Three new books in the Music Scores series – #3 Ritornello, #4 Melody Surplus, and #5 Motif – have been published.
In May 2017, at the filming location of Audience (2017) in New York, I was looking at the five performers, each of whom had been making independent gestures while sitting next to each other. It was not easy for me to pay attention to all the detailed movements of the five performers simultaneously. Momentarily, I felt a déjà vu, as if I were watching a dance of the imaginary melody lines of a fugue in five voices. In addition, it reminded me of a surface that looks soft, but feels rougher than you think due to small irregular-shaped juts that are covering the surface.
In October 2012, in a hallway of an artist residency in Amsterdam, on the way to my studio from the media workshop, I came across W, a facilitator of the programme, having a meeting in an office. I could see a part of the inner space of the office through the glass door, and W was standing just next to the door as if she was about to leave the office. I thought I was lucky to be just in time to ask her a few short questions. However, she didn’t step out of the office for a while. I looked carefully inside the office to determine whether I should keep waiting for her or try another time. Since I could not hear any sound from the office, I focused on visual information such as the gestures and faces of the people in the office.
W had been mostly listening. She nodded or wrote down something in her notebook from time to time. In front of her, a middle-aged female figure wearing a suit was sitting with her legs crossed. Only her crossed legs and the left hand holding reading glasses were visible through the door. It seemed that she was dominating this conversation, as her hand with the glasses had been constantly moving vividly. ‘When the glasses stop moving, the meeting shall be finished,’ I thought. Finally, when the glasses had discontinued the movement, I stretched myself to get ready to invite W to another short meeting with me. Unfortunately, the glasses resumed their dance before W got out of the office. Then, while the glasses momentarily ceased their dance, W looked into one corner of the office that couldn’t be seen through the glass door. There must have been another person in that corner who had just started speaking. Perhaps not only W but also the glasses were listening to the person in that corner. Even though I scrutinized every detailed movement in the office every time the glasses stopped moving, it was not really easy to distinguish whether the dance of the glasses had just temporarily slowed down, or whether the conversation was really coming to an end. As the dance went up and down, I went back and forth between anticipation and disappointment. This successive chain of my reaction—observing, discovering, expecting, feeling switches between being let down and satisfied—while trying to ‘listen’ to this inaudible conversation, reminded me of the process of listening to music that I had never listened to before.
When W, instead of coming out of the office, took a seat and opened her notebook on a desk, it became obvious that I had to find another chance to talk with her. However, I kept observing them to read this silent but dynamic conversation. In the meantime, W started writing down something in her notebook. I followed the lively movement of her pen, and soon perceived blue flowers slowly blooming in her notebook.
Does film have matière? If so, how can it be formulated or how can we perceive it? I have contemplated several possible approaches that could determine the texture of film: physical texture of the subject in film such as metallic, wooden, or stony; characteristics of pixels decided by technical specifications such as resolution, file format, projection technique, or models of equipment; fundamental visual elements that might not necessarily have to do with texture in other art media such as color, form, light, or perspective; film editing technique such as composition of scenes or transitions between scenes; sense of mobility decided by movement of the subject in film or its frequency or speed; the language of the camera such as exposure, shutter speed, or ISO setting. And last but not least, the narrative structure of film.
“Musical texture focuses on how the material is structured rather than the material itself. As the way of weaving threads decides the texture of the fabric, the way of composing musical material—in other words, melodies—determines the quality of the sound in relation to complexity, thickness, and degrees of consonance. Musical texture can be briefly classified in three types: monophony, which includes a single melody; polyphony, which contains multiple independent melodies; and homophony, which, in short, combines a main melody with the accompaniment. Polyphony, in Western classical music, was bred and developed as a progression from monophony to homophony. More specifically, polyphony was prompted by a simple technique of adding another melody to the original melody by laying a note on top of each note of the original melody with the same interval. Then, it was slowly complicated with an evolution of the technique such as counterpointing a note with a different interval, or multiple notes to one note, or multiple melodies to one melody, or unrelated lyrics to the original lyric. Afterwards, it inclined to cooperate between voices, along with the development of imitating technique. In search of ways of harmonizing individual voices while keeping its independence, it progressed towards homophony where vertical logics of harmonics guide a horizontal flow.”1
Five Voices is a three-channel film that explores the idea of texture in film, inspired by musical texture, especially focusing on polyphony. Through respective body parts, attitudes, and senses (the whole body, face, hands, object, sound), each of five characters in Five Voices composes an individual narrative, choreography, and flow of intensity, the cause and effect of which is set differently for each character. At the same time, counterpointing contrasts such as whole and part, space and time, vision and sound, slow and fast, plan and improvisation, are used as principles for composing the scenes. The score also counterpoints two different types of recording: a record as a plan before the performance, and a record as documentation after the performance.
1 Edited and quoted from The Cutting Plane of a Song, written by Min Oh, in Passion. Connected., edited by Juli Joon, published by Mojo, 2017.