Ian Helliwell (filmmaker)

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Ian Helliwell is an audio visual artist based in Brighton, England. Entirely self-taught and self-funded, Helliwell has produced over 80 short films on Super 8 and video since 1992. His work has been screened at many international film festivals, including: the Avanto Festival in Helsinki, Rotterdam Film Festival, Hamburg Short Film Festival, Sónar in Barcelona, Impakt in Utrecht and Kill Your Timid Notion in Dundee.

His 2007 26 minute sound piece Expo 67 - a Radiophonic Collage, has been broadcast on radio stations in England, France and the USA.

In December 2013 - Assembly: A survey of recent artists’ film and video in Britain 2008–2013 - a major retrospective of 80 British based moving image makers, across more than 20 programmes, completely ignored Helliwell's work. Not one of the 33 films he made in the period covered, was deemed of any value and worthy of inclusion. In stark contrast he had 3 of his short films in Celluloid - a large scale exhibition of cameraless film at the Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt in 2010 - alongside the pioneers in the direct animation field, including Len Lye, Norman McLaren and Harry Smith. His super 8 originated films Get Set, Striations and Orbiting the Atom all featured, and Helliwell performed a live electronic set with his self-built Hellitron generators at the exhibition opening.

Methods and Aesthetic Style[edit]

His work is notable for its low-fi aesthetic, with Helliwell himself doing everything including producing the visuals and the accompanying music. For this reason, he is more of a fine artist than a filmmaker. However, he is as much a part of the Brighton music scene as the contemporary art scene, and his films are sometimes screened at musical events and concerts.

Exploring direct animation techniques, Helliwell applies cheap, domestic materials (such as felt-tip marker pens, household bleach, and sandpaper) to strips of super 8 film which he edits with splicing tape, and then transfers onto mini-dv, via a simple telecine set-up in his bedroom. During the process (which with Helliwell's improvised equipment, simply involves videotaping the images produced by 1 or 2 Super 8 projectors), the reels of film are superimposed onto one another in a combination of different speeds. The video taped results have a charming, homemade psychedelic quality, which feel more intimate and personal than the many similar psychedelic reels produced in the 1960s. Since 2008 he has used a computer for the mastering of his super 8 films, adding a great deal more flexibility to the same basic equipment set-up.

Once the visuals have been produced, Helliwell creates an appropriate soundtrack using electronic musical instruments which he himself has customized in keeping with his own homemade, ramshackle aesthetic. This range of battery powered devices known as Hellitrons, are simple circuits which can be interlinked for a wide variety of tones and rhythms. During 2007 he designed and built an analogue synth - the Hellisizer 2000 - featuring 5 circuits, lights and patch leads, housed in a modified wooden radio cabinet. The Hellisizer is a live performance instrument and can also be heard on the soundtrack to the Atomium Age and EMS 8 short films. The most recent Hellisizer - model 3000 (multiplay), was designed and built in 2009 and intended as an instrument for up to 5 participants to play simultaneously, in either installation or live performance mode. Through simple interaction with control knobs, the players can reach a wide variety of different electronic sounds.

Helliwell has created 2 photocell based machines 'The Megatherm' (developed 1995-2000) and the 'H-Op 1' (2004), which both involve the interaction of super-8 film with light sensitive resistors, in order to generate electronic sound.

Ian's audio series The Tone Generation, started in 2008, is an ongoing exploration of early electronic music in the era of magnetic tape and analogue synthesizers. Using his record and CD collection, he has been assembling half hour programmes which look at different composers and themes. The first 10 programmes are a worldwide panorama of electronic music, the subsequent editions look at a specific subject illustrated with sound clips, effects and music. The series is engineered by fellow Brighton electronic music maker Simonsound at his studio on the outskirts of the city.

Practical Electronica is the title of Helliwell's documentary project on the work of musician, inventor, engineer, designer and author FC Judd. While covering the various facets of his career, the film focusses on his experimental sound, and shines a light on an overlooked figure who straddled the amateur and professional worlds of early British electronic music.

Selected filmography[edit]

Molecular Feedback (2014, 3`10)

Travelling Waveforms (2013, 4`45)

Water Gardens (2013, 4`50)

Kennedy Johnson (2013, 3`30)

Trios Performance (2013, 12`40)

Double and Split (2013, 8`)

Bubbling Under (2013, 4`20)

The Movement of Tape (2013, 6`30)

Crash Testing (2012, 4`05)

Hellicam Feedback (2012, 7`00)

Felt This Way (2012, 2`00)

Practical Exhibition (2012, 7`)

Practical Electronica (2011, 61`)

Swallow Flies East (2011, 7`)

At the Glitterball (2011, 3`20)

Drill Bits (2011, 4`45)

Four Poster (2011, 3`30)

Letraglide (2011, 3`25)

Light Activation Feedback (2010, 6`50)

Light Support Systems (2010, 6`)

Time To Readjust (2010, 3`45)

Expo 67 - An Audio Visual Collage (2010, 21`35)

Slip-Slide (2010, 4`10)

The Motion Controllers (2009, 5`30)

Letratone Leader (2009, 3`35)

Colour Supply (2009, 2`15)

Mobile Home (2009, 3`45)

Through The Miniscope (2009, 4`10)

Lines And Pulses (2008, 4`15)

EMS 8 (2008, 2`45)

Scintillation (2008, 1`40)

Street Lights (2008, 3`55)

Accident & Design (2008, 7`20)

Music, Movies & Machines (2008, 6m)

The Atomium Age (2007, 2`25)

Playing Up (2007, 3`45)

Grid (2007, 2`20)

Signal Tracing (2007, 3`20)

Dash Dot (2006, 55sec)

Rust To Dust (2006, 2`25)

Sun Tower 70 (2006, 3`05)

Get Set (2005, 3`25)

Striations (2005, 4`10)

Deflection Currents (2005, 3`15)

Optical Action (2004, 3`50)

Interpenetration (2004, 3`25)

Compound Eye (2004, 3`10)

Filmosounds (2001–04, 5`05, 16mm/video)

Angel Recovered (2003, 3`15)

Beyond the Light (2003, 3`35)

Cycles Per Second (2003, 3`20)

Crosshatch (2003, 7`25)

Origami (2003, 50sec)

Particle Acceleration (2002, 4`45)

Colour Stream (2002, 4`40)

Orbiting the Atom (2002, 4`50)

Headache (2002, 45sec)

Coloured Light District (2002, 2`10)

Chromaburst (2001, 4`55)

Linear Phases (2001, 1`55)

Return to the Light (2001, 1`55, triple screen)

Patterns of Interference (2000, 3`05)

The Firing Line (2000, 5m)

Art Flies Free (2000, 3`05)

Rectangular Motion (2000, 4`15)

Megatherm Leader (2000, 4m, super-8 & Megatherm instrument)

Red/Blue Electron Guns (1999, 2`50)

Into the Light (1998, 4`55)

Disc Break (1998, 3`25)

All In A Day's Work (1998, 3m)

Catalyst (1997, 1`25)

Crystallization (1997–2000, 3`45)

Crossing the Equator (1997, 2`20)

Our Honeymoon (1997, 1m, std.8)

Holes (1996–present, 10m, std.8 + live Hellisizer soundtrack)

Chromatic Leader (1996, 4m)

The Burning of a Billion Words (1996, 5m)

Ta Baby (1996, 3m)

Protection Leader (1992–95, 2`40)

Rubble Man (1995, 2.5m)

Danger of Death (1994, 6m)

External links[edit]