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GraceAnne:  I like it when music and/or 'musical sound' is used creatively and is incorporated as another 'character' in the film. Can you think of any experimental film that is based entirely on the sounds-musical or otherwise, and in which the narrative is in the background? Somewhat similar to the way that architecture is sometimes used to emphasize or create 'character in a film.

Taien Ng-Chan:  That’s a great question!  Not much comes to mind right off the bat, except for Derek Jarman's Blue, which is entirely sound... the only thing on the screen is the colour blue!  The soundtrack is narrated by Jarman, Tilda Swinton, Nigel Terry and John Quentin, and tells the story of a man with AIDS who is losing his sight (like Jarman himself).  The BBC subsequently broadcast the soundtrack as a radio-play, so it could be said that the visual is unnecessary… but having seen the film with the blue screen, I think it’s a separate experience in and of itself.  Norman McLaren often made his animations based on jazz scores (eg. The Oscar Peterson Trio) or Quebecois fiddle music, so that his lines and dots dance in time.  He also experimented with painting the soundtrack itself, optically, right on the film. And one of my favourite films is 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, which is structured and built around Gould's rendition of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (of course, in 32 parts). 

Can you think of any other films based entirely on sound?


GraceAnne: I agree with you completely about Blue: I think that the experience of watching a film can be more complex than is usually discussed-the experience (sitting in a dark theatre with strangers, watching a screen) is mediated through our cultural expectations and nostalgic aspirations. If we have any relationship (of depth) with the medium at all, then watching a blue screen with narration is still a separate type of cinematic experience. 

Films based (almost) entirely on sound…hmmm…I’m sure that there are other experimental films similar to Jarman’s, and that use sound and/or music in a very particular and unique way…but I can’t think of any at the moment. Two films (off the top of my head) that use a particular constant sound to express the tone or atmosphere of the film are:

Daniel Aronofsky’s Pi: he really focused on the percussive effects of body sounds, and used this to express the protagonists’ obsessive-compulsiveness.

Battlestar Galactica (the new series): the use of orchestrated percussion sounds in this TV series was highly effective-not original of course, but highly dramatic.

And what do you think of: Samuel Beckett Not I (1973)

Taien Ng-Chan: I love Beckett, though most of the time I don't want to sit through his plays or films or what have you.  I love Beckett when I get past my impatience and let the words assault my senses, but that doesn't always happen.  I think Youtube does the work an injustice, because it's the kind of thing I need to experience in a more visceral manner.  If I were watching in a theatre, the sheer size and the immersion in the dark and light, the words shooting rapid fire and fury, becoming pure noise and rhythm at some point, a sort of textual music, like the performance poems of Dadaist poets like Kurt Schwitters, would probably blow me away... it's a good example of a film based on sounds though, because the delivery of the words,the mouth, the frame, all focuses on the experience of the sound.

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Blue by Derek Jarman; 2 excerpts from 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould; 2 shorts by Norman McLaren (the first is the Oscar Peterson Quartet; the second features McLaren drawing on the soundtrack); Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters, performed by Jaap Blonk with real-time typography!

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