The Face of Another (1966)
The effect works best if you listen while looking at the image.
This is an exercise that I have decided to pursue as a way of exploring inspiration in sound work and composition. It may work, it may not. It’s an experiment really and the end result won’t always work out the way you first envisioned but that’s the point.
Recently I watched a lecture with the famous sound Recordist Chris Watson who was commissioned to create a soundscape for a John Constable landscape painting by the National Gallery of London. His attention to detail was quite startling, taking into account the season of the image, the period and how this would dictate what type of wildlife would inhabit the area. It is clear Watson believes in the power of sound and how it can tell a story and sometimes connect with us on a deeper level than the image itself.
Above is a still from a Japanese film from 1966 called ‘The Face of Another’. I am not familiar with the film or the director Hiroshi Teshigahara. I simply stumbled across the image recently and was taken by it for some reason. Without doing any research on the film I wondered what is happening here in this strange picture and what it might sound like? This was the challenge I set myself. Rather than watch the film for context and inspiration I wanted to allow my own imagination do the work.
The very first inclination was the sound of feet shuffling, slowly, constantly. The image to me suggests claustrophobia. The two men face each other in some kind of recognition it seems while around them the faceless bodies gather. For some reason I imagined this to be taking place in a subway of some sort. So these were the starting points. As much as possible I wanted to record my own ambient sounds or foley. The first step was to record myself shuffling around in a circle on a concrete surface. I then duplicated this recording a number of times, randomly sequencing the starting points so the footsteps would overlap at different times. Beneath this I felt there should be a more abstract sound, a constant throbbing bass tone. Luckily I had recently recorded the hum of a fridge. By pitching this down I had my slightly sci-fi drone which would be constant I decided. This was the basic atmospheric texture of the scene; circling bodies, a monotonous, sluggish wall of sound. And what about voices? Incoherent I thought, a hubbub. I recorded my self whispering and mumbling for a few minutes and duplicated these recordings a number of times also. Rather than intrude on the piece with some kind of musical motif I decided to limit myself to the use of atonal sounds only. The two subway train sounds were stolen from you tube. I filtered and panned them to create the sense of space or distance. This could be considered as an exercise in the technique known as Musique concrete, developed by the French composer Pierre Schaeffer in the late 1940’s.
Like I said to begin with I’m not sure if this worked or not but I found it interesting and a good method to try and move myself away from regular composition. I tried to capture what my imagination told me about the image. If anyone who might be reading this is interested in trying this themselves I would be happy to post the results on this blog or if anyone had any suggestions for other images that might be interesting to soundtrack I will try this also. Feel free to send me your own version of this experiment and I will write about it here.