Interview: Adam Thorsmark from CPH:DOX

by Fie

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CPH:DOX is a film festival that puts a great emphasis on music. Music documentaries, concert films and live performances take up a good deal of space in the festival programme. Being the music nerds that we are, we had a chat with Adam Thorsmark, the music programmer at CPH:DOX, about the connection between music and documentaries and what makes good sound for films.

Adam Thorsmark is one of the main guys behind the selection of music films and live performances at CPH:DOX. As a music programmer he's tuned into the quality of good film sound and he’s spent his fair share of time contemplating why it makes sense to go all the way and make live audio-visual performances an integrated part of a documentary film festival.

We were fortunate to catch him in the middle of his busy festival schedule, and this made us wiser about the connection between documentaries and music as a whole. As an added bonus, we were pointed in the direction of audio-visual experiences you can't miss out on.

F: Why music and documentary film? What's the connection?

AT:When you've read interviews or books with and by your favorite musicians, you'll know that there are often good stories hidden in the music. I think that is one of the reasons why both fiction film - but also documentary film – are connected to music like they are.

Each year we receive hundreds of music documentaries at CPH:DOX – from near and far. Many of them have a lot to tell – good stories as well as good music. And some of them are even well-made. Those are the ones that go into the music film program. Apart from that, we have a series of concerts called AUDIO:VISUALS that we started in 2010 as a natural continuation of this fusion between music and documentary films. The concept is to let bands and film makers or visual artists come up with something new together and perform it in alternative venues, such as Teater Grob, Statens Museum for Kunst (The National Gallery) and Charlottenborg Kunsthal. This year Animal Collective vs. Abby Portner, Dirty Beaches, Death Grips, Kiss Kiss Kiss, Dorit Chrysler & Trentemøller are just some of the names, that all give visually interesting performances.

F: When choosing music and music films for the festival, what are the criteria?

AT: Even though music plays an incredibly big role in my life, I think it's important to remember that I'm working for a film festival and not a music festival. The filmic aspect is the most important one and that's where I benefit from my background in film and media science. It makes me feel qualified to make the right selections - and not least de-selections - of films for the program. In conjunction with the rest of the program editors, of course.
If such a thing as a perfect music documentary exists, it finds the right balance between good stories and interesting aesthetics. It thinks out of the box and doesn't drown you in clichés. If it can do all this and has good music in it too – I'm sold!

F: What makes good sound for films?

AT:Well, I'm not a sound director, so I'm not that in to all the technical stuff about how to create really good film sound. But damn, do I value good sound in a music film. Especially in concert films. Bad sound can screw it all up, but good sound can raise the experience up to a level where you (almost) feel like it's better than the real thing.

F: Which of DOX's live performances are you most looking forward to this year?

AT:Cancer x Hetz x Gooms x Pre-BE-un. Behind the four quirky names hides four small world premieres of new projects with members of When Saints Go Machine, Choir of Young Believers and now dissolved Oh No Ono – some of the best Danish bands of the last 10 years. It goes down on November 9th at Teater Grob. I almost haven't heard any of the music yet. That's how new this is! So personally I'm extremely curious. It can only be good. I'm also excited about Charanjit Singh, a 75-year-old Indian acid-house pioneer, the final concert with Animal Collective at The National Gallery, the intimate concert with britpop-anarchist Luke Haines of the The Auteurs - and last but not least Dorit Chrysler & Trentemøller at Bremen Theatre. I’m sure that these will be highlights.

F: Which of the films at this year's CPH:DOX program have been your best sound experience so far?

AT: That would have to be "Efterklang: The Ghost of Piramida". This is a case of a sound director, a band and a director with high ambitions who must have been working some serious overtime. It's a super delicate, dreamy mix of athmospheric music that moves you - and the incredible real sound, they gather from their surroundings in the abandoned mining town Svalbard, and that they use on their album ”Piramida”…. It's pretty magical.