“ All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was.”
- Toni Morrison

Seven Butterflies

As Jack and I were sifting through footage from our shoot, I was also searching for sound. I do this in any typical choreographic process; a sifting-for-gold, trial-and-error, intuitive listening period that requires, for me, a blurring or expansion of the mind, a loosening of control.

We started editing studies together with minimalist sound, found sound, natural sound; all fine but nothing quite right. Then I heard this stunning composition by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, “Sept Papillon,” (Seven Butterflies) and something clicked. It was the piece for our footage.

“Sept Papillon” is not a composition I’d have chosen for the stage. It has an intense, unrelenting proximity to it; a sensory detail that you can feel in the hairs on your arms, at the base of your neck. It’s as though a giant aural lens is aimed at the unfolding drama of insects.

The close-up quality of Saariaho’s music connects vividly with movement on film, yet the same piece would have overwhelmed or brutalized bodies moving onstage. This was an interesting lesson for me: film requires sound that puts us back inside our bodies.


I puzzled over this for a while until a composer friend explained it to me: if a character opens a door in a film, sound is used to exaggerate turning the door handle, with a long pressurized creak, for example, so it’s larger than real life. Sound is used to link a viewer to visceral experience; to action and mood.

In a live performance you have the living body before you - your own and also the performers’ - guiding your senses at an animal level about what’s happening, how it feels, what’s at stake. This is the power of dance; we decode instinctually.

I want to explore how movement on film can likewise feel visceral, intimate and immediate. Sound is an important part of that, bringing us back to the body, to the feeling of being inside our own bodies.

I’m fascinated by what connects the body in my own filmmaking experiments, and I’m also watching and listening closely for what works in other films. One of the most body-affecting scores I can think of recently was created by Hans Zimmer for Dune; I felt my bones trembling.

Film is undoubtedly a deeply vicarious experience, and a highly-constructed one too; yet it can feel close to you, almost inside of you. This is a part of filmmaking that really excites me.

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