There are a lot of live orchestra performances of film related material lately. I know it is a format with quite a legacy, the silent film era even had a live organ accompaniment, and opera & stage can be seen as a predecessor to the storytelling/image/music combo too. But why now? Why is the symphony combining with the screen once again? There is probably good money to be made by the classical/scored music and film crossover- a live performance garners a higher ticket price, but I can't help but hope that the profit margin isn't the only thing driving this trend...

I tend to blame a lot of things on the digital age but this is another case where I think it might be applicable. Seeing a film can be an isolating experience, made even moreso by the home viewing/VOD explosion (Truth: I have not worn pants while watching a movie in awhile). Experiencing images with the sound popped out in front of you, being made by breathing humans, is the opposite of experiencing a movie soundtrack on your tablet. With headphones on. People are seeking out real experiences but what if this good, idealistic intention is actually somehow managing to work against itself? 

After reading the essay Three Regimes: A Theory of Film Music by Robert Spande, quickly followed by the article How Film Music Works by Peter Nickalls, I began to rethink my original "need for human connection" idea that I have clung onto when talking about new expanded cinema. Spade talks of film music as a "vanishing mediator," originally created to seamlessly hide the noise of clanky film projectors, and evolving into an important, invisible bridge that carries the audience through a film. Nickalls also speaks of the magical role of film music in the same way: "Thus for most of the movie-going public, a lot of film music actually bypasses consciousness, functioning – according to [Claudia] Gorbman – as the ‘hypnotic voice bidding the spectator to believe, focus, behold, identify, consume’. Gorbman claims that in such a state there is a ‘greater disposition for the subject to accept the film’s pseudo-perceptions as his/her own’. This is one of the reasons why music is so crucial to many films as it provides a way for audiences to enter into the world of that film."  

So...with the presence of a live film music-making orchestra or band does the audience not get lost in a film? From my personal experience this is not the case. The audience still becomes deeply engrossed in the film, maybe even more-so given the resonance of the live, hypnotizing music...but what scares me is how the actual band seems to recede. The humans I so relied on for my human connection theory disappear, simply becoming another cog in the film machine performing a dreamy function to trap you in the film, losing connection with self and others. Is our digital reconditioning actually forcing us further from humans/means of production even in these live experiences? Is the revival of expanded cinema accidentally deepening the isolation rut that we are all suffering from as even the people performing become an echo of reality...Shudder. Man. I need to get off the computer.

List of the best recent expanded cinema after the jump! And videos of people performing soundtracks. Which are weird.

1. Jonny Greenwood live with There Will Be Blood by PT Anderson September 19th & 20th on the 2nd biggest screen in NYC- Jonny Greenwood (watch this link! It is incredible!), the mildly dissonant, ondes Martenot loving-man who brings much of the signature sound to Radiohead, has scored a few notable films over the past decade. We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Master and, The Shining/Penderecki inspired soundtrack to There Will Be Blood. Tickets went on sale today (via Wordless Music, an interesting org) for two nights with a live ensemble featuring Greenwood and a screening of P.T. Anderson's oil rich fever dream.

2. Ennio Morricone (w/200 member orchestra & choir!!!) LIVE June 13th in NY, June 15th in L.A. - This show is going to feature Morricone's movie legacy ranging from Bulworth (what?!?) to Fistful of Dollars and beyond! His mix of bombastic Italian cinematic sound with the equally epic bravado of  Hollywood has defined the aural notion of so many genre films. What would a classic galloping, filmic Wild West sound like if not for this maestro? I do not know if film projections will be involved at all in this show but I do know that the images tethered to Morricone's sounds will be playing in nearly every inner eye of the audience. Except maybe the children. I really hope they haven't seen I Cannibali...

 3. Philip Glass & Godfrey Reggio Visitors!!! YAY! The Reggio & Glass collaboration Koyaanisqatsi is one of those things I saw as a lowly film student and just couldn't believe. There is no dialogue? There is just image? This film is respected as art? And film? And a symphonic experience? Their latest work, Visitors, features people rendered in deeply contrasting black and white, looking at the audience, inverting the viewer and viewed in a pure example of the contemporary digital experience we are starkly building, the low hum of Glass' orchestral arrangements pushing along through time and space its the saturated 4K resolution. Contemporary culture in image & sound, sweeping and intimate as they they do best. So far there are no more scheduled performances but I have heard rumor that California might get lucky...

4. Tindersticks and Claire Denis- Tindersticks embody the moody 90s (think a more jazzy Jarmusch) vibe mixed with the bold realness, and wryness, of Clarie Denis. There is a floating unrest in the smooth dark lullabies that swell along, most notably in my favorite Trouble Everyday, that are the spirit of the whole movie, an intersection of director and musician that is a rare and sublime, maybe the music makers aren't lost in contemporary expanded cinema afterall, maybe they have just BECOME the films? Again: SHUDDER.



Donna K. is a recent transplant to the Midwest where she can be found exploring culture at large through film programming, writing and her general interest in the world- both on and offline.