Alison and I were first introduced to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s films this past January and immediately went on the hunt for more. Before we had even finished our first screening of Vampyr (1932), we knew we had discovered our next musical project…
Although Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr is one of the earliest films to include recorded sound, it contains minimal dialog and relies heavily on the rich imagery and extended mood-setting techniques common to silent films of the era.
After becoming more familiar with Vampyr and its historical context, we got our hands on Dreyer’s original screenplay (excerpted above) and sketched out our interpretation of the dramatic form:
Our concept involves integrating Alison’s edgy songwriting with my human/machine collaborative works for piano and computer. We’re not attempting to score the film directly — rather we aim to develop an evening of adventurous musical performances that synchronizes with the natural drama of the film.
As of May 2019, we’ve tracked about 40 minutes of the 83 minute-long film so there’s still a significant amount of work to do. I’ll continue adding journal entries below to track our continued progress…
Connected Journal Entries
With the first 20 minutes of music tracked in total isolation, we bounced a rough mix (minus vocals) and presented the result to a few friends we know to be interested in unusual music and vampires.
Our goal was to represent a general idea of how the finished project might feel and gather feedback. So far, we’ve learned two important things:
1) The Concept Is Strong
One of our initial concerns was whether or not audiences would accept the back-to-back juxtaposition of Alison’s smart and edgy (but still relatively accessible) songwriting with my highly experimental works for piano and computer that are (at best) quite challenging for most listeners. Not to worry! If we can manage to keep the vibe evolving with a certainly regularity, this is actually one of the more attractive features of the project.
As far as I can tell, the reason for this is that the film (which is full of incredible visuals) provides viewers with a potential reading of the musical gestures that’s tied to a clear narrative. The result is that sound cues that might otherwise appear disconnected feel motivated by action on the screen.
2) Some Accidents Are Better Than Others
And that brings me to one of the more unexpected discoveries with this project. We’re mostly adapting existing music to accompany the film and have found that if we’ve done a decent job pairing the mood and flavor of a piece of music with a specific scene, almost inevitably, at least a few key sounds and gestures will line up with the visuals.
Of course these are accidents, but during our pilot testing we found that some people reported a very strong (and often unexpected) connection between these unplanned coincidences. This meant that when a related action occurred on screen and the audio cues were missing, audience members felt their absence and wished they would return in some way.
Tonight we braved the snow and ice to see the Orlando Consort present La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (1928) with a program of live 15th century music. This was my first time seeing this iconic film and I’m not sure how I made it 45 years without seeing any film directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer — I’ve been missing out!
In many ways the Orlando Consort’s presentation of live music with silent film was tremendously successful, but in other respects, I think they missed the mark. I’m excited to being thinking about a project that might pick up on some of those missed opportunities…
What’s for sure is that I need to see more of Dreyer’s films.