THX 1138 revisited

Asian Dub Foundation take on a classic.

by Andrew Robertson

THX 1138
THX 1138

I genuinely can't remember how it was that I became aware that Asian Dub Foundation had created an alternate/ancillary soundtrack for THX 1138. Media about media is everywhere, but whether this rose from the babel of blog and counter-blog or an older vision of the future, like radio, I cannot tell you.

THX 1138
THX 1138

What I can say is that it works. There's something about the stacked retro-futurism, the looping revisitation of Lucas' 2004 Director's Cut of his 1971 feature debut based upon his student film and the music, the pan-global influence-synthesis of ADF. There's something about the fact that this is what the future was then and again, and would have been going to be - the tunnels of the as yet unfinished Bay Area Rapid Transit, Robert Duval and Walter Murch before Apocalypse Now, Lucas before the juggernaut franchises that made him a household name, before the letters THX and the numbers 1138 became series of "secret" cinematic shibboleths like the Wilhelm scream.

There's the energy - live scores add an organic element to film and that juxtaposition of the planned and the unplanned speaks to the heart of the film, the gap between bureaucracy and humanity, nature and 'civlisation'. There's the power - THX was about sound before it was about sound, and bass and drum and drum and bass compel, but musicians on stage also compel. At the end, the credits rolling, the music continues - not for this audience the scurry away from text, instead there is time for contemplation, consideration of colour, sensation, space. There's the depth - there are associations between individual instruments, themes, a further layer of contemplation and mediation for consideration.

Asian Dub Foundation
Asian Dub Foundation Photo: Montecruz Foto (Ceative Commons)

There's space elsewhere to discuss how the '04 release differs from the various versions preceding, and the film itself still comes through - the process though is akin to a cover version, a good one - something has been added, new meaning created, old meaning revealed in a different light. Stacked and nested with the film itself (and hopefully cogniscent that one of the crimes perpetrated by THX and LUH and SEN is in effect unauthorised editing) this is something special, brilliant.

It's a short engagement - ten dates on a UK run after an initial performance at the Barbican back in June. Eye For Film caught it at Edinburgh's Usher Hall, a space whose labyrinthine subterranean corridors and near symmetric geography is well-suited to THX. The film is preceded by a filmed interview with Murch whose sound montage informs the original as much as his co-writer credit. There are a few revelations, and it's a good introduction. If nothing else, it helped reassure the audience about the sight-lines available in an untraditional cinema space. However, the strength of the film and the score is the sound, and this was delivered in spades. The evening can, will, vary with venue, and inevitably as it's a live performance, but on the basis of this showing it is commended to you.

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