Alexandra Bell

Sound Artist

  ︎︎︎ ︎︎

Reflective Journal: Short Sound Film 

Entry 1:  Concept Development 

Initially I learned how to use a  DSLR camera, varying parameters to understand the effect on the image.
Moving subjects interested me most, with the potential for dynamic or ghostly images. 

To start the project, I researched films in the Tate Gallery catalogue for an overview of moving image in the art world.  I loved Mika Rottenberg’s works because of their surreality and reinterpretation of the mundane (such as a factory worker). My favourite piece was Tacita Dean’s Film (2011), where she explains her use of material rather than digital process for filming, and describes sunset’s green ray, which was captured only on celluloid, “being too elusive for pixelation”. The narrative and tone of her voice is particularly beautiful and also comforting, as I believe I’ve seen the green ray when sailing across the Atlantic. This attempt to capture and create magic is a fascinating justification for the Arts.

Squeeze, 2010, Rottenberg, M. (Clip 01:23)

Film, 2011, Dean, T. (Clip 02:34)
I decided to choose the project theme of Reflections, from the perspective of reflecting on relationships and how they changed through the pandemic - some strengthening, some dissolving. Feedback regarding my Listening, Sound Alone project was that it was very intellectual. For the Short Sound Film project I want to do the opposite, driven by emotion and with a more lyrical, fairytale feel. 

The quote “The Cure for Anything is Salt Water -Tears, Sweat, Sea” (Isak Dinesen, 1935) took me back to the sea and reminded me of messages in bottles and lacrymosa (Victorian bottles used to hold tears during the mourning process).

Homework Challenge: Make a 30s film in under an hour, themed ‘Winter is Coming’.
Winter is Coming, 2021, Bell, A. (Clip 00:36)

  • Ai WeiWei talk/book launch tour, St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Edinburgh, Nov 11 2020.   The artists’ considered, measured responses to questions and the experiences of his incarceration as well as his father’s and grandfather’s were humbling.
  • Hell Bus,  McCullen, D. & GSASA /GSA Sculpture & Environment Dept. In sharp contrast to my experience of Ai Weiwei, this piece of work - positioned to represent Shell greenwashing- was full of poor research, misrepresentation and lack of understanding by the artist. Undermines itself and the issues. I discussed the conflicts of the work vs. GSA’s Ethics Policy with Rory O’Neill (GSASA President).
  • The Police, 1979, Message in a Bottle, A&M. “More loneliness than any man can bear”.
  • Film, 2011, [Film], Dean, T., Tate,
  • Mary’s Cherries, 2005, [Film], Rottenberg, M., Tate Shots,
  • Squeeze, 2010, [Film], Rottenberg, M., Collection SFMOMA
  • Bridgit, 2018, [Film], Prodger, C., Turner Prize 2018, I feel I’ve taken this film so many times (train, tram, bus) that the only remarkable aspect  is how this visual was repositioned to be interesting to the art world.
  • About Endlessness, 2019 [Film], Dir. Andersson, R., Magnolia Pictures, Sweden. Love the dream-like quality of the highly stylised sets.
  • High-Rise [FIlm], 2015, Dir. Wheatley, B., BFI/ Film4/Recorded Picture Company/HanWay Films/NI Screen. Fantastic visuals and mis-en-scene in this adaptation of J.G.Ballard -an author whose books I have never been able to finish because of their brutality.
  • Ammonite [Film], 2020, Dir Lee, F., Transmission Fiolms /Lionsgate. Gentle period drama of the relationship between 2 women, and the challenges of being a scientist in the 19th Century. Ultimately I found a lack of chemistry between the characters but enjoyed the fact that career rather than sexuality was the focus for our heroine.

Entry 2:  Experimental Process & Sound

W.A.S.P.s Artists’ Residency, Admiral Roddy’s Studio, Isle of Skye
I spent the reading week with a painter and a ceramicist, living together on Skye. The title of the residency was ‘Breakthrough’, with the aim for artists to face a block head on. I wanted to compose poetry and music, aided by the landscape. We started with some fun - by physically digging as a metaphor, to unearth creative treasure we’d buried over the years.

I also revisited the films of Roy Andersson to study the muted aesthetic and attention to detail, which influenced the visual aims of my film.

The Residency Studio, November 2021 (Clip 00:40)
About Endlessness, 2019, Andersson, R. (Clip 01:44)

Storm Arwen arrived during the Residency, and I looked for interesting circular wind sounds using windshields but only got noise.  After the storm, I sang to the nearby loch, and was surprised by seals swimming to shore to investigate.  I recorded the artist voices calling to the landscape late at night - a sound bath where sirens used strong breathing to counter the elements. This inspired me to compose, learning how to use MIDI for the first time. Unexpectedly the music which emerged is choral with close harmonies in a baroque style. Sea poetry written at the same time will form the basis of the script & voice over.
   Because of this compositional breakthrough, I decided to experiment with the traditional sonic film production process by reversing it such that sound is created first, then voice over, then script, then filming.

  • The work of fellow residents @susierosedalton @aniarchist and ideas for development.
  • With previous careers in medicine and social care, we debated the comparative value of art & culture in society. This helped me to write artist manifesto.
  • Paterson, K., 2019, A Place That Exists Only in Moonlight (printed with cosmic dust), Turner Contemporary
  • The Art Life [Documentary Film], 2016, Dir Nguyen et al, Duck Diver Films. Insight into the approach of David Lynch which reinforces the single mindedness (and selfishness) required to reach the top of any industry, and the sacrifices required not for the artist but those around them. Jury’s still out for me whether Lynch is a clever Emperor who has no clothes.  
  • About Endlessness, 2019, [Dir] Andersson, R., Sweden, Roy Andersson Film Production. The narrated, reminiscing phrases of a young girl, and beautifully muted colours influenced both sound & aesthetic of my film
  • A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence, 2014, [Dir] Andersson, R., Sweden, Roy Andersson Film Production. You the Living, 2007,  [Dir] Andersson, R., Sweden, Roy Andersson Film Production.

Entry 3:  Planning, Filming & Peer Review

I experimented with various cameras to compare usability and  visual outcomes: JVC Camcorder, DSLRs at different price points (Canon EOS 4000 & Sony a7riii), drone camera, and iPhone. A range of landscapes and sea scenes were filmed on Skye with the JVC. In retrospect it would have been safer and easier to use smaller/lighter kit, with an assistant, for a mountain location rather than shooting alone in the snow.  I liked the colours in the footage ( reminiscent of painter Maxfield Parrish), but none made the final cut as the narrative evolved to focus on water. The Sony camera gave the highest quality images, with an emotional depth. The Canon and JVC were a bit grainy. I used the iPhone with gimbal as backup in each setting and recorded sound on both camera and separate H2N Zoom.

A storyboard for filming was developed in response to the soundwork. Ahead of shooting I completed an eye-opening amount of planning & administration: risk assessments, covid mitigation, ethics forms, permissions from Edinburgh City Council & Airport to film & fly a drone on Portobello Beach, consent release forms from participants, costumes & props, timing for tides & light, and call sheet/instructions/contingencies/refreshments for the filming day. 

Shooting on location at daybreak was challenging because of the freezing cold (the seaweed on the beach was frozen), but the winter light had great muted tones. Lots of passersby by kept stepping into shot to ask what was going on - the interest was nice but also frustrating, with crew eventually managing the public out of the sound field. Film experiments and micro sets were trialled at home, using the freezer, sink, salt sculptures, food colouring in water & oil,  pearls and messages in bottles.


Experimental Mini Films

Experiment 1: Shadow dancing (Clip 00:16)

Experiment 3: Camcorder on zebra settings -video of laptop screen showing Ronan’s Zoom lecture on camera techniques.(Clip 00:04)

Experiment 5: Slowmo silver jelly, just for fun.
(Clip 00:08)

Experiment 2: Out of focus sequins. (Clip 00:04)

Experiment 4: Video of reflections of reflection of firework display outside. (Clip 00:18)

  • Millwood Hargrave, K., 2020, The Mercies, Picador. Lyrical fictional story of how the women of a Norwegian coastal village lost all their menfolk at sea in a storm; and on surviving successfully as an all female community were subsequently tried as witches by Scottish judges. Wonderful sea imagery aided my poems.
  • Society of Scottish Artists’ 123rd Exhibition, RSA Edinburgh. Wonderful variety of contemporary and new graduate art. I especially liked Louise Black’s works, where a fabric body is contained in a glass bottle - it made me think of the balance between psychological, imagined and real physical contraints.
  • Furneaux, P., Mado, RSA Edinburgh, November 2021 Solo Exhibition . Talking with Paul gave me an understanding of the years of training required in Japan to learn the Mokuhanga printing technique. The delicacy of the colours inspired the palette for my film.

Entry 4:  Development, Effects, Editing & Critique.

DATA ISSUES: Data linking faults occurred when Apple automatically uploaded desktop folders to the icloud to save Mac memory, and then refused to download or renamed clips, adding .1 to the file name. Renaming & relinking wasted a tremendous amount of time - future sessions will only use data held on fast external hard drives.

Premere Pro tutorials helped me build the session using layered tracks for elements of the film, so changes could be tested efficiently. Linking the poem with imagery drove decisions about the storyline and content to cut. Image layering, opacity levels and split screens were trialled, along with clip speed & duration to mimick changes in perception of time. Using the red dress costume and red flag as a central colour of danger, I learned colour grading to signal this across the film. 

Once the media was imported into Pro Tools, I added the sound clips and manipulated:
•VO: Added gain then fast attack/release compression to increase the density, authority & intelligibility of the voice and place it ‘above’ the mix.
• LOCATION DIALOGUE: Kept this voice raw as a reminder of the reality of the impact of the pandemic on live relationships rather than the lyrical nature of the rest of the film.
•MUSIC: Added reverb for the impression of a church choir. Too much reverb (e.g. cathedral space) blurred the passing notes of the close harmony, where I wanted to retain definition. Played with the balance of music vs effects & wildtrack.
•WILDTRACK: Tidal and coastal location recordings were combined to add rhythm.
•EFFECTS: Manipulated the siren calls, sounds of water in a sink, breathing underwater, struck metal clangs, dissolving salt heads, drone rotors.
•TECHNICAL SOUND CHECK: I wanted the film to finish with loud music, so carefully balanced the overall loudness (LUFS) to achieve that ending; and added a Limiter at -2 to the main output to catch any transients.

·      Comingled Containers, 1997, [Film] Directed by Brakhage, S.
·      Mothlight, 1963, [Film], Directed by Brakhage,S.
·      Visions in Meditation #1-4, 1990, [Film], Directed by Brakhage,S.  

Project Plan