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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Blog post written by Kayla Reopelle, Documentary Studies and Production '14, FLEFF Blogger, Roy, WA
“So many strange peoples and hardships...”
The projector froze on the title card after I allowed myself to be sutured into the Cornell Cinema and Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival sponsored screening of Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (1925) in Cornell’s Sage Chapel. Cloud Chamber Orchestra, an Ithaca-based live improvisational film scoring trio, accompanied the silent film.
Grass follows the migration of the Bakhtiari nomadic tribe from Persia, today Iran, on their seasonal quest through rivers with strong currents and steep, snowy mountains to reach the pastures that support every level of their society. It was filmed and edited from the point of view of three Americans, two men and one woman.
“So many strange peoples and hardships.” It held for a few more moments.
The orchestra played on as vibrant, as soothing as ever. The sound filled the chapel. In other situations this may have caused a pause, but the Cloud Chamber Orchestra just kept playing, kept people from talking as if this interlude was planned.
The projector was turned off. For a moment, I thought we were permanently moving from watching a film to listening to a concert. People began to stir.
The power of film as a mediating factor became clear. Phones were pulled out, people were moving. Once the projector was brought back online, the crowd snapped back into their disciplined state.
The film returned a few minutes prior to the moment it cut out. The music had a different interpretation, a new tempo reminding that a performance by the Cloud Chamber Orchestra is always up for re-negotiation and is not repeatable.
The classical instruments blended with digital looping kept the melody driving, changing, cycling without a clear end or beginning to each sound. It flowed in and out from scene to scene like the simulated sounds of grass blowing in the wind that seamlessly integrated into the score.
This performance exemplified dissonance due to the unplanned pauses throughout the screening. Transforming unexpected glitches into new interpretations and experiences is part of what Cloud Chamber Orchestra does best. Their improvisation continues unhindered despite whatever chaos technology may throw at them.
I’m glad the the freezing temperatures on Tuesday, January 28 interfered with the projection. It made this screening into an unrepeatable event.
When has something you planned not gone the way you expected, and turned out to be a more fulfilling experience in the end?
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Blog posting written by Kimberly Capehart, Documentary Studies and Production ’16, FLEFF Blogger, Cherry Hill, NJ
On Tuesday, January 28th, the Cloud Chamber Orchestra accompanied the silent ethnographic documentary, Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (you can read Blaize's blog post for a synopsis of the film as well as her reflection on the screening!).
The screening took place in the historic Sage Chapel on a snowy hill of the Cornell University campus. It was my first time inside the Sage Chapel and I was amazed by its beautiful interior: abound with stained glass, hand-painted designs on the lofted rafters, and elegant mosaics surrounding its altar and apse.
Despite the beauty of the chapel, the real delight was the Cloud Chamber Orchestra who were situated in front of a giant screen that had been placed at the alter. As a pleasant surprise the group, which is typically comprised of only three men, had an additional member in the form of pianist Peter Dodge’s son, playing percussion. The addition of a fourth member greatly contributed to the richness of the sound echoing throughout the chapel.
An intriguing combination of electric guitar and other electric instruments performed by Robby Aceto, cello performed by Chris White, piano and horns performed by Peter Dodge, and percussion performed by his son perfectly accompanied the silent documentary. The instrumentation created an ethereal ambience during slower parts of the film and also matched the energy of more exciting parts of the film.
Though there were a number of technological malfunctions with the projector due to the cold interior of the chapel, the group’s improvised score held the attention of the audience even when the film cut out.
It was incredible to watch these musicians as they played: they, themselves, watching the film to get a feel for what they wanted to play.
Aceto, White, Dodge and Dodge received a standing ovation as they lowered their instruments as the film ended. A gracious group of musicians, they hung around after the chapel began to empty to talk to students, friends, neighbors, and the like.
Overall, it was an excellent performance to accompany a fantastic documentary. Don’t miss out on your next chance to see the Cloud Chamber Orchestra, when they improvise a live score to the classic Sergei Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin during this year’s Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival!
What silent film would you like to see scored by the Cloud Chamber Orchestra?
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Bringing “Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life,” and the Cloud Chamber Orchestra together was a stroke of genius. The band’s musical accompaniment is a perfect harmonious choice for the cavernous church space of Sage Chapel.
Cloud Chamber Orchestra presented its out-of-this-world creations, effortlessly capturing the audience as they watched the silent film. Classic song structure does not hold the group back. They seamlessly move across complex layers of emotionally lingering timbres and exotically rhythmic percussion.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Ithaca's very own Cloud Chamber Orchestra will be playing an original live score to the classic documentary, Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life, this Tuesday, January 28th, 2014 at the Sage Chapel at Cornell University. The beautiful interior of the chapel should make a pleasant backdrop for what is sure to be an unforgettable performance by an incredible group of musicians.
Consisting of local musicians Robby Aceto, Peter Dodge, and Chris White, the Cloud Chamber Orchestra is an improvisational group that specializes in live film scores for silent films.
The group has performed original, improvised film scores for films such as Nanook of the North, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and The Great White Trail, among others, and continues to be an annual favorite at FLEFF favorite.
White, the cellist of the group, says that the excitement of playing an improvised score comes from "playing with such good musicians and improvisers" but also "the unknowns that go along with [playing live music] with the film in front of a live audience."
Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life is considered by many to be the first ethnographic documentary. Made in 1925, the film follows a group of people from the Bakhtiari tribe of modern-day Iran as they lead their herds of livestock on a treacherous, annual journey through a mountain range to better pastures.
Says White "It is a documentary, but it's also a story, and such a grand story that you forget it's a documentary."
Despite the inherent difficulties in scoring a documentary, White insists that the story in the documentary is so compelling that improvisation won't be much more difficult than it would be for a narrative film.
"We usually prepare by first watching the film, either individually or together, and then we talk about it," says White.
"Often we'll come up with general strategies of musical style and instrumentation. Peter and Robby both play multiple instruments while I usually stick to the cello. Then we begin rehearsing by improvising while we watch the film. Each time we play with the film the music is different because it's all improvised, but each time we are getting to know the film better, and our interpretation becomes more firmly established and more closely aligned with the film and how we want the score to sound for the movie we're working with."
The screening of Grass: A Nation's Battle for Life, kicks off at 7:30 PM this Tuesday, January 28th at the Sage Chapel at Cornell University. Get there early so you can get a front row seat to see Ithaca's favorite musical group (and a sneak peak of what their performance at the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival will be like!).
What was your favorite Cloud Chamber Orchestra performance?