Live Music + Gig Reviews

Noise of Art presents Piccadilly Nite Versions #1 @ National Film Theatre, London

24 January 2008

It’s always good to report on an occasion that blurs boundaries between the arts, and the National Film Theatre played host to an evening where electronic music and film were the chosen bedfellows.

Spearheaded by Ben Osborne, the Piccadilly Nite Versions series looks to keep an eye each on the distant past and the immediate future, and its first night was a qualified success, as early silent documentaries were soundtracked in a ‘live’ environment by A Man Called Adam, Vector Lovers and the curator himself.

With the full cooperation of the BFI, Osborne has been able to cast his own interpretation on extracts from the recently restored Piccadilly. Filmed in 1920s London, it is a story about a Chinese dancer recruited to a London nightclub, with the exotic Anna May Wong in the lead role.

The soundtrack from Les Hommes du Train was a reminder of how dance music, in all its forms, will always be with us. The fact that in those days people wore suits and showed more controlled appreciation was respected by the composer’s subtle beats and riffing, and parallels with today’s dancefloors were interesting and entertaining to draw.

The Visit To Peak Frean And Co’s Biscuit Works was up next, one of the first examples of promotional film on the behalf of the company that gave us the Bourbon. A Man Called Adam were fully in tune to the grainy images and offered a well-structured soundtrack that was by turns poignant and humorous. As each stage of biscuit making was sectioned off and revealed, the music twisted through bouncy piano, more clanky mechanical timbres and softer, ambient sounds.

A more stark offering came from Martin Wheeler’s Vector Lovers, and his response to a Day In The Life Of A Coal Miner. By nature more industrial and claustrophobic, Wheeler’s detailed score began strikingly with a brittle piano, but found itself responding to each lump of coal as the beats unfolded. Again the mechanical nature of the film found a strong counterpart in the musical setting, and Wheeler’s obvious ability to secure exact shades of colour in his music was fully exploited – even if this was a necessarily darker approach.

Finally Osborne teamed up with Overlap to provide an audio and visual remix of Piccadilly, and showed how, by breaking up the film into logical snippets and inserting their own black and white floral images, it was possible to offer an effective and structured visual remastering. If a touch too long, it nonetheless kept the spirit of the original, a respectful version that applied modern techniques with effective restraint.

More of these evenings would be most welcome, as they offer a boundary-free environment for electronic music lovers to appreciate film they may not be aware of, and for the film lovers to enjoy new and innovative responses to established classics of the repertoire.

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