May 2011, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour: Music, Sounds & Noises – Sound in Cinema

DREAMS, 1990

Supplementing the Magical History Tour in March of this year, dedicated to "Voice, Language and Speaking in Cinema", we will this month again examine the often little regarded audio track and its suggestive power. Whether on-screen or off-screen sounds, diegetic or not, whether complex audio arrangements, an overwhelming sound or breathless silence: The audio track—consisting of language, music and sounds—is an integral component of cinematic experience. It generates an atmosphere or irritates, anticipates images or contradicts them, intensifies or smothers. It creates a world, a sonic space into which the spectator, depending on the sound system or audio equip-ment of the movie theater, can immerse. Since the mid-1970s, numerous audio-engineering innovations have facilitated the shaping of highly complex sound architectures, on which sound designers, sound editors, Foley artists, and sound mixing technicians work for months. But also beyond sound effects, multi-channel sound, surround sound, and Dolby stereo, multilayered, commanding audio tracks have been and are being created that deserve our attention and raise important question pertaining to the relation of image and sound.

WAVELENGTH (Michael Snow, USA 1967, June 1, with an introduction & June 6) & SO IS THIS (Michael Snow, Canada 1982, June 1 & 6) The two mid-length films of the Canadian filmmaker, artist and composer Snow—milestones of American avant-garde cinema—reflect, mark and blur the borders between image and sound. While in WAVELENGTH a rising and increasingly louder sinus tone (along with other sounds) is combined with a zoom toward the window of an apartment, which has both a hypnotizing and disturbing effect, in SO IS THIS Snow works with the imagined voice of the spectator by entering into a written dialog with the audience. A silent movie in which the toneless "voice" of the director—in the form of words to be read on the screen—merges with the inner voice of each spectator. Delayed to the screenings of the two films at Kino 1, the sound collage HEARING AID by Michael Snow can be heard on June 1 at Arsenal 2. His acoustic work will be introduced by Ariane Beyn.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA 2007, June 2 & 5) Agonizing sounds bearing witness to man’s struggle with nature's mineral resources run like a leitmotif through this epos of the rise and fall of an oil magnate. Minutes on end, the film dispenses with dialog. What is negotiated between humans and between humans and nature is evoked in a masterly way by the soundtrack of Radiohead front man Jonny Greenwood and the compositions of the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt.

DOUBLE TIDE (Sharon Lockhart, USA 2009, June 2 & 3) The squelching sound of the mud flats, twittering birds and the foghorn in the bay of Maine became a source of inspiration for the film of the artist and filmmaker Lockhart. For the audience, they become important coordi-nates of an excitingly beautiful space of sound, offering reliable sensory orientation—in contrast to the images.

CASABLANCA (Michael Curtiz, USA 1942, June 3 & 4) Ingrid Bergman evokes the catalytic power of music when she asks the piano player and singer Dooley Wilson to play "As Time Goes By": "Play it, Sam. Sing it! I will hum it for you!" Later on, when he again plays the movie's musical leitmotif, a flood of suppressed memories and emotions is released. The composer Max Steiner created a congenial musical level for the conflicts and arguments in this refugee melodrama revolving around an embittered bar owner (Humphrey Bogart), a dutiful wife (Ingrid Bergman) and her husband fighting against the Nazis (Paul Heinreid).

KING KONG (Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, USA 1933, June 10 & 11) The sound designer and author Dirk Schaefer called Murray Spivack, who created the sound effects in this early monster movie, one of the "first sound designers" in the history of film. His sound effects produced in an unconventional manner and the compositions of Max Steiner, to which they were added in an early form of mixing, convey essential information, without which the events swhown in the pictures would remain partially incomprehensible to the audience.

BRAND UPON THE BRAIN! (Guy Maddin, Canada 2006, June 12 & 13) One of the highlights of the Forum of the Berlinale 2007 was the live music played to Maddin's "silent movie" BRAND UPON THE BRAIN!. Under the direction of Maddin and the composer Jason Staczek, the orchestra comprising thirsty musicians, the boys' choir, the film narrator Isabella Rossellini, and four Foley artists created a sound level that made reference to the tradition of silent movie accompaniment in the 1910s and 20s and newly defined it from the perspective of today. A meanwhile produced print combined with sound will be screened.

APOCALYPSE NOW – REDUX (Francis Ford Coppola, USA 1979/2001, June 15 & 18) For one-and-a-half years, dozens of sound engineers, sound designers and editors worked on the audio track which was ultimately assembled from up to 200 tracks in a process lasting eight months. Especially in the version that was edited in 2001 and is 50 minutes longer than the original version, Coppola's Vietnam drama unfolds a furious, independent monument of sound.

REAR WINDOW (Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1954, June 17 & 19) The German distribution title, DAS FENSTER ZUM HOF, is one of the few lucky choices of the German dubbing industry. It refers to a central sonic space: the courtyard. This is where a variety of sounds and voices encounter each other, making life in the apartments (facing the yard) audible. Only one apartment remains silent – that of the murderer Thorwald.

THE BIRDS (Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1963, June 21 & 25) Ominous sounds, the sources of which the pictures of the movie do not reveal, or only delayed in time—a classical Hitchcock trick. This also applies to THE BIRDS: The collective cry of the birds, their pecking against the house in which the Brenners have barricaded themselves against them, the sound of fluttering wings can all be heard but not seen. A sonic attack.

DREAMS (Akira Kurosawa, Japan/USA 1990, June 24 & 26) The eight episodes of the movie revolve around Kurosawa's childhood memories, his hopes and fears, to which he attributes only a few yet highly accentuated sounds. They come to the fore in a clear and distinct way against a background of all-encompassing silence. A masterly reduction and concentration on acoustic essentials in an exuberant spectrum of colors and compositions.

PICKPOCKET (Robert Bresson, F 1959, June 27 & 29) The sound of steps in the streets of Paris insistently and evidently drown out the conversations of passers-by until they can no longer be heard — a recurring motif of the sparse acoustic world in which the young, virtuoso pickpocket Michel moves about. The images of the ballet of hands convey a suggestive power that is otherwise only attributed to music.

RAGING BULL (Martin Scorsese, USA 1979, June 28 & 30) Pounding fists, the heavy breathing of the boxers, the flashlights of the cameras – the boxing matches that the boxing world champion LaMotta engages in are key scenes of the movie, the unsettling audio track of which was created by Scorsese in collaboration with his sound designer Frank Warner, gripping the audience in a way rarely experienced before.