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It is rare to find a gig where so many levels of artistic expression are touched, and with such intelligence. Thus full marks to the Cinematic Orchestra and their Shepherds Bush Empire gig in London; full marks to the visionary choice of tantalizing their audience with scores not only directly inspired by the movie image, but in actual fact blurred within it.

The orchestra plays a live soundtrack to the 1929 Dziga Vertov silent movie masterpiece ‘Man With A Movie Camera,’ which suggested the title for their latest release by Ninja Tune. However, the traditional layout of the ensemble standing half-hidden in front of the film-screen is reverted to a much more intriguing format.

A transparent, opalescent screen separates the stage area from the audience, shadowing the ensemble and silhouetting the musicians against a sapient lighting of red, orange and blue. The movie is projected on screen, with its enticing images of Soviet era day-to-day documented life, empowered by the heavily experimental shooting techniques and editing that characterized the long gone era of Eisenstein. As such, the music is inspired to freely unravel while following the hectic images, the musicians’ shadows overlapping with the film: a ‘theater within a theater’ effect, reality blurred into musical and cinematic vision.

The ensemble is as usual exceptionally cohesive: the unrestrained freestylin’ drumming is paired with the piano/synts’s lyrical, touching chords, multiplied within ‘in-crescendo’ frames of usually plain 6/8 and 8/8 a quite tight and unimaginative structure if it wasn’t for the agile improvisational patterns Cinematic are able to play with, the talent of deconstructing and dividing within the given rhythmical structure. Chords and pulse fish into 60s and 70s stylish-retro tradition of a cinematic and minimalistic background.

Most of the rhythmical quotations are from the free-jazz/fusion domain. Syncopated and broken tempi overlap with tantalizing sampling (the two DJs hypnotically moving back and forth with the double beats, engaged in the voodoo rite of synthetic sounds.) Still, the binary beats of sampling are multiplied into bursts of free drumming patterns by a very skilful Luke Flowers, whose always-searching drumming is perhaps the most distinctive signature of Cinematic Orchestra, together with the mesmerizing yet darkly somber brass lines.

As for the structure of the pieces, a delicate opening of velvety drumming, wooden carpets by the string quartet and atmospheric sampling is almost always followed by a powerfully built 70s funk/fusion development, with muscular sax playing and multilayered sampling/heavy scratching.

Piano solos accompanied by a waterfall of sampling (sublimely refined as some form of synthetic nature-sounds) and looped/sampled soprano sax go together with the most delicate image insertions. Cinematic acute harmonic curiosity, rhythmical hunger and sophisticated synthetic timbres (the cascade of sampling is simply inebriating) are a tremendous poetical approach to the movie image, leaving the audience breathless.

Interestingly enough, the sampler is of course given the status of an instrument when asked to produce its solo: after sax, piano, drums, percussions and electric bass, turntablists dive into the arena as the new jazzmen, signifying screen images of moving machines with their broken beats, synthetic syncopations and timbric evolutions.

The screen falls unexpectedly at the end of the concert, revealing the ensemble in full sight and breaking the amniotic ambiance.
Needless to say: after the concert it is impossible to find any Cinematic Orchestra record in town all gone, sold out. The dream continues

Band line-up: J.Swinscoe - Band leader, samples & effects; P.J.France - Double Bass/arrangements ; Luke Flowers Drums; Steve Brown Keyboards; Patrick Carpenter Turntables; Tom Chant - Saxophones; Milo Fell Percussionist. String section: violin 1- Johte Oshan; violin 2 - Antonia Pagulatos; viola - Stella Page; Cello - Wayne Urcqhart.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Cinematic Orchestra
  • Concert Date: 11/6/2003
  • Subtitle: Music Blurred into Movie Vision
  • Venue: Shepherds Bush Empire
  • City State Country: London, UK
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