'A picture doesn't say a thousand words...'

SPHERES - Film by Natan Rifkin, Music by Benjamin Tassie
Interview with composer,
Benjamin Tassie:

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What appealed to you about working with film?
A picture doesn’t say a thousand words. That’s nonsense. Music doesn’t say much either. They keep their mouths shut. They do both suggest things, though – we can infer from them, they instil a sense of something, an atmosphere. They don’t instruct, they can’t be precise, they lack the requisite language for specificity. That’s what appeals to me: there’s space in there. Space to manipulate, to lead this way or that without precisely saying ‘this is the way, follow me’. That’s not to say image and music lack narrative, that they lack content – just that they go about communicating that content differently. It’s the difference between the word ‘sad’ and a sad melody, or a melancholic image. The latter are all the more effective for being indirect in their directness; for being, not saying, what they mean. Music and image make us feel something – they don’t ask. Combined, then, music and film (specifically abstract film) ought to be the manipulator par-excellence the ur-instiller. This appeals to me: saying without saying.

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What approach have you taken to this collaboration?
I had a finished film to work with. Natan Rifkin (my collaborator) had a completed four minutes when I came to write the music. This was entirely liberating. The work, as I saw it, had been done – all that was left was translation; translation from the image into music. Feet up, then. Time for a cup of tea… There’s responsibility with asymmetry, though. The need for sensitivity and an understanding of what is already being said. I’ve tried to be sensitive throughout: I think Natan’s film is delicious, that it’s clear and evocative, and so I’ve tried to write music equally delectable, suitably sensual. For me the most important aspect of the collaboration is that the film and music need absolutely to work as one, to be two parts of the same thing. I think we’ve done that pretty well.

How has working with film shaped your creative output?

The film dictated almost every aspect of the music; the shape, the colour, the durations, the sound-world. In that sense it gave me a framework within which I could construct the music. The most obvious example is that the film’s various cuts and changes of place or image necessitated a change in musical content. To this end I planned the various sectional durations and began writing music to fill them. In terms of colour too, in terms of a general atmosphere, the film dictated the manner in which I worked. Because the film is about night, about electricity, about the urban, so too my music needed to be urban, to suggest the nocturnal. The film is at times fragile, delicate, and so in my music I use a deep electronic bass, a distinctly urban, modern, electro-acoustic palate, contrasted with delicate interwoven melodies, with soft instrumental colours. The film, then, was the mould into which I could pour my music. It happened to suit the type of music I write (that’s why I chose it), and as such it legitimised the use of these sounds – it lent them necessity.

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What do you feel your project is trying to communicate?
Natan’s film is sultry. It’s abstract, to do with colour, shape, layers of image. I suppose really it’s about night; specifically night in a city. It’s about movement too, about journeys, about time passing, about nightfall as transition - in particular, it suggests to me a step through the looking-glass: people, places, things half-seen. There’s a host of latent narrative there. Nothing really happens in the film: it’s to do with place and time, to do with the feel of things. My music, then, tries to communicate something of the heft suggested by these images – tries to push one’s mind in a direction. I wanted to suggest the giving over of oneself to sensation, to night’s pleasures, to the feel of it, the weight of the night air; to communicate the city, this idea of the organic in the urban. I think, basically, it’s all about the moment, and in particular that moment at night when you’re alone, and when you see something quite beautiful.