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Adventures in sound [Global Times]
[June 10, 2014]

Adventures in sound [Global Times]

(Global Times Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Monday night at a screening hall in Shanghai Film Museum, more than 300 people gathered to appreciate the Asian debut of the restored The Epic of Everest, a 1924 film documenting a doomed expedition to the top of the world that year by British adventurers.The 85-minute silent film, long been regarded as one of the most staggering in the British Film Institute (BFI) National Archive, was restored last year by the BFI. British musician Simon Fisher Turner, who was commissioned to make a score for the film, presented a live musical accompaniment for the screening, with Turner on piano and computer, James Brooks on guitar and Peter Gregson on cello.The images in the film range from the majestic beauty of Mount Everest (aka Mount Qomolangma) to the explorers' difficult journey amid snow and ice-capped mountains, as well as the daily life of Tibetan people. Brass is one of the major sounds in the soundtrack, creating a solemn atmosphere with a touch of desolation.Although Turner has had a variety of job titles, including teenage film star and pop singer, in the last four decades, he has established himself primarily as a film composer since his collaboration with British experimental filmmaker Derek Jarman, whose Caravaggio, The Last of England, The Garden and Blue all feature soundtracks by Turner.

Simon Fisher Turner gives a live musical accompaniment for The Epic of Everest.

 The score for Everest, which was released by Mute Records last October, was awarded the Best Original Film Score in May at the 2014 Ivor Novello Awards, which have been rewarding British songwriting and composing talent since 1955.It is not the first time Turner has received a commission from the BFI National Archive Restoration. In 2010, he made soundtracks for The Great White Silence directed by Herbert Ponting, who joined the failed Antarctic expedition of Captain Robert Falcon Scott as its official cinematographer. While the subject matter of Everest and The Great White Silence is similar, Turner deals with the two soundtracks in totally different ways. For The Great White Silence, Turner went as far as to get an audio recording of the silence inside Captain Scott's hat. He made full use of other surviving items from the expedition, such as the bell of the boat, to get authentic sounds. While for Everest, although he had some original props from the expedition, he finally decided to abandon the approach, believing it would be too easy to follow the same process as for the other film.Another thing that inspired him to take the challenge was a piece by French pianist Delphine Dora, whose experiments with the piano include plucking the instrument to make a sound reminiscent of a Spanish guitar. Turner uses the same technique on the soundtrack to Everest."It was at the beginning of Everest that I suddenly realized that I didn't have to pretend to be real. Nothing is real, it doesn't matter," said Turner during an interview in Shanghai the day before the screening. Following this realization, Turner spent around a year collecting and experimenting with sounds. Turner has had a habit of collecting sounds since he got his first tape recorder as a teenager.The sound of wind in the film was collected from several places around the world, including the Statue of Liberty in New York, although not including Mount Everest itself.

A scene from The Epic of Everest   A scene from The Epic of Everest Photos: Yang Hui/GT  The yak bell sounds are a combination of his children ringing bells and with audio clips from tourist videos taken in the Himalayas. He made the sound of women weaving by recording the tuning of a Nepalese hand drum. In some cases the sounds were achieved through experiments with audio software settings, which Turner says he could not replicate."You try things and it doesn't always work, sometimes it's successful and sometimes it's a failure. But it's okay, because it's trying, it's discovering, and it's life," said Turner, who took in total of 14 months to finish the soundtrack for the film.As well as the performers who came to Shanghai, the film's score includes British performance artist Cosey Fanni Tutti on cornet, Andrew Blick on trumpet, Asaf Sitriks on drum, as well as a family of Nepalese musicians.Turner said he built up his understanding of the sounds of Tibet and the Himalayas through films and books about the area. His experience of growing up in the countryside, where he was immersed in the sounds of nature, also helped him develop a sensitivity for all kinds of sounds, he said.On working with silent films of BFI, Turner said he enjoyed great freedom as the institute allows him to be true to himself and do whatever he feels is right. This time he focused on the texture of the sound rather than the reality of the sound because, he said, "the truth is in the film." The film will be screened again on June 22 during the Shanghai International Film Festival at Yonghua Cinema City (6/F, 1 Hongqiao Road, 6476-6622).

(c) 2014 Global Times. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. (

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