Jack

Film Score & Sound Design

Jack (excerpt) 4'40" stereo mix - © 2012

Background

Jack is a short digital video by Emile Zile. The film was developed after Emile met dancer Jack Sheppard while running a performance workshop. Jack is part-portrait, and part initiated event, with Jack responding to spatial environments around Footscray through a series of vocalised sound-effects, bodily interventions and imaginary scenarios constructed and performed by Jack. Emile developed the sequence of events with Jack in mind, and then after some initial discussions and rehearsals went on location and shot guerilla-style whatever moves and actions Jack came up with on the day.

The end result is a poetic and playful depiction of abject bodily performance - often gangly and ungainly, but always physical and resounding. Jack marks his presence in the spaces with murmured utterances, simulated sound-effects and mimicked postures. Then at key moments, he devolves into an expanded abstract interpretation of a space, writhing on the ground in a series of gestures and arcs steeped in the dialect of contemporary improvised dance.

Jack was completed as part of the Tyger! Tyger! series of collaborative projects curated by Philippa Murray at Westspace, Melbourne in 2012. Philip Brophy contacted 3 filmmakers to collaborate with by providing a film score for their work prior to the films being either shot or edited. Philip worked exclusively by reading the script and engaging in detailed conversation with the writer/directors. The other films in this series are Cassandra Tytler's Messed Up Pop Song and Johann Rashid's The Man Who Folded Himself.

Credits

Script, direction & editing - Emile Zile
Jack - Jack Shepard
Camera - Mikael Brain
Music composition, all instruments, sound design & 5.1 mix - Philip Brophy

2012

Premiered at TYGER! TYGER! - curated by Philippa Murray, Westspace Gallery, Melbourne

Overview

Philip met with Emile in Paris (Emile being based in Rotterdam) and discussed the concept of bodies performing in the street. Rather than discussing actual ideas for the film, the talk was around how such a concept had been explored as audiovision in other areas. This led to viewing videos like David Sanborn drumming the street (literally) in Kit Sanborn's Ear To The Ground; Gene Kelly's famous water dance of Singing In The Rain; Harmonie Korinne's Trash Humpers and the Dardenne Brother's portrait of Rosetta. Video clips were also viewed: David Bowie's "Day In Day Out", Janet Jackson's "Nasty", Herb Albert's "Keep Your Eye On Me", and pretty much anything by Michael Jackson. Thus type of lateral discussion - talking about general ideas embodied by the script - is central to Philip's method of developing a dialogue with directors in order to shape and mold a score and sound design.

The script for Jack was written in elliptical prose, with evocative suggestions as to the environment within which Jack would perform. The actual settings are dotted around Footscray, in areas familiar to both Emile and Jack. Fortuitously, these same areas were also familiar to Philip, so the project developed from a shared identification of the environments in terms of how they appear and also what they represent.

The score to Jack is based around 8 themes, composed for the 8 scenes detailed in Emile's initial script. This shared understanding became crucial in deciding on what options could be pursued with the score. The themes were composed initially as drum kit improvisations with straight playing and extended technique applications. 2 performance tracks were recorded for each theme. A base recording was imagined as a 'pastoral interpretation of the environment'; then an overlaid recording was envisioned as Jack's performed energy responding to the environment. The concept - a gamble, really - was for the the music to respond to itself in a way that would hopefully mirror or reflect how Jack himself responded to the actual spaces for the shoot. In this sense, the music does not mimic Jack's performance, nor attempts to 'score' it. Instead, the score is a 'parallel manifestation' of dynamic energy within space, abstracted so as to prevent any sense of sound or image over-determining the other in the film.

Technical

For each drum kit recording (done back at Gelatin in Melbourne), individual drums and cymbals were chosen to comprise unique 'drum kit assemblages'. Additionally, precise microphone placement was employed to intensify each drum kit assemblage. Sometimes the kit components were placed upside down, or had fabrics/materials added to them, or were performed with hands, mallets and other devices. Microphone placement was similarly varied: sometimes multiples of close-positioned dynamic mics were deployed; other times a series of far field omni mics were set up. These microphone arrangements were designed with quadraphonic spatialization in mind.

In most instances, the standard drum kit was augmented with percussive objects: metal grates, metal bowls, gongs, plastic containers, etc. These objects bear sonic characteristics similar to those in the spaces Jack was filmed (cyclone fences, brick walls, garbage dumpsters, rubbish bins, etc.). Jack didn't necessarily perform on these objects, but the idea was to incorporate their sonic textures into the score, almost as if they were responding to and vibrating with Jack's presence in the spaces.

Once these dual drum-tracks had been recorded, a raw stereo mix was completed and uploaded for Emile to audit back in Rotterdam. Emile was encouraged to chop-up these tracks in any way he desired. Emile then completed a preliminary edit using these tracks to test out their tempo, density and general energy level. This edit was uploaded for Philip to view, then discussions ensued concerning how the music tracks were working with the edit.

Concurrent with this phase of discussions, Philip worked on adding quadraphonic harmonic elements to the 8 dual drum-track recordings. For this phase of the compositional process, close-listening was applied to the tunings of the drum skins and the harmonic tones and overtones of the various cymbals and gongs. FM-synthesis pads were constructed to match the resonance and overtones of these drum parts. In some cases, organs or pianos were used to form tetrachords to match the harmonies. All these keyboard elements were thus envisaged as timbrel modules first, pitch devices second, and finally decisions were made as to their performance and timing. Mostly their performance followed existing or suggested rhythms (as audible events or internal beating of frequencies).

These tracks were then uploaded for Emile to work with in refining his picture edit. After he uploaded his fine cut edit with the music themes positioned, Philip reconfigured and reconstructed the music tracks to match the shapes and fragments in the final edit. With these elements in place, work was undertaken on the foley location sound synch recording. This was enabled by discussion during pre-production in Paris, to ensure that Jack was recorded with lapel/radio mics as well as a mobile boom. As so much of Jack's performance is audible - both as vocalisations and bodily noise - good recordings were deemed to be imperative for a detailed final mix. The music tracks were edited or had the MIDI events of their notes or beats shifted where possible so as to not overlap with the vocal recording. As with how most of Philip film mixes are undertaken, dialogue and sound and music are intermeshed at comparable levels to convey a non-hierarchical 'sound field' which can be tweaked in the mix levels. In the case of Jack, this was crucial to conveying the noisescape within which he performed, as well as the noisescape in his head as he responds to his environment.