Sara Pinheiro: Acousmatic foley / study l.
This piece is based in three main sounds that result of research-project entitled "acousmatic foley". The subject is mainly the idea that both Musique Concrète and Foley Art deal with a similar conception of sound-objects.
In this case, each recorded object stands for one different field of interest, namely filmmaking, acousmatic sound and acoustic ecology. To support each object, a sound-field was chosen to reinforce the concrete materiality of the sounds. However, the research works towards a theory of sound objects as sound actors, instead of addressing them as tangible items. Still, each sound is likely to produce associations and connect to their referential value. This corroborates the ideas of acting, enactment and fictionality. Following these premisses, the arrangement of this composition is mainly a piece of dramaturgy. On that account, the idea of dramaturgy itself is based on three different conceptions of time. These conceptions emerge, once again, from the three different fields of research mentioned above. They are time as in length/duration, time as in a rhythmical pattern and time as a time-frame, in society. Clearly, each object follows one single conception, mostly because they can be considered icons of that specific field. The idea of contextualization is fundamental to listening to any of these sounds, which corroborates the ambiguity always implicit in reduced listening. Mostly, these are ideas already in development in a proposal named "staging sound fiction", which states that a recorded sound does not replace the experience of listening to its source, it is an experience per se.
This piece was made with the kind support of Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation (PT)
and the Barandov studios Cinepost - Sound4Film (CZ).
Here is a transcript of an interview with Sara Pinheiro about the research project and a new composition entitled Acousmatic Foley / study I.:
L: What is the idea behind your research?
S: This research is a combination of my practices as a sound designer for film and my acousmatic compositions. The idea is that every foley artist is an acousmatic composer because one looks for sounds not accordingly to the object’s real function, but for what it should sound “as”. Likewise, the acousmatic composer is focused on the use of sound effects, to present ideas and concepts, creating a fictional universe. One does not simply listen to a sound without relating to its suggestions. For that, the claim of the research is that both fields deal with the same concepts: sound objects, as in the theory of concrete music and in the practice of foley art and field recordings (like in ecology studies). This piece is basically presenting the first findings, namely the first objects that I consider strong enough to be universal to both fields but also the thoughts and conclusions about the concepts in study. Thus it is called study I, because it is the first time that I tried to assemble the results together and because there are a number things that I am trying technically, like in a study.
L: Comparison of Musique concrète and Foley art holds out certain controversial tensions. Musique concrète handled with sound objects and imagination, same like any musical form handled with the source of musical instruments sounds. In contrast, Foley art is directly linked to a fixed visual composition of the film. The perception of sounds and followed imagination is strongly influenced by the picture. Can these two disciplines are compared?
S: Well, yes and no. For example, when you have to do foley for a sequence of footsteps, you know, someone walking in the desert and you have to cover the footsteps… Sometimes we have to fake it, because sound-wise the rhythm will be better differently than what the actor is doing, so we have to fake it… 3 frames earlier, 4 frames later, for the feeling of it. So there is a huge work concerning tempos, and rhythms and good flow. Of course there is still some “image imposition”, but the listening … the listening is the same – I am exactly the same “operator” in both situations. This piece is certainly the most musical I have done this far, but the technical resources are extremely film-based, it comes from what I learnt and I have being doing in film-sound.
L: Going back to your composition, which was created especially for radio ether. As already mentioned, it is based on research dealing with Musique concrète and Foley art. How does the connection to the radio in this case?
S: To me it was quite convenient to have this first studio on the radio, because obviously radio is already acousmatic so no one would be expecting to see the objects. In this case, the issue was actually to not think of radio as a medium, you know, the fact that you cannot access your audience and control their environment, you cannot make sure they are in a quiet place… usually I am playing with that, playing with the dynamics in a way that it will coincide with all sorts of contexts. But in this case, the focus was really in sending out these sounds. Not even to think of stereo combinations, just really think of these sounds as actors and put out their acts.
L: Are you using some processes transforming musical values of the sound object during composing, or are you using only the original quality of the recordings? I do not mean the process of composing, but processing that changes the sound material and its original character, color, tonality etc.
S: The idea of sound as an actor implies that it can pretend to be another sound. Thus processing comes as an attempt to make those sounds sound like something else too. So it is not an extensive show-of of their possibilities to sound like thousands of things, but a suggestion of several characters, played by the same actor. At the same time, outside the context of the research, I have done processing before but always in a shy fashion, I would say. It was never so explicit, it was mostly meant to manipulate the recordings but not to transform the sounds. I think, in this piece, all these transformations came because at some point I had enough “natural” actions – so if you think of these sounds as actors, they acted all they had and I wanted to see what-else they could give me, what other forms they could shape.
L: Perceive sound object as a character actor may lead to the need of seeking its acting origins - in this case, origin of sound source. What is hidden behind the sound, allows a kind of abstract narration, whether we know or we don't know what kind of sound it is. What is the role of the moment of detection, uncovering, or identify the source of the sound?
S: For me to know the source of the sound is not a choice. All these sounds start as field recordings – and I mean field recordings the same way I mean foley recordings. I record it all, so I do know what the source is. And I don’t think I can refrain from that reference and that relation, both to the object and to the act of recording it. It is in the recording that the relation starts – the thoughts and the ideas that eventually I will bring to the studio. Concerning the audience, I don’t want people to know what the sources are. First of all because I want them to imagine as they listen, as they relate. Secondly, because that corroborates my theory of foley art, because that’s what sounds do: they make as if, they act like in a play. So if the audience imagines a lamp while I recorded a chair, then great, because that’s Foley Art. And then because at some point in this piece you just don’t know which object is playing anymore – or maybe that question will not even be raised because it always sounds so clear which one is playing, but I can show it is one mimicking the other. So in the end, it would just spoil it if I gave it tangible names.
L: It seems to me that hiding the origin of the sound objects is closer to musical thinking. And I still can not escape the feeling that Foley art is in its principles different from musical principles of Musique concrète.
S: I don’t see it as two different things. I think that any composer uses imagination to compose and to relate to all those sounds created in the studio, and to that there is always a certain level of fiction. At the same time, the Foley Artist thinks in terms of composition, in terms of layers, patterns, rhythms and other “musical properties”, so to say. These are not two different practices, but of course they are shared or communicated differently. And ultimately that context is what differentiates it most, the way it is presented.
L: Some time ago we talked about the interconnection of the three sound objects you working in composition, as three different perspectives on the perception of time. The time as length. The time as a rhythmicla pattern. The time as a time-frame in society. How has evolved this conception during the formation of the composition?
S: I can say that each object had imposed functions. The first function was the time function. It operated in terms of appearance for each object individually, the same way it is described in Foley Art, but within a time conception that is familiar to music: One object was crafted in terms of length, like something that happens with certain duration and therefore has a development as an event; the other object was meant to keep the rhythm, like a tempo mark, and the last one is something irregular or iterative. The second function, was to use each object as a representative to one of the three fields in the research: One object, and in this case the source can’t be hidden: the door. It is very clear what it is, and in fact there is a full album released by Pierre Henry doing the same sort of thing in the late 60ies. It is the concrete music object. The other sound, perhaps more discrete, the kettle: it is a reference not to Foley directly but to a certain sound dramaturgy that is implicit to it. It is a very dramatic sound, it is used in many scenes to increase the tension as the climax approaches, it almost mimics that dramatic crescendo with its own crescendo. It is the film reference. The last sound is a sum of these two. It is the most “sound-actor” object: It is there to act and to make as if other sounds. I don’t think its source name can be unanimous. But it is also the most “objectified” object because it is often found in the foley pits, but it matters only for the sound that it makes, like musique concrete claimed. Also, it leads to the third function, which was more or mess inspired by considerations in acoustic ecology. That is also a time consideration but as in a temporal frame in society. For that reason to each object a sort of reference was given: an ambiance, an environment or a hint that suggests what it might refer, both internal and external to the research and both real and fictional.
L: And finally, one obligatory question. How can we listen your composition, or how you contemplate about your composition?
S: There is a quote from Jean Luc Nancy that I am quite fond of, it says: “to listen is to be always in the edge of meaning”. In that sense, perhaps I would consider this piece as an invitation to draw that edge, or perhaps to erase it.