Speaking in Code
It's been a long time in coming, but Speaking in Code, Amy Grill's documentary feature about the international electronic dance music scene, is finally about to be unveiled. Actually, that description's not quite right. The film, which opens Thursday, April 23 at the Independent Film Festival Boston, tries to tell a broader story about electronic-music culture by following a few individuals as they make their way through it. Filmed over the course of a couple of years, the documentary principally features Modeselektor and the Wighnomy Brothers, catching both acts at precisely the point where their careers began to really take off. And a supporting cast of likeminded souls—Akufen, Tobias Thomas, Sascha Funke and others—help flesh out the contours of the scene.
I'm in there as well, although I don't know to what extent. I haven't seen the finished cut, and to be honest, I'm not that keen on the idea of screen time. I relish the idea of seeing my filmed image even less than hearing my recorded voice -- which, as John Cage theorized, was a common source of discomfort, given that any playback presents our voices shorn from the natural resonance we're accustomed to experiencing as they vibrate through our skull. We feel naked, in other words. (I don't know what the visual equivalent would be, but I like the idea that there is one.) Plus, I think I have a weirdly lumpy profile.
But none of that should detract from the fact that I spent some incredible times filming with the SiC crew -- at MUTEK, in my old flat in SF, at c/o Pop and one of Kompakt's big Total bashes, even venturing all the way to Jena, Germany (home of Zeiss lenses!), to hang out with the Wighnomys and the Freude Am Tanzen gang. Jena's a special place -- I highly recommend visiting, if not simply to visit the FAT crew's Fatplastics record store, a proper digger's delight. (I do not, however, recommend leaving town at 3am, drunk on Wighnomy wine, if it means waiting on a snowy train platform, avoiding a talkative passenger much drunker than you who actually follows you through the train until you duck into a darkened sleeping bunk, sleeping one, maybe two hours, arriving in Leipzig only to find no bus to the airport, paying an unthinkable amount for the cab, reaching the ticketing counter just as they're closing, and then, only then, to be held up at X-ray for an object that, after a thorough search and a stern finger-wagging, turns out to be a collapsible wine opener. [What can I say, I like to relax with a nice red in the evening.] I did, eventually, however, reach home in Barcelona, much dehydrated and less one nine-dollar corkscrew.)
So: Speaking in Code. I'm as eager to see it as anyone. I still recall vividly when I first started filming with Amy, David and the incredibly talented cameraman Scott -- it was at MUTEK, maybe the very first day we were filming; we were talking to Akufen in very broad terms about his productions, about the Montreal scene, about electronic music in general. He said, as a way of expressing that idea of a secret essence to it all, "It's like speaking in code." A shiver went up my spine; I knew we had found the title to the film. In that one image was the whole nexus of subculture, technology and of desire -- the desire to have a shared secret. It's been a long time in the making; electronic music is a lot different now than when Amy and David first approached me about the idea of an electronic-music documentary. The whole mediascape is different. The code keeps being rewritten. But I think the desire stays much the same. If nothing else, hearing those familiar tracks over the trailer confirms it.