Brooklyn, NY has always been a nerve center of music, but one of its most interesting stories is only now getting told with the upcoming documentary, Sound and Chaos: The Story of BC Studio. Set on the shores of the contaminated Gowanus Canal, the recording facility has been a haven of eclectic creativity for more than 30 years, but now its days may be numbered as the formerly dead-end neighborhood is starting to become gentrified.
Producer/engineer Martin Bisi founded the studio in 1979 with money garnered from a chance meeting with Brian Eno. In the decades since, he recorded Herbie Hancock’s 1980s smash “Rockit,” and a Who’s Who of experimental and indie musicians, including Sonic Youth, Swans, Iggy Pop, John Zorn, Afrika Bambaataa, Bill Laswell and Material, Foetus, Dresden Dolls and others.
With such a colorful history—and possibly a future in doubt—making a film about BC Studio seemed like a no-brainer to co-directors Ryan Douglass and Sara Leavitt when they met Bisi in April, 2013. “We were both blown away by how much important music he had recorded in his studio and the idea for a documentary came together pretty quickly,” recalled Leavitt. “I met Martin one Saturday night and within a week, the documentary was happening.”
When the film is completed in Spring, 2014, it will include interviews with many of the significant musicians who have recorded at BC, but the star will no doubt be the studio itself. Based underground in an old factory building, the space is genuinely funky—and it also has The Pond: a dark hole at the bottom of one particularly dank stairwell in the building—anything dropped into it is greeted with a sizable splash.
Bisi explained, “The Pond is part of an original pond from when the Gowanus Canal was a creek, so it’s actually primordial, and part of the hidden drainage of the area…. Its water level increases with heavy rainfall; during Hurricane Irene, it went up 4-5 feet, right in my stairwell, which was pretty frightening.”
That’s not just any mysterious, underground spring, however—it’s some of the most contaminated wastewater in the United States, as the pungent Canal has been a dump site for industrial pollution since the Civil War.
Bisi shows off The Pond
“The Pond is kind of kept apart from the studio by a door and a wall, but sure, it’s not the greatest for prolonged exposure—though I’m fine after 30-plus years,” said Bisi. “It also extends under the studio’s tracking area, but the floor is concrete so it’s not completely nuts. Really, everyone in the building and nearby—there’s a school next door—has this in their environment. It’s part of why [the Canal is] a federal Superfund cleanup site.”
Despite these environmental challenges, the downtrodden area is starting to show signs of gentrification, and that will turn up in the finished film: “The changing landscape of a neighborhood does have a direct impact on how and where creative people can work and live, so that was a topic we wanted to address,” said Leavitt. “Whole Foods was being built across the street from the studio when we started shooting [and] Martin has been very outspoken in his opposition to the store being built, so it seemed natural to include it in the documentary. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for about six years and was in Manhattan before that, and everyone I know is concerned about how high rents have gotten.”
For now, the filmmakers are putting the finishing touches on the documentary, and are submitting it to film festivals as well. To keep up-to-date with the project’s progress and where it can eventually seen, make sure to visit the Sound and Chaos Facebook page. In the meantime, catch the trailer above and share your thoughts about the project in our comments section!