Tuesday, November 20, 2007

of mirrors and electronic music...

tarkovsky's mirror

last night, for the first time in about 10 years or so, watched tarkovsky's mirror. of course, there were hundreds of images, light, and movement that were stunning (a favorite was the scene with the bird pictured above); but there was one incredible moment of stasis where an extremely quiet sound - either a field recording or piece of electronic composition - is hovering in the background, and slowly becomes a focus - even though its presence is always "beneath". it was so beautiful and powerful that i forget now what the visual was. it sent me to the bookshelves wondering if tarkovsky wrote much about sound or music...

i found this in a longer, section on film, sound, and music in tarkovsky's 1987 "sculpting in time" published by knopf:

"electronic music seems to me to have enormously rich possibilities for cinema. artemiev and i used it in some scenes in mirror... we wanted the sound to be close to that of an earthly echo, filled with poetic suggestion - to rustling, to sighing. the notes had to convey the fact that reality is conditional, and at the same time accurately to reproduce states of mind, the sounds of a person's interior world. the moment we hear what it is, and realize that it's being constructed, electronic music dies... electronic music has exactly that capacity for being absorbed into the sound. it can be hidden behind bigger noises and remain indistinct; like the voice of nature... it can be like somebody breathing."

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

ah mirror does deserve another viewing. Tarkovsky's understanding of the possibilities of narrative film are only matched by his ability to actually execute films that articulate this understanding.

this is a great quote from Tarkovsky on electronic sound...I should bother tracking down that book...

7:26 AM  
Blogger gd said...

i need to see Mirror too. i cant remember seeing it.

here is a little more on the artemiev / tarkovsky connection in Solaris.

8:01 AM  
Blogger the art of memory said...

such a beautiful film, and i love the still.
like the breugel painting.
i wish those cds were not so expensive, i need to see this again as well, i don't remember the scene. you can watch them endlessly though.

3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

artimiev made much of the music for solaris and the stalker on a wonderful machine called the A.N.S synthesizer, only one of which exists (it now lives in the theremin centre in moscow). you can find the WIKI of it (most of which i wrote :-) here:


it's still the most intuitive and gestural drawn sound synthesis system i have come across, despite being 70 years old in its first inception...

3:27 PM  
Blogger woolgathersome said...

And, also... "true to the inner world which we try to reproduce on screen; not just the author's inner world, but what lies within the world itself, what is essential to it and does not depend on us" (Sculpting, pg.159)

6:43 PM  
Blogger MS said...

This is silly to post a long excerpt as a comment, but, on the subject of filmmakers and sound, here is the 'written soundtrack for a film in New York' by Antonioni I meant to pass along to you long ago, with a short description by Walter Murch. I love the slipperiness of Antonioni’s descriptions as he hung his head out the window and described the sounds as he heard them, it’s like the slips of memory in ‘The Mirror’ – (A bell, off key. From a country church. But perhaps it is the clang of iron and not a bell. It comes again. And still once more...)

Sometime after the success of his film Blow-Up (1966), the Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni visited Manhattan, thinking of setting his next project in New York. Confused and overwhelmed by the city's visual foreignness, he decided to listen rather than to look: to eavesdrop on the city's mutterings as it emerged into consciousness from the previous night's sleep. Sitting in his room on the 34th floor of the Sherry-Netherland Hotel, Antonioni kept a journal of everything he heard from six to nine in the morning... Perhaps some inadvertent sound might provide the key to unlock the mysteries of this foreign world… – WM

New York from the 34th floor overlooking Central Park
The soundtrack for a film set in New York – circa 1970
by Michelangelo Antonioni

There is a constant murmur, hollow and deep: the traffic. And another sound, intermittent: the wind. It comes in gusts, and in the pauses I can hear it sighing, far away, against other skyscrapers. Here, on the thirty-fourth floor, I can feel the vibration of every gust. It gives me a strange feeling as if, for a few moments, my brain freezes. A faint, short-lived siren comes and goes. The noise of two car-horns. A rumble that approaches but is impatiently eclipsed by a sudden buffet of the wind. A tram car.

It is six o'clock in the morning. Another rumble blends with the first, then drowns it. A faint explosion, far, far away. The wind returns, rising from nothing, spreading, it seems to stretch in the still air, then dies. The hint of a tram, faint, remote. It is not a tram, after all, but another kind of sound I cannot recognize. A truck. A second one, accelerating. Two or three passing cars. The roads in Central Park twist and turn. A line of cars. Their exhausts a kind of organ playing a masterpiece. A moment of absolute silence, eerie. A huge truck passes. It seems so close that I feel I am on the second floor. But that sound, too, quickly fades. A squeal. A ship's siren, prolonged and melancholy. The wind has dropped. The siren again. The murmur of traffic beneath it. A bell, off key. From a country church. But perhaps it is the clang of iron and not a bell. It comes again. And still once more. A car engine races, furiously, with a sudden spurt of the accelerator. In a momentary hush, the siren again, far away. The metallic echo rises. A terribly noisy truck seems just outside the window. But it is an aircraft. All the sounds increase: car-horns, the siren, trucks; and then they recede, gradually. But no, another rumble, another siren. Irritating, persistent, right across the horizon.

Quarter past six: the same series of sound in waves, each in turn, clearly defined. Brief intervals. A murmur continues. And, always, the siren. An abrupt car-horn, very far away. Another muffled beneath it. Somewhere on a distant street, a car, very fast, perhaps European. The wind swirls against the wall outside. A single gust., immediately swallowed by a raucous truck and then a newer vehicle, steadier. The throb of the two different motors driving off, merging into one. But it is not a truck, it's an aircraft. No. Not an aircraft. A noise that rises and becomes deafening, only to fade unidentified. All that remains, obsessive, is the siren. And someone whistling (how can that be possible?) instantly drowned by an angry car-horn. Sounds of metal sheets thrown together. Clear and sharp, a winch. The sound of cogs. But it cannot be a winch, and this constant whine is not the siren. More sheets, more metallic. Then a hollow boom, barely audible, but lingering in the air. A faint hum suddenly stops. A car passes, another, then a third, fading, fading, fading. They mingle with other cars, other sounds. An aircraft seems to take off from right beside the building. And as suddenly as it appeared, it is gone. The very beautiful roar of a car, completely appropriate for this moment. It speeds past and dies, distinct, satisfying. Two tones shimmer. A gust of wind.

Half past six: more gusts. A furious flurry of wind between the skyscrapers slides away and buffets across the park. Only a car-horn interrupts, like a slap in the face. The wind drops. A peal of bells in the stillness. And always, the siren. A tone higher now. It wasn't bells. It is my Italian ear that hears it that way. The sheets of metal. A short clatter, like gunfire. A train passes, perhaps the elevated. A peal, prolonged, and then the siren, abrupt. Gone. The sounds change in a moment, they arise and die again immediately. The hum reasserts itself, advancing like a camouflaged army, approaches, closes in, on the alert, ready to take over completely. It is very close. One can distinguish the wind, the cars, the aircraft, a clash of iron, and the siren. They advance, determined, against this skyscraper hotel. In the forefront, the sound of iron, but the aircraft closes in and takes over alone. And now – nothing. The struggle is over. A small revolution quelled by the authority of a car-horn. The banging of wood. A pause. More banging. They must be moving tables. It sounds like a machine gun that is falling apart. The cars are under fire. They have to pull up and stop. Another siren, more real. The rumble of wheels, but it is not a car. It is the wind, which has risen again. Strong, but not strong enough to cover the aircraft.

Cars. A roar, as if from a cannon, echoless. Here and there, metallic sounds of various intensities. A roar of wind. The roar of a truck. The roar of the elevated railway. Two thuds in different tones. The noise grows and then stops suddenly, as if cut off by the thuds as they start again. Other sounds are born, clear yet unrecognizable. A long, startling car-horn. A sound that does not die, that will never die. I cannot hear it any longer, but it has left me with this certainty. But the sound of the siren is dying. A gust of wind pushes it away, but a truck rises. Then diminishes in turn and mingles with the wind. Some kind of bell.

A voice is heard. The first voice.

Seven o'clock: A blast from the siren, as if to remind me of its existence. Now imperceptible, yet insistent. The squeal of tires. A thundering, a rumble, somewhere underground.

Half-past eight: And now the sun has risen, but the sounds are still the same. With one exception. Drills. Nasty. Destroying a building. They are far away but occasionally, because of the wind, they are perfectly distinct. The other sounds remain. A whistle, shrill, anxious. It repeats – urgently. A noisy engine, I don't know what kind. And loud, yet distant, the drills. The only change is that it has all become stronger with the daylight. The wind, the cars, the siren. Only the car-horns are less strident, more discrete, a reflection on the drivers who obey New York's traffic laws: they must use their horns only when absolutely necessary. They cannot afford the fines, and so they obey the law, which seems a little Teutonic. I imagine the drivers in this bewildering noise, melted together, inside their creeping cars: noise that hasn't the courage to explode, but hovers in the air, in the spring-like, clear, clean winter air.

4:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that was not a silly act, ms. thank you.

if more film makers took this much notice of their sound, we'd be in a much richer world...as chion mentions, there are many instances where the sound is either equal to or more important than the image in, and as an experience the combination of sound and image is greater than the sum of its parts.

7:00 AM  
Blogger sroden said...

indeed thanks rob for the link - i never knew the ANS was named for scriabin! i know edward artemiev's son a little, and he put out the ANS comp. mentioned. it would be amazing to get a few contemporary folks together to work with it. i worked on a project in berlin a few years ago with a talking machine created by martin riches, and another group from vienna worked with a trautonium, which sounded amazing in person.

thanks mary for the murch... it's beautiful..."A voice is heard. The first voice" could've been from one of tarkovsky's father's poems read in the film... i wonder if there's a recording of him reading it!

thanks "wool" for the quote - thi spart "what lies within the world itself, what is essential to it and does not depend on us" i think about all the time when painting... indeed the book is a must read, and i believe it's now been reprinted in paperback. there are some really stunning texts in it, as well as a number of the poems in translation.

there are also some great quotes from bresson related to sound in his notes on cinematography - which is one of my favorite books of all time.

thanks all for the comments and pointers... i thought it was easier to simply point to some interesting words by tarkovsky about sound than to ramble on for pages about how friggin wonderful this film is visually. it's one of the most "unspokenable" films i've seen in a long time..

7:47 AM  

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