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Thursday May 26th

Silent films make a comeback in 'Talking Music'

Silent films are back in vogue, and a German music ensemble is adding a new twist to them.

Today, the Ensemble Ascolta will play live accompaniments during screenings of silent films at the Varsity Theatre on Franklin Street.


Time: 7 p.m. today

Location: Varsity Theatre


The set of performances — “Silent Films with Original Live Music” — is part of the UNC music department’s series “Talking Music.”

Titus Engel, conductor of the Ensemble Ascolta, said experimental silent films were a popular art form in the 1920s.

“All of these films were artistic and had a very special way that they worked with the images,” Engel said.

Allen Anderson, a UNC music professor, wrote a score to be played alongside Hans Richter’s 1926 experimental short film, “Filmstudie.”

Anderson said he became involved in the project when UNC music professor Stefan Litwin, creator of the series, asked him to compose one of the scores.

Litwin said he created the series to better communicate the essence of contemporary music.

“There are many different styles at work these days, and listening is such a subjective activity,” Litwin said. “We talk about music and we also experience music as talking.”

Anderson said he watched “Filmstudie” numerous times and worked on his score until it fit perfectly.

“My challenge was the time constraint,” he said. “The film starts then stops and the music has to match that.”

Anderson said the contemporary music adds a new layer to the films.

“Music uses the element of memory and imagination,” Anderson said. “The music helps to influence the way the audience views the piece of art.”

“Silent Films with Original Live Music” will feature other films including Richter’s “Vormittagsspuk,” which translates to “Morning Spook.”

Litwin said the Ensemble Ascolta’s music interprets the films from today’s perspective.

“What’s unique to this project is that these old films have been set to music of today, so these are all contemporary composers,” he said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to hear what’s happening in new music at the moment.”

The Ensemble Ascolta is a contemporary group composed of seven members who play the trumpet, trombone, cello, guitar, piano and drums.

Cellist Erik Borgir said the group has focused on pursuing a modern sound.

“Almost every contemporary music ensemble has based their sound on piano, strings or woodwinds,” Borgir said.

“We wanted to get away from that sound. We have so much percussion and brass — we have a big band sound.”

Engel said he is looking forward to bringing the ensemble’s sound to UNC.

“The most exciting thing for me is that you have these two worlds coming together in this music,” Engel said.

“You have the film and the contemporary music. These live acts bring the life back to the films.”

Borgir said he wants the production to make audience members reflect on the music they hear.

“It’s kind of this element of not just having a great evening and going out for a drink afterward,” Borgir said.

“It’s about being challenged to understand things that aren’t self-evident. We’re trying to get people to stop their lives and go into a world that they aren’t familiar with.”

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