I am hoping to have the final film uploaded onto Vimeo by this evening. It has turned out to be something quite unusual. I expect that anyone who watches it will be tempted to call it ‘long’, ‘arty’, ‘slow’, ‘monotonous’, ‘pretentious’, ‘self-indulgent’, ‘pompous’ etc. I’m confident that my own dad would call it ‘over-thought and under-refined’ or something to that effect. I will say that it decidedly IS all of these things. It is not the sort of film you’d want to sit back and watch with a packet of hobnobs and a cup of tea on a sunday evening; it is quintessentially, loudly, absurdly conceptual and (hopefully) poetic. After all, that was the idea; to create a ‘film-poem’. To anyone strange and loyal enough to have followed this blog, I’d like to offer this very simple flowchart. I’ve waffled a lot throughout my posts, but hopefully this graphic should illuminate the creative, research-based process behind the making of this film. It’s my excuse, essentially, for presenting such a brazenly experimental piece. Don’t expect realism or a narrative-based work; remember that my main sources of inspiration were Jorge Luis Borges and Derek Jarman! (All the more significant pieces of inspiration have a box drawn around them.) Hopefully, this will explain a few things…
The sun’s not yellow; it’s chicken.
Bob Dylan Tombstone Blues
I don’t think I’d call myself synesthetic, although I do think of sounds in terms of temperature and brightness and hard-edgedness and angularity. Is that being synesthetic? I don’t seem to have an invariable and involuntary set of responses of the kind you and Nabokov have—a “the letter d is dusty olive green” kind. I do, however, have extremely strong responses to certain “aesthetic” things. I am made furious, for example, by a minor chord lazily used in songwriting, or a throwaway middle eight written just for “variety.” I despise variety for its own sake. My friends and colleagues find the extremity of my reactions very amusing. Conversely, I am always deeply moved by certain combinations of sound or color—sky blue and light chocolate brown, for example. But there are thousands of others! I have spent a lot of time wondering where those strong preferences come from.
Brian Enoin conversation with author David Mitchell
Here’s a thought: my previous two posts (from last night) have something quite remarkably serendipitous in common- something I only noticed this morning.
I was reading more about the works (by Beethoven) I had selected as candidates for score-music: the one I find most moving (op. 132 3rd mov)- the one I will almost certainly open the film with- is generally referred to only by its numerical title (i.e. either String Quartet No. 15 Movement III or Opus 132 3rd Movement), or occasionally given the description adagio (in slow time) or andante (in a moderately slow tempo), so it provides no obvious inspiration for a film title; another of the pieces I selected was String Quartet No. 16 Movement III, which Beethoven himself described as Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo (‘very slow, singing and tranquil’)- this again lacks the potency one would wish to achieve with the title of a modern artwork such as this rather odd film of mine (not that I am criticising Beethoven’s eloquence or ability to describe his music!); but the third piece I chose is very often referred to as Cavatina. Cavatina is a musical term, used to describe a song that is usually short and with a simple melody. The Encyclopaedia Britannica summarises the term, as it was applied in Beethoven’s day, thus: “It developed in the mid-18th century, coincident with the decline of the previously favoured da capo aria (in which the musical form is ABA, with the repeated A section given improvised variations).”
Now, while I was reading all this, a youtube video link popped up on the google list called John Williams- Cavatina. (Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_8d0DJpbBI). I clicked on it and was astonished to hear that it was a piece I knew very well- in fact an incredibly famous piece of music- composed by Stanley Myers and used in the film The Deer Hunter. I suppose it is referred to as Cavatina because it follows this classical structure of ABA. I was even more astonished when I realised that I’d heard the piece played by a busker on a pier in Falmouth while I was eating my breakfast the other day; and that I just happened to be making sound recordings for the Jarmanesque sound design I’m working on (see my post on Blue here: http://synesthesia-film.tumblr.com/post/82883798275/i-first-saw-derek-jarmans-blue-at-the-tate-modern); and that I just happened to upload said sound recording onto soundcloud last night and post a link on this very blog (see previous post- skip to about 5:40). How can I ignore such a beautiful coincidence?
Therefore, as befitting as the title Synesthesia would be, I think it’s very likely I’ll end up calling it Cavatina. I have become very excited by this fortuitous development this morning and even more excited by the way I am going to exploit the concept to the fullest. For instance, I could experiment with the structure of the film; using the aforementioned ABA form in the context of film editing. Begin with a simple, pulsing sequence, move on to a more experimental and improvisational section and then return to the aesthetic of the first, but with slight experimentation… Perhaps?
I have been thinking about what music to use in the film I end up with. For a long time I’ve been toying with the idea of using some very mild African percussion music somewhere in a B&W sequence. I saw an advert for some Armani perfume or other (shot by Bruce Weber); it was all very bogus and homoerotic (as is the par for the course in such things), but the way the sound design worked against the simple B&W imagery seemed to strike a chord in me. (You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zRQ2CQyPNuM ). If at all reasonable I’d like to try it out in my film, in which I plan, at the moment, to include at least some scenes shot in B&W. But this is just a whim…
The real meat of the soundtrack needs to be something a little more topical. My friend Otto (http://ottoindiana.tumblr.com) recently recommended An Optical Poem by someone called Oskar Fischinger. It is an early animation, composed of painted paper cut-outs (much like those of the genius Henri Matisse) that are hung from invisible wires and shot a frame at a time. Though time-consuming, this is a basic form of animation; and yet when one understands the concept behind the short film, one sees that it is an incredibly complex undertaking, which must have taken an unpalatable amount of time to produce. It is based on Franz Liszt’s 2nd Hungarian Rhapsody, which is great and buoyant in its own right; in the company of the animation, it is breathtaking. Watch the film here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=they7m6YePo.
There is an unambiguous theme of synesthesia in Fischinger’s work and it has lead me to consider whether there might be something similar going on in Matisse’s cut-outs, an exhibition of which opened this very day at the Tate Modern! Look into it here: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/exhibition/henri-matisse-cut-outs - I know I will be going.
But I digress; what the bloody hell am I going to do about the music in this film? There was one composer for whom the issue of sense was particularly significant and tragic; one giant, whose oeuvre is at once intensely personal and at the same time, one of the largest and most-loved in the history of music; one musician to whom the term ‘synesthete’ may reasonably be assigned: Ludwig Van Beethoven. I doubt he was born with the condition (or if he was, it certainly wasn’t a serious issue), but through the loss of his hearing in old age, Beethoven arrived at a form of composition completely unlike anything before him. His late string quartets are frequently cited as works of genius and have been a subject for debate for many of the world’s most renowned and respected critics since they were first performed. One of the very last pieces of music Beethoven ever wrote, his Große Fuge (Great Fugue), was dubbed “indecipherable, uncorrected horror” by Louis Spohr in 1827, two years after its original composition. Nowadays we are more used to such brave art and it is recognised as among his finest works. I believe the hostility probably came from a failure (or a refusal) to recognise the rationale behind such complex musical structure. And I believe that the reason Beethoven was composing in such a way was a result of his deafness. Granted, he had once been able to hear, so the concept of sound and music was not as alien to him as it would be to someone who was born deaf. But imagine being asked to draw a hexagon once you had gone blind… I expect the resulting image would be quite different to that of a sighted person. Just ask Matisse! Or Jorge Luis Borges! So the cognitive process for someone who has lost a sense must have to evolve- and with it, the concepts of shape, colour, sound, smell, taste, texture and an infinity of others must surely evolve too. For Beethoven, the concepts of pitch and tempo may have been warped into visual or tactile ideas. Watch this animated score of the Große Fuge to get an idea of what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6s0Mp7LFI-k.
Having read up on Beethoven’s later life to get an idea of what drove these masterpieces into existence, I have found it to be rife with tragedy. He wrote his 15th quartet after recovering from a near-fatal illness; he was constantly criticised by family and friends; and his deafness was a source of particular melancholy. Without wishing to inject too much intensity and sadness into my film, I have found three pieces of music from Beethoven’s late quartets that I feel would complement it beautifully. These are:
The 3rd movement of String Quartet No. 15 (Opus 132): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQ8-UeSNUfM
The 5th movement (Cavatina) of String Quartet No. 13 (Opus 130): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pewBRolWwjQ
The 3rd movement (Lento assai, cantanta e tranquillo) of String Quartet No. 16 (Opus 135): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AQWoDaBZkbE
I’m not sure which (if any) of these I will use in the finished film, but I know that any of them would suit the theme well and add a note of poignancy to a very surreal subject.