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!

CENTVRY I: Early Music Masterworks

January has been a busy month so far! 77 new albums were introduced to the library this month and I’m going to get right into them.

After neglecting a title which repeatedly surfaced on ambient charts over the years, I finally experienced Edward Artemiev’s 1972 score to Andrei Tarkovsky’s Russian masterpiece, [I]Solaris[/I]. Originally released in Japan in 1978, the album finally found an American issue in 2013 on the Superior Viaduct label. True to my usual form, I was difficult and went after the Russian 2013 issue on the Мирумир label, as it was the only edition to feature the dramatic Italian movie poster artwork on the album’s cover.

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Eduard Artemyev – Solaris OST (1972)

The Solaris score is haunting arctic ambient music evocative of the loneliness and isolation of deep space. I now understand why the recording so persistently surfaces on lists of great ambient music.

Also pictured above is Ethan Hayden’s contribution to the 33 1/3 book series. I was lucky enough to witness Hayden’s performance of his electroacoustic vocal composition, “…ce dangereux supplément…” at the University at Buffalo, which you can hear for yourself by clicking the title of the piece. As an expert on linguistics, I can think of no better artist to write on the subject of Sigur Ros’ ( ) – an album whose vocals are in an entirely fictional language.

But on to my next avenue of exploration. After falling in love with the microtonal music of Harry Partch this winter, it seemed a fitting next step to begin to survey early music of the first century and beyond.

After about 30 minutes of research, I compiled quality collections of these musics.

Some quick research on classic choral music revealed several quality performances I quickly picked up:

  • Monteverdi Choir – Bach’s Mass in B Minor
  • Moscow Choral – Russian Orthodox Music (conductor Hiermonk Amvrosiy)
  • BBC Symphony Orchestra – Mozart’s Requiem
  • The Orthodox Singers – Basso Profondo From Old Russia

And from the legendary Tallis Scholars:

Russian Orthodox Music

  • Missa si Bona Suscepimus
  • Spem in Alium
  • The Best of the Renaissance (2-disc set)
  • The Complete English Anthems
  • The Three Masses
  • Victoria Requiem
  • The Palestrina 400 Collection (4-volume set)

From there I delved deep into Early Music, and identified a label well-known for their works in this field.  Harmonia Mundi has two box sets I knew I’d need:

[Harmonia Mundi] Sacred Music: From the Middle Ages to the 20th Century (30-volume set)

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[Harmonia Mundi] Early Music From Ancient Times to the Renaissance (10-volume set)

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I was also interested in sampling an assortment of Tuvinian Throat-Singing albums, so I picked up:

Deep in the Heart of Tuva (Mongol Strupsång)

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Horekteer – Tuvan Throat Singing Virtuoso

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Huun-Huur-Tu – The Orphan’s Lament

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Shu-de – Voices from the Distant Steppe

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Tuva- Voices From The Center Of Asia [Smithsonian Folkways]

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Tuvinian Singers & Musicians – Chöömej – Throat Singing From the Center of Asia

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…as well as a related selection – David Hykes’ Hearing Solar Winds – an album of harmonic choral overtone music.

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If these 64 discs weren’t sufficient to begin my exploration of Early Music, I happened upon some fantastic vinyl box sets of Gregorian, madrigal, and music of the Middle Ages.

Delightfully, the first two I came across bore the Harmonia Mundi logo of the digital albums I’d found online. It will be wonderful to hear several selections from the label both in lossless FLAC and in their original vinyl formats.

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The next two set I found were collections from the Musical Heritage Society (MHS), an American mail-order record label founded in 1962 . Each set included lyrics in both Latin and in English. These sets were issued in 1974-5 on LP and on 4 cassettes.

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I found one final set in today’s travels – The Everest label’s Treasury of Gregorian Chants – a 4LP box set from 1967.

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Featuring the Trappist Monks’ Choir of Cistercian Abbey, Monks of the Benedictine Abbey. and Bennedictine Monks of the Wanderille de Fontenelle Monastery, the release was the winner of the French Grand Prix du Disc – a prize later awarded to Jean-Michel Jarre ‎for his classic Oxygène LP.

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And best of all – all of these collections were in clean, like-new condition with no visible wear from play or handling. And where else can you find all this beautiful music for $11 cash?

I’m looking forward to months of enlightening listening experiences.