MIA Screens is an online showcase featuring contemporary experimental films and artist moving image works with introductions by the artists who made them.
Graeme Cole introduces UNIVERSAL EAR: A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear:
May 4th, 2020 marks ten years since I led my long-suffering muse Stewart Lockwood to the back rooms of Manchester’s Nexus Art Café to begin production of UNIVERSAL EAR: A Flea Orchestra In Your Ear and, by extension, the infinite UNIVERSAL EAR cycle.
We had cycled to the café together, and Lockwood’s bike got a puncture.
In some ways, he’s still deflating today.
We filmed our most recent episode in France in 2017, in a real (art school) studio with real (Arts Council) money and Lockwood spent much of his ‘trailer time’ napping in a cardboard coffin.
Depending on his mood, Lockwood says he gets through our irregular UNIVERSAL EAR shoots by “just letting go” or “enjoying the ride.”
The cardboard coffin episode had a cash budget of nearly 250 times the budget of Flea Orchestra (£33) and is longer and more boring and has played at the same number of film festivals.
I would like to draw a 10-year graph overlaying Lockwood’s deflation levels (\), our budget (/), how much the films annoyed the audience (also /) and our festival successes (flatline).
However, the profits of folly rarely express themselves through cold media such as graphs or money.
Funnily enough, UNIVERSAL EAR is thematically concerned with quantification, the knowable, the ownable.
We set out, in 2010, with a painfully fixed set of production principles, including: Super-8; one take of each shot; upcycled materials; sing every morning; group therapy every night; honouring the formulaic story structure of the original, lost UNIVERSAL EAR serial of the future that we are trying to (p)re-create.
We film on an open set, so people can come and do or watch; sounds terrifying (to me) but so far our experience of this has only warmed the amorphous ‘us’ to the hyper-specific ‘them’ that visit.
Oh! The people! Only when I think of our infinite movie studio as one long, awful party can I feel some sense of comfort.
We’ve met inspiring new collaborators, strengthened and/or weirdened existing friendships, and fried only a handful of relationships past salvation point.
Looking back at shooting Flea Orchestra and two more episodes in May 2010, then another in 2012-13 and our French blockbuster in 2017, it’s clear the panic levels rise with each UNIVERSAL EAR production; for better or worse, and despite currently being permanently retired from filmmaking, I’m committed to continuing this process to infinity and taking Lockwood with me.
You can read my studio diaries from the making of Flea Orchestra here, and you are warmly invited to join the UNIVERSAL EAR Facebook group here and explore/follow the website at alltheworldsmusicever.com.