Friday, February 18, 2011

Musique Concrète for the Eyes

It's been a while since I last reported on the gems I've found inside Netflix that travel the same waters as yours truly. And I've found a nice one, My Cinema For The Ears, directed by Uli Aumüller and featuring mostly Francis Dhomont and a bit with Paul Lansky. The film's continuity and direction come from watching Dhomont work on a piece entitled Another Spring, which was released in 2003 on Dhomont's album Jalons.

Another Spring takes off from the Spring concerto of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. Each concerto in Vivaldi's set has an accompanying sonnet printed in the score, sometimes as a suggestion to the performer, sometimes a propos of nothing in particular. Dhomont parses the Spring sonnet for all the references to things that make noise, then he captures the various sounds and uses them in his composition. One of the sounds that Aumüller follows is the "barking dog" allusion over the viola section in the score at the beginning of the second movement. So we follow Dhomont into the field, literally, where he captures a shepherd dog's bark, and back into his studio, where he blends the bark with the viola strokes in a commercial recording. After the Lansky interlude (where one segment is filmed with a doggie-cam), Dhomont has to persuade violist Jean René to create a savage sound, closer to nature. He uses the dog montage we're following, and Dhomont of course adds René's viola to become part of Another Spring as well. The last section of the film is an animation video by Robert Darroll with the completed piece as the soundtrack.

Around this skeletal continuity, we have a couple of extended conversations about composing, about using environmental sounds, which sounds are interesting or not, etc. These segments provide a conceptual framework perhaps for the uninitiated, and the two interlocutors, Christian Calon and Lansky, each bring their own perspectives.

The glory of the film, though, is the editing and more abstract sections set to works by Dhomont and Lansky. Parts of it recall Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisquatsi, especially during Aumüller's urban montages. But the nature segments are vivid and abstract, using field recordings to retain the referent for the viewer or creating parallel transformations with the music. There are a couple of extended sections without dialogue where Aumüller gets very creative. The Princeton segment with Lansky and Dhomont having coffee is a virtuoso editing job, talking heads interspersed with clinking spoons and soundtracked with Lansky's Table's Clear, which was created with exactly these kinds of sounds.

It turns out My Cinema for the Ears was released on Bridge Records and is still in print. One piece by Dhomont (En Cuerdas for guitar and tape, not Another Spring) and three by Lansky are included on an audio-only page, all four pieces in stereo and all four available on other albums.

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