Man with a Movie Camera

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Last night, I had the absolute pleasure and privilege to screen the 1929 experimental Soviet silent documentary film, Man with a Movie Camera. I’d been aware of the film for some time but had never made it a point to view the picture. Directed by Dziga Vertov and edited by his wife Elizaveta Svilova, the film presents urban life in various metropolitan cities including Kiev, Kharkov, Moscow, and Odessa. The film was novel in concept in that it has no characters and no direct plot. Instead, it is a cinematic portrait of A Day in the Life of the Soviet citizen. And interestingly, many parallels can be drawn between the visuals of the movie and the musique concrete qualities of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”.

The film is universally acclaimed for its impressive use of a wide range of camera techniques invented and explored by Vertov, including double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, Dutch angles, extreme close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, stop-motion animations and self-reflexive visuals. In 2012 film critics participating in The British Film Institute’s Sight & Sound poll voted it the eighth greatest film ever made and the best documentary of all time.

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The film is utterly captivating. There is a very natural energy to the picture which builds from the serene silence of dawn to the furious and industrious bustle of machinery and men. The film is partitioned into segments of thematic focus, from home life to business to sports and recreation, and with a brilliant fluidity of transition. It’s a fantastic snapshot of an entire world of culture in 1929, expertly framed by the titular man with a movie camera who appears throughout the film, equipment in hand. It is simultaneously engaging both emotionally and intellectually for the incredible vivacity and spirit of the imagery and the astonishing technological proficiency of the director’s presentation of cinéma vérité.

But the delightful surprise that really enhanced my experience was that the version I viewed was synced with a score written and performed by The Cinematic Orchestra, one of my favorite ensembles. I’d already owned a copy of their album, Man With a Movie Camera, but was completely blind to the fact that the album was constructed as an actual score, supporting and playfully interacting with all the exciting visuals of the film. This realization added a rich new dimension to the album and helped me see incredible beauty in its composition that I had not beheld in my previous listenings.

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To date, there have been twenty-three soundtracks composed for the film. But the most noteworthy are the ones by Cinematic Orchestra and the Alloy Orchestra of Cambridge. I’m also eager to sample additional scores composed by  Geir Jenssen (aka Biosphere), minimalist composer Michael Nyman, and particularly Pierre Henry’s L’Homme À La Caméra.

Many of the scores have been synced with the film and uploaded in their entirety to YouTube and are widely available via BitTorrent with multiple audio channels to select the score of your choice. I highly recommend the Cinematic Orchestra version (below) for your next movie night!

A Journey into Electro-Jazz, Future Jazz, and Dark Jazz

A week ago, I finally started listening to my archive of the first 154 releases on the legendary Ninja Tune label.  From the early 90s forward, nearly every artist with a progressive electronic sound and a touch of jazzy flare was on Ninja Tune.  

I was already a fan of the big names in Future Jazz like Jaga Jazzist, Bonobo, Funki Porcini and St Germain.  The first LP I bought after being bitten by the electro-jazz bug was St Germain’s classic Tourist album on Blue Note Records.

Here’s “Rose Rouge,” a classic example of electro-jazz.

That album instantly reminded me of LTJ Bukem’s Journey Inwards double LP (released in ’00 – the same year as Tourist) so I picked up a 94-disc archive of Intelligent D’n’B records, including Bukem’s Good Looking Records label, the Earth series, and several  others.  

My favorite album from that new selection was Big Bud’s Late Night Blues, which I’ll be ordering on vinyl soon.

But as I continuted to research the Future Jazz genre, a few artists clearly stood out from the crowd.  

From Hidden Orchestra’s official profile:

Hidden Orchestra combines two live drummers and deep basslines with strong jazz and classical influences, to make cinematic, emotive, percussive, next generation music using traditional instrumentation and organic samples.

I was similarly entranced by the stripped-down rhythmic and melodic jazz loops of The Cinematic Orchestra, particularly their earlier LPs, Motion (1999) and Remixes 98-2000 (2000).

For example, listen to “Channel 1 Suite” from Motion. (A possible nod to Buddy Rich?)

Or for a taste of electronic free-jazz from the very same LP, “Blue Birds.”

And from the album, Everyday – the slow and bassy “Burn Out.”

That’s when I hit the brick wall of harsh reality surrounding the family of Future Jazz LPs –

They cost a small fortune.

What I soon learned was that Ninja Tune is a small, independent label and they pressed very limited numbers of these fantastic albums in the 90s and early 2000s.  As such, many of these discs command $50 – $150 per album if you want the real thing.

And I wanted the real thing.

But two days of searching yielded the most wonderful discovery I could have ever asked for.  There is a site called BeatDelete.com.  Think of them as a Kickstarter for all your favorite, out-of-print records.

Ninja Tune was offering all their greatest albums from the 90s to be pre-ordered for reissue on BeatDelete.  100 orders locked in the re-pressing, and then they’d take it off the site.

I couldn’t throw money at the monitor fast enough.

I locked in pre-orders for two of my favorite Cinematic Orchestra double LPs and tracked down an original copy of Remixes 98-2000 from a private seller who also had a mint copy of DJ Food’s Kaleidoscope (another of my new-found favorites from the Ninja Tune archive.)

Kaleidoscope is the magic album I hinted at in my last entry.  DJ Food samples both the Del Close & John Brent How To Speak Hip LP from ’59 and features the smokey vocal legend of the 50s and 60s – Ken Nordine.  

And that jazzy upright bass plucking you hear is Benny Golson’s “Wink” from ’67.

The “thinking man’s” track he’s introducing at the end of “Ageing Young Rebel” is the reason I had to buy this record.  Here it is – “The Crow.”

And then, I discovered darkjazz.  Call it what you will – darkjazz, doomjazz, noir jazz, funeral jazz… It’s magnificent stuff.

From last.fm:

Dark jazz is a form of modern jazz characterized by the fusion of downtempo, minimalist ambient music with jazz. The term is often used interchangeably with doom jazz, and is comparable in feel and mood to dark ambient music.

There are approximately 100 contemporary artists which fall into the category of darkjazz, but there are three names among them that you need to know: Bohren und der Club of Gore, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation and their other half – The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble.

For those who understand silence to be the most beautiful song the in the world, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble’s 2011 LP, From the Stairwell will take your breath away.

Almost literally, in fact – as I found myself holding my breath throughout my entire first listen, perhaps from fear that my breathing might interfere with the hauntingly fragile sounds coming from my studio monitors.  The album is full of half-audible frequencies – whisper-soft percussive tones, electronic sounds who’s source the listener can scarcely place, and gently-played fragments of jazz solos which vanish as subtly as the appear.

From the Stairwell is a contender which could challenge Miles Davis’ In a Silent Way for the quietest album ever recorded.

And if The Cinematic Orchestra’s Motion is an evening in a smoke-filled jazz club, then From a Stairwell is the intoxicated alley-walk home when the night is through.

In the age of the loudness war, The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble is a beacon of hope that delicate and well-produced records will survive the millennium.

Here is Kilimanjaro’s “Cocaine.”