Carving Out Spaces Between: Phill Niblock and Pedro Costa

Dominic Lash

Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference Paper


The composer and filmmaker Phill Niblock is a champion of intermediality; the foundation he inaugurated in 1968 is even called Experimental Intermedia. Central to Niblock's practice is the concurrent performance of high-decibel drone music with simultaneous projections of multiple films, often from the series The Movement of People Working, made between 1973 and 1985 in rural parts of countries including China, Brazil, Mexico and Hungary. To date, however, critical discussion of this work has been excessively respectful of Niblock's proclamations regarding its meaning and implications. He insists that his films have no political or other such significance, that they "are about moving bodies; they're not about people". In this paper, I propose to read some of these films against the grain of the filmmaker's own stipulations, and to do so by confronting his work with Pedro Costa's film In Vanda's Room (2000). Both Niblock and Costa film people largely excluded from the "advantages" of advanced capitalism, and both work with extended durations and forms of minimalism which bring to mind the "subtractions" that Alain Badiou finds characteristic of cinema. If intermediality is to do with betweenness, does this not require some form of negative space across or via which relationships can be formed? But, if so, what are the limits on such "subtractions"? Can films that show people be "not about people"? What can we learn from the way things resist being subtracted? How, for example, do the different ways that Niblock and Costa avoid representing themselves in their films imply differing relationships with what their cameras record? By no means, however, do I want to set up a simple opposition between an "exploitative" Niblock and a "collaborative" Costa. Rather, I hope that the comparison will help explore some of the intermedial paradoxes that lie at the heart of cinema.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 7 Nov 2017
EventII Intermidia Conference - The Moving Form of Film: Exploring Intermediality as a Historiographic Method - University of Reading, Reading , United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Nov 20178 Nov 2017
Conference number: 2nd


ConferenceII Intermidia Conference - The Moving Form of Film
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
OtherAs part of the AHRC/FAPESP-funded IntermIdia Project (, led by investigators from the University of Reading (UoR), UK, and the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), Brazil, this international conference sought to invite discussion of intermediality as a historiographic method.
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