Enter your username and password

Forgotten your username or password?

Your Shopping Cart

There are no items in your shopping cart.

2 July 2010

The Nth Art: The State of the Sonic Image at the Second Totally Huge New Music Festival Conference

Sound Scripts - cover detail Image: Sound Scripts - cover detail  

Among the AMC's most recent publications is a collection of writings from the 2nd Totally Huge New Music Festival Conference. The theme of the conference, 'Sonic Image', created a stimulating range of papers, performances and screenings. Many of these are represented in the second volume of Sound Scripts - the contributors to the collection include Cat Hope, Philip Brophy, Jonathan W. Marshall, Paul Thomas, Bruce Mowson, Clare Nina Norelli, Darren Jorgenson, Christoph Herndler, Patrick Shepherd and Ross Bolleter. The following introductory article by Cat Hope is published here with the kind permission by the author. Order Sound Scripts vol. 2.

The theme of the second Totally Huge New Music Conference, Sonic Image: Exploring relationships between the sound and visual worlds, created a stimulating range of papers, performances and screenings, some of which are represented in this collection of writings that make up the second volume of Soundscripts. The range of subjects covered here is exciting - the different way authors choose to link sound, music, image, visual art, movement, film and even scientific investigations into sound reflects a healthy and vibrant range of possibilities.

There is still remarkably little published about the music and image relationship, particularly in Australia, and it is usually pigeon-holed into investigations on film music, expanded cinema and sound art. It is true that many of the more interesting texts that begin a meaningful discourse in this area have not yet been translated English (such as Pierre Schaeffer's seminal Treatise on the Musical Object) or are out of date with recent trends. Despite this, there are healthy pockets of investigation, often taking place in practice rather than in theory. They offer ways to reflect on the different ways music can couple (or indeed reject) reference to the other arts.

Keynote Philip Brophy in fact edited one of the more significant Australian collections of papers on film music entitled Cinesonic: The world of sound in film (1999), which arose from the conference of the same name. But there is a major difference however between much of Brophy's work in this area and what is featured in Soundscripts. A focus on the possibilities of the ideas regarding combinations of sound and image is emerging; a yearning to create something more like a sonic image, rather than an image sonified. The simple reporting and reinforcement of imagery through and with sound is not discussed in length here. Whilst two of the papers featured discuss film scores, they investigate the power, possibility and influence of certain film musics on the image, rather than any particular composer's approach to a film. Claire Nina Norelli, a student at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, argues that music plays a fundamental role in the atmosphere of David Lynch's films, whilst Cat Hope discusses the use of infrasonics in the cinematic experience to date.

Michel van der Aa's opening keynote provided a rather different take on image, staying much more in the context of musical performance and the opportunities which that provides. His performances often feature technology visibly out in the open-such as the inspiring Memo (2003) for violin and tape recorder, where the small handheld cassette recorder was as much a feature of the performance as the violin, almost acting as another character. Excerpts of Van der Aa's opera After Life (2005) provided an exciting multi sensory experience, taking this genre to a new, visually saturated place where the story weaves between music, video and live performance. Yet music here is leading the action, offering up ideas, tailored by the composers own libretto.

Other papers cover a wide range of approaches to what idea of image musicians hold in regard to their work. Discussion about the rather personal influence of a visually striking environment is the key to Patrick Shepherd's discussion of an experience in the Antarctic on his own music composition. Shepherd's approach here stands in stark contrast with Paul Thomas' more impersonal experiments with nano cell recordings. The breadth of experience alongside the smallest parts of it create a place to think about where music may begin and end; finding it in the smallest or largest of parts. The idea of dimensionality is also referred to in Bruce Mowson's paper, whose desire to devise a sort of machine for creating abstract sensation in art delves into concepts of immersion and immanence, looking for ways to disassociate the senses from theoretical constraints. He shares an interest in a certain co-habitation of time that makes no assumptions or demands, which recalls Brophy's desire to break down cultural hierarchies through the dissolving of multiple styles in a single piece. His approach to dimension contrasts that of Jonathan Marshall, who challenges the use of descriptions based on immersion and three dimensionality in his study on the sound sculpture of Sonia Leber and David Chesworth. Darren Jorgenson's ponderings on the possibility of a Surrealist music offers up the possibilities in other music genres and from different periods of history, further exploring some of the problems which arise with respect to language (the imagery and theorization of Surrealist poetry) and music.

Ross Bolleter is also interested in history, in particular colonial Australian history, reading it in a very poetic way through images of decay coupled with stories and sounds directly derived from the relics of another time. His contribution offers a challenge to the very idea of what an instrument is, can be and will become, and whose Ruined Pianos sum up the conceptual possibilities of music in his Ruined Piano techniques and taxonomies. He shares a common ground with Michel van der Aa's desire to have instruments almost take on character roles of their own. Like van der Aa, Bolleter's artist world is a melancholic one, but ultimately more hopeful, taking a kind of pride in the power of storytelling.

The opening of the conference featured a live performance of Aurevelateur, by Brophy on vocals and keyboards, and Dave Brown on guitar. This was a "musicological" score composed by Brophy for Philippe Garrel's silent family psychodrama, Le Révélateur (France, 1968). [1] The music was originally composed as a commission from the 2004 Melbourne Film Festival. This performance, which took place in a cinema while the film was played, provided an investigation into possibilities of combining performance and images. As Brophy has remarked:

I see my score as a dialogue with the film-something that proposes a 'cover version' of the movie rather than any definitive enhancement of the original. [2]

What is interesting about this comment is Brophy's reference to music's ability to 'enhance' and 'converse' with film, something different from the idea of music and image melding into one, which seemed to be more of a focus throughout the conference. This is further evidenced in the fact that Brophy released Aurevelateur on CD on his own recording label, Sound Punch.

Brophy's ideas about music and film-the power it has to shape and allow action-are conditioned by his desire to erode genre and cultural hierarchies (low versus high brow), and the creation of a manual for simultaneity, [3] where different approaches and styles exist as part of one synthetic work. This was demonstrated in a practical sense during the performance of Aurevelateur, which featured layers of heavy David-Bowie-inspired material and minimalistic stylizations such as are common in much of Brophy's musical compositions.

So where are we exactly with the status of music's relationship to image in more commercial ventures such as the cinematic release? There is no doubt that ongoing developments in consumer playback and recording technologies, including their availability on the consumer market, have assisted artists who are interested in experimentation with synchronizing sound and image. Increasingly freed from the big studio restraints around score composition and orchestral arrangements, film music composers and directors alike experiment more readily and lower budget films can afford more interesting, albeit risky, quality sound scapes. Sounds that were once reserved for Foley purposes are rearranged to feature upfront as the core of the 'musical' score (something that the Ennio Morricone Experience took to the extreme with Phobia, 2005), [4] and sound art finds it way into composers' licensed tapestries - such as the use of Western Australian sound artist Alan Lamb's wire sounds in Franc Tetaz's soundtrack for Wolf Creek (Greg McClean, Australia, 2005). And so film music is being redefined as a genre, as film makers look for more innovative ideas to break out of the 'soundtrack' versus 'sound effect' approach. At the recent inaugural Screen Summit held by the Australian Performing Rights Association in Sydney [5], forums featuring film production companies highlighted a desire to deal with these kinds of music composition and approaches than with major record labels when dealing with licensing.

The new way to create and perform music for films is developing in a variety of projects. Western Australian super 8 enthusiast Keith Smith's Revel8 competition and screening is a project that had been a part of the Revelation International Film festival for the last two years. The concept for Revel8 challenges the film/music order-developed super 8 films from contributors are given our anonymously to composers who create sound tracks for them, the filmmakers never seeing their film until it has been scored. This project frees composers from the servile role they often play to directors, producers and sound engineers - they add their own meaning to the three-minute films through what music they make, and where they put it. Sydney's iCinema centre for interactive cinema research continues to investigate ways of employing sound reproduction technology to present film and sound in a variety of immersive and constructed environments that offer new ways to experience the cinematic. [6] Groups such as America's WetGate use the clunky mechanism sounds of old 16 mm projectors and their optical sound tracks as sound sources in their performances, effectively turning the machines and the vision into sound sources, projectionists into musicians. [7] The French collective, La Cellule d'Intervention Metamkine combine their projections with tape manipulations by Jérôme Noetinger, exuding a genuine music concrete aesthetic that bleeds between the musician/performer and the projectionist/performer. [8]

The keynotes offer bookends that contain these trajectories and tie the collection of papers that is Soundscripts together. They discuss very different things; Brophy's single minded approach to the 'idea' of film music, and Van der Aa's use of the visual to create theatricality are joined with an interest in the performative, an element important in all the papers here. The transcription of Philip Brophy's keynote speech and Marshall's interview with Michel van der Aa highlight the importance of some other common areas. What counts to a composer who will collaborate with other artists working in different art forms? How does music move in, out and around other arts? How do we know what works? Certainly, music is important. Performance is important. Place is important. The various possible connections between elements such as these open a different discussion for sound's relationship to image. Composers for screen works often want the performance, the recording and the screening to be the same thing, to co-exist without hierarchy. Indeed, Van der Aa's interest lies in what happens to image during performance, through his use of audio visual material but also performing instrumentation, like Bolleter. Music that occurs with visual material however need not serve that material, or accompany it. It may instead become part of the materiality of the work, and the material becomes it. As the visual and sonic meld together in different ways they make something beyond the so-called 'seventh art' that film was described as in a manifesto by French film theorist Ricciotto Canudo as early as 1923. A collaborative art it remains.

While music academics and writers continue to argue over whether Sound Art is even real music, film has appeared to have accepted sonic experimentalism within its form for much longer. Having said that, it has also lost many of its great experimenters to the financial rewards of commercial filmmaking and the more conventional musical expectations that come with that. We live in a world where the music and image are almost inseparable. With ipods providing a score to a new generations everyday activities, we are saturated with this connection. This volume of Soundscripts attempts to begin a wider dialogue about what his means.


All online materials accessed Jul 2008.

Brophy, Philip, ed., Aurevelateur, CD (Melbourne: Sound Punch, 2004), HURT-008.

-- Cinesonic: The world of sound in film (North Ryde, NSW: Australian Film Television and Radio School, 1999).

Canudo, Ricciotto, "Reflections on the Seventh Art" (1931), in Richard Abel, ed., French Film Theory and Criticism. Vol. 1: 1907-1929 (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1988), pp. 291-303.

Cellule d'Intervention Metamkine, "Cellule d'Intervention Metamkine," Musicworks, 94 (Spring 2006), reproduced on: Metamkine Website (Rives, France), <http://metamkine.free.fr/metamnotes.htm>.

Fish, Bob Baker, "Phillip Brophy: Aurevelateur (Sound Punch) [review]," Cyclic Defrost, 13 (25 Nov 2005), <http://www.cyclicdefrost.com/blog/?p=76>.

Kouvaras, Linda, "Modernist and Postmodernist Arts of Noise, Part 2: From the Clifton Hill mob to Chamber Made Opera's Phobia," Sound Scripts, 1 (2006), pp. 54-59, reproduced on: <http://waapamusicresearch.com>

Schaeffer, Pierre, Traite des objets musicaux (Paris: Seuil, 1998).

Various, iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research, (Sydney: UNSW), <http://www.icinema.unsw.edu.au/>.

Various, "Screen Summit Sydney," Song Summit Website (St Leonard's, NSW), on: <http://www.songsummit.com.au/Screen-Summit.htm>.

WetGate [Steve Dye, Peter Conheim and Owen O'Toole], WetGate website (El Cerrito, CA), <http://www.wetgate.net/>.


[1] Brophy, "Pseudo Soundtracks," p. 5.

[2] Fish.

[3] Brophy, "Pseudo Soundtracks," p. 3.

[4] See: Kouvaras, pp. 54-59.

[5] The symposium was part of the S3 Song Summit, 3-5 April 2008. See: various, "Screen."

[6] See: various, iCinema.

[7] See: WetGate, "Statement," on the WetGate website, <http://www.wetgate.net/statement.html>.

[8] See: Cellule d'Intervention Metamkine.

> Order Sound Scripts vol. 2 now at $25/$22.50 (AMC members)

Cat Hope is the co-editor of Sound Scripts: Proceedings of the 2007 Totally Huge New Music Festival Conference at Edith Cowan University.


Be the first to share add your thoughts and opinions in response to this article.

You must login to post a comment.