Bubble rap—Thomas Voyce

This week we hear from Thomas Voyce, Lecturer in composition at New Zealand School of Music–Te Kōki, who has been running movie nights from his bubble.

"As a teacher of film sound, I can’t overstate the value of taking the time to watch films in their entirety as a way to understand ‘the bigger picture’ of film sound. Unfortunately, there is never enough time in lectures to deliver content, watch films from start to finish, and then discuss as a class. Watching films between lectures to discuss in class is useful, but this doesn’t compare to the kind of interaction that happens when a group watch a film together: this is where the most animated and insightful contributions are made.

A couple of years ago, I ran a Sunday night movie screening series in the Adam Concert Room (as an educational institution, we are able to screen films for enrolled students). It was relatively successful; staff and students would view the film in surround sound, and then discuss the success of the film, focusing on the music and sound design aspects. However, because the ACR is always in demand, we couldn’t move the screenings to a more reasonable day or hour. The numbers attending were always small. Although there was plenty of interest in screenings, the timeslot and venue were impediments to securing good numbers and thus the screenings ended.

Covid 19 has been a major disruption to life at the University for staff and students. Isolation is a major obstruction to collaborative learning, and filmmaking in all its components is one of the more collaborative artforms. However, technology allows us to explore new ways to teach and engage, and it is through the online platform Zoom that I have been able to reinstate my movie nights, this time with some truly unique aspects.

Firstly, students are able to listen to films with headphones. Binaural listening is in no way a substitute for the 5.1 format of cinema, but it does allow us to hear enormous detail in the sound, albeit in a 2-channel format. Secondly, we can watch with multiple classes simultaneously. Our 300 and 400-level audio technology students can experience films together, something that doesn’t happen in a normal lecture setting.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, students are able to ‘chat’ (that is, ‘type’), while watching films. This is something of a revelation to me. Talking during a film is an absolute no-no in most settings, but typing is a different story. This feature allows us to dissect films moment-to-moment without having to pause proceedings or alternate our listening attention between the screen and each other. So far, we have watched and discussed some really interesting films, including the documentaries Rivers and Tides (2001) Notes on Blindness (2016), Tarkovsky’s sci-fi(?) masterpiece Stalker (1979) and award-winning war picture The Hurt Locker (2009). ‘Chatting’ while listening is also great for listening to albums.

We have listened to Jan Jelinek’s Kosmischer Pitch (2005) and Floating Point’s Elaenia (2015) together in the same group. I’m still summoning the courage to introduce Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica (1969) to the team.

Film screening and album listening sessions happen a few times a week. Every other day students are linking through to Zoom sessions to check out what’s up for analysis. Funnily enough, the Sunday 8.30pm slot that used to struggle to get people to the ACR is now attracting the most people."