May 4, 2007

Movies and Music Come Together

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Bands with real musical skill and talent are able to create a depth of emotion in their music while remaining true to their technical training. Two such bands from Austin, Texas, performed Saturday night at the combined Fanclub and Cornell Cinema event in Willard Straight cinema.
Tristero, a band formed of music majors from various colleges, including Cornell’s own Maurice Chammah ’10, kicked off the night with a short, but sweet set. For such a young band their songwriting ability was truly impressive. Tristero proved that they do more than just imitate their musical heroes as they have created an organic style of their own. Their set proved they are far from a high school garage band.
Highlights of their set included the opening track “Tender Buttons.” Starting off with simple guitar and vocals, the song progressed into a full Wilco-style power ballad, complete with thumping piano. Lead vocalist, Danny Cohen, crooned over simple chord progressions, making the complex of lyrics accessible. Chammah switched to guitar during the final bridge, playing an impressive solo in the vein of Jim James and proving music majors know how to rock out.
Another great moment was when Chammah and Cohen both sang on “History.” Layers of cabaret-like piano, pulsating percussion, and chorus-style vocals, created an edgy depth to the song. The band asked us to consider the “History of everything” from peach schnapps to war, from the alphabet to romance. On this track the band justified their original, meaningful lyrics, which could have seemed unsuitable in an inexperienced band, with their profound musical ability.
Playing a completely different style, veteran musicians Golden Arm Trio took the stage next to play a live soundtrack to an old Russian silent film The Battleship Potemkin. Battleship Potemkin is a dramatization of an uprising on a naval ship and the following civilian revolution in the port of Odessa. Front man Graham Reynolds and his accompaniment used their instruments to give depth and humanity to the film. While soundtracks are sometimes lost in dialogue and distracting visual stimuli, the live soundtrack was a centrepiece of this otherwise silent story. With a drum kit and a piano Reynolds bled life into the antique film.
In one poignant scene, the question “Brothers what are you shooting at?” scrolled across the scene as the leader of the revolution, Vakulinchik, challenges his fellow officers to stand against their superiours. Reynolds’ pulsating, military rhythm on the drum kit against the wildly hammering strings on cello and bass perfectly captured the tension between the battleship’s captain, Golikov, and Vakulinchik; a rhythmic representation of the order of control and the chaos of revolution.
The musicians continued to give voices to silent characters, moving with the emotional tension of the film. As the civilian revolution unfolded and the common sailors boarded their ships to support the battleship, flurried sax and throbbing bass accompanied the journey. As the civilian sailors neared the battleship, grandiose piano melody and hard bass pizzicato gave their little ships nobility. Finally, as the sailors boarded the battleship, the piano broke out into gentle melody complimenting the harmonious joining of civilian and revolutionary forces.
The most heart-rending scene in the movie was of a mother pushing her baby in a carriage pursued by a mob of Russian military men. As she fled from the steadily marching men, thumping bass reflected the precision and terror of the military. The cello interjected with a sorrowful melody representing the voice of a mother desperate to save her child. When she collapsed after being shot by the cruel soldiers, the cello joined the bass in its precision, representing the victory of the army of men over one, poor women. As the unattended baby carriage raced down a flight of stairs, the military strings march continued, embodying the disturbing accuracy of the killings at the hands of the counter-revolutionary forces.
The Golden Arm Trio was able to capture pure emotion in their performance. The air seemed to pulsate with life even after their set. Although a very different sort of music than Tristero, it was evident that there is a mentoring relationship between the two bands (Graham Reynolds is even quoted in a review of Tristero’s EP on their MySpace page). Separated by a generation, the two bands are joined by sharing a hometown and real musical ability. With two very different sounds, the bands proved that raw emotion can be crafted with musical precision and artistic integrity. Two generations reminded us that musicianship is still cool.