Monday, December 17, 2007

Rob Fetters at Flashpoint

Rob Fetters is a superbly accomplished musician and composer, and also a wonderful guest artist.

Not surprisingly, "Be nice" was his number one piece of advice for Rec Arts students during an all-day professional workshop last Friday. He told the story of a handwritten thank you note that led to years of work with network television and how the willingness to "Save As" a mix to try it different ways often leads to better creative results. He emphasized that all work today, whether it's music for commercials, corporate films, or released on its own, is collaborative, and that the creative process never works if you try to control it on your own.

Rob brought the framework of a song he had written for his 11 year-old son into the Flashpoint recording studios with the intention of reworking some of the parts and letting Rec Arts students have a shot at mixing while Film students documented the event. During the morning part of the workshop, the students tracked several acoustic guitar parts, live drums, background vocals, and electric guitars. As Rob spoke to high school counselors and students about his career as a composer and musician in the afternoon, Flashpoint students broke away into four controls rooms and created different rough mixes. By 4:30, we were all back in the main music control room listening.

Thanks to Rob for a great day.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Michelle Shocked comes to Flashpoint

Michelle Shocked is a remarkably powerful singer/songwriter I've admired since her first major label record Short Sharp Shocked was released in 1987. Late Thursday evening I found out what an engaging and sweet person she is too. Yesterday, Flashpoint Academy was fortunate to witness that power, talent, and thoughtfulness up close and personal in the recording studios and on the directing stage at 28 North Clark.

I’d inquired months ago about the possibility of Michelle coming to FPA to hold a "master-class" of sorts, and just recently received word that she really liked the idea and wanted to explore options. She told us she wanted to record a song purposed specifically for the visit and to shoot footage for a complementary music video that would be uploaded to YouTube, her own site, etc. Needless to say, we were as excited about Michelle coming in as she was about working with the students in such an intimate and experimental way.

Before entering the studios, Michelle talked to the students about her highly-successful, but turbulent career in the music industry, her life-long desire to change social stratification, her devotion to an African-American church in South Central Los Angeles, and what was particularly opportune for Flashpoint students, balancing the creative and technical with commitment, discipline, and passion. She told us the recording and video of A True Story would be the first part of a much larger project she is working on with her finacé and fine artist David Willardson called HEART or HEAR THE ART.

As she rehearsed the framework of the song with the students and staff who served as a rhythm section, it was clear that this was a special moment in the humble beginnings of our small school. By the time she was ripping through lead vocal overdubs with all the heartfelt passion of the genuine gospel singer she is, we were mesmerized.

It was a real treat for the Rec Arts students to be able to record and Film students be able to roll cameras on such a seasoned professional. The resulting recording, video, and archival documentary footage is testament to FPA’s hands-on, immersive learning. The experience and memory is a gift for committing to the ground floor of Ric Landry’s vision.

Thanks to: HAT, Paula Froehle, Mario Christopher, Ric Landry, Peter Hawley, Steven Berger, George Luif, Dan Epstein, Stephanie Nguyen, Dorian Weinzimmer, Scott Lee, Dan Macias, Claire Plowgian, Rachel Landry, Crystal Ryan, and all my Rec Arts students for working so hard to make this happen.

Special thanks to Bernie Mack for being there all along.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Early Friday morning, while I was comfortably tucked in...

...after a great Thanksgiving meal and visit from family, my oldest daughter Ellie was waiting in line to shop. There was a plan, of course, Khol's at 4am, the Mall at 5am, and Best Buy at 6am. Beleive it or not, she actually made it to all of her destinations more or less on time. As she was re-telling the story of her journey, I asked about the mood of the patrons. She replied as I suspected, most were aggressive, pushy, territorial, and in "battle" mode. What inspired this blog entry, however, was what happened as she and a couple hundred other Rockfordians waited for the doors to Best Buy to open.

For this stop, Ellie was along for the ride. One of her friends wanted to get an xBox 360 bundled with Guitar Hero at the early-bird price well below "normal" sale price. The problem was that this store only had 33 of the units in stock, and by the looks of how many people were waiting, it was a fair bet that more than 33 people were there for that particular purchase. So as her friends saved her place in line, my daughter starts to inquire about how Best Buy is going to deal with this problem. She finds out that there have been numbered tickets passed out. As she moves up the line, closer to the door, trying to determine if all the numbers are out, she meets a woman who wants to make a deal. She'll give Ellie her xBox ticket if Ellie is willing to give her $100.

And now a word from our sponsors

"Scalping for an xBox" A new collection of short stories by A. Cons Umerist. Now available at select locations, just in time for the holidays.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Tiffin wins first place in Fort Lauderdale...

Great news from Florida! Tiffin, a film directed by Chor Ai Lene, won first place in the Narrative Shorts category of the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. Last month [Oct. 2], I blogged on my work as Sound Designer for this beautifully photographed story "that traces the changes in the landscape, hearts and minds of vibrant Malaysia over the span of a decade." Congratulations to the Ai Lene and the crew.

Ai Lene is also working with Flashpoint as Editor on Paula Froehle's short film, The Collector, which is currently in postproduction.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Student Interview[s]...

Last week I met with a potential student for the fall of 2008 who is trying to decide which discipline to select at Flashpoint Academy. I began as I always do in this situation, asking just one question: "Of these four creative areas, can you identify where your passion lies?" He started with detailed descriptions of his love for filmmakers and sound designers from the Czech Republic, "You've got to check out Daisies by Vera Chytilová," he said. “It’s got an amazing soundtrack for a film from 1966." He went on to say he's planning a trip there next summer that will last three weeks, starting and ending in Prague—one last jaunt before school begins. He told me about the music he's making, the videos he's shooting and editing, the animation he's messing around with. He also told me about his recent wanderings—to the East Coast and back—trying to find something that works for him. Finally, he said, not any one of these disciplines seems to speak louder than the others.

After a short silence he asked, "What are some of your favorite film soundtracks in terms of sound design?" I could tell he wanted to listen now so I told him about Bresson’s A Man Escaped and Godard’s A Woman Is A Woman, but how I especially love to point out in Aesthetics classes the stark contrast between the magical fantasy of Jeunet's Amélié and the gritty underworld of Iñárritu's Amores Perros. I told him that in my opinion, both soundtracks serve the narrative with exceptional design. The former is highly polished, rounded, and though dynamic, somehow soft, while the latter is utterly raw, constantly on the edge of distortion, and grating. I then explained the entire first year of the Recording Arts curriculum and how it fits into the overall vision of the school. I described some of the things we expect of students and what things students can expect of the faculty and staff. We talked about the capstone courses and open framework of the second year where students can propose and execute project ideas, land internships, and engage in Flashpoint Academy Studios real-world projects. We talked about the creative atmosphere of the facilities—the labs, stages, studios, classrooms, and artwork. I told him all of it is necessary and important information—and we were having a great conversation around it—but I knew we were not any closer to what he wanted to know.

So, I just came out with it, "When you go to sleep at night and when you wake in the morning, do you see or do you hear?" I looked at him and he at me. I could sense that in seconds of time all of his journeys, some wildly undefined, were flashing by in his mind—countless hours spent heading toward creative goals. The movies, the music, the animation, and the games sped right on by. Now, he wanted structure. He wanted to make it mean something more than personal exploration. Then in a moment of clarity, "I see images."

Suddenly it seemed as if everything had changed. There was an internal focus now, but he wanted to make sure. "So, I'll be working with the sound people and animators and game developers, right?" "That's the idea," I said. My recommendation he become a Film student was just a formality.


One of the great things about our admissions process is that the faculty has a chance to meet and spend some time with students who are thinking about attending the Academy. We take the process very seriously and do it without a thought of competition between the departments. It's a difference worth noting and one that we believe sets Flashpoint apart.

Committing to two years of professional training at FPA is not for the faint of heart; we've said that over and over again in our promotional material and face to face during interviews. The current students are finding out we are not kidding about 40 hours a week. It's hard. In fact, it's really hard to research and write and shoot and design and read and render and record and edit and mix and collaborate all day and still have time for anything else. Welcome to the real world at Flashpoint.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Flashpoint and GC Pro educational partnership press release


— As a GC Pro Education Partner, Flashpoint students receive great discounts and sound advice —

AES SHOW, NEW YORK, OCTOBER 5, 2007 - When it opened in September, Flashpoint, The Academy of Media Arts and Sciences, set out to change the way media technology is taught and learned. The school's four main areas of study which include Game Development, Visual Effects and Animation, Film, and Recording Arts, literally converge rather than exist separately from each other. In order to remain focused on that goal, Flashpoint turned to GC Pro, the outside sales division of Guitar Center, to equip much of the school's Recording Arts program. Through GC Pro, Flashpoint acquired a vast array of technology platforms and equipment from brands including Digidesign, Shure, Neumann, Sennheiser, Apple, Argosy, Tascam and Soundelux. The comprehensiveness with which Flashpoint accomplished outfitting its audio needs underscores the benefit of working with GC Pro, which has the largest range of professional audio gear under a single roof anywhere in the world.

Flashpoint was designed to be different from the start, and it would be the first new higher-education facility in the Chicago area in nearly 50 years. “Traditional schools that have digital media arts studies break them into separate departments that, because of politics or bureaucracy or just antiquated teaching philosophies, don't communicate with each other,” explains John Murray, Chair, Recording Arts, at Flashpoint. “What our approach is based on is collaboration and workflow - the way the real world works. Today, when a major film is released, there is often a computer game version of it and a soundtrack released at the same time. The world is no longer linear, and neither should education be.”

Murray needed to outfit two major control rooms, one each for music and post production, as well as numerous mini-suites and other work areas. With GC Pro's Dan Scalpone as the interface, Murray was able to access GC Pro's huge inventory to find exactly the technologies and products he needed, and tapped GC Pro's knowledge resources to find system-level solutions. “Dan was always accessible, even on weekends and at odd hours, which was critical to us as we neared our opening,” says Murray. “The store and department managers at both GC Pro locations were knowledgeable and had lots of practical insight about the products they sold. It's such a pleasure to talk to people who know what they're talking about.”

Flashpoint has already become one of GC Pro's education partners, linked via the GC Pro website. This partnering has enormous benefits for Flashpoint's students, who in addition to receiving discounts through GC pro, can also email questions about products or systems through the website and get quick replies from GC Pro's resident experts. “I expect use of this feature to grow exponentially,” says Murray. “The whole experience of working with GC Pro was a pleasure.”

Monday, October 8, 2007

Unprecedented connectivity...

21st Century professional audio signals behave much like they did in the 20th Century. Ohm's Law isn't changing anytime soon. Connectivity and control, however, are changing faster than you can say High Definition Audio-Video Network Alliance. HANA is the media industry group reponsible for adopting guidelines of data transfer within secure audio-visual networks. Large-format recording consoles are being replaced by control surfaces. Cat 5e cable seems to be just as prevalent in studios these days as balanced lines with XLR and TRS connectors. And now, delivery and distribution of "finished audio" is being done over broadband Internet connections, increasingly accomplished wirelessly. All of these advancements have led to a physical separation between the artist and the technology used to store and playback the rich media assets they create. I suppose there's something downright goofy about a RAID and SAN in the same creative space as a guitar and drum set.

Now, in an extraordinary leap into the future, the artists and producers themselves, as well as engineers and the studios they work from, are collaborating without ever having to leave the comfort of their own creative sanctuaries. is a new Internet site that allows musicians, producers, engineers, and studios to collaboarate online, in real time! Want Tony Levin to play a bass part on your tune? Or Frank Filipetti to mix your next record? Or Bob Katz to master? What about a Jerry Marotta drum track? I'm not kidding. eSession connects you to all these people and much more by signing up [free!], inquiring about rates and session availability, then commiting to an absolute, bona fide session with one or more of these available artists. It's really that simple. Don't believe me? Check out this month's Electronic Musician. There's a great article with Thomas Dolby titled "Record with Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime."

We are not only entering an age of unprecedented connectivity, but also a time when heretofore barriers are being shattered. Online collaboration is pure business, yet, truly approachable. Who would have thought that contacting Trey Gunn was even possible, let alone asking him to play a guitar part on your next record?

See the future. Be the future.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tiffin Screening at Chicago International Film Festival...

Chor Ai Lene's latest film Tiffin is screening at the 2007 Chicago International Film Festival beginning next week. I was fortunate enough to work on this lovely, touching short film as Sound Designer with the help of one of my former students, Sean Clark. Because the screening won't have the equivalent of DVD extras, I thought I would blog a bit on the process.

Creating the 5.1 surround soundtrack for this film was especially challenging. It was shot on location in Malaysia, which is...well, a long way away from here. The houses are fairly open to the outside, rain comes and goes often and at a moment's notice, and everything is lush and full of birdsong. Ai Lene wanted the exterior ambiences to be as authentic and natural as possible so almost all of the effect libraries we had access to for atmosphere were virtually worthless; cardinals, sparrows, and morning doves are nowhere to be found in Malaysia! Consequently, we had to rely heavily on the production audio—"wild sounds" beautifully captured by location recordist and sound mixer, Josh Jacobs. Not only did these non-sync recordings give us a means to design a rich, layered daytime exterior, they also gave us an aural snapshot of the evening soundscape, including nightly chants that broadcast throughout the city via small, poor sounding loudspeakers. The reverberent quality of these distorted sounds bouncing off the new and old town buildings, however, was downright sublime and seemed to sustain forever.

Another difficulty we encountered was applying just the right amount of interior room reflections to dialogue and Foley tracks inside homes that have an unusual amount of open windows and doorways. Foley, by the way, is the re-recording in postproduction of any sound related to human movement such as footsteps and clothing rustles. Michael Slaboch provided pristine Foley tracks that, quite honestly, brought the overall track to another level. To match Michael's studio recordings and all of our design elements to the production audio recorded on location, we had to first make a distinction between sonic events occuring in the foreground and those that were coming from outside or other parts of house that were out of frame. We then assigned different digital reverb programs to each of those physical locations, affecting only the audio coming from that particular space. Some went to front left, center, right; some went to the surrounds. Ultimately, it gave us the flexibility to position sounds with the proper perspective, exactly matching what was happening onscreen while maintaining a soundtrack that enveloped the viewer. Our aim was to mix it as transparent as possible, with one notable exception, which I will not reveal here.

I really enjoyed working on Tiffin, and in particular, working with Ai Lene and a story set in her homeland. You can see it for yourself during CIFF on Sunday 10/7 at 12 noon, Saturday 10/13 at 12 noon, and Tuesday 10/16 at 4pm.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Sound, Image, Time, and Space...

Last week, at different times, four sections of roughly twenty-six Flashpoint Academy students walked into a classroom for the first time. Not an ordinary classroom mind you; this one is outfitted with dual, large-screen projectors, a multi-channel surround sound system, an XBox 360, interconnected tables with pop-up power access, comfortable, ergonomic chairs, connectivity for three external media sources at the instructor's station, podcastability, Crestron control, and walltalkers. And to be clear, these are not ordinary students. Each of our section's four class meetings [Peebler/Murray] ran over the prescribed three and a half hour time limit—not because of poor planning, techncial problems, or ill-mannered interruptions, but because these FPA students had a lot of important things to say. And yesterday, as Simeon Peebler and I watched and listened to their final projects, we knew our initial claim that history is in the making at FPA was not unfounded. There were live music performances, downloads of elaborate productions uplinked to YouTube, multi-media slide and audio/video presentations, monologues, original recorded music, still photography, screenshots from active gameplay, and oral storytelling. Some were simple, others complex, but every presentation was truly profound.

The faculty, paired off in an intertwined rotation [Harovas/Mack, Hawley/Harovas, Peebler/Murray, Mack/Peebler], taught collaboration, workflow, and the building blocks of storytelling the only way we know how—as collaborators ourselves. Everyday at Flashpoint Academy is a day of living out what we teach. And we teach how we work in these industries. There's no secret formula, no hidden agenda, no magic concoction—just commitment to the simple notion that no one should ever stop learning coupled with the genuine desire to reach deep down into the vast pool of creativity that is our student body to show them what they already have.

Get ready for week three, because it's only just begun.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Making history...

It was an emotional morning as the entire faculty, staff, and administration of Flashpoint Academy gathered together at our new home, 28 North Clark Street, for one final meeting before opening day. Through the welled-up eyes, thank you's, and appropriate applause for all those who have done so much hard work to make Ric Landry's dream a reality, there was an underlying vibrancy and excitement the likes of which I have never felt before in 17 years of education and 25 years in the audio industry. It was truly moving and I am so proud to help carry the torch of that vision to the people it was meant for, the students of Flashpoint, The Academy of Media Arts and Sciences.

In less than 48 hours, the inaugural class will not only walk into the best media arts college in the world, they will engage in what Paula Froehle rightly describes as the changing face of media arts education. We have said it many times in many ways, but come Monday it will begin—total immersion, learning-by-doing, hands-on, PRODUCTION-IN-ACTION. September 17, 2007 will be a defining moment on the timeline's of film, game, visual effects, and audio training, and soon it will be hard to imagine how it was done before Flashpoint.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Technology timeline...

3500 BC - Written expression [cuneiform script] in Sumer
100 BC - Parchment in Pergamon
105 - Paper, Cai Lun
800 - Feedback controller, Banu Musa
1011 - Camera obscura, Ibn al-Haytham
1450 - Alphabetic moveable type printing press, Johan Gutenberg
1672 - The Magic Lantern, China
1700 - Piano, Bartolomeo Cristofori
1711 - Tuning fork, John Shore
1793 - Optical telegraph, Claude Chappe
1826 - Photography, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce
1837 - Camera zoom lens, Jozef Maximilián Petzval
1856 - Celluloid, Alexander Parkes
1876 - Loudspeaker, Alexander Graham Bell
1877 - Phonograph, Thomas Alva Edison
1877 - Microphone, Emile Berliner
1880 - Roll film, George Eastman
1891 - Kinetoscopic camera [motion pictures], Thomas Alva Edison
1892 - Color photography, Frederic E. Ives
1893 - Wireless communication, Nikolai Tesla
1895 - Radiotelegraph, Guglielmo Marconi
1902 - A Trip to the Moon, George Méliès
1906 - Humerous Phases of Funny Faces [animation on standard film], J. Stuart Blackton
1916 - SMPE, Society of Motion Picture Engineers
1917 - El Apóstol [first animated feature], Quirino Cristiani
1919 - Theremin, Leon Theremin
1922 - Technicolor, Herbert T. Kalmus
1923 - Sound film, Lee DeForest
1923 - Television, Philo Farnsworth
1935 - Hammond organ, Laurens Hammond
1947 - Polaroid camera, Edwin Land
1947 - Reel-to-reel tape recorder, Jack Mullin
1948 - Long playing record, Peter Carl Goldmark
1951 - UNIVAC [first commercial electronic computer], J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly
1951 - Nagra I, Kudelski S.A.
1952 - Floppy disc, Yoshiro Nakamatsu
1954 - FORTRAN, John Backus at IBM
1955 - Hard drive, Reynold Johnson with IBM
1956 - Videocassette recorder, Ampex
1960 - Laser, Theodore Harold Maiman
1961 - Optical disc, David Paul Gregg
1962 - Light-emitting diode, Hick Holonyak
1962 - Spacewar!, Steve Russell
1962 - Compact cassette, Philips
1963 - Computer mouse, Douglas Engelbart
1965 - BASIC, team at Dartmouth College
1967 - Hypertext, Andries van Dam and Ted Nelson
1968 - Video game console, Ralph H. Baer
1970 - RAM, Intel
1970 - SMPTE color bars, Al Goldberg at CBS Laboratories
1971 - Email, Ray Tomlinson
1972 - Pong, Atari Inc.
1973 - Ethernet, Bob Metcalfe and David Boggs
1973 - Personal computer, Xerox PARC
1975 - Microsoft, Bill Gates and Paul Allen
1975 - Digital camera, Steve Sasson
1975 - Industrial Light & Magic, George Lucas
1976 - Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak
1977 - Cellular mobile phone, Bell Labs
1982 - Compact disc, Philips
1983 - Camcorder, Sony
1983 - Internet [first TCP/IP network], Robert E. Kahn and Vint Cerf among others
1984 - Macintosh, Apple
1985 - Windows, Microsoft
1987 - Digital light processing, Dr. Larry Hornbeck at Texas Instruments
1987 - Digital Audio Tape, Sony
1987 - Photoshop, Thomas Knoll
1987 - The Simpsons appear on The Tracy Ullman Show
1989 - Sound Tools [original name for Pro Tools], Digidesign
1989 - World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee
1989 - MP3, Motion Picture Experts Group
1990 - SVGA, Video Electronic Standard Association
1991 - ADAT, Alesis
1991 - Linux, Linus Torvalds
1992 - Power PC 601, Motorola, Apple, and IBM
1992 - DA-88, TASCAM
1993 - Doom, id Software, Midway Games
1994 - PlayStation, Sony
1995 - Java, Sun Microsystems
1995 - Toy Story, Pixar
1996 - Quake, id Software, Midway Games
1997 - Pentium MMX, Intel
1998 - iMac, Apple
1998 - MiniDisc, Sony
2001 - iPod, Apple
2001 - OS X, Apple
2001 - Xbox, Microsoft
2004 - Firefox, Mozilla
2005 - Disney closes all hand-drawn traditional animation facilities
2006 - Vista, Microsoft

September 17, 2007 - the convergence of all the above at FLASHPOINT ACADEMY

Thursday, September 13, 2007

A voice called collaboration...

Perry Harovas [FP Chair of VFX] described in a recent post how The Collector is coming alive as we head toward picture lock. It's true, a few layered ambiences go a long way in creating a willing suspension of disbelief. What we hear is beginning to resemble what we see in a believable way. But there's a funny thing about postproduction; in practice, it follows somewhat of a logarithmic scale. That is to say, what appears to be the last 5% of the process actually requires 100's of times the effort, finesse, patience, and above all, feel.

One of the most satistfying moments in postproduction is when the film finds its voice, both pictorially and sonically. Paula Froehle [FP Academic Dean and Director of the film] worked yesterday with Ai Lene Chor [Editor], placing the narration recordings we did on Monday against picture. There are many small changes. Most are counted in fractions of a second [frames]. Cutting and extending shots, changing lengths of dissolves, and maybe even rearrangement of order. These changes have a dramatic impact on the timeline of the soundtrack, which now needs to be conformed to the new picture cut so that everything remains in sync. Picture work, sound work, picture work, sound work—it seems like minutia, but it's a necessary back and forth as the director creates the voice of the film.

Independently, Perry is digitally crunching 0's and 1's, meticulously designing, creating, and rendering the visual effects, which, in an inverse relationship to my crickets and dogs and street noises, brings to the picture an incredible life that was once just an idea on a storyboard. It's all part of locking it in, and a necessary component for Simeon Peebler [FP Chair of Game Development] as he begins his part of the journey, designing and creating a complimentary interactive game version of the film.

None of this could happen without intense collaboration, and to be sure, none of it is painless. It demands focus and discipline and perspective. Not coincidentally, that's Flashpoint Style.

Saturday, September 8, 2007


Two days ago I began sound design on The Collector. This is the short film that Flashpoint shot over the summer as sort of test run of our PRODUCTION-IN-ACTION component of the curriculum. The Collector is directed by Paula Froehle [FP Academic Dean] and produced by Amy Rising [FP Film Faculty]. If you have perused the links of echo 61, you may have visited Peter Hawley's [FP Associate Film Chair] blog. During the shoot, not only was Peter behind the scenes shooting a documentary on the making of The Collector, but he was also teaching the summer FP interns.

I explain this by way of illustrating that my involvement in the film is postproduction, which is ongoing as I write this. By definition, that part of the process comes at the end of making a film. And I can't tell you how good it feels to be working with audio again. It's great to be "doing". For months, all of us at Flashpoint have been completely consumed with planning for September 17, our opening day. We have been planning for the doing. The doing that students will be engaged in from the very beginning. The doing that is part of our mission statement. The doing that sets Flashpoint apart from virtually every other media arts institution in the world. The doing that is the best part of learning. Film, Gaming, Visual Effects, Recording. Flashpoint students will be doing all those things all the time. And I can't wait to get to it.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The recent deaths of two important film directors...

...brings to mind the difficulty of art and that some artists ask a lot of us. Or perhaps it's just the opposite, they don't ask anything of us because their art isn't "for us." Maybe their art is nothing more than a public window to their own journey, lacking context.

Past students of mine have described Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni as two of the most boring film directors they had ever been required to study. I really do understand that reaction, but in the end, I don't agree with it.

27 years ago I saw Bergman's Wild Strawberries [1957], Fellini's 8 1/2 [1963], Godard's Breathless [1959], as well as Antonioni's Blow Up [1966] as part a film "appreciation" course. And though Blow Up caught my ear because of its "modern" score [done by a very young Herbie Hancock], and an histroric cameo by The Yardbirds, the film didn't do all that much for me at the time, while Bergman, Fellini, and Godard were flat out unwatchable. Remember, this was 1980, and as a 19 year-old Radio/TV/Film major at a mid-sized University of Wisconsin extension in the middle of the state, I left those screenings thinking: Why on earth would I ever want to subject myself to two hours of that drivel when movies like Star Wars: The Empire Stikes Back are far more entertaining, inceedingly more accessible, and included really great "sound?" The question went unanswered for years.

In 1994, I began teaching audio production and postproduction for visual media at Columbia College. This wasn't anything especially groundbreaking as I had been teaching at Xavier University in Cincinnati since 1989 on the same subjects. But about the same time, I also started to collect first edition literature and read a lot more than I ever had before. I read authors like Carson McCullers, Dorothy Allison, Kaye Gibbons, Cormac McCarthy, Susan Power, William T. Vollmann, Tom Robbins, Jane Hamilton, and John Gregory Brown. I then returned to some of the films I hadn't seen in almost 15 years: Truffaut's 400 Blows, Bergman's The Seventh Seal, and De Sica's Bicycle Thieves. And a funny thing happened, though none of those flms are particularly "sound intensive," my aesthetic sense for sound design became richer, more textured, more "connected" to the narrative. I found myself understanding just a wee bit more that which had eluded me during my undergrad days—the intangible, everchanging, extraordinary fabric of the human condition. To Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni, understanding the human condition was a quest. And somehow reading provided me with a new perspective; hard to imagine I know, but the printed page gave me new ideas in sound.

The new energy lead me to other forms of art—oil, watercolor, pastel, and charcoal on canvas, opera, theatre, and musical realms I never thought I'd entertain. It was, and still is, exhausting, trying to grasp something to hold on to. I must constantly remind myself to let the art do all the work. In other words, whenever I surrender the notion of trying to "get it," an amazing amount actually seeps in. And I am a better sound designer and teacher because of it.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Criterion Eclipse Series...

Now in its fifth month, the Criterion Collection Eclipse Series releases Series 5, The First Films of Samuel Fuller, including I Shot Jesse James, The Baron of Arizona, and The Steel Helmet.

The Eclipse Series are small, affordable, and perhaps lesser-known films from many of the directors featured in the main Criterion Collection. The transfer and packaging are not nearly as extensive and the price reflects that.

Series 1 - The Early Films of Ingmar Bergman
Series 2 - The Documentaries of Louis Malle
Series 3 - Late Ozu
Series 4 - Raymond Barnard

For more information about the Criterion Eclipse Series

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Confession to my colleagues...

In an interesting moment last week during a Flashpoint faculty meeting, I confessed with an embarrassing amount of honesty, that I do not watch television.. ...well, save for the Weather Channel [seriously]. I went on to pronounce, loudly uncovering yet another layer of my personality [what a surprise], that I am so disgusted with the self-indulgency and brainlessness of the medium, I cannot bare to spend a minute trying to find some worth in it.

So what's the deal?

I very much like the phrase, "the idiot box." Like fluorescent lights, I believe TV literally sucks brain cells right out of your head, depositing them in the bank accounts of televison programmers and executives.

[1] For information? It preys on the weak during the night, and lies through its teeth all day.
[2] For drama? Even the "quality" shows seem to have some version of Gilmore Girls built in as a thematic overtone. Snappy dialogue stepping on each other's lines, too much steadicam, and an sickening amount of drama for drama's sake. I miss Joe Mannix, Mike Stone, and Captain Lee B. Crane.
[3] For sports? The Pepsi/7-Up/Federal Express/Heinz/Procter & Gamble Bowl... ...sorry, just can't do it. And why does every movement on the field/court/floor need to be accompanied with a graphic and cheesy whoosh sound effect?
[4] For comedy? Well, I still can laugh, which is good, but I miss Buddy Sorrel, Ethel Mertz, and Murray Slaughter.

OK, now is the perfect time for the real confession: I love television. And that's why I despise it so.

I can sit down, and turn on virtually any channel and be completely captivated in no less than 30 seconds. I don't care what the program is; and guess what, the era matters not. Just the other day [true story], I turned on the tube in an effort to check out the chance for rain and maybe the 10 day outlook, when I landed on an episode of Saved By The Bell. Seriously, 20 minutes later, I realized I had sat through two commercial breaks, and an epilogue, waiting for the pay off. I'm not kidding.

I hate it. I love it.

Clearly, embedded in this post is the revealing of no self control or discipline on my part, but I want to illuminate the addictive nature of a passive activity like watching television. In the end, no work is required to "get it." I suppose that's the point, but something about that is inconsistent with the creative arts industries. Is there time for both? Surely there is for many, just not me—too many wondrous novels, records, and films in the queue.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Paul Morley writes one more time about Tony Wilson...

When Ian Curtis commited suicide in 1980, Joy Division were on the brink of bringing the new Manchester to the United States. JD, of course, were a package. On the inside, pure, raw talent, capable of perfectly capturing the alienation and isolation the late 70's youth were feeling. The outside, however, was brilliantly nebulous, carefully constructed by the artwork of Peter Saville, the management of Rob Gretton, the sound engineering of Martin Hannett, and the vision of Tony Wilson.

Although rarely mentioned in the same breath as the group above, Paul Morley, journalist for NME at the time and deeply involved in the emerging Manchester music scene, was as much a part of the Factory story as anyone. Wilson instinctively knew this. And so, on the day of the wake for Curtis, Wilson drove Morley to the site, telling him that he has to be the one to tell this story, that he was the only one who could, or should for that matter.

Not only did Morley write that story, he spent the next 27 years writing about all things Factory. His most recent story, appearing in the Guardian, is below.

Idealist, chancer, loyal friend: why I will miss Tony Wilson
by Paul Morley
Sunday August 12, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

Paul Morley pays tribute to his mentor, the man who shaped Manchester's culture from punk to the Happy Mondays and who died on Friday at the age of 57

Sometimes, Tony Wilson was just too much. Perhaps he was just too much all of the time. Sometimes I hated that he was too much, too sure of himself, too convinced that his ways were the right ways, rampant with self-assurance, self-belief, self-confidence, self-indulgence, a man crammed with busy, swashbuckling selves to the extent you were never quite sure what he was up to, and what he was. Could someone so forward, so garrulous, so indiscreet be trusted? Was he really the idealistic northern philanthropist determined to fight a lazy, complacent and derelict south, discovering and enabling all kinds of local talent to help in his battle for an absurdist form of north-west independence? Or was he the pompous, tricky TV buffoon exploiting musicians, fans, viewers, colleagues and Manchester, while he talked up his own place in social and music history?

Sometimes I loved the fact that there was no one quite like him, that he could be at any given time Jerry Springer and/or Malcolm McLaren, Melvyn Bragg and/or Andrew Loog Oldham, a fiercely smart hybrid of bullshitting hustler, flashy showman, aesthetic adventurer, mean factory boss, self-deprecating chancer, intellectual celebrity, loyal friend, insatiable publicity seeker. How could you not love this freewheeling, freethinking bundle of contradictions, even as he drove you up the wall with his non-stop need for adventure and his loathing for mental and moral inertia?
There was so much of him, and so many of him, from the slick, charming television host to the seditious impresario, from the surreal activist to the baroque loudmouth. This was what people had trouble with: there was no precedent for such a combination of unlikely driven personalities to be so compressed into one mind and one body. Ultimately people tended to suspect it was all about his ego. His ego, though, was part of his genius, and his genius consisted of the way he could flatten everything in front of him with sheer force of personality, and sweetly, sternly persuade the world to become what he wanted it to become. A place where talent and imagination and ideas could thrive, and make the world not just better, but more beautiful

From the very first moment I became aware as a teenager of this loud, ebullient and slightly unsettling man on the telly, it was obvious he was so full of life, and so full of himself. In the early and mid-1970s he became well known in the north west as a slightly naughty young Granada TV newsreader with longish hair and flapping flares. He was a vaguely hip alternative to the BBC's traditionally madcap Stuart Hall.

At the time it would have seemed more logical that the breezy Wilson would have gone on to present It's a Knockout rather than be inspired by the Sex Pistols and avant-garde social theory. But then we didn't know at the time, with that insubordinate, even sinister twinkle in his eyes, Wilson's background in anarchic politics, his knowledgable passion for Shakespeare and his proud appreciation of Manchester's radical, reforming, progressive history. He had decided it was his duty to ensure Manchester's intellectual tradition was not toppled by the emergence of popular culture but enriched by it. This was not what you expected from newsreaders.

Those of us who spotted the curious Wilson at those early Sex Pistols shows at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in June and July 1976 couldn't quite believe what we were seeing. A few of us there might have remembered the time he turned up at a Rory Gallagher concert a couple of years before and was cheerfully jeered by the entire audience. It seemed inappropriate that the clumsy, slightly camp man from the telly should infiltrate the rock world, and then even more impertinently the new, anti-cliche punk world, and this was the source of the suspicion that somehow Tony was a dilettante, an outsider. Even at his most triumphant and groundbreaking, this made him something of an underdog, a misfit, but he liked it that way, constantly identifying with the marginalised, unloved and isolated.

When he merged the two sides of his character, the brazen cultural theorist with the slick television presenter, and created the magnificently pretentious pop programme So It Goes, putting punk music on TV before anyone else, the clash was so far ahead of its time there still wouldn't be a place for it now. After the demise of So It Goes, he withdrew, wounded, and worked out how to keep his two lives together yet separate, maintaining his light-hearted Granada presence even as he was organising and inspiring the subversive Factory Records collective. Somehow he managed to be related to both Joy Division and Coronation Street. How Manchester was that?

He seemed driven by the feeling that if he wasn't as dark as he was light, as profound as he was trivial, or as aggressive as he was gentle and patient, he couldn't complete his mission - which seemed to be nothing less than the modernisation of Manchester in a way that reflected his Situationist-inspired belief in a kind of urban utopia, the idea of a city as much made up by poetry, pleasure, philosophy and dreams as politics, business and architecture.

It seemed as though all along he was destined to become known as Mr Manchester. He accepted the role with ridiculous gusto, happy as always to sacrifice dignity as long as he was the catalyst for change and excitement. He became the personality most identified with the changes the city had gone through since the Sex Pistols' 1976 visit. There was no one better - there was no one else at all - to play this role, and the vigour with which he did never dampened the suspicion that he had manipulated history and exaggerated his own role in proceedings to ensure his own notoriety.

He relished the confusion people felt about his manner and motives, and was totally pragmatic about, even flattered by, the often extreme, occasionally violent, vitriol directed his way.

When Joy Division's Ian Curtis committed suicide in 1980, Wilson was already a monstrous master of mixing fact and fiction to produce the truth of history. He approached the turmoil surrounding the death of Curtis as if it were raw material he could play around with, already planning how he could bend history to his purpose. It sometimes seemed callous, but he was ahead of everyone else in understanding the cultural impact the suicide would have.

He had marked me out as the man who would write the history of Joy Division. I initially resisted the role, annoyed that he was putting me in a place where he wanted me to be. His presumption that everyone would fall in with his version of events could make him seem like a bully. Even as it was happening, he seemed to know that 25 years later there would be films, and documentaries, and books about this story, which was both his story, and not his story. He realised more than I did that I would be writing about this period, from the Sex Pistols in Manchester to the death of Ian Curtis, for the rest of my life, hunting down the meaning of it all, following the clues that Wilson alone seemed to leave. If he didn't actually know then that this period of Manchester life as it revolved around his galvanising presence would become history, he was convinced he could make it happen, by making enough noise, by willing it to happen.

He willed it to happen, because he believed that what happened, directly and indirectly, because of him, as he tore through Manchester, launching TV shows, clubs, labels, bands, bars, events, creating scandal sometimes for the sheer sake of it, was important, and that everyone should know about it - both as a major part of rock history and as an important new part of the history of the radical, progressive north.

Wilson was frustrated that he could not follow up Factory Records or the Hacienda with what always interested him the most - the new, the next, the unexpected - and anxious, yet flattered, that everyone was fixing him in time as the man who multiplied Marx with Warhol and the Sex Pistols to make Madchester. He hated to be fixed, to be pinned down, to be filed away in the past, even as he fought to make sure the history of his extraordinary times was properly recorded. Death may quieten him down a bit, but it won't slow him down. He appears as fiction in Anton Corbijn's film about Ian Curtis, Control, and as, to some extent, himself in Grant Gee's Joy Division documentary and Chris Rodley's BBC4 film about Factory. The history he helped set up moves more and more into the mainstream.

In all of the years I've been involved in the music business and journalism - and I would not have been as involved without his generous, constant, inspiring and occasionally annoying mentoring - I've never come across anyone so energetically brilliant. Without Wilson there may well have been in some form Joy Division, and Factory, and New Order, and the Hacienda, and Happy Mondays. There may well have been Peter Saville's dream designs, and Martin Hannett's timeless production, and a Manchester that managed to move on from its sad post-industrial decline. But none of it would have been so far-fetched, so dramatic and so fantastic. It took courage to be Tony Wilson, to then become, in the face of certain derision, Anthony H Wilson. Only he knew how much.

An idealist's life:

1950 Born in Salford.

1961 Wins a scholarship to De La Salle Grammar in Salford. Later studies at Cambridge University before joining Granada Television.

1976 Sees the Sex Pistols in Manchester, an experience he describes as 'an epiphany'.

1978 Sets up Factory Records, a label that spawns Joy Division, New Order and Happy Mondays.

1982 Opens the Hacienda nightclub, which becomes the heart of the 'Madchester' scene, playing host to bands such as New Order, the Smiths, the Stone Roses and Oasis. In the same year he sets up the annual Manchester music conference, In the City, with his partner Yvette Livesey.

1997 Police close the Hacienda due to its out-of-control ecstasy problem and gang violence. Wilson continues to work on TV and radio.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Follow-up to Living in a visual world...

From the forward of Michel Chion's renowned book Audio-Vision, written by Walter Murch:

"We begin to hear before we are born, four and half months after conception. From then on, we develop in a continuous and luxurious bath of sounds: the song of our mother's voice, the swash of her breathing, the trumpeting of her intestines, the timpani of her heart. Throughout the second four and a half months, Sound rules as solitary Queen of our senses: the close and liquid world of uterine darkness makes Sight and Smell impossible, Taste monochromatic, and Touch a dim and generalized hint of what's to come.

Birth brings forth with it the sudden and simultaneous ignition of the four other senses, and an intense competition for the throne that Sound had claimed as hers. The most notable pretender is the darting and insistent Sight, who dubs himself King as if the throne had been standing vacant, waiting for him.

Ever discreet, Sound pulls a veil of oblivion across her reign and withdraws into the shadows, keeping a watchful eye on the braggart Sight. If she gives up her throne, it is doubtful that she gives up her crown."

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Tony Wilson, visionary...

I've written before about my fondness for Factory records in Manchester, England, and particularly, the music era 1975-1979. On Friday, August 10, Factory founder, Tony Wilson, died.

His keen awareness of authenticity in the making led him to broadcast the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Buzzcocks, Souixsie and the Banshees, and The Jam even before the rest of the world knew what was happening. Creating Factory, and lifting Joy Division into the spotlight literally inspired generations of bands to follow. The Haçienda speaks for itself. He was a true visionary and will be missed.

by Paul Taylor [Manchester Evening News]

Anthony H. Wilson 1950-2007

WHEN the story of Tony Wilson and Madchester burst forth in the movie 24 Hour Party People, a poster campaign sprang up across the country.

Beneath a photograph of the late Ian Curtis of Joy Division ran the legend "Artist". Beneath an image of the Happy Mondays' Shaun Ryder was the accolade "Poet". But the poster of Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson carried the simple caption "Prat". And that was the more polite version.

Could Wilson possibly have approved such an ad campaign?

"The answer is yes. I found it very funny," he said at the time.

It was one of Tony Wilson's most endearing characteristics that we laughed with him, we sometimes laughed at him, and he laughed too.

If you totted up his genuine achievements, he would have earned the right to act the big "I am".

He captured nascent punk rock for a gobsmacked TV audience.

He fostered enduring musical talents through Manchester's independent Factory Records at a time when the music industry barely existed outside London.

He had a stake in the Hacienda, a club which was not only the touchstone for Manchester's most inventive period of popular music, but also, briefly, the coolest place to be in the entire world.

He even persuaded the music business to decamp to Manchester annually for the In The City convention - proof positive of a Wilson philosophy that Manchester is the centre of the universe.

Meanwhile Wilson also remained, for much of the time, that man on Granada Reports.

But he combined a tremendous pride in all these achievements with a joy at the frequent ridiculousness of life. That would be the journalist in him. There was a time when he asked to be called Anthony H Wilson in print. Affectation? Too big for his no doubt designer-name boots? It was never that simple with Tony.


He later confessed he just wanted to "wind up all the people in Manchester who think I'm a flash ****."

And you would need a plentiful supply of those asterisks when quoting the words of Wilson, an aesthete who thought Shakespeare and Shaun Ryder were cut from the same cloth.

The hilarious opening scene of 24 Hour Party People saw Coogan as Wilson the TV reporter, soaring perilously in a hang glider. This was Manchester's answer to Icarus of Greek legend, who flew too near to the sun on wings held together with wax. Like Icarus, Wilson had the odd downfall, but it was still a glorious flight.

Anthony Howard Wilson was born on February 20, 1950 in Salford. When he was aged five, the family moved to leafy Marple, but Wilson would return to Salford daily after passing his 11-plus and gaining a place at boys' grammar school De La Salle.

He would also later marvel at just how many of his fellow movers and shakers in Manchester music were products of the local Catholic grammar schools. Wilson was put in the A stream and later discovered that, of 1,000 entrants for De La Salle, he had been top.

Wilson's ambition had been to become a nuclear physicist, but then he saw Hamlet at Stratford-upon-Avon and fell in love with literature.

Studying English at Jesus College, Cambridge, Wilson was delighted to discover he was being taught in rooms once used by the poet Coleridge, a slave to opium. How very rock `n' roll. Having joined the student paper and decided that his future lay in journalism, Wilson exited with, for him, a disappointing 2.2 degree.

Wilson on his legendary show "So It Goes"

"I've been a minor celebrity since I was 23 years old," he once said. That celebrity began with his work as a news reporter for Granada TV in the 1970s. In the cosy world of regional telly, he was a long-haired maverick famed for his unscripted asides. When he had a chance to present a culture and what's on programme, So It Goes, Wilson found himself documenting a music revolution, with punk sweeping aside progressive rock and putting guitars in the hands of kids who could muster only three chords but bags of attitude. Many people first saw the Sex Pistols, The Clash, Elvis Costello and the like on So It Goes.

Wilson was one of the tiny number of people who saw the Sex Pistols at Manchester's Free Trade Hall in June 1976. Practically everyone in the audience went off to form a band of their own, while Wilson said the experience was `nothing short of an epiphany'.

Factory Night at the Russell Club

In 1978, the Factory name was minted, firstly as a club night, then as a record label, Wilson forming a partnership with band manager Alan Erasmus and drawing in designer Peter Saville, producer Martin Hannett and Joy Division manager Rob Gretton. Factory's name was burnished with tragedy in 1980 when Joy Division front man Ian Curtis committed suicide just before the band's planned tour of the USA.

In May 1982, the Factory empire extended to a club. Housed in a former textile factory turned yacht showroom, the Hacienda was a triumph of understated, industrial design. The early years were lean, and the club lost thousands of pounds a month. Even when the Hacienda was thronged, the money was still not rolling in as the punters often preferred ecstasy to drinks from the bar. By 1985, married for a second time to Hilary, living in Withington and with a family on the way, Wilson was still professing to earn `virtually nothing' from Factory, and even used the annual holiday from his TV day job to produce the latest Durutti Column album.

Typical Saville inspired Haçienda advertisement

But it was in the middle of the 1980s that the Hacienda caught its wave, with DJs such as Mike Pickering being the first in Britain to play club music coming out of Detroit and New York. When dance rhythms were welded to rock and suffused with the grimy Manc poetry of Shaun Ryder, a movement was afoot and its name was Madchester. Factory was renowned for inspired yet not necessarily business-like strategies. In 14 years, not one decision was ever made with an eye to profit, Saville once said.

Durutti Column's first album had a sandpaper sleeve which scratched adjoining records in the record store racks. New Order's Blue Monday was the biggest selling 12 inch single ever, yet, legend has it, the sleeve design was so lavish that money was lost on every copy sold.

There was an unwise £750,000 refurbishment of Factory's building on the corner of Charles Street and Princess Street.

Haçienda first birthday, of course there had to be a poster


More music evangelist than hard-nosed businessman, Wilson had not even tied Factory's bands to conventional contracts, preferring gentlemen's agreements.

Most crucially, the Happy Mondays failed to provide a follow-up to the successful Pills `n' Thrills & Bellyaches album in time to plug the gap in Factory's finances. So began torrid times. In 1991, Wilson had parted company with Hilary, mother of his children Oliver and Isabel, and fallen for Yvette Livesey, a former Miss England 18 years his junior. They became the original loft-livers in Manchester city centre, their home being a cavernous two-story conversion of an industrial building at Knott Mill. They were partners not just in life but also in work. The In The City conference made Manchester the music business's talking shop once a year. "I am the boss. He's just the mouth," Livesey joked of their respective In The City roles. Together they did their bit to put Manchester on a world stage at a time when Manchester's regeneration was gathering pace.

In 1992, Factory crashed with debts of £2m. The Hacienda faltered when Greater Manchester Police tried to revoke its licence because of drug-taking. Then it closed voluntarily in the face of gun-toting gangs, opened yet again but closed for good in 1997 with debts of £500,000.

The name of Factory continued to ebb and flow. By 2005, Wilson was on to the fourth incarnation, F4, singing the praises of Hulme drum and bass collective Raw-T.

For much of the 1990s, Wilson was, with Lucy Meacock, a presenter of Granada Up Front - a late night TV show which was a feisty forum for topical debate. Wilson returned to Granada Reports in 2002 after a 13-year absence, but stepped down the following year. His `new mission' was to campaign for devolution for the north west. He founded the Necessary Group, made up of politicians and opinion-formers keen to see an elected regional assembly, and even asked Peter Saville to design a flag for the north west. But Wilson later said that there was `horrendous' apathy about devolution, blaming the media for ignoring the issue. The idea for regional assemblies was eventually shelved by the government .

When 24 Hour Party People told Wilson's story in 2002, he did not just take those `prat' posters in his stride, he smiled benignly on a film which he admitted had `lots of untruths' in it. "There's that line about the choice between truth and legend{hellip}always pick the legend," he said.

In January this year, Wilson underwent emergency surgery to remove a cancerous kidney and then began chemotherapy at Christie Hospital. He wrote, courageously, of his ordeal in a feature for the Manchester Evening News, crediting a long list of doctors and nurses by name.

"Strange how everyone has a complaint about the NHS except for people who actually use it," he said. "When you actually come face to face with its care and concern, it is little short of wonderful."

When he discovered that the NHS in Greater Manchester would not fund a pioneering new drug called Sutent, a group of showbusiness friends joined together to fund the £3,500-a-month cost of having the treatment privately.

But Wilson found another `new mission' in his final days - campaigning on behalf of those others who were not fortunate enough to have wealthy benefactors and were losing out on the treatment because of a `postcode lottery.'

"I'm lucky I have this fund and my friends have been very generous, but some people needing these drugs are cashing in life savings, some are selling their homes", he said."You can get tummy tucks and cosmetic surgery on the NHS but not the drugs I need to stay alive. It is a scandal."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Living in a visual world...

Indisputably, our culture is visual. And given that context, I think sound people are a peculiar bunch. Out of sight, at once subservient and imperative.

Strange, don't you think?

It starts from the earliest ages. We are obsessed with teaching sight before sound, utterly rapt with Susie knowing her colors and Johnny identifying his ABC’s before all the other kids. We use these paradigms as tools to measure acceptance and worse, status. Without so much as a second thought, we fill our infant’s, toddler’s, and pre-schooler’s lives with the notion that what they see is more important than what they hear.

Don't believe me? Name someone you know whose parents gave them one, let alone many, lessons in frequency, period, or wavelength before kindergarten? And why is it that sunglasses are afforded prime retail positioning in stores and malls while ear plugs and hearing protection are relegated to a small shelf space next to hemorrhoid creme? And save for those children who go on to study music, try to find instances in the lives of growing adolescents where pitch and amplitude are as important as line and shape.

Or, is it that we intuite sound and have to learn sight?

I'm currently researching sound design textbooks for the upcoming academic year at Flashpoint, and just today came across this terrific passage in Robin Beauchamps's Designing Sound for Animation: "Eavesdrop on a child playing with toys, the kind that are powered more by imagination than batteries. Notice the detail with which children sonify their play. They produce vocal sound effects that vividly portray the object[s] in hand. A diverse cast, uniquely voiced, interacts seamlessly to produce dialogue that provides us with essential narrative elements. From time to time an occasional melody is performed to underscore the action. Listen closely and you will hear volume and pitch changes that reflect an innate understanding of physics and acoustics."

At Flashpoint Academy, the Recording Arts Program will strive to "sonify our play." We will spend a great deal of time analyzing our aural landscape, identifying the components from which it is made, and above all, recording it. Literally and figuratively.

Just as I am a teacher who never stops learning, sound engineers should never stop recording. Ever.

Of course, I partially refer to "recording" in the sense of listening. I am always hearing my world in terms of how I can use it in my next sound design project. From the din of traffic as I cross the street, to the crinkle of aluminum foil as I prepare roasted potatoes for the grill, to the hiss of air as I fill a bicycle tire, I "record" it all.

I hope you can too.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Aural soundscape...

My mind's ear is most alive when I view an image. All the better if the image is moving in succession with other images. I instinctively, and perhaps imperceptibly, lean in, carving out an aural space on the canvas of my visual impression, to support what I see, filling it with the sound of subtlety and nuance. Almost simultaneously, I want to share it, to nudge someone into the same space, so that they can hear what I hear while seeing what I'm seeing.

It's a brisk, early April morning somewhere in the rural midwest. The sun is still oblique and the earth as black as midnight, freshly tilled for the first time since the harvest, is covered with rising steam that drifts along and above the ground.

I write this to describe a scene. The image is clear because it is spelled out, but there is no reference to sound. Did you fill it in without even thinking about it? Did you hear the light wind, barely moving the steam along, as if in slow motion? Or the din of the country, with birds in the foreground; their crisp songs that seem to reverberate across the rolling expanse? Did you hear the tractor nearly two miles off, the simple sound of distant machinary attending to the business of cutting the earth?

How about an abstract?

Swirling lines of different color within intermingling media, rising and falling, full of edge and rough angle, lifting off the canvas with a piercing quality that deceives then landing deep and with considerable pain.

What do you hear?

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Another art-house giant dies, Michelangelo Antonioni...

Antonioni, a Filmmaker with an Eye for the Invisible
by Neda Ulaby

Michelangelo Antonioni, 1999
Photo by Steve Pyke

Michelangelo Antonioni had a long, solemn face and hooded eyes — he looked like Humphrey Bogart. But the work of the Italian filmmaker, who died at home on Monday at the age of 94, couldn't be further from the traditions of Hollywood.

Antonioni, whose name became synonymous with European art-house cinema in the 1960s, began his career as part of the Italian filmmaking movement known as Neorealism. Their style, says film scholar Peter Brunette, was obsessed with the visual — in the sense of what we can see, the visible surfaces of reality. But Antonioni was different from such gritty Italian Neorealists as Roberto Rossellini and Vittorio De Sicca, who focused on postwar problems; Antonioni preferred stark, existential meditations on the things you can't see and things you can't say.

"And so you have to read between the lines," Brunette says. "Everything is powerfully expressive, but you can never exactly pin down what it means."

The film that swept Antonioni before an international audience in 1960 was L'Avventura, which in Italian means both an adventure and a fling. Brunette says the movie is visually compelling, but the vague plot belies the title. The film, frankly, can be trying.

"They're out there on this rock in the middle of nowhere on this island, and people are wandering around looking for someone, and can't find her," Brunette says. "L'Avventura was shown at the Cannes film festival, and people were booing — those supposedly sophisticated critics were booing and yelling 'Cut, cut!' …. And that film went on to become known as one of the greatest films of all time."

It's true that Antonioni's visuals pack much more drama than his narratives. His characters drift through their movies with a preoccupied air, trying to connect, and failing. Much more important to the director, Brunette says, were the pictures they made — "the characters as graphic images."

Monica Vitti [left] in L' eclisse, 1961

The liquid-eyed actress Monica Vitti was one of Antonioni's favorite graphic images. But the idea of using actors as props shocked Jack Nicholson, who starred in Antonioni's 1975 film The Passenger. On a DVD reissue of L'Avventura, Nicholson remembered Antonioni telling him that his performance was fine — but "'for me, the actor is a moving space.'"

A moving space didn't even have to move, as far as Antonioni was concerned. He could find an epic in a blank stare. And why complicate a close-up with a distracting tear or smile? In the late '60s, Antonioni's movies — already abstract and philosophical — became even more so.

"They're trying to talk more about the meaning of vision," Brunette says, "what it means to see the visual world — how do we understand it, how do we see reality through visuality and through vision."

The most accessible example of Antonioni's vision may be the 1966 movie Blow-Up, about an amoral photographer blithely swinging through London. David Hemmings' protagonist snaps a series of voyeuristic pictures in a public park, outraging a woman who's caught unawares in his lens — and upon developing his film, he comes to believe he's inadvertently documented a murder.

"But as he blows up the pictures more and more and more," Brunette explains, "he sees less and less and less."

That's the kind of conundrum Antonioni cherished — how reality is called into question in what we see and what we don't. But Blow-Up may have been the director's last great film.

"After that, I think, he became a parody of himself," Brunette says. "The character who was the protagonist becomes more obviously him."

The photographer in Blow-Up, the TV reporter in The Passsenger, the director in Identification of a Woman, or the novelist in La Notte ... and the aging filmmaker played by John Malkovich in one of Antonioni's last movies.

"Don't get me wrong, I'm not a philosopher," Malkovich's unnamed character says in Beyond the Clouds, which Antonioni co-directed with Wim Wenders. "On the contrary, I'm someone profoundly attached to images. I only discovered reality when I started photographing it — photographing and enlarging surfaces of things that were around me. I tried to discover what was behind them. I've done nothing else in my career."

For Michelangelo Antonioni, that may have been enough.

Foley for the third Bourne installment...

Fights, Footsteps and Thrills
Aug 1, 2007 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson
Mix Magazine


Matt Damon reprises his role as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum.
Photo: Jasin Boland/Universal Pictures

In our September 2005 issue, we ran an in-depth story about the often-misunderstood and under-appreciated art of Foley recording — the post-production process that adds everything from footsteps to door slams to tea cup clinks to clothes rustles, and a zillion other big and small sounds to make movies sound as true to life as they are. To revisit the topic, we chose to zero-in on one particular film and discuss specific issues related to Foley.

In this case, we looked at The Bourne Ultimatum, the third installment in the popular series of action films starring Matt Damon and based on Robert Ludlum's best-selling spy novels. The first two films — The Bourne Identity (2002) and The Bourne Supremacy (2004) — have earned more than half-a-billion dollars worldwide, and the promise of more fast-paced thrills in exotic locales (Russia, France, Spain, Morocco) and some measure of resolution of the complicated story of agent Jason Bourne's mysterious past will likely translate to another box-office smash.

Paul Greengrass, who directed Supremacy (and, more recently, the exceptional United 93) is back at the helm. So is much of the same post sound team that helped make the first two films so compelling. Working out of Soundelux, Per Hallberg and Karen Baker Landers were supervising sound editors; Craig Jaeger was Foley supervisor; and Kelly Oxford, Foley editor. The Foley recording team came from Burbank, Calif.'s One Step Up, which also handled the first (but not the second) film in the series, with Dan O'Connell and John Cucci the Foley artists, and James Ashwill the mixer. The re-recording mixers at Todd-AO West were Scott Millan — a veteran of all three films — and “newcomer” to this series, David Parker.

Hallberg and Baker Landers have been working together for nearly 20 years now on dozens of excellent films, including Braveheart, Gladiator, The Patriot, Black Hawk Down, Seabiscuit, Ray, The Island and many more. According to Baker Landers, the first step in the Foley process is, “Per and I will spot the film together — we'll go over it and make a game plan for the effects and the Foley and all the other elements. One of my favorite things to do is to cover the Foley stage; I'm a big fan of Foley. When we go through it, there are obvious Foley things we know we're going to be doing. Other things we'll discuss and figure out what's going to come from effects and what will be Foley.”

Foley artist Dan O’Connell amid the props in the main room at One Step Up, a leading Foley facility he operates with John Cucci.

At this point, Foley supervisor Craig Jaeger and Foley editor Kelly Oxford come into the picture, so to speak. Jaeger was born into the business — his father, Donald, was an effects editor — and he worked as assistant effects editor beginning in the late '70s before becoming a Foley artist in the late '80s, then a Foley editor and, with Air Force One in 1997, a supervising Foley editor. It is Jaeger, in consultation with Baker Landers and Hallberg, who is primarily responsible for laying out the specifics of the Foley sessions for the group handling the actual Foley recording — in this case, One Step Up. “The way Per and I like to do it is get everybody in a room and run reels,” Baker Landers says. “I like everybody to sit and watch the movie together if we can and talk during it and bounce ideas off of each other. A lot of ideas come from our group spotting sessions.”

“Karen and Per will also usually have special notes they'll hand me,” Jaeger adds, “and it might include things the director really wants, as well as other things we need to cover that might not be so obvious.

“Then I go through it and program in Pro Tools,” he continues. “For years, we used to make what was called a ‘shopping list.’ I'd go through and do a footstep pass, for instance, and handwrite it. I'd make a list of footage in and footage out: ‘Okay, I want Jason's footsteps on wood here,’ and where it would change I'd write, ‘Carpet at 55 feet.’ It was a lot of work, a lot of typing and I wasn't a very good speller or typist. [Laughs]

“Now I'll create and build a session [in Pro Tools]. I'll put in a ‘record’ file, and when I see something I want to cover, I tag it and give it a name. Then when it goes to the Foley stage, they pull up that session, and they say, ‘Okay, here are Jason's footsteps all the way through. We need this prop for this character here,’ and everything is laid out clearly. It can be very, very specific: ‘This “grab” is only this number of frames.’ Dan [O'Connell] will look through it and know exactly what they need to do or need to find.”

“Craig lays out the session for us to follow,” O'Connell says. “From having worked with them so much, though, we also know the kinds of things that Karen and Per really like, and Karen also gives us the notes not just from the director, but from the picture editor. Knowing what the picture editor [in this case, Christopher Rouse] wants is as important as knowing what the director is looking for because they have a vision of how the cut film is all going to tie together. So we get all these notes and get a sense of what everybody is thinking about. Then we head off and try to fulfill that: hitting everybody's mark and adding our own special touches along the way.”

“Every movie is different,” Jaeger comments, “and that's part of the challenge: ‘Okay, what are we going to do better than we did on the last two [Bourne films]?’ Which is hard because I think we did a pretty good job on both of them! What can we do differently? Let's get into it and find out.”

Adds Baker Landers: “We know what we wanted Bourne to sound like in the past, but we also say, ‘Let's try to change it up a bit.’ You can't make it too different because you have an audience that's in love not only visually, but also sonically, with certain aspects of Bourne. The most important thing about Jason Bourne's character is he's very solid and fast and deliberate. He's not real high tech-y; he's not flashy. He's down and dirty — he gets it done and he's precise; he's a machine. So the Foley movement has to reflect that. It's not just the surface he's on or the shoes he's wearing; it's his attitude, his confidence. And that's something we try to follow all the way through with his movement. There's nothing messy or sloppy.”

I ask how Bourne's confidence and purposefulness is conveyed by Foley. “The movements are precise and solid,” Baker Landers answers. “They don't sound wimpy or tentative. Remember, Foley artists are actors. So a lot of the attitude is coming through Dan and John [Cucci]. The art of really capturing a character is amazing, and when it's good you don't even notice. When it's bad, though, it's distracting and maybe you don't feel the presence of the character, or his size, or his speed, or his dexterity.”

In O'Connell's view, “Jason is not tentative at all. He's a highly trained individual and he doesn't stop to think. It's always a go. It's all bam-bam-bam! So I have to be sure that what I do [in Foley] is going to sound like that. He's climbing up sides of buildings and going from rooftop to rooftop and jumping through glass windows, running down hallways, down stairs. Then there are the hand-to-hand combat fight sequences — because of his training, he is able to fight with almost anything in a room; anything becomes a weapon. It may be a book or it may be a candelabra or something just sitting on a table, but it is weapon of choice for that moment, so we have to find those things and make sure they sound right and that the mood of the scene reflects the unpredictability and the spontaneity of the situation he's in.”

One Step Up has been a top L.A.-area Foley company for the past 13 years, though O'Connell's career stretches back much farther. Their new facility in Burbank is state-of-the-art, with multiple walking/running surfaces (of course), two different dirt pits — “your Western dirt, which is hard-packed, and forest dirt, which has a softer, moister quality” — an area for water Foley, a Pro Tools rig, a large complement of microphones with different characters — including Neumann and Sennheiser shotguns (industry-wide favorites) — and a huge storage facility down at the other end of the block filled floor to ceiling with every prop/noise-generating object imaginable. Their prop assistant, Gabriel Elliott, “is a really important part of all this,” O'Connell says. “He'll set up in the morning, and all through the day he'll be getting us special things. I'll give him the weirdest request and somehow he'll find it.”

Supervising sound editor Karen Baker Landers (seated) and Foley supervisor Craig Jaeger

In the early days of One Step Up, they recorded to 24-track tape. That was followed by DA-88s, then MMR-8s and now, of course, most Foley sounds are shot from multiple angles directly to Pro Tools, which is now an integral part of every facet of the post sound chain in nearly all film productions. “Pro Tools has made it more efficient in terms of getting tracks from the Foley stage to the editing room and laying things out and cutting them,” Baker Landers says. “Even on the Foley stage itself, you say, ‘Well, can we move that a couple of frames?’ and you can do that very quickly now. ‘Can we play these three tracks together but move that other one?’ Trying different things is much easier now, but what the guys actually do on the stage hasn't changed that much. It's still a process that takes a lot of time to get it right, though hopefully [the technology] gives you the luxury of being able to do a few more takes if you need to.”

O'Connell says that when possible, they'll try to match the feeling of existing production tracks: “If we can fall into that area sonically, it helps the dubbing mixers in the long run because if they have to match something we're doing into a scene that exists, it's an easier time for them.” Adds Baker Landers, “The art of great Foley is that it sounds like it was recorded on the day [the visuals were shot].”

Foley runs the gamut from subtle clothing movements to augmenting ear-splitting FX, and all agreed that each is as important as the other. “Sometimes the subtle movement is more challenging,” Baker Landers comments. “If it's something in a quiet scene that's going to play and you're on a mixing stage and you're finaling and putting everything together and hearing it really loud, it's all about that detail, and you have to get it perfect or it can be jarring.”

When it comes to FX, “Everything is so intertwined, whether it's Foley, effects or backgrounds,” Baker Landers adds.

O'Connell: “A lot of times, the effects editors will have a car crash or a huge explosion, but they may not have the piece of something that falls in your face, like a big spring or a piece of fender or a tire that rolls by. Those kinds of things are where [Foley] can come in and add another dimension to the sound job. Sometimes they'll send us temp tracks or some rough representation of what an effect is going to sound like; then we can get an idea of what frequency we need our stuff to fall into to make it come alive. A lot of times, it's broken glass or small pieces of metal debris; little things like that. We're adding the cherry on the sundae that the effects editors make. [Laughs] Most of what you hear is many layers that all play together, and each little bit of detail heightens what the audience is going to take in as their reality. The more that we can provide, the more they're in the film and excited by it.”

Jaeger cites a car chase in The Bourne Ultimatum that neatly combines Foley and FX, noting that engine sounds and tire screeches and the like were the natural domain of FX, but “where the bumper flies off and there's a big whump-whump-whump-whump as it rattles off, that was done in Foley [with Dan O'Connell dragging a trunk lid across the ground]. At one point, the bumper's still on the car but it wobbles, and Dan created a really great metal sound and then a kind of plastic-y wobble and then I put them together so they matched because it's right there in your face — you see it so you want to hear it.” Foley was also key to the sounds inside the cars during the chase: “Bodies are flying against the door; hands are turning the wheel real fast,” Jaeger says. “These are all things that build tension in the scene.”

Foley editor Kelly Oxford worked with Foley supervisor Craig Jaeger.

Baker Landers was at One Step Up for many of the Foley sessions, which is consistent with her and Hallberg's great attention to detail and intimately knowing every element of the sound tapestry. As O'Connell notes, “The great thing about Karen and Per is that they really love to find out what each element is going to be so that when they get to the dubbing stage and they're sitting there with the director and the picture editor, they can say, ‘We shot a really cool thing for this — let's listen to it!’ The fact that they know each piece of their project is really helpful. Karen sits with us and we'll get a direction from her, we'll go with that and then play back the reels for her and we'll do fixes based on our playback.”

Once the Foley for a reel or section has been recorded, Jaeger takes the material and he and Oxford cut it precisely to picture. “We'll get it in the ballpark,” O'Connell says, “and we'll give them our final choice, which is usually the one we think blends best with the overall feel of the scene, as well as other options.” Later in the process, the director or picture editor or re-recording mixers may ask for additional elements or strip away layers for whatever reasons. Picture changes or the arrival of new visual FX late in the process often necessitate shooting new Foley. Baker Landers estimated that Foley for The Bourne Ultimatum — considered a big job — would take more than 25 days, “whereas a regular film usually tries to do it in 10 days or less. Foley schedules have gotten crunched on some of the smaller films and that's usually not a good idea.”

Asked about the most challenging aspect of creating Foley for The Bourne Ultimatum, all three interviewees mention the same area: footsteps. Bourne is constantly on the run — literally and figuratively. “There's lots of storytelling through feet,” Baker Landers says. “We spent a lot of time on specifics capturing the right texture and the right feeling, whether it was a chase on foot or something less frantic, like in a dark room where you can't see much but you can hear the creeeak of a footstep — that can be a cool moment for the audience.”

Adds O'Connell, “There are a lot of one-on-one foot chases that go up halls, down halls, down stairwells, over rooftops, climbing up here, climbing up there. That was a huge part of it this time. So that's a lot of different surfaces and different sound environments. But that's part of what makes it fun and interesting: figuring out how to make what you see on the screen sound real and exciting.”

Monday, July 30, 2007

Sad day in the cinematic world...

Ingmar Bergman, Director and Cinema Icon, Dies at 89
By Janina Pfalzer and Benedikt Kammel

Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish film director whose depiction of anguished human relationships made him an icon of the art-house cinema and inspired followers including Woody Allen, has died. He was 89.

Bergman died today at his home on the isle of Faaroe, off Sweden's east coast, the Swedish Film Institute said in a statement. In his lifetime, he directed more than 50 movies, wrote scripts for another dozen, and was responsible for 168 works for the stage, television and radio.

"This is an enormous loss, not only for artistic Sweden but because he was one of the most well-known Swedes in the world,'' Jon Asp, a spokesman at the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, said in a telephone interview today. "Had it not been for his struggles in the 40s and 50s, Swedish directors such as Jan Troell and Bo Widerberg may not have been able to make films.''

During a career spanning eight decades, Bergman developed a body of work known for austere drama with recurring themes such as art, faith and the meaning of life. Three of his movies won Academy Awards for best foreign language film and one, "Fanny and Alexander'' in 1982, grabbed four awards. It was also the beginning of a 21-year hiatus in his film making.

Before spending his final years in seclusion on the windswept Baltic island of Faaroe, Bergman made his last film, "Saraband,'' in 2003. It was greeted in a review by Time magazine as "the last roar from a legend,'' a work that showed he was still "the greatest living filmmaker,'' with a gift for finding "universal significance in his private agonies.''

Chess with Death

His international breakthrough had come in 1956, when "Smiles of a Summer Night'' won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. A love comedy set among the Swedish upper class, the film was still "a reaction to his icy delvings into the human soul,'' Peter Cowie wrote in "Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography.''

The success of 'Smiles of a Summer Night'' allowed Bergman to turn away from the comedies that made his name and to direct "The Seventh Seal,'' possibly his best-known and most- celebrated film. The story, about crusaders returning to a Sweden plagued by the Black Death, was a religious allegory that pointed toward a run of existential films by Bergman.

The 1957 movie also launched the international career of actor Max von Sydow, whose knight dares Death to a game of chess as he tries to stave off the inevitable. The image of Death in "The Seventh Seal,'' portrayed as a man in a hooded black robe with a white-painted face, has been both paraphrased and parodied in films ranging from Monty Python's "The Meaning of Life'' to "Last Action Hero,'' an action comedy with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Swedish Followers

U.S. director Woody Allen holds "The Seventh Seal'' as his favorite movie ever. In a New York Times review of Bergman's 1988 autobiography, "The Magic Lantern,'' Allen called the Swede "a master with an inspired personal style; an artist of deep concern and intellect, whose films would prove equal to great European literature.''

Bergman's oeuvre inspired Swedish directors including Troell and Widerberg. Troell's 1972 movie "The Emigrants'', starring Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann as two Swedes who emigrated to the U.S. during the great famines of the 1850s, was nominated for an Academy Award. Widerberg's films earned him accolades at the annual Berlin Festival and an Oscar nomination for "All Things Fair'' as best foreign movie.

Allen's Praise

Aside from the recurring themes in his movies, Bergman's work is signified by the repeated use of similar images, such as clocks and mirrors, environments and names of characters. He was consistent to such a degree that film critics still use the word "Bergmanesque,'' though much of the time only to denote any film depicting painful relationships.

'Bergman evolved a style to deal with the human interior, and he alone among directors has explored the soul's battlefield to the fullest,'' Allen wrote in the Sept. 18, 1988, article. "With impunity he put his camera on faces for unconscionable periods of time while actors and actresses wrestled with their anguish.''

Bergman, who cut a gaunt figure sporting a beret and a goatee in his early years, frequently referred to the "demons'' that haunted his inner life, as well as his constant sufferings from stomach ailments. "Flocks of black birds often come and keep me company: anxiety, rage, shame, regret and boredom,'' he wrote in the 1987 autobiography. He called exercising his profession a "pedantic administration of the unspeakable.''

Haunted by Demons

An early Bergman mentor, Carl Anders Dymling, called him "high-strung'' and "short-tempered,'' characteristics that showed when he punched a reviewer from the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter in 1969. On the other hand, his actors considered him kind and compassionate, and Bergman became known for skilful portrayals of women in films such "Summer With Monika'' (1953).

That film also drew crowds wanting to catch a glimpse of nude scenes with Harriet Andersson, the first in a series of leading ladies with whom Bergman had love affairs, straining his five marriages to women including Else Fisher, his first wife, and Kaebi Laretei, an Estonian-born pianist. He remained married to Ingrid Karlebo -- a woman with whom he had a child in 1959 -- from 1971 until her death in 1995.

Bergman only publicly acknowledged his daughter by Ingrid, Maria von Rosen, in 2004 when they published a book together. His nine children include Linn Ullmann, the novelist daughter of Norwegian-born actress Liv Ullmann.

Nine Children

The son of a priest, Bergman described his own childhood as based on concepts such as sin and confession, punishment in the form of brutal floggings, forgiveness and grace. Bergman settled the score with his father, Erik, with the partly autobiographical "Fanny and Alexander,'' where a stern, Lutheran bishop torments his stepchildren.

Bergman said his authoritarian upbringing may have contributed to an "astonishing acceptance of Nazism'' before World War II, a stance for which he was later deeply apologetic.

He was born July 14, 1918, in Uppsala, and moved 50 miles (80 kilometers) south to Stockholm two years later. While not poor, the family had some trouble making ends meet in his early years, a circumstance that improved in 1924 when Bergman's father was appointed chaplain to the Royal Hospital.

In the account of his childhood, Bergman says he was a sickly boy who suffered from "several indefinable illnesses and could never really decide whether I wanted to live at all.'' At the age of 10, Bergman began to visit the theater, and after trading his brother 100 tin soldiers for a cinematograph, he was struck with "a fever that has never left me.''

University Stint

Bergman made only a brief attempt at university studies and directed his first amateur play in 1938. A year later, he was employed as an assistant director at Stockholm's opera house after being turned down for a job at the Swedish capital's Dramatic Theater, for which he became the manager in 1963.

Three films made just before that appointment, the "trilogy of God's silence,'' are often considered Bergman's greatest achievements as an artist. "Through a Glass Darkly,'' "Winter Light'' and "The Silence'' all experimented with ascetic visuals, intense close-ups and limited dialogue.

In "Persona'' (1966), Bergman developed those themes with cinematographer Sven Nykvist, a longtime collaborator and two- time Academy Award winner. Nykvist died in 2006. For Bergman, the film was also significant for personal reasons: It was his first starring Liv Ullmann, who bore him Linn and remained a friend, and it was shot on Faaroe, or Sheep Island, where he was building a house.

Love for Faaroe

"If one wished to be solemn, it could be said that I had found my landscape, my real home. If one wished to be funny, one could talk about love at first sight,'' Bergman wrote in "The Magic Lantern.''

Bergman shot seven films on Faaroe, a limestone island off Sweden's east coast, and he took refuge there when accused of tax crimes in 1976, before going into exile in Germany for some years. The charges against Bergman were dropped.

During the years abroad, he directed "Autumn Sonata'' in 1978, with Swedish Hollywood star Ingrid Bergman in her second- to-last role. Ingrid Bergman, not a relation, died of cancer in 1982.

Ullmann and another actor who stayed close to Bergman, Erland Josephson, featured in a number of 1970s films in which Bergman focused on tortured families, including "Cries and Whispers,'' "Scenes From a Marriage'' and "Face to Face.'' Bergman revisited the characters from "Scenes'' in "Saraband,'' casting both Ullmann and Josephson.

Bergman is survived by children Lena, Eva, Anna, Mats, Ingmar and Daniel -- who all bear his last name -- Maria von Rosen and Linn Ullmann. A date for the funeral has not yet been set, and close family and friends will attend Bergman's burial, newspaper Svenska Dagbladet reported, without saying where it obtained the information.

To contact the reporters on this story: Janina Pfalzer in Stockholm at ; Benedikt Kammel in Stockholm at .