Do you think of the techno-rave scene as cultural cotton candy: flavorful, but nutritionally empty? With “Modulations,” director Iara Lee has managed to make a documentary on the phenomenon and fill it with fiber and vitamins--and put it in a very colorful wrapper.
The color was the easy, and obvious, part. After all, this is a world filled with pulsating beats, strobing lights and fashions that mix “The Jetsons” with Dr. Seuss. And the artists and fans in the scene affect a wide variety of philosophies--all touted with religious fervor--ranging from party masters to Zen-like self-tuning. Lee captures this in all its electric glory, using a mix of film and video textures and illustrative techniques in rave locales ranging from a New Jersey warehouse to the slopes of Mt. Fuji.
Where Lee offers something of more substance is with her explorations of the history of electronic music (fascinating interviews with such figures as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Henry and an examination of John Cage using vintage clips) and the way the classical, intellectual experiments took root in the visceral world of urban dance styles. Her interest in technology (her previous film, “Synthetic Pleasures,” looked at new technology in pop culture) also adds meat to the material, with instructive and entertaining bits about how the nature of samplers and turntables have dictated the shape of the music.
Lee’s technique is at times choppy and especially in the early going the distinctions between the numerous sub-genres of techno are not always clear. But she’s managed to capture the essence of a very complex world for the uninitiated while at the same time engaging it in a way that offers something new for even the most devoted fans.
* Unrated. Times guidelines: mild profanity.
A Caipirinha Production. Directed by Iara Lee. Producer George Gund, directors of photography Marcus Burnett and Paul Yates. Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.
* Playing exclusively at the Nuart, 11272 Santa Monica Blvd. (310) 478-6379.