[-empyre-] COVID-19 Movement IV: Rondo

Patricia Zimmermann patty at ithaca.edu
Fri May 1 04:42:26 AEST 2020


The drone flew over Buffalo, New York, the second hot spot for COVID in the State of New York.  Empty streets. Buildings. Lake Erie.  A lone jogger ambled slowly down a sidewalk in the city centre.

The exhilaration of the immersion of flying over and outside contrasted with my daily life on Zoom and FaceTime.

 The first, aerial long shots.  The second, a flat, immobilized world of close-ups, interior space, bad lighting, white walls, bookshelves, couches.

 While COVID snakes through our lives and space invisibly with no form or pattern, the visual regimes of pandemic split into two directions:  the aerial shots of drones as first person point of view of the hauntings of the virus as it empties cities, and then, the small, intimate, close ups of Zooms, FaceTime, Webex whether in teaching, in meetings, with friends, or even on CNN or MSNBC or the multitude of webinars proliferating in digital space like daffodils in April.

Our critical theories have rendered binary oppositions unfashionable, retro, reductionist.  They form the spine of fairy tales and commercial narrative media, fictions which simplify the entanglements of the world, conflict, our psyches all of which unfurl in more complex polyphonies and webs.

But these new visual regimes of the long aerial shots of drones and the close ups of Zoom and other interfaces demand some other ways to think beyond the binary or even the dialectical,
 the more Marxist way to deal with oppositions.  The drones move, the Zooms are static.

The drones are aerial, the Zooms are close. The drones are of building, the Zooms of humans.  The high angle and the low.  The moving and unmoving.  The far and the close.

We now occupy a world without medium shots.

In sonatas, the Rondo stands as a movement, usually at the end of a piece, where oppositions are not binary but constitute part of a structure of alternations between refrains and episodes, multiple recurrences in a tonic key. The refrain repeats, then episodes contrast.

 Beethoven's "Sonata in C Minor," also know at the "Pathetique Sonata" concludes with one of my favorite rondos. It is a piece I have picked away at for ten years, the opening movement in Grave, as in slow slow tempo, not spirit, filled with bold dissonant chords, syncopations, rests, long downward cascading cadenzas,sharps and flats.  The rondo takes the contrasts in the movements and releases them in the last movement.  Refrain. Episodes.  In Italian, "rondo" mean round. Instead of opposition, a rounding together of the refrain and episodes.

Rondo might be a way to think about the drones and the Zooms, how they mediate our psychic landscapes between fantasies of flying in release above and the physical body realities of being chained to our chairs and computers in the close-up universe of Zoom where images look like a sheet of postage stamps.

Edmund Cardoni, the curator at the legendary Hallwalls in Buffalo New York, had posted the drone footage on Facebook. I read that Facebook and social media usage has exploded, traffic up on some days to a 33% spike.  As the scholar Ulises Mejias might put it, in his new book THE COST OF CONNECTION, social media camouflages the neocolonization of digital capitalism where the datafying of all of our feelings and affect functions as the gasoline of global capital.

 With all the news in our state focused on the ongoing, heartbreaking, catastrophes of infection and death in New York City, the footage popped out as an assertion that upstate exists.

 Minutes before, I had scanned a data visualization of the rates of COVID infection across our very large state, looking for Tompkins County,, where I live (and Stewart Auyash, and Renate Ferro, and Tim Murray too). Our county has one of the lowest rates of infection and only two deaths, both from downstate patients transferred up here for beds and care. But these numbers deceive:  our county is mostly white, affluent, employed, with Cornell University and Ithaca College the largest employers.

Drone footage abounds in the COVID 19 crisis, reposted on social media, sent via email to friends.  Mumbai. Delhi. New York. Milan. Rome. Hong Kong. San Francisco. Dubai. Singapore. Riyadh. Nashville.  Los Angeles. Chicago.  London. Mexico City.

It occurred to me that COVID 19 drone footage produced by amateur drone pilots, kids trapped at home with their parents, and the BBC, New York Times, VICE, Channel News Asia, Al Jazeera constituted a new genre: COVID Drones.  Perhaps one of the most circulated of the drone elegies for a city is the piece on Wuhan. It is also one of the first.

When I reposted Edmund's post of the Buffalo drone footage, I wrote that drone footage seems to be an emerging COVID genre.  The incredible scholar of drones, Caren Kaplan, replied that drones seem to be the correlative of social distancing, the distancing of drones doubling the geographies of social distancing.  Then B. Ruby Rich,, editor of FILM QUARTLERY (I am on the editorial board, full disclosure!) suggested Caren and I do a conversation on COVID drones for FILM QUARTERLY's QUORUM, which runs online. Girish Shambu, editor of QUORUM, jumped on enthusiastically. They all suggested it includes many links, a sort of COVID drone playlist. A rondo of refrains and episodes that built into something.

 We said yes--we have known each other for a long time but have never collaborated.  We talked on FaceTime, catching up on our baking and cooking strategies, how to find yeast and flour, the pleasures of CSAs, how the pandemic brought some new joys, like cooking, reconnecting, shopping local, working on this conversation.  Our conversation assumed the rondo structure of refrains and episodes on the drones.  We noticed an explosion of drone footage during the pandemic from every part of the globe.  We put our thoughts in writing, in rondo form, refrains and episodes.

It went live four hours ago. I share not as ego, not as the somewhat irritating COVID culture industries that seem like neoliberalism cloaked in critique and theory, but as a rondo  for you, to see if you want to add a refrain or an episode to COVID drones, statements or contrasts, in music theory. A rondo of collaborative feminist work across FaceTime and Word documents that renewed with the hope that ideas that are shared and circulate might get us through this. A rondo of two bread-baking, CSA-picking up scholars trying to build a small structure to say no to chaos and destabilizations everywhere.


Rondo: multiple recurrences, contrasting episodes, tonic key.

Patty Zimmermann

Patricia R. Zimmermann, Ph.D.
Professor of Screen Studies
Roy H. Park School of Communication
Codirector, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival

Ithaca College
953 Danby Road
Ithaca, New York 14850 USA


-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au/pipermail/empyre/attachments/20200430/6228539f/attachment.html>

More information about the empyre mailing list