Setting the stage

The artifice and staging of a film, or a live concert, is something that is generally hidden from the public. Only at the end of some films are we sometimes given an entry into the making of the film itself, with bloopers and scenes that never quite made the final cut, as the credits roll past, but otherwise these worlds remain largely obscured. I’ve always been fascinated about how something is actually made, the craft that remains safely concealed behind the curtains. Working with artist Hans Op de Beeck on his Staging Silences films was an opportunity to explore this in greater detail.

Meeting as Professors

We met almost a decade ago now at Le Fresnoy Studio national des Arts Contemporains in Tourcoing, France, where we were both Visiting Professors in 2012. Op de Beeck lives and works in Brussels, Belgium and creates sculpture, installations, video, photography, animated films, drawing, painting, and writing. His various works show the viewer non-existent, but identifiable places, moments and characters that appear to have been taken from everyday life. There’s a sense of utter wonder and introspection in his works.

As happens with most of my collaborative work, it began with a friendship and direct connection, and a year after we met we completed the second part of his trilogy of films, with Staging Silence (2). Then 2019, we returned to the theme and created Staging Silence (3).

The principle of the films

Each of the films is realised through the same principles, as two pairs of anonymous hands construct and deconstruct fictional interiors and landscapes on a mini film set of just three-square metres in size. The films take the viewer on a visual journey through depopulated, enigmatic and often melancholic, but nonetheless playful, small-scaled places, which are built up and taken down before the eye of the camera. 

Ranging from hyper-realistic fictional land and cityscapes to absurd, almost surreal, dreamscapes, the various locations are connected by the sense of mystery and melancholy that pervades them. My role was very much based on trust. Initially, Hans left me entirely to my own devices. I would sent over a draft of a score to picture. I was aware that both films were going to flow from one scene to another so needed to find musical solutions that could be short but adaptable and responsive to the images, and tell a story.

The sense of the stage

Remarkably the films came together very smoothly. The music tries not to interfere with the images, but attempts to amplify and illustrate these moments, touching on nostalgia, tragedy and a sense of optimism too. And yet the sense of the stage is always there, ever present. I love Han’s thoughts on this.

If you straightforwardly show that your image or story, be it a film, an installation, a painting or a theatre play, is staged, the staging is not an issue anymore, and you can make the spectator fully receptive for the image or narration. When you painstakingly try to hide the construction behind the image, it paradoxically becomes more artificial and falser. When you enter a large-scale immersive installation of mine or watch a film like my Staging Silence series, you know at all times that it is nothing but a construction. Yet the construction can deliver authentic experiences. It then contains both sides: a true experience of being moved or transported to a parallel universe, and the understanding that it is what it is, a construction. It then always gives you the possibility to put things in perspective and go back to the reflective distance.

Black and white photograph of record sleeve. Text on the right hand side informs us that this is Staging Silence Robin Rimbaud Hans Op de Beeck original film soundtracks. The single image is of a wooden hut in a jungle, but then you realise it's a set with a human hand on the left adjusting an aspect of the set design.

Releasing the soundtracks on vinyl and digital

In preparing the soundtracks for release on Sub Rosa I revisited and removed aspects of the sound design that might not work so well outside of the context of the films. Hearing the sound of water running or tin foil being rolled up whilst melancholic piano music echoes around might be a little unsettling I thought. Interestingly, it’s only one of a handful of releases that has been released under my own name, and not ‘Scanner.’

Introspective and lyrical, the Staging Silence films offer us a world of mystery and intrigue, held together by nature and time. These are very humane works experienced at a time when many of us feel disconnected from the world around us. The peculiar silence that permeates these quite hauntingly beautiful works is very much an illustration of our times, anticipating a future in the past. Now you can buy the soundtrack to these films on double vinyl LP and digital, and enjoy this dreamlike abstract ambience, filled with a kaleidoscope of sounds and tones that engage the head and the heart.