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How Bruno writes brain music for GLOW

September 23, 2010

It’s a unique concept: premiere a 12-hour film on the same stretch of the beach where it was shot – and write original music for it.

It takes someone skilled in music composition and cognitive science to accomplish this Herculean task. Someone like Bruno Louchouarn, a professor at Occidental College in Eagle Rock.

“We filmed Day for Night,” says Louchouarn, “during the day so it’ll be shown at night in the same place. It’s cinema of the in-between, super long form, more than a dozen actors and wholly unscripted.” The drama that unfolds, he says, is slow evolving and pedestrian. “So the music has to find the rhetorical shape of the moment. Like a clock, it changes ever so slowly, but if you check an hour later, it looks much different.”

He explains his observations of ‘rhetorical shapes’ this way: “I was a cognitive scientist before I became a full fledged musician. I almost finished a PhD in artificial intelligence. Then I worked in film and music. I went back and did a masters and PhD in composition at UCLA. I’m a composer, but I work behind the camera. I’ve looked at how the mind works.”

Louchouarn began to look at the nature of the time-base experience or what happens when we experience music and movement or music and film. “What really touches upon that the most is the ancient art of rhetoric, which looks at how you shape something regardless of the discipline. So you can have an intensification, the contrast, the repetition – all those really are rhetorical terms. I think it’s interesting to look at these in time-based art.”

He finds that there’s a certain way something will be shaped. “It may be the rate of change, the contrast, the level of repetition, the level of abstraction versus reference, all those things could apply to dance. It’s also very cross-disciplinary. I love theatre for that reason.”

So does Louchouarn write music based on how the brain works? “I have to be slightly humbler than that, but I think that intuitively I had some inkling that music was not as formalistic as one might think, especially coming out of the ‘high modernism’ of the ‘50s.”

He teaches at Occidental College in the music and cognitive departments. “Part of my research is how the brain can function that way. Last year, at the Origin Festival in Pasadena, the arts and ideas festival, I was commissioned by the Pasadena Art Council, to write an evening-long piece about the experience of music… how you start from a bare sound and make patterns. The mind forgets that people are hitting things [to create sound] and it becomes the architecture of the abstract. It was for percussion and piano. We started with stones and very simple things. It evolved into being a much more complex architecture toward the end of the piece.”

Like the percussion group Stomp? “Stomp takes activities and converts them into music. You jump from something where sound is totally peripheral and you identify the reference of an activity. You go back to Gene Kelly doing stuff with the newspaper – mundane little things – that can be recontextualized into music. Here’s metal, wood, stone, and simple things and used people who were hitting something and it quickly becomes the music.”

What happens with music, he explains, “is anything can become music once the intentionality is crafted upon it – it’s a little high falutin’ but once something gets organized and you see someone create something, it becomes art.”

The notion of breaking something into its most elemental components makes Louchouarn a post-deconstructionist, he believes. “I’m more an ethnomusicologist.  I think the nature of the experience trumps everything. I think people are much smarter than they’re given credit for, especially in art. And I think it’s just a matter of engaging people in the right way, not pandering. It’s nice to take it a way that the brain works so that humans can comprehend and enjoy.”

After the GLOW experience, Louchouarn can turn his full attention to a project in December at the Red Cat called Red. “It’s about witches and has sounds of scraping knives, solo cellos, distant trains in the night.”

Day for Night will begin at 7:00 pm on Saturday, September 25, and end at 6:44 Sunday morning. It’s the only project that will exceed the 3 AM closing of Glow.  Louchouarn’s partners are his wife, Corey Maddon, and set designer, Keith Mitchell.


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