The modular synthesizer, that wild animal covered in wires, has seen its once-endangered populations flourish and its revival in full swing. And now, it has its own movie.
Some years now in anticipation, and with limited screenings here and there at film festivals, I Dream of Wires gets a wide release.
The film is surely a landmark, but the launch is likely to be, too, bringing one of the modular synth’s greatest composers (Morton Subotnick) back to Berlin, Germany for a gala release performance, joined by video artist Lillevan. Mr. Subotnick is a rare figure, having made an impact not just one generation of electronic music, but several – he’s as vital to our understanding of the computer and alternative instruments and interactive software as to the modular. CDM will of course talk to the artists and to director Robert Fantinatto when they’re here in town.
So what can you expect from the movie, and how can you see it from wherever you are in the world?
What artists are in the film? Highlights include Subotnick, of course as well as a mix of pioneers and modern dance artists – Trent Reznor, Gary Numan, Vince Clarke, Carl Craig, James Holden, Legowelt, Herb Deutsch, Ramon Sender, Bernie Krause, Chris Carter (Throbbing Gristle), Daniel Miller, Flood, Jimmy Edgar, Richard Devine, Clark, and more.
What synth makers get the nod? Expect Doepfer (the company that termed “Eurorack” and triggered the boutique modular revival), Modcan, Make Noise, Intellijel, The Harvestman, Metasonix, and Verbos Electronics. And of course Moog and Buchla, natch.
What’s the premiere? Earlier versions have been screened before but the final release documentary gets its first go in Berlin, Germany, at a premiere at the landmark Babylon Kino in Mitte hosted by Monoduo Films and Mobile Kino, Tuesday, 28 July. Tickets are 20€ with the performance presale, via Yapsody or Babylon Kino, if you want to go. (10€ with DVD, 25€ at the door.)
What’s happening in Berlin with Morton Subotnick? Morton Subotnick will play that opening live – his first live show in Germany since 2011 – alongside video artist Lillevan. And that’s a big deal. On some level, Subotnick is as involved as much as any other composer with our modern notion of what electronic music even is – this idea of composing for something people will listen to on a stereo system, both in the recorded sense and later in the interactive computer sense. His Silver Apples of the Moon from 1967, commissioned as a large composition for a record by Nonesuch, is jumping off point for the live show here. Get ready for the title; it’s a mouthful: “FROM SILVER APPLES OF THE MOON TO A SKY OF CLOUDLESS SULFUR REVISITED: VI.” Um… FSAFTMASOCSR6, for short? Fuhsaftmasochristsix? Never mind.
Beyond that, though, I think that modern technological pioneers are significant not so much for inventing things as what blossoms around them, and that’s why Subotnick matters today as much as ever, for the San Francisco Tape Center and Cal Arts programs he helped build and all the thoughts that came out of them.
How can I see the movie? In contrast to a lot of indie film releases, this one is going global – Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, not just at some random film festivals you can’t afford. So if you can’t make it to Berlin, DVDs are available from July 31 through Cargo Distribution / Amazon, and from August 10 through iTunes and Vimeo on Demand. Outside of the US, Canada, and Japan, you can even preorder on Vimeo right now. Vive le VOD!
Anything likely to raise some questions? Well, I do notice a decided anti-laptop bent – but then, I’m hugely excited to talk to Morton Subotnick, as he’s one of the reasons I personally got into computer music. (A lot of those modules are digital, as well – without taking sides, I think it’s remarkable how much Eurorack has brought back both interest in analog and digital solutions.) I also notice an absence in the press release of female artists, in contrast to legends like Suzanne Ciani, who thrilled crowds here in Berlin on the Buchla and also tops a lot of our list of “people who made it impossible not to become a synth player.” What I don’t notice, though, is any groan-inducing artists who seem added just to appeal to young fans. Every one of these names I see has had some impact on the scene.
I’ll be honest, though, I’m so keen to experience the film with an audience – which is a different experience to watching solo – that I’m holding off to watch the screening with everyone else later this month. So I reserve judgment until then.
West Coast or East Coast? Oh, that should be less controversial: expect a heaping dose of both “West Coast” Buchla and San Francisco Tape Center and “East Coast” Moog and Columbia/Princeton/etc. scenes. And that’s good, as some of the books and so on have tended to favor the Moog part of the history and missed out on the rich culture that emerged out of California. No documentary can ever cover everything, though, so I’ll repeat my call for those interested in doing a better job of connecting to the former-Soviet and Eastern Bloc and Latin American and other scenes that US and BBC documentaries might miss.
Expect more detailed answers from the director and a full review, plus the insights from these artists later this summer. I can’t wait.
Spoil the ending for us? The producers promise the following thesis in the press packet: “Today, the modular synthesizer is no longer an esoteric curiosity or even a mere music instrument – it is an essential tool for radical new sounds and a bona fide subculture.”
Official Website I Dream of Wires: http://www.idreamofwires.org
Official Website Morton Subotnick: http://www.mortonsubotnick.com
Website Monoduo Films: http://www.monoduofilms.com
Facebook I Dream of Wires: https://www.facebook.com/idreamofwiresdocumentary?fref=ts
Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1443539872636073