Public Thought

The Trouble with Calculation

The Trouble With Calculation originated as a multi screen and multi voiced cine poème in which related poetical texts are displayed on top of monologues from separate fragments of one single documentary film. The video installation consists of three to up to twelve screens shown simultaneously in the same room.

For the "This is not a script" film festival in Gent we also produced a single screen edition of the cine poème.

Concept: Jan Baeke & Alfred Marseille
Text: Jan Baeke
Editing: Alfred Marseille

Duration installation: app. 5 minutes (looped)

Duration single screen edition: 10' 35''

An English translation of the poems is in the making.

Live demo

This demo shows the three screen pilot edition.

Exhibition View


The footage is taken from the documentary Drugs In Our Culture (1970, KQED-TV, public domain). Most of the footage shows talking heads, who deal with a concern on the matters of the use and abuse of drugs by young people.

The texts that are displayed on the screens have the form of a poetical monologue that reflects, in a calculative way, on social economic, political, personal and psychological subjects, like the world of markets and finances, the practices of displaying a professional understanding with someone insecure and depressed, or the manner of how to deceive or convince the subject of your adultery love.

Poetical texts and spoken monologues have the same rhythm and a similar tone of voice. Or to put it differently, the music of the words that are spoken on screen is followed by the music of the poetical subtitles (and can be made audible by saying them out loud).

The two texts might trigger all kind of interpretative reflexes and make one constantly shift between meaning and sound.

Formal principles

Fragmentation In the final version of this cine poème we use all fragments and every second of the film. All separate scenes will be set aside and displayed on its own screen or in its own player. The fragments will be looped and played simultaneously. The original temporal stretch of the film will be clenched in a set of simultaneous displayed fragments. The scenes in itself are of course also shot in separate takes; it’s the editing that makes the array and duration of every shot. Our cine poème gives a re-edited version of the film, a re-editing that emphasizes the isolated nature of the monologue and the difficulty in explaining the world through language.

Repetition The displayed texts all have the form of a litany. Every verse begins with the same words: “Ik heb de indruk dat…” (“I have the impression that…” )
The moment these line reappears the fragment starts all over again. The spoken words are repeated over and over again, whilst the displayed texts are changing. Usually by rephrasing, by correcting the former lines, by introducing a new argument.

“The Trouble With Calculation” visualizes the phenomena of explanation, justification, purpose and message through the combined use of poetry and film clips, of literary language and language in its various social contexts. It shows how people communicate and what forms of individuality, egoism and morality lie behind those communications. Language in a concentrated poetic form can provide a new reality on its own and through intervening into the images of a (modified and existing) reality such as those of moving pictures.

There is beauty in these exercises; the confrontation of multiple voices and texts may be unsettling but also brings forth its own logic and obviousness.

A man starts talking into the camera and explains what he means and displays at the same time how you can say something into the camera that makes your own importance clear. A man becomes his message in a camera. A man takes over the message, adds nuance, deletes it. A man starts all over again and again.

Requirements for the video installation

3 - 12 HD video screens (or projectors), with sound

3 - 12 Blue-ray players, computers or digital media players


The Trouble with Calculation was made possible by a grant from the Dutch Foundation for Literature.


© 2013 Public Thought, Jan Baeke & Alfred Marseille