Dir.: Johana Ozvold; Documentary with Francois Bonnet, Steve Goodman, Julian Rohrhuber, John Richards, Hanns Hoelzl, Albert Decampo; Czech Republic/France/Slovakia 2019, 68 min.
Johana Ozvold, a graduate of the FAMU Film School in Prague, explores electronic music from conception to performance, narrating and directing this impressive debut.
Kicking off with a big table full of old printers, CD players, radios and computers that gradually tumble onto the floor, she shows how easy it is to make electronic music (EM) from disused gadgetry. Next, archive clips from pre-WWII show how an accident (a needle getting stuck on vinyl) led to a revolution in music.
Charting its progress from the pioneers of the Iron Curtain, to the French avant-garde composers, and the post-modern creators of digital sonic artefacts, Ozvold’s approach borders on Sci-fi and is both visually alluring and eerie. Past and future commingle in a complex and multi-layered way, as she meddles with analog equipment and digital recording techniques challenging preconceived ideas to produce a unique scenario where weird but exciting sounds that feel fresh and exhilarating.
Frenchman François Bonnet, director of INA GRAM (National and audio-visual Institute) explains developments in music both before 1945 and going forwards. Crucially EM allows the composer complete control of all stages of the process, unlike conventional music. This raises a number of questions: When does sound actually become music? And because technology has its own history, there are distinct stages of development (before and after the invention fire) and all these stages led to new connections in the human brain, allowing EM to develop as mainly cerebral music, in which the material (instruments) are the message.
The electronic sound is omnipresent: back in the 1950s, the audience treated EM as a music form of the future. This is the reason why EM found its way into Sci-fi features, fantasy films and animation. During this era, and well into the 1960s films formed a new concept with EM: the earth was gone, it had never existed. EM and avant-garde formed a new science that could manipulate the waves. Then came the Sputnik era when EM composers in the old Soviet block had to be careful not use certain forms of EM, in case they were labelled as bourgeois formalists.
Steve Goodman (UK), producer and founder of the Hyperdub Label, takes us back to the 1920s, when people were actually afraid that the earth would be invaded from outside, analogue to this, DJs after WWII made their EM music change the space, in which teenagers listened, including high frequencies, shattering glass. With the advent of computer, the programmers became poets. Julian Rohrhuber, a German computer scientist and philosopher, talks about the creation of new instruments, were codes of the computer interfaces are like poetry, open to be written and rewritten. During the performance of EM, the musicians form and transform the sound using microphones, electronic filters and volume control. The transformed sound is played by loudspeakers and is mixed with the direct sound.
John Richards who performs on his own inventions, compares composers of EM with soldiers and archivists. He insists on the group playing together in a spontaneous, improvised way. Composers and media activists Hannes Hoelzl and Alberto Campo go a step further: for them it is the audience that makes the decisions, not the conductor on the podium. Their view is that computers are democratic, the music played by the machines is like a partnership. Their group is based on ‘musicians’ with a Visual Arts background, rather than conventional music training.
The Sound is Innocent is an avant-garde and challenging film that requires some effort to engage with. But it also a worthwhile documentary that opens up new avenues not only in understanding EM, but also appreciating the way it is played, both for the individual and as a group experience. AS
WORLD PREMIER | 10 APRIL 2019 | Visions du Réel, NYON, SWITZERLAND