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Boston Herald Feature Article

Silent partners: Boston Secession, Alloy Orchestra make music for movie classics at Somerville Theatre

by Daniel Gewertz
January 13, 2000

The marriage of live music and the movies will never see a heyday like the silent film 1920s. But the craft of live film scoring was reborn in the 1990s and, however esoteric, is blossoming again.

``There's a flurry of activity in the field,'' said Ken Winokur, founding member of the Alloy Orchestra, the percussion-mad trio that has been creating a clamor for live soundtracks for silent films since 1991. Last year, the Boston band made Entertainment Weekly's ``It List'' of ``the 100 Most Creative People in Entertainment.''

In New York, the ultrahip Knitting Factory nightclub has begun a soundtrack series with stars such as guitarist Bill Frisell. Boston, though, has become even more of a center of the wildly inventive movement. And this month, two shows will demonstrate just how wide a field live film scoring has become.
On Saturday at the Somerville Theatre, Boston Secession, a choral ensemble devoted to classical and modern music, will present German director Wim Wender's 1988 arthouse hit ``Wings of Desire,'' a dreamlike rumination on angels in Berlin.

Unlike nearly all the work in the field, Boston Secession's piece is not set to a silent film. Keeping some of the original sound, including Peter Falk's English dialogue and Nick Cave's Bad Seed songs, the ensemble has woven a precisely timed series of composed vocal pieces, with string and piano accompaniment.

“It's an amazingly complex process and, unlike Alloy's work, there is no improvisation,'' said Jane Ring Frank, director for the 21-member vocal ensemble. ``We pieced it all together with stopwatches and computer clocks. It was mapped out in a very calculated way.''

Much of the score favors contemporary and avant-garde choral works. `` `Wings of Desire' has poetic, gothic themes large enough to inspire the music. It is so intensely visual,'' Frank said.

The movie is about the counting and recording of time, so it is thematically appropriate that Frank will conduct the ensemble with headset and stopwatch. The musical snippets range from Philip Glass' ``Einstein on the Beach'' and Arvo Part's ``The Attitudes'' to Rossini, Bruckner, Beethoven and Ligeti.

Copyright by the Boston Herald 2000.  Used with permission.
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