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Thursday, June 28, 2012

Q&A with Matthew Nolan (co-composer of a new live The Adventures of Prince Achmed score)

On the Closing Night of BAMcinemaFest, we will be turning our attention away from the best in contemporary independent cinema for a special screening of the oldest surviving animated feature, Lotte Reiniger's The Adventures of Prince Achmed. This whimsical, visually spectacular retelling of The Arabian Nights utilizes cardboard cutouts manipulated on illuminated glass and enhanced with gorgeous color tinting. The film has already inspired a wide range of diverse composers to take their stab at re-scoring it, and this year we welcome BAM favorites 3epkano back to our cinemas to debut their own musical interpretation. 3epkano members Matthew Nolan and Cameron Doyle will be joined by avant-garde cellist Erik Friedlander, a frequent collaborator of John Zorn and a major figure in New York's experimental downtown scene.

Nolan, who is also a lecturer on film in Dublin, took time to speak with us about his interest in early silent film and his methods of composing. We are proud to be able to share a new video from 3epkano's latest album, Hans the Reluctant Wolf Juggler, featuring acclaimed Irish dancer Liv O'Donoghue. Below you can also get a taste of some of the music from the Achmed score.

The Adventures of Prince Achmed will screen on Sun, July 1 at 6pm.

How did you become interested in scoring silent films?
It began with an experience I had watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at the Irish Film Institute eight years ago. I watched it completely silently, which sparked my interest in the musical possibilities of cinema of that period. Cameron Doyle and I booked a theater and a film print from the British Film Institute, pulled together some musicians, and set ourselves a tough goal over a two month period, not knowing what the next step would be after that. Then it kind of snowballed. A huge amount of people attended, since it was an unusual kind of event, and we kept receiving offers to play again. That’s how we built up relationships with institutions like the Goethe Institute in Dublin.

How did you connect with BAM?
Well, this will be our fifth performance with BAM. The first was in 2007, and the initial approach was with a woman named Juliana Camfield. I reached out to her from Dublin, and I went to meet her, just for a chat. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; I just wanted to talk about the scene in New York, what possibilities there were. She made a few suggestions of repertory cinemas. The one that really turned into a lovely relationship was Florence Almozini at BAM. We sent emails and had a really extended telephone conversation, and Florence had lived in Dublin, so we just got on really well. That initial spark was what brought us over.

What brought you to The Adventures of Prince Achmed?
I had been looking to do something with an early animated film. I became acquainted with Lotte Reiniger’s work only a couple of years ago and was really struck by how sophisticated it is, and also how simple it is. She draws the spectator into this imaginary world, and there’s something emotionally resonant and powerful about the technique she used and the type of stories she chose to work with. Also it’s quite experimental in its own way, which lent itself well to sonic experimentation, something that we like to be able to engage in when we start music for a new project. If that kind of latitude isn’t there, then we tend not to be attracted to it.

How did you hear of Reiniger's work?
I lecture in film studies at a couple universities, so I learned of her through my own research interests. My passion is always leading me to treasures.

Can you tell me about the process of composing a silent-film score?
The working methodology I begin with doesn’t involve music at all. I just watch the film over and over again, trying to discern an emotional subtext. Once I’m confident we’ve discerned that, then we think of musical motifs that resonate with that subtext. This was our first collaboration with another musician, and Erik was really happy to work with us. This was new terrain for him. He is a hugely experienced composer and improviser, so finding creative ground wasn’t a problem. But that initial process of just watching and not touching an instrument is important, because we want to respect the film.

How did you meet and decide to collaborate with Erik Friedlander?
My wife discovered him as a musician and artist and she got me listening to him. I curate a music festival in Ireland, the Kilkenny Art Festival, and I invited Erik to perform at that. And we just kept in touch. I proposed a project a year and a half ago and that morphed into what we’re doing at BAM. Two of the musicians are relatively new collaborators, so we’re rehearsing more diligently than we may have done—we have to be extremely prepared to play with someone of Erik Friedlander’s caliber.

3epkano's new video, "River Bank":

Riverbank Music Video from 3epkano video on Vimeo.

Producer: Matthew Nolan
Performer: Liv O'Donoghue
Director/Editor: Kenny Leigh
Director of Photography: Sean Leonard
Camera Operators: Sean Leonard, Damien Dunne, Niall Cullinane
Makeup: Julianna Grogan
Wardrobe: Ciara O' Donovan
Colorist: Damien Dunne

A sample of the new score for The Adventures of Prince Achmed, written and performed by Erik Friedlander and 3epkano's Matthew Nolan and Cameron Doyle in collaboration with Bryan O'Connell and Steve Shannon:

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