THE MALAISE OF MODERNITY [2018]

A Cinema of Noise collection exploring the film works of Hiroshi Teshigahara [1927-2001], Michelangelo Antonioni [1912-2007] and Film Noir cinema.

We are threatened with suffering from three directions: from our body, which is doomed to decay, from the external world which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless force of destruction, and finally from our relations with other men... This last source is perhaps more painful to us than any other. [Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents p.77]

The composer Toru Takemitsu collaborated closely with a number of important Japanese New Wave directors during the 1960s. He created dramatic, pointillistic film scores that combined traditional Japanese instruments (e.g. biwa, shakuhachi) with modern prepared piano techniques and magnetic tape manipulation. The results were bold, strikingly modern and experimental. His work with Hiroshi Teshigahara in such films as Pitfall [1962], Woman of the Dunes [1964], Face of Another [1966] and The Man Without a Map [1968] provide a good overview of the unique musical language that he, together with performers Yūji Takahashi and composer Toshi Ichiyanagi, helped developed for film.

One day in 1948 while riding a crowded subway, I came up with the idea of mixing random noise with composed music. More precisely, it was then that I became aware that composing is giving meaning to that stream of sounds that penetrates the world we live in. [Toru Takemitsu, A Personal Reflection]

The Obscure Object of Desire is an amalgamation of some of this work in two parts. Part I makes extensive use of score extracts from the lesser known short White Morning that Teshigahara made in 1965, while Part II incorporates percussive elements from the film Ikebana [1957] documenting the work of his father Sōfu Teshigahara, founder and grand master of the Sōgetsu-ryū school of ikebana.

Left: Image from the final sequence in Antonioni’s  L'Eclisse  [1962]. Right: Estranged couple Lidia and Giovanni Pontano in  La Notte  [1961].

Left: Image from the final sequence in Antonioni’s L'Eclisse [1962]. Right: Estranged couple Lidia and Giovanni Pontano in La Notte [1961].

Three montages follow that explore some of the sounds and electronic noises used in Michelangelo Antonioni’s films of the early1960s. Available interviews of Antonioni discussing his treatment of music and sound suggest that he approached a film’s soundtrack with the same precision and conceptual clarity as Bergman, Bresson and Tarkovsky. For these directors sound was always deployed in poetic counterpoint to the image.

This trio of pieces is followed by the first of two long takes; continuous sound accompanying one continuous film shot. This extract comes from the the penultimate shot in The Passenger [1975]: A seven-minute long tracking shot that moves from Lock's hotel room, through the iron railings and outside into the road, before returning back to the hotel. Wind, voices, car engines, distant music, birds, footsteps on gravel, all precise sonic elements organised into a cohesive sonic description of the random activity of everyday life. Further thoughts on Antonioni can be found here.

Left: Sounds of the city and police radio chatter play over the opening title sequence to  Where the Sidewalk Ends  [1950]. Middle: Gaby Rodgers as Lily Carver in  Kiss Me Deadly  [1955]. Right: Constant, overwhelming noise sustaining a sense of tension in the train sequence from  Pickup on South Street  [1953].

Left: Sounds of the city and police radio chatter play over the opening title sequence to Where the Sidewalk Ends [1950]. Middle: Gaby Rodgers as Lily Carver in Kiss Me Deadly [1955]. Right: Constant, overwhelming noise sustaining a sense of tension in the train sequence from Pickup on South Street [1953].

The third component to The Malaise of Modernity suite are three pieces that explore the sound world of Film Noir cinema. The City offers a broad overview of the typical soundscape of the Film Noir genre. It opens with narration from the beginning of Jules Dassin’s brilliant The Naked City [1948] before making way for a montage of jazz music, traffic noise, sirens, footsteps, police radio, car horns and harbor sounds. At around the 3:30 mark a dense, prolonged train texture from Pickup on South Street [1953] emerges. (I wonder if Robert Bresson saw this picture ahead of his own pick-pocket movie made 6-years later. The tension present in the train scenes from both films is made effective I think by the constant, omnipresent noise of the train). The second piece Deadly Kiss is made up of textures taken from the bizarre end sequence from Kiss Me Deadly [1955] - a moment of noise and effects that might feel more at home in a horror or science fiction movie than a classic work of Film Noir. Regardless, this end scene works and is totally awesome. Love and Desire and Hate completes the set, presenting the brute violence of the Film Noir world. The piece ends with an eerie refrain from the film The Night of the Hunter [1955].

The second long take is from Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil [1958]. Different genres of music are heard from multiple sources, each treated differently according to the playback device or acoustic location of the sound source relative to the moving camera position. Walter Murch would later explore this kind of complex treatment of multiple diegetic music sources in George Lucas’ American Graffiti [1973]. The inclusion of the extract here is a nod to the master Orson Welles who developed approaches to sound and music way ahead of his time.