage of WWII, and composited this into an animation that I created using Blender 3D. I recorded journeys on the tube with an X1 Zoom, and mixed this under Valerie’s music and my voice reading the poem.

There’s a decade-long tradition of using machinima in cinepoetry (the term usually preferred by filmmakers in that tradition), but it’s not well represented here at Moving Poems because I don’t often find the results terribly compelling. I’m not sure how much Peake was influenced by that tradition, but his use of machinima here was ingenious, I thought. Kudos also for finding a new twist on the footage-from-a-moving-train motif so prevalent in poetry films.

Incidentally, there’s a lovely interview with Robert Peake at Geosi Reads conducted by Ghanaian blogger Geosi Gyasi. In one exchange, Peake talks about the Transatlantic Poetry on Air series of live video readings he coordinates. Then he reflects on technology and poetry in general:

Geosi Gyasi: As a technology consultant, do you think technology has influenced poets and poetry in any particular way?

Robert Peake: I think it has influenced the audience for poetry by shortening our attention spans, and I think poetry is always influenced by its audiences. That said, technology may also be the saving grace of contemporary poetry, because even as the fan base has dwindled since the advent of rock-n-roll, the ability of poets and poetry-lovers to connect and engage all over the world has expanded. The global audience for poetry today is therefore many times the size of what many poets enjoyed as a regional audience one hundred years ago. I think it is therefore a kind of “Invisible Golden Age” for poetry–with more availability than ever, despite the perception of scarcity.

Read the rest.

Buttons by Robert Peake

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Husband-and-wife team Robert Peake and Valerie Kampmeier won the children’s prize in Southbank Centre’s inaugural Shot Through the Heart Poetry Film Competition with this film. Peake wrote about the composition process on his writer’s blog:

When Valerie and I read the call-out for a film-poem competition with a children’s category happening here in London, we had to give it a try.

I wrote and recorded the poem, and then began playing with stop-motion animation. I used Christmas ornaments made of teasel, blue tack, coloured paper, a Raspberry Pi with LEGO-mounted camera arm (my own creation, at right), and of course lots of buttons. Valerie wrote and recorded the music at the end.

After more than forty hours of painstaking animation work, it was so gratifying to discover that the judges–a group of London school children–really liked the result.

Peake has also created a free storybook from the poem, available for iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

While it may seem surprising that someone could meet with such success on their first foray into the world of children’s poetry film, Peake appears to have thoroughly immersed himself in the genre, judging from his survey at the Huffington Post, “Combining Film and Poetry Is Child’s Play.”

The film-poem genre is a slim but highly enthusiastic and truly international one. It is largely comprised of serious filmmakers and equally serious musicians and poets. As a result, the sub-genre of film-poems made specifically for children is something of a subset within a subset. Yet this kind of thing has been going on successfully for some time, from cartoons of Dr. Seuss books made in the 1970s to the recent Emmy-Award-winning “A Child’s Garden of Poetry” produced by HBO in cooperation with the US Poetry Foundation. There are also many fine examples from all over the world, in different languages, of filmmakers setting poetry to film with children in mind.

Click through to watch the selection of seven films that Peake also screened at a live event in the Southbank Centre’s festival in mid-July. He includes some real gems.

Last and probably least, I see from Facebook that Robert Peake has just gotten British citizenship, in case anyone is wondering why there are now two nationalities identified with his poems here. Like T.S. Eliot, he has now become a major headache for book catalogers using the Library of Congress system. Fortunately, the same post can appear on multiple virtual shelves on a website, thanks to the wonders of modern content management systems (WordPress, in Moving Poems’ case). At any rate, congratulations to Robert for coming out of the closet as fully bi-national.

Aerial Manoeuvres by Robert Peake

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A new poetry film from the husband-and-wife team of Robert Peake and Valerie Kampmeier. Peake posted the text to his blog along with some brief process notes, which are worth quoting in full, since they show how organically the film developed:

I had a feeling of the kind of film-poem I wanted to create here, something about flight. I used Blender to render a flock of birds and then composited them together with historic aviation footage from the Prelinger Archives. The poem wrote itself after that, and Valerie’s piano accompaniment followed. We also recorded birdsong on an H1 Zoom and looped it to create a backdrop of sound.

Snowblindness by Robert Peake

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A new filmpoem by poet Robert Peake with musician/composer Valerie Kampmeier. Peake blogged the text and a brief process note. To me, this is one of Peake and Kampmeier’s most satisfying videos to date, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that film and text took shape at the same time:

I found a film of reindeer in the archive.org 35mm Stock Footage collection and, after watching it several times, I began to develop a narrative about a man lost in the Arctic Circle. The poem came from there, followed by the video and effects editing and finally the music and sound effects.

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