Could The Star Spangled Banner be recast as a drinking song? Holger Mohaupt suggests that in this family, it could.
A Drinking Song was created for the Audible Picture Show. Two other Audible Picture Show entries, A Sense of Place and The Modern Woodsman, are also featured on our site. And be sure to listen to our 2004 conference session featuring the Audible Picture Show's creator and curator, Matt Hulse.
BEHIND THE SCENES with Matt Hulse
How did the Audible Picture Show come to exist, and what's the main idea behind it?
There's an organization in London called The Lux that distributes artists' films and videos, as well as organizing special screenings and events. One of these events was called The Lux Open. When I checked out the proposed program, I saw that it failed to address or present works that were audio only. I knew of several filmmakers who worked with audio "on the side," as it were. So I suggested to them that I invite artists to create works for a one-off show. They gave me access to a cinema for an hour . . . and this is how the idea of "audio works for darkened cinemas" came about. The event was so successful and the work so strong that I decided to try and promote it to more venues, and we've been touring it since then, adding new works along the way.
As a curator, what do you listen for in the pieces you choose?
The brief I give to artists is very simple. They must keep the context (darkened cinema) firmly in mind and not exceed five minutes (unless they have a very good justification!). As you can imagine, the works are consequently very diverse. I listen for surprises, originality, texture, strong concepts. I want to keep the project as accessible to makers as possible - if someone's got a great idea but only a dictaphone to work with, then so be it, just do it. My editorial input is hands off, but I take great care in the order of the works. I try to curate the show in such a way that it has site-specific elements, so that it is relevant to the "screening" space - this is why we invite local artists to the screening venue to create a work for each new show.
How do people react when they find themselves in a "darkened cinema" with nothing to watch?
People have different responses. It's normal for one or two people to get up and leave by the second or third track. Some folk find it too intense - it's a challenge to sit still, in the dark, in a room with strangers. When else do we do this in our (busy and noisy) lives? The experience can evoke a kind of meditative state and you become aware of yourself in the space - like a strange form of "waking dream" - some get freaked by that. Others feel the need to close their eyes - it can be odd looking into a void. The vast majority, however, stay for the duration. The most common and perhaps surprising feedback has been that people find the experience elevating and somehow rejuvenating!
As a filmmaker, what is it like to tell stories with audio exclusively?
My films always treat the soundtrack with the respect it deserves, as at least 50 percent of the cinema experience, if not more. Alongside that, I'm not interested in dialogue - there's too much talking around us already. I'm passionate in the belief that narrative flow and progress can be related through sound alone - no need to spoon-feed and explain everything in words. So it seems very natural to me to tell stories with audio. It's important to remember that our experience of the world is "spatial" - we're informed and transformed by our environment, particularly by the soundscape around us. Our ears - amazing things that they are - enable us to perform a kind of travel. We can even "see" what's happening behind us without turning round. With audio elements alone, it's possible to create a convincing "place" in the darkness, which the audience can be led through, and can be positioned within, given a "point of view" from which to experience events unfolding.
Has running the APS affected your filmmaking process at all?
Yes, in as much as it's reinforced my passion for the audio side of the cinema experience and has made me take even greater care over soundtracks. There's a curious irony in a way as well, in that the feature I'm developing at the moment is a slow road movie based on the journal of a deaf man - a Sign Language user - who made a solo bicycle trip from Scotland to the Arctic Circle in Norway. Learning Sign Language as part of the research has also given me fresh insight into just how much we use our hearing to understand the world around us, but also how much we take our hearing for granted!
We're featuring three pieces on the Web site: A Sense of Place, The Modern Woodsman, and A Drinking Song. What appealed to you specifically about each of these pieces?
A Sense of Place is made by one of England's great living experimental filmmakers, and that in itself is one of the appeals. It's a very accomplished work and deals in a fresh way with severe visual impairment. It's an odd and stimulating experience to be in the dark, visualizing a place that is being described by someone who cannot actually see it with her own eyes. It's like some odd form of telepathy.
The Modern Woodsman is surreal and funny in a subtle and subversive way. It's also very well structured, almost like a song. It's what's "left out" that makes the piece so intriguing - we're left guessing, wanting more. I might suggest that Adam Clitheroe create a sequel . . . Return of the Modern Woodsman, maybe?
A Drinking Song is a playful recording by Holger Mohaupt, a German artist based in Scotland. The family we hear are his in-laws who live in New England. It's disarmingly simple and works on so many levels. We're witnessing a "family scene" which is quite intimate - there's a discomfort in that, but it's balanced by the curiosity of the voyeur within us. The Star Spangled Banner is loaded with a multiplicity of meanings and connections - it's a very emotive song. National anthems are curious beasts - around this table you can sense a mixture of responses to the singing of the song. It starts out faltering, a little shyly, but gathers pace and strength. By the end we're left with the two singers who know all the words (or who are at least prepared to sing all the words!) . . . and they sound quite emboldened by it . . . but then, in the following silence, a joke is made, and the "momentary nationalism" has passed . . . and as such, the emotional journey that we witness is a form of narrative.
What are your future plans for the show?
To get it heard in as many cinemas as possible, and to add new works along the way. Perhaps we'll think about commissioning filmmakers to put pictures to the sounds!
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