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

tag: film

The Prestige Quote

Magic meets transcription

So, about the quote from The Prestige that inspired the week’s Disquiet Junto project. In brief: transcribing it is complicated. I love the description that opens the movie, which was directed by Christopher Nolan. I’d listen to Michael Caine read the phone book. Better yet for him to intone sagaciously on the trappings of magic. Listen here in this clip of the film’s first few minutes:


The thing is, the quote is widely mis-transcribed. A lot of transcriptions insert the word “great” early on. I hear it quite clearly as “Every magic trick consists of three parts.” But there are numerous instances in which it’s presented as “Every great magic trick consists of three parts.” Most of these seem copied and pasted.

Weirder still, a large number of these appearances online of the quote attribute the overall statement not to the 2006 movie, but to Christopher Priest, who wrote the novel, published in 1995, that inspired the movie. The text spoken by Michael Caine does not appear in the book. There is a sequence like it in the book, but it is worded quite differently.

Here is the movie version of the “Prestige quote” on Goodreads, which is a website of books, not of movies, nonetheless attributed to Priest: goodreads.com. (While not as egregious, the mistake feels a bit like Costanza’s failed end run around actually reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s.) And here’s an explanation about TED Talks that uses The Prestige as a model, and attributes the quote to Priest: medium.com. I suppose the tweet thread where this post originated was my TED Talk. :)

So, Priest didn’t write the text, and “great” doesn’t even appear in the movie where the text is spoken aloud.

It’s very Christopher Nolan that there would be an error within an error in plain sight around the world.

Again, I’d listen to Michael Caine read anything, and listening to him speak this text is a masterclass (as distinct from a TED Talk) in making someone else’s text one’s own (in this case: someone else’s text based on someone else’s text). When I re-transcribed it for this week’s Disquiet Junto project, using the widely re-posted “Goodreads version” as my template, I paid attention to each pause, each transition. Some of the pauses signaled em-dashes, one an ellipsis. Distinctions needed to be made for how Caine speaks, versus how Nolan breaks up the speech with brief snippets of imagery. Some are pauses of utterance, while others are more akin to hitting pause.

And sometimes I really couldn’t quite tell what was said. That’s the thing about speaking. It’s like a trick, like magic. You can say two words at once. You can say a word in a way that suggests another word, layers them. You can hint at a word, and then change direction. You can say a familiar word, but mean it different from how it appears on the page. You and I might do these things by instinct as much as by mistake. When Michael Caine does it, it’s … well, it’s just amazing, right? It’s a mastery of phrasing. The way he pauses before “or a man” is mastery. Had Caine done nothing else in his career, I think that pause would have earned him his knighthood. (Not that I’m into knighthoods or regal pageantry, which is why I haven’t called him Sir here.)

So, do listen through the audio. Listen to the micro-utterances, the granular nuances. While doing so 20 or 30 times over the course of a day and a half, I thought a lot about Ethan Hein’s writing about the tuning of voices in rap, the expressiveness of tiny shifts and pauses.

You may hear the text different from how I do. You might transcribe the opening speech of The Prestige differently to match what you hear. For example, I’m not sure Caine says “unaltered.” He may say “not altered.” I’m pretty sure it’s “unaltered.” It’s sort of both. That’s the art of it. In other words, that’s the magic of it.

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Disquiet Junto Project 0489: The Prestige

The Assignment: Apply some magic to ABA form.

Each Thursday in the Disquiet Junto group, a new compositional challenge is set before the group’s members, who then have just over four days to upload a track in response to the assignment. Membership in the Junto is open: just join and participate. (A SoundCloud account is helpful but not required.) There’s no pressure to do every project. It’s weekly so that you know it’s there, every Thursday through Monday, when you have the time.

Deadline: This project’s deadline is the end of the day Monday, May 17, 2021, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

These are the instructions that went out to the group’s email list (at tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto):

Disquiet Junto Project 0489: The Prestige
Assignment: Apply some magic to ABA form.

Thanks to Disquiet Junto member rbxbx for proposing this.

Step 1: There’s a now famous quote from the opening of the 2006 film The Prestige. It goes as follows. Give it a read:

“Every magic trick consists of three parts — or acts. The first part is called the Pledge. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird, or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it — to see if it is, indeed, real. You know: unaltered, normal. But of course … it probably isn’t. The second act is called the Turn. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now, you’re looking for the secret, but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough. You have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call the Prestige.”

Step 2: This arc, moving from Pledge to Turn to Prestige, can be read as a take on the classic ABA structure, in which a theme is introduced, then something else occurs, and then the piece returns to where it began.

Step 3: Compose and record a piece of music that takes the process described in The Prestige as its blueprint.

Seven More Important Steps When Your Track Is Done:

Step 1: Include “disquiet0489” (no spaces or quotation marks) in the name of your tracks.

Step 2: If your audio-hosting platform allows for tags, be sure to also include the project tag “disquiet0489” (no spaces or quotation marks). If you’re posting on SoundCloud in particular, this is essential to subsequent location of tracks for the creation of a project playlist.

Step 3: Upload your tracks. It is helpful but not essential that you use SoundCloud to host your tracks.

Step 4: Post your tracks in the following discussion thread at llllllll.co:

https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0489-the-prestige/

Step 5: Annotate your tracks with a brief explanation of your approach and process.

Step 6: If posting on social media, please consider using the hashtag #disquietjunto so fellow participants are more likely to locate your communication.

Step 7: Then listen to and comment on tracks uploaded by your fellow Disquiet Junto participants.

Additional Details:

Deadline: This project’s deadline is the end of the day Monday, May 17, 2021, at 11:59pm (that is, just before midnight) wherever you are. It was posted on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

Length: The length of your finished track is up to you. Listening can be deceiving.

Title/Tag: When posting your tracks, please include “disquiet0489” in the title of the tracks, and where applicable (on SoundCloud, for example) as a tag.

Upload: When participating in this project, be sure to include a description of your process in planning, composing, and recording it. This description is an essential element of the communicative process inherent in the Disquiet Junto. Photos, video, and lists of equipment are always appreciated.

Download: It is always best to set your track as downloadable and allowing for attributed remixing (i.e., a Creative Commons license permitting non-commercial sharing with attribution, allowing for derivatives).

For context, when posting the track online, please be sure to include this following information:

More on this 489th weekly Disquiet Junto project — The Prestige (Assignment: Apply some magic to ABA form) — at: https://disquiet.com/0488/

More on the Disquiet Junto at: https://disquiet.com/junto/

Subscribe to project announcements here: https://tinyletter.com/disquiet-junto/

Project discussion takes place on llllllll.co: https://llllllll.co/t/disquiet-junto-project-0489-the-prestige/

There’s also a Disquiet Junto Slack. Send your email address to twitter.com/disquiet for Slack inclusion.

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twitter.com/disquiet: Theater Anxiety and Media Ambience

I do this manually each week, collating tweets I made at twitter.com/disquiet, my public notebook. Some tweets pop up (in expanded form) on Disquiet.com sooner. It’s personally informative to revisit the previous week of thinking out loud.

▰ The sequel to A Quiet Place, a film about a society in which survivors of a worldwide catastrophe take extreme caution whenever leaving their homes, will apparently be available “only in theaters.”

Which is to say, the bar for the cinema sensorium has been lowered as a result of the pandemic. Simply entering the movie theater exceeds whatever Sensurround had ever been hoped to accomplish.

▰ I enjoy buying downloads. I also feel a threshold-breaking new utility (app/device/service/protocol) remains necessary for doing so to become mainstream, mainstream being necessary for downloads to pass a threshold at which they will become financially meaningful for musicians.

▰ Me at 6:45am: Yawn.

Me at 7:15am: Oh, yeah, it’s May the 4th. I’ll watch Bad Batch, but it’s not like I’m gonna be celebrating Star Wars all day. C’mon.

Me at 9:00am: Oh wow, this Star Wars Biomes audio-video feature is awesome and I’m going to play it on loop until dinner!

Pretty much the only shortcoming of these Star Wars Biomes videos is they don’t entirely ditch the music. Fortunately, the environmental sound of the various locations is prominent most if not all the time.

▰ Netflix needs a third button for “I really enjoyed this and I never want to watch it or anything like it anytime again in the near or foreseeable future.” Pondering what that hand gesture is.

▰ That thing where you’re looking at Goodreads and you go to click the “Want to Read” button and, just as you do so, the advertising banner finally slides into place, thus pushing down the rest of the page, leading you to instead trigger a full-page view of the book’s cover.

▰ Really enjoyed the dense environmental sounds of Cyberpunk 2077, so rather than just watch recordings on YouTube I got a copy. Somewhere a database is registering the machine language equivalent of “This player simply wanders around town and then stands still for a half an hour.” … Somewhere another machine on the network replies, “The player’s digital signature resembles that of someone who did the same thing in Pikmin 20 years ago.” … Further down the stack comes a whisper on the wind from an ancient BASIC subroutine: “I know that kid. Used to carry a binder of floppies around with him in high school.”

▰ I think I need to add “Loitering in video games” to the Disquiet.com profile.

▰ The phrase “panting sibilantly” was one of the first descriptions in the captions for Mayans M.C. this week.

▰ And on that note, have a great weekend. Listen to one of your favorite TV shows. Admire the emotional heft of the word balloons in a favorite graphic novel. Record the outside and bring it inside. See you Monday. Or maybe Tuesday.

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Disquiet Junto Silent Film Project (Update)

As Paul Kelly sang, "From little things, big things grow"

Over 165 people have expressed interest by signing up via the Google Form posted a couple days ago. For reference, there are currently 1,573 subscribers to the Disquiet Junto email list, and likely there is substantial overlap between the two lists. I may create a standalone list for the Silent Film project, but for now the Disquiet Junto email list will do double duty. In the next week or so, the first film and the participants for that scoring project will be announced, as will plans for subsequent films as well, at least one of which will follow shortly thereafter.

Initially the plan was maybe 20 people or so would sign up, and we’d do a single film. When that number quickly became 40, and then 60, perhaps we’d do three films at once. As the number topped 100, even allowing that many people may not end up having the time or interest when the dust settles, a more deliberate approach came into focus. There are many ways to tackle the collaborative scoring of a public domain film, and so we’ll do multiple projects over a period of time exploring those different strategies. We’ll do one in which very little information is shared. We may do one exquisite-corpse style, where each participant builds on what came before. We may do one where a shared set of sonic resources are made available. And so forth. One thing all these projects will have in common is that the participants will have substantial time to complete their work, in purposeful contrast with the standard four-day turnaround of the weekly Junto projects.

And that covers it. It’s very exciting to have the Silent Film series to cogitate on and act on during this continued state of mutual self-isolation. It is, indeed, a cliche at this stage to belabor the benefits of long-distance connection, but it is not to simply note them, especially because they have been core to the concept of the Disquiet Junto ever since it was founded back in January 2012.

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Early Mann

Listening to The Jericho Mile

I thought I’d seen every Michael Mann movie but I’d never seen The Jericho Mile (1979), which he directed even before Thief (1981), his first film for theatrical release. The Jericho Mile is an ABC TV movie about a prisoner at Folsom with a gift for running. Peter Strauss stars, and the cast includes Richard Lawson, Brian Dennehy, and Geoffrey Lewis, as well as, apparently, numerous actual Folsom residents at the time of the movie’s filming.

This week I finally got around to watching it. The Jericho Mile has, already, a lot of the classic Mann themes (later on view in such films as Heat and Collateral), including the unwritten rules of the criminal underclass, and a view of the subculture from the perspective of a charismatic outlier. It’s not packed with music the way later Mann productions would be. There is, though, great use of a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”; a looser version with no vocals hits the sweet spot between pop and score. The opening montage is a virtual trial run for Miami Vice, everything in sync with the music, even inmates doing jumping jacks.

There were a few other sonic moments worth mentioning:

(1) Midway through, following a riot, there’s a fade-to-white that aligns perfectly with the slowing of the prison’s manual siren.

(2) There’s a minor but unmistakable character in the form of an inmate with a boombox. The role is a bit underdeveloped, but it does allow for diegetic blurring, Mann leaving it unclear at times if what we hear is the score or an emanation from the speakers.

(3) And then there’s the final race, which alternates segments of huffing and puffing with serene silence, the latter presenting the runner’s psychological escape from the prison system, and arguably from the whole of society. This utilization of silence at the end of The Jericho Mile is powerful. It gets at the false dichotomy between diegetic (in-narrative) and non-diegetic (off-screen, such as score or voice-over) sound. What the director has prioritized is representing the point of view, the experience, of the character.

I wrote a short study of Thief, Mann’s subsequent film, last year for Hilobrow.com, and in the interest of time, I avoided the temptation to revisit other past Mann works. I think I’m going to revisit some more soon, including Straight Time and perhaps the Mann film I appreciated the least when I first saw it: The Last of the Mohicans.

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