Inhabiting a sonic space that melds mind and machine, Thomas Echols’ evocatively titled project Man, Woman, Friend, Computer is an exploration of ambient textures and moods. Introspective and meandering, each tracks plays out as a living, breathing entity.
When Echols, a classically trained guitarist, reconnected with former student Yuliya Tsukerman, he discovered a mutual interest in creating expansive universes layered with cosmic imagery and autobiographical detail. Tsukerman, a Brooklyn-based filmmaker and marionette artist, first set out to create a sparse visual landscape for the album’s opening track — an endeavor that gradually expanded into a sweeping, meticulously handcrafted 15-minute film. Echols mentions that, in the first stages of the collaboration, “[w]e quickly entered into an inspiring conversation about ideas and processes of making art, and found that we shared a lot of things in the way that we work.” Tsukerman’s creative process was largely intuitive, while Echols solidified and organized the fine details of the film into a definitive narrative.
“Exordium/Outgrown” is the story of a spaceman who comes to terms with isolation and loss as he cares for an injured alien creature. Combining centuries-old Czech marionette techniques with modern materials and found objects, the film’s analog reimagining of the space age points to the loneliness of the digital world, and to the new distances we create as we try to conquer the old. “Exordium/Outgrown” works admirably in its entirety —it is a brief but comprehensive short film with an equal balance of music and visuals.
By working with a limited set of objects, Tsukerman creates a vast world within an intimate physical space, shaping her vision into a fully-realized space odyssey. “There’s always a moment,” she says, “when you’ve put the marionette together, but it doesn’t feel alive yet.” In this project, the process of bringing these hollow figures to life came to her in a strikingly organic manner. “The spaceman was stuck in that lifeless zone,” she says half-jokingly, “until I cut my thumb carving his face and got blood all over him!”
The film’s voiceless creatures and handmade landscapes inhabit a world rich with intimate details, while the cinematography layers the human and the mundane with a sense of wonder at the vastness of the universe. The juxtaposition of light and dark — in the director’s use of candles and the bleak isolation of space — conjures up a sense of longing and a reminder of the impermanence of relationships. Echols’ atmospheric drones and rich textures often act as a warm, embracing presence, while simultaneously creating an otherworldly impression, a lush planet just beyond reach.
For the cost of free you can catch Man, Woman, Friend, Computer’s opening live set tonight at Cheer Up Charlies starting at 9PM. “Exordium/Outgrown” will also be featured in its five-minute version at Austin Music Video Fest’s Nite Swim at the W on Thursday, June 1st. More details for the fest can be found here.