Menu bar

Project Double Mirrors CD-ROM reviews

Project Double Mirrors CD-ROM Review, 9/26/03

(c) 2003 Jonathan M. Hamlow

"Warning," reads the message opening the introduction to the interactive multimedia CD-ROM Project Double Mirrors, "this CD-ROM contains the Meaning of Life."

The meaning of life. It is a cliché, an incantation, often the pitch for a con, always an enigma. Ask, "what is meaning?" "What is life?" Four years and a hundred thousand dollars later you may possess a piece of paper asserting your credentials as a philosopher; it is unlikely you will be any closer to an answer (perhaps, even, to a meaningful question).

Any attempt to capture, in some concrete form, the meaning of life will end up being one of two things. It will be a god-awful mess, displaying all the dogmatism and empty adherence to mumbo-jumbo that plague every movement and religion of the human race. Or else it will be a glorious mess, capturing the transient yet eternal spark of existence that can be talked about but never named, thought about but in the end only truly lived and experienced.

Project Double Mirrors by artist and musician Dylan Tauber is a glorious mess. It is suffused with humanity and full of extended instants of brilliance and transcendence tempered by all the neurosis and doubt of a visionary human existing in a time and place where vision is at best unrecognized, at worst exploited or attacked.

A word or two about the format. The work is created in an older version of Macromedia(r) and runs fairly well on my Macintosh, though the program hangs up now and again and on one occasion crashed my computer all the way to requiring a hard reboot (then again, so did The Matrix DVD), though with no ultimate ill effect. Some of the chunkier animation and transitions have a definite "old school" feel that I find I prefer to the sort of bland and bubbly Flash(r) and Shockwave(r) effects that seem to be making almost every arty website feel the same to me these days. The navigation is fairly straightforward but a degree of intuitive surfing is necessary.

The main content of the CD-ROM consists of eight extended multimedia works as well as two musical sets, a slide show of images and an interactive collage. Musical, visual and conceptual themes are repeated and amplified throughout each of the multimedia pieces, but each one stands as complete work which combine to present a powerful tale of the history and travels of an individual's quest for meaning, and his journeys carrying the answers he finds into wider worlds of experience and interaction.

Ben Galim

A dreamy, oceanic techno soundtrack is spiked with snatches of recorded musings of the artist on the quest for self-realization (to become a "full Jedi, full dolphin, man of God"), recordings of the poet Dylan Thomas, and samples of dialog from a film about as well as recordings of Bruce Lee (images, text and recordings of the unorthodox philosophy of the late movie actor and martial arts master are a recurring theme throughout Project Double Mirrors). Ben Galim transposes images of the artist as a young boy and a young adult, his mother, dolphins, a beautiful Ethiopian woman and scenes of Israel. The ubiquitous symbol of the regressive illusion of infinity created by parallel mirrors appears as a movie of a webcam pointed at the screen of a computer which displays the image it records, creating a strange time-delayed repetition of a single finger, pointing, overlaid with images of dolphins and backed by a sound collage of the artist explaining the nature of his quest and underwater sounds. More than any other composition in Project Double Mirrors it evokes the sense of the cardinal points of childhood, family, the path to vision and selfhood, and the creation of the work itself as a means to draw history through the lens of experience into a unified expression. To me it seems the most fitting introduction to all the other works on the CD-ROM

Sarah

Sarah is a fugue of sensual, dark and often distorted images of young woman whose face carries a mixture of cruelty, jaded experience, and guarded pain and longing beyond her apparent years. The soundtrack, a remix of Nine Inch Nails combined with a hypnotic loop of a telephone answering machine message, could be read as a dated and cliched presentation of an overused piece of cultural detritus (this could be a personal observation - Nine Inch Nails is not my favorite band). But it avoids this pitfall in its flawless evocation of how certain music becomes inextricably intertwined with memory and the personalities of certain individuals who cast long shadows on our histories. The journal excerpts that accompany the movie present a more pragmatic narrative of two individuals in a doomed relationship shaped by radically conflicting pathologies and carried out through the warping influence of drugs both prescribed and proscribed. While this view demystifies to some extent the more lyrical poetry of the Sarah movie, in the end it sharpens its sense of loss and longing. In presenting the twisted reflection of academic life in that most resonant of fleshpots, New York City, Sarah serves as a catalyst for central themes of the quest for a life of balance and sustained vision.

New York City

A long photo-collage of scenes of New York accompanied by driving, looped techno beats reinforces Sarah's more personal portrayal of the dark heart of the city and American culture. New York City contains the usual iconography of cities - street scenes, homeless people, cops and crowds, street musicians, night traffic and buildings. These are interspersed with less orthodox images - scenes of abstract reflections in standing water on streets and sidewalks, repeated images of a street vendor who seems to be selling a rocket launcher, and towering racks of magazines and pornography that evoke a glossy and corrupt world in their own right. New York City is a point of departure, an exit from the conventional world and an introduction to the world of the vision quest.

Assassination

Israel, both as the traditional spiritual center for the artist, a young Jewish man, and as a symbolic locus of the spiritual quest of humanity, provides the locale and driving influence of the next four multimedia pieces in Project Double Mirrors. Assassination is a fitting introduction to this quatrain, focusing as it does on the murder of Prime Minister Rabin, an event which echoes through the political realities of Israel to this day and exemplifies the conflict the artist describes as the clash of the "Old Jews" of the conservative and insular Jewish orthodoxy and the "New Jews" of Israel's younger and more inclusive population (Rabin was killed by a lone Jewish gunman in reaction to his quest to seek peace with Palestine and in the Middle East region in general). A shorter piece, Assassination (A Tribute to Prime Minister Rabin) consists of video news clips and still images of the funeral of Rabin, a scene of an earlier assault by his eventual killer, and his signing of the historic peace accord with Yassir Arafat which now seems so distant in the past. A somber music track and a repeated audio clip of a breaking news announcement of Rabin's death completes the presentation of this recent tragedy.

Old Jew

The artist refers to himself repeatedly, in the identity he seeks to transcend, as an "Old Jew." This title carries both a literal and a symbolic meaning: the "Old Jew" is representative not just as a literal population and ideology existing among the Jewish people, particularly in Israel, but also as a symbol of how each of us carries the snares of our personal histories and societal pressures to conform to conventional definitions of success and spiritually empty religions and ideologies. Old Jew combines these meanings in a blend of scenes of modern day Israel, images from the artist's past history, and elements of American popular culture. A driving electronic soundtrack goes along with images of Israel dominated by orthodox Jews in traditional attire and forelocks. Then the piece shifts gears as it weaves scenes from the Star Wars Trilogy, focusing on the final conflict between Luke Skywalker and his father Darth Vader (there is a less than subtle correlation between Vader and the artist's own father) under the eyes and influence of the evil Emperor, scenes of the artists early education and home life (including a totemic and oft-repeated image of the artist's mother that crops just below the chin and just above the chest and seems to carry an emotional weight that is never fully explained), and a recording of what seems to be a family argument about the artist's education. The cumulative effect is a fierce portrayal of a tangled web of family, religion and personal history, a Gordian knot the artist must slash through in a fight to cast his "inner demons" behind and rise to a new fate. The journals that accompany this relate the artist's interpretation of the spiritual significance of Israel (an interpretation that is controversial and arguable, an aspect of the piece that will be addressed in greater depth later), as well as a heavily edited component on the artist's family. Given the heavy presence of family imagery in the Old Jew movie, the choice to censor the material on family is one of the few artistic decisions in the overall work that I question.

New Jew

The images of the New Jew communicate a vision of the possibility of spiritual and national transcendence out of the quagmire of the "Old Jew." As such it is a critical and pivotal work in the overall whole. For all this, the introduction to the multimedia collage is one of the weaker components of Project Double Mirrors. Many of the images that are invoked - the yin and yang, symbols of evolution transposing primates, a muscular man's flexing biceps, hourglasses - are too literal and cliché. They suggest a juxtaposition of opposites without shades of gray and too simple of a transition from the old to the new. The work gathers momentum, however, as it transitions into a grainy clip of documentary footage on the Yom Kippur battle, the invasion of Israel by unified Arabic forces in the early seventies that was so critical in shaping the modern day dynamics of the Middle East. Scenes from the Old Jew piece are reiterated backed by a soundtrack of Israel pop music. Later, recordings of Dylan Thomas reading ("Do not go gently...") over Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are A'Changing" is surprisingly affecting. It leads to the best part of the work, a series of photographs of Israelis, often young, that are filled with beauty, love and life. Too often Israel is presented in the media as a symbol and stereotype. It is a center of political strife, a political agency where the power plays of west and east are endlessly reiterated. What is missing, and this piece powerfully presents, is the sense of Israel as a place and a people. Behind the political history and events of current politics are individuals, striving to live their lives as we all do, filled with the beauty and essence of life.

The journal selections that go along with the New Jew are the most extensive and complex of the whole work. As with Sarah, they contain a complex and intensely personal history that challenges and expands the images and music it gives rise to. Undoubtedly, some will find fault with the politics, real or perceived, that this narrative contains. Fundamental questions about the degree to which Israel itself is responsible for the political crisis of the Middle East are not really addressed, nor is the situation of the incredible poverty and deprivation of Palestine. The artist's vision of the spiritual renewal of Israel exists in sharper contrast today, as the deadly exchange of violent confrontations has created a push towards conservatism in politics and the possibility of peace seems in some ways farther away than it has been in the past decade. But the writing is not really about the politics of the Middle East. Israel exists in these writings as a home and a real place, not simply an exercise in national politics. Like the photographs, the writing presents Israel as a reality that belies simple classification according to stale ideologies and partisan conflicts. Mirroring this complexity are the most personal presentations of the artist's conflicts with his family. Here, the symbolic images of characters like Vader or the cold cropped portrait of the Mother are replaced with real human beings: flawed, passionate, isolated yet seeking communication, however imperfectly. It is a multifaceted collection of fragments that seems to leave out as much as it contains. Recurrent conflicts over money, the family's lack of respect and understanding of the unorthodox path the artist has chosen, and the artist's resistance of his mother's obsessive and dominating pathologies and his father's adherence to the materialistic intellectualism the artist rejected in the academic realm (and intimations of the possibility of his father threatening to appropriate elements of his work, a conflict which seems to have been resolved but is never fully explained) frame the artist's wanderings through Israel, sharing his radical philosophies with everyone he meets and seeking the essence of his true path.

The Visionary

A solitary man who lives on the beach, clad in the simplest wrapping of cloth. He seems something out of fiction, an obscure and rootless hermit who recognizes a kindred spirit in the artist and delivers terse pronouncements to him. Of wisdom? Of madness? The Visionary is the most enigmatic figure in Project Double Mirrors, and his central importance is seen in his recurring presence throughout all of the multimedia works. The introduction of this piece is a fascinating choice - the climactic battle from the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon where Lee faces his adversary in a hall of mirrors. His bloodied fist smashing mirror after mirror, shattering illusion, revealing his true foe. The Visionary is one of the more direct pieces in the project. Images of the Visionary himself, praying, dancing, lost in contemplation play against scenes of more conventional preachers holding forth with pamphlets in hand, computer generated simulacrum of a figure mirroring the poses of the visionary in photographs, or seated in the lotus position. Behind this loops a monotonous, eventually irritating repetition of a line from a once popular song - "yeah, yeah, God is great... yeah, yeah, God is good..." The textual accompaniment of the piece contains a sharp division between the simple advice uttered by the Visionary and the restless quest of the artist. The Visionary tells the artist to dive under the ocean until he needs to breathe and then dive deeper, to "forget the past and dance." The artist recounts his search for the Ethiopian Woman, a vision of beauty (and an undisguised picture of contrast to the specter of his mother), a quest which seems firmly rooted in the desire to revise a past moment of lost opportunity. In one of the most repeated images in the project the Visionary makes an obscure gesture, hands poised on either side of his face with index fingers pointing straight into the air. The artist offers a philosophical interpretation of the significance of this gesture which I find myself questioning: mimicking the gesture myself, seeing what it feels like, I wonder if he is not presenting the artist with a somewhat whimsical mirror of himself: camera poised in front of his face, the blinders on, neck canted forward, focused on the image in the viewfinder. But what do I know, except that I'm the last person to deny that the advice of visionaries can be hard to take. People like the Visionary entice and frighten us, sadden us like the advice of Jesus saddened the rich young man: that there was nothing left for him to do on his spiritual quest but to give everything he owned to the poor and follow. The Visionary lives in a place we only visit.

Double Mirrors

Of this final multimedia piece, which includes a direct, written exploration of the "Theory of Double Mirrors" which is woven and embedded throughout every aspect of the project, I will say little. It is best experienced for itself. I will say that it forms a single body of images, words, and music that is greater than the sum of its parts. I will also say that the written exposition of the theory of double mirrors is, perhaps inevitably, something of an anticlimax. As the artist warns repeatedly through an excerpt of the writings of Bruce Lee, a few paragraphs can at best only ever be a finger pointing at the moon - and the seeker for truth must be admonished not to focus so fixedly on the finger - so as to lose sight of "all that heavenly glory." To me, Double Mirrors is a fitting summation and conclusion of this truly original artifact.

-=-

I've spent as many hours with Project Double Mirrors as I have with most any DVD or video game I've ever owned, and have found it rewards multiple exposures. An electronic voice advises you, on exit, "so now you feel the power of man-machine," and it is not just idle talk. It is a true multimedia work, something that, given the times we live in, is still a surprising rarity.

So does it contain the meaning of life? I will say, I'm quite certain that it contains the life of meaning, and leave it for other seekers to decide exactly what I might mean by that.

Deep in the utterly American urban heart of Minneapolis, Minnesota, too far from the ocean of my California childhood and my earliest memory, I leave the machine with its glowing screen for a moment to step outside. And looking up into a blank gray nighttime sky, praying for rain, I am reminded once again that there is only the dance.

God is great.

--

more reviews of the CD-ROM

For reviews of the Project Double Mirrors soundtrack music CD click here

Hundreds of more comments on Project Double Mirrors, and DoubleMirrors.com can be found on 8 pages worth of guestbook entries: http://DoubleMirrors.com/guestbook.html


if you want to contact me, please email

Thank you for visiting Project Double Mirrors.