Image et Son (Mitry Honneger)

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Here is a fabulous film by Jean Mitry called Pacific 231. It’s a film sequence of trains edited to the music of Arthur Honneger. The film is from 1949.

This film essay is in two main parts.

The introduction has scenes of make-ready with engines and rolling-stock being moved about against the background sounds of metal, steam and machine. The industrial noises of the machinery are a kind of music. There’s a wonderful sequence of images of the engine on a turntable.

The second part of the film is of the engine at speed and its journey. The train leaves from the Gare du Nord and is the northern express towards Lille. I’m guessing that, based on my knowledge of the shape of the train shed canopy in the film.

The second part has the musical soundtrack by Honneger. Honneger’s music is an orchestral evocation of the power and speed of the train. It’s the music of industry and engineering and speed…

You can find out more about Honneger, here

and about Pacific 231, here

It turns out that Jean Mitry was one of the first people to write about film and cinema in a seriously academic way. His work covers aesthetics, psychology, semiotics and analysis. There’s a little about Mitry, here

Honneger was not the only person to be thinking of the musical quality of industrial noise. The connection goes right back to the beginnings of the avant-garde and the willingness to interrogate the formal and structural qualities of art, music and literature.

The poetic experiments of the Italian Futurists kick it all off with Marinetti’s Zang Tumb Tumb (1914). The experiments of concrete poetry and everything else followed.

It wasn’t long before the musical avant-garde adopted the Dada strategy of making art with whatever was to hand. That opened the door, so to speak, for a repertoire beyond the established instruments.

It’s amazing how difficult people find it to accept “noise,” or even silence, as music. In the end, it comes down to a kind of political tolerance.

In the UK, this gave us the experimental music movement of the 1960s and the “scratch orchestra.” This was a kind of musical “flash-mob.” In Germany, Kraftwerk recorded a piece of music called Kling-Klang (1972) and gave the name to their recording studio.

If you watch the Mitry film titles, you’ll see that the sound recording is by “Klang-Film.” So, “Klang” is a sound that’s loaded with meanings.

I’ll be posting more about art, films, trains, music and sounds…There’s more of it than you think.

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