Sounds of the Projection Box | Michael Lightborne

 

Sounds of the Projection Box | Michael Lightborne
Gruen 177 | Vinyl (+ Digital) | Digital > [order]
Reviews

 

These recordings, made in 2016 and 2017, document the shifting sonic texture of the cinema projection box, as it changes from 35mm to digital projection. By 2014, the majority of UK cinemas had already converted to digital, making many projectionists redundant, and quietly altering the way that cinema works, as both an industry and an experience. Very few cinemas maintain the ability to project 35mm film alongside digital, and it was in some of the remaining, tenacious boxes that I sought the persistent sounds of analogue projection.

 

The unique space that this album investigates is simultaneously a workshop, an engine room, and an artist’s studio. The projection box is a small room at the back of the cinema auditorium that conceals both the apparatus of the moving image, and the labour of the projectionist, ensuring that both remain invisible, and inaudible, to the cinema-goer.

 

This album was developed as part of The Projection Project, a research project based in the Film and Television Studies Department at the University of Warwick, which seeks to record and investigate the history of cinema projection in Britain. A special issue of the Journal of British Cinema And Television Studies (Vol 15, No 1, 2018), edited by members of The Projection Project, features a number of articles about the history of British cinema projection and the work of the projectionist in Britain, through the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. It includes an article entitled ‚Sounds of the Projection Box: Liner Notes for a Phonographic Method‘, which augments this album, and elaborates upon the theoretical and methodological rationale for the use of sonic field recording as a mode of enquiry.

 

All of the images that accompany this record were made by Richard Nicholson. Some of them form part of a series of portraits entitled The Projectionists.

 

Side A

 

1. The thing
2. Making up the thing
MP3
3. Breaking down the thing
4. Lacing and Rolling Rear Window (error correction)
MP3

 

Side B

 

1. Hyde Park electromagnetic
2. The noise
3. Manual rewind
4. The Electric
MP3
5. The tower (death rattle)
6. Digital light
MP3

 

10 Tracks (43′30″)
Vinyl (500 copies)

 

michaellightborne.com
projectionproject.warwick.ac.uk
richardnicholson.com

 

 

Field Recording Series by Gruenrekorder
Germany / 2018 / Gruen 177 / LC 09488 / EAN 4050486119020

 


 

Reviews

 

Ed Pinsent | The Sound Projector
Projecting Into The Past
Michael Lightborne made sound recordings of projection booths in UK cinemas, and now releases the results as an LP called Sounds Of The Projection Box (GRUENREKORDER GRUEN 177). As you know this German label specialises in unusual field recordings and phonography experiments, and this particular item is explicitly contextualised as part of the “Field Recording Series by Gruenrekorder”. Across ten tracks, what we hear are straight-ahead documentary recordings of the apparatus of film projectors, and their associated accoutrements, played back in pleasing episodes of sound art. We not only hear the motor of the projector whirling, but also the protectionist handling metal cans of film, opening and closing the door of the projector, and at least two instances where splicing tape (I assume) is being used to make repairs to broken strips.

 

Lightborne – as I write this, I realise what an appropriate name he has for a project like this – has been working on this since about 2016; some of his efforts tie in with an academic research programme, based at the University of Warwick. Their film and television studies department has an interest in documenting “the projectionist’s role as it passes into history”, noting that most modern cinemas have already made the transition from celluloid to digital presentation some years ago; I gather it took place, without much fanfare, around 2010 to 2012. At one level, Michael Lightborne is capturing evidence of a skillset which is already starting to look historic, like the way that hand-composed type was replaced by word-processors and desktop publishing (1.). Among the projectionists featured on the LP are Frank Gibson at Warwick, Michael Sharples at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds, and Peter Howden at the Rio cinema in Dalston (London). Different aspects of the projectionist’s tasks are faithfully recorded as sound events; Lightborne is especially interested in the rhythms and patterns of spinning wheels, the “sonic potentials” of projector operation, the role of the rewind bench…all of these operations necessary to the smooth projection of a film, and mostly kept hidden from the audience. (There might be a metaphor buried there somewhere.)

 

Speaking of hidden elements..the last track is interesting in that it documents the workings of a modern digital projector, by way of comparison with all the analogue equipment we’ve been hearing up to this point. The workings of this machine are all but impossible to understand; there’s nothing to repair, in the way of broken reels of film; and the only sound it appears to make is a whirring noise, caused by all the fans it needs to keep it cool. Michael Lightborne proves there is however an interesting “inner life” going on inside this box, which he discovered by pointing his electromagnetic coil microphone at its innards. (Joe Banks once demonstrated a trick you can try at home, using an AM radio set tuned off-station to “hear” the sound of your home PC as it starts up.)

 

The record also contains instances where the soundtrack element – be it music or dialogue – becomes part of the work. The two films where this happens are The Thing (by John Carpenter) and a classic Will Hay comedy. We only hear these elements because Lightborne is intent on capturing some part of the projection process (related to reel changes), but interesting audio artefacts are the result.

 

Hearing these whirring projector sounds certainly took me back to my art college days, when at Lanchester Polytechnic there was a 16mm projector and a dedicated technician who came in to change reels as we were watching films for our film studies course. I am one of those who loves the sound of a projector, and nod approvingly when I read of avant-garde film creators who created experimental movies with no soundtrack, expecting the noise of the projector to perform that task. However this line of thinking veers perilously close to the “materialist” thinking of the London Film-makers Co-Op, especially the ideas of Peter Gidal, who insisted on the “fact” of projected film as part of their deconstructionist agenda. Lightborne’s Sounds Of The Projection Box has nothing whatever to do with this, is not seeking an advanced aesthetic of our appreciation of cinema, and should be “read” mostly as documentary evidence. As such, he succeeds perfectly, and is clearly knowledgable and sympathetic to the history and context of the film projector in the UK. The images that are printed on the covers to this release (it’s a gatefold LP with a printed inner sleeve – six sides of full colour photos) were created by Richard Nicholson. Oddly enough his take on the subject, while still very sympathetic, is slightly more “romantic” than that of Lightborne, idealising and fetishising the equipment with lush colour images in razor-sharp definition. That said, the whole package does stir the heart and makes one tend to regret the shift towards digital projection. From 17th August 2018.
(1.) Although I recently heard an anecdote about a class of young students who asked “Miss, what’s a word-processor?”
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Aurelio Cianciotta | Neural
With reference to retrofuture aesthetics, we need to mention Sounds of the Projection Box, an act of reverence to the vintage technology from Michael Lightborne, an artist and Associate Professor in the Department of Film and Television Studies, at the University of Warwick (UK), where he works focusing on the relationships between cinema, sound and architecture, documentarism and field recordings. The album’s opening track, “The Thing”, also a special event from Mediafest 2018, starts with owls standing out as fragments from cine-phonographic recordings, and immediately makes clear that the operational choice is firstly sentimental and is made following a poetics typical of the art forms the artist is familiar with. But this method at the same time can be used also to analyse other fields and activities. What the listener perceives is the sound space of the projection room, the work of the projectionist and the sounds of some 35mm films. We don’t find it so important to make a track by track analysis of the work, even if the suggestions and the possible uses of such large matter can be numberless also to the non-cult members of the audio art genre (the references are so many as to provide a source of sounds for different uses, from djing to many voicing makings, and inspiring different listening and approaches). We prefer to highlight the work’s methodology, that puts together documents belonging to the past, a past actually not so far if we think within the terms of the unwritten history of human constructs, and formal beauty, often conditioned by the cultural contexts within this peculiarity as publicly recognized. The work of a projectionist has always attracted an audience of cinephiles, probably because of his role in the visual experience and for his activity, that inspires some shudders in between loneliness and poetry. But here the subjects under examination are the audio aspects, for example the contact microphones to listen to the hidden sounds originating from the projectors. The tool allowing the communication is the real subject of the analysis, and the ethnographic sensory methodology is raised to a model of possible musicality (something we imagine might shock other academicians belonging to more orthodox music schools). But in our opinion, for what belongs to us, this Gruenrekorder release must be placed as one of the most interesting albums of the year.
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textura
Every six months or so, new items appear on Lasse-Marc Riek and Roland Etzin’s Gruenrekorder imprint that present innovative treatments of field recordings-based work. Three recent projects exemplify the imaginative sensibilities artists bring to the label’s output, in this case releases by Eisuke Yanagisawa, Gregory Büttner, and Michael Lightborne (all three are available in digital form, the first two also as CDs and Lightborne’s in vinyl). As an indication of the breadth of the label’s projects, Yanagisawa’s Path of the Wind focuses on sounds generated by the Aeolian Harp, a string instrument ‘played‘ by nature, whereas Lightborne’s Sounds of the Projection Box has to do with ambient sounds originating from UK-based cinema projection booths. Each of the three releases fascinates in different ways. […]

 

A professor in the Department of Film and Television Studies at the University of Warwick who’s currently working on a book about cinema-related environments and location sound recording, Lightborne is certainly qualified to tackle the topic of cinema projection boxes. His release, which documents the transition from 35mm to digital within the projection booth, grew out of sound recordings he began making in early 2016. By the time his fieldwork started, the majority of UK cinemas had become digital only, which made Lightborne’s desire to capture the sounds of analogue projection booths an undertaking of considerable value. Of course, the setting is so carefully enclosed it ensures that most of the sounds occurring within it are unknown to the viewing audience, which makes it easy to forget that it’s the critical center of the cinematic experience. For that reason and others, Sounds of the Projection Box proves illuminating. Be aware that it is a field recordings-based work in the truest sense, with nothing added in post-production (e.g., musical elements) to make it more accessible.

 

Side one documents the cinema-based assembly of a film from smaller reels through to projection before an audience and eventual disassembly, the reference to “The Thing” not to the equipment involved but to John Carpenter’s 1981 opus, the film used in this instance to illustrate the stages. In the opening piece, machine noises of various kinds appear along with the whirr of a film spooling, muffled snippets of conversation, and even fragments of music. The splicing together of the smaller reels is heard during “Making Up the Thing,” where myriad tape noises and rustlings emerge alongside the rickety, techno-like pulse of a mechanical rewinder, after which the film, having been projected, is reduced to smaller reels that are then sent back to the distributor. On the second side, other cinema locations are represented, namely the Electric cinema in Birmingham, the Rio in Dalston, and the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds. “Hyde Park Electromagnetic” is marked by the unusual electronic-styled sounds generated by conventional microphones plus contact and electromagnetic coil mics, whereas field, contact, and electromagnetic mics document the sound of a reel spinning furiously at the Electric. Traces of the 1940 Will Hay comedy Where’s That Fire? are audible in “The Electric,” which was recorded at the same cinema in the company of projectionist Sam Bishop. At album’s end, “Digital Light” shifts the focus from manually operated equipment to the digital projector, which, because its workings are largely concealed, doesn’t allow for the kind of tinkering projectionists bring to analogue equipment. Using an electromagnetic coil microphone, Lightborne was able to make audible the sonic life of the digital ‘black box,‘ resulting in, not surprisingly, the most electronic and synthetic-sounding track of the album’s ten.

 

If ever a release could be used to argue for the full vinyl presentation, it’s Lightborne’s. The beautiful photographic images on the foldout sleeve not only do much to enhance one’s impression of the project, they also convey the large size of the film reels and projection equipment involved in the projection process. When presented at a large size, the inner sleeve image of a representative booth environment, filled as it is with spools of film and movie adverts, also allows the viewer to better appreciate the rather hermetic world inhabited by the projectionist.
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Łukasz Komła | Nowamuzyka.pl
Brytyjski artysta dźwiękowy i wizualny, Michael Lightborne, od wielu lat tworzy prace zaangażowane w kwestie krajobrazu, kultury popularnej, pamięci i technologii. Interesuje go szczególnie koncepcja psychetecture, jaka pojawiała się w latach 80. w komiksie pt. „Mister X”.

 

Jeszcze inaczej przedstawia się zakres poszukiwań Lightborne’a na „Sounds of the Projection Box”. Nagrania powstały w przeciągu ostatnich dwóch lat i dokumentują zmieniającą się strukturę dźwiękową wnętrza projektora kinowego. Chodzi tu o przejście z 35 mm taśmy na nośnik cyfrowy. Dokładnie sytuacja odnosi się do roku 2014, kiedy to w Wielkiej Brytanii większość kin przeszła właśnie na wersję cyfrową. Niewiele wówczas pozostało kin mogących pozwolić sobie na jednoczesne korzystanie z taśm i cyfry. Lightborne postanowił poszukać w istniejących projektorach stałych dźwięków wydobywających się podczas analogowej pracy urządzenia.

 

Dzięki „Sounds of the Projection Box” mamy okazję poznać unikalną audiosferę, wsłuchujemy się w dźwięki pracy projekcjonisty. Dochodzą do nas odgłosy taśm, stukot obracających się elementów projektora, a także (szczątkowo) dialogi ze starych filmów. Dodam, że ten album powstał w ramach projektu badawczego, który został zainicjowany na Wydziale Studiów Filmowych i Telewizyjnych na Uniwersytecie w Warwick. Wyszło też specjalne wydanie „Journal of British Cinema And Television Studies” (Vol 15, No 1, 2018) zawierające szereg artykułów na temat historii brytyjskich projektorów kinowych i zawodu projekcjonisty w XX i XXI wieku.

 

Do pięknego winyla „Sounds of the Projection Box” dołączyli wydawcy także jeden z artykułów pt. „Sounds of the Projection Box: Liner Notes for a Phonographic Method”. Dużo w nim można znaleźć bardzo ciekawych aspektów teoretycznych dotyczących roli dźwięku w takim urządzeniu. Porwał mnie np. fragment „The Thing”. Niesamowite zestawienie jakiegoś ambientoweg tła przechodzącego w szorstki świst taśmy, utrzymujący się na niskich rejestrach (nie jest to tzw. pisk), a zakończony analogową pulsacją jednego dźwięku. Niekiedy wrażenia słuchowe nakierowują na nocną jazdę pociągiem i stukot kół o tory [np. „The Tower (death rattle)”]. Wyruszycie w tę podróż?
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Brian Olewnick | Just outside
A sonic documentation of the history of the film projector (movie house version), from spool to digital. The recordings seem to be presented as is, with little or no obvious enhancement. The sounds, unsurprisingly, are cyclic near the beginning, less so as time moves on but also include the actions (and noises) made by the projectionist moving about, manipulating parts of the machine, etc., which sounds are perhaps even more intriguing than the mechanical ones. Sometimes you hear what’s being shown in the theater, also fun. The last two tracks (this is a vinyl release, btw) form a small drama: ‚Tower (death rattle)‘ (like the title implies) and ‚Digital Light‘, spinning off into the hums and drones of the new age. Enjoyable work, especially for those interested in localized field recordings.
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Richard Allen | a closer listen
What a great record. And thank God it’s vinyl, because this is the only way to hear Sounds of the Projection Box, which is at once an homage to antiquated technology, a requiem for days gone by and a reflection of supposed progress. We’ve gained something in the switch to the digital format ~ clarity, seamlessness, an ability to show a film without any humans being present. But we’ve lost something as well ~ a tactile nature, a feeling of community, the contract between projectionist and audience. Earlier this year, I was at a film that “broke.” The older attendees kept turning back, looking up and yelling, “fix the screen!” But there was no one there; they were screaming into a void.

 

Michael Lightborne captures sounds that might soon become extinct, in the same manner as certain physical environments ~ rain forests, barrier reefs ~ might disappear as well. As aural habitats become extinct, so does a way of life. The charm of the moviegoing experience, perfectly captured in Cinema Paradiso, is now muted. No longer can a child stumble up to a projectionist’s booth and see the magic in motion; no longer can a snippet of celluloid be given as a gift to a wide-eyed attendee. The art of switching between reels has all but disappeared. The spooling, the whirring, the flickering into life, all gone.

 

In preparing this work, Lightborne traveled across the U.K., visiting the few remaining theaters that still use 35mm. The above photo portrays Peter Howden at the Rio, where two tracks were recorded. In his articulate, heartfelt essay, Lightborne calls the projection box “a workshop, an engine room and an artist’s studio.” The album is part of the larger Projection Project, which is sponsored by the Film and Television Studies Department of the University of Warwick.

 

As the album unfolds, Lightborne tells a beautiful story in chapter order. First there are the audible sounds of the projectionist at work (screening Carpenter’s The Thing). At times, one can hear the foreboding music, a fine score brought to life. In the second track, one hears what sounds like duct tape ~ someone had to MacGyver the movie. The sounds are incredibly crisp, taking full advantage of the stereo field. Eventually they discover their own sort of rhythm.

 

The next track features the amplification of contact and coil mics ~ sounds the projectionist might not otherwise hear. Then words about the craft, paired with the work, a segment that is particularly welcome as it highlights the human element. A transition piece introduces the Electric Cinema’s “tower,” a device that did away with the two-reel switchover system before it was itself surpassed by newer technology. The closing track showcases the sound of the modern digital box, which Lightborne notes “reveals myriad polyphonic tones, textures and rhythms.” The marvelous thing about Lightborne’s description is that he treats these sounds not as concession but as wonder; below the audible surface, there is still life.

 

For some, Sounds of the Projection Box will be a trip to the past, a nostalgic keepsake. For others the album will be a curiosity, a historical artifact. DJs may find the record an invaluable tool for adding texture to mixes. Fans of the unusual will find its grooves unpredictable and enthralling. The release has the potential to build bridges across generations by starting conversations that begin with “Tell me how it was,” and continue with “Is it better now?” Lightborne seems to conclude that the new era is neither better nor worse; it simply contains its own type of beauty. (Richard Allen)

 

Reviewer’s note: A Richard Allen is thanked in the liner notes, but it’s not me. I’d love to think that it was me, and that the sound artist was thanking me in advance for a nice review. But it’s not! Shout-out to the other Richard Allen for representing our name so well.
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Rigobert Dittmann | Bad Alchemy Magazin (100)
Die Vorführkabine des Planet war so primitiv, daß Edison sie abgeschrieben hätte: zwei Ross-Projektionsmaschinen und ein Diaprojektor nahmen den größeren Teil des vorhandenen Raumes ein… Neben der Kabine war ein klaustrophober Umspulraum, der so eng war, daß man da drin vom Filmkleber high werden konnte. In so einer Kabine (was davon museal an der University of Warwick oder sonst noch erhalten ist), wo Jeff Torringtons Swing Hammer Swing!-Held Tam Clay Saufkumpane trifft, stellte MICHAEL LIGHTBORNE seine Mikrofone auf. Um für Sounds of the Projection Box (Gruen 177, LP) das ganze Drumherum einzufangen, das dazu gehört, einen 35 mm-Film (zufällig John Carpenters „The Thing“) vorzuführen. Die B-Seite erweitert die cineastische Zeitreise mit Sounds aus dem Electric Kino in Birmingham, dem Rio in Dalston und dem Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds, endend mit dem Eindringen ins Innere eines Digital-Projektors, wobei ein dynamisches Mikrofon selbst dort ein summendes und atmendes Innenleben offenbart. Als ‚Tonfilm‘, der den Apparat und das Handwerk hinter den Kulissen des auf die Leinwand Geworfenen würdigt und hörbar macht, fast ein wenig als Trauerarbeit für eine obsolete Technik und einen ausgestorbenen Beruf. Da surren und sirren dann die Spulen und einmal woosht sogar die Tonspur zu unerwartet musikalischen Drones, Beats und Vibrationen, die mich vermuten lassen, dass Lightborne die auch kontaktmikrofonierten Klänge nicht nur ‚unter die Lupe‘ nimmt, er kann auch ihre der Rotation geschuldete klackende und tickende Grooviness hervorkehren oder ein erstaunlich reiches digitales Innenleben. […]
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Beach Sloth
Great dollops of noise create tense, anxious track with Michael Lightborne’s “Sounds of the Projection Box”. For this work, Michael Lightborne relies heavily upon the natural rhythms that the machine creates. Layer upon layer of sound comes into the fray with such majesty and grace. Even within these noises Michael Lightborne occasionally lets something more come in, the way that little melodies flicker about in mere moments. By letting these pieces gain a level of prominence within the album the whole of the work feels so visceral.
“The Thing” introduces the album with disorienting screams across the sky. Weird tempos roll through on “Making Up The Thing”. With “Breaking Down The Thing” Michael Lightborne engages in a decomposition sort of technique, letting the piece explore tactile moments within the disassembly. Near silence opens “Lacing and Rolling Rear Window” before it bursts in a flourish of color towards the end. Easily the highlight of the album is the rolling drone and neon-hued bliss of “Hyde Park Electromagnetic”. Such intensity dominates the brutal creaks of “The Noise”. Ghostly auras rumble through the entirety of “Manual Rewind”. Various snippets of samples pierce “The Electric”. A tragic quality concludes the album with the spacious, sprawling and ambitious “Digital Light”. Heavily layered “Digital Light” presents an entire journey that embarks upon disorienting sonic details that loom ever larger.
“Sounds of the Projection Box” shows off Michael Lightborne’s ability to craft an entire narrative with a single event.
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Frans de Waard | VITAL WEEKLY
[…] More mechanics of some kind can be found on the LP by Michael Lightborne. I don’t think I heard of him before and he describes himself thusly: „Michael Lightborne is an artist based in Birmingham and Cork. He works with video, sound and print, and has exhibited around the UK and internationally, in exhibitions and film festivals. His work engages with questions of landscape, popular culture, memory, and technology. He is currently exploring the viability of ‘psychetecture’, a concept used in the 1980s comic Mister X to describe the psychological effects of architecture and urban forms.“ In 2016 and 2017 he did recordings in a cinema projection box, documenting the changing from 35mm to digital projection. Very few cinemas still use 35mm, and Lightborne found one, which is what he calls „a workshop, an engine room, and an artist’s studio“, with a great picture on the cover. That one is on the first side of the record, while the other side contains a bunch of others. It ends with a digital projection recording. This is all very filmic, excuse the pun, of film flapping around and cans being opened, the motorizing of projectors and such like. It is indeed, one could say, the sound of an art slowly disappearing. It is very possible that our grandchildren will not be able to recognize any of these sounds. Lightborne records in-situ, and it is very much a documenting of the action. Getting the films on, starting the projectors and such. It is not like Büttner’s work a collage of various sounds together and presented as a composition, yet it is all most enjoyable to hear. Any sound that sounds great is a composition, perhaps (to avoid the more well-known ‚you don’t have to call it music if the term shocks you‘). Following the very lively first side, the second side gradually spirals down to the use of ‚modern‘ equipment and we hear how the world of projection changes. Ending with an electrical drone piece that is the world of digital projection. Another excellent journey, albeit of an entirely different nature. Great record!
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Michael Lightborne: ‘Sounds of the Projection Box’ @ ACL 2018 ~ Top Ten Field Recording & Soundscape
2018 was an amazing year for field recordings and soundscapes, perhaps the best to date. We reviewed over 40 works this year, and had an incredibly difficult time choosing ten for this list since the overall quality was so high. Many of the recordings told stories; some captured specific audiographies, while others warned listeners of impending global catastrophe. []
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