"It's instant gratification," says DB, a DJ from the UK who was instrumental in bringing across the Atlantic the fast-paced style of electronic music known as jungle. He's talking on the phone from New York about the life of a DJ. According to DB, it's the ideal career for restless people like him. Producing records, however, is not the same. "You need a certain mentality for that," he advises. "Very patient!"
A good bit of patience and some curiosity are helpful qualities for those who choose to sit through Iara Lee's documentary Modulations, during which a plethora of people associated with the electronic music scene -- DB among them -- are interviewed. (The film, which opened last Friday, ends its run this weekend at the Alliance Cinema.) Lee, known for directing the 1996 sensory assault Synthetic Pleasures, has created a mesmerizingly chaotic movie that attempts to explain what electronic music is, where it came from, who its major practitioners have been, and what sort of effect the music has had in fostering the rave subculture.
Odd-looking musician Genesis P-orridge (is he in mid sex change?) opens the film by discussing how the splitting of the atom gave people the notion that things could be chopped into little pieces (the invention of the knife may have had a hand in that idea, too). Then the film moves to a variety of articulate talking heads holding forth on sound, melody, influences, and the technology that allows them to create the "organized noise" (according to Talvin Singh) that is electronic music.
The frenetic yet flowing style of the flick seems well suited for DJs, turntablists, electronic musicians, and producers, who deep down inside are all just "collage artists," say members of the Future Sound of London. Comments from important figures such as composers Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage, musique concrete pioneer Pierre Henry, and synthesizer inventor Robert Moog, are interspersed with snippets of performances by Prodigy, Photek, Juan Atkins, and X-ecutioners, to name a few. Producer Rob Playford and musician Jack Dangers conduct minitours of their recording studios, and a few scenes from raves are included as well. Critics also get in a word or two, and wouldn't you know it, they bring up the connection between music and drugs.
Although the topics covered in the film may be unknown to many, it's all old news to the antsy DB. "The media is finally waking up," he sniffs. "There have always been kids who've danced to electronic music. This is the first American movie to show its origins and roots. It's a good movie." Yeah, and he's in it, for about ten seconds.