|Wood thrush and firepink. Watercolor, 2014|
I'm amazed and delighted to announce that a new film, "In Pursuit of Silence" is now premiering at select theaters around the country. It's about our relationship with sound, about the impact of noise, and about the rarity and preciousness of silence.
This is something I think about a lot, birding by ear and tuning into every squeak, chirp and belch of the birds around me. Whether I've admitted it to myself or not, I have sought silence for my entire life; it's a large part of why I live where I do. Even as I write, I can hear trucks roaring out on the county road. No place in Ohio that I can think of is sonically pristine. All we can do is get close, for a little while.
|Eastern bluebird, singing and wing-waving. Watercolor, 2011|
A couple of July's ago, I got an email from Kurt Fristrup, who works for the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service. (Ain't it wonderful, that there IS such a thing?) As a graduate student at Harvard, when dinosaurs still walked the earth, Kurt had been my independent studies advisor in animal behavior and ornithology. I wanted to learn more than coursework could give me about those topics, and I read a lot of papers and wrote a few, too, with Kurt's guidance. I never forgot him, his brilliance and his kindness and most of all the tantalizing promise of adventure he held--he was studying cock of the rock in Suriname at the time-- and I guess he hasn't forgotten me, either.
Now, in his capacity with the National Park Service, Kurt was planning a conference on noise, to be held in Denver, and he asked me to speak for 40 minutes on the importance of silence. That request kind of came from left field (Huh? Why me?) but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I had a lot inside me, heretofore unspoken, about the importance of tuning in to natural sounds, and of avoiding human-generated ones. It's what I do, consciously or unconsciously, every day. I worked for a long time on my Keynote presentation, and it unfolded like a flower as I found simple phone recordings I'd made, and noticed how they were nearly all marred by engines of one sort or another, even in the tucked-away places I frequent. I also thought about the fact that we live atop the Marcellus Shale, and our sonic environment has degraded drastically since the current oil boom began. I found delightful soundclips of whip-poor-wills; of a cow tooting lonesome in the night; of spring frogs and summer thrushes. And I wrote about all that. So I gave the talk at the conference, and it was fun and cool and moody like I'd hoped it would be, and afterward Kurt and his wife, writer Kit Dunsmore and I went out in the field, accompanied by filmmakers who, I was told, were working on a film about silence.
|White-throated sparrow. Watercolor, 2011. They're singing their quavering poor-Sam Peabody all over the place right now. Get out there and listen!|
That's cool, I thought, and I didn't mind being trailed by a couple of big videocameras as we birded. I didn't try to use my ears any more or less than usual; I just did what I do in the field, which I guess when I think about it is a bit of a departure from how most people move through the field. I move from found to sound, letting my ears tell me first who's around and what they're doing. Standing in front of a brushy hillside, to me, is like opening the morning newspaper. It's as if I can smell all the birds hiding there, only I'm smelling them with my ears. Long story short, and to my great surprise, I wound up in the trailer for the film, sniffing birds out. I haven't seen the whole work, so I don't know what else got used. But wham! what a surprise. I about jumped out of my skin when my dear friend Harma, who is volunteering for the Sarasota Film Festival, sent me the trailer in an email.
Anyway. Just for fun, here's the trailer, with a typically intense Zick-being-English setter around 1:38. My friend Kurt Fristrup appears with a voice over and then in the flesh immediately after. Thank you, Kurt and Kit!
And here are some of the venues where it will be screened in April. The North American premiere was at South By Southwest Film Festival. Filmmaker Patrick Shen writes:
"Well, our North American premiere at SXSW was amazing. We had an incredible line-up of musicians and sound artists perform before each of our three screenings - all of which included a historic performance of John Cage's 4'33". On our opening night our very own composer Alex Lu led a local quartet in a performance of a piece he wrote for the film before going quiet for 4 and a half minutes which both confused and delighted the crowd. Here are some pics. AND a film critic with the Austin Chronicle had this to say about our film:
'I am undone by this film...it lands in the mind, at least to this reviewer, with an impact reminiscent of seeing 1982’s Koyaanisqatsi for the first time...Shen’s In Pursuit of Silence incessantly inspires and sometimes takes the breath away and can even accomplish both at once.'"
Read the full review here.
- Dallas Int'l Film Festival // Angelika Film Center 7 @ 12:15p -
- Dallas Int'l Film Festival // Angelika Film Center 8 @ 2:45p -
- San Francisco Green Film Festival // Little Roxie @ 1:30p* -
- Ashland Film Festival // 6:40p -
- Sarasota Film Festival // Regal Hollywood 20 @ 5:15p -
- Full Frame Documentary Festival // Cinema 1 @ 10a* -
- Sarasota Film Festival // Regal Hollywood 20 @ 2:15p -
- Ashland Film Festival // 10:10a -
- Ashland Film Festival // 3:40p -
- Cleveland Int'l Film Festival // Tower City Cinemas @ 8:50p* -
- Cleveland Int'l Film Festival // Tower City Cinemas @ 11:50a* -
- Cleveland Int'l Film Festival // Tower City Cinemas @ 4:10p* -
- Atlanta Film Festival // Plaza Up Theater @ 7:20p* - in.
Though I knew very little about the project, as I watched the filmmakers work I had a feeling it was going to be very, very good. I hope I get to see it to confirm my suspicion. It's been a gigantic honor to play a very small part in their project. Thanks to the IPOS team for letting me in.