People Like Us performing Genre Collage in Vancouver
Under the name People Like Us, Vicki Bennett creates unexpected and often darkly funny meetings of sound and visual material. Using both rare found footage and popular classics presented in a way you've never seen or heard them before, she taps into the hidden languages of music, radio, TV and film.
For Sound and Music's Sound Of Fear event at Vision Sound Music next month, People Like Us will be performing Horror Collage, a piece that explores themes and narratives from horror movies. We asked Vicki how it was coming along, and how she puts her work together.
What was the starting point for your 'Horror Collage'? Bearing in mind it uses material from so many films, was there one particular film or set of films that particularly informed the piece?
Whenever approaching a new piece of work, I think about how I can transform the content in order to take it to another place, a place that I am happy with in terms of paying homage to the source but also changing the angle or perspective enough that I can justify my use/efforts. My main inspiration for transforming material with a previous context is as a surrealist or as someone who wants to make people laugh – not to say my work is comedy, but it has a dark humour running through it. Whenever something nice happens there is always something underlying, or there is always a deeper reflection, and it was from this point of view that I started. A lot of horror films, or rather films that can be frightening, take you to a place of comfort and then pull the carpet from underneath you. And this is what I do with a lot of my work – by using incongruous elements things are never quite what they were or what one expects them to be in relation to the source material that I am sampling.
There wasn't a particular film that informed the piece, although my favourite ‘horror’ films aren't necessarily ones that are frightening – I like films that cover the occult in a realistic and favourable way. I like films about magic and heightened or inner experiences and states of consciousness, whatever the genre.
I watched major feature films for three months and made edits of parts that I could see being transformed in some way, and now I’ve laid the edits onto several timelines to do with subject matter that I've grouped together. From this point I am now composing and arranging sampled music with similar subject matter. For instance, I am currently working on a dream/nightmare sequence, and I am sourcing well-known songs that are to do with being asleep in various ways. At the moment my timeline of film footage edits is three hours long...! It will end up about ten minutes for that section.
You've sent us some of the diagrams you use to help build the structure of the piece (above) – do you always work with these kinds of diagrams and what are the advantages of doing so?
I always make lists of subject matter on paper, not in a computer – and cut out all the different subjects and synopses line by line and then put them all on the floor as thousands of slices of paper and try and make sense of the larger picture. I can't do it any other way. I've always worked this way with larger pieces of work.
For this set I have master subjects such as: mind control, moving objects/furniture, thunderstorms, automatic drawing, occult rituals, games/tarot/cards, darkness/headlights/torches, sleeping/dreaming/nightmares, underground/subways, escalators, lifts and corridors, supermarkets/malls, tv/computer malfunction... and so on. From that I can at least make ‘sketches’ and order all my footage into rough and sometimes overlapping categories.
When you start grouping together themes and narratives from different films, are you ever surprised by what recurs? And have you found anything unexpected so far with this project?
Yes, it's how I learn. I'm not an academic – I just work with everything from scratch as raw material, and the source material is like a palette. I didn't come into this project with any ideas about a particular way that this would pan out. It was a matter of going through it all and seeing what turned up, over and over again. And this is a tried-and-tested method from making my previous live A/V set Genre Collage. In terms of finding unexpected things, I'm surprised how similar a lot of events in these films are. And also I'm very surprised to find that once I edit the films away from their previous structure that they don't feel like horror any more.”
Which horror films do you most like the soundtracks or sound design of, and why?
I like horror films that use pop, rock or folk music – ones that source from popular culture of the time. For instance in [George A Romero's] Season of the Witch they use the Donovan song of the same name. I love the soundtrack to The Wicker Man. I'm not so interested in scary music; I like music that comes in from another place to jar the mind. Blue Velvet is another example. It's not exactly horror, but it is a beautiful song used in a disturbing context.
Genre Collage was the starting point of a lot of work to come: it was a general look at the way that genres work together, repeating and varying certain themes. This is a natural next step – and it fits in well with my sense of underlying humour with dark themes and vice versa. I'd like to make a feature film next, but I have to find the time and space to do that.
You can listen to the People Like Us radio show, Do or DIY, here on WFMU. For more information on Vicki's work, check www.peoplelikeus.org
Sound of Fear takes place on 3 September at Southbank Centre, London. Check here for details and tickets.
Sound On Film
Sound on Film examines how sound, music and film inform one another, from soundtracks and sound design to documentaries and live performance. We explore cinema past and present, digging into archives and seeking out new symbioses of sound and image.