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CCA, Saturday 18 February 2012

Walter Ruttman’s silent 1920s documentary “Berlin – Symphony of a Great City” was originally accompanied by a full orchestral score by Edward Meisel, which has since been lost. What this Glasgow Film Festival showing had instead was an improvised soundtrack by Trio AAB.

Going into the hall, the decision I had to make was whether to choose a set fairly near the back to see the screen properly, or somewhere a bit nearer the front to see the musicians better. In the end I went for somewhere in-between. The trio lined up with saxophonist Phil Bancroft and guitarist Kevin Mackenzie on one side of the screen, and drummer (and bodhran player) Tom Bancroft on the other.

The film is an impressionistic portrayal of a single day in Berlin, starting before sunset and ending late at night. Some of the time the images on screen gave the musicians obvious prompts as to what to play: a rising sax figure accompanied the sunrise; there were train rhythms, as an engine steamed towards the city in the morning light; there were sudden thumps on the drums to accompany a boxing match; and when a hotel dance band was seen to start playing, Kevin Mackenzie started strumming along on guitar. Much of the time, though, it was a matter of the band being inspired by the visual rhythms of the film editing, rather than trying to directly represent what was going on on screen.

Overall this was an interesting and very enjoyable experience, although at times I found if I concentrated too much on the music I slightly lost touch with what was going on in the film, and vice-versa. I’d definitely go back to hear (or should that be see?) this combination again, though. The band said afterwards that they picked up on different visual rhythms in the film every time they played along to it, so that every performance was different.

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