Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Other Lars

I have always reached some sort of impasse during recording and instinctively started pissing about with odd instruments and various other strategies to try un-paint myself out of a corner of my own design.

Complete and utter mistrust in all things Eno have prevented me from even considering using his self styled set of studio tarot cards. On the other hand, my often blind admiration of all things Von Trier made me think a bit about his Dogme 95 rules for film making and how they may better suit the purposes of music making and recording.

I suspected that they would certainly be a lot more pragmatic than the annoying self help guide for bored multi millionaires on their day off from saving the planet.

So here are the original Dogme 95 rules with a hopefully analogous rule for recording:

(This is a work in progress)

1. Filming must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).

Recording to be done on location. If a particular instrument (eg. piano) is necessary, a location must be chosen where this instrument is found

What are we trying to accomplish here? We really want to get on with the job don't we? If you want to record in a castle so you can hammer on the portcullis then it would be wise for it to be quite an important part of the song and album. Lugging a pipe organ into the castle to then do overdubs is not an option here.

Band most likely to suffer under these constraints: Led Zeppelin

2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being filmed).

Consideration must be taken when overdubbing. Artificial (electronic) backdrops to be added as an afterthought is forbidden unless 'played' live as an additional instrument

I would stop short of outlawing multi-tracking and insisting that everything should be recorded once with all instruments played together recorded by a single stereo or mono microphone.

We're not trying to record live albums here as that would be like filming a play (Dogville?) although one could well argue that listening to a live album beats the socks off watching a filmed play.

3. The camera must be a hand-held camera. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted. (The film must not take place where the camera is standing; filming must take place where the action takes place.)

Microphone placement should be limited to within reasonable range of the instruments being captured so as to obtain a fair balance between direct sound and more ambient sound signal.

This rule is a little vague. I think we should be all for using the natural reverbs of the environment unless after three hours of searching you decide to capture the sound of the piano from within the kettle in the next room. C'mon! Hit record!

4. The film must be in colour. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera).

The use of effects to color the natural sound in such a way as to render it unrecognizable is forbidden

So many people would be left sound-less to adhere to this rule. Sorry Fennesz.

5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.

Post processing of audio is forbidden. Artificial reverbs are not allowed. Natural rooms acoustics should be utilized if any. Rules 4 and 5 are pretty similar.

Audio engineer friends always repeat the adage: “If it sounds good it is good” this should said after you have listened to the sound coming from the instrument through the microphone and out of your speakers. Not several days and effects processors later.

6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)

Superficial sound that merely colors or decorates a piece of music should be avoided.

Sorry Brian.

7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)

How long and hard did you hunt for that harpsichord and what are you going to do with it?

Lyrical themes should relate to a plausible present - again stopping short of exclusively non-fictional themes

Yup, let’s hear it for the overwrought confessional.

8. Genre movies are not acceptable.

Pure pastiche is forbidden. Genre contrivances unless the musicians operate from a particular idiom should be avoided. See the bit about the harpsichord ... hmm and the castle.

Sorry Beck.

9. The final picture must be transferred to the Academy 35mm film, with an aspect ratio of 4:3, that is, not widescreen. (Originally, the requirement was that the film had to be filmed on Academy 35mm film, but the rule was relaxed to allow low-budget productions.)

Ok, we're going to be rigid here. Final mastering should be to magnetic tape.

This way you will have a real 'permanent record' of the final product.

10. The director must not be credited.

The producer must not be credited

Yes Brian - this ones for you.

I think what I like most of all about Dogme 95 is the confession that often appears in the film credits. This is where the director discusses and explains his/her transgressions. This doesn’t disqualify the film from being considered a Dogme 95 film - very few have adhered 100% to the rules. It has, however, resulted in a number of amazing films.

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