The soundtrack as an element of film-poem creation: an interview with Marc Neys

Belgian filmmaker Marc Neys, A.K.A. Swoon, needs no introduction to fans of videopoetry. In an earlier interview in this series, he answered some general questions about his video remixing of poems from the Poetry Storehouse. Since Marc is also an electronic composer/musician and puts such a strong emphasis on the sound of the poetry he adapts to video, we wanted to question him in a bit more depth about the role of sound and music in his work.

Talk about how you view the soundtrack as an element of film-poem creation. Which comes first for you—the soundtrack or the images?

I always consider my soundscapes the mortar of my videopoems. They pull the combination of the different building blocks together and hold them there. Very often they set the pace and lay down the main atmosphere of the whole video.

It doesn’t matter what came first (with me it’s sometimes the music, sometimes the images, sometimes the poem), but I do construct a soundtrack (with the reading) as a base before I start my editing, always—even if I had the images first. That provides me a timeline to work with.

Do you always build your own soundtrack or do you sometimes use tracks made by others? How do you decide whether to make your own or not?

In 90 percent of my works I have built my own soundscapes, not that I consider myself a great composer—certainly not a musician in the strict sense of the word. But I just love making those.

I worked with others a few times. (Kathy McTavish is a great collaborator, but also Lunova Labs, Hanklebury and Sonologyst are a few of my SoundCloud friends I have worked with.)

Talk about the process of building a soundtrack. What comes first? How does the work process develop?

That’s a hard one. I work organically. I love sounds, industrial as well as natural. I record sounds often—from crinkly paper and plastic to to coke cans, coffee and other household appliances, nature sounds, etc. I also use a collection of toy instruments to play with.

I collect my recordings just as I do with footage and images. I have a library of sounds and melodies that I use as building blocks. So it’s hard to say what comes first.

I start with a sound, add another, and another, shift, stretch, combine, add a fleeting melody or arrangement here and there… shift again… until, during that process, something happens. Some things suddenly ‘click’ and work together.

When dealing with a poem, I use the recording of the poem as one of the building blocks. Sometimes I build around the poem, sometimes I use (re-edited) existing tracks to lay the poem in.

What sort of hardware and software do you use to create your soundtracks? Have you always used these, or has there been a progression in the sophistication of your sound tools over the years?

I use a combination of tools. I record my sounds analog (with an old tape recorder) as well a digitally (with a simple USB microphone, a Yeti) All my sounds are put into digital files using software by Magix (originally bought to transfer my old vinyl collection to MP3)

To create new arrangements and mix them with these soundfiles I also use Magix (Music Maker).

In MIDI I can ‘play’ any sequence of notes in any instrument, sound or style and combine it all in different tracks.

I would love to get my hands on some real (but old) instruments. I love the sound of anything ‘broken’. I would also love to get some better recording equipment (better mic’s, a new recorder…) but all those things cost money and take up space. (The space is there—one day my attic will be a full studio :-) —but the money isn’t.)

Give us an example of a soundtrack you created recently that you are very happy with – why did this one work out so well in your view? (If you can’t choose, how about that amazing soundtrack for ‘Sweet Tea’ by Eric Blanchard at the Storehouse..?)

I wouldn’t use one If I didn’t believe it worked, but some work better than others I guess. It’s also in the ear of the viewer.

I kinda liked this one:
Bees in the Eaves on SoundCloud

I loved the combination of that metallic-sounding percussion (for those who want to know: it’s the sound of an old wind-up music box, stretched and slowed down until it sounded like light metal plates) with the simple and light drone (a combination of MIDI sounds, wind—me blowing into the mic—and violins. Also slowed down). The harsh sounds (electronic) at the end come from this great online theremin I recently found, and I let them clash with some piano sounds I played on this online instrument and the metallic percussion of the intro.

But that’s the last time I let someone peek into the cooking pots! I myself, when hearing great soundscapes, don’t want to know where certain sounds come from or how and with what they were made.

What is your advice on soundtracks to film-makers who are just starting out?

Listen, watch and learn. Experiment! Trial and error and keep the errors!

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