Imperfect Cinema Orchestra will be performing a live soundtrack to Tamar, a 30 minute film commissioned by the River Tamar Project, at Plymouth Arts Centre on Sunday 22nd February. Ieuan Jones spoke to Imperfect Orchestra ahead of the event.
“The Orchestra is a motley crew of musicians from all sorts of backgrounds and we hope this is reflected in the music.” Tom Richardson, co-originator of the Imperfect Cinema Orchestra, is explaining a little about the orchestra’s makeup and philosophy ahead of Tamar, their latest performance piece. Originally commissioned as part of last year’s ‘All About the River’ festival, Tamar is a live soundtrack – very much á la mode right now – resurrected once again for a performance at Plymouth Arts Centre this weekend.
“We wanted to portray the landscape and history of the river, looking at the rural, unspoilt areas to the north around the Tamar Lakes, through the industrialised regions from Calstock with its mining history, to the dockyard and warships, and finally to the Sound and out to sea”. Using a mixture of traditional and contemporary instruments such as cello, harmonium, guitars and various percussion (including tools, stone and wood), the idea is to reflect some of river’s history as well as the people who have shaped it.
One such historical figure would be Claude Endicott, a butcher and amateur filmmaker from Plymouth, whose footage (taken between the 1920s and 1960s) provides an integral part of the backdrop to the orchestra’s scoring. Endicott’s footage is fascinating – it is thought to be a unique document of Plymouth around this time – and has been spliced with additional film taken for the project to provide a striking comparison between then and now.
Influenced foremost by classical harpsichord arrangements, Tamar takes in an impressive span of genres including traditional folk and modern instrumental post-rock. The key to this bold clash of styles perhaps lies in the “imperfect” part of the orchestra’s name, since it was originally an offshoot of local community film project ‘Imperfect Cinema’.
Allister Gall, co-founder of ‘Imperfect Cinema’, sees works such as Tamar as a means of using film as part of a live, collaborative, social experience. “We wanted to encourage participation and cinematic play,” he explains. “I’ve been interested in developing live screen/sound projects for a while”, and wanted to position such performances “somewhere between film, music and DIY collective culture.”
‘Imperfect Cinema’ as a project is utterly unafraid to wear its sometimes esoteric influences on its sleeve – whether these are the Soviet Montage Film Movement, popular cinema, or the avant-garde films of Mekas and Menken. It also displays a commitment to the aesthetics of DIY punk, which some may see as antithetical to the source material, although in Allister’s view Endicott’s footage fits well within these ideas. “Rather than seeing Endicott as an amateur, we saw him as a Plymouth artist who historically documented the area. We wanted to recontextualise his work into a contemporary context, using some of the Imperfect Cinema principles: play, participation and the exploration of place – as well as our connection with DIY music.”
Tom has made sure these ideas carried through during the orchestra’s composition, through organic improvisation and being open and receptive to each other’s ideas. “The final score is a collaborative outcome, not only amongst the players but also between us, the filmmakers and the film itself.” Parts of the piece “are still performed very ‘live’, responding to certain images as they appear, which is something that will make each performance unique.” It certainly makes for an arresting experience which is well worth a look, for the captivating footage as well as the score accompanying it.
And as for any future projects? Allister has one or two ideas: “Watch out in 2016 for my feature length sci-fi comedy-tragedy B-Movie, scored live by the Imperfect Cinema Orchestra…”