That Swimming and Escaping, That Is The Rapture

Did I never talk about the music in the recorded version of Gravity?! What?! No?! As you might know, the film is really meant to be performed live with a band and an improvised musical score along with my live sound effects foley. Brent loves the immediacy, potential for disaster and the ever changing experience that can never be duplicated- all qualities inherent in live performance. But, when we first made the film, we knew how limiting live only screenings were going to be so we went about constructing a soundtrack. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what music sounded right. Me, Brent and Mike would, together and separately, try to listen to the religious hymns of Leonard and to other sacred music to try to get a feel for what Leonard's story sounded like but we rarely could get across the intensity of the actual faithful singers, which led to the addition of The Sacred Harp.

Developed as folk music that relied on shapes (referred to as shape notes) that symbolized a range of pitches as opposed to a more complex system of musical notation, it is probably one of the oldest forms of American music. I find it hard to explain but...I think the way it works is that a certain shape is placed on a single keyed clef, the relation to the spacing of the notes around it acts as a reference for what area of notes are to be sung resulting in the possibility for a changing interpretation of the music, a not so precise musicality. I still do not understand how the words then come in...the words sound like cut up syllables that are sometimes hard to distinguish but always full of syncopation and love. Brent uses this type of music as the basis for the Gravity soundtrack, splicing, looping and adding to certain songs to create the underlying feel of the film, a feel that he remembers his southern born family members singing as a small boy, adding to this long standing legacy.

There is definitley something primitive in these rythmic reverberations of early America, even the weird hand movements that singers keep the beat with makes me think of some kind of tribal artifact of a new land. I guess that's why I find it wonderful that a new Diplo produced M.I.A. song (an artist who always strives to cut her collage style music into something revolutionary) uses a sample of The Alabama Sacred Harp Singers, acting as a new form of this American tradition. Here is the MIA song, the song the sample is from  (titled Last Words of Copernicus- what a great title!?!) and, above, a trailer for a documentary called Awake, My Soul about Sacred Heart singing and a sort of survey video of a meeting in the mid-west of a group of singers-all artifacts insuring, along with Gravity, that this rare American folk ritual will live on in sight and sound! Now, who is ready to go on a road trip to the south with me to learn how to sing like this?



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.