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Music Video Distributors presents
Modulations: Cinema for the Ear (1998)

"The world is not meant to be good, bad... black,white... 1,2... 1,0. It's not binary. It's chaos."
- Genesis P. Orridge (Throbbing Gristle)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: February 18, 2003

Stars: Autechre, Can, Carl Cox, Derrick May, Coldcut, Giorgio Moroder, John Cage, Juan Atkins, LTJ Bukem, Orbital, Pierre Henry, Prodigy, Robert Moog, Teo Macero, The Future Sound Of London
Other Stars: Aphrodite, Arthur Baker, Atari Teenage Riot, Bill Laswell, db, Derrick Carter, DJ Sneak, DJ Spooky, dxt, Ed Rush, Frankie Bones, Genesis P. Orridge, Hardfloor, Jesse Saunders, Joey Beltram, Ken Ishi, Marshall Jefferson, Meat Beat Manifesto, Mixmaster Morris, Moby, Money Mark, Panacea, Photek, Rob Playford, Roni Size, Scanner, Squarepusher, Talvin Singh, Tetsu, Inoue, The Invisibl Skratch Piklz, Westbam, X-ecutioners, Alvin Toffler
Director: Iara Lee

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language, brief nudity)
Run Time: 01h:13m:31s
Release Date: February 18, 2003
UPC: 022891434993
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B-B- D+

DVD Review

"Electronic music is the hot-rodding of the 90s." - Robert Moog

The world of serious electronic music has morphed and evolved over the years into something that more closely resembles a computer workshop than what would appear to be traditional music skills, at least perhaps to a casual observer. Stars of the genre might seem at first to be nothing more than knob-tweakers and trumped-up club DJs, with the role of musician having been replaced by that of technician. This hypnotic 1998 documentary from Iara Lee should shatter that perception, as it explores the electronic subculture and traces its roots and growth from the boundary-pushing John Cage through the modern day noise-as-music experiments of The Sound Terrorists.

There is no proper narrative in Modulations: Cinema For The Ear, but rather Lee allows things to propel along briskly by using quick interview segments from various musicians and writers, intercut with fast edits of various industrial and performance footage. Amidst the high-energy edits, the history of the almost Darwinian melding of man and machine is told, and even if you never knew anything about techno, house, jungle, rave or any of its million sub-iterations, this film chronicles the expanding frontier with the voices of those who are actually blazing the digital trails.

Lee doesn't limit the subject matter to just modern day artists, and features interview segments with synthesizer innovator Robert Moog, Alvin Toffler (author of Future Shock) and even Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt of early 1970s German synth outfit Can. It was interesting to see how many of the musicians in Modulations: Cinema For The Ear look so reverently back at the early work of Moog, Cage, Can and Pierre Henry, and how the transmutations and evolutionary patterns of electronic music seem to be self-generating.

Admittedly, the whole man-and-machine element has quite a William Gibson/sci-fi feel to it. Modulations: Cinema For The Ear reveals that there is an expansive, loyal subculture for every gurgling sub genre, and as Lee paints it so clearly, the music-and-sound evolution is wonderfully unstoppable and ever changing.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: I haven't been knocked out by most of the MVD's recent image transfers I've come across, but this techo music documentary seems to be one of their better efforts. Provided in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Modulations contains some noticeable grain, a few sprocket holes and a generally limited palette of colors that tend to look slightly muted, though the presentation and image detail is consistent throughout.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Too bad this disc couldn't be released in a more accessible 5.1 or DTS, considering how dominant music and audio is to the subject matter. The back cover states the mix is AC-3, but without a proper AC-3 decoder the sound transfer is akin to 2.0 surround at best. Interview segments are clear, but the ever-present techno soundtrack could have been truly outstanding with a wall-thumping DTS mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 92 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Japanese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Extras are somewhat limited here, and most of what is available is not in English. Aside from an English language trailer, there are product offers (books, dvds, etc), but the text is all Japanese.

The disc is cut into a staggering 92(!) chapters, and the menu system is broken down into three sections: Story, Artist's Commentary and Artist's Live. The downside is that all of the menu headings are, once again, in Japanese.

Subtitles are available in (you guessed it) Japanese.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

Modulations: Cinema For The Ear is a solidly structured primer on the world of electronic music, from the 1930s innovations of John Cage through today's (or at least through 1998) numerous and disparate techno subcultures. The editing is appropriately frenetic, the interview segments are short, sweet and insightful without being pompous, and the entire documentary presents the subject matter as nothing less than a concise collection of snapshots representing musical and digital evolution.

Highly recommended for fans of music everywhere.


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