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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Robby Aceto: To say preparing a live improvised score for October presented some challenges would pretty much be a massive understatement. Here you have an incredibly complicated film by the brilliant director and film theoretician Sergei Eisenstein who incidentally, is credited with inventing the art of film montage and influencing such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and virtually every other filmmaker to come after him; his film is telling the story of one of the most significant and complicated series of events in world history, large events written very large, and anyone who has ever seen this film has seen it presented with a score by the legendary modernist composer Dmitri Shostakovitch. Okay, are we seeing any challenges here?!
I studied this film in college and have seen it many times over the years, so when the prospect of improvising a score for it at FLEFF was floated out to the group, I was initially very excited. But then I was also very daunted. I mean, how does one go about replacing (with an improvising trio!... and in a live setting!) a score by Shostakovitch? (rhetorical question). At first I spent a lot of time trying to track down the written score to see if any of its elements might lend themselves to interpretation by our group. I figured, if such an experiment was successful, it would be the first time Cloud Chamber Orchestra performed using any pre-conceived or written elements. But as soon as I began looking at the score on its own, simply as score and unattached to the film, my first thought was "Oh good grief, it's a total MONSTER!". I must admit I became more than a little paralyzed with fear and wanted to crawl into a hole. Then something interesting happened; I discovered that the score by Shostakovitch was written in 1966; it is known to us now as his tone poem "October". The film October was made in 1927. Anyone alive who has seen October has seen it synchronized with music that was written for it nearly forty years after it was released. I did some further digging and came to the realization that virtually no one knows exactly what kind of musical presentation accompanied the film during its first theatrical performances. There was a light at the end of the tunnel after all! It sort of ligitimized in my mind the notion of us improvising a score in a way that might be relevant today.
Monday, March 26, 2012
Blog post written by Colleen Ryan, Television-Radio '12, Anthropology Minor, Lansing, NY
This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Chris White, an extremely talented musician, and one of FLEFF's returning performers.
White is classically trained on the cello, and also plays the guitar and harmonica.
It was Dr. Patricia Zimmerman's (co-director of FLEFF) idea to bring together the three musicians for FLEFF several years ago, and the trio has been doing live improv film scores ever since. "It was easy from the get-go," he said. "We just flowed so easily. We each have our own bag of tricks, but a common vision and language that works well together."
White told me that the trio watches the films by themselves, and then together practice improvising. They converse about the mood of the film and its transitions. Each time the score is played differently. The trio doesn't practice too much so the day of the performance is fresh and well, improvised!
"Every experience with FLEFF has been great," he said. To him, playing and improvising with a film is a much different experience as a musician. "It's liberating," he remarked.
Although the trio has only performed for FLEFF, and one other event for the Ithaca Motion Picture Project, White revealed to me that the trio is considering putting out a CD of their scores, perhaps in time for next year's FLEFF. (I've heard samples from their work, and believe me, it's a must have!)
To listen to Chris's personal work with the Cayuga Jazz Ensemble, you can click here.
Although I, personally, could never fathom a career in professional music, to young musicians who wish to dip their toes into improvising, Chris's greatest advice is to listen to a favorite genre of music and imitate it. Practice the style, and put a lot of time into it. "It happens more naturally than you might think," he said.
With that being said, I'm excited to watch White and his cohorts perform. It's something that indeed comes extremely naturally to them, while enjoying and appreciating their talent, is something that comes naturally to me.
If I had longer arms I'd save you all seats, so get there early, it's going to be a happy and full house. See you Sunday night!
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Blog post written by Colleen Ryan, Television-Radio '12, Anthropology minor, Lansing, NY
The list of amazing guests keeps growing and growing, and by golly I don't think there's anything about FLEFF that I'm NOT excited for.
Here are five guests I'm most looking forward to:
1. Elizabeth Coffman. She's many things that I aspire to be: Documentary filmmaker. Writer. Teacher. Mom. If you haven't checked out her writing on the Inside Higher Ed, "Mama, PhD" you should! It's great! I've been reading it all morning. Coffman is also the co-producer of Veins in the Gulf, a documentary about the disappearing coastline of Louisiana, a film I'm dying to see and that will be screened the last day of FLEFF (April 1st).
2. Menna Khalil. Suffering in the Middle East is something I know little about, and I wish I knew more. Khalil's activism and work sounds extremely inspiring, and I can't wait to see her presentation that documents Iraq Burin and stories of Palestinian village who were witnesses to uprising. To read more about her work, check out fellow blogger Brian McCormick's interview.
3. Matthew Podolsky. His non-profit organization "Wild Lens" incorporates all my passions into one: Activism. Science. Conservation. Art. Wild Lens wishes to "present biological facts in an exciting and accessible way, and broaden the public interest in environmental and wildlife conservation – one species at a time." It's pretty safe to say my dream job may be exactly that -- word for word.
4. Robby Aceto and the Cloud Chamber Orchestra. As I said in a previous post about Aceto and his improvisational music trio, I can't wait for the Cloud Chamber Orchestra's live scoring of "Nanook of the North." It will be my first experience of any kind of live music played with film. I love music, but I don't believe my brain has the ability to fathom performing live with a film, while also improvising and collaborating with two other musicians. To an audience it must seem so effortless, but holy cow the talent one must have!
5. Bernie Upson and his Quartet. I'm a wannabe jazz fanatic. Whenever I listen to jazz, I feel as if I was born in the wrong decade. I picture myself dolled-up in a smokey mid-century jazz lounge, with the bass vibrating through my veins. I'm thrilled to see such a talented group of musicians play. It's not everyday you're in the presence of jazz legends!
19 days until FLEFF. Ready. Set. Get excited. I know I am. Are you?
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Blog posting written by Ian Carsia, Cinema & Photography '14, FLEFF Intern, Hamilton, NJ
6:51 p.m. Blogging live with Robby Aceto. Aceto will be performing in a live musical accompaniment of "Nanook of the North" for FLEFF 2012.
6:53 p.m. FLEFF T-SHIRTS ARE IN!
6:57 p.m. This will be the fourth time Robby and his co-conspirators have performed at FLEFF.
"Who has heard of Nanook of the North?"
100% of hands shoot up.
"Who has seen Nanook of the North?"
90% of hands go down.
WE ARE HERE TO LEARN!
7:02 p.m. Robby Aceto: "Right now, you don't have to convince anyone. You can just do it."
7:05 p.m. Robby Aceto: "The biggest problem that a group [of artists] has to overcome...is connecting with the mindset of someone 100 years ago making a film."
7:08 p.m. Robby Aceto: "We've narrowed our expectation of what a film is supposed to be."
7:11 p.m. Robby Aceto: "My approach to an instrument is to use it in a textural way."
7:17 p.m. Robby Aceto: "First, we try to get into the mindset of the filmmaker: What would he want?...Even if it looks silly to you, you have to remind yourself 'This guy was deadly serious' about whatever it was...And as far as doing it differently...just as a matter of course, it's going to be different."
7:43 p.m. Screening clips of accompanyment with Ernst Lubitsch's 1921 film The Wild Cat (Dr. Zimmermann: "The only German expressionist comedy.")
7:50 p.m. Robby Aceto: "Once you step into the realm of "This is what is happening on screen," you take it away from the audience."
7:54 p.m. About to screen a clip from 1925's Grass.
7:56 p.m. Robby Aceto: "None of the musicians know what the other's going to do...Not so much "call-and-response," more like...reaction..."