When we started thinking about re-enacting Malcolm Le Grice’s Horror Film 1 a year ago, several questions popped up straight away.
These were mainly technical issues about the source material for the three colour projections, and how the audio is produced while the piece is being performed. Some of these questions were answered by Malcolm here – but it’s only now that we’ve spent several days hanging out with him that we begin to understand these answers.
Bit by bit, I’m going to flesh out some of the answers based on notes that Louise and I made while we were in Devon…
THE BREATHING SOUNDTRACK:
Our instinct was that the amplified breathing which provides the sonic undertone of the work would be produced live – a live feed from a lapel microphone, for example. This would seem to fit with the live-ness of the projected shadows produced by the body in front of the three projectors, and could operate as a kind of index of the performer’s own physiological state (calmness, exhaustion etc) during the performance.
However, Malcolm has confirmed that he does not use live sound. Instead, he works with a CD of his own recorded breathing (the CD is a transfer from an earlier audio-tape recording from the 1970s). From our discussion, it seems that the reason the taped breathing was used – from the earliest performances – was that unobtrusive audio equipment was not available at that time. A long dragging cable would have been a bit of an obstacle for Malcolm’s process of slowly moving backwards during the event (he has a rule for himself to never look back or down, but to stay focussed on the screen).
These days of course, with radio microphones, a live audio version could be trialled. However, Malcolm hasn’t changed the piece to adapt to this new technology. Interestingly, what he says is that the breathing-on-tape operates as a kind of “score” for his own live breathing. In other words, he adjusts his “live” breathing to get into step with the taped breathing. This slows him down and gets him into the work’s “mood”. He is also able to pace himself based on the breathing tape, so that he knows when the time might be right to take the next step backwards away from the screen and towards the projectors.
Other fun facts about Horror Film 1‘s breath-track, and breath in general:
If you would like to listen to a clip from Malcolm’s soundtrack – here you go: Malcolm Le Grice – Horror Film 1 – Breathing Soundtrack – 2 Minute Extract – mp3 file