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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

Listening to ‘Loom’

Colin Smith and Simon Elms provide "sound design as score" in Luke Scott's sci-fi film.

Loom is a short science-fiction film by writer-director Luke Scott. Scott is the son of director Ridley Scott and the film is, in various ways, the offspring of one of Scott’s great achievements, Blade Runner. It’s as much a matter of setting (dystopian future) and characters (a scientist and his mysterious house guest) as it is of plot (manufactured lifeforms). The score to the film, which is about 20 minutes in length, is particularly effective. Its credited to Colin Smith and Simon Elms, who for the first three quarters provide something more akin to sound design than score — or, more to the point, sound design as score. The music heard in the film could very well simply be an enhanced recording of the environments in which the film is set: the audio from the ventilation systems of a laboratory and a stark apartment complex. Certainly, the sounds are heightened and given tonal and rhythmic structure, so perhaps it’s more to the point that it’s as if we’re hearing the sounds of the environment as discerned by the main character — the ventilation triggering, or reinforcing, his anxiety, claustrophobia, and scheming. As a nice touch, the pulsing with which the film opens brings to mind a heartbeat, telegraphing the story that will follow.

This “sound design as score” is the case for the first 15 minutes or so in Loom, at which point the film’s climax begins, and the score becomes more formally musical, more conventionally musical. These things are purely relative, of course. The score remains gauzy and hazy as the climax gets underway, but the synthesis is readily apparent. More to the point, there’s no longer a material correlation between what’s heard and what is seen, and thus the score takes on a more traditional role. This final segment comes across more like a synthesizer being played, and the music at this stage brings to mind mellifluous passages of the original Blade Runner score by Vangelis.

The closing credits feature a vocal that seems to have been put through a lightly glitchy filter. (The credits include this line: “Punjabi Folk Song performed by Mrs. Mohini Bangera.”) Given what occurs in the film, it’s touching to hear a woman’s voice, especially one that has been conjured to seem partially artificial.

The film was shot on the “RED EPIC in 3D” system, and serves as a showcase for the digital technology. As a note at red.com states, Loom is intended to be viewed on a laser projector, but the web version was posted for general consumption.

More on the film at deadline.com. Located via io9.com. More on the film’s composers, Smith and Elms, at eclectic.tv.

Update (2012.08.31): After posting this I corresponded with Colin Smith, one of the film’s two co-composers. I asked for more information about the song that runs in the credits. He responded via email, and it’s reprinted here with his permission:

The song in the credits is sung by Mrs Mohini as it says. She is a the mother of a gentleman I met through work in Mumbai. She sat and played tabla and sang for us at her house before having dinner and gave me some recordings she had made of her singing old traditional songs. We took sections of the recording and manipulated it both to make it useable and slightly unusual as the majority of the score is. I mainly used Melodyne to get the effect and then of course harmonised it with several guitars to get the right emotional content.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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