Watching silent cinema with music being made in the moment is an experience unlike any other. The combination of the antique and the immediate, along with the anything-can-happen element inherent to live performance, seems to stir a more visceral response than the average trip to the movies. The hunger for this unique experience has led to sellouts whenever we bring Alloy Orchestra to Columbus. Nashville electronic group Coupler witnessed the same effect first-hand when they performed the debut of their first silent film score, commissioned for a reconstructed and digitally restored version of the visionary scifi work Our Heavenly Bodies by Nashville's historic Belcourt Theater, to a full house. We're happy that Coupler decided to take the show on the road and excited that they're bringing Our Heavenly Bodies to the Wex this week. Since this work is new to Columbus, we asked Coupler's founder, Ryan Norris, to share how the soundtrack came together.
Coupler photo: Kara Smash
"I've been interested in doing soundtrack work for a very long time and have been circling the target for a while," Ryan explained. "I've loved movies since I was a boy. As a writer of instrumental music rather than a 'songwriter', I've always had in mind that I'd like to do music for films. [The commission for Our Heavenly Bodies] seemed like a good starting point for this kind of work. I'm a fan of functionalism in music, and of music that is situational, e.g. dance music and ambient music. Obviously soundtrack music fits into these categories as well. Additionally, I find the imagery in the film very beautiful and hoped for us to create something that would compliment it well. "
For the "circling," Ryan pointed to recent shorts by filmmakers set to Coupler's music, like this one by his friend Jonathan Rogers, inspired by Danish filmmaker Jørgen Leth's 1967 film The Perfect Human (also the inspiration for Lars von Trier's The Five Obstructions), and this one by filmmaker Geoffrey Sexton. He's also flirted with film composition through "a soundtrack for an app-based book project that never quite came to fruition, and a collaboration between archival avant-garde filmmaker Bill Morrison and the band Lambchop, for which I wrote the music," Ryan noted.
In creating the soundtrack, Ryan referenced far-flung influences including Fela Kuti, Cluster, Lee Perry, Kraftwerk and Ennio Morricone. Other callouts:
• Aphex Twin, Selected Ambient Works 85-92
• Brian Eno, Music for Films
• Brian Eno with Daniel Lanois & Roger Eno, Apollo: Atmospheres & Soundtracks
• Beethoven, "Moonlight Sonata"
• John Carpenter, Assault on Precinct 13 soundtrack
• Bernard Herrmann, Taxi Driver soundtrack
• Krzysztof Komeda's soundtrack work in the films of Roman Polanski
• Trevor Duncan, soundtrack for Chris Marker's La Jetée
"At its best, I think art points to other worlds, other possibilities," Ryan added. "With that in mind, I hope that our music for this film points not necessarily to the same world that the speculative science in the film points to, but another set of possible worlds. I think that with any work that speculates about the future, a certain amount of technophobia and existential dread are inevitable, and Our Heavenly Bodies has its share, though perhaps more from the perspective that technology can't necessarily save us. This is a very important topic for our times, in my view, and explains a lot about our political situation. An undercurrent of existential dread and technophobia has always played a part in Coupler's music (the first album is called, ambiguously, America in the Coming Age of Electronics) and I think the music here is no exception."