Fragmented Frequencies Jan 2011

Morricone wont touch a temp score

The radio can be a curious companion whilst driving long stretches through the outback. Stations come into range for a couple of hours before retreating in stuttering static as you search the bands for new treats. Whilst country music or classic blandness from the 80’s are the mainstays, you can occasionally be blessed by christian children’s stations, terrible jingles for the local mechanic or inept announcers sharing their theories on immigration. One mainstay however is radio national which as one call sign disappears under raining static another one appears on an alternate band. So this holiday period we found ourselves, dodging floodwaters and tuned to radio national who provided a fascinating program peering beneath the veneer of film music.

This particular episode was a conversation with Rodney Holland, a sound editor who has worked with some of the great filmmakers of modern times including Stanley Kubrick, Robert Altman, Sam Peckinpah and Nicholas Roeg. Holland took us through some of the sonic choices made in films like Barry Lyndon, Don’t Look Now and in particular the disturbing battle scenes in Cross of Iron. As he would speak about these films the soundtrack would appear behind him, illustrating his points, which when divorced from the images were incredibly powerful. In fact in his new book based on the series, The Sound of Pictures: Listening to The Movies From Hitchcock To High Fidelity (Black Ink) broadcaster and music show presenter Andrew Ford speaks of editing the sound of this scene for the broadcast, stating that divorced from Peckinpah’s patented spurting blood and slow motion choreographed ballet of death, the sounds took on even more terrifying proportions, causing them to feel physically ill, to the extent that they cut out half so as not to inflict it upon the unsuspecting audience. This he states is the power of film sound.

Ford goes to pains not to overly jargonise his text or bury it beneath impenetrable academic theories. There’s a love of film sound here, best evidenced by those he sought out to interview. Each chapter is a conversation with one exponent in the field, initially composers like Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings), Lalo Schiffrin (Dirty Harry), Woody Allen mainstay Dick Hyman and the great maestro Ennio Morricone responsible for the iconic Mission and The Good The Bad and The Ugly. Then he goes to the other side and speaks with directors, Wim Wenders (Paris Texas), Peter Weir (Picnic At Hanging Rock), Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy), Peter Greenaway (The Cook THe Thief His Wife and Her Lover), and Sally Potter (Orlando). In between he takes the reader on a personal journey through film sound, discussing various techniques and approaches touching upon everything from Blow Up to Mamma Mia.

There’s something incredibly loose about this approach. He’s not attempting to ram a thesis through, rather he throws some ideas into the wind and sees what sticks. There are some central themes however. Firstly when a film is made, prior to commissioning the score they put a temp score on to show it to the studio who financed it. It’s usually from other film music (and usually the Mission). This is the bane of all film composers. By the time they’re brought into proceedings everyone has fell in love with the temp score, so the composer is asked to merely replicate it. Morricone flat out refuses to score films that have temp tracks but he has power. Bruce Beresford found a way around it, temping Double Jeopardy with the work of unknown Canadian Normand Corbeil the man he wanted to score the film. So when everyone fell in love with the temp track and asked who should do the score Bruce was able to suggest the man who had already composed the music. Then of course there’s the story of Alex North, who had his music for 2001 dumped in favour of Kubrick’s temp score that has since become iconic. Whilst Scorcese refuses to use temp scores at all.

Hitchcock is held up as celluloid film school, and of course Bernard Herman’s scores for the Birds and Psycho are breathlessly discussed by most of the participants, in fact Ford devotes a whole chapter on Hitchcock’s sound work, whilst Dick Hyman gushes about the musical collage that is Rear Window.

The Bourne Identity comes into some criticism, where the role of music just seems to be playing endlessly keeping the momentum going. Though Ford also asks some interesting questions about the absence of music. Morricone suggests the minimal trumpets in The Hill (Sidney Lumet 1965) were a masterstroke, whilst Richard Rodney Bennet points to Miles Davis’ iconic Ascensuer pour l’echafaud score as a pivotal moment where the music was saying everything the images weren’t. In fact that’s what makes this book so incredible, it’s an intimate peek into the minds of the practitioners, and an awakening about the power and art behind the sounds we hear.

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Fragmented Fish Jan 2011

Forget Casablanca. Forget Gone With the Wind or even every Hal Harley film ever made. Fragmented Fish’s favorite line of dialogue in cinema came from the ill fated Brandon Lee. It was a few years before his breakout role in the Crow, in a tough guy buddy flick called Showdown in Little Tokyo with action stalwart Dolph Lungren. As the bad guys approach Brandon and Dolph are holed up in a small cabin. It looks grim. Brandon calculates they don’t have enough bullets to take out all the villains. What to do? This is one of those moments, where hard men pushed to the edge, knowing they most likely wont make it through want to make sure they say something important, something lasting. “Just in case we get killed,” offers Brandon to Dolph earnestly, “I just wanted to say. You have the biggest dick I’ve ever seen on a man.”

This of course begs the question why he felt the need to qualify it. Perhaps he went to some stables earlier in the film, or maybe there’s a missing outtake were he and Dolph frolicked at the zoo, dawdling at the elephant enclosure. Later Dolph sprays some baddies with a hose in a bathhouse and forces the nozzle down one of their throats, drowning him..with his mighty hose, in the bathhouse. But seriously? Faced with almost certain death Brandon still can’t get his mind off the size of Dolph’s manhood?

But cinema is littered such references. Like the most aggressively heterosexual man on the planet, Charlie Sheen in 1990’s Navy Seals being asked how close he was to the enemy. “If I was any closer I’d be inside him,” comes the reply. Then of course there’s the golf scene, to the strains of Bon Jovi singing “The Boys are Back in Town,” Charlie and co, including Michael Biehn in fetching pink shorts and a shirtless guy take to the course for some good old fashioned hetro frolicking. When Charlie bends over for a shot, one of his buddies hits him on the ass with a golf club. Later he throws himself off a moving car, traveling over a bridge and into a drop of 50 feet of water to avoid going to see one of his buddies get married. ” I can’t be part of this funeral procession,” he proclaims. He could’ve asked to get dropped off at the next set of lights, but no, he literally throws himself off a moving car.

Then of course there’s the infamous volleyball scene from Top Gun in a which a bunch of shirtless well oiled men men play with a large ball whilst being watched, by well, a bunch of shirtless less oiled men. Where are the women in this scene? It makes Tom Cruise so randy that he has to depart and get some acceptable action from Kelly Mguilless. But we all know who he’s thinking about. Quentin Tarantino made it explicit, stealing Roger Avery’s thesis for a cameo monologue in the forgettable 1994 indie flick Sleep With Me. It’s “about a man struggling with his own homosexuality,” he offers before mimicking the last line of the film between Val Kilmer and Cruise. “You can be my wingman anytime.” No you can be my wingman,” You have to hand it to Top Gun, leaving an element of mystery as to who ends up on top.

Of course academic carrers have ridden off the back of the homosexual subtext in Schwartzenegger’s Commando and Predator – particularly the latter. It’s not necessarily about the shirtless oiled up muscles, nor is it about later in the film when he bronzes up with the mud in attempt to avoid the evil gaze of the Predator, nor is it about the alien’s s&m influenced costume. It’s about the way Schwartzenegger lights up at the touch of another man, Carl Weathers during a bit of alpha male arm wrestling. And let’s not talk about Jesse ‘the body’ Ventura calling his crew “slack jawed faggots,” before offering to increase their sexual prowess and make them a sexual ‘Tyranasouras’ like him. “Strap this on your sore ass Blaine,” comes the reply from one of the crew holding up a grenade launcher. And of course the predators mouth may even look a little a certain element of the female anatomy. But it’s evil so we should definitely kill it.

And keeping with the 80’s action film who could go past Van Damme? “I don’t know if I want to fuck you or fight you,” offers one street fighter in 1990’s Wrong Bet, meanwhile his ridiclous dance scene in Kickboxer is, well words can’t express how truly strange this is. Youtube it.

It’s tempting to hope that rather than implode on a mixture of alcohol, shredded dreams and amphetamines, Hollywood scriptwriters have purposely written in these blatant homosexual undercurrents, almost a lifeline to their soul, the ultimate finger to the young male audience that flocked to these high body count flicks. But perhaps a cigar is just a penis, uh, I mean a cigar. If this is the case then can you explain what the hell the title Die Hard means? And what were Lawrence Olivier and Tony Curtis doing in the bath together in Spartacus? And why are they discussing oysters? And why do Batman and Robin have built in erect nipples in the franchise killing film of the same name? Did you know that John Wayne was just a stage name? His real name was Marion.

Interview with Peter James (Iceage Productions)

Iceage Productions is a Melbourne label that has been releasing commercially challenging difficult and strange music since about 2005. It was established by Peter James, originally to provide an outlet for his work in Wolf 359 a noisy experimental outfit, though has since expanded to include other unique local avant garde performers. For James the ethos of the label is nice and simple. “I don’t have any constraints on what I release,” he explains. “If I think its good I just approach someone and put it out really.” It’s about giving a platform to Melbourne’s fertile experimental music scene, and also attempting to reach listeners who may not traditionally view themselves as experimental music connoisseurs.

“It’s difficult music to get people interested in,” James confirms. “I’ve played something like Zac Keiller to a lot of different people who aren’t into experimental music and they love it. That’s one of the big things of the label is to push that out there to people who might not actually be aware of what’s happening in Melbourne.”

The album that he speaks of is Keiller’s Start Burning, a work that skirts experimental drone music and musicality with increasing flair. “I’d seen him perform live and thought he was an original guitarist,” offers James. “I didn’t think there were too many people who approached his style or skills with drone music lets say. His style of guitar playing really caught my attention. He’s released and recorded a lot of material thats really worthy of being heard.”

It’s this dedication to highlighting the work of his favorite musicians that has seen James put together a compilation of his favorite local musicians. Titled The Shape of Sound volume 1 it boasts new material from the likes of improv duo Infinite Decimals, Zac Keiller, Wolf 359, psychedelic noise merchants The Paul Kidney Experience and even legendary experimental pioneers The Primitive Calculators.

“As far as Primitive Calculators go I was just very lucky to have snagged the only track they’ve recorded in 20 years I think. I went and saw them at one of their first shows after the festival that Nick Cave curated and said I’d been a fan since I was a teenager and paid x amount of dollars for their records and I actually grew up in the town that they originated. In fact that was one of the original reasons I looked them up, because I thought it was interesting that an electronic punk band was coming out of Spingvale. And they said ‘definitely, we’ll be on it.’ And plus its a brilliant track too, Supposedly its something Stuart wrote back in the day that they never recorded.”

James views the compilation as a snapshot of a moment in time, in much the same way the “NMA tape series from the 80s that gave light to the Australian experimental scene, EC Productions and particularly Harry Butler as well as Clinton Greens Shame File compilation releases and Ulex Xanes Zero Cabal tape label.”

With small runs, Iceage Productions has a split album with Keiller and Infinite Decimals on the way as well as minimal UK synth punk duo from the 80’s Dada Computer as well as Adelaide ensemble White Tiger AA who he describes as having a ‘nasty and relentless thing going.”

Again it’s a highly personal process, putting out music that appeals to him, that he believes deserves wider appreciation.

“I’m always searching the net for those lost gems,” he laughs. “I suppose that what got me into that was listening to Nuggets, Songs That The Cramps Taught Us, and The Born Bad Series. There’s a lot of hidden gems out there where if you dig a little bit you’ll find some great music. I’m always doing that chasing one persons influences.”