Frederick Abrams

The Underground Cathedral


Q. For me the recorded sound of the metro in your film is like the underground of the underground, like an unconscious way of feeling the metro.

A. The underground is an interesting place to study the many forms of music of humanity and cultural influences because you hear and see almost everything whether you like it or not. The musicians often play unusual instruments, many musical styles and it’s something like how we focus our vision that we can concentrate on one specific sound just as when we focus our eyes on a subject. Everything else goes out of focus, which you can see very clearly with photography depending on the chosen f-stop. There’s sounds of voices, sounds of music, sounds of the screeching wheels of the trains, there’s sounds of feet and so all of this is a cacaphony that occurs in the underground. I chose to edit this into something that in some way is harmonic, in some way brings attention to all of it but only in parts, the parts that to me were interesting. And not only the recordings of the musicians but all sounds from the underground became electro acoustic tonalities. The sounds are constantly coming in and out of the music and what you are watching, to the beat and harmony of both. One such example is in “About to Depart,” where twice an overhead square red light from above a door inside of a Berlin Metro train blinks on and off.

At the same precise moment one hears a bell ring two times, however, it is from inside of a Barcelona Metro train. These two bells are simultaneously contained within the precise beat of the music that I composed. There are countless such examples throughout the film.

Q. I remember one part when the people are putting in their tickets, the scene is in silence. It’s a very strong part in your film.

A. It was just an instinct not to put sound there. Sometimes there’s no sound at all. In one scene people enter in slow motion through the electronic glass doors of each machine, and the movement stops at one point when a set of glass doors shuts. Repeatedly, and this too was unconscious, I made scenes which later I realized seemed to be of life in another galaxy, which is consistent with the conversation I have with Antenna Man. The slow motion of the bodies passing through these gates conveys a certain degree of weightlessness and in outer space one would anticipate as well total silence. This follows “Metro Boulot Dodo,” which comes after “Antenna Man.” In my spontaneously recorded discussion with Antenna Man, we got into a conversation about being literally from another planet and meeting each other in the New York Subway underground.

In the beginning of “Metro Boulot Dodo,” you see the gloved hand of a conductor who is driving a train, the movement of the hand in slow motion. This, as in the scene of the ticket machines which follows “Metro Boulot Dodo,” is black and white, and I am certain that the other worldly quality conveyed by these scenes was intuitive and unconscious during the editing process.

Only later did I realize that the hand appears as something like that of an astronaut in outer space, a delicate slow bouncy movement, the result of videotaping from the inside of a moving train and editing the scene in slow motion, causing a sense of flotation which occurs when there’s no gravity. With Antenna Man we discussed this idea of gravity.

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