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!

Modern Classical Highlights of 2016

A fellow listener mentioned last night that 2016 was a fantastic year for modern classical and its related subgenres. As a tremendous fan of the genre who has sadly neglected its exploration for the last several years, I instantly set myself to the task of righting this wrong.

A quick RYM custom chart instantly revealed new titles from modern classical mainstays which I know I’ll have to pick up – Iceland’s Jóhann Jóhannsson’s nineteen album discography, (most recently the Orphée album and the film scores to Arrival and Sicario), Ólafur Arnalds’ Island Songs, Max Richter’s Sleep Remixes, and Nils Frahm / Ólafur Arnalds’ Trance Frendz. Library Tapes’ Escapism also sounded good from a brief sampling, as well as the 2015 album Yume by an old favorite, Helios (and his latest work titled Sometimes performing under his Goldmund moniker). Both projects are long-standing favorites of mine.

In about 4 minutes, this friend’s comment inspired an entire weekend of exploratory listening. And this will be much-needed medicine for melancholy working through all that I have going on at present. Tune in with me if you’d like. It’s wonderful stuff. I’ll embed a few highlights below. Many of these are complete album playlists. Enjoy!

At It Again – New Works from Brian Eno and Underworld’s Karl Hyde

Friday saw the debut of Brian Eno’s latest album – The Ship following the release of ts epic 21-minute self-titled single.

DSC06858.JPGThe Ship accompanied by an official postcard from Eno • Hyde

Like so many of Eno’s albums, this record serves more to inspire thoughtful consideration and reflection than it does casual enjoyment. Unlike Discreet Music or Airports, this is not sonic wallpaper or furniture music, though it resonates a similar ethereal sonic quality. The Ship has a somber and harrowing essence, serving as a dire reflection on the Titanic disaster and the horrors of WWI. But the record maintains a meditative and cerebral tone rewarding to any listener who’ll give the album their full attention.

The double LP includes more of Eno’s art prints. The works are semblant of the visualizations from his 77 Million Paintings generative software. Not particularly inspiring, they function better conceptually rather than visually.

Also this week, Eno’s recent collaborator Karl Hyde released a short art film of an installation he produced for Underworld’s latest album, Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future. I found the fervent and tactile quality of Hyde’s work more engaging than the static nature of Eno’s prints.

Hyde’s Tokyo Street Poem features Soundscape by Underworld’s other half, Rick Smith and was exhibited at Parco, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan in March 2016 as part of the Tomato 25th Anniversary Exhibition.

Underworld also recently premiered a choreographed dance film for the album’s track, “If Rah”, but once again, I believe the concept was better executed by other artists in years prior.

Amelia: A Film by Edouard Lock With La La La Human Steps (2002) features David Lang’s cover of “I’m Waiting For My Man” with choreographed dancers Mistaya Hemmingway and Jason Shipley-Holmes. The film is striking and visually captivating.

Sigur Ros produced an equally effective film piece for their valtari film experiment – a collection of 16 short films made for the valtari album. The 2012 film features Ekki múkk, Valtari, Rembihnútur and Varúð. It is a passionate and emotive work.

If you missed my feature on Underworld’s latest album, check it out!  And I’ll be back next Saturday with my latest culturally-inspired creative and research projects.

Stay tuned!

The Sound of Noise

Last night’s music-related film was The Sound of Noise (2010).

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It’s a French film by writer/director Ola Simonsson who you likely know from the film short Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers (2001)

Here’s the original short:

The feature-length film unites the concepts of anarchism, Luigi Russolo’s classic manifesto, and the spontaneous performance art of Cage’s Theater Piece No. 1 from 1952 and the Happenings which followed throughout the 1960s. The result is an engaging and enjoyable film.

Here is the film’s trailer. Enjoy!