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The Cinematic Orchestra Returns to Russia

British sound accompanies Soviet cinematography.

Photo via @cinematic_orchestra

The Cinematic Orchestra, a British jazz and electronic group, composed the soundtrack album “Man With a Movie Camera” in 2003 in homage to the pioneering Soviet director Dziga Vertov. In addition to re-workings and thematic reprises of the band’s previous music, the album comprises a soundtrack for Vertov’s silent documentary film of the same name.

Released in 1929, “Man with a Movie Camera” depicts the mundane rhythms of life in three Soviet cities – Moscow, Kiev and Odessa – during the New Economic Policy (NEP), a state capitalist system proposed by Vladimir Lenin. But “Man with a Movie Camera” proved too complex to entertain audiences and too experimental to direct the path of the Soviet government. The NEP was abolished the same year the movie was released, and the new course adopted by the government rejected experimental cinema.

Watching the avant-garde movie for the first time with The Cinematic Orchestra soundtrack feels like you’re experiencing the original score: noisy drums and dusty scratches strengthen the sharp montage sequences, and infectious bass and a variety of strings add rhythm to the quiet moments.

The movie has a reputation among some of being an abnormal, meta-narrative example of objet d'art. Others revere it as a manual of cinematic techniques: juxtaposition, fast-cutting, multiple- and double-exposure are just a few of the innovations pioneered by Vertov and his brother, the cameraman Mikhail Kaufman. Cinematic vertigo is created by the director following his protagonist with his camera, watching him shooting. In this instance the music invigorates viewers, underscoring the film’s pulse as images flash past with dizzying speed. The album tracks divide the movie into complete segments – the musical storyline uncovering Vertov’s original plotline. 

The Cinematic Orchestra performs in Moscow on February 22 at Yotaspace, and in St. Petersburg on February 23 at A2.