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 movie – different 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 improvisational “games” to 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 note – me 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 email@example.com.