Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Interview with Music Video Director and Auteur Floria Sigismondi

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Interview with Music Video Director and Auteur Floria Sigismondi

Article excerpt


Music video continually reconfigures and reasserts itself, emerging in new guises. It jumps platforms: from television, cable, DVDs to iTunes and YouTube; from high-gloss looks and extravagant budgets to footage shot on cell phones. Its borders are changing and uncertain. Few directors have stayed in the game through the genre's many shifts. Floria Sigismondi, along with only a handful of others - Hype Williams, Dave Meyers, Sophia Mueller - has been able to reinvent herself throughout music video's transitions.

Interviews with music video directors are rare. Until recently there wasn't a venue for them. Academic journals have given little space to scholarship on music video and much less to the directors. This interview with Floria Sigismondi aims to give a sense of her craft and what it's like to work in an industry over a twenty-year period.1

This conversation starts near the beginning of her career and takes us to the present. Born to Italian opera singers and raised in a Canadian industrial town, Floria Sigismondi was educated in Catholic girls' schools and received her artistic training at the Ontario College of Art. Her work draws from painting, illustration, sculpture, photography and film. This article will consider six of her videos: 'Little Wonder' for David Bowie (1997), 'Makes Me Wanna Die' for Tricky (1998), 'The Beautiful People' and 'Tourniquet' for Marilyn Manson (1999), 'Hurt' for Christina Aguilera (2006), and 'E.T.' for Katy Perry and Kanye West (2011).2

But before we begin the interview, some context may be helpful. Today, participation with the audiovisual is informed by an explosion of platforms, formats and styles; but what lies behind these media changes? I (interviewer, Carol Vernallis) want to argue that music video has been a prime driver of this new media swirl. Music video's role has been under- acknowledged. Today's media relations become malleable and volatile in a 'mixing board' aesthetic, and our accrued knowledge about how to work fluidly with this material is informed by music video. Music video's major contribution to today's audiovisual turn stems from the fact that ways of placing music and image together are learned: they form genealogies. One can't just speed up Godard and put music against it. Today's unique audiovisual relations developed through music video directors' and editors' experiments at reconfiguring images and sounds. From its advent in the 1980s, music video deployed new technologies (cheap, reusable videotape) and was shaped by new commercial and social demands (the impetus to make it fast, creative, musical, different, wild). Subsequently, these changing audiovisual relations of music video have influenced practices in film sound and music; the soundtrack in toto has become 'musicalised': sound effects and dialogue are now shaped alongside composed music into musical phrases. Sonic features can also adopt leading roles, driving the film; or sound can mediate, enabling individual film parameters to come to the fore. The image acquires a sense of speed and flexibility: the image's contents can seem as if they had been poured from one shot into the next. Cutting, too, can bestow an almost percussive rhythmic drive. An image in the new digital cinema often avoids a ground because the sound wafts it along.

These audiovisual forms of knowledge were shaped by music video. In the eighties music video was the laboratory: while commercials and films in that era tended toward tightly controlled client-author supervision and careful storyboarding, a music video director or editor might try anything. (Turn the image on its head and abut it with some red.) In the nineties music video directors streaming into cinema helped drive the new, audiovisually intensified, post-classical cinema.3 A second wave then immigrated, as industry funding, in response to free downloading, dried up in the noughties. Music video directors have flourished in the industry because they're especially attuned to the new technologies and the new audiovisual relations. …

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