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Modulations: Cinema for the Ear

“We are not entertainers, we are sound scientists.”

Modulations is a feature-length documentary which captures a moment in history where humans and machines are fusing to create today’s most exciting sounds.
It traces the evolution of electronic music as one of the most profound artistic developments of the 20th century. By cutting back and forth between avant garde composers, Kraftwerk’s innovative synthesizer drones, Giorgio Moroder’s glacial Euro-disco, Afrika Bambaataa’s electro-funk and Prodigy’s current worldwide superstarstardom,Modulations celebrates, replicates and illuminates the nomadic drift of the post-human techno sound.

The film examines the kids who have turned the turntable into a musical instrument, disillusioned disco lovers who created acid house out of primitive synthesizers, Motor City mavericks who saw the drum machine as their escape route out of urban neglect, and a generation of British youth who transformed these blips and bleeps into dance floor anthems of their own alienation.

Modulations provides a sense of history and context in which today’s electronic music can be understood. It entertains the converted and remixes the mindset of electronica’s nay-sayers.

Featuring a stunning collage of interviews, cutting-edge visuals, in-studio footage and live performances,Modulations moves at a pace that matches the energy and innovation of the music.

Where is Erik Satie?

Modulations: Cinema for the Ear (1998) 1Modulations is the first global documentary of electronic music. Why you, and why now?
I got to interact with musicians when I was making {the 1992 documentary} Synthetic Pleasures . I was shocked to see that all these incredible musicians were like orphans, because most labels drop the most interesting ones. That’s why I also launched the {Caipirinha} record label, because I felt that these talented people had no home.

Synthetic Pleasures implicitly critiques the replacement of the ‘real’ in everyday life. Modulations is more of a fan film, isn’t it?

I think it’s a very exciting time for the hybridization of culture, and I think that’s what I’m celebrating: how machines and humans can interact. It’s not so much about saying rock is dead, and electronic music is replacing it, but it’s about how people are mixing things together now.

You may not be performing rock’s last rites, but aren’t you trying to persuade your American audience that Electronica is here to stay?
Yeah, this film is not just for the converted. I don’t want to make it so watered down that the people who are part of the culture will not appreciate it, but at the same time it’s not about the technicalities, it’s about the cultural depth of this music. It’s more about how the musicians perceive the evolution of this electronic music culture- they are more like narrators than self-promoters.

Were there many people you wanted to interview but couldn’t?
A lot of them I got, but they didn’t make it to the final cut. But in the end if they were not there physically, their minds were represented in the film. But that’s not the issue there’s always a hero missing! People ask: Where is Erik Satie?

You interviewed electronic pioneers such as Pierre Henry and Teo Macero. Do they care about their own legacy in the younger generation’s music?
There is a big comeback of the old pioneers- they created something that’s been so manipulated, processed and recombined, but they can’t see how the thing got so twisted around. A lot of times, I guess they just lose track. Even Giorgio Moroder said, ‘I hope you’re not going to ask me about what’s going on nowadays because I’m a little bit out of touch’!

What were the biggest peaks and troughs in shooting the movie?
For some reason Japan is always a surreal place for me. When we filmed the Rainbow 2000 festival, we found Mt Fuji in typhoon and fog. The stage was wrapped up in plastic, nobody could see Photek, Hosono or Mixmaster Morris. Our cameras were getting wet, and my cameraman was throwing the camera up in the air to get the high angles. But the kids were dancing all day and all nights and it didn’t matter that you couldn’t see the musicians or DJs, it was about the music. Every encounter with a musician was a big story! Genesis P.Orridge was an incredible philosophical highlight, and Stockhausen was the biggest nightmare.

Would you want to make another film about music, or has Modulations completely wiped you out?
For me music and sound is as important as dialogue, or the visuals. I’m now shooting a piece on contemporary architecture and music, and I’m going to Japan, Denmark and Spain. It’s about how music and architecture can intermingle and create an energetic combination. I haven’t even shot the film, and I’m already listening to Thomas Koner and thinking about how things could fall into place.

Rob Young, The Wire, 174, 08/1998


Futuristika is a Nantes-Istanbul-Paris based zine, dedicated to counter-culture in all of its various forms. The magazine is a collective of articles on any subject that is grotesque, public enemy, pleasurable, weird on a variety of themes such as fine arts, music, literature, cinema, culture, politics and violence.