Monday, December 13, 2010

Silent Music

In the last few years I've had the pleasure of watching classic silent movies on the big screen, usually with live musical accompaniment by post-rock Irish group 3epkano. I've seen The Passion of Joan of Arc, Pandora's Box, The Blood of a Poet, Sunrise, Battleship Potemkin and The Man With the Movie Camera. I always find the combination enthralling. It's easy to sense the hold the medium had on pre-sound audiences, somehow you're more attentive to the images, faces especially, radiant in the celluloid light in ways so far removed from modern cinema it feels like a different art form, closer to alchemy than the seamless science of digital technology. I've usually come away from these screenings elated, with the faces of Maria Falconetti, Louise Brooks or Janet Gaynor seared into my mind, indelible images, religious in their iconic power.

And the music is a vital componant to this. 3epkano's great strength is there understanding of film. A friend of mine saw Lambchop doing a live score to Sunrise and said it was a disaster because they essentially played their songs over the film with little reference to it. 3epkano never do this. At times they're completely silent, letting the significance of a scene work on the images alone, sometimes they fill the silence with just the barest brush of a cymbal, moody scrape of violin, waiting for the right moment, following the narrative rhythm of the film, before building to emotional crescendos. At its best, the combination is near overwhelming, the drum beats reverberating in your chest, the violins and guitars displacing the air, sonically entering your pores. It's something else, exciting. You feel like you understand what it was like when cinema was still new, still numinous with mystery, still giddy and awe-struck by its own power. Unfortunately, no-one has yet combined 3epkano's music with images of these films on Youtube but below is one of their pieces, Everybody Is Already Down Below from their album At Land.

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