Screening, Concert

Toggle Variable Speed

Still frames from Ballet Mécanique,
The Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive

  • Still frames from Ballet Mécanique,
    The Museum of Modern Art Film Stills Archive

  • Fri, Dec 11, 2015
    (This event has already happened.)

    Logan Center for the Arts
    Screening room
    915 E 60th St
    Chicago, IL 60637 [view map]

    Featuring a newly commissioned score by Blondes

    In November of 1931, when the lights went out in a pathology lab-turned-screening room just across campus (“entrance though Billings Hospital”), a small audience was treated to what is often cited as the first abstract film ever made. It was also the first film screened by the Renaissance Society.

    Fernand Léger’s Ballet Mécanique (1924) hypnotically explores the Modern, mechanical age with equal parts grace and terror: humans appear as if from a cryptic, ancient past as giant gears spin wildly in funhouse mirrors.

    Léger’s concern with automation, velocity, repetition, constructed environments, and non-narrative structure inspired Toggle Variable Speed, a program that explores emerging technologies by jumping back and forth through time.

    The program anchor is a newly commissioned score for Leger’s masterpiece by Brooklyn-based techno-improvisers Blondes, a duo uniquely equipped to explore the relationship between order, chaos, and fantasy. They not only bring the film into a hypnotically present tense, but also argue for a more nuanced harmony between man and machine, as they’ve done on dance floors around the world.

    Toggle Variable Speed begins with a selection of titles that embody the paranoia of the digital revolution of the 1980s, when the rise of video cameras and editing software comingled with the emergence of the pop-cultural media machine, gender studies, and mediated reality.

    On the occasion of the Renaissance Society Centennial, all titles are drawn from film and video work previously presented here.


    • Dara Birnbaum, Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1978-79, 5:50
    • Dara Birnbaum, Remy/Grand Central: Trains and Boats and Planes, 1980, 4:18
    • Cecelia Condit, Possibly in Michigan, 1983, 11:40
    • NASA Ames Research Center, VIEWlab VR demonstration, 1989, 9:16
    • Fernand Léger, Ballet Mécanique, 1924, 19:10

    Total running time: 50:04

    Blondes (Sam Haar and Zach Steinman) studied electroacoustic composition and studio art at Oberlin College, where they collaborated on a smattering of short-lived experimental outfits. Post-grad, a home studio project quickly evolved to a live experience built around a tactile assemblage of synthesizers, sequencers, and drum machines. Their latest releases are Rein, a 50-minute free-wheeling cassette, and Persuasion, a three-track EP.