Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

2008 is one of those years I can see myself looking back on as important and pivotal, not just as an artist but as an individual. I started off the year lost, but ended it found and rejuvenated, creatively and personally. So if the two seem intertwined this year, it’s because I cannot think to recap my artistic journey this year without recounting some of my personal one.

My hospitalization in late 2007 had an indelible mark on what was to come this past year, and it crept into my work creatively. One artistic project- a short story cycle conceived in ’07- was a bold exercise I later came to regret, as it came between me and a dear friend. How I handled this particular crisis in the short term only illuminated how off the path I was. In the long run, however, the lessons of this ordeal have only come to snap me back into focus, resulting in a more focused artistic path, as well as a personal one as well.

During this early time of the year, I found myself on the bill of two Atlanta Composer Group concerts with my 1999 composition “Synthphonic Poignancy”. The first was a January show at the Eyedrum in downtown Atlanta that was well received. I filmed the show, and select pieces can be seen on The second show was at the Three Bears Cafe in Marietta in April, with very much the same lineup. I’d been put in touch with the guy who hosts a jazz night there on Thursdays. I was also the contact for the group on this one, and having heard my friend Jeffrey‘s band there the previous year, I though it’d be a pretty good venue for what we had to offer.

The end result of this show acts as a microcosm for how disorganized things were in my life at this time. Of the 9 composers on the program, only four showed up (to be fair, two had legitimate reasons). Miscommunication between us, the booker, and the venue resulted not only in an hour delay in start time but the venue trying to collect cover after we were told it could be a free show. The crowd was loud and more interested in the jazz to come instead of the composers who came on stage and the music that was played, although the ten people or so who were there for us (including the music critic for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, who I got to chat up a bit) seemed to enjoy it. So painful was the experience that we cut the show short by two pieces since the composers weren’t there. I also filmed this show, but as of yet haven’t wished to revisit the experience.

Some positives did come out of the Three Bears fiasco, however. Apart from the obvious logistical lessons learned, those who were there for us spoke kindly of the music, including Pierre Ruhe, the aforementioned AJC critic). A couple of weeks before the show, some of the composers and I went on a local radio station to discuss Atlanta Composers and plug the show, which was fun (even if my oxygen tank said more than I did). And all things considered, we ended up with some on-the-fly lighting work for the pieced that worked pretty well.

Brian Skutle: “Synthphonic Poignancy”

One part of the Three Bears show that fell through was the visual component. For the Eyedrum, we had none, and that lack of visual stimulus (when we had some for the show the year prior at the Five Spot) was sorely missing. Originally, my friend and co-worker Jennifer had the idea of a visual accompaniment to the music. The idea her and her friend Julie came up with was inspired- a photographical tour through Atlanta. Everything seemed to be going fine, but poor communication on my part- coupled with my larger issues and inexperience putting together shows won out; I got the pictures, but had nothing set to music ready for the show. Given how the rest of the evening went, I was glad this part didn’t work out…

Why would I say that? Because working with the materials late the night before inspired me. Following through on that work a couple of months later opened the artistic floodgates further.

“The last dream occurs only after Ivan’s death, thus asserting Tarkovsky’s view that it is not linear logic but poetic linkages that matter for a truly graceful cinematic narrative.”

The above quote is from an essay on “Ivan’s Childhood,” the first feature film from Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. His films have inspired me in so many ways over the years. And it was in reading his book “Sculpting in Time” and remembering my reactions watching his films like “Andrei Rublev” and “The Mirror” that drove my artistic vision of what was possible with this collaboration of sight and sound. What I came up with can be partially viewed at the Atlanta Composers’ YouTube page linked to above. A live performance of this program, entitled “Unseen Forces: A Visual Poem to Atlanta,” is on my books for 2009.

Brian Skutle: “Peaceful Meditation”

Just as Tarkovsky’s vision inspired that project, that project inspired me to make my own conceptual videos for compositions past, beginning with a trilogy showing the changing seasons as seen in the area around my parent’s house, set to my compositions “Peaceful Meditation” (Summer), “Ethereal Atmospheres” (Fall), and “Peaceful Meditation: An Ambient Fantasy for Piano” (Winter). A drive home from work one night led to the inspiration for my conceptual accompaniment for the Csound piece “Radio Noir” All of these videos- as well as the video presentation of “Synthphonic Poignancy” from the concert- are available at my YouTube page, although you can watch some of them in this blog entry.

Brian Skutle- “Radio Noir”

Some of you may be asking then, “With all this other film work, what about “Unwinnable Hand”…or “Red Cup Mafia”…or any new music?” We’re getting there people- all in good time. Now in it’s “third” year of filming (any comparisons to Kubrick are unfounded…when he filmed for three years, he filmed all the time in those three years), “Unwinnable Hand: A Thriller in Two Movements” has made its’ way online at our Cinema Nouveau Productions MySpace site. Well, the first half of it at least. We managed one day of filming early on in 2008, but scheduling and logistics have provided challenges to be overcome, which I hope to do in 2009.

“Unwinnable Hand: Movement I- Agitato”

But in order to get “Movement I- Agitato” online, music had to be written, and the results were both not quite what I planned but completely satisfying in what it resulted in. The major musical work of the film so far- an 11-minute rhythm-heavy piece entitled “Edge Runner”– carries the drama of the movement while also trying to fit the bill as music from an onscreen source (this part is less-successful, as it’s harder to accomplish with my limited tools). To hear the piece, you can find it on my MySpace page playlist. Another piece written was “Wasted Hand”, a quiet work of underscore that raises the musical stakes higher while serving the film emotionally. That piece can be heard while watching the film.

But musical inspiration didn’t just come from my own film this year. An old project came back to my artistic eye this year as I gained a lot of ground in making my musical homage to Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”– entitled “Beyond the Infinite: A Musical Odyssey”– my fourth album. Circumstances and finance didn’t get it out in time to honor the 40th anniversary of the film’s release (mainly because I’m looking to get the album’s acoustic tracks recorded live), but a little bit of bad luck is what led to the inspiration that got work going on it again.

In May of last year, I finished paying for my truck. On the 26th, I received the title for it. On the 30th, as I was heading to see “Sex and the City: The Movie” with my mom and a friend of hers, I got into an accident, which totaled said truck. But this is one of those “blessing in disguise” type of things, as the settlement I got from the insurance company not only paid for a health down payment on a new truck, but also allowed me to expand my home studio arsenal, including adding a MiniKorg Synth w/ a Vocoder that would become the primary focus of “Beyond the Infinite”.

Brians New Workstation Setup- Closer Look

While the whole album didn’t see completion in 2008, the creative output is the most sustained I’ve had on a musical project since I started writing my 2007 album “Sonic Visions of a New Old West”. It started off simple with “Entr’Acte”, and continued with other electronic works such as “A Place Among the Stars”, “The Minutiae of Space”, and “A Mysterious Lunar Discovery”, as well as some acoustic pieces to be performed by musicians, which will be announced when they’re available for public listening. After something of a composing hiatus late in the year, I began what is arguably the conceptual coup de grace of the album, entitled “The Ultimate Trip”, which is unlike anything I’ve written before in both technique and length. Excerpts from the piece so far can be heard by clicking the above link.

Tentative Artwork for “Beyond the Infinite: A Musical Odyssey”
Cover for Future CD Beyond the Infinite (sorry for the blurriness).

With that, I think it’s about time to end my year-in-review creative blog. It’s been a year of ups and downs, but in the end, I have to say that in every way- personally, artistically- I think I’ve made great strides in the past year, and I hope you agree. 2009 has a lot of promise so far. More live performances (including- possibly- a show of just my music), more music, more writing (the website is thriving and growing), and more cinematic possibilities to be exploited. I hope all of you will join me along the way.

Thanks for listening,

Brian Skutle

Brian’s Current CDs Available
“Creative Beginnings” (1999)
“Dark Experiments” (2000)
“Sonic Visions of a New Old West” (2007)

Categories: News, News - Music

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