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Berlin Symphony of a Great City
Berlin Symphony of a Great City, Akt I (2009)
for string quartet to accompany a silent film
duration: 15 minutes
But we can also appreciate the film’s artistic achievements, its vitality and visual virtuosity. It is an extraordinarily beautiful and carefully organized film. For example, in the opening moments, animated shapes – circles, triangles and line – dance and crisscross and finally fuse to become the rushing train. If you carefully watch the muscular and kinetic representations of trains and factory machinery that follow, you’ll see the interplay of these three shapes throughout the Akt, expressed through the shapes of the city itself.
But there is a danger here, a criticism that has been leveled at the film since its premiere. In presenting the city through the play of formal elements, the film detracts from and obscures the humanity of its residents. The film is an artifact of the artistic movement called New Objectivity, which rejected the sentimentality of late Romanticism and the emotional agitation of expressionism. But while it’s one thing to treat modern technology and the urban landscape as ‘raw’ materials, it’s quite another to compare through juxtaposition the linear qualities of workers’ legs with those of cattle. In hindsight, this concern is warranted all the more by the rise of National Socialism just four years later, and its use of similar formal cinematic techniques in propaganda films like Olympia.
My goal in composing a new soundtrack was to take these contradictions into account – to supply through the music a human scale and perspective – while still being true to the film’s drama and excitement.
July 22, 2009