Jerusalem as Gaelic psalm singing

Originally written by William Blake, with musical accompanient later introduced in 1916 by composer Hubert Parry, ‘Jerusalem’ has recently been voted the nation’s favourite hymn. Today in these divisive times, the national unity that inspired Parry to compose the piece during the First World War feels like a distant fantasy.

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Unity here is reimagined as a plunderphonic reworking of the hymn inspired by the Gaelic psalm sining tradition of the Outer Hebrides. For a recently reissued survey of this beautiful music, check out the Salm releases on the Arc Light Editions label.

Soothing Gong Bath for Stressful Souls: An alternative music guide

You’re tired from work, frazzled and on edge as your country heads towards political meltdown. Time for a gong bath to help alleviate our modern malaise. Go on, enjoy yourself. You deserve it. Sell your soul for some soothing resonance.

Image: David Pearson/Rex/Shutterstock

Image: David Pearson/Rex/Shutterstock

The guardian newspaper recently reported that gong baths are the new thing in workplace wellness, as our personal and collective anxieties continue to fuel an ever-expanding multi-billion dollar healthcare industry. That’s just wonderful. But what alternatives to these alternatives are on offer for the more adventurous consumer? Here are five theraputic treatments that present the intripid listener with gong resonance of a different kind:

1. Two Gongs [1971] by Rhys Chatham.

A physically-demanding sonic exploration, Two Gongs stands the test of time as a classic of 1970s minimalism-noise music. This recording, later released on The Table of the Elements, was made by Phill Niblock at his Experimental Intermedia Foundation on December 16th, 1988. Joyful noise.

2. Music for Gamelan Instruments, Microphones, and Loudspeakers [1999] by Alvin Lucier

Combining studies in acoustics, music composition and theatre, across a career spanning nearly six decades, experimental composer Alvin Lucier has created a truly unique body of work. Several years ago I witnessed this piece live at the Feedback festival in London; a mesmerising experience for the eye as much as the ear, proving that even the purest exploration of sonic phenomena can give rise to a highly engaging theatrical performance.

3. Mikrophonie I [1964] by Karlheinz Stockhausen

I’d like to try the recording below as a score in a film, because it sounds fantastic. Especially with the audible artefacts of the magnetic tape - delightful crunchiness. Mikrophonie I is a study in microphones and objects set upon a tam-tam gong. “The microphone would have to become a musical instrument and, on the other hand, through its manipulation, influence the characteristics of the sounds” writes the composer. More than a science, this slice of classic electroacoustic Stockhausen theatre is well-worth witnessing in the flesh.

4. Tonggeret [1987] by Idjah Hadidjah

My introduction to Jaipong music and one of my favourite Indonesian records, Tonggeret is a beautiful suite of soothing tunes performed by Idjah Hadidgah and her West Java Gamelan ensemble. Originally released on Nonesuch in the late eighties at a time when contemporary and traditional Indonesian music was finding a wider audience, this record always take me back to santai times under the tropic sun.

5. Mangkunegaran Karawitan [2006] - practice recorded by Rob Szeliga

Gong Ageng is the largest hanging gong in Javanese gamelan. It is also the lowest-pitched gong in the gamelan. It is to believe that Gong Ageng is the spirit of the gamelan, hence, it is the most respected item in a gamelan. [seasite.niu.edu]

A selection of gong music just wouldn’t be complete without a full Gamelan ensemble. It’s difficult to know where to begin with so many recordings available. In the end I’ve decided to offer a piece from my own archives, something I recorded at The Mangkunegaran Palace in Surakarta in 2006.

Every Sunday morning performers would congregate inside the pendopo to practice the most elegant form of central Javanese court music. On one such occasion I attended the practice where I made this recording. Here you can hear the reverberant sound of children and birds intermingling with the sonorities of the gamelan. The following year I relocated to Yogyakarta, the other great centre of court tradition, to study Karawitan music for a year. More can be read about this time here.

….GOONNGG!

Price of Secrecy [2019] - radio atlas

It was a pleasure to work with the highly talented Zoha Zokaei on Price of Secrecy - a podcast series in Farsi about unspoken secrets . Storytelling can take many forms. This alternative episode, the fifth and final in the podcast series, was an attempt to explore a different kind of storytelling form by combining interviews in the present between Zoha and the therapist, with a highly stylised treatment of music and sound to portray the (imagined) psychological journey of the lead character.

Price of Secrecy is a fictionalised podcast series that addresses some of the legal, social, cultural and familial constraints that contribute to the silence around the issue of child sexual abuse in Iran. At the heart of the series is the question - 'why, as members of society, are we failing to listen to the victims of child sexual abuse?'. A question that takes the responsibility of breaking the silence away from the victim and introduces it as a social responsibility.

More information here
To listen to all five episodes in the series go to: http://price-of-secrecy.com
Supported by http://www.radioatlas.org/

Filmfarsi [2019]

Our artistic urges are formed out of a particular time and place; that which shows up as available at the time. Like all other art-forms, film does not appear in a vacuum but always emerges out of a particular context of people, power and technology. An awareness of the context informs an understanding of the medium in its totality, and how it operates under the present conditions of modern life. Film is never just 24 framed images a second.

And so to a project about the medium and its place in a particular world. An informative and highly entertaining examination of pre-revolution film culture in Iran, Ehsan Khoshbakht’s Filmfarsi [2019] is as much for fans of world cinema as it is for scholars of Iranian film history. Constructed in the style of an essay film, Filmfarsi is a colourful mosaic of forgotten films, scratchy archive footage and voice-over, all set to an electrifying soundtrack of romantic film scores and psychedelic acid rock. An important historical period that urgently needs wider recognition.

Director: Ehsan Khoshbakht
Sound Designer: Rob Szeliga
Additional Sound Editor: John Cohen

More information here.

Naptha [2018]

Naptha screens this month at Cannes Film Festival as part of the the festival’s Critics Week section.

Faraz’s quiet life working at an isolated petrol station is turned upside down when his ageing father, Malik, begins to speak in a long-forgotten language and insists on returning back home. More information here.

Director: Moin Hussain
Supervising Sound Editor: Rob Szeliga
Dialogue Editor: John Cohen
Composer: Tim Morrish

Balcony [2015]

Balcony [2015] was a short fiction film I worked on soon after finishing film school. It went on to win the Berlin Crystal Bear prize the following year and enjoyed a long and fruitful life on the festival circuit. To date it’s the most successful piece I’ve worked on. It’s now online as Vimeo’s Staff Pick Premiere for this week.

More information here.

LBNF/#TradWives/Granbad/Time Tree

Short film trailers and recent online content:

Lost But Not Forgotten [2019] - Director: Stuart Hacksaw • Sound Design: Rob Szeliga

In the summer of 1930, after thousands of years of habitation, the St Kildans made the difficult decision to abandon their remote island home in the North Atlantic Ocean, and adjust to life on the mainland. The modern world had made its presence known, and severed a tie to an ancient way of life, bringing an end to an incredible story of survival.


#TradWives [2019] - Director: Anna Snowball • Sound Design: Rob Szeliga • Real Stories Original

#TradWives observes a new women's movement emerging in the USA focused on reverting to the values of traditional housewives of the 50s and early 60s, through the story of a Chicago divorcée.


Granbad [2018] - Director Annabel Vine • Sound Design: John Cohen and Rob Szeliga

A dyslexic boy inadvertently shows a bully that it isn’t ‘soppy’ to love your Granddad and like spending time with him.


The Time Tree [2018] - Director Celine Cotran • Sound Design: John Cohen and Rob Szeliga

Based on the children’s novel by the best-selling author Enid Richemont, The Time Tree is a story that combines coming-of-age with magical realism. 1596. Anne, a deaf girl, bullied by the maids and mistresses who look after her, finds solace when she comes across a magical tree: a portal to the present, where she meets Jo and Rachel, who help her overcome her disability in a way she could never have imagined. 



Phyllida Barlow [2019]

My relationship with sculpture has to be adverturous. Almost on the edge of being beyond my control….I like to use chance to allow accidents and mistakes to become part of what I’m doing…I like the idea of work being very impractical and very illogical, and not a nice tidy thing that comes out of a box. [Phyllida Barlow]

I find what British sculptor Phyllida Barlow has to say about art and the creative process inspiring. And yet I knew nothing of her art before working on Cosima Spender’s fascinating documentary Phyllida Barlow. It was only through listening to her interviews and watching her in the studio that I came to a better understanding of not only her work, but contemporary sculpture in general.

Her Cul-de-sac exhibition currently running at the Royal Academy is an experience I highly recommend. Experience because confronting these giant forms in the exhibition space feels exhilarating, visceral, emotionally moving. Something mysterious in that moment when one’s body encounters large or unfamilar objects outside oneself. The meaning emerging not from imported ideas, references or representations but from the unique, the very primordial physicality of the encounter in space. Today I feel these kind of opportunities to reclaim our own worldly-spatiality call out to us with urget importance.

Director: Cosima Spender
Editor: Manuela Lupini
Music: Tara Creme
Sound Design: Rob Szeliga

More information here.

Colin McPhee and the Music of Bali

In 1929 the Canadian-born composer Colin McPhee [1900-1964] chanced upon a set of rare gramophone recordings of Balinese gamelan music. This music, with a “mystery that was quite overpowering” sent McPhee on a quest to the island of Bali where he lived for much of the 1930s.

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Settling into the community and hungry to learn about this otherworldly music, the composer-ethnomusicologist immersed himself in the islands rich cultural heritage, its alluring sensuous charm. In 1947 he published an account of his time there in the book A House in Bali. I recently reread my copy and discovered a beautifully evocative passage. Though much has undoubtedly transformed over the years, the description here stirs in me my own memories of the island, as well as other personal encounters with music and sound during my time in Indonesia.

During the day there was the incessant clang of bells from the pony carts that filled the streets, and the asthmatic honk of buses and cars forever driving in and out of town. The crowing of a thousand cocks, the barking of a thousand dogs formed a rich, sonorous background against which the melancholy call of a passing food vendor stood out like an oboe in a symphony.

But at night, when the shops had closed and half the town was already asleep, the sounds died so completely that you could hear every leaf that stirred, every palm frond that dryly rustled. From all directions there now floated soft, mysterious music, humming, vibrating above the gentle, hollow sound of drums. The sounds came from different distances and gave infinite perspective to the night. As it grew late the music stopped. Now the silence was complete, only at long intervals pierced by a solitary voice, high, nasal, nostalgic, singing an endless tune; or else broken by the sudden hysteria of the dogs that began in a thin, single wail, rose quickly to a clamour of tormented voices and died once more into silence.

In 2006 I had the chance to visit Bali for myself to study the gamelan tradition at Flower Mountain in Payangan. Flower Mountain was the private home of American Ethnomusicologist Robert E. Brown, now used by the Center for World Music for arts and education workshops.

The short recording above comes from a gamelan performance that took place during my time there. Though I’m no gamelan expert, the combination of pulsing rhythms punctuated by violent bursts of drums and cymbals, feels to me to be a wonderful example of the exciting energy unique to the Balinese tradition.

Image: Gamelan Pelegongan of Kapal village by Colin McPhee. Source: here

Encounters with Noise in the Dark #6

Christian Marclay and Bill Viola: Two approaches to the concept of time [February 2019]

If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all” - John Cage

From September through to January 2019, the Tate Modern gallery was home to Christian Marclay’s acclaimed installation piece The Clock [2010]. Consisting of thousands of film and television clips of clocks, this epic 24-hour video montage runs on a continuous loop synchronised with real time.

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Though missing out on the opportunity to gorge at one of the gallery’s selected 24-hour screenings, I did manage to make two trips to see the piece, taking in the hours 10:30 though to 14:30. At the end of January this year as The Clock drew to a close, across the river at the Royal Academy preparations were nearing completion on a new show titled Life Death Rebirth. An exhibition bringing together the video work of Bill Viola and the drawings of Michelangelo. Though working centuries apart, these two artists express a fascination for a similar set of grand, universal themes - the human condition, the body, soul, death and the afterlife. The exhibition opened in late-January and runs till the end of March.

The first thing that struck me with Marclay’s piece was the surreal playback space. A huge room donned with sofa seats arranged at periodic intervals, orderly, grid-like…

[Read more here]

The Act of Listening #45-50

The remaining set of images from The Act of Listening series.

#50 Double Indemnity [1944] dir. Billy Wilder

Probing the recorded past: Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) listening to the ear piece in the film noir classic  Double Indemnity  [1944].

Probing the recorded past: Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) listening to the ear piece in the film noir classic Double Indemnity [1944].

#49 Late Spring [1949] dir. Yasujiro Ozu

Three perspectives of a listener: Chishū Ryū and Setsuko Hara attending the Noh performance.

Three perspectives of a listener: Chishū Ryū and Setsuko Hara attending the Noh performance.

#48 The Sword of Doom [1966] dir. Kihachi Okamoto

"I didn't see anything, but I distinctly heard sounds. Mountain winds. They rise up from deep in the valleys, blowing up the young green leaves. Beyond all you see, are endless mountain ranges that fade far away into the clouds."

Fear eats the soul: Sounds from out of the past and into the present as Ryunosuke Tsukue (Tatsuya Nakadai) wrestles with his own being.

Fear eats the soul: Sounds from out of the past and into the present as Ryunosuke Tsukue (Tatsuya Nakadai) wrestles with his own being.

#47 Ugetsu [1953] dir. Kenji Mizoguchi

Voices from beyond the grave: Noh chanting in Mizoguchi's masterpiece  Ugetsu  [1953].

Voices from beyond the grave: Noh chanting in Mizoguchi's masterpiece Ugetsu [1953].

#46 Samurai Rebellion [1964] dir. Masaki Kobayashi

Toshiro Mifune as the retired master swordsman Isaburo Sasahara.

Toshiro Mifune as the retired master swordsman Isaburo Sasahara.

#45 The Lives of Others [2006] dir. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck

“You know what Lenin said about Beethoven's Appassionata? - If I keep listening to it, I won't finish the revolution. Can anyone who has listened to this music, I mean truly heard it, really be a bad person?”

Listening man captivated by the power of Beethoven.

Listening man captivated by the power of Beethoven.

The Opening Sequence: Touch of Evil [1958]

I recently revisited one of my favourite 1950s pictures, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil [1958] currently showing on Netflix. It was the first time I’d seen the studio’s original opening sequence with the placement of title cards and the continuous Henry Mancini music.

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Great as that Mancini score is (and it really is something, check out the chunky horn and percussion work on the opening number), I do feel that the updated 1998 version - the one remade as close to Welles’ original ideas as possible - is filled with greater tension, greater mystery. Here is the soundtrack to the newly remade opening sequence:

And here is an extract from Welles’ 1957 memo to the studio, outlining how diegetic music is to be used with the carefully choreographed camera work:

I assume that the music now backing the opening sequence of the picture is temporary...

As the camera roves through the streets of the Mexican bordertown, the plan was to feature a succession of different and contrasting Latin American musical numbers - the effect, that is, of our passing one cabaret orchestra after another. In honky-tonk districts on the border, loudspeakers are over the entrance of every joint, large or small, each blasting out it's own tune by way of a "come-on" or "pitch" for the tourists. The fact that the streets are invariably loud with this music was planned as a basic device throughout the entire picture. [Source: Little White Lies]

Walter Murch who supervised the 1998 re-edit comments on this sequence in the following video. Some 25-years earlier Murch employed a similar technique of ‘worldizing’ and mixing together various recordings of music in George Luas’s coming-of-age film American Graffiti [1973].

The Act of Listening #43-44

A Michelangelo Antonioni Triptych: L'Avventura [1960], La Notte [1961] and L'Eclisse [1962] and the later masterpiece The Passenger [1975].

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Monica Vitti performing in Antoninoi's "trilogy on modernity and its discontents", followed by Jack Nicholson listening to Robertson's tape recorded voice in The Passenger [1975]. Sound piece - Antonioni: Anixety part of The Malaise of Modernity suite [2018].

Sep-Nov 2018 Projects

A selection of recent projects [Sep-Nov 2018]:

Sir John Lubbock's Pet Wasp [2018] dir. Ossie Parker & Laurie Hill • Animation
Sound Design: Rob Szeliga
More information here

Listen to My Song [2018] dir. Danny Mitchell • Documentary
Sound Design: John Cohen, Rob Szeliga
More information here

High Passes [2018] dir. Cosima Barzini • Documentary
Sound Design: Rob Szeliga
More information here

Hong Kong West Kowloon Station [2018] / [edit] • Promotional Video
Architect Andrew Bromberg at Aedas
Music and Sound: Rob Szeliga
More information here

Encounters with Noise in the Dark #5

Some brief comments on one of my favourite films this year:

I think it's a mistake to consider Oscar-winning Polish director Pawel Pawlikowski's 2018 film Cold War merely a love story. For me it is a story about love and history and Poland and cultural identity, but more than that I think it's a film about music. The act of listening and performing.

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Hard picture cuts, often led through sound or music, throw the film forward into new performance sequences teeming with energy and life. We move through time rapidly, jumping to different locations, never sticking around in one place to long. Conversations are brief, transitions between places fleeting. The experience is like watching a series of separate episodes rather than a story with a continuous narrative arch. The film also lacks a certain conventional psychological perspective…

Continue reading here.