Like the needle on a broken record so too can we sometimes get hooked by a single word or sentence in a text that strikes us and to which we have to come back, again and again. When first reading Maria Hofmann's reminiscence, without yet knowing who its author was, it were these four words that I felt arrested by: "down a dark spiral." Not only did they capture for me the whole text and this toxic behavior it reflects upon, and which we are all so familiar with, of repeating those very things that hurt us. But additionally, it made me think of the groove of a vinyl record that actually forms a hypnotic spiral, so that when we listen to a song we circle into it, deeper and deeper, like a screw into a log of wood.
It is this both sweet and dangerous musical hypnosis I wanted to put the viewers in while at the same time also constantly moving them elsewhere – moving through the deep listening experiments of Pauline Oliveros (whom I quote at the beginning), moving through a song that I myself cannot let go of for reasons too numerous to explain here (some of it I mention in the written epilogue), and moving through those films that keep haunting me because of their listening scenes. Listening, as Jacques Lacan pointed out, indeed means to become a resonant body, to become a vessel, in which the voice of the other/Other can expand. It is perhaps because of this why listening scenes in films feel so much more intimate to me than any other. Also, if you really want to study the skill of an actor you should observe them in dialogue scenes when they are not talking but supposed to listen.
Thus, the video, like the text that inspired it, moves in two directions at once: into the rabbit hole and out of it. It is split, like in the split screen, into being both reflexive and obsessive, finally coming to the conclusion that the two are not mutually exclusive but intertwined, in a spiral form.
Strangely enough, it is only now when reflecting on the process of making this video that I remember that ten years ago I gave a talk on spirals in Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) and that this was also the subject of one of my first experiments with the video essay form (and which I – rather fittingly – never finished). The fact that a scene of Vertigo also features in this video here thus strikes me as both a happy accident and inevitable. The motif of the Vertigo-spiral must have kept spinning in my unconscious.
And something else has happened since I first got raptured by Maria Hofmann's text and made this video: The fourth season of Stranger Things (2022) presented to us what has already become one of the ultimate listening scenes of moving image history. When watching Irène Jacob or John Travolta putting on their headphones I now cannot help but immediately also see Sadie Sink as Stranger Things’ Max getting put on her's. It is, however, a beautiful paradox that in Max's case the song she listens to does not hypnotize her but free her from that horrible spell she was put under. There seems to be a listening's way out of the dark spiral after all. Running up, as Kate Bush sings, instead of down.
Dr. Johannes Binotto is researcher in cultural and media studies, experimental filmmaker and video essayist. He works as senior lecturer for film theory at the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and for American and Cultural Studies at the University of Zurich. Since 2021 he leads the Swiss National Science Project “VideoEssay. Futures of Audiovisual Research and Teaching”. Personal website: transferences.org.