The Cavern of Deep Tones

Background

The Cavern of Deep Tones is a live quadraphonic surround-sound music performance based on taking movie music scores and totally perverting and decimating them into shiny new objects of weird noise. The original source material is exclusively sci-fi, horror and fantasy scores by Jerry Goldsmith, which themselves have pulped and reworked conventions established by European avant-garde composers in the first half of the 20th Century.

Following half a century of Hollywood’s carney hawking of atonality as a spooky Otherness, The Cavern of Deep Tones perversely takes Goldsmith’s pulp and reshapes it back into the expanded sono-musical terrain originally envisioned by the original avant-garde. Brophy’s work is, of course, as pulped as Goldsmith’s – but more moist and visceral in its electroacoustic form. There are stings, woodwinds and brass in there, but now they breathe openly in an entirely unnatural fashion.

The concept of the connections between 20th Century atonality and popular iconography in monster/sci-fi/psycho movies is covered in two of Philip's research projects in this area: the articles Cinematic Electronics Part 2: Schizo Scherzos & Psycho Synths and Picturing Atonality Part 1: Birth of the Monstrous (from the series The Secret History of Film Music), plus the radio programme series Traces of Soundtracks.

Credits

Sampling, production & mix - Philip Brophy

1999

Dolby Surround CD released on Sound Punch
"Swarm" presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 as part of the IMMERSION series of surround sound concerts @ Treasury Theatre, Melbourne
4-channel version @ Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne

2000

4-channel remix version @ Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne
stereo remix version @ Lounge, Melbourne

2003

4-channel version as part of LIQUID ARCHITECTURE 5 @ Power House, Brisbane

2004

Excerpts - "Poltergeist" & "Swarm" presented in Dolby Surround @ Kyushu Institute of Design, Fukuoka, Japan

2008

DVD-Audio released on Sound Punch

Overview

Original press release

Philip Brophy has long been critical of the John Williams-style film score which pounds audiences with symphonic bombast. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with orchestras (not to forget that Williams has done some great film scores), but Philip goes more for the electric twang of Morricone's Once Upon A Time In The West, the subsonic pulsing of John Carpenter's Escape From New York and the richly syncopated rhythm tracks of Isaac Hayes' Truck Turner .Why do audiences presume that orchestras are 'the right thing' for film music? What is it about the majesty of a full symphony that makes people think they're getting quality for their movie dollar? Philip doesn't have the answers to those perplexing questions, but in the process of pondering such things he chanced upon a strange project: to take some movie music scores and totally pervert and decimate them into shiny new objects of weird noise. In his search for fragments of orchestral fragments which he could sample and digitally manipulate beyond recognition, Philip found that the most suitable were sci-fi, horror and fantasy scores - which traditionally have reworked conventions established by avantgarde composers like Stravinsky, Schoenbeg, Webern, Bartok, Varese, Penderecki and Ligeti.

To his amazement, Philip also found that every score he had picked out from his vast record collection was by Jerry Goldsmith. Thus, the project took a definite shape: he focused exclusively on Goldsmith's scores from the late 70s to early 80s, and constructed strange ambient pieces, each shaped from distorted milliseconds of the scores to Coma, Omen, Outland/, Alien, Swarm and Poltergeist. The result? A ride you won't get at Movieworld: The Cavern of Deep Tones.

Original programme note from 1999

A cavern sits at the end of the graveyard of the 20th century. Just to the right are lined the remains of many a dead composer. Their graves gape open; their dry skeletons still sparkling under a silvery full moon. Endless wind from the netherlands creeps across the undulating plains and whistles through the bones of the avant garde. The sound is pushed haltingly into the cavern, producing a series of deep tones. I sit in a small alcove some way into the cavern, the LEDs on my digital workstation pulsing up and down in response to these surges of sound. Strange music appears to take shape - born of a robust atonality but infected by a constrictive harmony. I am near to deciphering this music as I process it again and again. I know the names belong to Bartok, Penderecki, Stravinsky, Webern, Ligeti - but why does my computer flash up the same name again and again: Jerry Goldsmith. And why do horror movies spring so readily to mind?"

Technical

The first phase of producing The Cavern of Deep Tones involved selecting movie soundtracks that contained archetypical passages, fragments or general auras of 'brooding film music'. This naturally enough led to a selection of horror and sci-fi movie soundtracks, though possibly this was the genre I had in mind as being the type of movie music that would lead me fundamentally to the 'Other' of music in such recordings. But totally by chance, all the scores I ended up selecting were by Jerry Goldsmith. This was in part due to Goldsmith's distinctive 'borrowing' and 'reducing' of the 20th Century canon, but also to do with the pre-digital yet hi-fi recording of his late-70s/early-80s scores. Plus post-STAR WARS, film scores in sci-fi especially have very little atonality and heaps of heroic grandeur. Goldsmith's scores to ALIEN, POLTERGEIST, OUTLAND, COMA, SWARM and OMEN extol a sensational embrace of atonal schisms generally absent in many other composers' work in the same genres across this period.

The main procedeure for sculpting the sounds for The Cavern of Deep Tones involved finding textural moments from a single vinyl LP recording of a soundtrack, and then feeding each selection through an effects bank (a DP4). Each 'effected fragment' was then sampled while operating EQ settings on the mixing desk and tweaking parameter settings on the DP4. The resulting sample was then edited via complex waveform manipulation and MIDI modulation assignment and operations within an Ensoniq ASR10. In a quite loose and improvisational way, a fragment was thus effected, sampled then edited, then an additional fragment from the same LP soundtrack underwent the same process, until a multi-tracked composition was formed wholly from fragments from a single soundtrack. Each time, the waveform editing was dedicated towards discovering and developing a way to perform the sound by some means - a melody, a chord pattern, a base tonality, a rhythmic patterning. Each sample was thus shaped by the ways it could be transformed by a specific approach to the keyboard. Following some of the basic precepts of musique concrete, a trombone sustain would be edited into a envelope-shaped percussive event, then performed to sound like giant timpani; a celeste would be down-pitched and looped/diffused to create a low rumbling drone. These complete inversions were epicentral to the The Cavern of Deep Tones project, in that a 're-orchestration' was developed to turn the original score inside-out and abstract its musicality so as to 'return the music to noise'.

Once some compositional shape grew out of the multi-tracking of these effected/sampled/edited fragments and their interlocked performance, 4-channel quadraphonic spatialization was then developed (though much of the initial processing involved shaping the sounds while listening to it in quad configuration). The final mixing entailed paying particular attention to how the sounds developed a narrational momentum in space. At this stage also, selected elements were re-edited to appear in the centre channel and a discrete sub-woofer channel to facilitate Dolby Digital 5.1 encoding and playback. The CD version of The Cavern of Deep Tones takes the stereo rear configuration and combines it into a mono track which appears in the rear channels when the CD is played through a surround amplifier equipped with Dolby Pro-Logic Surround encoding and connected through a surround speaker configuration.