Sound on film

Sound on Film
By Frances Morgan

Over the next few months, Sound on Film will be looking at film from a sonic and musical perspective, while finding out how film practitioners and critics think about music and sound.

There are so many ways in which sound, music and film are interlinked that it's hard to know where to start this new series. For me, the idea has been forming ever since I took a break from writing about music to write about film – and realised it was, in fact, very hard not to write about music and sound, whether reviewing music documentaries or re-evaluating The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Soundtracks and sound design are immeasurably important to cinema of all kinds; elsewhere, film is used alongside live musical performance, while art cinema both uses sound in innovative ways and addresses it as a subject in itself, as in Luke Fowler's recent film A Grammar For Listening, which explored the work of Lee Paterson (with whom Fowler has collaborated on live performances), Eric La Casa and Toshiya Tsunoda.

I'm hoping that as the series grows, ideas and contributions will come from many different areas of music and film. This month, there will be features about filmmakers John Akomfrah and Esther Johnson, alongside this regular round-up of blogs, films, news and film writing from the web. One of our contributors will be Sight & Sound's Daniel Trilling, whose recent review of director and musician Mike Figgis's live mix/screening of Time Code at Kings Place brings up some interesting questions about the relationship of recorded music to film in the digital age.

Luke Fowler's 'A Grammar For Listening'

A favourite recent piece of music and film writing has got to be Geeta Dayal's blog post  about disco in Bollywood films. Posted a few months ago and rapidly spreading across the web, 'Studio 84' deserves another plug because it's so informative and entertaining, and features some great tracks ('Dil Lena Khel Hai Dildar Ka' is particularly infectious, although the song takes a while to start – stick with it!). There's also a nice anecdote about Kraftwerk's visit to India in 1981. 

Emily Wardill's recent success in winning the Jarman Award 2010 means there's a lot of interest in her films online right now; this piece from September's Frieze is a good starting point if you're unfamiliar with her work, in which music often plays a central role. 2006's 'Basking in what feels like ‘an ocean of grace’, I soon realise that I’m not looking at it, but rather that I AM it, recognising myself' uses a 'symmetrical' score composed by Wardill as its soundtrack.  

Emily Wardill's 'I Recognise Myself'

Animate Projects' new Rough Machines commission is underway, with five artists given just a month to make new short films. Intrigued to see Jordan Baseman's contribution, as I've enjoyed his interview-based short films about music fandom, cover versions and impersonators. Meanwhile new London sound art gallery Soundfjord has an ongoing call for artists who want to work with film, for their Sound Cinema series this winter. Their list includes documentaries on historical/scientific aspects of sound, new AV work, and also an emphasis on alternative soundtracks to old/out of print and particularly silent film. We'll explore this particular area in more detail further down the line, but it's interesting to note that silent film seems to exert an ongoing fascination for those who work with new music and sound. 

Finally, after attending a rare screening of Bill Douglas's 1986 film Comrades, I'm on the lookout for the film's soundtrack, which doesn't appear to be available. This is a shame, although not unsurprising – the film itself, a three-hour account of the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the birth of trade unions, the narrative driven along with devices from early and pre-cinema technology such as magic lanterns and zoetropes, was only released on DVD last year. It features a fantastic soundtrack with music by Hans Werner Henze, interspersed with traditional songs, and it would be great to track it down somewhere. The film is regarded as something of a lost classic; I'd argue the soundtrack is too.

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