In the final part of RA's collaboration with AIAIAI, Pearson Sound, Avalon Emerson and Lucy soundtrack a video by the multimedia artist Daniel Swan.
For the final part of Frequency Response, Pearson Sound, Avalon Emerson and Lucy were given the same four-minute video by Daniel Swan and were asked to produce a soundtrack. The video's concept was withheld to encourage an unbiased response. For his part, we simply asked Swan to provide three-to-five-minute clip based on a subject that interested him at the time. Swan is most widely known for his distinctive music videos for artists like Jam City, Rustie, RL Grime, Django Django, Life Sim and George FitzGerald. He's exhibited at the Barbican and the ICA in London, and has worked with clothing lines such as Adidas, Cottweiler and Primitive. Like much of his best work, Swan's Frequency Response video sits at an intersection between real-life clarity and dreamlike abstraction.
"I wanted to look at recent images of war as if viewed through the unemotional eye of a circling machine," he says. "I used photographs of the aftermath of bomb attacks, drawing greyscale height maps for them that were used to roughly reconstruct the contours of the places in the photographs by displacing their surfaces. The boundaries of the photographs form three dimensional plate sections when extruded, each one containing distorted structures and wreckage, displaced first by the actual blast and then again by the 2D to 3D conversion.
"The new landscapes present a lava flow of human details amongst the wrecked homes and warped bicycles, broken house bricks and plastic buckets, all humanity removed by the digital process as the machine observes the data and processes it to the level it requires."
I haven't written music for film for quite a few years now, so I was thrilled when RA asked me to score a response to the Daniel Swan piece. My previous film work wasn't written to picture so it was great to have a specific length and clear mood to work with. I think Daniel's film is amazing—I found it very sinister. I interpreted his piece as being a comment on modern warfare and its use of drones and computer equipment. Post-9/11, the grainy black and white footage from military drones has sadly become a common part of news broadcasts. I also liked how Daniel includes recognisably human elements in the film, such as the crate of tea and a bicycle, while at the same time the landscape has been warped and shaped in a very alien way—not to mention the fact that his rendered landscape is suspended in a grey void.
I began the task by spending some time with the film and making notes about elements and textures that I felt were important to include as well as the structure of my score. I realised early on that I wanted to include layers of distorted natural and organic sounds to mimic Daniel's warped but recognisably human landscape. I also layered lots of textures in the background, as well as including some really high-pitched sounds—I've read how people living in areas "patrolled" by drones have described their menacing overhead sound as like mosquitos. The main difficulty I encountered was that my initial efforts weren't structured right, and I wasn't letting the atmospheres develop enough. After a little break from it and some helpful feedback from my girlfriend I finished it off. I had hoped to mix the audio in 5.1 surround sound but thanks to being sick for a week I ran out of time unfortunately. I'm excited to hear how the other artists involved have interpreted the film, as I'm sure they've responded in completely different ways.
Before this project, I was familiar with Daniel Swan's contemporary stamp of ultra-surrealist colours and bodies in CGI environments. This piece, with its drone-footage-esque computer-aided renderings drew out a lot of melancholic darkness in me, compounded by the video's grayscale and terse cuts between shots.
Though emotion is always very present in my work, I found that I was able to focus on a more collage-like dreamy palette with this video prompt. I took what normally I find to be the drama or emotion-driving sheen to my music, the melodies, textures, and wrote an entire piece with essentially just those elements.
Technically speaking, for me personally, producing effective dance floor music can seem more pragmatic and straightforward than creating a non-functional abstract piece. For me the clear-cut demands of catering to a dance floor often feel more like a healthy challenge rather than a restriction. This project was a nice departure from the time-based pressure and release of the dance music paradigm. I built upon sketches of textural sonic explorations I've been working on for the past few months with Ableton and Max.
Topics like war dynamics and causes / consequences of human violence have been of major interest for me and significantly inspirational for my music production. In Daniel Swan's video we see houses and streets that have been demolished by bombs and missile attacks, extruded to a degree that places those sequences in between flat photo, sculpture, 3D modelling and video game architecture. Working on the right soundscape for this intense piece came quite effortlessly, as it does when something is highly inspirational.
The process was very simple in its composition, projecting Swan's video on repeat in front of me while I was synthesising and processing sound in real time. My modular system and my old Korg system were of primary importance in the drone building process, and no laptop was involved. Once I was satisfied with the structure of the drone voices, I started recording several takes to reel-to-reel tape. Finally, I chose the one that was a truer expression of the deep sense of dis-humanity that Swan showed me with his footage.
The main point was for me to describe sonically a post-emotional place, where things had gone so far and beyond any thinkable moral system that no compassion is possible any longer. A place where the only remaining trait of humanity is contemplation, with no judgment allowed. It's a somehow sad, warm and still human soundtrack, but nevertheless shows a scary side of human-caused violence, which is what Kubrick described as "Jupiter And Beyond The Infinite": extreme and continuous violence brings us to a state of post-morality, where pure contemplation takes the place of critical judgment. This is what I call a sense of dystopia.