The video above is a subtitled version of my audio essay Itinéraire de… #3: Le Cercle Rouge. This piece was published in [in]Transition, vol. 6, no. 2 (2019), special issue on audiographic criticism. The original publication including full creator’s statement is available here. Included below is the part from the statement that explains my choice of the film, why I chose to work with it in the way I did in this piece and a few words about the piece’s structure:
“Apart from being one of my favourite Melville films it has often occurred to me how different a rhythmic dynamic Le cercle rouge’s trailer suggests in comparison to the film itself. While the film builds its suspense with a slow jazzy and cool pace the trailer is, in some parts, loud and characterised by an interesting use of different playback speeds. In particular, the trailer’s beginning manipulates drumming and shooting sounds, contrasting their playback in slow motion and standard speed. Indeed, as the reviewer points out, this can be seen as a conventional form of repackaging. Yet, for me, these different sound expressions felt like an invitation to play with and appropriate samples from the film and its trailer. Intrigued by the trailer’s dramatic effect and tension, I wanted to take its use of sound further by manipulating the playback speed of sounds and dialogue from the film, as a way to reframe the feverish chase on the main character Corey (Alain Delon). By contrasting slowed down sounds and standard speed as in the trailer my aim was to make a work which highlights the underlying deceptive and ominous nature of the situations which Corey goes through and the promises being made to him. To achieve this, the piece plays with repetition of dialogue snippets and sounds at different speeds, mixed with sounds from different locations – the train, the woods, the police station, the pool hall and the nightclub – layered onto a loop of the trailer’s slow-motion drumming. With my selection and combination of dialogue samples, I have wished to offer the listener cues about the film’s overall plot lines in a somewhat elliptical manner, while conveying the plot’s unfolding. Some samples are arranged in chronological order, others are repeated so as to establish and play with recurrent motifs as a way to underline the turn of events and changing relations between characters.
The piece is roughly divided into three parts. The piece’s introductory part, running from the beginning until approximately one minute and twenty seconds, contains snippets from the police directors’ discussion on the urgency of finding Vogel and stages Inspector Mattei as the main investigator. The section is framed by Corey’s remark about the dangers of entering the Red Circle, at the beginning and the end, to give a cue about the plans he is making and the dangers he is facing. The middle part – which runs approximately from one minute and twenty seconds to two minutes and fifty-six seconds – follows respectively Mattei’s, Vogel’s and Corey’s trajectories, focussing mostly on the latter. As Mattei tries to chase down Vogel in the jazz club and other places, Corey flees to Paris with Vogel, seeks out old acquaintances, settles scores and sets up a heist. The final part begins at three minutes and twelve seconds, marked by the overlapping voices of the police directors at different speeds. My intention with this variation on the introduction’s opening, was to (hopefully) give it a dreamlike, surreal feel, and to signal that Corey is about to be caught in Mattei’s web. To clarify the lexical meaning of the samples, I have created an outline containing time codes and translations of the dialogue samples, which are visible to the left beneath the embeded audio player. The outline is partly based on the subtitles for the film I had available and my own translation.”
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Ciné-boucle #1: Tu saresti capace? is the first short piece I managed to squeeze out of my Octatrack sampler that I got last year. It is a loop of a dialogue snippet from 8 1/2 (Federico Fellini, Italy/France, 1962) by Marcello Mastroianni’s character Guido Anselmi asking Claudia (Claudia Cardinale): “Tu saresti capace di piantare tutto e ricomminciare la vita da capo?” (“Could you leave everything behind and start from zero again?”). As such the quote captures one of the many instances of existential musing that define the Guido-character in 8 1/2.
Form-wise, the piece is an attempt to capture a key moment or a glimpse of a film through the form of a short loop (or a ciné-boucle/ciné-loop as I call it), using various effects for processing it and approaching it analytically through repetition. In working with a form that is shorter than the pieces I regularly make, I was inspired by one particular piece by film scholar and video essayist Catherine Grant – Film Tweets from 2013 – that links and juxtaposes two moments from respectively Blackmail (Alfred Hitchcock, UK, 1929) and Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, US, 1962) through birdsong. Grant’s piece can be viewed here. The loop I have posted here does not suggest a comparative approach as in Grant’s piece however. That is something I will try out with other loops. In this sense this piece mostly reflects an experiment.
On 18th July singer, composer and radio host David Jisse passed away. Jisse’s activities were formative for my own experience of and journey into experimental music, specifically musique concrète and tape composition. In 2008 I got heavily into the work of Luc Ferrari, who remains one of my all-time favorite composers and artists, in large part because of David Jisse’s work. I had had a glimpse into Ferrari’s work back in high school when at some point around 2001-2002 I bought the compilation OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music (1948-1980). Having been intrigued by what I had heard, I began listening more closely a few years later. My starting point for further listening was David Jisse’s highly personal and engaging two-part radio hommage to Ferrari which he made as a radio host on France Culture, broadcast on 27 and 28 August 2005. Those shows were later made available via UbuWeb and from there I downloaded them, added them to my iPod, and listened over and over again for days. They remain a brilliant introduction to Luc Ferrari’s work characterized by Jisse’s many stories of getting to know Ferrari by chance as a neighbor (through finding magnetic tape in the trash bin) and developing a friendship and professional relationship with him. Since then I have sought out and listened to everything I could get my hands on by Luc Ferrari. For a long time, Jisse was also co-host on France Musique’s Electromania show with then GRM-director Christian Zanési and author Christophe Bourseiller. An ear-opening radio show characterized by eclectic and idiosyncratic playlists that introduced me to a lot of adventurous music.
David Jisse was also a musician: first a singer, then a composer of electronic music working for theatre and film productions while also making installations and personal sound works. In 2011-2012 I lived in Paris for a seven-month period and got the chance to see a performance by David Jisse at the frasq festival in the Paris-suburb Gentilly in October 2011 (I have reposted at photo from frasq‘s Flickr stream from the festival above). At the festival Jisse performed the work Cinémix (2011) – a personal reflection on his own cinephilia through sound. The work processed personal anecdotes and sound works by Jisse – making prominent use of the theme song that Jisse made for Claude-Jean Philippe’s television show Encyclopédie audiovisuelle du cinéma (1978). Back then I recorded snippets from the show (which I cannot seem to find just now unfortunately) and also wrote an impression (in Danish, originally) of that show. Below I post a translation of that written impression as a way to pay tribute to Jisse’s work and hopefully also introduce some new listeners to it. I have updated it slightly and improved the phrasing of it in English. La Muse en Circuit has also posted a statement here (in French).
David Jisse Cinémix (2011)
In its own peculiar way David Jisse’s musical efforts are deeply anchored in the institutionalized spheres of musique concrète. Jisse primarily operates in the areas of film- and theater composition in connection with the sound studio and national arts centre La Muse en Circuit of which he is also the director. La Muse was founded in 1982 as a national centre dedicated to and rooted in the compositional activities of Luc Ferrari and have since 1999 been directed by Jisse on the suggestion of Ferrari. The studio aims to promote ideas and compositional aesthetics that share a kinship with Ferrari’s practice while also supporting events that highlight and allow for the legacy of the INA-GRM compositional tradition to continue to develop. Among others, it does so through financial support to events such as the Audible festival in Bagnolet, which offers an alternative venue for contemporary musique concrète.
Jisse’s own musique concrète compositions – which are few – may be qualified as located somewhere between psychogeographical soundscape, cinema for the ears and radiophonic montage. In his work Mille vingt-quatre (2004), Jisse explored the soundscape of his childhood’s regular holiday location, the mountainous area around Les Chavants, located in 1024 meters altitude, a number reflected in the work’s title and length – 1024 seconds. In Jamais plus pareille (1986) – which I still have not had the opportunity to listen to – he compiled a series of recordings made on the Swedish icebreaker Frej that would go on to become the foundation for Luc Ferrari’s Prix-Italia winning radio documentary Brise-Glace – Et si tout entière maintenant… (1987).
Because Jisse’s own production is so sparse it was in itself a great experience to get to attend the performance of his latest work simply and soberly titled Cinémix. Having been located far away from Paris when I got seriously into the work of Jisse and Ferrari, it was not easy to figure out what he had going on based on his minimal discography. To emphasize the cinema for the ears tradition that Jisse operates within, it was telling that the performance took place in an old cinema. However, there was little left of the cinema atmosphere in the room which the performance took place in. The venue’s history as a cinema was highlighted in the foyer, but the room itself was bare, characterized by raw concrete materials without cinema seats and arm chairs instead spread throughout it. For the performance, Jisse had chosen to explore the room’s potential using an eight-speaker surrounding the audience while dimming the lights. In comparison to GRM’s overwhelming acousmonium this was a somewhat more modest dispositive, which gave the performance an overall more intimate feel than those at the French radio.
Jisse’s performance combined readings of personal cinema memories with sound collage work. Reading through a filter distorting his voice, Jisse would recount personal anecdotes of becoming acquainted with cinema from his notebook: the first time he encountered the Marx Brothers, MGM’s Leo the Lion and his experiences as a cinephile running through the streets of Paris from cinema to cinema to catch films. Although Jisse’s filmic references were very traditional and far from the absurd and funny genre film citations found in for instance the ciné-mix works of Radiomentale, Jisse delivered his anecdotes with great sensibility and passion making for an engaging performance.
The style of Jisse’s sound collages may be characterized as being close to other contemporary ciné-mixes, although without the tricks of a DJ conventionally used in some ciné-mixes, such as crossfading as a way to create rhythmic bridges and sequences. In this respect Jisse’s take on the ciné-mix genre seemed more firmly anchored in a poetry reading tradition centered on the spoken word which is not often encountered in ciné-mixes nor in musique concrète works. Though of course, there are plenty of narration-, monologue-based literary concrète works – take for instance Francis Dhomont’s Sous le regard d’un soleil noir(1982) – there was more of a live-feel to Jisse’s readings.
Jisse’s Cinémix also left the impression of a musical activity that is closely tied to Ferrari’s aesthetics and approach. What gave this impression was for instance Jisse’s way of processing film samples so as to try to enter the filmic spaces and play out himself against the fictional characters of the films. In this respect it reminded me of Ferrari’s Orson Welles-centered Madame de Shanghai (1996). Moreover, Jisse’s work was executed in a subjective, diaristic style reminiscent of Ferraris Far West News-works (1999), that make use of a distorted, pitched-down narrator’s voice guiding the listener through places, people and anecdotes.
Itinéraire de… #2: Du temps is a piece that weaves together sound samples from films in which characters find themselves isolated in emergency situations – or emotionally charged situations – and struggle to communicate via telephone or try to keep themselves informed by means of radio. The piece uses samples from Lady in the Lake (Robert Montgomery, US 1946), Walkabout (Nicolas Roeg, UK/Australia, 1971), Les maîtres du temps (René Laloux, France, 1982) and Mauvais Sang (Leos Carax, France, 1986).
Itinéraire de… #01: Ti lydspor på tre et halvt minut – or in English: Ten soundtracks in three and a half minutes – was the first ciné-mix I made. I made it back in 2007 after having long been interested in making sound pieces consisting only of sampled film sounds. The wish to do so was the result of two things in particular. First of all a longstanding interest in musique concrète, sound art and various forms of music involving field recording, tape loops and cut-ups (the early early industrial music of Cabaret Voltaire, Hafler Trio and Throbbing Gristle in particular). Second, at that particular time – 2006-2007 – I was seriously diving into the work of Dziga Vertov. Reading in particular Vlada Petric’s and Georges Sadoul’s monographs on the work of Vertov and the Kinoks and becoming aware of Vertov’s deep engagement with sound as a medium on its own, his “laboratory of hearing” and the role that sound played both in his silent and sound films made a deep impression on me. I wanted to do something similar as a way to reflect on and connect the sound environments of different films (or at least to do something I felt had some sort of kinship with these different practices and which gestured towards them with the means I had available).
In this regard Itinéraire #1 was a first experiment. It consists of samples from ten films I had recently watched or was watching again around that time – mainly Italian horror films and various European classics from the 1960s and 1970s. I made it in a version of Cubase I had available on my laptop back then. Because it is such a long time ago made the piece and because I did not take notes when making it back then I can only remember eight of the titles I sampled from. They are:
8. La Casa dalle finestre che ridono (Pupi Avati, Italy 1976)
There were several sounds – in particular electronic sounds or processed acoustic sounds – I was attracted to in these films and genuinely surprised to realize were such an integral part of their sound design: the processed city sounds in the opening to Antonioni’s La Notte (1961), the electronic sounds of Fellini’s Satyricon (1969) (taken from Tod Dockstader’s works if I am not mistaken), and the cues that synthesizer sounds provide in Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980) and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now (1973). Vertov’s Entuziazm (1930) found its way to the mix as well. The sounds range from mechanical, synthetic, and sound effects to processed piano and organ sounds. As a first rudimentary, experiment it was meant to explore how I could make a transition from one atmosphere to another, starting with a dream-like horror atmosphere to sounds that suggest sliding back into reality and an everyday atmosphere. The transition from one atmosphere to another is marked by the opening credit sounds from La Notte and a synthesizer sound effect from Inferno in combination around the 1-minute mark.