Friday, July 17, 2009

Filmusik turns to the Spaghetti Western

Filmusik, an area group that promotes live performance in conjunction with film, turned its attention to the spaghetti western in a performance Wednesday, July 15th at the the Hollywood Theatre. Giulio Petroni's classic 1967 film Death Rides a Horse, stripped of the soundtrack (and starring the iconic Lee Van Cleef) was accompanied by a 40-voice choir provided by Opera Theater Oregon and a chamber orchestra courtesy of ECCE New Music. The score was composed by Eugene composers Gracin Dorsey and Sam L. Richards, and the performance was directed by Tuesday Rupp. (Click here for the trailer.)

The soundtrack began with a big choral overture that saw the introduction of the main theme, a full-throated chanting of da uomo a uomo ('from a man to a man') which is the film's title in Italy. The score was suitably over-the-top and self-importantly melodramatic, in exact keeping with the images being presented onscreen.

Dorsey and Richards soundtrack was imaginative and varied. In addition to very melodic and catchy motives(I find myself still humming the main theme two days later), the composers elicited a range of non-musical effects from the performers, including big, swooping glissandi, windy whistling, percussive, aspirant plosions, shouts and a superbly executed refrain of ghost-like wailing from the choir (occasionally a bit much, but they were able to achieve a truly eerie effect with this). The string players were called upon to stamp feet and clap hands along with the singers, and percussionist Heidi Wait deserves special mention for staying on top of a tricky, insular and important part.

Rupp had her hands full managing to keep all these performers in sync with the onscreen action, and she did this superbly--this was the most well-timed performance of this type that I've yet seen in terms of synchronicity between the film and the live performers. (See here and here for other examples of this.) The interesting effect that live film music has is a heightening of the immediacy of the film itself--the overall project becomes a complex, syncopated, multi-layered 'happening', and the audience understands itself as an integral part of the enterprise, not merely a passive bystander to it.

There will be a repeat performance tonight at 7pm at the Hollywood Theatre; if the crowds at this Friday night performance are similar to those present for Plan 9 From Outer Space, arrive early or buy tickets online if you expect to get a seat.

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