SEEING THE FULL SOUNDING
& CHRISTOPHER WILLIAMS
AMERICAN DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL 2015
WINNER: BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT FILM
interview JORGE PEREZCHICA
So, tell us about yourselves and the award-winning documentary short film Seeing the Full Sounding.
Zach: I was born on a commune in West Virginia, but moved to east Oakland when I was seven years old, and have since lived in South America, Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. I studied literature and romance languages at UC Berkeley before doing an MFA in Dramatic Writing, and I am currently completing a second MFA in film at NYU. My goal with Seeing the Full Sounding was to create a film that would give a traditional audience access to the music, and I think we accomplished it.
Chris: I’m a Berlin-based musician originally from San Diego, where I studied music at UCSD. In addition to composing, playing the bass, and curating concerts in Berlin and abroad, I’m working on a PhD at the University of Leiden (Holland). The film began as a research project for these studies, an attempt to discover and share how the eyes, mind, body, instrument, and sound work together with this kind of music notation. Seeing the Full Sounding refers both to how we make the sounding music visible through the camera, and to “Sounding the Full Circle,” an anthology of scores and texts by Malcolm Goldstein, whose music I perform in the film.
How did you meet each other? Was there a specific moment that inspired you to document and tell this story?
Zach: We met through a mutual friend, an Italian painter that was moving back to Barcelona and looking for someone to take over his room. In this way, we became friends and roommates at the same time. Chris had the idea to apply for to the Agosto Foundation for an artist residency in Czech Republic where he could explore two unconventionally notated scores by Malcolm Goldstein and I could document the process as part of his PhD. As soon as we started shooting, we knew the material would be strong enough to cut a short film.
In the film, Christopher Williams shows us a line drawing that looks like a map with Roman numerals — can you tell us what it represents?
Chris: That’s the score! The lines represent bow movements — fast, slow, up and down the string, etc. The Roman numerals tell me when to move the bow back and forth and on what string to play. It’s rather different from “normal” music notation because it deals with movement rather than notes and rhythms. It may look (and sound!) abstract, but in fact everything is explained in the written instructions.
What do you hope the audience to come away with after watching Seeing the Full Sounding?
Zach: We hope that the audience takes away a better understanding and appreciation of improvised music and graphic scores.
Chris: Also bigger ears! The world is worth listening to closely.
What inspired you to venture into experimental music and documentary filmmaking?
Zach: I first got involved with documentary filmmaking in college when a friend invited me to collaborate on a series of films about disability. I loved the intimacy and the opportunity to dive into subjects I knew nothing about. Since then it has taken me to American prisons, South American beauty pageants, UN refugee camps, and Berlin’s art scene.
Chris: It’s difficult to pinpoint one experience or person. I suppose I’m a native experimentalist — even as a teenager, I knew I wanted to spend my life thinking and making music and living at the edge of experience. Great teachers hipped me to the fact that this music was how I could do it.
Who are some artists that have influenced your work?
Zach: In terms of documentary filmmaking, I am heavily influenced by Albert and David Maysles and Walter Ruttmann, though our film’s greatest influence is the music itself.
Chris: Another tough one to pinpoint. The deepest are my teachers and collaborators — Bertram Turetzky, Chaya Czernowin, Charles Curtis, Derek Bailey. Recently I’ve been totally absorbed in the music and writings of Cornelius Cardew, an Englishman who wrote some very radical scores in the 1960s then later disavowed them when he became a Communist.
What are you currently working on?
Zach: Well, the film’s title will definitely change. It has grown into a trilogy that follows six Berliners who are struggling with acceptance, independence, identity, reality, history, and connectedness; the same issues that define Berlin 25 years after the fall of the Wall. What’s really cool is that through them we discover the vibrant art scene that is happening in Berlin.
Chris: The impossible task of doing less! At this very instant I’m finishing a radio piece called “A Treatise Remix,” based on Cornelius Cardew’s mammoth and controversial graphic score “Treatise.” I take historical recordings of this piece, texts about it, and a new recording with three other Berliners, and layer them like a lasagna.
Do you plan on collaborating again on another film?
Zach: Actually, Chris is one of the supporting characters in the Berlin trilogy!
Chris: Woe is me!