'Metropolis' comes to life

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The art (and science) of film music is being celebrated at Luther College in various ways these days. In January, as part of a Paideia 450 course co-taught with Wanda Deifelt, we analyzed Toru Takemitsu’s score to the classic Japanese horror film, "Kwaidan." I recently worked with Andy Hageman and one of his students, Liam Fraser, to create an audio/video homage to "Twin Peaks." Later this semester, students in Thomas Johnson’s film course will collaborate with several composition students on original short films. And on April 30, the composition studio will cooperatively compose an all-electronic score to the classic silent film, "Metropolis."

This will be the third time that we have embarked on a project like this. Eight years ago, eleven students composed an original score for "Nosferatu," which we performed with live instrumentalists using a click track. A video of that film, synced with the original student soundtrack, is here. And four years ago, we composed an all-electronic score to "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," which you can watch here. This time around, we will use a similar process: first, we watch the film as a class, making observations and constructing a chart that breaks down the film into its component scenes and segments. We then decide on which elements of the film are worthy of musical motivic treatment—that is, which characters, actions, settings or moods recur throughout the film that we want to mark with musical gestures. So, when we see a particular character appear in several scenes, we hear a musical sound that we begin to associate with that character. We thus compile a set of musical materials that we can all draw from—a shared palette of musical motives. We then divide the film into segments, and each student is responsible for one.

The last step is to stitch each segment back together, and hope that a sense of continuity flows from one student’s work to another. Although the process may seem like it would result in a kind of musical hodgepodge, our experience with both "Nosferatu" and "Caligari" was quite the opposite; individual creative voices were certainly present in the final product, but the film score possessed a kind of organic unity, primarily due to the use of musical motifs. You are invited to attend the world premiere of "Metropolis" on April 30 at 9 p.m. in the recital hall of the CFL.

Brooke Joyce

Brooke Joyce

Brooke Joyce is associate professor of music and composer-in-residence at Luther College. Joyce's music has been described as "vividly pictorial" by the San Francisco Chronicle and "exceptionally gripping" by the Los Angeles Times. His works have been performed by soloists and ensembles around the world, including the Indianapolis Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the St. Petersburg Chamber Philharmonic, the Brentano Quartet and tenor James Gilchrist.

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Metropolis

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