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Davis, California

Monday, February 26, 2024

A multimedia soundtrack with a few surprises

The UC Davis Multimedia Ensemble is not dishing up your everyday traditional orchestral performance. They are instead presenting a musical explosion, melding together sounds from horns, drums, bottles, water and even laptops.

Under the coaching of Sam Nichols, a lecturer in the department of music, this group of 12 students from the music and technocultural studies departments has been working to create a soundtrack for the 1934 silent film A Story of Floating Weeds by Yasujiro Ozu.

They will perform their soundtrack live along with a screening of the film today at 8 p.m. in the TCS Building/Art Annex. The performance is free of charge.

“It’s a really beautiful film. That makes it sound like it’s not a very fun movie but it’s a really beautiful film,Nichols said.There are a lot of really interesting contrasts in the moviedifferent scenes, different landscapes, different characters that all have very strong personalities. That lends itself to musical depiction.

Throughout the quarter, each student composed music for a segment of the film. Some students took what Nichols refers to as a more traditional approach by writing the notes down and creating a musical score. Others used improvisationalgamesto find a desired sound.

Ultimately, the students were given free reign in deciding the method they would use, including changing pieces or scrapping an idea all together.

“I incorporated a lot of the natural sounds happening; water rushing, wind howling, people scratching,senior ecology and evolution major Shannon Harney said in an e-mail.I also really wanted to capture the space of the film, which is this dark and dusty ’30s Japanese reality. Think lots of ambient sound and droning madness.

Nichols explained that a large part of the project was using found objects or instruments that the students already play. This philosophy brought recorders, toy instruments and even a microphone rigged to amplify the sound of water in a bucket.

“For example, the drummer doesn’t have a bass drum, he has a big ice bucket,Nichols said.He just found it in the corner of the room and has been using it as his bass drum for 10 weeks. It’s actually a cool sound.

This is an ensemble that really can’t be seen anywhere else, Nichols added.

“There’s an interesting mix of musical choices and a huge range in musical ability,junior political science major Sharmi Basu said in an e-mail.Some of the people involved are not even music majors and can barely tell the difference between a musical note and a Post-It noteme included.

The onstage visual might be a little confusing, but Harney describes the result as something the audience can immerse themselves in, capturing a unique piece of every ensemble member.

“The great thing about this collective is that it’s really not about pristine musicianship, it’s about sound,Harney said. “[It’s] about what 12 weirdos can make happen with a bunch of tuned bottles, a gong, some melodicas and a loop pedal. It’s profound really.


ELENA BUCKLEY can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.


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