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

tag: voice

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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The Hitman’s ASMR

Video game ambience and not


Hitman 3, the latest from the long-running video game series, counts Dartmoor in England among its numerous international locations. A gamer ASMR account on YouTube has set out to produce documents of each of the settings, this one moving from graveyard to abandoned conservatory of flowers to the interiors of a grand home. (There’s also another video up already for an Italian locale.) Notable in the game is that because of its remote places, in contrast with, say, largely urban fare like Grand Theft Auto and Cyberpunk 2077, when voices are overheard, as they are here, they don’t pass as background noise. They stand out like fluorescent paint might against a sodden British hillside.

Video originally posted to YouTube.

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Laura Cannell and Kate Ellis in Mutual Exile

The latest in a year-long, long-distance collaboration


Laura Cannell, from England, and Kate Ellis, from Ireland, are a pair of musicians collaborating at a distance on a year-long project in mutual isolation. Each month they release a new collection that pairs the former’s violin with the latter’s cello, along with other elements, notably Cannell’s angelic voice and light production techniques, such as a deep, unresolved echo. In combination, the dozen months of this work-in-progress are titled These Feral Lands – A Year Documented in Sound and Art. The final track of the March edition of Feral Lands came with a mention that it was the first time the duo had recorded simultaneously, and that they did so over the phone, which circumstances suggest that all of January and February, as well as the lion’s share of March, were accomplished with overdubbing: one musician supplying the other with material to subsequently complement. The April set is another batch of charactertistically verdant wonder, with Ellis adding double bass to the kit and Cannell’s voice taking on a shoegaze-like ethereality.

Album originally posted at brawlrecords.bandcamp.com. More from Cannell at lauracannell.co.uk and Ellis at kateelliscello.com.

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Beirut Drone Duets

Seven pairings courtesy of Ruptured Records


The definition of drone on the first volume of Ruptured Records’ The Drone Sessions gets pushed, challenged, and, in the end, enriched over the course of the set’s seven tracks. Each is a duet, 14 participants in all with none repeated. It opens with a mix of throttled, soft-attack keyboard sounds paired with inhumanly extended vocals, heavenly choir as manifest in a machine, and utterly gorgeous. That’s Fadi Tabbal and Julia Sabra’s “Roots.” Elsewhere, Charbel Haber and Sary Moussa bring a shimmery glitch to “And Yet Another Romance on a Sinking Ship,” while on “Woe to Him,” Sharif Sehnaoui and Tony Elieh emphasize string instruments, what appears to be an acoustic bass particularly prominent, such that the track is only drone-like in its adherence to a repetitive, underlying rhythm (it eventually explodes into a raucous noise).

Which is not only fine but kind of wonderful. Rather than parse out one held tone after another, The Drone Sessions uses the tension between artistic voices in combination with widely varied approaches to explore a far richer palette than an album with this title might have otherwise. All but one of the musicians is Lebanese, the exception being Aya Metwalli, who is Egyptian. Ruptured, the label, is based in Beirut, Lebanon, and the session itself was a collaboration with Nathan Larson, his Lumen Project inspiring the pairing inherent in the lineup.

The other performers are Jad Atoui, Liliane Chlela, Nadia Daou (aka NÂR), Ziad Moukarzel, Jawad Nawfal, Anthony Sahyoun, and Elyse Tabet. “Courbe Lisse,” Tabet and Nawfal’s more traditional drone, is an epic, nearly 12-minute expanse, and how it veers from gossamer pleasure to rougher terrain is one of the album’s many highlights.

All the music was recorded live over the course of two sessions back in November 2020 at the Beirut studio Tunefork. Album originally posted at rupturedthelabel.bandcamp.com. It was released back on March 19 of this year.

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