Interview with Sepiachord

sepiachord

Today Sepiachord posted an interview with Life Toward Twilight in relation to the “Edison’s Frankenstein” album. Read it here.

Life Toward Twilight is a project by Detroit musician Daniel Tuttle. Recently we were lucky enough to experience the music he’s recorded for Thomas Edison’s film of “Frankenstein”. In our continuing look at contemporary composers who work with silent film we were thrilled to ask Daniel a few questions…

Life Toward Twilight Interview

Sepiachord: How did you first discover Thomas Edison’s 1910 version of
“Frankenstein”?

Life Toward Twilight: The answer to this makes me laugh, but honestly, I
first heard of “Edison’s Frankenstein” via a line of action figures titled,
“Silent Screamers”. This was probably in 2001 or 2002, and I found them
sitting in a discount bin at Toys R Us. The “Silent Screamers” were a series
of action figures devoted to silent horror films that included “Nosferatu”,
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, and others. I saw one for “Edison’s
Frankenstein”, which was the only film represented I was not familiar with.
I did not buy any of the figures at the time, but I now own a few of them.

I think the little film is amazing, considering it is 100 years old and has
these great but strange special effects in it, but truthfully the history
behind the film is even more fascinating to me. It was considered lost for
fifty years or so. Some people had discovered a flyer for the film showing a
photo of the monster, so they put out a call among collectors to see if
anyone still owned a copy of the film. For some time, no one showed up with
anything. In the 1970’s, a private collector turned up with a copy.
Apparently this collector was a little peculiar, and did not want anyone to
archive it, or even watch it. Eventually he changed his mind and did a few
screenings.

I’m not completely sure where the copy I used came from originally, but I
found it on Archive.org. Digging around deeper, I
found a much higher resolution copy of the same transfer, and used that for
the DVD.

SC: Have you been interested in “silent” film for long? What sparked your
interest?

LTT: I have been interested in silent film for a long time. So long, I can’t
recall when I was first introduced to it. I was involved in an industrial
band in the mid-90’s that was very reminescient of Skinny Puppy. When we
performed live we would use a backing video when possible. We used various
silent films, as well as other unusual works, like Jan Svankmajer films as
an example.

I’m not entirely into silent films, per se. I certainly enjoy all sorts of
old film, from the Lumière films, Buster Keaton, and so on. What I am really
into is the German Expressionist movement, particularly works by directors
like Lang and Murnau. I am obsessed with the unrealistic and exagerated set
designs, the use of shadows, the social commentary and the sense of
philosophical introspection found in them. These films have been a huge
influence on many of my previous recordings. Like many people, my
introduction to this movement was through popular films like “Metropolis”
and “Nosferatu”. One of my favorites is Murnau’s “Faust”, and I often use it
as a background video for live performances. The imagery is majestic and
epic, and I find that extremely beautiful.

SC: What about “Frankenstein” made you want to compose a new soundtrack
for it? Is this your first soundtrack?

LTT: It is the first real soundtrack I have done for film. I have done
soundtracks to go with stories and writings, and will probably do more of
that in the future. I love the idea of writing music to go with stories. I
love movies, though. I did this mostly as a fun project, a bit of a tribute
to the old style of film making. The original soundtrack on the print of the
film I have is extremely goofy, and I felt the film has dark and
introspective qualities present that my music could translate well.

SC: When did you start the project? How long did it take you to complete?

LTT: I started the composition in early 2005, and finished it recently, just
before releasing it. I worked on it hard for a little while, then stopped. I
actually had forgotten about the project. I was digging through old data
backups and found the material, loved what I heard, and felt driven to
finish it, which I did in a few weeks. I wrote most of the music in 2005,
and produced most of the ambience and effects in 2005.

SC: Did you investigate previous attempts at a soundtrack for this film or
did you do research on silent movie music in general? Did you adapt any of
your previous material for this project?

LTT: I did a lot of research on modern soundtracks for old films. Needless
to say, there are a lot of notable examples. A few years back, in 2001 or
2002, I watched a couple of local artists do a live ambient score for the
1920 film, “Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam”. I believe the artists were
called 4FR and Medusa Psyclone. I thought this was amazing, and wanted to do
something similar. This was not the first time I had thought of doing this,
but Life Toward Twilight was still very young at the time, and I did not
feel my style was mature enough to take on such an ambitious task.

As I said, I spent a lot of time exploring these modern scores. I love the
Philip Glass score for “Dracula”. In The Nursery’s “Dr. Caligari” is
amazing, too. There are a lot of notable modern silent film scores, it would
take a while to list all of my favorites. I did not want to copy anyone
else’s style, so I did want to explore what other people were doing. I
didn’t spend too much time researching the original scores because I simply
do not write music in the styles commonly used at the time.

I did not recycle much material from previous releases for this, but I did
use a few instrument banks from my mini-album titled, “Blood”. As a result,
some of the ambience sounds very similar. “Blood” was about recreating the
mood and tension from horror films, so it seemed natural to want to use the
same sort of ambience to reflect the monster in this film. One track in
particular, “Bridal Night”, used a percussive section from an outtake track
from “Blood”. The track would probably have never been published otherwise,
and the aggressiveness of it worked well in the violent scenes.

SC: What’s your favorite track on the recording?

LTT: The track for the scene titled “Appalled at the Sight of His Creation”
is probably my favorite. When I rediscovered the music on the data archives,
this was the piece that prompted me to finish the work. I was shooting for a
similar mood to Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring”. Obviously it is no where
near that level of complexity, but it does remind me of the waking movements
in that work. I wanted to create this sad, solumn sound that more reflected
this new, young creature’s fears and confusion. I love how it turned out.

SC: Did you learn anything in the creation process?

LTT: Most of what I learned was technical. I learned a lot about editing
video and syncronizing music with it. I didn’t explore too many new ideas
musically here, it was more of a fun project. I did also learn quite a bit
about early films, and the culture surrounding them. Film was viewed very
differently then than it is now.

SC: You’ve packaged this as a CD and DVD combo. Do you think the music
stands on it’s own without the visuals?

LTT: I do think it stands on its own, though a number of the individual
pieces are much, much shorter than what I normally produce. Because it was
mostly written in 2005, the material is slightly dated to me, and does not
reflect the current or future direction of Life Toward Twilight. As a
result, the album will not be as widely released as some of my other recent
albums. I gave thought to expanding some of the pieces into longer, more
cohesive works, but decided against it. By issuing a seperate audio disc, I
was also able to include some of the works I composed to use in the
soundtrack, but ultimate decided not to use. I think they work well by
themselves, and it seemed they should be included on the CD.

SC: Do you have any desire to compose another silent film score? What
about a contemporary film?

LTT: I will almost certainly score at least one more silent film. I have a
couple films in mind that I particularly love. The “Frankenstein” film is
very short, so required quick changes, and short pieces. I really want to do
a much longer film, so I can work with much slower, evolving musical pieces.
I felt a need to rush through changes on Frankenstein, because the film was
only twelve minutes long, with scenes that only lasted between one and two
minutes each. I’m pleased with how it turned out, but I would love to be
able to evolve the sound in a slower manner.

I write music that does not adapt to a live setting well. Basically, I’m a
guy with a laptop and midi controller creating and mixing sounds on the fly.
This works fine in some of the local Detroit venues, where I do sets next to
breakcore and noise artists, but is not very interesting outside of those
environments. Even then, I make largely ambient music, which isn’t engaging
in any direct manner. In order to make my live appearances interesting, I
need to orchestrate a solid presentation. Backing video in general has
always been a major tool for me, but I really want to do more with that idea
and provide some real context for my music. My plan is to build a solid set
of instrument banks, and start performing live soundtracks to these films in
a public setting. I will probably bill it as a screening of whatever
particular film with a live scoring by Life Toward Twilight.

As far as contemporary film goes, I would love to work with independent film
makers if the opportunity presents itself.

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