Over the coming 4 weeks, Castles Built in Sand will present a series of short experimental films that seek to explore the relationship between sound, music, video and photography. These films vary in length (from 2 to 20 mins) and cover a range of subject matters from the use of music to examine and define space, place and the journey, to issues around the image and representation in photography. It is our hope that these short films will provoke the viewer to think about the various uses of sound in film, about how the use of music in film affects how we perceive the images presented to us, and how, in terms of representation, the image can become a loaded and problematic construction. Each film will be accompanied by a short text outlining the central concerns of the filmmaker. Up first is Dark Water by Katy and Simon Connor.
Film By Katy Connor
Music by Simon Connor
Dark Water is an audio visual collaboration between myself as a composer and my sister Katy Connor, film maker and video artist . The film was first screened at Dartington College of Arts in 2008 as a video installation, and its original form included no sound. Whilst completing my MA in Composition I asked Katy if I could compose a soundtrack for the piece. I had always been fascinated by its mesmeric quality and saw a real opportunity to explore some of the ideas introduced in the film in terms of the audio accompaniment.
Visually the film has been subjected to a high level of digital processing. The levels of contrast and brightness have been heavily manipulated in post-production, so the raw footage is deteriorated almost to breaking point. Waves crashing onto the shore gradually blur into waves of static, similar to those found in analogue television equipment. I aimed within the soundtrack to mimic these themes within the film, blurring the boundaries between analogue and digital and pure and processed signals. My initial approach to achieve this was to capture acoustic sound recordings, which I could then edit, sample and process digitally to mirror the effect that had been applied visually.
Most of the sounds heard in the piece originate from my own raw recordings of manipulated water. This included sloshing, stirring or blowing bubbles into half filled bell jars. The captured sounds were then edited and spread across a sampler keyboard, allowing them to be played back at various speeds and pitches, and then processed further with reverb and delay. To simulate the physical effect of being underwater I used the sampler equalisation controls to reduce the treble frequencies, as bass frequencies tend to travel much better through liquid than high frequencies. Manipulating the same frequency controls also allowed me to produce sharp bell like tones, to ring out against each other in the contrasting scenes where shafts of light burst through on screen.
The recorded and sampled sounds are supplemented in later sections of the film with synthesized textures. These were created by passing white noise through various filters, opening and closing in time to echo the waves breaking on screen. The amount of noise allowed through the filter slowly intensifies, gradually becoming more and more distorted before complete signal deterioration.
In evaluation of the finished piece, I believe the strengths in the soundtrack stem from the timbre of the sounds used. Recordings of running water are instantly recognisable to most people, but processing them beyond their original form gives a slightly eerie and unnatural quality, making them much more sonically interesting. I feel that these created sounds prove to be successful in supporting what is seen on screen. The opening 90 seconds of the piece is most convincing in this respect. The low pitched bubbles in sync with the descending underwater camera pan reinforces the feel of gradually sinking deeper into the darkness, before the bursts of light flood the screen.
My main criticism in terms of the audio would be that it tends to be too busy, particularly in the second half of the film. In retrospect I think it may have been more suitable to use fewer ideas with subtle variations and allow for more space, rather than trying to include all my favourite ideas in the finished mix. I was very reticent to use repetition, so tried to make each section of the composition different and gradually build tension throughout. The original silent version of the film is much more open to audience interpretation, with the overall effect on the viewer being much more serene. Looking back, perhaps utilising more space, with slight development of fewer ideas may have been a better choice in preserving the feel of the original. However I am overall pleased with the finished piece, and enjoyed the process of creating it whilst overcoming a steep learning curve technically, in terms of writing music for sound installation.
The most recent live installations and performances of Dark Water have been remixed to 4 channel surround sound to accompany large projection screens. I found that this allows much more freedom in terms of exploring audio space.Signals can be passed around the audience to create a much more immersive effect. However the stereo version below still contains plenty of extreme panning between the left and right stereo channels, so I definitely recommend listening with headphones for the full effect!