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Silent film meets live improvised music

Several months ago, an open call was made for silent films and videos for an event called Soundstripes: a unique event at which short silent films are shown and scored by a set of improvising musicians. I applied with two videos, of which Apprentice was chosen to be shown and performed.

I attended the second iteration of Soundstripes, held at Northern Quarter in Huddersfield, on Tuesday evening. The venue was a perfect size to fit a good number of musicians and a good number in the audience.

Soundstripes 2


The quality of the films were excellent in both fidelity, composition and editing techniques. Some films had clear narrative and intention to communicate, which the musicians easily and readily picked up on. A common theme among some of them seemed to be the materialistic nature of society and waste. What I found particularly interesting about the musician's response to the animated images was the use of gesture: there was a good amount of gestural imitation taken from the screen and into the music. This bounced around the room between various instruments, transforming and creating textures which were thankfully not quickly abandoned. I did feel that some of the visual cues in many films were so strong the musicians would be unable to ignore them, which was the case. This is why I was pleased with the band's approach to Apprentice.


Apprentice


I attended the event with some small degree of trepidation, as Apprentice was never composed to be used as a score, but I had always thought that the piece could be interpreted for live sound. As the screen filled with flashing images of hands, both audience and musicians seemed a little unsure and there was little sound from either. Gradually, the musicians found something to latch on to and began making sound.

As a piece, Apprentice contains a good amount of energy from the outset and only continues to become more energetic. At roughly the halfway mark, I noticed several musicians had latched onto the repeating hand shapes while others attempted to keep up with the rhythmic aspects. This was very brave as some parts of the rhythm is particularly fast-paced!

Somewhat after what I know to be the halfway point, I noticed how intense the soundscape had become and realised the musicians would have to either dig deep to find more from their technique and instruments if they were to stay true to the piece, or somehow find a way out, or maybe even give up altogether - what an opportunity for a lover of improvisation! I am pleased to say, to their testament, the band continued with their frenetic realisation, clearly feeling the physical strain in fingers, lungs and embouchure alike.



At the climax and eventual blackness at the end of Apprentice there was a great breath (of relief?!) from both band and audience. I'm unsure whether this was as a response to the experience in general, or if it was sympathy in response to the intensity of the band's highly physical performance.

The mood of the music was intense, dark, dramatic and climactic - what a sound! Thank you to all who were involved in production of Soundstripes 2, to the faithful and highly-skilled musicians and to the other film and video artists for a wonderful evening of sound and light.


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