On Thursday the 26th of November at 7.30pm, the 2009 season of the Media Resource Centre‘s ‘Silent ReMasters’ program brings to the people of Adelaide the first of four classic silent films, each driven by an exciting new musical score. Each score will be performed live by a variety of ensembles, ranging from solo DJ-driven sets through to orchestras with upwards of twenty instrumentalists. The initiative has run annually for several years now, and goes from strength to strength. The screening event series is proudly supported in 2009 by APRA and Billy Hyde Music.
Supermarket has the launching honours this year and I will be augmenting Robert Wiene’s classic horror film with a variety of electronic and electro-acoustic beats from dub through to drum ‘n’ bass. Expect the cobwebs to be blasted out of this pioneering film of the genre, as I play live overdubs on a strange miscellany of intrumentation, including a theremin.
It’s been an intense couple of weeks setting up and then setting to work in my home studio. It’s been great to get back to making music in a concentrated way.. I’ve not spent so much uninterrupted time making music since Emma Sterling and I launched Supermarket way back in 2007. While at this stage our re-score is a one-off performance, we’re hoping to tour with the work in the future, and will be looking into the possibility of a remix project and subsequent release. Feel free to contact us if you’re interested in booking a performance in your town in the future.
For several years now, Adelaide’s Media Resource Centre has been running a music production initiative for emerging screen composers called Silent Remasters. After applying for the privilege of performing an original live re-score of a silent movie classic in two previous years, it appears third time’s the charm and Supermarket is on this year’s recipient list. Now I am faced with the equally daunting and exhilerating task of composing and preparing a brand-spanking new electronic score for the horror classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari… ready for performance in less than three weeks!
I was first introduced to Robert Wiene‘s psychological thriller some years ago through a friend with obscure and fascinating taste. Produced in 1920, the film struck me with its dramatic use of light and shadow and the obvious influence of expressionistic painting in the often oblique and wild set designs. For a film of its age, its pace is a little slow but it holds up much better than the majority of works of its age. The likes of Rob Zombie, Tim Burton and countless other artists (past and present) have drawn direct influence from this film and it’s a pleasure to be given the chance to work directly with such a precious piece of cinema’s history. As an exploration of madness and monstrosity, the film brought to light themes that have continued to sustain the horror and thriller genres through decades of permutations.
My proposal for the new soundtrack to the film includes a variety of instrumentation- no honky tonk pianos or string ensembles in sight. A sampler, microphone, delays & fx, an accordian, several synthesizers, some percussion and a theremin will all be put to work. I will be performing the score as Supermarket, though at this stage Emma Sterling (who usually manages the VJ’ing role in our regular audio-visual sets) will not be taking the stage. The film runs a length of 72 minutes, so I’ll be breaking the score into ‘themes’… remixing versions of arrangements at different instances during the film. A necessary design decision to make the task of fulfilling the brief achievable in the tight three weeks of allowed schedule.
Once I have some of the score recorded, Em and I will float a 30 second trailer online and give you all a taste of what lucky cinema-goers in Adelaide will be privvy to on the night of November 26th. The screening starts at 7.30pm, and there will be two short silent films preceding The Cabinet of Dr Caligari… La Folie du Docteur Tube (1915) and Windsor McKay’s Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend: The Pet (1922). Windsor McKay is one of the great early pioneers of animated film, and both shorts promise to showcase some impressive special effects that place them far in advance of their years of production.
The Silent Remasters program runs for four nights of original performed re-scores over two weeks. Full details are available on the Mercury Cinema’s website.
When we first began mixing video live at our Supermarket audio-visual shows in 2008, we used an old-school 1990’s hardware video mixer from Panasonic. It was heavy and cumbersome, but it delivered every time when fed a camera and two streams of standard definition video. We hired the unit from Adelaide’s Media Resource Centre on several occasions, and despite it having a bunch of extra effects onboard including keying, fades and wipes, we were essentially using it as a bloated video cross-fader. Needless to say, things have changed a lot since then and after an ongoing battle with technology, we may have finally arrived at a harmonious setup.
We chose software over hardware in August of 2008 after looking into Numark’s NuVJ package. Despite not knowing anyone personally who’d committed to the rig, there were a few factors that made this the winner for us. Korg had (and still have) some great high-end video mixing gear on the market. So did Edirol. We were concerned though about future-proofing ourselves, and while hardware becomes quickly outdated, software can usually be upgraded without generating any waste and is lighter on the pocket. Purchase price was the was the next factor, and with the Numark rig coming in at less than half the price of a hardware fix from Edirol or Korg, we took the plunge. We gambled on the Numark controller, but the combination of our tolerance for the Panasonic’s crude design and Numark’s reputation of delivering high quality performance oriented DJ products left no cause for hesitation.
Snapping NuVJ up for a song via Amazon.com, Emma Sterling and I put the rig to work immediately, christening it at local street magazine Rip It Up‘s 1000th issue launch party. Unfortunately unable to run the NuVJ software on our laptops due to their wimpy video card specs, we pumped VHS, DVD, prepared samples and live camera feeds through Em’s Windows XP desktop computer for over four hours without a single restart or hiccup. Unfortunatley, not every gig since has run so smoothly.
The main problems we have suffered with our rig relate directly to our 3rd party analog capture devices. Running at its best, our desktop rig featured three EasyCAP USB analog video capture devices dangling out the back, taking whatever we threw at them. For some reason, these input devices would occasionally not appear as accessible sources in the NuVJ software (after upgrading from version 1.0 to the infinitely better version 1.5 (upgrade available from the Numark website). Restarting, switching USB ports and uninstalling/reinstalling drivers never consistently solved the problem, and many a show was compromised as a result. Despite receiving glowing reviews, only the third of our three show Adelaide Fringe Festival season of Basement Beats this year saw our rig run at %100 the whole show through.
Despite the bumpy road so far, we remain optimistic. Just two days ago our NuVJ rig became truly portable for the first time with the purchase of a new Acer Aspire 6930 notebook computer. Featuring a 1 Gb dedicated video card from Nvidea, the system has enough grunt to run video simultaneously over several external outputs. The computer was the first of its kind to sell through A&R Computers here in SA, and we are very happy to see that PC laptops have risen to the challenge of our video needs at long last. I can’t imagine what it was like for Ninjatune’s breakbeat audio-visual act Hexstatic when they were giving birth to the art of the live video mix using re-purposed studio technology in the 1990’s. Much respect to them, as always.
So if you’re all dry, tech’d out and keen for a taste of Supermarket’s VJ stylings, we’re breaking the rig in with a VJ set at the Crown & Sceptre Hotel here in Adelaide on April 9th. The event’s called All Hands on Decks and it’ll be a booty-shaking hip-hop and breakbeat affair, featuring two of Australia’s three-times DJ DMC champ turntablists, Staen-1 (local hero) and Perplex (Melbourne). Come celebrate the beginning of the Easter long weekend on the dancefloor with us, and hopefully the beginning of a much smoother ride for Supermarket’s video mixing future!