Text: Alec Coiro
Photo: Lindsay McAleavy
We so often bemoan things lost to progress. Some of this nostalgia is misplaced: I would gladly take back my thousand hours spent milling around a video store and forsake the many germs and diseases contracted from New York City payphone receivers. One lost gem that would certainly have been romantic is experiencing a silent film with a live score. This is an experience that’s certainly completely alien to almost everyone I know, but now it’s time to change all that.
Hisham Bharoocha arranged (in both senses of the word) a performance of a live soundtrack for Sergei Eisenstein’s masterwork STRIKE that was performed on 11/4 at the Brooklyn Museum. His co-performers in the soundtracking included Angel Deradoorian, Jeremy Hyman, Nico Kennedy, and Motion Graphics. Bharoocha tells us that he choose this particular Eisenstein film “because it was less about war, and it had a more psychedelic feel to it and I knew I would enjoy performing to this film more than his other films.”
Bharoocha then went on to give us an in-depth recounting of the project, the challenges of Eisenstein’s particular style, and the collaboration process.
“The film has so many hard edits I felt it would be impossible to make a properly written score to. I saw that moods would jump moment by moment in the film; violence, to calm, very dynamic editing. I felt that if we were to play with all the edits that would create a jerky sounding live score. I went the route of creating a mood, working with some of my favorite musicians who excel in improvisation.
I chose these friends to perform with because I had never played with This particular group together, and I wanted the challenge as well as the experience of joy that comes from not knowing what one performer will choose to do at any moment. I truly love improvisational performances because of this aspect. So much beauty is created when the conversation is open, and you cannot stop to actually converse verbally. You have to adapt in the moment and that makes for truly interesting music. That’s why choosing the right group of people to perform with is crucial.
I personally worked closely with Nicos Kennedy who I play in the band Kill Alters with. We organized sounds that I would play using the Sensory Percussion / Sunhouse drum sensors, which is a highly advanced sampling software and hardware which works in conjunction with a regular drum kit. I created a lot of original samples as well as found samples, and Nicos helped organize them and put them to the drum kit.
I didn't want to try to use sounds that felt like what would be used in a film score written in that era. I wanted to showcase our strengths as musicians with a lot of experience in using electronic sounds, and I felt that created a new way to feel the film as you watched it.
I met up with Jeremy and we showed each other our sound pallet. I gave a bit of direction to the other musicians on how I imagined this score should feel, but ultimately the musicians made their own choices on what sounds they would use in the performance. We did one rehearsal while watching the film together at the museum. Rehearsing in the space that we were performing in was very helpful, and we all made adjustments to our instrumentation/sound choices based on how our instruments sounded in that space. The space is giant and has an amazing reverb to it so we took advantage of that, making sure we made space between sounds as much as we could.
I didn’t want to try to use sounds that felt like what would be used in a film score written in that era. I wanted to showcase our strengths as musicians with a lot of experience in using electronic sounds, and I felt that created a new way to feel the film as you watched it. I think it made the film more digestible to a younger audience that way, even though that wasn’t a goal I had in mind when working on the score.”