Friday, October 29, 2010

Monster Jam

I've been focused on making music lately. I've got the new piano, which I've been enjoying playing late at night before going to bed.

And this past week I played two gigs in Madison, the Monster Jam sponsored by the Madison Music Collective. This is the concert I recently wrote about making a poster for, to advertise and promote the event.

Four musicians improvised music as a live soundtrack to the 1922 silent film Nosferatu. The film is a classic of German Expressionism, full of memorable imagery, the plot loosely based on Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. We performed to the restored cut, which has all the original film colorations, few intertitles, and was made from the best-preserved prints to be found.

It is always a pleasure to improvise with a group of such talented musicians, all of whom listen well, respond to the scenario, and can turn on a dime. I received a comment from another musician friend in the audience that at times she forgot she was listening to live music, because it was so well integrated with the visuals. I also received a comment from an elderly lady with a slight German accent, who had come to see the film primarily, but she went out of her way to come up afterwards and tell us how much she liked the music, too.

I recorded both concerts, just to preserve what we had improvised. I thought I'd share an excerpt, here from the ending section of the film, as an example of what can be done with live improvisation to provide the soundtrack for silent film. Granted this excerpt has a cinematic scenario, but I find that the music can also stand pretty much on its own.

music for Nosferatu    


Geoff Brady, vibraphone and processed vibes, Theremin, percussion
Art Durkee, Chapman Stick
Kia Karlin, accordion, french horn, percussion
JoAnne Pow!ers, saxophones, flute, sound effects

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I’m a great fan of film music as I’m sure I’ve told you. I’ve never actually seen Nosferatu, a few clips that’s all, and so I can’t really envisage how well this would have gone with the images. Based on what little I’ve seen I can’t see it working – it feels too modern – but best rely on the judgements of those who were there. I have mixed feelings about rescoring old films – I know Philip Glass did it with Dracula but, again, I’ve never seen the film accompanied by his soundtrack. The British composer Carl Davis has done a lot of this work. I know his work but I’ve never heard any of his soundtracks for old silent films.

1:07 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

The scary music of the 1920s, or of the 19th century, just doesn't sound scary to modern ears. Silent films have always been scored with the music of the moment. I've seen some of those old original piano scores, and they're basically warmed-over Liszt and Brahms. I've also been to other concerts with composed contemporary orchestral scores, some of which work better than others. It's all about mood, and matching what's happening on the screen.

So I can say that it worked pretty well indeed. And the audience sure seemed to love it, too, at least as much as the musicians.

12:07 PM  

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