EDWARD PAUL QUIST INTERVIEWED BY YEN TAN

Images © Edward Paul Quist

YT: What was your starting point of visual / audio art? I’d imagine there must have been a progression over time, as your work has a very distinct style and aesthetic. I would like to assume that like most artists, we find our “voice” gradually from experiments or even mistakes. What were yours?

EPQ: It has always been about the experiment for me. At the start it was mostly trial and error. In the doing I found outcomes that basically excited me. One could say everything is an experiment, but there were clues to keep on a path that I was maybe already on unconsciously from a very young age. The style, or overall atmosphere developed, and continues to develop, over the years and the years seem to melt away. 

I never think about how long something will take to complete unless a deadline is looming.  Not exactly a producers dream, but time is very valuable in terms of getting it “right” so all of the moving parts work. I always hear music in terms of image and vice versa. It’s almost automatic when shooting a scene to hear sounds or a rhythm in my mind. Playing something I composed in the background, so called “mood music” is very helpful to reach the unimaginable within the actor or subject.

How do you approach your work? I come from a narrative filmmaking background, so my approach is to start from a character I’m intrigued by, then keep on digging in until I find something I can create a story around. I’m curious how you go about with yours due to the more abstract nature of your material, and what’s your way of creating a structure out of that.

I begin with source material. Not necessarily anything topical. It could be something that I’ve written like an idea for a set of sequences. Pure Information, scientific, historical, a piece of literature, and most of all, my personal experiences; I let my unconscious do the leg work and try to record it anyway that I can. “Characters” arrive at a later date to populate the block and are more devices for a situation and atmosphere.  

I’m driven by interior mental situations. Also there is the graphic end of things. The abstractions are more painterly and playful with an energy of their own. Eventually I have to reign those in because I could easily be in that maelstrom forever. It’s multi-layered,  but I have no set agenda or message. The process might change in the future. One never knows. 

On that note, let’s talk about your new project, “Untitled.” Is it really “Untitled” because you couldn’t find another title for it, or was that always the intent?

A bit of both. The nature of the films is the anthology format. I’ve always been working towards that goal over multiple projects. The anthology has a way of capturing what otherwise might be left out of a feature format. I have been through many title ideas and they always come up against “Untitled,” which is really a way to say no title.  I understand that titles should contain an action within, so it still might get a name, or maybe several, depending on the country it’s shown in. As it stands now it’s “Untitled.”

“Untitled” is a four-part project, and one thing that struck me while watching it, was that it reminded me of the different movements of a symphony. I noticed that your working titles for each part is broken down in way that resembled that too, and just like when you watch or listen to a symphony, each movement evokes a different feeling. I presume that’s something you were conscious of while making this? Or do you just let all this happen very subconsciously? And you just let things evolve in a very organic way?

The symphonic structure is intentional. Four movements. Prologue, four chapters per movement, and then epilogue. That is the structure for the feature version. When preformed live it will be much more organic, closer to the process that happens in the studio. Untitled is extremely variable. The feature version was created because of the need to capture the process and then give it a traditional form for the viewer, or as I like to say, “experiencer.”   

I definitely felt the tone shifting a bit when your footage went from B&W to color. The sections in color felt a lot more aggressive, and in many ways, also more nightmarish in tone. I’ve always find that interesting in your work, that there’s this balance of abstract imagery that you present that can be both beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Can you talk about more of your intent with what you wish to evoke from your audience?

Black and white is seductive. It’s very closely aligned with dream imagery. I can dive in deeply and emerge with an image or idea not possible working in the world of color. Color is immediate for most people fortunate enough to see. I tend to use primary colors because one, they have a punch. We know that particular colors can provoke specific emotions. Gradients as well, but they’re more complex and less immediate. Two, I have color vision deficiency, so I have little choice. Now beauty is up to the individual. I know it when I see it and I always pursue it. To me it’s a miracle that humans have the ability to detect it. Some people call the images simply nightmarish or horrific. I’m glad that you see then as both beautiful and terrifying. That is the point. That’s life itself. That means to some degree it’s working. 

Again, in the narrative world, when we edit our films, there’s generally a very clear objective of making things more concise. Like, does this scene tell you anything you don’t know already?  Do we need this line? What happens when we move this scene till later, or earlier? What’s your way of “editing” your work? Do you go through the process of showing it to your peers, asking for feedback? Or it’s pretty much, whatever you do is what you feel is right and that’s that?

When I shoot I tend to do long takes. That means sifting through very long hours and large quantities of possibilities. In that process I begin to see the cut or basic form. On the other side, SFX, graphics and sound come into play and become parts of a jigsaw puzzle. This makes it sound a bit like chaos, but that’s not the case. The soundtrack is a strong map to the edit. The sound design is a key punctuation, almost a character unto itself in the scene or sequence. Not many people see the work before its completion.  

Describe your perfect setting of viewing/experiencing “Untitled.”There were definitely moments when I was watching in on my computer that I felt like, maybe this is better in a bigger room, projected on a big screen with blaring speakers. I also wondered what is the experience of watching it with a group.

Plugging the Untitled process into the viewer’s mind would be ideal. The next best environment would be a large screen surround sound system for home viewing, and for theatrical presentation or live experience, as large a screen and p.a. system as possible.   Recently, “Untitled” was screened in two forms at The National Museum of Science and Technology “Leonardo da Vinci” in Milan. For about three months a seven minute “teaser” was on continuous loop. The curators informed me that over 20,000 had visited the exhibition. 

For one weekend I met with the public and press and presented a one hour version of what would normally be ninety minutes of “Untitled.”  Since the film is chapter based it was decided to do a Q&A every few chapters. The feedback from the audience was intriguing. It gave me new insights and, based on some of the exchange, I returned to New York and altered parts of the cut that was screened in Milan. It’s a good example of how flexible the project is. This is the closest thing I’ve ever done to a test screening. 

How long did it take you to put together “Untitled?” I think I take for granted that there’s actually quite a bit of work that goes into each frame of your work. It’s like when you watch animation, and two minutes go by and you’re not aware that it took long stretches of time to construct such a short sequence. Is yours pretty labor intensive also? And considering that you're doing this all by yourself? Does the music/sound design also take as long to compose?

Creating the feature cut along with developing the process was about a four year period.  It contains footage from as far back as 1989.  Now that the system is in place future projects should emerge more frequently.  It's true that the work is carried out frame by frame.  I liken it to painting.  Every frame has to be something that can be a print and framed on a wall. 

So yes, it is labor intensive.  Others might be brought in depending on circumstances, but largely outside of the artistic process.  For the soundtracks and any music that I compose, I tend to lock myself away and record outboard gear for hours on end. Usually after many hours, very early in the morning, I hear what I'm listening for.  The sound influences the structure along with images. Then that recording gets rearranged with the film with software. 

What do you wish to convey with “Untitled?” Not to reduce it down to what the “message” is, but I’m interested in hearing your take when the work itself is not apparent in what it’s trying to say.

It’s an experience, multi-layered and as intense as I could possibly deliver up until this time. It’s a dark odyssey that touches on certain areas within its chapters, like the abduction phenomenon, the dark side of Transhumanism, sexual obsession and mind control to name a few.  I have no message to convey yet, and leave it up to whoever views it in whatever shape and format it takes on. In gaming terminology, “Untitled” is the inversion of so called “open world” gaming. The viewer has no choice while sitting in the unconscious hot seat. That being said, it’s quite minimalist. It avoids language to reach the viewer through sensation. “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”