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Visualizing Sound: German Director Boris Seawald Turns Editing Into a Fine Art

Boris Seewald is a German director and editor based in Berlin, and in this short film he features music composer Ralf Hildenbeutel. In "Conduct" Seewald has captured the strength and grace of the dancers, Simone Schmidt, Deborah Hann, and Althea Corlett.

Conduct
Still from "Conduct"

Seewald first started making videos when he was in a band and created his first video by himself. This kind of independent thinking shows in his work which has its own take on sound and visuals. Seewald has a knack for filmmaker Oskar Fischinger, who according to Seewald was great at visualizing sound. Seewald has created a piece which communicates sound and sight perfectly. 

Composer Ralf Hildenbeutel, who creates sounds that uplift the viewer and the film, works with Seewald whenever possible. Hildenbeutel is conscious of Seewald edits and vice versa, so there is no pretension to be found, only artistic collaboration. Shot in an abandoned German building, "Conduct" challenges Deborah Hanna’s ability as the lead conductor, as well as the dancers performing in the middle of a crumbling structure.

Seewald has won more than 20 awards including the Cinedans Dioraphte Jury Award as the worldwide top award for dance films. "Conduct" has been shown in film festivals, including San Francisco Dance Film Festival and Sinema Dans Ankara Festival in Turkey.

Below, Seewald discusses his background and inspiration.

Conduct
Still from "Conduct"

I’ve read that one of your influences is the animator Oskar Fischinger. How does his work -- or animation in general -- fit into films such as "Conduct?"

Oskar Fischinger visualized music with animation. His abstract films were precisely and fluidly expressed to the sound. In his work you could “see” each note, each beat and each element of the sound bed. Although “Conduct” is not an animation film, I wanted to coordinate the image with the sound and use the movement of the dancers as a rhythmical illustration of the music.

Before you studied film, you played music in bands. How does your musical background translate to your filmmaking?

When I played music in bands it was just around the time when DV camcorders and editing software became affordable to the masses. So I started making my first video clips for my own band. Looking back, playing in bands taught me to listen more precisely to each instrument or element of the song, which helps a lot in editing, especially when it comes to editing to music.

Conduct
Still from "Conduct"

What do your collaborations with composer Ralf Hildenbeutel look like?

Ralf’s music really hits my personal taste in music. We try to collaborate whenever we can and when the time allows. He either composes for my projects, like the short film “Momentum” or I do a clip to one of his finished songs, for example “The Feast.” The great thing is that he is always open to adjust his songs according to the picture. Whenever we work on a project, it’s not that one side finishes his video or music and then it’s the other one’s turn. The work on image and sound happens simultaneously, always adjusting to each other’s updated version.

How did you first get interested in filming dance? What brings you back?

Filming dance was actual my first ever film called “Mit Rhythmus im Blut,” a one-man project. I shot it, danced in it and edited it. After that I did other films, made more effort, made many mistakes and had little success. Years later I came back to my first film again and thought: “That wasn’t too bad, maybe I should do more dance films...” Basically I like using the movement and speed of the dance performance in the edit to create new rhythmical dynamics.

How would you describe the culture of Berlin to someone thousands of miles away?

I don’t think I can do that. You have to come and experience it for yourself. And if you come, make sure it’s not wintertime.

So much of your work depends on the perfect edit -- how do you plan your projects?

Each project has its own individual planning and there is no formula. When I shoot, I try to shoot for the edit as much as possible but when it comes to the actual editing, it is important to shake off some ideas and visions you had beforehand. Often the “perfect cut” happens accidentally. If you stick too much to the ideas you had in shooting, you might not see the “magic in the accident.”

Conduct
Still from "Conduct"

What’s next?

I am right now in post-production for a dance music video starring Althea Corlett and Simone Schmidt who also performed in “Conduct.” The music video is for the latest upcoming album from Ralf Hildenbeutel and should be released soon.

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