Modulations

on September 18, 1998 by Kristan Ginther
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   Director Iara Lee's "Modulations" purports to take a very serious look at the history of electronic (aka techno) music, its effects on the global music scene, its societal impact, and the mindset of the people who compose and dance to the various beats. However, in these respects the film fails on most levels, and leaves the viewer wondering why so much energy was devoted to such a bland and superficial movement.
   Lee's use of interesting visuals coupled with the unrelenting pace of the soundtrack gives "Modulations" an almost dream-like quality, though the numerous shots of DJs scratching records becomes very redundant very quickly. Dedicating the bulk of her time to the differences among the various subsets of techno music (including jungle, house, and acid), Lee incorporates multiple interview subjects who crudely muse about the evolution of the genre. Lee's choice to cut back and forth between interviewees, composers, time periods, and musical types renders "Modulations" mostly incongruent. The film certainly would have benefitted from a narrator who would have lent a universal perspective to the overall pandemonium. There are also significant gaps in the film's narrative. For instance, many of the people interviewed cited Kraftwerk as one the biggest innovators of the techno music scene, but we barely hear any of their music and they are never seen in the film. Also, the drug culture--a significant part of the entire techno music scene--was inexplicably only addressed in passing. Overall, Lee's insights are few, leaving audiences numbed by the beat.    Directed by Iara Lee. Produced by George Gund. A Strand release. Documentary. Not rated. Running time: 74 min.
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