The Eye Hears, the Ear Sees

On Sunday evening, I went to see a little Norman McLaren retrospective at Kino Village, an outdoor summer cinema in Rome.
I remember the first time I watched a McLaren film: I was a kid, studying piano in my hometown Conservatorio (it’s like a classical music academy). One year, there was a cycle of conferences around music and animation: it was so fun because it was something completely different from our daily music studies and broke the usual seriousness of the school. Bach and Mozart are great, but for a 13 years old boy maybe they aren’t the most exciting thing in the music world. So watching animation films as part of our lessons was something very refreshing and interesting.¬†We saw shorts by Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Bruno Bozzetto: all of them were different examples of the connection between music and animation (from the first sound experiments by Disney to the use of music as “sound effects”, and to music as the driving force and rhythm of animations).

BTW this is one of my favorite of all time:

Clock Cleaners – 1937

Anyway, among these more mainstream movies, some of the works of McLaren were projected: one of those was “Begone dull care” (1949), I still remember today after almost twenty years. It was so strange , for a kid like me, but at the same time so beautiful and hypnotic and magical. And the music by Oscar Peterson (at the time I never heard before) helped a lot to make it special.

Sunday evening we saw some of his most famous works: and I suggest to watch them if you don’t know him (and re-watch as his work is amazing).

He experimented during all of his life with different animation styles, new (and old) techniques and various visual languages, but one thing never changed: the deep connection between the soundtrack (most of the time only music) and the moving images.
One of the technique he explored already at the beginning of his career was drawing and carving directly on the film strip: not only he drew on the 35mm frames, but he carved the optical sound track to make the “score” of his film:

Dots – 1940

Yes, you read it well, 1940 years before synths were invented! (This techniques remind me the amazing optical synth Oramics)

Or he photographed series of small rectangular cards and arranged them on the optical sound track to create the sound and “visualize” it, in a rhythmic, colorful explosion of shapes.

Synchromy – 1971
So beautiful!

So, check some of his other works here: National Film Board of Canada

Like the Academy Award winner “Neighbours” – 1952:


And the very poetic “Pas de deux” – 1968:


And on Ubuweb, a documentary on his life.

PS: this is my first post in English, please excuse any misspelling.


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