A sales girl who has sex appeal in spades goes after a wealthy playboy in the third of the Live Sound Cinema Vamps and Virgins program, playing at Nitehawk Cinema located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn (a mini series running through October 2013) that explores the two sides of the leading lady spectrum in silent film. It, with a live score performed by djangOrchestra, lead by award-winning singer, composer, and bandleader, Mary Alouette.
After the final screening on August 25, Mary and the members of djangOrchestra: Sami Arefin (guitar/composer), Alex Simon (lead guitar), Alex Dadras (Mary Alouette's producer, drums/sample), and Ethan Foote (Bass/composer) answered a few questions regarding the film and overall project.
Interview directed by. Candice A. Walker (Q)
Mary Alouette (M)
Q: Mary, how did this project come about?
M: I used to work at Nitehawk as a waitress. I'd seen some other electronic bands do live film scoring, which was always fascinating. As more opportunities came to me as a singer, I took them. They had listened to my music and thought it would be an appropriate fit for the concept of their Vamps and Virgins series. So, now I'm back, but in another way. It's such a cool concept and they have great taste and humor, so I was really flattered when they approached me.
Q: Mary, you have been describe with the term "je ne sais quoi” a term defined by some as "a quality or attribute that is difficult to describe or express." In reference to the film, what is “IT” and do you think you have “IT”?
M: 'It' in the film comes from an actual writing by Elinor Glyn in the 1920s. It means someone who is confident and indifferent, yet warm. Maybe it's similar to my musical interests in the same way that there's an unusual hybrid of old acoustic hot jazz with modern electronic sounds. I like them and the possibilities of sound and style they could make, so I'm happy to vouch for their union without focusing much on the union's reception. It allows me to keep a clear channel mentally of how the stylistic manners can progress and compliment each other.
Q: Tell me something about the score for this project, was it all original music?
M: It was mostly original music that Ethan Foote (bass), Sami Arefin (guitar), and I composed over the course of a four-day compositional period in Washington, D.C. The written score was composed of chord structures and leitmotifs that followed the action, over which I played improvised, guitar solos. We did all original music except for "Avalon" Scoring. "It" gave us a chance to explore and combine elements of gypsy jazz and noise music.
Our song structures were leitmotifs for characters (Clara Bow - 'It', Adela, Monty), moods (love theme, anguish and disappointment) or situations (baby/social workers, carnival). It was interesting having to compose something with a modular structure due to the fact that we didn't have time cues. We watched the film a handful of times and relied upon visual cues and a general understanding of how long the themes would last. Taking the short leitmotifs, we could then stretch them out, speed them up, change the rhythms (ex: gypsy jazz pompe swinging on the 2 & 4 to a gypsy bossa at one point to add a feeling of excitement), and then move on quickly to the next theme when the visual cue presented itself.
It was a challenge to figure out the appropriate interaction of the music with the film. We had to resist the urge to be simplistic or merely imitating what was happening on the screen. We wanted to add depth to the characters, and that's what made it seem more modern (aside from the use of electronic instruments). This brought the characters out of a two-dimensional storybook sensibility of an age long ago (but also not long ago). We also added a small snippet of my song 'Blue Violet' (off my first EP, Midas) and played the old jazz tune 'Avalon'.
Q: Do you have an ideal genre you would love to score for outside of a silent film?
Sami: A slasher flick! Anything about space, too. Any film genre, really. However, it'd be a big turn to take gypsy jazz music and orchestrate a genre more removed from the traditional style of the pompe rhythm guitar and virtuosic guitar soloing of gypsy jazz. There's a wealth of harmonic colors that could create moods and soundscapes.
Alex S: Scoring a film is like lighting a film in the sense that it can amplify, contradict, or take the emotional experience into a place that wasn't possible without the score. When I was growing up, I used to collect movie soundtracks either because they reminded of the vibe of the film that I liked, or I would like a movie just because it had a great soundtrack. I believe that movie soundtracks had large influence when my music tastes were developing. Working with old silent films is great because these movies were designed to be played with live music. I actually believe that most movies that come out of Hollywood are like giant music videos or operas, and don't put them in the same category with works that exist more as cinematic creations. Non-diagetic music can be moving, but I find that it is mostly superfluous and I don't need to be told how to feel when I watching two actors on the screen. It's an element that exists outside of the actors world, and has no baring on their actions.That said, as a composer and player, scoring a movie can be a lot of fun regardless of the genre.
Q: Mary, I read that some of your favorites are Billie Holiday & Kate Bush, besides them who did you use as inspiration for this project?
M: They're certainly vocal idols in terms of style, subject matter, and instrumental sound. For the compositional process, I've been reading a lot about tUnE-yArDs' live film scoring (and for 1920's silent films, too!) for the San Francisco International Film Festival. She uses electronics and vocal, ukelele, and drum loops for her sound and she worked with virtuoso guitarist Ava Mendoza for the film scoring. Also, electronic producer Flying Lotus composed an ambient score to a silent film. They're both musicians I admire in the regular music arena, so seeing them take on these large-scale compositions was inspiring.
Q: What type of audience did you envision for this type of Project? Did it match your vision?
M: No particular audience. General theater-going public.
Q: Mary, what thoughts or feelings did you want the audience to walk away with after this screening?
M: Just to have had a good time!
Q: So what are some future projects coming up for you all?
Ethan Foote will be participating in BMI's Composing for the Screen workshop taught by Rick Baitz.
Alex Dadras's band, Special Guest, just performed at Mercury Lounge on September 1.
Alex Simon leads weekly gypsy jazz open jam sessions at Bistro Fada in Williamsburg, Brooklyn every Thursday evening.
For more information about the Nitehawk Cinema’s Live Sound Cinema Vamps and Virgins: silent film series, please visit here.
For more of Mary Alouette, visit here
Special thanks to Whitney of GITA Group.