Wars Ep.II - Attack of the Clones
Comment Vol.38 No.4, New York, 2002
Somewhere within the cavernous din that is the soundtrack of Star Wars Episode
2: Attack of the Clones are two moments worth commenting on. These moments
total less than 40 seconds. The film runs for 8,520 seconds.
a darkened chamber, we are shuttled toward a booming
rhythmic source. The unnatural transfigurative quality
of its texture ruptures the musicalized wash of Maxfield
Parrish soundzak which has danced irritatingly with John
Williams' huff-and-puff orchestral bellowing for the
preceding hour. This moment of difference fleetingly
collapses sound and music into the other, conjuring techno
echoes of Detroit's Jeff Mills, Berlin's Maurizio and
London's Carl Cox. Could Star Wars possibly be projecting
a sonic instance which acknowledges the vast terrain
of human noise from the 20th Century? No. We exit the
darkened chamber into yet another gaudy set piece, this
one featuring pounding presses, cauldrons and conveyor
belts whose sonic character pales even when compared
to Giorgio Moroder's 80s synthscape for Metropolis' underground
taking critical pot shots at Star Wars is like picking
on Christians or pornographers (depending on your slant).
The sound for Clones perfectly fits the revisionist,
delusional dry-dream that is the Star Wars ethos. My
prancing prose won't change anyone's view one way or
the other. Still, it is irksome that 'sound design' is
boldly spot-lit by the Lucas apparatus as if there is
something wondrous happening in the dense hieroglyphic
rendering of the Dolby soundstripe of the Star Wars colon.
In terms of audiovisuality - especially at the start
of a new century - Clones is irrelevant, thin, tiresome.
It has naught of the fractal sonarization of Resident
Evil (lo-bit biting and rhythmatized glitching); the
musicological invention of Ghosts of Mars (Carpenter
riffing with Anthrax); the inverted psychoacoustics of
Mulholland Drive (Lynch's granular seepage into Badalamenti's
chorales); the pan-Asiatic pastoralization of Princess
Mononoke (Hisaishi's orchestral retoning for Miyazaki's
cry from the auditorium: "What about the cool sound of
the light sabers?" Grow up. A bit of high tension wire
flanging for 1977 certainly goes a long way, and Ben
Burtt's contribution to the lexicon of sci-fi SFX is
undoubted. But even by 1982, Frank Serafine's work for
the underrated Tron greatly broadened issues of environment,
meta-acoustics and aural dispersion in the non-material
realm. Come the OVA explosion in anime in Japan in the
late 80s, and the work of sound designers like Yasunori
Honda shifted sci-fi/fantasy sound design into wholly
new dimensions. In this respect, the light saber battles
of Clones - despite their high level of crafting - perform
sonically like a 60s soul track in a white baby-boomer's
coming-of-age flick: its nostalgic effect short-circuits
any recontextualization of its purpose.
points raised and countered in this slight comment on
the sound design of Clones are impelled by the rampant
ignorance which effectively drains the bulk of critical
discourse in the cinema for the past one hundred years.
Irrespective of Lucas' recap of the old 'movies died
when sound came along' aphorism, film sound practice
(via industrial demarcation in the USA particularly)
and film sound theory (via the deaf bookishness of the
cinematic intelligentsia worldwide) collectively reinforce
divisions between sound and music. As if Toru Takemitsu
had never scored a film, or Tregg Brown had never slammed
an anvil for a Roadrunner/Coyote cartoon.
eulogizes the death of cinema while animating its overdressed
corpse in displays of sumptuous audiovisual entropy.
Visually, its digital glory amounts to little but seamless
patterning and golly-gosh phantasmagoria. Aurally, it
trumpets its vision so as to infer that its sound is
the result of new breakthroughs in precision and clarity.
But fidelity is not synonymous with digitization. Orson
Welles managed to morph the pitch drop of an opera singer
into a hyper-reverberant transformation of a Bernard
Herrmann string motif, and mix it with the faint, dying
breath of Susan Alexander in a memorable sonic moment
from Citizen Kane. Nowhere in Clones does sound and image
fuse to transcend its moldy theatrics. Nowhere are we
allowed the sensory flotation which occurs when music
dissolves into atmosphere; when sound shimmers with narratological
aura; when voice breathes symbolic density into dry dramaturgy.
yeah. That second interesting moment. In the gladiatorial
spectacle some two thirds into the film, crowd shots
are covered in sweeping widescreen panoramas. Many have
enthused about how 'now with digital technology' such
scenes can realize the scale of mass control previously
the sole province of the DeMilles of a bygone cinematic
era. As I am about to fall asleep in the face of such
marvelous imagineering, I suddenly hear it. A jock lets
loose with a plastic horn, blasting its mock flatulence
across the crowd roar just like at any big sports event.
An ironic touch, no doubt, but that sound alone symbolizes
hope for the future: as the gilded custodians of the
soundtrack find more advanced ways to distill sound from
music and buffet music from sound, noise will prevail.