February 6th, 2007


Whump and whoosh

Okay, it's Journalism 2.0™ time again, friends! I'm writing my Wired column, and I've decided it's going to be about bombast. Here's a skeleton outline of my argument:

* We are living in "the age of stupid impact". Everything must be boombastic, everything must knock us upside the head with a big club or stick. My pal Brecht would have been appalled.

* Here, take a look at some of the movie trailers on the Apple website. No matter who the films are by (I saw some for new films by Werner Herzog and Luc Besson, not that you'd have known it) the trailers all seem to be by the same "director" -- one who loves the sounds "WHUMP!" and "WHOOSH!", whether or not any action onscreen justifies their presence, and inserts as many unmotivated white flashes and black spaces as possible. For "stupid impact", see?

* And so it has come to pass that the sound of violent physical impact has become -- at least in certain Hollywood minds -- synonymous with actual psychological impact. Yet the two are not the same thing at all. Some of the things that have affected me most are quiet things, things that go neither WHUMP nor WHOOSH, and yet have impact.

* Do all trailers have this shock-and-awe, set-to-stun feel because it works -- because, in other words, this rather alarming whump-whoosh stuff is the PT Barnum bull of an anxious age whose attention is reached principally via the adrenal glands -- or has this simply become a sort of punctuation, used as glibly as I use, for instance, these commas; this semi-colon? In other words, is the inevitable rhetorical inflation intentional? Does it merely signify "another Hollywood action movie" to a jaded, lazy audience?

* Or should we blame software presets? I've used the odd white flash myself, in videos I made recently for my songs. I used it because it was there in iMovie, a preset filter. So perhaps trailers use these things because they're there -- considered "state of the art"? What software do movie trailer-makers use, anyway? Anyone know? Are WHUMP and WHOOSH really called that? "Add 35% more whump, Dave."

* I want to relate this to the Field Recordings Festival currently going on in Berlin. I've noticed that people now "play" their field recordings -- turning them into music -- where once they would have "played them back". This is because software gives musicians so many more options for tinkering than tape recorders did; and where people can tinker, they will tinker, damn them! Tinkering turns raw sounds into cooked ones, and turns everything into a kind of music (without the kind of conceptual work John Cage, for instance, wanted his audience to make to effect that same transformation).

* So, again, could it be the fault of computers and software that we live in the age of "stupid impact", and over-egg the pudding so?

* But fine art film and video -- presumably made with pretty much the same software as movie trailers -- resolutely avoids "stupid impact". In fact, it goes to the opposite extreme: as few edits as possible, absolutely no unmotivated impacts. You'd almost call it "deliberately boring", like watching security camera footage. Andy Warhol's movies may have set the style; you know, eight hours of the Empire State Building or someone sleeping.

* So this impact culture isn't really a function of the software, but of -- well, you tell me! What?