Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Sound Off


Looking down McCaul street from the Cinematheque at the CN Tower and the top of the OCAD building.

Like a small bug flying toward that zapper on the house porch I decided today to take in some art. When it comes to attending art exhibits and things it's usually a hit or miss with me. They always seem interesting at first glance but as you get nearer, just before you get zapped, you wonder how did you get there, and more importantly, how do you get out?

My friend Emmanuel told me about this "film thing" taking place at the Art Gallery of Ontario's cinematheque. The small side theatre of the AGO featured work done by Seoungho Cho, an artist flown all the way here from New York city. The event was free, took place at a good time (6:30pm), included film, and was free. Did I say it was free?

It wasn't until I sat down in the theatre while waiting for Emmanuel to arrive that I noticed all the "artsie fartsie" people wearing black rimmed glasses and black sweaters surrounding me. Past experiences of art horror rushed into my mind. All those "experimental" films that I saw years ago that actually might have been visually pleasing all had one thing in common. Really bad sound.

There's bad sound like dubbing the characters swearing in the breakfast club to saying "well, DAMN you" where the sound doesn't really match the lips then there's the really bad sound. The sound where you want to do violent things, throw up, pass out or maybe just get irritable.

It's almost like the artists went out of their way to find the crappiest pieces of recording equipment this planet has to offer then use them improperly on purpose. It's been proven that classical music does something soothing to people by affecting their brain waves. On the opposite end of the scale listening to most newby artsie films makes me irritable and annoyed.

Still this particular artist was flown in from New York. Obviously someone thinks his work is interesting enough. He did, after all, get a grant to do his first film to be shown at the theatre that night. Eventually Emannuel showed up and I told him my concerns about the impending doom, the audio track.

Emmanuel has this very positive way about him. I'm not really sure how to put it in words but he has a very optimistic aura that surrounds him like a bubble. Should you be lucky enough to have him as a friend the bubble engulfs you without you really realizing this. Next thing you know all is fine, your pessimistic attitude gone, and things don't really seem that impossible as before.

This put me at ease just before the cineamatheque guy got up on stage to introduce Seoungho. The introduction told us that Seoungho went to New York a few years ago (was it ten?) as a graphic artist and then somewhere down the line he switched to experimenting with film. After seeing his first film I thought maybe he should have experimented a little more with sound too.

Yes the movie had the most annoying sound track I have heard since those days long ago seeing those OCA film student movies. Although I do have to give him credit the sound samples were clearly recorded. I didn't hear any static unless it was intentional. From the TV tone generator sound (when you're watching color bars) to a dot matrix printer printing, the sounds he used made me annoyed and even angry.

As for visuals, let me start off by saying that we watched three movies before we left the theatre. The movies were only about 10 minutes each. It sounds short but if the footage only contains a thumb and index finger pulling on tape from a VHS cartridge making a tugging sound like nails on a chalk board, then throw in a butterfly loop that just happens to sync with the tugging sound, well it seemed way too long. When the credits rolled I actually noticed my hands clutching the edge of the seat and letting go.

The next film was a bit more interesting visually as it was from the point of view of a bar code reader. There were more things to look at than the VHS tape movie. That alone seemed a bit entertaining. The sound was a bit more irritating as it was the movie that featured the TV tone.

The third film had something to do with watching a water faucet with water coming out of it. The picture was edited to look like the vertical scroll on your TV wasn't adjusted. Being a playback operator this effect irritated me. I'm not sure how long the movie was cause I nodded off about two or three minutes in.

Before, I mentioned I had only seen three movies. It's because I fell asleep through the third so that one doesn't really count. The forth movie was something metallic spinning. It took me a while to figure out that it was a drill bit we were looking at close up. This was the movie that featured the on going dot matrix printing noise which was in sync to the rotating bit. When the credits rolled on this one we noticed some people wander out of the theatre. This was our big chance. We decided to make a break for the exit in the dark before the next film started.

Once out in the well lit hall I noticed that we were followed by a rather large crowd also escaping the next film's wrath. I kind of felt sorry for the artist but then I thought "Someone paid for him to come here." and there's people still in the theatre who probably love the stuff. The horrible feeling of guilt I had melted away. Being out of the theatre was like taking off a really small uncomfortable shoe. It really felt good to be outside.

1 comment:

robin said...

"those days long ago seeing those OCA film student movies" - I went to OCA, way back when, when I existed; but I did video, but my sound still really, really sucked. I choose to blame the rotten equipment...