Jeff Mills, Dieter Moebius, JD Twitch and Raime perform live film soundtracks at 2013 Glasgow Film Festival
Woman in the Moon, Baraka and Metropolis among films featuring sound score
The Apollo space missions in 1960s America made a mark on Detroit techno legend Jeff Mills, and fuelled his sci-fi film fantasies. Neil Cooper chats to him before he delivers a live soundtrack as part of GFF
Science-fiction and electronic music have long co-existed in parallel universes, the assorted experimental visionaries behind them predicting the future. Detroit techno pioneer and long-term sci-fi obsessive Jeff Mills in particular has made such a symbiosis a dimension-expanding virtue. These two worlds finally collide beneath Caledonian skies when Mills beams down his live soundtrack to Viennese-born expressionist auteur Fritz Lang’s 1929 film, Woman in the Moon, as part of an all-day space invasion known as Sonic Cineplex.
This meeting of minds between Mills and Lang originally came via the renowned Cinémathèque in Paris [a bit like a French BFI], who first recognised what such a space-age collaboration could contribute to a Lang retrospective.
‘I was aware of Lang’s other films,’ Mills explains, ‘but Woman in the Moon had really escaped. It was Lang’s only bona-fide science-fiction film, and was produced in two distinct parts. It’s a melodrama, with the first part introducing the characters on Earth preparing to go to the Moon, then they’re on the Moon itself. That allowed me to compose in two parts, and it’s two very different soundtracks, really. The first part is more suspense-driven and dramatic; then, composing for the moon sequences, I had to bear in mind that when the film came out that this was the first time a lot of people had seen that sort of representation of the Moon. That gave things more depth and mystery, and allowed me to play with hiss and white noise, counter sounds, really.’
All of which ties in with Mills’ first realisation that space was the place.
‘Growing up in America during the 60s, with the activities of NASA, and all the discussions dominating the news, it was inescapable,’ he remembers. ‘During the launch of every Apollo mission, we’d be pulled out of class to watch it on TV in the school auditorium, so the idea of space science and imagining things beyond the earth was always there. It was the same with music. Both of these things were about leaving the walls of the century.’
Sonic Cineplex’s series of explorations in sound and vision forms part of Glasgow Film Festival, and looks set to take over The Arches inside a TARDIS-like galaxy of rooms not quite of this earth. As well as Mills, among others, a bumper-sized programme will feature post-dubstep industrialists, Raime, who will apply images to their recently released ‘Quarter Turns Over A Living Line’ album. Optimo leading light JD Twitch, meanwhile, will provide a live cinemix to Baraka’s adventure in dialogue-free, actor-absent plotlessness. Adam Stafford will improvise a new score to Robert Wiene’s 1920 silent horror, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, while Dieter Moebius of German kosmische icons, Cluster, presents his soundtrack to Lang’s better-known future fantasy, Metropolis.
Mills is particularly delighted to hear about the latter. Not only are he and Moebius long-term fellow-travellers, but Mills scored his own take on Metropolis prior to The Woman in the Moon.
Beyond Woman in the Moon, Mills plans to tackle Things To Come, the 1936 celluloid version of HG Wells’ future-history novel published three years earlier, The Shape of Things To Come. For the present, Lang is opening up an increasingly brave new world for Mills.
‘The more I look at his films,’ he says, ‘the more I can relate to them as a musician. The way he tells stories, he’s like Stanley Kubrick, in that they both left an enormous amount of space in the way they shot their films to emphasise different types of spliced scenes, but which were always symmetrical, only displaying the most important part of each scene. Woman in the Moon is perfect for that. It’s all about possibilities, but by the time they take off, the soundtrack kind of disappears.’
Sonic Cineplex, Arches, Glasgow, Sat 16 Feb, 3–11pm. Part of Glasgow Film Festival.