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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Julianne Grillo at 5:08PM
(Photo: Robby Aceto)

Blog posting written by Julianne Grillo, Writing for Film, TV and Emerging Media ’20, Honors, FLEFF Blogging Intern, Clinton, NJ

Last fall, in an introductory film class, I first experienced the Cloud Chamber Orchestra. The ensemble combines the talents of three NY-based musicians, Robby Aceto, Chris White and Peter Dodge, to create improvisational scores for silent film. That night, they scored The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Germany, 1920).

The next year, I observed the same film and the same group of musicians, this time as a tutor for the class. The experience was remarkably different.

Not only did the group create a vastly different soundscape, but the meaning I gathered from the film felt far more political.

“All art is a political act…the only thing that changes [are] the form,” said Robby Aceto, member of the Cloud Chamber Orchestra and renowned color guitarist. If there are no politics, then it is probably not art, he added.

Last Tuesday, the FLEFF 2018 Blogging team had the pleasure of meeting with Mr. Aceto.

From his arts education in Canada, Aceto came to understand the importance of conceptualization. The foundational program at his university did not allow for first-year students to enter the studio.

Art and film schools often market themselves as havens for “hands-on” experience. For Aceto, his education highlighted the value of abstraction before execution.

This can be seen in his work today.

While the Cloud Chamber Orchestra prides itself on creating truly live and truly improvisational scores, that does not mean there is no preparation involved. Aceto shared that in his preparation, he prefers to conceptualize and pre-write, but ultimately the group will collaborate in the moment.

“The group is egalitarian, after all,” he joked.

Each member of the Cloud Chamber Orchestra contributes a different musical background and connection to FLEFF, from a local cello teacher to a touring rock guitarist. Each have innumerable instruments in their repertoires, including cello, electric guitar, piano, trumpet, and flugelhorn.

You’d be shocked to learn that Aceto has no formal training in the guitar. He finds it to be an advantage, in fact.

“I’m not reluctant to break the rules,” Aceto reflected. “That’s because I never learned them.”

Aceto describes the guitar as an instrument “still in its infancy.” Other classical instruments, like the violin for example, have already reached the pinnacle of their sound. As a color guitarist, Aceto aims to push the boundaries of the instrument.

Stylistically, he plays with layers, spatiality and non-linear mixes. His music creates ambient sounds and spatial contexts to fit within a particular landscape.

He asserts that the textures he creates with the guitar are more than imitation. They’re about finding identity.

There exists a similar sense of finality when thinking about score in film. After synchronous sound came to film, sound was often seen as concretized. Aceto’s live, improvisational scores with the Cloud Chamber Orchestra remind us that silent film has always been alive and evolving.

This approach to silent film is considered post-minimalist, wherein the music is not subservient to the narrative. Instead, their style of scoring places past and present in conversation.

This spring, the Cloud Chamber Orchestra will be performing a live, improvisational piece to a recently recovered film from the film archive of Buenos Aires, Museo de Cine Pablo Ducros Hicken. The archival footage has been likened to that of Nanook of the North (1922).

The film, titled Entrelos Hielos De Las Islas Orcada (1929), features recovered footage from an historical Argentine expedition in the uncharted territory of Antarctica.

Entrelos will make its North American premiere at FLEFF on the night of Saturday, April 14, 2018. This event features a monologue performed by Professor of Theater Arts Cynthia Henderson, a screening with music from the Cloud Chamber Orchestra and mixing by Calf Audio, and a panel discussion afterward.


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