Northern Void is a 44 minute live audio-visual project mounted by the sound/music duo Ph2 (Philip Brophy and Philip Samartzis). Ph2 has worked on a variety of sound/musical presentations, focusing on collaborative, experimental, immersive and improvisational works. Northern Void also involves Philip Brophy directing and making a video to which Ph2 perform a live soundtrack.
The soundtrack for Northern Void capitalises upon and extends Ph2's working practices. These are largely based around field recordings and captured textures which are then processed and multi-layered into dense fields of sound. Sometimes carved and sculptured into monolithic forms, other times distilled into near-silent aural quivers, the sonic investigations of Ph2 heighten the act of listening.
Northern Void was developed for presentation at ACMI cinema. Funding for the project has come from the City of Melbourne and Film Victoria, with support from ACMI and RMIT University.
Score/Sound-Design - Philip Brophy & Philip Samartzis
Sampler, keyboards, drums, processing, studio engineering, composition - Philip Brophy
Sound recording, field recording, processing, post-production, composition - Philip Samartzis
Studios - Gelatin and Bee Hive
Additional Location Recording - Madelyne Cornish
Drums - Philip Brophy
Trumpet & recorder - Isobel Knowles
Trombone - Gus Franklin
CD & DVD-A released on Sound Punch Records
Premiere - ACMI, Melbourne
As is well know, film music is mostly composed once the movie has been shot and edited: the composer 'works to picture'. The approach taken by Ph2 for scoring Northern Void is by comparison lateral and asynchronous; the music os more conceptually integrated than impressionistically applied. Philip Samartzis assisted Philip Brophy on much of the location shooting. Both grew up in Melbourne's northern suburbs, and were equally familiar with the location. In this sense, their joint ideas on how to 'score' these environments in the present and an imagined future embodies their shared experiences of the film's locales. Philip Samartzis' location/field recordings (from a variety of places around Victoria) were assembled and then workshopped through a series of improvisations. Philip Brophy responded to these recordings with a range of textural recordings, sampled and shaped into 'performable' sounds. These segments and passages were matched and shaped according to the visuals of Northern Void as the video was being produced.
With the visuals complete, work concentrated on articulating the dramatic momentum and arcs within the three parts. This involved extensive experimentation with the two Philips performing to uncover the most innovative yet involving way of reflecting and intensifying the subtextual nuances of how the onscreen landscapes and locations are being transformed across the temporal sections of the video (the past, the present, the future).
As with most Ph2 projects, Philip Samartzis handles the sound effects/recordings/locations/etc. For Northern Void, Philip focused on a range of field recordings he had been producing documenting aspects of the Australian landscape environment. Some of the sounds are elemental (fire, water, wind, etc.); some are organic (birds, bats, insects, etc.); and others are industrial (farm turbines, mining processing belts, etc.). The clarity and complexity of the recordings are retained as Philip processes the sounds into dense layers and passages.
One sound from Philip's growing sonic library became central to the Northern Void narrative: bats. Philip had been collecting sounds of miniature bats in caves, as well as fruit bats in trees at dusk. Around the same time, Philip experienced a massive fruit bat nocturnal flight on the top floor of a hotel in Woolloomoolo as the bats headed south from the Domain. The Prologue of Northern Void is in complete black, accompanied by a quadraphonic mix of Philip Samartzis' bats recording; after some time, their animated form can be perceived heading toward the viewer en masse. For the Epilogue of Northern Void - set in the year 3079 - the bats are visible as well as audible, this time as a storm of albino bats emerging from the horizon and engulfing the screen in a total white-out.
For the 2nd section - The Future (2085) - the original footage of the strip of High Street shopfronts has been modified with compositing to render the buildings as solitary facades in a barren landscape, but with a tangle of electrical cabling and generator wiring suspended above the street. This became the focus of many of Philip Samartzis' industrial, mechanical and electronic recordings - some actual field recordings, some digitally created.
The music heard in Northern Void is composed by Philip Brophy. It selectively appears - sometimes with no relation to the accompanying soundscape as a stand-alone track, other times as a series of pitched textures which are shaped into simplistic chord sequences. As with Philip Brophy's contribution to Ph2 projects, these latter textures are either from Philip Samartzis' field recordings, or his own close-miced textural recordings. They are then transformed with MIDI data for performance on a keyboard sampler.
The generally mournful tone is envisaged as an elegy for the debilitated people composited onto the futuristic landscapes of the video's 2nd section, as well as their ghosts who roam like morbid ectoplasm in the 3rd section - the Post-Future (2073). The morphing sheets of horn textures and the massed flute-ish/recorder-ish chorales are the result of discrete single-note takes of performances by Isobel Knowles (trumpet and recorder) and Gus Franklin (trombone). Playing on the semiotic baggage of these instruments, their processed breathy tones evoke a strange mellotron from a the void spaces central to Northern Void's themes.
The music heard on the Northern Void CD is from a live 4-track recording from the second performance at ACMI in Melbourne. The performance was recorded and engineered by Chris Mackellar.