Monday 18 November 2013

Script writing, Editing and Sound Design

Following on from the Rising 5th video piece at Snape Maltings and sound installation at the Lookout tower on Aldeburgh beach for SNAP earlier this year I have been working on assembling the footage shot at Jim Cadbury-Brown’s house, 3 Church Walk.

The rough edit of the film stands at 34 minutes and is a tour through the house as it stood until recently, when its new owner took it over last month. 3 Church Walk is in need of some renovation as it has stood empty for three years. The damp has taken hold, the window frames rotting and the garden overgrown. The new owner hopes to restore it to its former condition and make it livable again. This will involve rewiring, a damp course, clearing the garden and restoring the kitchen. She intends to keep it as Jim would have wanted it and at the same time make it her own. It is an exciting new chapter in the history of this modest but perfect house.

Jim's chair © Emily Richardson

Jonathan and I have worked and reworked the script for the film over the summer and the editing process now involves working out a relationship between the text and image. There is so much to say about Jim and Betty’s house, much of which has to remain unsaid, but for the purposes of the film there are some keys ideas that are contained within these extracts from the script.

‘“When you enter a building,” Jim said, “you are starting on an enforced choreography.” The narrow driveway entrance gathers you up, choreographs your delivery from the outside world, between screen walls constructed of the same Marks Tey brick as the house, into the courtyard and garden. Boundary walls enclose the house and plot in this corner, hiding it from view, forming courtyards, patios and sheltered corners.’

‘“I would say,” Jim wrote in an address on how architecture enriches life, “that I consider enrichment as the architectural means whereby a form of organised disorder is introduced into our background.” “What I am concerned with primarily,” he continues, “is the relation of ourselves to our background.” Buildings are one expression of order against their background. For Jim, writing in 1959, in America, the Beats and Action Painting were symptomatic reactions to the frightening standardisation of everyday life. The Beats’ particular kind of disorder is a deliberate cultivation of failure and aimlessness. While in Action Painting the exclusive emphasis on accident and self-expression are yet further symptoms of the rejection of responsibility.’

‘“If we seek an accidental spontaneity,” Jim writes, “surely the natural accident is more acceptable than the contrived one. I prefer to find my objet trouvé rather than to have them made, self consciously, for me.” How might architecture achieve the direct, self-expression of action painting? It can’t: a complete Action Architecture is a practical impossibility.’

Exterior/Interior view © Emily Richardson

‘According to Jim, speaking on the relationship between order and disorder, movement and rhythm engenders empathy between man and his surroundings. And architecture would be better described as the framework of a dance rather than as frozen music. He cites physician and sexual psychologist Havelock Ellis who wrote in The Dance of Life that “Dancing and building are the two primary and essential arts.” That “the art of dancing stands at the source of all the arts that express themselves in the human person. The art of building, or architecture, is the beginning of all the arts that lie outside the person”. “If we are indifferent to the art of dancing,” Ellis writes, “we have failed to understand, not merely the supreme manifestation of physical life, but also the supreme symbol of spiritual life...  The significance of dancing, in the wide sense, thus lies in the fact that it is simply an intimate concrete appeal of a general rhythm”. The origin of architecture is the bird’s nest, which arose as an excess of ecstatic sexual dance.’

‘How can one adequately photograph the experience of space when all that is seen are discontinuous portions? “Only a shadow is caught by the camera,” Jim explained when he introduced Mies Van der Rohe at the Architectural Association in 1959. Mies’ buildings, for Jim, were a pure architectural note in a cacophony of propaganda - propaganda generated by critics, administrators and mediation. “A building is a building and not a theory, a diagram or a model. As the drawing is the end product of a student’s work, so the photograph is too often the end in view of many architects and the only end in view of most architectural magazines. The result is a special form of graphic design where the contrived viewpoint of the camera is the dominant factor.” “A building,” Jim says, “is something to be seen, walked in and used.” Moving image describes movement and light in space. It dances rather than stultifies into frozen music.’

Interior view © Emily Richardson
Another aspect of the film that I have been working on over the last few months is the sound design. Jonathan and I met with Bill Lloyd (Director of Artistic Development) at Aldeburgh Music to discuss possible musicians and sound composers whose work might complement the film. One possible way of approaching the sound design would be to use the film itself as a score for an improvised piece of music or sound that uses the materials and objects in the house.  Jim and Betty gave careful attention to the acoustic properties of space In their design. During research I discovered a conversation supposed to have taken place between Jim and his friend, the composer Benjamin Britten, in which the latter links the Brutalist ideal of materials used ‘as found’ with his own interest and use in sound ‘as found’. I wanted to find a sound composer who could respond to these ideas.

Bill put us in touch with the composer and sound artist Simon Limbrick. Previously, Simon was artist-in-residence at Aldeburgh Music, a residency that culminated in a 24 hour performance using paper; Simon’s performance used recordings of the sounds of paper worked into a composition with this material alone.  This approach seemed to fit perfectly with ideas that I had for using the recordings of the materials, surfaces and objects in the house to create a sound composition.

Simon has been recording tests using materials such as glass and metal and we hope to revisit the house to record elements of the sound design later this month. The idea is to play the house as if it were an instrument, much in the same way as Britten played car springs or tea-cups in pieces such as The Burning Fiery Furnace and Noye’s Fludde. This sonic dimension to the film will bring another aspect to the portrait of the house.

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