The popularity of live scoring silent movies waxes and wanes in Missoula, but I can think of no better way to bring the practice back than with a creepy old movie and Missoula’s resident electronica ambient weirdos, Modality.
The group is made up of Missoulians Jay Bruns and Ben Weiss, along with two other members who live outside of town. Bruns and Weiss are billing it as “Modality and friends,” as they’ve invited Naomi Siegel, John Sporman and Trey Jorgensen to their group for a live scoring of the 1922 Danish film “Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages.”
“The live score really helps immerse you in the movie,” Weiss said. “It helps make it more visceral, that there’s sound being performed in the room.”
“Häxan” is the best-known work from Danish director Benjamin Christensen, whose fascination with witchcraft was precipitated by the purchase of a 15th-century guide for inquisitors, the “Malleus Maleficarum” (as an aside, when the story behind your horror movie sounds like the plot for a horror movie itself, you’re already off to a strong start).
Christensen ended up making a half-documentary, half-narrative film inspired by the book, that detailed different scenes of torture, interrogation and devilish hauntings. The movie was initially banned in the U.S. for “graphic depictions of torture, nudity and sexual perversion.” Expect 2019 eyes to see those as a little more tame than in 1922, but contemporary reviews (the film is a longtime Criterion Collection favorite) speak well of it as a horror movie.
“It really is a genre-less movie, that paved the way for a lot of modern filmmaking,” Weiss said. “It’s not obscene, but it definitely is a little graphic, even for today.”
Modality are experienced as an experimental, improvised ambient/electronica group, while Sporman brings movie-scoring experience from a previous event at Wave & Circuit, where he and Ed Stalling soundtracked “Man With a Movie Camera.” Weiss said the score will be largely improvised, with some pre-practiced musical themes he’s written.
“We’ve actually performed a live score to ‘Häxan’ before, about six years ago,” Weiss said. “The style of play — improv without being jazz, electronica while still being musical — really lends itself to performing with other people.”
Sporman will play guitar and saw, Siegel will play trombone and electronics, Joregensen will play bass and Bruns and Weiss will add digital synthesizers and keyboards.