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This month’s Magical History Tour centers on the sounds of audio tracks and invites viewers to listen. Whether sounds are on screen or off, diegetic or not, whether audio arrangements are complex, whether there is overwhelming noise or breathless silence, the audio track—consisting of language, music and sounds—is an integral component of the cinematic experience. It generates an atmosphere or irritates, anticipates or contradicts images, intensifies or smothers. Since the mid-1970s, numerous audio-engineering innovations have facilitated the shaping of highly complex sound architectures. But multilayered, sovereign audio tracks are being created and have been created beyond major productions that deserve our attention and raise important questions pertaining to the relation between image and sound.

BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO (Peter Strickland, GB/I 2012, 1. & 5.3.) Italy 1976: A shy Briton named Gilderoy takes a job as a sound designer in an Italian studio that makes horror films. The “Foley artist” chops up cabbages, yanks the leaves off radishes, hacks watermelons and delves deeply into the world of the horror films, until he can no longer differentiate between reality and delusion.

RAN (Akira Kurosawa, Japan/France 1985, 2. & 8.3.) Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy “King Lear” is a swan song to Japan’s feudal era and its warlords but also a pessimistic take on the modern world in which slaughter and death have no end. When an aging warlord decides to abdicate in favor of his oldest son, a remorseless battle is triggered within the family. “Ran” means chaos and the visuals, audio track and music oscillate between contemplation and bloodbath, between silence and chaos. The worst carnages take place in absolute calm, accompanied only by the elegiac music of Takemitsu Toru, one of the most important Japanese composers, who wrote the music for over 100 films.

ERASERHEAD (David Lynch, USA 1977, 3. & 9.3.) is a surrealist black and white nightmare with sequences that reinforce the cinematic game of reality and subjective distorted perception: Henry Spencer, who lives in a dirty and dusty world of backyards, fathers a baby akin to a monster which soon develops a life of its own, driving its mother from the house. The eerie and ghostly impressions are emphasized by the constant hissing, gurgling and buzzing of the audio track, which Lynch worked on for months with his sound designer Alan Splet.

LES VACANCES DE MONSIEUR HULOT (Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, Jacques Tati, F 1953, 12. & 16.3.) Monsieur Hulot goes on holiday to a sea resort and causes chaos inadvertently. Jacques Tati’s films are some of the loveliest examples of how sounds can be approached artistically. The audio track comprises a complex net of all kinds of ideas, musical larks and sound effects. The little dialogue there is plays a limited role, with the usually incomprehensible smatterings of conversation being used to accentuate the sounds.

D’EST (From the East, Chantal Akerman, F/Belgium 1993, 14. & 18.3.) A journey from eastern Germany to Moscow into the geographical and historical unknown. Static shots alternate with tracking shots of landscapes, people and faces. A stream of images reproduces the impressions of a subjective journey, waiting rooms, train stations, streetscapes, dance halls, kitchens, landscapes, the potato harvest, faces - the places remain unknown, there is no structuring commentary, hardly a word, but there is an order of things and gazes and an echo of noises: here the sound of the wind, there the drone of cars, music.

REAR WINDOW (Alfred Hitchcock, USA 1954, 15. & 20.3.) 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 jewelry salesman Thorwald, whose suspicious schemes draw the attention of a photo journalist (James Stewart) who is temporarily confined to a wheelchair. He and his fiancée (Grace Kelly) follow up on each moment of suspicion.

KANAŁ (Andrzej Wajda, Sewer, Poland 1956, 17. & 21.3.) The film depicts the battle of a company of Polish resistance fighters during the last days of the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. When they can no longer hold their position on the outskirts of the city, they decide to retreat underground into the sewers. So begins a nightmarish underground journey through corridors lit expressionistically that evoke Dante’s inferno. While gunshots can be heard above ground, below there is a multi-layered soundscape that alternates between ghostly silence and the desperate sounds of the dying.

MEEK’S CUTOFF (Kelly Reichardt, USA 2010, 19. & 27.3.) The sound of classic Westerns is shaped by war and conquest, by hails of bullets and battle cries, and the din of saloons and arguments. Kelly Reichardt contrasts this sound-myth with a quiet western and follows the sound of the prairies of the American Midwest, in whose silence a trapper and three families get lost while looking for a shortcut to Oregon in the mid-19th century. The painstakingly recorded sounds of nature - the hiss of the wind, the creaking of wheels, the crackling of the fire - evoke a soundscape as yet unheard in American Westerns.

THE HURT LOCKER (Kathryn Bigelow, USA 2008, 22. & 28.3.) A US army explosive ordnance disposal team in Iraq has 38 more days to serve when Sergeant William James joins it. War has turned him into an adrenaline junkie no longer capable of leading a civilian life. Bigelow tells the story from the point of view of the protagonists and adopts their lack of orientation, reinforcing the breathless tension of action cinema masterfully with a soundtrack that sets the tone.

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (Charles Laughton, USA 1955, 23. & 30.3.) Influenced by German Expressionism, Laughton’s only directorial work uses suggestive sound and lighting effects to create an unreal, oppressive atmosphere. The travelling preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) woos a widow, when he finds out that there is $10,000 in her house. He then murders her and fails to find the treasure. Her children flee down the river. One of the few adults they trust is an elderly woman who seemingly from a fairy tale looks after stray children.

KING KONG (Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, USA 1933, 24. & 29.3.) Murray Spivack, considered one of the "first sound designers" in the history of film, was responsible for the sound effects of this early monster/sound movie. His unconventionally produced sound effects and the compositions of Max Steiner, to which they were added in an early form of mixing, convey essential information pertaining to the unfolding drama about the king of an island with native floral and fauna, the giant gorilla Kong. A film crew discovers, captures and ships him to New York to be an attraction.

ENTUZIAZM (Enthusiasm: Symphony of the Donbass, Dziga Vertov, USSR 1930, 26. & 31.3.) Vertov regarded sound film as the pinnacle of the medium. "ENTUZIAZM demonstrates the possibilities of sound and music with such programmatic brilliance that even today the film is by no means obsolete as a lesson in image and sound montage. The beginning of the film, in which the songs of old Orthodox Russia are linked to shots of churches, people in prayer and alcoholics and the "song" of blast furnaces, pistons and harvesting machines that follow are some of the most fascinating in Vertov's oeuvre." (H. Tomicek)

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