Lynden’s Ear for Fashion: Umut Gunduz

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Somehow amongst the festive frenzy, Fashion Popcorn managed to sneak in a little task for me to interview up-and-coming filmmaker Umut Gunduz. So I was sent Anu, a fashion film directed by Marnie Hollande & Kate Cox for designer Aminaka Wilmont that Umut worked on as a sound designer.

‘Anu’ Aminaka Wilmont 2012 from Umut Gunduz on Vimeo.

I don’t need to force the conversation, Umut slips easily into explaining how the job came about and his involvement ‘I was literally given a night to do it without seeing the film’.

And so began a discussion about the tricky business of creating a bespoke track to choreograph to – the sound designer has to struggle to imagine the sonic topography of something that doesn’t exist. I tell him that when I first watched the film I hadn’t yet put headphones on and ended up watching it without sound. The film opens with a shot of flowers in a vase then cuts to girl in beige under-crackers writhing around with flowers projected on her. I’m expecting it to be sound-tracked by some sort of insipid Goyte inspired rip off, a reversion of Thomas Newman’s theme for American Beauty or may be a French lady singing ‘ooooh’. So I’m wondering why the heck Fashion Popcorn are making me review this thing. [Cue vinyl record scratch noise] so it’s quite a surprise when I do add the sound – it entirely transforms the film.

It is no longer a pretty lady painted with flowers swishing about but something far more sinister and psychedelic and … sexual (and how come I didn’t notice the dodgy looking white powder the first time round!). Thus we prove how important audio is to setting the tone of moving image. There’s a subtle Foley fizz as the flowers dry out like a slither of snake skin. This pretty lady now appears to be ‘getting off’ on flowers, a trippy floral intoxication – a possession by a green-fingered demon as she glowers seductively through the camera lens. This is a track with ‘build’. [For ‘build’ think Leftfield ‘Phat Planet’ in the commercial for a well-known Irish ale.] Gunduz tells me that in post-production the directors were good at setting out a detailed description of what they needed to re-do to the track but more interestingly pleaded with him to come up with something harsh to stop the film from looking cute – a horror theme? I like where they’re coming from.

One of my favourite aural techniques is ‘screwdriver on electric guitar’ and this is employed by Umut, processing and to some extent looping and layering sounds that throb and pulsate and ultimately build tension before the model’s flower whitey. There’s borderline musicality to his sound design. Umut agrees and says that he wanted to take it to the brink of it becoming musical without achieving a melody.

But really this is just Umut doing what the director wants and very quickly (it took him an hour and a half to complete the final track). And I’m left wishing I’d also asked the directors along to examine their decision to apply edgy over cutesy. Usually when a client asks for edgy in my line of business it means Muse instead of Sigur Ros (so not that edgy). Watching ‘Anu’ makes me rethink how I pitch tracks. I would probably have begrudgingly fallen into the trap of my earlier assumptions of music fit. It excites me to know that there are filmmakers out there who understand the importance of sonic identity to convey their message – which in this case is that Aminaka Wilmont does florals with attitude.

‘We need to talk about Elliot’s’

Elliot’s Cafe from Umut Gunduz on Vimeo.

On Umut’s website, the film that most caught my ear was ‘Elliot’s’. Driven largely by sound, for me it encapsulates a concept that I’ve been day-dreaming about – capturing the sonic essence of locations. Again there’s a sense of musicality without there being a melody and there’s a pulse to the sound that carries you along with the tight edit and keeps you engaged. Umut smiles ‘you know most of the sound was worked on later – it was a lot of work’– typically those things which seem to flow so well are the result of some seriously intricate effort on the part of the filmmaker who begins to tell me more about his fascination with sound. ‘You have to be good with your ears and often if you are good with your ears you’re better with your eyes’.

Inspirations
The conversation turns to his inspirations – it’s impossible not to ask this question at some point though I manage to confuse him by suggesting that may be what he’s aiming to achieve has no reference point. For directors he references Kubrick and Scorcese, which I’m comforted by as he’s not confused me with a list of directors I don’t know. Umut mentions Ben Burtt and how different life would be without knowing what a light-sabre sounds like, and how gets excited talking about sci fi noises ‘I made the sound of a time machine once which was fun’ – the light switch goes on in his eyes. He cites the sound uses in By Haneke as a massive big influence too. Whilst we talk, Umut constantly compares me to films I’ve never seen in the same way that people in music constantly quote song lyrics to convey an idea – ‘have you seen Poppie Dixon’s The Imposter?’. I’m now making a list of films I haven’t seen.

Invisible Horses
As we conclude, we keep finding other things to geek out on. He tells me about a project he’s working on about the alter ego of a musician who’s moved to India to start a record label. I want to tell him about my idea for a bat opera but I decide to save it for another time and we politely end our little meeting of minds. I’m left with the feeling that I’ve just met an ambitious and focussed film-maker on the cusp of something special – he just needs to start building a production team together that can take him to another level.

Umut Gunduz is currently raising funds to complete a documentary about his wayward brother who is now trying to set out on a better path. ‘Stevie ‘G’ supported by the NFTS: www.facebook.com/steviegdocumentary. Umut tells me he’s never applied to a film festival and I hope that Sheffield Doc fest find a little window for him when his Stevie G project is completed.

Whilst putting on his coat, the most unexpected statement explodes from his mouth ‘Have you seen Psy ‘Gangnam Style’? For me it’s the best combination of film and sound this year 2012.’

I leave you dear reader to ride your invisible horses:

Lynden Campbell is the Head of Syncronisation at Domino Recording and Domino Publishing companies. Read more from Lynden on her daily blog for Domino.

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