Sleep Furiously

Sleep Furiously is a documentary film by Gideon Koppel about Trefeurig, a small farming community in Wales. Aphex Twin provides intermittent music (including a gentle piano motif that acts as a kind of signature tune for a central character) but mostly we hear the sounds of animals, farm machinery, the weather acting on the landscape, and unhurried human voices speaking in combinations of English and Welsh. The local school is closing down and old traditions are fading. We see the yellow library van, shot from on high, trundling across the hilly terrain. A wide shot is held while the van crosses from one side of the screen to the other, the landscape traversed by old books and a librarian worried about his new laptop, “I thought I might be retired before I’d have to use it”. At a sheepdog trial John and his dog make a bit of a mess of it, and the judges, sheltered in a nearby car, are embarrassed on his behalf. Clouds shift across the valley as a choir of voices begins. The camera focuses on the young woman conducting the rehearsal, silent instructions animating her face. The singers stumble and soar but we never see them. People in the film are seldom seen or spoken to directly. Aphex Twin appears again in time-lapse sequences casting the unpeopled landscape in a higher register, a tempo beyond the detail of human arrangements. A woman has her pet owl stuffed and then finds it’s too big for the coffee table. Its supporting branch is shortened while she tells the joiner how she froze the dead bird before sending it to a taxidermist in the post. The woman is the filmmaker’s mother, and she appears often through the film. Just before it ends these words appear on the screen, “It is only when I sense the end of things that I find the courage to speak/ the courage, but not the words”. The mood is elegiac but it’s not really about the end of things, it’s about how things change. The school kids are moulding clay. They squeeze and stretch the clay and make extrusions using a small tool that looks like a garlic press. The teacher tells them, “It does quite a lot of things, so long as you keep it in the right consistency”. Having come through winter the film ends on a shot of a single tree, branches and leaves blowing, animated – as the preceding 90 minutes have been – by an invisible and gentle spirit.

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Resonance

Reliant on lacunas – gaps in attention when something unexpected might happen – these etchings demand the kind of haphazard precision that enables you to fuckup in just the right way. Drawing the needle through the wax ground I sometimes think about the first wax cylinder recordings and how sound engraved onto their surface was made audible through the phonograph. Drawing makes a record.

Drawing the zinc plates I’ve been listening to Schubert, Debussy, and Jazz. If I’m feeling robust enough I’ll put on the mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. In the opening aria of Bach’s cantata BWV 82 she sings about acceptance of death, – “Ich habe genug” – I have enough. She sings the phrase twice, expressing repletion, and then weariness.

– Rilke writes of Eurydice, ‘Her deadness was filling her like fullness. Full as a fruit with sweetness and with darkness was she with her great death.’ – (1)

The singer of Bach’s cantata already recognizes  – “Die freude jenes lebens“ – The joy of the other life. Wanting this world no longer, she asks, – “Wenn kommt das schone: Nun!” – when will the lovely ‘now!’ come’?

Orpheus was unable to prevent Eurydice from returning to the underworld and his voice, the most beautiful, was set to mourning. Good singers know – and Dave Hickey said it perfectly – ‘that all songs are sad songs, borne as they are on the insubstantial substance of our fleeting breath’. Hunt Lieberson was 52 when she died in 2006 but we are still here, and thanks to recording technology she is still singing, – ‘in the lovely now’.

– ‘She was already loosened like long hair, and given far and wide like fallen rain.’ – (1)

For FF

(1) From Rilke’s early poem, ‘Orpheus, Eurydice, Hermes’ 1904. Best known for her renditions of Bach and other Baroque composers LHL also performed several Rainer Maria Rilke lyrics set to music by her husband Peter Lieberson.