Before Star Wars, George Lucas’ first feature length 1971 debut was a stylistic Sci-FI movie starring Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence where chemical brainwashing, android police, CCTV and ultimate totalitarian control symbolise an uncomfortable authoritarian world. The film is the centre piece for the next instalment of Corn:discover which goes down on October 23rd (tickets here).
This October, Asian Dub Foundation perform their exhilarating and fast moving live score which is a perfect complement to this immersive film about a starkly unbalanced future society at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. Celebrated for their brilliant live shows they bring their unique flair of flute, guitar, bass and drums to this cult sci-fi classic. In anticipation of the show, we caught up with Steve Chandra Savale to discuss the project, classics and the latest ADF album…
So how has 2015 been treating you so far?
Best year for years! Great reviews of the album, wicked line-up, Walter Murch loving what we did to his film!
So this year has seen you resurrect and on the verge of touring ‘THX 1138’ as well as releasing a new album, which of the two, new album or doing THX 1138 has been the most difficult and why?
THX had a lot of insane tech issues at the start of it, sync, frames, formats. It’s also hard to get tech support when you’re trying new ways of doing things , it’s hard to get it over.
So how did the THX 1138 show come about and who approached you to get involved?
The wonderful Guy Morley from No Nation, who put on “La Haine” at Brighton Dome and asked us to do “Battle of Algiers”. He’d got a slot at Brooklyn Festival and asked us to come up with something. THX was that something.
How has THX 1138 varied from previous ADF projects where you’ve re-envisioned soundtracks, Battle of Algiers for example. And how about in comparison to ‘La Haine’?
Interesting question! There’s actually a lot of contrast between the three in many different aspects.The most immediate factors that come to mind are firstly the era the films were made in, sonically speaking. Battle of Algiers was not as difficult as we expected it would be despite already having an Ennio Morricone soundtrack which we held in reverence (we turned down the project initially for this reason). The frequency of the soundtrack ,being recorded in 1963/64 , was relatively so lo-fi that it blended with what we did nicely and was a cool contrasting texture. THX, having been recorded in 1971, was actually more difficult on that front though the content of the original soundtrack is far more minimal than “Algiers”. Secondly the way the original soundtrack works in the films. People usually think “La Haine” has a French rap soundtrack. Actually it has no incidental music at all , but has five scenes where a track is used in the sonic foreground and there is no dialogue or environmental sound. For example the opening riot scene is mainly silent with Bob Marley’s classic “Burnin’ and Looting” playing over it. We replaced it with a version of a song from our first album called “TH9” also about a riot, though one that happened around the same time as the one portrayed in the film. It was very effective because unlike the Marley song our track worked with the tempo of the scene itself, and Mathieu Kassovitz himself (the director) said he thought it worked better in some ways. THX and Algiers have more conventional soundtracks in terms of ebbing and flowing with the narrative.
Lucas’s film is perhaps just as relevant today with its themes of religion and consumerism, what are your feelings towards the film itself?
What’s great about is that it’s become more prophetic as time has passed. There was a lot of criticism of it for a while as being too impenetrable, too alien. This was never a problem for me .I thought that Lucas and Murchs’ stated intention to make what they called an “Artifact from the Future” which would be unfathomable to a viewer form 500 years in the past was a brilliant idea. The film’s impenetrability made it more believable as possible future .But when I watched it again after 25 years this was no longer the case:THE FILM HAD BECOME VERY RECOGNISABLE! Incessant, overwhelming digital bleeps and squelches, out of control consumerism, mass surveillance,fundamentalist religion, desensitisation to violence….sound familiar? Perhaps the most frightening bit of prophecy for me is the kids with syringes permanently stuck in their arms. Ritalin and “ADHD” springs to mind. Walter Murch ,after he saw our show said when one of the characters says “This is not a race issue” he found that uncomfortably prophetic given the way organisations like Fox News have dealt with the spate of Police killings of unarmed Afro-Americans. Additionally the reduction of black people to the status of entertainment holograms in the world of THX is an incredible and chilling form of futuristic racism quite unlike anything I’ve seen in Sci-Fi before. I could go on for a while here!
Could you ever work on a project like this with a film you didn’t enjoy/respect?
Actually that could be fun! My wife suggested ADF doing something like “SpiceWorld” which would be hilarious…
What would be the worse film soundtrack to do?
Actually a film with a classic soundtrack already would be the worst to do. Can you imagine daring to replace the original score to “Good the Bad and the Ugly” or “Dirty Harry”? We just wouldn’t be worthy.
Tell us what Lalo Schiffrin means to you?
An absolute genius and I’m happy to say a formative influence on me. When I was 7/8 years old I recorded his theme to the first season of Starsky and Hutch (very different from the more well-known later one) on my
portable cassette recorder and couldn’t stop playing it. It is the most brutally exciting bit of drum n’ brass ever made,and sadly there isn’t a decent recording of it other than “off the TV” versions. Schifrin’s music is mean,sinister ,orchestrated funk with a forward propulsion of a bullet train. Again, as a child I bought his disco-suspense version of “Jaws”- one of the best two-note baselines ever put down on vinyl. If you ain’t heard it, check it now [below]. And of course, everyone knows Mission Impossible. The fact that he personally gave us permission to do this project is unbelievable. His music on THX is very different to his usual monster grooves though, it’s more avant-garde classical which just shows the guy’s incredible range.
You’ve retained much of Lalo Schiffrin’s distinctive score and soundtrack, could you talk us through this decision?
The decision’s made for you really. We don’t have the technology to remove the music without removing all the audio altogether so we have to work with it. If we did we’d be cutting out most of the dialogue and environmental sound as well. People tend to assume that you can just turn off the music but you can’t unless you’ve got access to the original encoding or you’re an expensive genius. But of course it’s a great soundtrack and there’s a lot of space in it for us.
Were there any apprehensions about approaching the project given its association to such a cult and iconic motion picture?
The apprehensions came when we found out that Walter Murch, George Lucas and Lalo Schifrin had been made aware of it and had to give their permission! Which, amazingly, they did. How cool is that!!!
What can audiences expect from the THX 1138 show/tour? How does your take on the soundtrack sit with the film’s avant-garde aesthetic?
It’s a wide-eyed bass-heavy tripped out future dub cousin of it. Well we think so!
Lets end with a chat about the latest album, how have you found ‘No More Signal No More Noise’s reception? Very gratifying!
We’ve heard talk of it being classed as one of your best records to date, did it feel like a career defining record during its conception and production?
Yeh it was a vibe!
When can we expect you to bring the new record to Cambridge?
Whenever you like – just ask!