A Sound Film

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I’m sitting in a hotel room in Narita, the sonic smear of taxiing planes pushing through the window pane to summon me straight back to the fraught experience of living on the farm last year.

During the early weeks of Autumn, Rupert and I decided to work through the audio and visual material collected during our stay at the farm in Toho. Although we had already been logging the many hours of footage and recordings, our efforts were pulled into a sharper focus by a commitment to produce a short ‘sound film’. In part, this would constitute something of a work-in-progress trailer for what we had achieved. Concentrating our attention in this way would also enable us to probe the different rhythms, textures and sequences that were available within the accumulated resources and establish how different approaches might make meanings that we felt were true to the site and to the farmers who lived there. The process began with the emails being exchanged, each sketching out alternative audio-visual itineraries and each, given the condensed time frame we had settled on, sacrificing particular ‘scenes’, deferring these for further future exploration.

Rupert’s conception of this composition of the material as a ‘sound film’ was significant and resonated with what we had proposed back at the start of 2010. His strategy of employing black screen interludes where the momentum would be carried by sound alone worked across a number of important registers: balancing the heard and the seen in ways that might not have been possible were there to have been a remorseless transition from one visual field to another; making accessible a range of sensory densities so that the sound film could shift from inhaling deeply to then quickening and shortening its breath; allowing the audience to be listeners as well as viewers. Ultimately, this move worked in a curious fashion to award us more autonomy in our respective fields and yet to simultaneously erase the edges between those fields; in doing so, compelling a more genuine collaboration.

From the edit suite in Bethnal Green we emerged with a ten minute sound film that we were happy with. Certainly, there were things to improve. The ghostly swirls of video compression artefacts that loomed into view for a couple of seconds in one scene became a secret irritant, as did pushing the spiralling call of a skylark too high in the audio mix in another. But this was a great start. And a great inspiration for work on this, our second period of field-work.

Sections of the sound film were shown at the Documentary Now! 2011 Conference at University of Westminster and again at a seminar at Universidade Nova de Lisboa. It has just been selected for the 2011 Royal Anthropological Institute Ethnographic Film Festival in the ‘special interest’ category.

The images above are selected from the 13 scenes that provide the visual structure of the sound film.



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