The .microsound community recently embarked on a new project to honor the life of writer David Foster Wallace, known widely for his intelligently sprawling novel Infinite Jest.
Instructions were to take one of the films attributed to the protagonist’s father and create a soundtrack. I was attracted to the surrealism in the description of Baby Pictures of Famous Dictators and almost immediately had an image of what the film would be like.
Not having read this novel yet, the source of my inspiration was the description itself:
“Baby Pictures Of Famous Dictators” – Year of the Tucks Medicated Pad. Poor Yorick Entertainment Unlimited. Documentary or uncredited cast w/ narrator P.A. Heaven; 16 mm; 45 minutes; black and white; sound. Children and adolescents play a nearly incomprehnsible nuclear strategy game with tennis equipment against a real or holographic (?) backdrop of sabotaged ATHSCME 1900 atmospheric displacement towers exploding and toppling during the New New England Chemical Emergency of Y.W. CELLULOID (UNRELEASED)
I took 45 minutes as my guiding point and imagined the film was a tableau, a “moving still life” of sorts. It’s a 45 minute long game, a slow motion still life of a disaster reflected in the childsplay of fooling around with physics.
We see a setting that never changes, of innocent children (we assume the same as in the pictures referenced by the title) against a backdrop that is ever changing, sharing an appetite for control. They become the embodiment of the Famous Dictators, playing games, like children, with adult toys of power and war.
A chemical emergency could imply this is related to nuclear power or physics. Are the children playing a game that caused the emergency? Are they blissfully unaware? Or are they working to solve the problem by a series of complex nuclear games? It’s unclear if we will ever know.
The soundtrack is not a reflection of the action seen onscreen, but rather the literal voice of each proper name. As their structures compost, weaving as they play the game, new forms are illuminated.
These nine names were used to drive various parameters specific to each person’s voice, guiding things like frequency, filters, delay effects and envelope (in each case, the longest, most familiar version of the English proper name was used):
- Adolf Hitler
- Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin
- Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini
- Mao Zedong
- Ho Chi Minh
- Francisco Franco Bahamonde
- Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz
- Saddam Hussein
- Tojo Hideki
The analysis of the text file containing the names was done with perl, which wrote out various ChucK files. The entire piece is one large ChucK session recorded to a file, then normalized.
When I started the piece was a lot less “bright” than it ultimately became, but in a strange way I feel like it took on its own character, and mourns both the tragedy of these dictators and the loss of DFW.
The player on the project page is a great way to listen to the soundtracks everyone has done, and allows for direct downloads of the works.