Alloy Orchestra, “New Music for Silent Films”

Artist: Alloy Orchestra
Title: New Music for Silent Films
Release Date: 1994

Alloy Orchestra, New Music for Silent Films, released 1994 by Accurate Records

1) Metropolis
2) Garden of Earthly Delights
3) The Clock
4) Maria’s Theme
5) Escape from the Underground City

6) Aelita
7) Life on Mars

8) The Blue Room
9) Theme from Sylvester
10) Cabaret Medley

11) The Wind

12) Burundi
13) False Alarm
14) Zone of Silence
15) Ophelia
16) Deep Water
17) Baptism of Fire

The Alloy Orchestra is an amplified three-man group that performs, as the title of this CD claims, new music for silent films; the lineup is one keyboard player and two percussionists playing racks of found instruments, with occasional guests. They particularly excel at creating ominous, threatening ambient music, with a strong sense of physical impulse[1].

Of the films on this album I’ve only seen them perform Metropolis. Made in 1927, it exists in many different versions due to the vagaries of film preservation. The Alloy Orchestra was founded specifically to create new music for an 80-minute version cobbled together by Giorgio Moroder in 1984; Moroder’s soundtrack was a bit…idiosyncratic, made up of ’80s rock and pop songs.

You can read about the movie yourself, but one of the most striking things about it is the huge sense of scale it conveys, depicting towering cities and massive caverns in the futuristic society of 2006. The AO’s score does an excellent job of matching that epic feel, particularly live; they’re very loud, and the sound they create is immersive.

One of the problems of film music is that…well, it’s written to accompany film, and tends to feel lacking if heard without. Such music is intended to set a mood, to highlight and complement rather than to draw attention to itself by going off and developing on its own, exploring its own ideas.

As regards the pieces for Metropolis, the title track and “The Clock” are good enough to stand on their own; the rest are enjoyable, but I find them compelling mostly because they remind me of the film. However, even though I lack the original context in which the other songs are meant to be performed, I find them fun to listen to, mostly for their sense of drive, amazing and inventive percussion, and ability to create a mood. But they’re not terribly satisfying; nor are they meant to be.

(1) The Alloy Orchestra is one of the main inspirations for my own piece Lightning Fields.