Whispering In The Dark is a short film funded by the Australian Film Commission and developed by writer/director Lynne B. Williams and producer Aida Innocente. It stars Rachel Blake and Daniel Schlussler as a couple who appear snared in each other’s memory of their fractured and transient relationship. Through a series of self-enveloping moments, the two appear to replay their own version of the events that lead to their chance encounter and the aftermath as they leave each other.
Counter to the generally naturalistic approaches taken to drama in Australian film and television, Lynne’s film unabashedly harks back to the psychological complexities of the Nouvelle Roman cinema of Alain Robbe-Grillet, Alain Resnais & Marguerite Duras. There is no clear time frame in the story; the voice-over narration is shared by both characters; differing versions of the single event are replayed; and no clearly defined logic determines a clear connection between the depicted events. In place, a poetic reverie guides the film as we become lost in the psychological currents which drift between the two characters as they explore the transitory and sado-masochistic fringes of their own disposition.
Whispering In The Dark premiered at the St. Kilda Film Festival in 2002. Score excerpts from the film were included on the CD Filmmusic Vol.2, released by Sound Punch Records in 2009.
Writer & director - Lynne Williams
Producer - Aida Innocente
Vocals, samples, drums - Philip Brophy
Sound design & mix - Philip Brophy
The original collaborative plan for Whispering In The Dark called for a sound design in place of a film score. Director Lynne B. Williams imagined a soundtrack filled with the sounds of whispering, breaths and other wind textures. This was elaborated through discussions with Philip Brophy to develop a ‘wind/breath’ sound stage as sonic setting for the characters’ psychology.
This idea was based upon an interpretation of the script – which had to be clearly articulated as the first work the actors were to do after rehearsals was to record their voice-overs. This allowed Lynne to work with the actors’ relation to their text before going on set, so that they knew the ‘inner voices’ which would be playing over the scenes they would be acting. Philip recorded the voices in extreme close-up to accentuate the interior mental state of someone thinking things over in their own head.
These recordings were then used in the picture edit (by Ken Sallows) and Philip was delivered a fine cut with the voice-overs in place. After cleaning up the voice-over recordings and synching up general location atmospheres, Philip worked to make the rest of the ‘sound world’ replicate the hermetically-sealed effect of the voice-overs. All background atmosphere was edited out and the location sound severely gated and compressed, leaving only key events so as to suggest that everything heard is in fact a perceived memory with its own selective bias.
While this approach is hard to successfully convey, Lynne’s streamlined direction of the actors gave them a particularly graceful momentum. When Philip’s ‘isolationist’ sound design was joined to the shots of the actors, they appeared to be sleep-walking and entranced by their own memory and sensuality.
A theatre actor herself, Lynne had deliberately and consistently choreographed the actors’ movements. While Philip was meant to be working on sounds only, he was nonetheless inspired by the performers’ dance and on impulse worked up a couple of musical sketches based on studying the rhythms of the performers – gauging their breathing patterns, their mobility and sway as they walk, their timing in how they cast glances and looks, etc. These sketches then became the score and dominated the sound design: music became the sound of the characters’ interior states, while words – their dialogue and monologues – became the exterior states in which they lived.
Comprised of two key musical sketches, the score to Whispering In The Dark was composed without watching the picture edit. However a visual study of the performers’ momentum – evident through Lynne’s direction – provided the rhythmic template for these sketches.
By working ‘away from image’ rather than ‘to image’, the score was generated by self-contained pieces of music rather than cues. When placed back against the image, their occasional and fluid synchronism gave a sense of the characters’ detachment from each other and their world, plus it suggested the transience and confluences of everyday life swirling around the two characters’ momentary interactions. This ‘de-dramatized’ idea of musical accompaniment is typical of composer Philip’s general approach.
The two sketches are comprised solely of voice and drums. Philip employed extended vocal technique, variable mic placement and additional digital processing through waveform editing for his vocals. The drums were closely miced and were all hit with fingers and/or hands, so that the skins of the drums are as audible as the transient impacts and resonant tones of the playing.
The two sketches (each with their own set of internal movements) totalled about 7 minutes and were doubled to equate the length of the film – literally. The pieces were left as they were originally composed – complete with a few seconds silence between them – and then copied and placed again. Due to the internal rhythms of the pieces being so comprehensively based on the energy of the performers’ physical presence and momentum, the music ‘breathed’ with them as integrally as the performers breathed with each other. In a round about way, the original idea of ‘breath’ became even more integral to the resulting sound design – but now forming the core energy pulse of their interaction rather than a textural sound effect placed atop their depicted action.