Michael Lightborne - Sounds of the Projection Box [Gruenrekorder - 2019]Sounds of the Project Box is a record born out of a research project based at the Film and Television Studies Department at the University of Warwick; that frazzled edgeland of the humanities which also gave us the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, the shrapnel of which can still be found drawing blood across the arts and in enclaves of radical politics. The modus operandi of The Projection Project is more antiquarian and sedate than the CCRU's output. Essentially it's a piece of cultural anthropology documenting the behind the scene life of the few 35mm film projectionists left in the UK and the sound-world they inhabit. All lavishly presented with Gruenrekorder's signature levels of care and rigour.
Side A, as the notes explain, follows in the footsteps of projectionist Frank Gibson at the University itself, documenting the various stages involved in the handling of the film and the use of the projector itself. The first three segments focus on a performance of John Carpenter's The Thing and after a flurry of distance voices we hear the machine spark into life and the familiar dread filled bass of Carpenter's score can be heard muffled across the whirring of the film around the projector's innards. Immediately we're confronted with a strange kind of reversal where those behind the scenes incidental sounds take centre stage and the actual film score is pushed to the distance.
The second and third tracks deal with the laborious process of splicing and loading the multiple reels of film onto the projector's larger main reel. The sounds produced are a rhythmic cacophony of sliders and spools with the occasional audible human intervention. With Close listening you can detect subtle shifts in timbre and complexity as if the combinations of mechanical parts had been sequenced by some arcane minimal techno producer. If anything the process of Breaking Down The Thing is more complex than making it up. We hear much tinkering before the film begins to unwind from the cinema projector to be stored back on its original reels. The sound is like something between a telegraph and a miniature steam train.
Side B travel's further afield to projection booths in cinemas in Dalston (London), Birmingham and Leeds. Similarly the range of sounds and recording techniques is also expanded. On Hyde Park Electromagnetic a combination of microphones, including contact and electromagnetic coil microphones pick up otherwise inaudible sounds of the projector, amplifying them into the range of the human ear. Manual Rewind features Peter Howden using a hand cranked rewind bench at the Dalson Rio. The Electric and The Tower (Death Rattle) were recorded at the Electric Cinema in Birmingham and using microphones which highlight the mechanical workings of their imposing systems. The "Death Rattle" is aptly titled. The large double reeled systems which we hear furiously spinning is designed to facilitate seamless switching between the two sets of film. Its clanking and spinning is in stark contrast to the world the other side of the projectionists window where such industrial noises are less welcome to the cinema going audience.
The last track is Digital Light which gives us a point of comparison with the mechanical devices showcased as here it's a digital projector that is being recorded with the same array of electromagnetic and contact mics as its analogue cousin. Whereas the mechanical devices were resolutely of the industrial age and music, the digital black box, mysterious in its quite workings, is revealed as a dark ambient drone freak! None of the clanking and whirring with the 35mm systems, here it is all controlled feedback, surging electricity and sci-fi effects. A brooding and surprisingly complex sound from a machine otherwise lacking in pathos.
Sounds of the Projection box is a wonderfully niche piece of sonic anthropology. One could almost say it's one for the sonic anoraks. But, in keeping with Gruenrekorder's raison d'être it does shed light - or should that be, lend an ear? - to a world of sounds that are otherwise behind closed doors. The vinyl is handsomely presented in a gatefold sleeve with high quality images of the machinery and personnel involved.