Le quattro volte (The four phases) is a movie by Michelangelo Frammartino from 2010.
The plot recalls life: all sorts of things happen while nothing happens.
It moves from a man who is a bit of an animal (a shepherd) to a kid, then to a tree which however is turned into coal; from man to mineral by way of animal and vegetable: the title – literally, the four “turns” or “phases” – refers to the world as described by Pythagorean philosophy, with its theory of a cycle of eternal transformation and reincarnation.
In actual fact there is no dialogue and what generally is the foreground ends up by being the background and viceversa; goats swarm the shepherd’s house and the village streets and the tree, a huge fir, gets cut and planted at the center of the square in a celebration. But mainly faces and words -discourses- loose pride of place and get invaded by the sounds that Paolo benvenuti and Simone Paolo Olivero recorded, that are beautiful and that by themselves, in my opinion, would be worth a vision with eyes closed.
They recorded them at the same time with a huge number of microphones placed near and far in order to, later on when mixing, be able to play with the aural plans.
And then also a very original (and sober!) notion of the Dolby Surround: the whole film is almost always practically mono, the sound comes as if from behind the screen (just from the center channel of the front speakers): spectators are intentionally treated like Pitagora’s pupils (acousmatics) that would listen to the Master hidden behind a cloth, which here is the cinema screen. After which yet in the very short passing from one ‘time’ to the next, the moment in which the spectator must stop just listening in order to actively put together the bits (the phases), suddenly the surround starts.
This brings back to my mind a sleeve note by Lionel Marchetti contained in his “Train de nuit” album, a piece for one speaker only (the left one): “How could we work poetics today with in our hands the simplicity of a sound that speaks rather than a profusion of techniques?”…
To watch Le quattro volte you have to be patient (it might not set the pulse racing..) but in my opinion there’s massive amounts of true sound art in this simple film on deep Calabria. In a way, it is an hymn to silence, which is not silent at all.
I asked Paolo Benvenuti and Simone Paolo Olivero if they could eventually choose and provide me a few rough recordings from the long (almost 9 months) shootings of the movie. They very kindly struggled till late in the night to extract some sounds from the huge quantity of materials they collected in Calabria. I post here three excerpts:
This one is amazing, please listen to it carefully. Even without the images it features a strong narrative impact. This is a kid’s birth, from the placenta sounds to the kid’s first bleats:
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What follows is the unedited sound by one of the many goat’s swarm scenes they shot.
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This one is the glassy crackles during the burnig of the coal:
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