Academic journal article CineAction

Abigail Child and Michael Gordon

Academic journal article CineAction

Abigail Child and Michael Gordon

Article excerpt

(interviewed separately by email)

CAROLYN ELERDING: You have invested a great deal in learning music theory and history--in your book, you refer to John Cage, Schoenberg, Thelonious Monk, and many others--and as a music scholar I find your usage of terms such as "rhythm" and "chord" tremendously insightful. Are you largely self-taught in music, or have you undertaken formal training as well?

ABIGAIL CHILD: I took piano for three years as a preteen/teenager. My teacher said I had talent but I'm not sure I was convinced. I did not practice enough. At college I wanted to take Music I but for some reason never did. In my early 20s I partnered with Jon Child who was a musician and recording engineer at the Hit Factory in Manhattan, then an r and b studio owned (I believe?) by Jerry Ragovoy (who wrote "Take a Piece of My Heart," the song made famous by Janis Joplin). I hung out with Jon's band a lot and in the recording studio. The recording studio was my education in retrospect. I remember one series of sessions when Ragovoy had a new song and he had Stevie Winwood and the band Traffic came in, cut it and then the next day or week, recorded the same song with black studio musicians. The song was completely different in tone and attack, feel--very enlightening. Later I gravitated to avant sounds. I had heard Berio in college and found Kagel's SPORT in a record store in the Village and picked it up after reading the label. I would say I was adventurous in my musical tastes, omnivorous, curious, eclectic.

CE: After doing quite a bit of your own composition in sound, you collaborated with other musicians. Do you see this type of preparation as essential to successful collaboration? Should film-makers learn about music? Should musicians learn about film?

AC: I think all artists should know lots, the more the better. I am a maximalist yes! Musicians should definitely learn about film. And music is at the heart of film. These are both time arts--unstoppable--occupying space through time with movement.

CE: Your collaborative essays are the products of a wide variety of carefully structured partnerships. Similarly, your collaborations with musicians in Is This What You Were Born For? take different shapes in each film of the series. What informs your composition of these collaborative textures? Is there theory involved? Did you plan the various types of collaboration with musicians used in each film, or did they evolve as a result of working with the particular musicians involved? None of the above?

AC: Collaborations are amazing: always different "rules" of engagement, different 'roles' for the participants and the wonderful fiery excitements that two can spark. The writing collaborations were organic developments--friends or colleagues or projects for many.


In regard to the films, I had a plan for Is This What You Were Born For? It exists on a sheet of paper somewhere in my files from the late 1970s. At that time I conceived 7 films each with different sound/image relationships: synchronous sound (MUTINY), voiceover (COVERT ACTION), soap opera as lead (MAYHEM), cartoon tracks (PERILS) et al. I was influenced by a recent Grove Press edition of the Marquis de Sade which included different theoretical essays attached to the text. Relations of structure and content (sexuality-gender-culture). So that each film has a different shape and thrust. Sometimes the films' structures parallel other work; for instance, a spiral structure governs both COVERT ACTION and MAYHEM though they end up looking very different because the content is different.

"Form as an extension of content" (Charles Olson)

The early collaborations with musicians were 'found' in a way. I had cut PERILS with an animation sound track, layered it and found it too thick--unmusical. I brought in Christian Marclay and Charles Noyes to play against the tracks. …

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