The next film in our series examining the uses of sound and music in film is Vacancy by Paddy Baxter:
Vacancy is a 2 minute horror documentary made last summer as a collaboration with Manchester experimental music collective Tubers Music. The emphasis on assigning a specific genre is relevant both to the reason why this short experimental film was made and to the effect that this music collaboration had on the way we view the images in this piece as an audience.
Vacancy came out of a photo article on the recent phenomenon of ghost developments in Ireland [see article here: https://castlesbuiltinsand.wordpress.com/ghosts-and-the-machine/] that Huw Wahl and I carried out early last year- the title refers to the current 21% vacancy rate among housing and commercial developments in the Republic of Ireland. The film explores through photos, video and music one of the stranger of these failed housing developments- namely Carrigglas Manor in County Longford- once the site of a beautiful stately aristocratic Manor and grounds, now a place of desolation and a scorched landscape.
As a filmmaker I had the choice to document this space is a neutral or objective manner. However, there is no way to express the sheer awe, dismay, despair, unease and bewilderment that one feels when in such a place as Carrigglas through photos and video alone. Once inside the walls of this gated, abandoned development you feel exposed in a very odd manner, a sense of the sublime and of impending danger immediately overcome you. It is the sense one gets when you watch a particularly effective horror film. This is the feeling that I wanted the film to induce.
The idea for the collaboration developed in a rather unusual manner in that I had not heard the track recorded by Tubers Music’s Belied Gunaiko nor had the musician I was working with seen the images I had put together before arriving at a final edit. We simply described the images, setting, sounds, movements, instruments, and emotions we had in mind before beginning with our individual stages of the collaboration. Initially I used a track by Godspeed You! Black Emperor to edit the images, and this lent the film a melancholic air. However this was not exactly the sentiment I wanted to express with the film. When the final intended track was added the film became something altogether more unsettling. Therefore Belied Gunaiko’s music transformed the film from being a documentation of a place into a film that expresses the horrors of a certain space.
Vacancy became for me a fascinating lesson on the power of music in film. Fiction film invariably uses music to manipulate our emotions more effectively. The use of music in documentary can be more problematic- it allows the filmmaker to exert a huge degree of control over how we view real people and political or social standpoints. There is no denying that this film comes from a subjective political viewpoint, however its intention is not social critique, but rather it seeks to explore in some way the embedded emotional confrontation between myself as the filmmaker and this disrupted landscape.
A fair criticism that could be levelled at the film is the paucity of found sounds from the location. The choice to use music to explore the space implies that in some way the environmental sounds are less useful to the filmmaker. This in some sense is true of this film and the time in which it was shot: the day we visited Carrigglas was a calm sunny evening in March, there was very little in the way of environment sound save the curbing of birds and the sound of distant traffic. The site itself is consumed by an eerie silence. The most prominent sounds in the film (those of the camera shutter and footsteps), were noises we as filmmakers and photographers brought from outside into the environment. I felt that these noises added to the sense of foreboding one feels there and accompanied by the music give the film its unsettling effect- the sudden switch to ambient sounds recorded at the location at the end of the film are intended to create a rupture and disrupt somewhat the viewer perception of the environment whilst maintaining the initial feeling of unease.
As with the other films in this series sound is crucial to the effect of the film, so please listen to it using headphones.
Edit: Paddy Baxter
Photos: Paddy Baxter & Huw Wahl
Music: Belied Guniako