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The fourth annual Sound Unseen festival is a knockout

Gabriel Shapiro

Motion pictures play at 24 frames per second, Western music fits into an eight-tone scale. Put together, these numbers add up to an infinite range of possibilities for making movies about music. Tomorrow the world’s largest festival of independent and underground films about music opens in the Twin Cities. The lineup for the fourth annual Sound Unseen film festival is as impressive as ever.

Sound Unseen draws films from all over the country and across the world, some for their world premiere. The festival’s constantly growing international reputation adds to its drawing power to make it a formidable event on our cultural calendar.

In the past, films that were relative unknowns before screening at Sound Unseen have been boosted to prominence by their inclusion. Examples include “Breath Control: The History of the Human Beat Box,” and “Tribute” a fascinating look into the bizarre world of cover bands. Last year’s festival also gave Twin Cities crowds a chance to see some classics on the big screen, like rude boy cult-hit “The Harder They Come” starring Jimmy Cliff from 1974.

The festival takes place at three principle venues: The Oak Street Cinema, The Bryant-Lake Bowl and the Walker Art Center. Other venues feature live concerts in conjunction with the festival. These include the Dinkytowner, the Triple Rock Social Club, the Cedar Cultural Center and Pizza Luce’s downtown location. All of these venues are easily accessible from the University. Free festival programs available at the venues and other points throughout the metro area provide all venue information.

The films included span the spectrum of music, from experimental noise rock to traditional Islamic devotional music, and from the freshest trends on the streets to the oldest cowboys on the range.

This year’s schedule features some truly innovative films. It is packed into 10 short days and nights. The following analyses from your A&E staff should serve to aid your planning. All films are $7 unless otherwise noted.

“Tron Revisited” 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Friday at the Oak Street Cinema

A new look at a modern classic, “Tron Revisited” marries the cutting edge 1982 sci-fi movie “Tron” with live music by Scientific American and Plastiq Phantom.

In 1982 the world was getting its first taste of the video game craze and Disney decided to cash in. The result was visually spectacular, ultra-modern and a huge box-office failure.

The 20th anniversary DVD proclaims the film as “a milestone in the history of computer animation,” and “Tron” did spark some amazing ancillary sales, chief among them being video games.

Twenty years on, “Tron” still holds an attraction, but looks and sounds a bit dated. Now, thanks to some live music being added as the film plays, it’s getting a 21st century update. The idea is similar to one of the hits of last year’s Sound Unseen, “Hop Fu,” in which live DJs replaced almost the entire soundtrack of an old Kung Fu flick, including music, sound effects and dialogue. (Gabriel Shapiro)

“Chain Times Three” screens continuously during regular museum hours Friday, Oct. 5 at the Walker Art Center

Filmmaker Jem Cohen has worked with a number of today’s most important bands. His earlier works include the widely screened and very successful film “Instrument,” which chronicled nearly the entire career of indie legends Fugazi, and “Speed Racer: Welcome to the World of Vic Chestnutt,” which screened at Sundance.

In this case, Cohen has made something that isn’t quite a feature, a music video or anything simple to explain. The unique amalgam of sounds and images form an experience, for lack of a better term.

Everything blends together to create a language all its own. Images of the mundane and everyday are recast into deeply expressive visuals. The sounds – sometimes urgent and sometimes soothing -blend at times with the video and sometimes disrupt it.

The music is provided by Montreal’s infamous noise orchestra collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This experience raises questions about the increasing sameness of our corporate surroundings.

University professor John Archer of the cultural studies and comparative literature department will give a special introduction to the exhibit at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 2. (GS)

“Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: I Put a Spell on Me” 3 p.m. Saturday, Oak Street Cinema

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins is a lost treasure in the rock and blues pantheon. Perhaps the insights presented in this documentary will help you look past the jittery camerawork. (It often looks like monkeys commandeered the production.)

Hawkins was a black rocker who met success in the 1950s with his operatic voice and frightening live show, complete with voodoo costumes and a smoking skull named Henry. This film will be a godsend to Screamin’ Jay fans as it incorporates concert footage from the 1950s right up to his death in 2000 at the age of 70.

Interviews with Hawkins, and with friends like Bo Diddley and filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, are like an oral history of what it was like coming up black in an industry that loved your voice but hated your face. (Tom Horgen)

“Spectrum: Minnesota Soundtracks” 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2, Oak Street Cinema

Music videos have run the gamut from truly great short films to truly unbearable long commercials. In this collection of almost 30 videos from some of Minnesota’s best musical acts, that is no less the case than in the national arena.

The artists featured include big names like Low, Mason Jennings, Atmosphere, Har Mar Superstar and the Soviettes. Less famous acts like Revolver Modele and Askeleton give some hint here of their promise.

The videos range in artistry, story depth and, perhaps most noticeably, budget. Not that those with high production values are the best. For example Flipp’s very slickly produced MTV-ready ad “I Still Love Rock-n-Roll” isn’t nearly as interesting as some of the cheaply made and intensely weird videos in the collection like DJ Hermit’s “Freek Yobati.”

There is some filler to wade through, but the gems are well worth it. (GS)

“Tom Dowd and the Language of Music” 9:30 p.m. Saturday and 5 p.m. Oct. 5, Oak Street Cinema

Tom Dowd does not receive much attention for his craft. As an engineer for Atlantic Records, Dowd did the behind the scenes work, the part of the music without any glitz. But Mark Moorman’s new documentary “Tom Dowd and the Language of Music” reveals just how important Dowd was.

Dowd recorded legendary artists such as Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Booker T & the MG’s, Cream and the Allman Brothers. During these recording sessions, Dowd was part of the band.

The scene where Dowd reunites with Ray Charles in a giant bear hug shows the strong bond he formed with his artists. Especially with his early work with eight-track and stereo recordings, Dowd captured these artists like no other. (Keri Carlson)

“Mutiny” 9:30 p.m. Sunday and 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 5, Oak Street Cinema

Who we think we are and how we identify ourselves in this hyper-connected age is, at best, a complicated matter. Are we our nationalities? Our ethnicities? Our religions? Are we who we think we are or who others take us to be?

A wave of South Asian-influenced music that swept Britain in the late 1980s and early 1990s was born in these struggles over identity.

This wave featured artists like Talvin Singh, Asian Dub Foundation, Cornershop and Fun^Da^Mental. However, in that same period when things were looking up, another wave swept the U.K.: neo-Nazi movements and the rise of the British National Party.

Nobody needs to point out the irony of British Nazis shouting “Sieg Heil” at this point. Instead, the film tries to situate South Asian immigrants within traditional British culture and then charts some radical shifts made by artists. Moreover, if you’ve ever wondered what Asha Bhosle has to do with Drum and Bass, or what Bhangra parties have to do with political parties, this well-made film can help sort it out. (GS)

“Shit from Shynola” 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oak Street Cinema

Trippy animation and wacky video art abound in this sometimes exhilarating 67-minute retrospective from London-based collective, Shynola. The four man crew collected its best animated shorts, music videos and ads from the past few years to create a seamless journey through visual madness.

Among music videos for DJ Shadow side project UNKLE and hip-hop collective Quannum, Shynola’s promo campaign for Radiohead’s “Kid A” stands out. The animators bring the art from “Kid A’s” album jacket to life as they meld together 30-second clips from each of the album’s songs.

Much of Shynola’s animation seems to revolve around the exploration of machines and technology. This preoccupation culminates in the short “The Littlest Robo.” It’s a sad parable for the dynamic that exists between humans and machines – we need them and they need us. You’ll hold back tears as the story unfolds through the eyes of a boy and his loyal robot. (TH)

Matthew Shipp Trio, “Combinations’ 8 p.m. Oct. 3, Walker Art Center Auditorium, $18

Though Matthew Shipp is quite scrawny and wears fairly thick framed glasses, he has a glare in his eyes and slouch in his shoulders that gives him the presence of a boxer. He is not a boxer, however. He is a jazz pianist. But he attacks his instrument with the same sharp reflexes and grace as a prize fighter.

Shipp fearlessly remarks in Muhammad Ali fashion, that Wynton Marsalis is a product of capitalism, and then continues to discuss whether he is the next step in jazz. He very well could be. In a genre that is more content to reflect on its past, Shipp brings thrilling avant-garde that digs jazz out from its grave.

Along with Patrick Gaucher’s documentary on Shipp and the parallels between boxing and jazz, “Combinations,” Shipp and his trio will perform a live accompaniment for the film. “Combinations” shows Shipp is one of the most exciting artists around, and a chance to catch him live should not be missed. (KC)