Do You Hear What I See?

Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo and friends answer the cinematic koan: What is the sound of a Stan Brakhage film?

Ranaldo: There was a big controversy in the avant-garde film world this past year about people playing over films that weren't specifically meant for that purpose. Sonic Youth did a benefit [at Anthology Film Archives in April 2003, shortly after Brakhage's death] to raise money for Brakhage's medical expenses, which were pretty phenomenal. But [Stan's widow] Marilyn Brakhage actually returned the money, because she felt like it endorsed musicians playing over Brakhage films. She since sent me a letter saying she appreciated the effort on our part, but she felt conflicted about it. Eventually the money was donated back to Anthology for the preservation of Brakhage films.

Don't call it a soundtrack: Alan Licht, Lee Ranaldo, and William Hooker (left to right, Marina Rosenfeld and Ulrich Krieger not pictured) play music for the film 'Text of Light'
Courtesy of Walker Art Center
Don't call it a soundtrack: Alan Licht, Lee Ranaldo, and William Hooker (left to right, Marina Rosenfeld and Ulrich Krieger not pictured) play music for the film 'Text of Light'

Brakhage was a real purist, but it's well documented that he didn't object to people using his films in other ways, as long as [the audience] was made aware that it's not a collaboration with him. The way we're using [his films], you're basically going to see a concert by this group, and the film is being played in the simultaneous space of the performance situation. We're not illustrating the film; we're not providing a real "soundtrack." We're just playing and the film is playing at the same time. It's not a purist way of viewing a Brakhage film. If you want to see a Brakhage film, you go to see it in a dark, quiet room. We're using it in a postmodern way that makes it into something else.

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