Optical Sound is a classic found-footage work comprising hundreds of fragments of opening credits from 35mm films. The countdown which appears at the beginning of every release print is normally withheld from the viewing audience. Also not visible is the narrow, vertical optical soundtrack on the left edge of 35mm film strips, which involves black, symmetric wave shapes on a transparent background. A special acoustic sensor translates this visual information back into sound in a cinema.
Optical Sound is an homage to this type of soundtrack, which was moved to the visible area. This also shows what can be heard simultaneously. The conventional production process, in which musical accompaniment’s added to sequences of images, was reversed: The sound serves as the dominant, and the light follows.
The two filmmakers invited the musician Siegfried Friedrich to work with the acoustic material in their substantial archive of opening credits. The sound alone provided the foundation for his compositions, and the accompanying images were more or less arbitrary additions. Production work was limited to montage, and neither the images, the sound nor their connection were manipulated. Using sync tones and other noises such as beeps and crackling, and static caused by wear and physical changes to the soundtrack, Friedrich constructed a collage to create a furious, dadaist score. Especially powerful are snatches of a happy girl’s voice, which directs unintelligible messages at the audience repeatedly. The staccato character is also manifested in the visuals: Numbers, letters, test patterns and dusty, scratched color fields appear in rapid succession.
In an era when cinema has gone digital once and for all and the optical soundtrack is history, Groen and Neubacher once again give life to analogue film material. Light and sound — the essences of cinema — are celebrated in this timeless, lyric collage.
Music is there at the start. The composition is in charge of direction and draws the sound-on-film onto the image. The sound-on-film generates abstract pictures that trace and visualise the music. Sound like an image in one´s head. The source material is the opening and closing credits of feature films, used as a picture and sound test for projectors.
Optical Sound is an hommage to optical sound.
The directors step to the background, the composer, at the start of the film. The hierarchy is broken, music is paramount.
The composer receives raw material, abstract sounds from which he creates a rhythm made up of sounds, scratches, and voices--fragments of head and tail leaders.
Only now does the original image fit with the present composition. Parts in which the picture´s dominance represses the sound are excluded.
The rhythm of the composition has written itself into the image.
(Elke Groen & Christian Neubacher)