IFF 2016 @EdenCourt – Chi-Raq

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Chi-Raq was a bit of a left-field choice for me, as my normal film festival fare is documentaries and obscure foreign language films. (As will probably become obvious from the rest of these reviews.) But it had an interesting premise, it’s set in Chicago – a city I for which I have a soft spot – and its directed by Spike Lee, so it seemed worth a try. The blurb in the festival programme did not do it justice.

It was billed as a modern day adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata – which, for the uninitiated, is the story of one woman’s mission to end the Peloponnesian War by getting all the women of Greece together to organise a sex strike – but it is so much more than that. I was expecting a take the storyline and themes adaptation, but they went the full nine yards – on screen narrator, Greek chorus, everyone talking in rhyme – and made it live and breathe of the streets of Chicago. It’s vibrant and passionate, funny and tragic (in the proper sense of the word) and it does not shy away from what it is or what it has to say. From the moment that Samuel L Jackson turns around to face the camera, freezes time and breaks the fourth wall to talk about a fourth century BC Greek play, its obvious that this is going to be something different. By the time John Cusack shows up as an evangelical preacher – in what I would say is his best performance in at least a decade – soliloquising on systemic racism, it is clear that neither he or the film are in the slightest bit interested in messing around.

Teyonah Parris is excellent as the titular Lysistrata – but its Angela Basset that steals the show for me. Such a controlled performance, this smart political woman, with so much rage and grief banked down under her skin. She’s the one who plants the seeds and holds the fort; the one who speaks softly while Lysistrata figuratively carries the big stick.

The soliloquies are just brilliant. They’re powerful and moving, and really bring out the poetry of the vernacular that they’re written in. The poetry that exists in all really good hip-hop. (I’m sure someone has done a proper hip-hop Shakespeare adaptation, if not, why on earth not, that would be amazing.) What I mean is that a play from 2000 years ago, ought not to feel so vividly relevant and timely. It feels, almost, necessary? As though it was just lurking somewhere in our collective consciousness waiting to be told. If it was, then I’m glad it chose Spike Lee’s brain to filter through because he absolutely nailed it.

There’s something decidedly bittersweet – a little heart-breaking even – about watching this film just a couple of days after the US Election. This film is very much a product of its time, of the administration that is coming to an end. It’s a film that acknowledges that the system is very broken, that the odds are stacked against anyone trying to build a better world, but it is also convinced that its worth fixing and its worth trying even if you don’t entirely succeed. A film both heart-breaking and hopeful. And honestly, in the current political climate on both sides of the Atlantic, I think we could all do with a little more hope right now.

The film had its Scottish Premiere tonight at the Inverness Film Festival, I don’t know if its getting a wider distribution in the UK but if you can see it, I highly recommend that you do.

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Universal Goat, Frankenstein’s Castle and Other Overused Sound Effects

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I’ve been catching up on my podcast backlog this week and I came across something that struck a chord, but that has also come up in the general zeitgeist a few times over the last wee while. Over on the Knitsonik podcast – a podcast about knitting and sound art/design, it’s a niche interest group, but not as niche as I would have expected: I blame the golden ratio – there’s been an on-going discussion about ‘wrong’ sound effects in films, that was started off by a listener who keeps goats bemoaning the use of stock goat sounds that to her were really blatantly not belonging to the goats in question. What she termed ‘universal goat’. This in turn has led to lots of interesting stories and sound recordings of sounds in the wrong places and what the correct sounds should be. (Artic wolves in hill country that would actually be full of coyotes, tree frogs native to the Hollywood hills that turn up all over the place, and explain helpfully why I’ve never heard a frog go ‘ribbet’ in real life.) Additionally, last winter, there was a thread of conversation on Radio 4’s Film Programme about sound effects in the wrong place (Great Northern Divers are something of a short hand for frozen wastelands – shame they’re only found in the Artic and not in the Alps). Ammunition, if ever I heard it, for sound designers everywhere, when faced with a director insisting on their using a generic stock sound rather than hunting down an accurate one, to refute the ‘who’s going to notice’ argument. Clearly, not just us sound geeks.

My own personal version of the universal goat comes courtesy of the BBC Sound Effects Library. That glorious collection of CDs that lurked in the media departments of practically every university or college in the UK, courtesy of those fine folks at the Radiophonics workshop. The point towards the end of my Masters when I could actually pick out sound effects that I recognised in not only student films, but also actual commercial television and film, has probably shaped my attitude towards location recording, Foley and using library sound effects. Once you tune into a ‘wrong’ sound effect that is in common circulation, it becomes practically impossible not to hear it. Nearly a decade on, I’ll be watching an old Hammer Horror film or a Jon Pertwee Dr Who serial, there’ll be a storm and there it’ll be: ‘Frankenstein’s Castle (Rain, Thunder etc.)’. It’s a really good thunderstorm, nicely atmospheric, but by goodness does it get used a lot. It even turns up occasionally in modern low budget British horror films. I really hope that’s because sound designers are using it ironically – a knowing nod and a wink to genre savvy geeks in the audience – but I doubt it.

Part of the problem is, that sound is very powerful, it often completely bypasses our conscious brain, to press buttons in our brain we don’t necessarily even know we have. Particularly fear, it’s really, really good at fear. (Trust me on this. That was my dissertation topic; I could talk about it all day.) So we often come to associate particular sounds with particular emotional states when it comes to movie watching. Which is fine, but when it comes to making movies, both audiences and filmmakers come with a whole plethora of pre-conceptions – both conscious and unconscious – about how things ‘should’ sound. As a sound designer its very easy to get drawn into that trap, it would be very easy for me to forget, if I were recreating the sound of a forest at night that the sounds I associate with the woods of my childhood – deciduous woodland in the Lowlands of Scotland – aren’t necessarily going to be accurate to a pine forest in the Highlands. Because those sounds are familiar to me, they won’t sound obviously ‘wrong’ – the way a 1960s ambulance siren would sound out of place in a modern drama – because I expect them to be there. So it is with sounds that we associate with particular locales because we’ve only seen them in movies and they always have a certain soundscape. Audiences will sometimes find the ‘correct’ sound unconvincing because they’re so used to stock effects that are ‘wrong’ or over emphasised. Some directors will vehemently resist the use of a sound that is factually correct, because it doesn’t conform to their expectation, with their mental soundscape for how that location should sound. And still other occasions the actual sound just doesn’t sound dramatic or evocative enough – flesh tearing is actually a really quiet un-dramatic noise, you need to layer it with various other elements to actually get a sound with the right impact. Flesh is really good at deadening sound, meaning that punches mostly have more of a solid dull sound with very little echo, rather than the crisp neat bam of a lot of movie punches.

But, as with so much in sound design; the sign of really good sound work is when you don’t notice its there. If this discussion proves anything, it’s that audiences only really notice us, when we get it wrong. Which arguably, is how it should be.

Silent Movie (with Live Musical Accompaniment) Double Feature

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Of all the arts activities that I might have expected to be in plentiful supply when I moved to Inverness, silent films with live musical accompaniment weren’t one of them. I’ve seen half a dozen different films over the last year, and rarely has their live accompaniment been anything as prosaic as a piano. Whether a klezmer band, electronica, a woodwind collective or a jazz trio the performances I’ve seen haven’t been afraid to innovate or push boundaries in interpreting silent movies and the screenings have been universally packed.

I’m personally of the opinion that the best way to watch silent film is with live musical accompaniment. There’s something about live interpretation of a film in music – whether in fitting a pre-prepared score to the film as it spools along, or improvising as they go – that gives silent film a vibrancy that seems to get lost in the cold crispness of a DVD transfer and its pre-recorded soundtrack. Something of the mutability and fragile wonder of the early years of the medium restored to the viewer for a short while.

The first film of my double bill did actually feature the traditional piano based musical accompaniment. And what a feat of piano playing that turned out to be. The Thief of Bagdad is a two and a half hour epic in the old fashioned sense. Despite his massively influential role in Hollywood during the silent era, I’d never actually seen a Douglas Fairbanks picture before – I’m generally more of a Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy type when it comes to early US cinema – and this film really showcases his legendary swashbuckling charm. Despite its unconvincing dragon – there was a good deal of sniggering in the screening – the other special effects are really quite effective and the action sequences quite thrilling. It moves at a cracking pace – the accompaniment certainly helped keep the pace up – and honestly you’d never have known it was as long as it was, there was never a spare moment to get bored in.

The Graeme Stephen Trio appear to have something of a specialism in the works of German Expressionist Cinema. (This year saw them interpreting Faust in Eden Court for Hallowe’en while last year on the same date they were interpreting The Cabinet of Dr Caligari in Perth. They’ve also won prizes for their scoring of Murnau’s Sunrise and recently completed a new score for Metropolis.) The film itself is every bit as dark and strange as one would expect from a meeting of the source material, the director and the general period. It’s set in that weird late semi-Medieval period that I’ve only ever encountered in German cinema – though perhaps it equates to an actual historic period in central Europe, my mainland European history knowledge goes, Rome, Vikings, defeat of Napoleon, German unification so I may be missing some subtleties – and can’t be entirely certain whether or not it actually existed. I’d always thought of Faust as being a story of a scientist/philosopher lead to temptation by a thirst for knowledge. But actually his temptation here is a much more complex affair which I feel made it a much more interesting film.

It’s interesting to note that while I can easily call to mind numerous German film directors of this period, I struggle to name more than one actor – Conrad Veidt for some reason, those compelling eyes probably – whereas in Hollywood at the same time I could reel off numerous stars but the directors names are unknown to me. Perhaps it says something about the different film cultures in Europe and the States a the time, that there wasn’t really an equivalent of the star system that was so dominant in the US. Or perhaps this is an artificial distinction wrought by the perspective of being more used to looking at European cinema through the lens of auteur theory. That we associate genres with particular genres in early European cinema, whereas in early Hollywood cinema we associated them with stars. Or perhaps my continuing interest in German expressionism in film and in film noir has just skewed my perspective towards a focus on stylistics.

The main thing that these two films have in common – other than having been made within two years of each other – is that they are essentially adaptions of earlier literary sources. While The Thief of Bagdad is quite a loose adaptation, it plays heavily on the idea of the existing mythos of 1001 Arabian Nights to allow it to make use of tropes and motifs from the genre as shortcuts that require no explanation. Faust on the other hand is much more of a straight up adaptation of Goethe’s novel – how close and accurate an adaptation it is, I cannot tell, as I haven’t read the book. The other major commonality between the two films is how they function as morality plays, where a protagonist of dubious morality has to face the very real consequences of his sins to someone he cares for and is given the opportunity to redeem himself.

Pumzi Redux

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Several years ago (six, in fact) I stumbled across the trailer for a fascinating little short science fiction film, set in a post water-wars world. At the time the film had not long since screened at Sundance and the director was hoping that they might pull together funding to make a feature-length version. Clearly that never came together, and having finally seen the full 20 minute short film, I can only be sad that we’ve never got to see more of this world. It’s a beautiful and compelling little film as it is, packed full of hope and heartbreak and as much as it is satisfying and complete as is, it feels like a tantilising glimpse into a rich and complex world of which we only ever brush the surface. We get just enough of this world to leave us wanting more, with so many unanswered questions that I would love to see explored further.

PUMZI from Awali Entertainment on Vimeo.

NaBloPoMo Returns!

Nablopomo is approaching! I wasn’t sure if I was going to do this challenge this year or not, but given how much I enjoyed it last year it seems worth organising myself to do it. For the uninitiated NaBloPoMo is a sibling challenge to Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) where instead of writing a novel during the month of November, bloggers post every day for the month of November. It’s been running for a decade now and while I never do the full challenge, for the last couple of years I’ve been using it as a tool to write more. An excuse to get round to writing all those posts I think about making and never quite get round to. As much as I’ve been much better about writing here this year, I have rather fallen off the wagon of regular writing lately and could do with getting back on again.

When I was weighing up whether I wanted to make a proper attempt at doing the challenge again this year, I decided to make a list of posts I wanted to make – at the point where I had a list of ten posts for here just off the top of my head, I decided that yes, there was definitely potential there. As with last year I’ll be dividing the challenge between here and the food blog – though I have a rather smaller backlog of posts to make for over there this year, apparently my new years resolution of writing more has been going rather better over there…

Storyville September

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So…Summer? That was a thing that happened, right?

Time to dust myself off after the heady whirl of a packed freelancing schedule and get back into blogging I think.

Back at the start of the year I committed to watching 20 feature-length documentaries this year. To say that I’m behind on my target would be…entirely accurate. Circumstances have transpired that I was more behind on my documentary watching than normally. In normal circumstances I watch a lot of documentaries early in the year, have a lull during the summer and then do the bulk of my documentary watching over Autumn and Winter, motivated by both the approaching deadline of the end of the year and the burst of documentaries we always get in the run up to Oscar season.

(Not being in Glasgow for the film festival this year has had more of an impact on my film watching in general than I expected it to. I haven’t completely missed the Glasgow Film Festival in years; last time I missed it was because I was in Berlin for their film festival.)

As so often when I find myself behind on my documentary watching I turned to Storyville for help. My usual experience with watching the Storyville documentaries on the iPlayer is that either there’ll be lots of documentaries I want to watch and I’ll only have time for one, or I’ll have loads of time to watch them and there’ll be nothing at all I fancy. This time however, while the series doesn’t appear to be running right now, there are a bunch of archive documentaries from previous seasons up on their page so I was able to enjoy a few of those.

I hadn’t really given it much thought before, but almost all the documentaries I’ve watched as part of this strand previously have been by or at least about Americans. I only really noticed this time round because the documentaries were rather more skewed towards European topics than I would normally have expected. Given the current political climate, one wonders if this was intentional or just the scheduler unconsciously responding to the zeitgeist.

Smash & Grab: The Story of the Pink Panthers
First up was this odd little documentary about a group of what were, in the early 2000s, essentially the most successful jewellery thieves in the world. Largely by dint of being a rotating cast of criminals – largely from Serbia and Montenegro – working in groups across Europe and the Middle East, having found a formula that worked they applied it everywhere there were high end jewellery shops while the shifting make-up of the teams made it harder for the various police forces to pin down an accurate MO for them. The main focus of the documentary is the campaign to catch them (the Dubai police do not mess around) but there’s a darker more bittersweet undertone to the confessions of members and former members who agreed to be interviewed. (The longing for security and stability almost all of them express, the desperate struggle for survival in post-conflict society, offered not as excuse but as matter of fact explanation of how it was.)

Cod Wars
The oldest of the documentaries on offer, this was a fascinating look at the messy rivalry between the British (specifically the deep sea trawlers out of Hull and Grimsby) fishing fleets and Icelandic coast guard in the run up to and aftermath of the UK joining the European Union. It provides an interesting and really quite helpful perspective on how we ended up with the disaster zone that is the common fisheries policy and just why the east-coast fishing industry has such a fraught relationship with it.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer
Despite being on the topic I knew most about, this was definitely the oddest film of the set. A couple of years ago Pussy Riot were quite the phenomena, brightly coloured balaclavas, political punk and show trials all round. Iconic and mysterious. The film is about context as much as anything else, – mostly for the group themselves – explaining the background of the protests and the history of political art and protest in post-Soviet Russia. It also takes the time to give the context of the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the state that explains why the protest was taken so badly by that section of society. (Arguably there was no way it could have been taken well given historical context and the chasm of political difference between worldviews.) Interestingly context as an important part of the effectiveness of political protest is something that comes up a lot in the film. The idea that the audience for the protest has to understand the protest; for the protest to be effective and not counterproductive. Weirdly this idea is most coherently and blatantly stated by the prosecution lawyers who come across in their interview as faintly exasperated as though they are carefully talking around saying, we understand what you were trying to do but this was not the way to do it. (Some of which is undoubtedly respectability politics and some of it has merit.) It’s interesting that what they were trying to do seemingly made more sense to an international audience than it did to a local one.

Russia’s Toughest Prison: The Condemned
Black Dolphin Prison is a contender for the most remote and isolated prison in the world. It is a maximum-security prison, exclusively for murders, in the heart of a forest bigger than Germany and seven hours drive from the nearest city. (Just in case you needed a reminder of how truly HUGE Russia remains.) It has two very different facilities. One for death row prisoners whose sentences were commuted to 25 years in prison, who live in dorms and do manual labour and menial jobs to keep the place running. The other for murders convicted since the death penalty was suspended, who are imprisoned in small bare one or two person cells 23 hours a day, and see the sky from not much larger outside box where they’re allowed to take a walk once a day. It’s a bizarre double-system. Unsurprisingly enough, some of the most interesting interviewees are those who are most unrepentant, most at peace with what they’ve done and who they are as people. There’s a great deal of acceptance that they are all terrible people and they deserve to be punished, though where they stand on whether either of these methods or something else entirely is the best way to punish them, varies wildly.

Arguably the most interesting part of all is the way that prisoners from both halves of the prison, despite living under very different regimes, feel equally incapable of reintegration. The shared belief that it would have been kinder to execute them, rather than make them live with the things they have done, that they are without hope of redemption both internally and externally was both fascinating and horrible.

The Festival of Architecture @InvMAG

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The Festival of Architecture made its appearance in Inverness last weekend. The Building Blocks/Scotstyle exhibition(s) at the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery is a rather unusual marriage of tow thematically similar but vastly differently executed exhibitions. While they are both part of the same festival they are both very different responses to idea of public engagement with architecture. Scotstyle is the more ‘traditional’ part of the exhibition, a travelling display courtesy of the RIAS (the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland) celebrating the 100 best pieces of Scottish architecture from the century since the RIAS was founded – ten from each decade to give a nice spread to the choices. The buildings of choice were nominated by members of the public – before being narrowed down by a panel of experts – and it shows in some of the more esoteric choices on the list – some of the loveliest factories I’ve ever laid eyes on made the grade.

(Although arguably, I’d have more faith in the selection process if not for the picture used to illustrate the University of Stirling. It’s not that I disagree with their assessment that the Pathfoot building is an architecturally interesting building or that it is head and shoulders a better-designed and more pleasant building to study in than its companion across the loch Cottrell. But that the picture used is not of Pathfoot – its of the halls of residences and look, I lived in them as a student and much as I enjoyed that time and appreciate how much money the university has poured into refurbishing them in the decade since I graduated, but the buildings themselves are ugly, uninspiring buildings undeserving of any kind of complimentary architecture prizes.)

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The other half of the exhibition couldn’t be more different if it tried. Interactivity and engaging children with architecture through technology are its watchword. Mostly it uses Minecraft as its gateway encouraging young visitors to explore virtual reality versions of local architecture and then build their own which can then be displayed in the gallery as part of the exhibition. As much as their part of the exhibition was aimed at – and clearly being thoroughly enjoyed by the much younger visitors, numerous grown up visitors including myself had fun with the best use of QR codes I’ve seen yet. Combining the simple – table tennis bats with QR codes printed on one side – and the complex – Ipads with software that translated the codes into 3D animated versions of local landmarks.

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All in all, I’m not sure that the whole exhibition hung together as well as it could have – the two parts were just a bit too disparate – but it was fun and experimental, something a bit different and quirky, and I look forward to future exhibits that develop that experimentation further.

April Sounds

Our first April sound is that familiar gentle hiss and rattle, that warm analogue sound of…audio tape? First there was the vinyl revival, now, on a much smaller scale audio tape is making a quiet comeback. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a news video about the last audio tape company in the US (possibly the last one anywhere). They originally made blank tapes, but as their competitors started transitioning to making CDs, they bought out their equipment and have slowly cornered the market in tape duplication. Now that nostalgia has given cassette tapes a certain level of cool, they have the skills and the technology to take advantage of the small but steadily growing market of indie bands and movie soundtracks that want to tap into that nostalgia.

(You can watch it here, as the embed doesn’t work on WordPress.

I must admit, that while I do have a certain fond nostalgia for audio tapes, as the audio media of my childhood – particularly the blank tapes with their versatility and ability to be overlaid and re-recorded to your heart’s content – I can’t see myself rebuilding my music collection in audio tapes. But it does please me to think that somewhere out there some fourteen year old is gently fishing a tape out of a tape deck, half its tape spooled out in awkward heaps around itself and being handed a pencil – a nice hexagonal pencil, none of your cylindrical nonsense – and having the vital relationship between the two explained to them. And perhaps more importantly, an apprentice somewhere else is by now learning how to repair magnetic tape and microprocessors at the same time.

Next up is the Sunday Feature from Radio 3 back at the start of the month called Taking it all Back Home. Which is about reuniting the sound recordings that lurk in the archives of various museums and universities with the descendants of the people they came from. Like any kind of cultural repatriation this is a complex and fraught process, but listening to the stories on the important role that these recordings can have in connecting these communities with their own past – especially people from minority cultures whose culture or language may have been actively damaged or destroyed by outside forces – was both deeply sad and rather uplifting. They cannot get back what was lost, but they can use these recordings to inspire and to build upon to create something new that is grounded in what came before it.

I spent a while last winter poking about in the sound archives of the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh, paging through old file cards and even older ledgers and listening to ancient recordings. I felt then, as now, the importance of the work done to record a changing culture on the cusp of modernity. And also of the ongoing work, to keep those recordings in circulation. The artists in residence that the School of Scottish Studies has, musicians making new works inspired and shaped by the recordings, by their own history. Listening to some of the contributors speak, I felt as though someone had finally articulated for me, just why I have such a visceral emotional response to the Niteworks tracks that use archival samples.

In the obligatory podcast corner of this monthly update, due to iTunes having a wee hiccup, I accidentally downloaded the entire archive of Gastropod. And spent April listening to the entirety of said backlog. I’ve written about that in more detail over at my food blog, but the relevant part for this blog is that it meant that I unexpectedly discovered a double bill of episodes from Gastropod, exploring the relationship between sound and food. The first episode – ‘Field Recordings’ – looks at how sounds effect crops and agriculture. From the use of highly sensitive microphones to detect weevil infestations in grain stores and using the sounds of caterpillars eating them to stimulate crops to secrete their own insect repellent to ward off other predators, to the rather more esoteric art of playing different kinds of music to plants to make them grow faster. (Plants ‘feel’ rather than ‘hear’ sound much like the way we feel a really good bass line reverberating in our chest cavity.) I rather hoped that there might be more acousmetrics in the research, it would be interesting to see whether industrial noise – such as being under a noisy flight-path – has an impact on crop growth and animal well-being. However there was an interesting section on documenting the range of sounds and calls that barn and factory chickens make and the use of that information to track animal welfare and wellness in their populations. The second episode – ‘Crunch, Crackle, and Pop’ – looks at how sound affects taste. Anyone who has ever had a heavy cold knows that smell affects taste – the way everything tastes bland when your nose is blocked and how much worse cough medicine tastes when you’re on the mend – and the impact of sight on taste is also commonly accepted. (There was an entertaining experiment recently where a bunch of wine critics were fooled into thinking that white wine was red wine by the simple application of food colouring…) It appears to be a largely psychosomatic effect, but nonetheless one with a very definite effect, marine sounds will make seafood taste more fishy and playing carefully synced crisp crunches to someone as they eat stale crisps will fool them into thinking they’re fresher. An equally fascinating topic but one with less practical implications than the first episode – unless of course you’re a budding restaurateur looking to build the correct ambience for your new eatery.

Special hat-tip this month to @CherylTipp who is the Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds at the British Library and is a great source of interesting sound projects, articles and other sound ephemera. Lots of the interesting things I post about in this series were either brought to my attention by her twitter feed or discovered down some rabbit hole that started with me following a link from her. You can hear her being interviewed for Source Magazine here.

Sounds Like March

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This month we’re going to attempt to move away from the slight podcast fixation that this section of the blog has developed and look at other interesting sound projects that I’ve discovered lately.

Beep Trailer from Ehtonal on Vimeo.

Alright, so our first item isn’t technically a new discovery, but it is one that’s finally seeing the light of day. I’ve talked before about supporting documentaries on Kickstarter, and this is one of them. Beep is a documentary about computer game sound, both the music and the sound design. It’s a subject that I find absolutely fascinating even if it does exist at a tangent to the kind of sound design I do. For a while there, with the rise and dominance of blockbusters and their heavy-handed, turn-it-up-to-11 school of sound it seemed that all the interesting, subtle work happening in sound design was happening in computer games. While we’re certainly seeing a more nuanced view in cinemas these days, computer game sound design continues to set a high bar for the rest of us. (Perhaps because games designers appreciate the importance of sound and aren’t under the impression that it’s an easy job that anyone can do?)

Anyway, this is one of the documentaries that I supported on Kickstarter and they released a trailer for it recently so I wanted to share the excitement with you. Doesn’t it look good? I’m really excited to see it – see it if you get the chance!

Next up is the latest project from Cities and Memories. I’ve been watching their work with interest – and occasionally submitting field recordings of my own to them – as they do interesting things with field-recordings and remixes that have a very specific sense of place. The latest project was created to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Dadaism as an (anti)art movement. It really takes their wider work right to its logical extreme. As always with their projects you can explore the works in Dada Sounds either via a conventional playlist or by navigating a map of the pieces that illustrates the variety of places and locations that the field recordings (and artists for that matter) originate from. There are some beautifully weird and fascinating pieces in the collection that are well worth giving a listen to.

It should probably be my new sonic resolution to get more actively involved with one of their projects – they always look such fun.

My third choice for this month does sort of lead up back to podcasts, but the Cities and Memories project meant I couldn’t quite forget about it. Alan Rodi’s excellent music for the Wolf 359 podcast has been a subtle but gorgeous element within the show since the start. As part of the wider soundscape of the podcast, I was aware that the music was, fitting and evocative, but it wasn’t until I was listening to the music on its own (everything’s up on the soundcloud page) that I realised just how beautiful it was in its own right. Most of them are themes and cues that are used at various points in the show but I’d recommend in particular the ‘Am I Alone Now’ suite as a more traditional score suite. And why, you might ask did Dadaism make me think of this man’s gorgeous work? Well, because the latest theme to be posted is called ‘Please No Dadaist Poetry Beyond This Point’.

CRIME: Hong Kong Style @EdenCourt

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The CRIME: Hong Kong Style season of films arrived at my local arts cinema Eden Court this month. While we didn’t get any of the Q&As or introductory talks that appear to have graced its visit to larger metropolises and we certainly got fewer films – in its original incarnation in Manchester there appear to be at least 20 films showing, while only six of them made it this far north – but the selection that we did get were certainly worth watching. A good mix of classics, more obscure choices and recent releases. (Also they did a nifty wee discount ticket if you bought four films at once. I love it when that happens.)

First up, from 1974 was The Teahouse/Sing Gei Cha Low (turns out there have been a lot of Hong Kong films released with an English language title that is a variation of The Teahouse.) It’s a film about found families, communities, crime, corruption and honour. One of the theme’s I found fascinating about this season is that the good guys are regularly stalwart, honourable and brave, and they often don’t win. There’s always a price for standing up to the bad guys. (Is it worth paying they ask? Well, at least in this film, the answer is yes. Our hero loses one family – to protect them – but he finds another.)

My second ‘classic’ film of the season was Police Story (1985). Starring a young Jackie Chan, proving just why he’s an absolute martial arts legend. It adds a certain frisson to the action sequences when you know that yes, that’s actually Jackie Chan swinging from that double decker bus. Yes he did in fact injure himself on that fall. (Yes, I too would re-run that slide down the lights if I’d injured myself that badly shooting it!) The action sequences are brilliant, thrilling and hilarious by turns. The plot doesn’t entirely make sense, but who cares, we’re not there for that, we’re here to watch Jackie Chan kick ass and lose the plot!

As Tears Go By was the film I was most excited to see so naturally that was the one showing the night I got stuck at work and didn’t get to go. Of all the films I could have missed it’s probably the best one though because as a Wong Kar Wei film it’s at least going to be relatively easy for me to track down myself. On the other hand, well, I’m sure Wong Kar Wei has made a bad film at some point, but if so I’ve never seen it, so I’m still a bit gutted to have missed this one.

Last up is the newly released Wild City (2015) the first film in over a decade from Hong Kong crime cinema legend Ringo Lam. Two brothers find their fates entwined with that of a young mainland girl, Yun, whose boyfriend has caught her up in a corruption scandal involving a large suitcase of money and a group of increasingly psychotic Taiwanese gangsters. It’s a proper power corrupts story, as Yun isn’t quite the ingénue she at first appears – she’s been seduced by the same corruption that caused her boyfriend to sacrifice her the way he did – but when the boys mother gets kidnapped, she steps up refuses to stay safe and hidden, playing bait to help them get Mona back. To help put all the players away, not just the ones that have hurt her directly. (Interestingly, almost all of the violence that the brothers perpetrate that isn’t in direct self-defence of themselves and Yun, is done on behalf of their mother. The truly brutal stuff is all for Mona, the gentlest soul in the film.) I liked the whole stand-off between T-Man and his former boss his whole, arrest me tomorrow, let me finish the job shtick was great – and it worked!

All in all a great season of cinema, free of pat Hollywood endings. Hooray for Hong Kong Crime Cinema!