The Sound of a Silent Film: Music by Matalon

Composing for film is a relatively new art form. The Argentinian composer Matalon has taken to turning this artform to older silent films which were originally designed to be watch with music, albeit there used to be an organist playing along with the film live. His latest project has been Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film Metropolis, the forerunner to all science fiction films and still one of the great films of all time. According to MetroActive, Metropolis with the Santa Rosa Symphony will show this Saturday (Dec. 6) at 8pm at Memorial Auditorium, Stanford University, California.

There is a nice quote in the article. Matalon said in an interview, "There are few reference points when you're writing film music. If you're doing an opera, you'll end up thinking of how operas have been written for four centuries, but in film composing there are very few traditions. Silent-film accompaniments were usually improvised, not counting the work by Shostakovich and Prokofiev. There was a score written for Metropolis [by Gottfried Huppertz], but it seemed to me that it was romantic music that could have been used anywhere."

By writing new compositions to these silent films, Matalon is not only getting to explore a complete concert score, but really delve into the art of communicating with music. Film images have a certain impact, but music can highlight or alter the impact of the images. Modern films (talkies) also have dialog, which alter the impact of the images. Yes, Metropolis has dialog, but screens with text are not the same as voices with inflections. Silent film rely much more on the music and as such the music has a much greater impact.

Matalon is also bring forward a film into the present, or perhaps the future. Metropolis is about a futuristic city, so the sound-scape he can use, particularly with all the advances in electronic, can really extend that sense of future to the film; take it out of a old fashioned silent film with stilted romantic organ music, to music of today, cutting edge (oh, dare I say, perhaps even atonal?). This of the difference between the television show Star Trek and the films. Although one major difference was advancements in special effects, another advance was the sound of the effect, tricorders, phasers, shields. All these sounds (and the music that played beneath them) were more modern sounding and thereby hold a greater sense of being futuristic. Matalon has that same chance now with Metropolis.

I won't be in Stanford this weekend, so I won't get to see it. Hopefully someone who reads this will be and can report back on the evening.


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