‘Come and See’: Review

College, Film Reviews, research

I looked blindly at her eyes, unable to recognise her; the blood from her mouth and her thighs seemed to originate in the same wound deep inside her; I was sure I’d been in love with her, but I couldn’t feel the mud on my face or the gun in my arms or the tearing of my lips. I’m still unsure it was her, and I know Florya was equally unsure, and the moment is soul destroying for this very reason. After two hours of intense subjectification, I was finally there with him; Florya is seeing a woman’s broken and raped body walking through the carnage and he feels it like it’s the girl he loves, and we – the audience – see it as though it’s the girl we love – our sister, our lover, our daughter. Perhaps this moment would take on another meaning if I could entirely avoid ‘the male gaze’, perhaps a far more atrocious one, but the relationship built between the protagonist (Florya) and ‘the girl he loves’ (Glasha), and the fact that we are forced into Florya’s viewpoint throughout the film, seems to invite us to experience this horrific event in parallel to Florya – as I did, much to my own anguish.

Come and See grabs your arm and tugs you innocently into the life of Florya. The film starts with a scene embodying the excitement of a danger you’re yet to fully understand. Then we are made to understand. This only accentuates the feeling of dread when we see Florya’s harrowingly naïve smile thrown at the camera over and over – the smile rising from his belief that he’ll be tugged gently towards heroism by joining the resistance movement.

The use of subjectification is perhaps the most powerful element of this film. Using subjective sound – both realistic and impressionistic – creates an immersive world, but leaves you stranded with only the experience of the characters. It creates the illusion of an expansive world by limiting your view of that world: the sonic experience of Come and See is intense and almost cluttered, but frequently seems incomplete, therefore you’re forced to auralise the space beyond the explicit sonic environment. The subjectivity of the soundscape gives you the explanations for everything you cannot hear, removing the need to hear everything.

on sonic art - mental reconstruction of an image from masked data with text

This, when coupled with the meandering camera movement, creates a sense of freedom and space while attaching you to the perspective of characters. This experience is at its most intense directly after Florya and Glasha narrowly escape the German dive bombers; Florya loses his hearing, resulting in the near loss of the diegetic sound for the next twenty minutes of the film. This sequence is particularly poignant due to it being simultaneously the closest we get to Florya’s perspective, and it being the most relatable section of the film – we understand the charming moments the pair of teenagers share while they’re alone, together. Looking back on this sequence, I immediately saw it as respite from the harsh world of the film, but I later realised it was pivotal in creating the heart wrenching finale I opened with.

I can only see one serious flaw with this film, and that’s the transition between the moments before the Soviet soldiers overpower the SS death squad, and the scene in which we witness their execution. Watching this sequence, I was unable to pinpoint the moment at which the balance of power was reversed. Perhaps this was simply a stylistic decision in order to heighten the feeling of uncertainty over the righteousness of the Soviet executioners, but on first viewing – and currently only viewing, as I dread experiencing it again – it gives the whole sequence a momentum that doesn’t give certain events the time they need to settle.

Overall, this film is harrowingly honest. Come and See is possibly the most powerful war film I’ve ever seen, and is certainly the most thoroughly anti-war film I’ve ever seen. There is no hero. There is no winner.


Nine – Inspiration or Adaptation?

Blog The Week, College

This blog post is just my thoughts on adaptation and inspiration, and why I’ve chosen to create a work inspired by The Willows, instead of an adaptation. I have also included my first audio blog (below), which is just a few minutes of my morning – perhaps try listening and reading at the same time, it’ll be less boring.

As I have tried to make clear from the beginning of this project, my piece is not an ‘adaptation’ of a story (The Willows) it is a piece inspired by the story. For me to truly understand and accept this has proved difficult; the most common question I find myself asking is, ‘What is the difference between an adaptation and an inspiration?’ Now, to define that might sound easy: an inspiration is a personal link to a piece of work, an idea that comes to you when or after experiencing the work, it’s more immediate than an adaptation and there isn’t necessarily a perceptible link between your final piece and the original; to counter that, an adaptation is – or should be – carefully considered, your final piece is a different version of the original story, and time is taken to ensure there is a direct link between the two. Furthermore, an adaptation has a certain responsibility to stay ‘true’ to the original work; as opposed to the inspiration’s responsibility to be independent from the original – if only to avoid claims of plagiarism. However, it’s not always that simple, and almost all compositional adaptations are examples in which a clear narrative link to the original work is only perceptible after a level of analysis that would – most likely – reveal any inspirations the composer had during the process of creating the piece. Which is why so many concept albums fall into the ‘loosely based on’ category; for example, Pink Floyd’s Animals is ‘loosely based on’ George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and saying it’s an adaptation would be inaccurate – although it’s conceptually similar, and the connection between the two works is clearly perceptible when listening to the album, there is a certain freedom Roger Waters exercises beyond that commonly accepted when adapting a work.

For me the choice was easy, I wasn’t going to restrict myself to adapting the story – partly because I knew it’d be so difficult to do so. This choice was made a little easier by the age of the story; legally I have the right to plagiarise it as much as I like, as it’s in the public domain – which is actually one of the reasons I am such an advocate for less strict copywrite law, it removes the element of fear when working with existing material, which for me at least allows for a more creative workflow. Having decided to just let my inspiration flow, after reading and studying the story, I’ve been able to take incredibly abstract things from the text – for instance the river intensity graph mentioned in blog ‘Eight‘.

Despite choosing such a loose way of representing and appreciating The Willows within my piece, it’s been difficult to know what is reasonable to lift from the story, and what is practical. All I wanted to capture from the story was the feeling of sublime horror I experienced reading it, and this meant I had to isolate that and lift that from the text. In attempting to do this I have experimented with isolating each part I can see: I’ve taken words from the text, thinking perhaps its essence might lie in its linguistic techniques; I’ve tried replicating its pacing, but I’ve get to create enough material to do so properly; I’ve tried using the series of events, but doing so is clearly lacking the essence I’m trying to reuse. I’m yet to find a way of isolating the feeling, and perhaps I need to go about it differently, maybe achieving the same feeling the text elicits – using sound – requires coming at it from a different perspective.

I’m yet to find a solution, but I’m just going to keep making things and thinking about how to say the things I want to say – maybe it’ll all click. Thanks for reading.

Recording and Processing Vocals

College, experiments, planning, research

Due to my love of writing poetry – I would say ‘songs’, but I’m no singer – I decided to experiment with writing and recording some words inspired by The Willows. This (below) is what I came up with after about a day and a half.

Disregarding the rowing sounds at the end, and the flute – though it’s barely recognisable – this track is made up of six voice recordings. The recordings are each in a different location within my bedroom; they were recorded with a pair of Rode M5s, in a cross pattern (see sketch below), into a Zoom H4N.

Vocals setup one (full page)

I decided to record the vocals using several positions – there were eight recorded – for three reasons: one, I wanted to take advantage of the change in vocal quality from whispering near to the microphone and talking from a distance; two, I wanted to use the different acoustic qualities of the microphone positions to create a sense of space; three, I wanted to be able to analyse and compare these recordings in order to better understand the way in which source position effects a recording, so I may imitate 3D space more accurately in my finished piece.

Once I had my recordings I brought them into Adobe Audition, captured a noise print, then applied a batch noise reduction to all the files – just a very light reduction of the self produced noise from the Zoom.

Once denoised I brought them all into Ableton Live (below). Each voice was given a track, then I used an EQ to accentuate the acoustic qualities of each recording positionbringing up the low vocal frequencies in the close recording to accentuate the proximity effect, etc. Then each voice was given a position, the left and right recordings were pretty straightforward. Once this was done I warped each sound slightly, and cut pieces of silence between lines, until I found a synchronisation I liked – having the whisper first and the further recordings happen a little later, all in the hope of accentuating space.

ableton vocals one

Once a simple mix was established I then worked on each sound individually, I’ll take you through the process on the closest voice – the whisper – as that’s the sound with the most work done to it.

Firstly, this voice was positioned in the left of the stereo mix, I felt it needed to be predominately coming from one side to sound like an external voice, as opposed to a voice in your head. I also wanted to keep the voice sounding as though it was moving slightly closer; to do this I had the sound move from the left to the right, very subtly, and then resetting between lines. Secondly, I needed to EQ the voice with the movement I wanted it to make. As you can hear at the end of this test, the voice moves slightly overhead and from the left to the right. To achieve the attitudinal movement I used an EQ to bring out some of the higher tones as it moved from left to right, I also used a volume control to drop the level of the sound to give a sense of distance between the listener and the sound as it moved overhead.

As you can see, not a lot was done to each voice – no reverb or chorusing effects – but the method of recording in several positions allowed me to create an interesting effect, that could be easily manipulated just using the volume and panning of each track.

Practising Sound Morphing in Ableton Live

College, experiments, sketch

So, having a lot of ideas about what I wanted my piece to say, I took to learning how to say thing with this new medium I’ve become interested in – sonic art, particularly electroacoustic music. My first experiments were in Adobe Audition, however I had to abandon that piece of software as automating the individual parameters within different effects is incredibly time consuming – it’s clearly not designed for a non-destructive automation workflow. I’ve been getting to grips with Ableton Live for the last few days, and it’s incredible intuitive. In this post I will be discussing my process using this software to transform sounds I obtained from Freesound into the piece you can hear below.

This (above) was my forth attempt at building The River (see other post on The Willows and my FMP). In this iteration I cause it to morph into the sounds of a road towards the end. I am quite happy with the result, though I feel the white water stage isn’t present for long enough and doesn’t properly assert itself as a stage in the lifetime of the river. This isn’t the exact transformation the river will take over the course of my finished piece – nor are the sounds necessarily the ones I will be using – but it was a chance to practice.

The process – step by step, sound by sound
  • The first sound you can hear is the sound of a drop of water falling onto a metal pan. My idea for this was to start closer to a footsteps within a large space – though I didn’t totally achieve this, and should’ve probably used that sound as well as the drip if I wanted that sound event to be clearer – then move this sound closer to an legible dripping. The first thing I did was to loop a single drip, as I thought the footsteps would be more uniform than normal dripping. I attempted to allude to the footsteps by panning the dripping left to right with each drip, representing how each foot would be a different side – although one is never between footsteps as to hear them like that, but I wanted use that motion as I enjoyed the idea of an nearly-impossible movement being believable, something I enjoy about sound. I also used an eight band equalizer to take out the highest frequencies and boost to lowest tones, then I automated these tones back into the sound as we get closer to the legible dripping. I also used a reverb on this sound, with a long delay to create a large space for the ‘footsteps’ and automated it out towards the end to place the drips in a smaller space – this also had a low-cut filter applied, in an attempt to isolate the mid-tones a little more to create a more impactful sound.
  • There is also a recording of an electric guitar that I added some reverb to and then faded the track in after the guitar attack just so we had the sound resonate. This recording was on analogue cassette tape – a lo-fi set up – and I just used and equalizer  to bring out a little bit of the hiss in the upper mid-tones. This hiss, and the whole sound, builds as the dripping does, in an attempt become symbolise the wind building as we go from an indoor space – with the high levels of reverb – and the location of the river.
  • The next sound is dripping into a body of water. This time I looped seven drips, so it was already less uniform than the dripping that started as footsteps – or my allusion to footsteps. I synced these drips with the first set of drips, then faded them in. I started with a little reverb on these to match the reverb on the first drips, but it fades to a dryer mix quite quickly. Then I added a simple delay that just fades from in, after the dripping has been established. The delay was set to two different time delays on the left and right channel, and slowly drift further out of sync, filling the stereo image. This sound also had an equalizer add some bass tones in the beginning, to match the first sound more closely, then fades them out as the dripping becomes more intense.
  • The next sounds were two separate recordings of the same river, I simple panned one hard left and the other hard right, just to fill that stereo space. I’m not sure how it worked really, but I do like the sound I ended up with, and I did notice that when listening through loudspeakers I no longer experience the phenomenon of locating all the sound to the closest speaker – my mind seemed to locate the river as two separate sounds, which gave me a fuller experience when moving within my listening space (between two speakers) – which I will bare in mind when creating omnipresent sounds for playing through stereo speakers. These sounds simply fade in, however they were equalized to match more closely to the first sounds, and that equalization fade back to their natural sound over time. The same goes for a small amount of reverb. These sounds stay present until the car sounds are heard, when they are faded out quickly.
  • This next sound is a fast flowing river – a simple sound that I looped about twenty seconds of. This sound was, again, equalized to match the other sounds then faded in – then, of course, allowed to drift back to its natural tone. This equalization mainly tackled the high frequencies and the low frequencies, leaving the mid-tones intact. Once the faster river was established I brought in more of the bass tones and dropped some of the higher frequencies, alluding to its gaining mass. This sound fades in slowly, then even more gradually increases in volume until the end, which is when it is panned right with the stereo recording of the car and increases in volume drastically before fading to nothing as the car takes the foreground.
  • The final sound is a stereo recording of sound cars on a fast moving road. All I did for this recording was to fade it in at the peak of the previous sound, and panned it from slightly left to centre as the first car came in – just accentuating that movement a little. I also used an equalizer to remove some of the highest frequencies to take attention away from the engine sounds and rely more on the movement, this was just to help the crossfade sound more natural.

ableton river one test

Eight – de/reconstructing ‘The Willows’ by Algernon Blackwood (FMP)

Blog The Week, College, planning

My main goal for this week has been to get the narrative of The Willows – and by ‘narrative’ I mean the physical events, distinct mental changes within the characters, and the rough pacing of the story – from a 15,000 word novella to a manageable list/set of incidents that I can use as a starting point for my piece. Then, from this set of incidents, I hope to extract sounds that can be used as motifs for those incidents; the goal is to simplify the events of the story, to avoid an incoherent mess of sounds – as my compositional abilities are not really of a standard to be able to coordinate too many complex sounds.

The first step in this process was to refine the narrative into bullet points. I’ve called this my ‘Key Event Breakdown‘, it’s a series of sentences summarising the situation and/or mental state of the characters at each ‘key event’ in the narrative. The sentences focus on one specific occurrence at a time – be that an important piece of dialogue, a change in scenery, or just a change of heart – with specific attention paid to the events that might merit the introduction of a new sound, or the resurgence of an establish motif. There is a total of 62 ‘events’ in my current version of this breakdown, however I believe this is probably a more detailed breakdown than I will be able to achieve during my piece – but I thought I’d share it for the sake of those studying The Willows in any capacity, the document is linked above but I’ll also be releasing a separate post containing the breakdown.

With this event breakdown I plan to start mapping the volume/intensity, pitch, location and the timbre of certain ever-present elements – like the river, the humming later in the story, or the wind. My first port of call was to draw a simple graph mapping the intensity of the river over time, based on how close the river is – drawing ever nearer as the island is washed away – and the frequency and way in which it’s mentioned. I will be elaborating on this graph with other qualities of the sound embodiment of the river – I say ‘sound embodiment’ simple because I don’t plan for it to be a single sound, rather a series of sound that merge with one another to symbolise the river’s ‘attitude’. To create this graph (pictured below) I took the first 15 events (part I) in my ‘Key Event Breakdown‘ and, having them numbered, placed them onto the original text. Then I broke the original text into paragraphs, numbering each one. From there I could draw my time axis and roughly label it using these paragraph markers, in a hope to retain some of the pacing of the original text in my finished piece. I plotted each of my ‘key events’ onto this graph with reference to their location in the text, and used the secondary axis for the intensity of the sound. Again, all this was to help me visualise the flow of my piece, giving me something to plot my other sound events against – much like having a visual scene and using those cues to place the effects, something I currently feel I need to do as my mind can’t really ‘visualise’ sonic events in time without some other structure.

Part one river sound graph (both)

(As you can see, there is one point at which the graph has two lines, this was just to remind me the overall intensity of the scene shouldn’t diminish, despite the river doing so, something I won’t need once I have my other graphs and notational material.)

I imagine there will be many more posts on the way I deconstruct and reconstruct the narrative of The Willows, but that’s it for this post. Thanks for reading.