Live-scoring concerts commonly pair up silent movies with orchestras. Works from the early twentieth century — whether it’s Man Ray shorts or canon staples like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari — give programmers and musicians a relatively free hand. You can’t drown out a silent film, and you can’t really get it wrong, since any pairing of sound and image takes you towards a reading. Pair The Passion of Joan of Arc with Carly Rae Jepsen’s E • MO • TION and you’re opening up the text.
What the Wordless Music Orchestra pulled off on Friday at National Sawdust was something else. Working with a modified print of Pablo Larraín’s 2016 film Jackie, the orchestra recreated Mica Levi’s original score in real time. The ensemble had to time their cues to match the imagery and play at a volume that almost overwhelmed the dialogue without actually doing so—which they did. This gave us an exploded view, rendering Levi’s music with the heft and dimension of a character as important as Jackie Kennedy herself, which it seems to be. If Natalie Portman is Kennedy’s viscera, Levi’s score comes from inside her skull.
Levi’s score was written for a string section and instrumentalists who map small themes against those strings with vibraphone, flute, and piano. For Under the Skin, Levi used pizzicato and glissando extensively, a strategy repeated in Jackie. A theme that Levi calls “Intro,” rather than “Jackie’s Theme,” is a see-saw of glisses, two descending followed by two ascending. When Jackie’s story hits open water, the theme air-drops a bundle of anxiety.
In one scene, the family learns that Ruby has shot Oswald, and Bobby Kennedy scrambles to keep the news from Jackie, who is talking to her confused son. The orchestra plowed into the slides, stringing together the new president LBJ and the new national mascot JFK Jr, two lost boys only one floor apart.
Levi’s score rarely underlines the action, possibly because she didn’t write the music for specific scenes. She gave Larraín a selection of cues she thought fit the time period, and he then slotted them into the film. One transition takes Jackie from a discussion with Kennedy confidant William Walton to a birthday party for JFK Jr. If Levi came close to writing anything vaguely “happy” for Jackie, it is a plangent theme for flute, played on Friday night by Nathalie Joachim. Average out Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies and the herald of a Disney bird, and you have a sense of the motif.
But Larraín doesn’t wrench any of the music into line with the action. After Jackie tells Walton that she’s lost her husband to the “oil paintings” of the White House, she removes her shoes and carries a birthday cake into a room full of children, singing. Her voice and Levi’s score are not close in key, a thing Larraín doesn’t bother to mask. It clashes. In the cinema, this moment was exquisitely sad. With a live orchestra, as a concert, the scene was an exhilarating embrace of death, a party with candles for the still and moving images.
Sasha Frere-Jones is a writer and musician from Brooklyn.
Metric bassist and singer-songwriter Joshua Winstead recently released his debut solo album, MMXX; now, in advance of bringing his new music to National Sawdust, he fielded questions from friends in Metric, Bear in Heaven, Broken Social Scene, and Death From Above 1979.
https://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Joshua-Winstead-Official-Press-Shot-2016-Anton-Lombardi-48_edit2.jpg16672104Joshua Winsteadhttp://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/national-sawdust-log.pngJoshua Winstead2016-10-24 22:46:302017-04-03 21:53:49Joshua Winstead of Metric: On MMXX
The Living Earth Show, the explosive Bay Area new-music duo of electric guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson, is set to unleash its sophomore full-length album, Dance Music, via New Amsterdam Records on Oct. 28, and will celebrate at National Sawdust on Oct. 21. And to get you in the mood to celebrate, we're going to let you hear the whole thing ahead of time, exclusively.
https://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/unnamed1.jpg10801920Steve Smithhttp://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/national-sawdust-log.pngSteve Smith2016-10-18 18:45:032017-04-03 21:54:27Early Audition: The Living Earth Show, Dance Music
No lover of modern music and/or contemporary art can afford to miss A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s-1980s, a lively, illuminating, persuasive exhibition on view through Dec. 10 at New York University's Grey Art Gallery.
https://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/10-Sky-Kiss-Color.jpg54003574Steve Smithhttp://nationalsawdust.org/thelog/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/national-sawdust-log.pngSteve Smith2016-10-17 19:15:192016-10-17 19:15:19Sound and vision: Charlotte Moorman's New York.