SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE ODESSA CONNECTION
Talking about music, consciousness, silent film, Italian food, travel, good books, married life, kids, and more
Friday night we did Phantom of the Opera; I played synth, Joanna sang the Faust music beautifully. The audience was mostly young people, as the festival brilliantly packages the silent programs as openers for big-name Korean bands. So there was a full house, around 1500 people, who got to experience something that they might otherwise not have discovered. Members of the staff told us they really enjoyed the music. The audience was warm in their response, but the following night for Grandma’s Boy they gave us a really huge ovation, which surprised and delighted us. I played piano and synth and Joanna sang and played small percussion. We wondered if they would get all the humor, but the laughter for Lloyd was big from the outset and continued throughout. Slightly smaller house, maybe 1,000. Many people told us how much they enjoyed the singing and the whole experience. The mayor of Jecheon was there both nights, very charming and personable.
We stayed after our shows both nights for most of the rock/pop/disco/funk bands. The third night the film was Beatles, a sweet and funny coming-of-age film from Norway about 4 Oslo boys who are trying to start a band. The audience laughed a lot. Then roared for the two live bands, Sultan of the Disco and Norazo, and danced and sang along with many songs.
The whole festival was extremely well run, with 200 young volunteers dressed in green T-shirts, and all happy smiles and continuous greetings of "Anyeoung haseo!” We had a driver, a college-age girl to accompany us and translate at markets and in general. Our contacts spoke very good English. A large progressive national paper and a weekly film magazine with a circulation of 100,000 interviewed us.
Sunday they took us to a sensational Korean restaurant for lunch. We had a private room for us and our young translator. Plate after plate of side dishes, soup and rice were brought out. Different rice for Nick and me than for Jo, Mollie and Lilly. Something about the energy.
We sat on mats and ate as much as we could before we had to leave for the panel on silent film music, which took place in an 80-seat theater in the modern megaplex in the center of the city. We showed some clips and talked about our work for 20 minutes, with a first-rate simultaneous translator. We were followed by a representative from the Korean Film Archive, who talked about how silent films were shown in Korea with narrators (like benshis in Japan), and showed a clip from Way Down East with narration and music. Two groups of young Korean musicians presented clips of their performances and discussed their work. Each group has been performing for a few years and has a couple of films in their repertoire. One showed a clip from The Kid, with music from Rocky accompanying the fight scene. The other group, Floating Island, created a score for what is evidently the only surviving Korean silent feature film, the others having been destroyed in the war. The film, Crossroads of Youth, was a big hit at the 2013 Berlin Film Festival, and the accompaniment included both narration and singing with string, accordion and piano accompaniment, very effective.
After the panel on Monday we finally had some time to relax and see some more films, including:
MAIKO: DANCING CHILD (Norway, 2015) stunning doc about the Japanese-born prima ballerina of the Norwegian Ballet and her tough choices between career and family. We cried throughout. Great dancing, great film.
MIX TAPE (Turkey, 2014) funny romantic comedy with an Andy Kaufman-type antihero who is struggling to find his voice as a writer while working as a DJ and wooing his lady friend with his mix tapes of great Turkish pop music. NUTCRACKER (Korea, 2014) Korean Ballet choreographed by Bolshoi’s Yuri Grigrovich. Nice dancing, but not well filmed, too many quick cuts and long shots.
AMY (USA, 2015) doc about Amy Winehouse. Nick said it was astounding. (I missed it)
KARA-ORCHESTRA (Taiwan, 2013) Nick liked it a lot. We saw the last half hour—a symphony orchestra performs a concert with tribal singers despite protests from the conservative element of the orchestra.
BLACK GOSPEL 2 (Korea, 2015) follow-up to first film about Korean singer who meets many Harlem music ministers. Lots of wonderful music. Heard some of them sing live post-film.
MATEO (USA/Cuba/Japan, 2014) doc about first American white mariachi singer. Nick and Jo saw and liked a lot.
Wanted to see but no time: KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON (saw in Telluride, would happily see again),
MAX AND LENNY (director Fred Nicolas was there, we enjoyed talking with him)
WRECKING CREW (Nick just watched on Netflix and said it was hugely inspiring)
THE PIANO, TRUMPETER, WANGEN 3D, FOREVER AND A DAY, and the shorts programs. etc. etc.
jimff.org has links to most of the films. We’re still exhausted but it was a trip we will cherish forever—warm, wonderful people, fascinating sights, and really delicious food. Can’t wait to go back.
HITCHCOCK CLIPS with LIVE MUSIC
Alfred Hitchcock cut his filmmaking teeth on the nine films he directed in the silent era. He quickly learned how to create fast-paced, visually absorbing dramas, and even produced some light comedies during the 20's. But the one element of filmmaking over which he had no control in those days was the music, which was left to the music directors in whichever theater the films were playing. It would take some time before he was able to hire composers who were able to translate his visions into sound. By the fifties he had achieved a level of sophistication in his films that was completely matched by the scores, by such Hollywood greats as Dimitri Tiomkin and Bernard Herrmann.
Listening to their music accompanying clips from several Hitchcock films at the NY Philharmonic's “Film Week: The Art of the Score” concert Tuesday night at Avery Fisher Hall, I was struck by how much of the music harked back to the silent era in its function. Long passages of perhaps five minutes without dialogue and minimal sound effects drew the listener in, creating an altogether different feeling from sound films. One can appreciate film music in soundtrack albums but it's a pleasure of a higher order to see the images the music was intended to accompany. Great films and music are a combination that makes for a unique artistic experience.
The Philharmonic played superbly under the direction of guest conductor Constantine Kitsopoulos, making his debut with the orchestra. There was no extravagance of gesture on his part, his motions seemed suave and relaxed, in comparison to the nerve-wracking tension of the chases in To Catch A Thief (music by Lyn Murray) and North by Northwest (Herrmann), or the climactic fight on a carousel gone mad in Strangers on a Train. The brass was in top form, and solos and duets emerged from the ensembles with subtle grace. I had heard some of this music played by a good Italian orchestra earlier in the summer, but the Philhamonic is in an entirely different galaxy.
The waltzes of Dial M for Murder, a Tiomkin score, were charming but the effect was less satisfying. In the film the music is mixed well behind the dialogue. Onstage with a big ensemble even playing softly there was no choice but to crank up the dialogue track, as the point of the evening was to hear the music. Dialogue became painfully loud at times. The emotional climax of the evening was the suite from Vertigo. For the love scene between James Stewart and Kim Novak, Hitchcock let Herrmann's expansive, Wagnerian strings take the place of dialogue. Again, hearing the familiar themes in this context was richly satisfying.
A special treat came in the form of home movies with Hitchcock romping with his family, alternating with his wry promo piece for North By Northwest, all underscored by Gounod's “Funeral March of a Marionette,” the theme song of Hitchcock's two TV series. Philharmonic host Alec Baldwin (at Wednesday's repeat performance Sam Waterston presided) introduced each of the film segments with a bit more restraint and dignity than the evening demanded.
MUSIC, FILM AND YOUR BRAIN
Imagine a concert where both the performer and audience members are wearing headsets to measure the synchronicity of their brainwaves. Sounds like sci-fi? Not according to neuroscientist Aniruddh Patel, author of Music, Language, and the Brain. He spoke on a panel discussion entitled Mind, Music and the Moving Image co-sponsored by the World Science Festival and the New York Philharmonic on Sept. 21.
The main attraction for the sold-out audience was probably the presence of the Coen brothers, Academy Award-winning screenwriter/directors, and actor/Philharmonic host Alec Baldwin, who moderated the discussion. But for this audience member, the most informative parts of the 90-minute event were the comments from Patel and the Coen's composer of choice for their fifteen films, Carter Burwell. Patel spoke about the cutting-edge field in "neurocinematics" being studied at Princeton, and the possibilities of films that could be designed to "take over the minds of the audience" through artful manipulation of sound and image.
Sounds rather Big-Brother-ish? But film music (as well as advertising jingles) has always been about engaging the audience on a subconscious level, starting with the compilations of the silent era and the romantic wash of Erich Korngold, Max Steiner, Dimitri Tiomkin, Bernard Herrmann, proceeding to the wide-ranging styles of Henry Mancini and Elmer Bernstein, the sweeping orchestras of John Williams and James Horner, and the hi-tech sounds of Zimmer and Trent Reznor, the soundscapes of David Lynch, and hundreds of other fine composers including Burwell, whose scores for the Coens include BARTON FINK, MILLER'S CROSSING, and TRUE GRIT.
As a composer of primarily silent film music, I am always thinking about how the music will affect the audience, whether to speed up the tempo to help move a slow scene along, or create a counterpoint to fast-paced action with a postmodernist pullback of the tempo that can give the feeling that the audience is more removed from the action than might be the case with a fast, pulsing rhythm.
"The landscape is changing for how we measure responses to art,” says Patel. And it looks as though the rate of change is increasing every moment.
In looking at Nick's Batman logo, I wondered if anyone had created an app to convert images to MIDI, and lo and behold, he discovered photosounder.
Check it out, it's amazing.
There's also Nicolas Fournel's AudioPaint. And a reverse program that generates images from a MIDI guitar controller, also called Audiopaint. It would be great to take the Lumia Suite of Thomas Wilfred, a beautiful animated light piece that used to be on display in the theater lobby at MoMA, and hear what it sounds like. Although I used to enjoy just watching it in silence. Obviously the whole idea of looking at images and converting them to sound is part and parcel of my everyday work, but this is somewhat different.