Art, Film

Saturday 6th June

June 7, 2009

A better day today, sorry for the depressing posts of late. This evening I watched a DVD, which regular readers will know I do rarely, but usually enjoy it when I do take the time. Today I watched 6 Films, a compilation disc of the work of Emily Richardson, a London based experimental film-maker. Not surprisingly, there are six short films on the DVD, five of them making use of soundtracks composed by Benedict Drew.

I have long been an admirer of four of the soundtracks, as I have mentioned before here when writing about Ben’s recent free download compilation that included one of the audio tracks. I have come to know them as purely audio works however, having never seen the films before. Although I have always been aware of their soundtrack status I have somehow managed to think of them purely as pieces of music, and have assumed (knowing my usual distrust of these things) that watching the films themselves would probably not add much to the experience. Well on the whole, watching these films have shown that I was wrong to think in such a manner.

Richardson’s films seem to be about our relationship to the things around us, either extraordinary scenery and landscapes, such as the shifting oil platforms and forlorn architecture of Glasgow’s shipbuilding docks in the film Petrolia or the thick forests featured in Aspect, or the seemingly drab and mundane, such as the deserted London streets of Nocturne or the 1960’s tower block that is the focus of Block. Time is another subject that Richardson brings our attentionto. All of these films are shot on 16mm film, but certain simple  treatments are used to bring new visual effects out of everyday views using slowed down time and cuts between the same shot filmed at different times of the day.

Each of these films really needs an essay of its own, but I will try and pick out a few thoughts on each here. Redshift is the earliest and shortest film here. (they are included in chronological order) Made back in 2001 the title refers to a scientific technique that is used to determine the age of a star by the time it takes for its light to reach the earth. Stars shot against different skies at different times of night, using different exposures and set against different backgrounds make up much of this film. Fixed camera positioning and film shot over several hours have been used, sped up and treated to show stars flying across the sky, boats fleeing across the sea’s horizon, everyday events given more significance by amplifying the simple drama within them. The soundtrack is closely linked to events on the screen. As a star shifts slowly, we hear a slow sound. When there is a sudden shift to another scene the music reflects this,the dynamic of the film is reflected very closely in the music. I’m not sure why not, but it just had not occurred to me that this was the case. Although I knew about the films for some reason I didn’t think that each sound event might be so closely associated to a movement in the film. This really makes me hear (see?) the music in a completely different light. Clearly the music was made to match events in the film closely, but because I originally knew the sound alone it feels the other way around, as if someone has made a film to match this music I was so familiar with.

The second film, Nocturne is my favourite of the six. During its five minute length it captures the feel of desolate London streets, most of them dead-ends by night. Film is shot over long periods of time, and again sped up here and there so that the few events that do take place occur at speed. So lights flick on and off, the odd car flies past in a flash, the sky and moonlit clouds  change colour and fold into new shapes. As I know London quite well, and often find myself walking through these kind of areas on the way home from concerts late at night the images in Nocturne really resonate with me. But while I scurry past them in a rush to catch a train this film stops and takes in the strange beauty of these seemingly lifeless dioramas. Again the music is closely in tune with the image, and it works beautifully well. A light flicked on in a building will be met by a new splash of colour in the music, grainy sounds match the murkiness of the film’s subject, switching abruptly from one passage to another as the camera flicks to a new image on which to rest for a while. My only wish here is that this film was longer, so as to better reflect the emptiness of the subject matter through time, but it works really well as it is.

Aspect is a study of a forest in Kent, seen at various angles, from within as well as from high above over the period of a year, the events of the four seasons distilled into nine minutes here. We drift from just taking in the mighty expanse of the forest and its details through to  focussing more on the light and shadows cast upon and amongst the trees, the imagery occasionally drifting off into abstract shapes formed by the light cutting through trees and the changing colours of the foliage.

Petrolia is named after a deserted oil platform resting in a Scottish firth and again uses film shot over time to show the architecture of the oil industry,  set against the beauty of the sea and its coastlines. Sped-up time again highlights the drama in the skies and in the sea, the light slowly changing, the weather causing clouds to dance into patterns. The oil rigs we see being slowly towed to shore for repair also seem to have a ballet-like fragility to their movement as they seem to glide across the water. Film of the Grangemouth oil refinery almost achieves the impossible in making the dirty clouds of smoke billowing from its many chimneys seem quite beautiful when sped-up and set against darkened skies. The oil industry in Scotland will probably have run dry within the next forty years and the sense of downbeat resignation is captured perfectly in both the film and its soundtrack, dark colours and slow, tired movements abound, augmented only by film of the equally doomed Glasgow shipping industry docks.

Block, filmed in 2005 is the only film here that Ben Drew did not work on, the soundtrack provided here instead by Jonah Fox. The subject matter for this twelve-minute short is a South London tower block, misguidedly built in the 60s as a short-sighted solution to the city’s housing problems. The film is shot in and around the depressing-looking building, and we see long shots down poorly lit coridoors, identical shots taken from windows on different floors of the building, the living rooms of occupants, doors opening and closing, a lot of elevators and reflections in their featureless silver walls. This is the only one of the six films here to include images of people as well, though each only briefly, either traveling through the building or captured in their homes, and with no dialogue involved. the soundtrack suggests South London well, a gloomy, grey pattern of sound interrupted here and there by glimpses of a siren, raised voices down the hall, fragments of drum’n bass. It is quite different in feel to Drew’s soundtracks, but again sticks close to the narrative of the film, responding directly to movement on the screen, or changes in mood or lighting.

The final film, named Cobra Mist was made in 2008 for Channel 4 TV and explores the intriguing and unusual landscape of Orford Ness, a flat, featureless coastal area of England interrupted by the weird architecture of the military history of the site, and in particular the mostly deserted buildings that  belonged to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment. Time lapse tricks are used again to capture the powerful drama of the changing skies as the camera turns and mushroom shaped, almost pagoda-like buildings are picked out against the dirty grey landscape, an odd tower seems to stand separate from anything else, and the occasional spot of fauna flaps on the wind. The soundtrack is again composed by Drew, but this time is constructed using sounds captured at the area in question by Chris Watson. So we hear seabirds wailing, wind rushing and rustling and alien-like mechanical sounds now and again, their origin less obvious. While this film made be the most poignantly simple visually it is the most detailed and possibly the most accomplished musically. As less seems to happen visually on screen the relationship between sound and image is less obvious but still it is close, and I found myself watching this final film on the disc more than once to follow the process carefully.Â

Six nice little films then, of the kind I prefer, brief studies of focussed subjects rather than expansive movies. In many ways watching these, music still seemed first on my mind. They almost felt like promotional videos for creative music, just in case MTV ever lost interest in commercial crap, but I imagine Emily Richardson would be very offended by such a thought. I should clarify this comment by underlining my own infatuation with sound and my troubles with watching moving images at the same time. I liked 6 Films a lot though and will watch it again, when I get the chance with a big TV screen. In the meantime it is available to buy here.

While I am in the midst of plugging the work of Mr Drew (one of my favourite activities!) here is another new web page of his to watch out for, this time featuring lots of little soundfiles made by DAARS, or the Domestic Applance Audio Research Society, an only slightly tongue-in-cheek project that has existed for a couple of years as a MySpace webpage, but now as the group (Drew, Lee Patterson, Helena Gough and others) will be performing at this year’s Cut n’ Splice event in a couple of weeks Ben has put together a new page at which the sounds can be heard in better quality and with a much nicer design than a MySpace page could ever have offered. Amongst the sounds to be heard is the now infamous recording made by Lee Patterson of Graham Halliwell’s fridge… need I say any more to tempt you?

Comments (4)

  • graham halliwell

    June 7, 2009 at 11:54 am

    “Ben has put together a new page at which the sounds can be heard in better quality and with a much nicer design than a MySpace page could ever have offered”

    Seriously amusing. I like it. You can even get creative and defy time and space still further by playing sound files simultaneously (although 3 at a time becomes a bit messy without Logic etc). A mix of any 2 of the 3 fridges sound very interesting………(hell! I must get a life……).

  • Richard Pinnell

    June 7, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Yeah I spent an hour last night setting random samples running at different times and just listening to what happened. More often or not the results are interesting. Looking forward to hearing/seeing what they get up to live.

  • al jones

    June 8, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    the DAARS site is brilliant. Thanks for the heads up.

  • graham halliwell

    June 8, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    Richard said:

    “Simon (Reynell) can be heard on The Wire’s radio show on Thursday, talking about the festival and playing some tracks from forthcoming Another Timbre releases. He doesn’t seem to want to mention it so I will instead”

    thanks – interesting show; still available for streaming or DL on the Wire’s website.

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