Fri, May 19, 2006 - Page 17 News List

How to watch sound?

An ambitious program of films being screened by POPCinema aims to explore the visual treatments of music

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

Silence Room, a festival highlight.

PHOTO COURTESY OF SPOT

Sound is intangible, it leaves no trace but permeates our senses, memories and even ways of thinking, and sometimes moves us to an almost unbearable degree. How then can one capture the elusiveness of sound in a visual form? The most academically ambitious program of the POP Cinema (國民戲院) to date, the Imprint of Sound Conversation of Sound and Image festival (聲音的痕跡-影像 vs. 音樂影展) doesn't answer that question, but does shed light on the related perceptions of images and sound.

"It's impossible to film sound as it has no fixed language and refuses objectification through language. Musical films usually employ emotive elements such as dramas to represent music. But in this program, I want to introduce a new way of seeing and a new form of filming sounds and music," the festival's curator Wang Pai-chang (王派章) said.

Putting aside the festival's philosophical rhetoric, the lineup of 25 fictional, documentary and experimental films presents fascinating works by legendary filmmakers including Satyajit Ray, John Cassavetes, Jean-Luc Godard and Michael Snow. The sheer sound of their names conjures up the incomparable achievement of cinema as an art form. To help audiences navigate these masterpieces and their cinematic representation of sound, the films are broadly grouped into three categories: Music and Memory, Music and Speech, and Music and Self-Destruction.

The relation between memory and music and the art of sound is an art of time, Wang said.

Sound enters our senses, occupies our bodies and dissipates, leaving traces registered in memories that appear more real than reality itself.

Tosca's Kiss by Swiss director Daniel Schmid and Sound of Brazil by Finnish director Mika Kaurismaki illustrate the translation of music from inside to outside through individuals' perceptions and memories.

Tosca's Kiss is a touching documentary about a group of elderly musicians who live in the Milan retirement home founded by Giuseppe Verdi in 1896. They are classical music professionals who never made it big and now, long forgotten, live lives full of memories. Sound of Brazil is the director's anthro-pological encounter with the colorful diversity of Brazil's musical culture as both an insider, he lived in the country for more than 12 years, and outsider.

Voted one of the 100 most important films in cinema history by the influential French film magazine Cahiers du Cinema, the award-winning film Step Across the Border opens up a dialogue on music so as to create, rather then represent, music. Improvised music and cinema come into existence at the very moment of their collision in the road movie which follows English composer and musician Fred Frith's journey in search of music around the world.

Godard's dialectic collage of the rock band Rolling Stones One Plus One Sympathy for the Devil is also about the forming, or rather the becoming, of music, which is woven into his poignant cultural and political critique. Silent Room by the Canadian duo of audio and visual artists Dominique Skoltz and Herman Kolgen is a cinematic poem without words, offering a set of nightmare-like tableaux evolving around an idea, a thought and an impulse that defy language.

A painter, pianist, composer and sculptor, Canadian experimental master Michael Snow explores the relation between seeing and hearing in New York Eye and Ear Control in which the two forms of artistic expression, which stand independently of one another, co-existence to manifest human consciousness.

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