Friday, 21 September 2012

Chasing Beckett: tension and sound

As of today I'm starting work on a sound design and pre-recorded score for Chasing Beckett, a dark comedy showing at the London Theatre in New Cross from the 9th to the 14th of October.

It's a very enclosed piece - a hostage situation in a small but classy upstairs flat, and the dialogue between the hostage and the captor.

Reading the script I thought of Hitchcock's Rope - a very different piece but with a similar tension to it. Rope's use of sound is truly inspiring: almost all the sound is diegetic, with the exception of the music at the beginning and end of the film. Within this diegetic sound are key instances of music, most notably a recurring piano piece that one of the main characters plays, Poulenc's Trois Mouvement's Perpetuals. It's a beautiful piece but a very strange one, a mix of constancy and surprise that perfectly reflects the experimental intellectual criminality of the narrative.

Here is Poulenc himself playing it - a little faster than others have interpreted it:

The fact that a character plays a piece that itself is a perfect soundtrack marks a brilliant merging of diegetic and non-diegetic ideas - the effect is to heighten the realism of the performance through stylisation, rather than detract from it. Stylising represented reality in this way - as in expressionist painting, or poetic prose - has the effect of placing sensation and emotion on the same level as image and sound; arguably, the position they occupy in actual perception. The tension between the two characters, the hidden knowledge and secret motivations, the clash between social convention and expectation and a fascistically anti-social acceptance of violence - all become elevated to the conditions of music; no longer replicating or imitating reality but creating it anew; 'all the others translate,' says Auden - taking on musical qualities takes us beyond translation to creation.

There's a brilliant essay on way that music in Rope corresponds to subversive sexuality, Unheard Sexualities.

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