BRANDON HOCURA / VOWLS (2010) - Page 1

Unlike Hollywood, which abandoned silent movies soon after the introduction of sound – MGM’s silent swan song was Greta Garbon’s The Kiss in 1929, whereas Paramount’s travelogue/documentary Legong is reportedly the last silent production in Hollywood – Japan continued to produce movies well into the late thirties, although they weren’t exactly free from dialogue.

Kenji Mizoguchi’s The Water Magician / Taki no shiraito (1933) was presented using benshi, a tradition in which an actor performed the characters’ dialogue, narration, and commented on the characters as the film was projected, with intertitles and music.

That unique tradition of live vocal theatre and film exhibition eventually disappeared with the full implementation of sound, not to mention the bias against silent films, and yet it worked extremely well, even if one wasn’t familiar with its roots in kabuki theatre.

A rare screening of The Water Magician recently occurred at the Shinsedai Cinema Festival in North York, Toronto, and featured an original score performed by live its creators, the group VOWLS, whose work is a marriage of styles and instruments from different cultures.

In our conversation, VOWLS leader/composer Brandon Hocura eloquently discusses his involvement with the film, composing the music, and the current acceptance of reinterpreting classic films works with new music, even if the style differs from the original material and pastiches of songs performed with the original silent film.

Film music, in its best form, bridges the gap between the project image and the audience, and creates an emotionally immersive experience unaffected by idiom or contemporary instruments. At the end of our dialogue, please check out some of the links, which include samples of VOWLS music, as well as a sample clip of Mizoguchi’s film with its new score.





Mark R. Hasan: How did you get involved in the project?

Brandon Hocura / VOWLS: Naomi got to know Chris McGee, one of the programmers of the Shinseidai Festival, through a screening of Japanese short animation films that she organized last summer. Since then we’ve gotten to become friends with Chris and are working together to do Angura! (http://angura.org/) screenings. Chris has always wanted to have a live soundtrack performed at the festival and it seemed like a natural fit for us to work on the Mizoguchi film.



MRH: Had you done any prior film work?


BH/V: Yes, all of us have some experience working with film, and collectively we scored a re-edited version of D.A. Pennebaker’s iconic documentary The Monterey Pop Festival. Basically we only used the footage of the hippies and created a revisionist narrative based around the idea that things would be different today had rhythm and communalism been more central to the hippy movement than spectacle and misplaced angst. Imagine the drum, rather than the guitar, became the fetishised object of the Seventies. (You can see the film HERE.)



MRH: Mashing-up elements of a work to create something new is something you accomplished by re-editing and scoring the montages of D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop Festival. Purists might argue the whole concept is an affront to the filmmaker's original intention (or artist or photographer or composer, for that matter), but I wonder if you think we've moved into an era where creating new art from the digital elements of old is a wholly acceptable form of art (with perhaps copyright issues being the only real stumbling block in some cases)?


BH/V: Artists and musicians have been copying works they admire for hundreds of years, long before copyright laws. In fact, the process of imitation was considered one of reverence and helped younger artists develop their own style. In terms of music, especially folk idioms, the only way for songs to survive over generations was for younger musicians to ‘cover’ songs meaningful to their community, a process that both changed and renewed the song often giving it a revived contemporary significance.

However, after the age of mechanical reproduction began appropriation took on a new meaning since images and sounds could be quickly and wholly reproduced. Unfortunately, copyright laws were created as a response to this new under the guise of protecting artists, when in fact most copyright laws are created to protect the companies that control the art and music industries.

In many ways I feel that this new era of digital reproduction is a chance for us to return to the previous mindset wherein engaging with and using sounds and images from pre-existing works is a natural part of the creative process and helps bring works of art into the zeitgeist while simultaneously keeping us grounded in the past. Just by the sheer rate of cultural exchange going on nowadays on the internet copyright laws simply can’t keep up and hopefully this will help us to mature to a point where we openly embrace people’s re-contextualization of the past.



MRH: The mash-up concept also reminds me of indie poster artists who make use of 'found' clip art, archaic fonts, older forms of mechanical colour reproduction, and the degradation of pop culture images (a snapshot of Clint Eastwood, a Cadillac, for example.). Do you feel VOWLS has a similar philosophy where iconographic and popular sounds are recombined to create music, be it to evoke a period, a mood, or perhaps comment on a type of idiom?


BH/V: VOWLS certainly does mine the past for ideas and sounds, but we consciously decided to avoid using samples or direct references as we prefer the process to filter through our subconscious so that these influences are recombined in new and surprising ways.


The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, via Criterion

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