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Speaking In Code

Speaking In Code
a film by Amy Grill
sQuare Productions, 2009

What drives, obsesses, and eventually breaks impresario David Day in the new documentary Speaking In Code is that most elusive of quarries: getting something started in Boston.

The something in this case being the techno music scene. A Midwestern American art, electronic dance music has moved so deep underground in its home country you’d forget it was ever here. But Europe continues to dance to it, and it’s to Berlin and Barcilona that David and his wife, Amy Grill, economy-jet to be a part of it; and to meet and get to know the people who live around it, people who—like journalist Philip Sherbourne—move clear across the world in search of “a more complete techno lifestyle.”

Electronic dance is a music of fluorescence, of squatters in abandoned buildings, clubs so dark you can’t see the DJ. It’s also a music of bright, empty mornings. Fittingly, Grill places her interview subjects off-center, counterpointed by stray graffiti or AV cables. There is an off-and-on color rhythm as schemes alternate between the pale light of northern mornings and the powdery dark of clubs.

In their drive to get closer and closer to the music that defines who they are, the filmmakers go broke and split up on camera (filming David, studying him, Amy begins to see him differently; he grows apart from her as he lives more and more for the scene). Though the breakup could easily feel gimmicky or tacked-on, it ends up providing a necessary foreground to the story, which involves lots of lightly sketched characters, locations, and great stretches of time. The movie ends up being about time, too, and about growing older, making choices, seeing how they play out, then making new ones.

Ironically, the music itself seemed hardly there. Maybe because we’re so inured to electronic, repetitive film scores, the background tracks tended to blend together or fade away. What we’re left with are the people who make the scene, their idiosyncrasies and tics. Surprisingly, this turns out to be enough.

“What’s our plan?” director Grill asks the on-camera David Day. He squirms away: “It’s party time. I think. I don’t have a watch… so…” He rents a loft space for music gatherings, but the space is shut down. What next? A rave in Thuringia at 4am.

Will electronic music ever find a home in Boston? “It’s going to take someone, somewhere, from someplace,” muses David, abstractedly. He’s facinating to watch—an ultimately appealing dreamer who hasn’t quite had the space and time to think things through—he carries the film. His passion does, his absorption. We leave the theater hoping the best for everyone involved in Speaking In Code. It speaks well for its world.

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John Cotter
‘s novel Under the Small Lights was published by Miami University Press in 2010 and his short fiction is forthcoming from Redivider and New Genre. He’s a founding editor at Open Letters Monthly and lives in Denver, Colorado.

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