Crossroads, a film documenting an infamous 1940s nuclear bomb test, is currently screening in London complete with a soundtrack by Terry Riley and synth pioneer Patrick Gleason
Crossroads was made in 1976 by the underground US film maker and visual artist Bruce Conner. It consists of archive footage of the second of two bomb tests conducted in July 1946 by the US government at its nuclear test site on Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. At the time, the tests, codenamed Operation Crossroads, were among the most photographed events in human history: for the second of the two tests, the US deployed more than 60 aircraft carrying more than 300 cameras to record the explosion and its aftermath. It is this footage, slowed down to hypnotic effect, that supplies the material for Conner’s 37 minute film.
From the 1950s onwards, Conner, a pioneer of found footage radical film making, was a key member of the San Francisco underground, collaborating with the Family Dog hippie collective on light shows at the Avalon Ballroom in the 1960s, and working as a photographer for the punk fanzine Search And Destroy in the 70s. For the soundtrack to Crossroads he commissioned two fellow members of the city’s counterculture. The sound of the bomb explosion was fabricated by Patrick Gleason, a former member of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi group, using a Moog synthesiser at his Different Fur Trading Company electronic music studio; the second part of the film features Terry Riley’s minimalist multi-tracked organ work.
Crossroads screens at London’s Thomas Dane Gallery until 18 July.