The Third Something

012 / Musical Interval

Playing around with loops and ossilations, I discover whale music inside a 95-year-old song.

A couple of weeks ago Niki, a Third Something reader, introduced me to a 1924 film called Entr’acte.

Directed by René Clair, it was a collaboration with the Dadaists and features all sorts of absurdist setups, slow motion effects, and trick editing. At 20 minutes long, it was made to be played during the interval at Relâche, a Paris ballet.

It’s fascinating to me that 95 years ago artists were experimenting with the elasticity of film in ways we’ve all but abandoned now (Man With A Movie Camera remains the best example of this creativity, watch it if you can).

Plus it’s just mind-boggling to see post-Edwardian men, dressed in their best suits and hats, skipping in slow motion behind a funeral procession.

A scene from Entr’acte, showing edwardian men skipping in a circle

Entr’acte is notable in film history because it is one of the first instances of music being composed to be synchronous with the action on screen. Eric Satie composed a piece called Cinéma in ten movements, which match the scenes of action on screen.

The score is as absurd as the imagery but it has some nice moments. This little section, about four minutes in, caught my ear:

Those two alternating notes in the middle lingered in my mind for days. There’s something in there, the way they hang in the air…are they raising a question? Hinting at mystery or adventure?

An inspection of an over-photocopied PDF of the original score suggests it’s a simple B rising to a D, I think (maybe - possibly!) in the key of E major.

Classical music is scattered with these lovely little trinkets that are only given a few bars. When I hear them my reaction is always “I want more of that!” So sometimes I record the segment and then, using editing software like Adobe Audition, I loop the bars I like.

Here’s what happened when I did that.

It’s nice isn’t it? But the rhythm is different in the first note and it doesn’t loop easily.

So I began playing around with some of the effects in Audition to see what else I could do. I slowed it down by about 50% and added a small reverb which somehow fixed the loop. And then I played around with the EQ filter: I boosted the bass (low frequency) parts and silenced the high frequency parts.

And listen to what came out the other side.

Can you hear that whale song in there? I didn’t add that, it was somewhere in the 95-year-old recording, hidden in the lower frequencies, just waiting to be discovered.

I’m struggling to put the right words on it, but there’s something that feels quite ancient about this music now. It’s like a huge creature breathing slowly underwater. Or it feels like it’s emerging from the core of the earth, from some ancient spirit.

I’d love to use it in a film. I can imagine it signifying something profound to the characters, or underscoring an emotional moment of revelation.

I know there’s at least one musician amongst the good readers of The Third Something. Do any of you feel inspired to make something with it? If you do, send me a sample!

Another tumultuous week here in the UK. I don’t blame you for not following the twists and turns of Brexit but gosh, it has really descended into something that has me worry for the stability of our democratic institutions.

As I write today I don’t know what the next week will bring. By my next letter the UK could have crashed out of the European Union, or the whole thing could have been called off. Or something else entirely. We’re really through the looking glass now.

Until another Sunday soon,

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