Two Audio Works by Julia Loktev
In anticipation of Julia Loktev's latest feature, The Loneliest Planet (opening next Friday), FILM COMMENT presents rare examples of the filmmaker’s early radio work. Careful, sharp sound design has been key to all of Loktev's films—the clicking of a car’s turn signal in Day Night Day Night, for example, indelibly counts out tense moments in the protagonist's fateful journey—and, as Loktev explains below, sound in a way came before image for her. Here is her introduction followed by two complete pieces: Voiceage (1990) and Eating in Tongues (1991).
The pieces were produced while I was in college at McGill University and hosted a weekly late night radio show called Curiouser and Curiousear on CKUT in Montreal. Sometimes I just played music, which ranged from The Stooges to John Cage to Inuit throat chanting to L'Trimm. But with time, I started to use my two hours of airtime as my own sonic playground, a space where I could do anything, from bringing together Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan to jam with Elliot Sharp, to having a group of experimental musicians create a live soundtrack to a Yul Brynner film that happened to be playing on TV at the same time, to going to a strip club to tape just the audio and then playing it back on my show an hour later, to hosting a talk show on how to become a better liar, to playing literally dead air. These projects were inherently ephemeral. They would go out on the air and disappear. Next week there would be a new show.
With time, the projects became more structured and produced audio works like these two pieces, Voiceage and Eating in Tongues. They were still done relatively quickly. Voiceage might have taken a week or two, which I spent going around to record in Montreal nursing homes, layering the sound on a reel to reel (this was before ProTools, when you would edit with a razor blade, which I remember enjoying holding between my teeth between the cuts). I was interested in memory, music and the how age wears on the voice—we talk about the face but rarely the voice—and there's a little snippet in the piece that includes an older Bette Davis in dialogue with her younger self.
Eating in Tongues, a collaboration with Nancy Steadman, began as a performance during a radio art festival I co-organized. The piece plays with the intersection of food, language and sex on the tip of the tongue. The first version involved a live broadcast dinner in the radio studio for 13 guests, who were all blindfolded. The table was set with exquisitely prepared dishes as well as some more perilous plates like moldy pasta and a big cow tongue adorned with a red lipstick kiss. Afterwards the piece was “re-mixed” into this iteration, using snippets of the live dinner in a more structured work.
With time, it made sense to add image to sound. So that's how I ended up making films.
Though sometimes I miss the quickness and devil-may-care way of working I had then. It's so opposite of the way I make films now, where a film takes years to make.
Voiceage (1990, 54 min.)
Eating in Tongues (1991, 25 min.)