Tuesday, September 20, 2011


[ Update: I stand corrected about some of what I say below, specifically my doubt that the film achieves many of its aims via CGI and that "plenty of it seems to have involved actual intervention in the locations that would have involved a great deal of planning and logistics." It seems so, yes, but having now viewed the Blu-Ray extras I can see that I was quite mistaken. And also let me say I'm really excited for Gareth Edwards to be helming the latest Godzilla in 2014! --MH, October 2013 ]

I recently spent a sick day watching a bunch of movies, and was happy to stumble across this one on streaming Netflix. Released in 2010, Monsters seems to have slipped through the cracks for the most part. Which is too bad. It's worthwhile viewing for fans of that all-too-rare artifact, the intelligent monster movie.

The film takes place in a large swath of Mexico near the border with the U.S. A returning space probe has somehow left this area "infected" by enormous tentacled beings, for the most part glimpsed as incidental/ peripheral phenomena. A photojounralist (Scoot McNairy) must transport his boss' daughter (Whitney Able) through the infected zone back to the U.S. I won't reveal too much more of the plot; suffice to say the film draws intriuging parallels between the human characters and their monstrous foils (the latter of which we get to know a little better by the end). The characters are well drawn, the cinematography hand-held verite with a magic-hour meditative sensibility.

Indeed, the film impresses technically given meager means. Its imdb page estimates $800,000 as the budget, and claims it was "made with a crew consisting of only two people using 'off the shelf' $8,400 cameras, editors, digital effects programs and other such equipment." I'll buy that, though I'm a little skeptical that "settings featured in the film were real locations often used without permission". My doubt arises from what I like most about the film-- the art direction portrays the alien "infestation" as having integrated into daily life by means of weathered signs and murals, ominous wreckage, and glimpses of news footage. I'm sure some of it could be CGI, but plenty of it seems to have involved actual intervention in the locations that would have involved a great deal of planning and logistics.

But no matter. I love monsters and I love film, and this movie offers otherworldly creatures emblematic of compelling ideas. And that, my friends, is how a monster move oughta be!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Repurposing, Part II

Snuck in some more work on "Foley In Search Of A Film" today; liking it more and more as it develops. I'm hoping to post an excerpt once it's a little further along.

It's pretty hilarious to hear all these cues pumped up at full volume rather than tucked into their usual subtle contexts; all sorts of disjunct room tones, quirks and glitches that usually disappear suddenly pop front and center. They have an alien quality when de-contextualized. Rather than my usual fussy crossfade nips and tucks, I think I'm going to leave the hard edges on audio regions to max out contrasts.

I'm struck by how much narrative is implied by the sounds of assorted activities, both through layering and through isolated sequential presentation. I'm wondering how to play with that; encourage, discourage, subvert, sabotage?

It's nice to finally move into some work that's highly presentational in terms of elemental recording; all too often I'll solo some element from a multitrack recording and think "That sounds really pleasing all by itself". Why not strip it all away and present it thusly?

I should also mention that this composition has been influenced by the work of Swedish composer and sound artist Hanna Hartman, whose boldly stark montages of field recordings and Foley-esque studio recordings have really been impressing me lately.


I've been invited to contribute a sound piece to the listening room at a sound art festival. I'm putting together a piece called "Foley in Search of a Film", which assembles Foley cues I've created for film and video pieces as a sound montage. I've had this idea in mind for a while, and it's exciting to finally sit down and work on it.

But the main challenge I'd anticipated has evaporated: I was wondering how I was going to make all these cues gel and go somewhere interesting. Instead, I've found that pretty much every combo of elements is dynamic and powerful. It's like selecting a whole bunch of eloquent people from different fields and inviting them over for a party; yanked from their original context and placed in sudden conversation, they have a lot of compelling things to say to each other.

This experience provides a link I've sought for a while: I've long been interested in the mis-use/ re-purposing of tools and methods, but I've never really known why. Here I'm finding that simply re-contextualizing some element of a process can refresh its mission as it stands in starker contrast. Wondering how to juxtapose elements never meant to be juxtaposed encourages examination of each element's essence.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Recent work

Links to some of my recent music composition and sound design.

For more info, feel free to drop by my recently updated web site.


Original music, audio accents and sound design for an episode of the "Inside Sessions" series produced by Avid and NYC's SonicScoop.com, featuring an in-studio performance by the band Beirut. I also completed the post mix for the video.


Los Angeles production company Yes Equals Yes used a couple of my musical accents (at the very beginning and at :29, for those of you keeping score at home) in this spot.

Sound and music for animation. Foley arts, recording of narration and character voices, original music composition, and final mix for the animation collection "Reform: Ancestors", a DVD of Old Testament stories from the Sparkhouse line at Augsburg Fortress Press.

Highlight reel of original music for "re:form Ancestors: Old Testament" DVD

Highlight reel of Foley and sound effects for "re:form Ancestors: Old Testament" DVD


An educational film concerning issues faced by contemporary teens. I served as location recordist, Foley artist, dialogue editor, and post mixer.


Original music for "I Like You", a multi-disciplinary performance piece by choreographer/ director Laura Holway. The show concerns varying spheres of intimacy, and how social experience transcends the barriers between these zones to establish human relationships. I accommodated requests for mandolin folk, funky synth pop, and a glitchy insect orchestra.


The debut of my performance/ installation project the Sound Spandrel, presented at the Science Museum of Minnesota as part of Northern Spark's 2011 Nuit Blanche festival on June 4th. A site-specific sonic event somewhere between performance and installation, the Sound Spandrel explores space via sound, integrating an environment's sonic character as both raw material and the medium of presentation.


To be sure, I'm a fan of spectacularly failed media. Lately I've been indulging in terrible movie musicals, the most momentous of which I've wintessed recently is definitely Voyage of the Rock Aliens. But V.O.T.R.A.'s availability in the U.S. is nil without some Internet gymnastics. So instead I'll discourse upon my second favorite recent find, 1990's Rockula-- recently rescued from distribution oblivion by the great re-animator that is streaming Netflix.

This is far from the worst movie I've ever seen (though exactly what is the worst movie I've ever seen? That'd be a hard call), but it's really dumb in all the right ways. Best of all, it's the only film I'm aware of to feature appearances by Toni Basil, Thomas Dolby, and-- who else?-- Bo Diddley. That's right. All three of these people in the same film.

The plot concerns a 200-year-old vampire named Ralph LaVie (Dean Cameron) who's been cursed to meet Mona, the reincarnated love of his life, every 22 years. For some reason Mona is always killed by a peg-legged pirate on Halloween night, and this cycle will continue until the curse is broken.

Anyway, Mona's a singer in this era, so Ralph decides to impress her by starting a band called Rockula. Bo Diddley is somehow persuaded to join this combo, which immediately starts playing huge club dates in the way that bands in movies often do. Witness:

Mona, of course, is quite impressed by all this (who wouldn't be?), and lots of romantic comedy stuff ensues. This includes meeting Ralph's mom (Toni Basil), who's also a vampire, and who for some reason decides to regale Mona with the following musical number:

Yep. If you've ever wondered what went on with Ms. Basil between "Mickey" and the choreography for those Gap ads, wonder no more...

But my favorite deliciously terrible moment in this film is, hands down, the big hip hop number. Check this out:

Truly incredible. So it kind of goes on like this... basically a dumb 80s musical romantic comedy, but it plunges into a surreal lack of quality often enough to satisfy. Vinnie Rattolle's terrific blog goes into a lot more detail if you're interested-- this is where I found out about the film in the first place. Enjoy!