Luke Fowler's sonic cinema in Chicago

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Luke Fowler
  • Luke Fowler
Scottish experimental filmmaker Luke Fowler will be present for a program of recent work on Thursday night at the Gene Siskel Film Center, part of Conversations at the Edge. Sound art and experimental music have been important concerns for Fowler from the start of his career—a 2006 program at the Siskel featured his experimental documentaries about oddball British musician Xentos Jones, who played in the Homosexuals and Die Computer Die, and brilliant composer Cornelius Cardew. But the films screening this week represent a major progression for Fowler: the sound artists documented in his A Grammar for Listening series are collaborators, not subjects.

Thursday's program includes two of the three works from the Grammar series, which are built around field recordings made by Lee Patterson and Eric La Casa. The installment with Patterson features intertitles that elaborate on the sound sources, but Fowler's visuals don't always zero in on those sources. Instead, we take in a broader view of the setting, though even at the widest angles we see less than we can hear. In a revealing interview with scholar Christoph Cox—who's in Chicago next weekend for the first Sound Art Theories Symposium at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—Fowler discusses this approach:

I would rarely, as you point out, want to film the sound's source—like, say, those steel barriers—partly because we didn't want to have constant hard syncs, but also because it seemed quite futile. Sound recording and filming often work with phenomena that are quite distinct—the camera being limited to documenting light across surfaces, whilst a microphone could record something that was miles away or a contact mic could transduce the vibrations deep within a surface or object, sounds that would often be imperceptible to the senses.

These are not easy films; they require immersion and concentration. But once you adjust to Fowler's aesthetic, you can appreciate how effectively he frames the sound art of his collaborators with a dazzlingly rich fabric of environmental activity, both natural and industrial. The program also includes the four-part Tenement Series, for which Fowler created three-minute portraits of some of his Glasgow neighbors via their living spaces. The soundtracks for these films were made by Patterson and fellow experimental musicians Taku Unami, Charles Curtis, and Toshiya Tsunoda.

A second Fowler screening happens on Friday evening at the Film Studies Center on the University of Chicago campus, and will include his work in progress about Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing, All Divided Selves. Below you can watch a music video Fowler made for Scottish folk singer Alasdair Roberts.

photo: Dfowlerdc

Today's playlist:

Bukka White, Mississippi Blues (Water/Takoma)
Nico Muhly, A Good Understanding (Decca)
Ran Blake and Sara Serpa, Camera Obscura (Inner Circle)
Issac Delgado, Love (Calle 54/Masterworks)
Ricardo Gallo Cuarteto, Resistencias (La Distritofonica)

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