Sunday, March 7, 2010
thoughts on 'speaking in code'
i watched a preview copy of the new techno documentary, 'speaking in code', last night. there has been quite a lot of hype about this, and it has been a long time coming, so i was very interested to see it. and, well, to be honest, i was disappointed with it. i have mixed feelings commenting about it. through the dvd it is clear that the people that made it put a huge amount of effort and money into it. but, from the point of a view of a reviewer, effort is not always sufficient. and in this case, despite the fact they clearly care about it a great deal, the documentary just doesn't really work.
'speaking in code' attempts to show more of the human face of techno music by tracking one of the film makers - a dj and promoter in boston, as well as sherbs and some artists like the wighnomy bros and modeselektor. and while there are some worthwhile moments - like monolake geeking out on gear and robag in a much more pensive frame of mind - none of the people are really examined in enough detail to fully convey the human side of machine music. also the way europe is presented as this kind of techno oasis in contrast to a barren desert in the US is overly stylised. indeed, one of the main feelings i had about my berlin trip last week was that there is a massive case of over abundance there, and i am not sure this is a good thing (but more on that in a later post). and these are not the only problems. partly because it has taken so long for it to finally see the light of day, the film is already out of date. the sounds and artists they are focusing on are much less fresh than they were a couple of years ago - between when filming started and when it gets released this month, electronic music has hurtled forward at its usual speed.
on a more fundamental level, there just isn't enough of a coherent message/narrative throughout 'speaking in code'. simply showing artists in different contexts, removed from the club or whatever, is not sufficient to properly show the human side of techno. and when i compare it to two electronic music documentaries i recently watched - 'synth britannia' or 'we call it techno' - i really didn't feel like i learned much from this. what made these documentaries so interesting is that they contextualised developments in electronic music in the political and social contexts within which they were forming. this provided a really interesting perspective that allowed a different way of viewing and understanding the way electronic music operates and develops. you just don't find that in 'speaking in code', which instead offers a slightly superficial portrayal of the techno scene. and the key message of the movie - 'everything changes when you get lost in music' - is, to be frank, not that insightful. hell, if you are interested enough in techno to watch a documentary about it, then you are already fully aware of how powerful music can be. i am guessing basically everyone who has read this blog appreciates exactly how important music can be in influencing and shaping one's life. i don't need a documentary to tell me this. i experienced it last week in berlin. i am experiencing it right now writing this from tokyo, a place i would most definitely not be if it was not for techno.
so if you want to read a more positive review, head over to LWE, but in the end, i was left underwhelmed and frustrated after watching 'speaking in code'. techno music has been around long enough that is it documented through mediums like film, but after watching this, i feel like we still have a long way to go.