This modern take on the 'city symphony' is a striking portrait of Brighton in all its campaigning and bohemian glory set to a sumptuous orchestral score. Bohemian and activist pasts and presents cross-fade; the everyday and the carnivalesque are thrown into relief by the textures, rhythms and tones of music and montage. A commission for Brighton Festival, 2016.
11 May 2016 (World premiere with live orchestra)
7 October 2012 (with live ensemble)
November 2017 Visible Evidence, Buenos Aires, August 2017
The original inspiration for the film was the city symphony films of the silent cinema, in particular Berlin: Symphony of Great City (Walter Ruttmann, 1927). Its brilliant montage powerfully evokes the social contrasts and life of the city across the course of a day starting with the famous dynamic shots of the train speeding through the countryside along the railway into Berlin. One of the... Read More
Brighton: Symphony of a City was conceived in collaboration with the film maker Lizzie Thynne. There are two results of this work: a 46 minute silent film, and a 46 minute full orchestral score. In combination the two pieces of work aim at producing a third and powerful effect. The contrasting tempos, themes, patterns and textures of the film and music deliberately map on to one another. How... Read More
"A beautifully shot film... little snippets of everyday life are superbly captured, well thought out and witty" The Argus "Hughes's gently pulsating cross-rhythms combined with long-breathed dynamic ebbs and flows... wonderfully capture not only the broad sweep of the city itself but as with Vigo's A Propos de Nice the alluring expanse of the sea beyond its shore" (Mervyn Cooke)
In Tune Radio 3 9/May/2016
The original inspiration for the film was the city symphony films of the silent cinema, in particular Berlin: Symphony of Great City (Walter Ruttmann, 1927).
Its brilliant montage powerfully evokes the social contrasts and life of the city across the course of a day starting with the famous dynamic shots of the train speeding through the countryside along the railway into Berlin. One of the things which appealed to me about the film was the rhythmic and associative editing. We see much less of that in contemporary documentary and it so lends itself to musical interpretation.
Likewise the use of graphic montage by Ruttmann prompted our own attempt to link activities and moments across the city and allow unexpected associations to arise, reinforced or sometimes presented in a new light through the musical juxtaposition. In drawing on some of Ruttmans methods we also wanted to comment on them. So, for example in his film, animal connotations are used to imply that the lifestyle of the greatly expanded cities of his time can turn their residents into beasts � so a street fight between men is intercut with fighting monkeys. In our film, by contrast, the perfect motion of the sharks in water is counterpointed by the surfer struggling on the rough surface of the sea. Its a challenge to decide what to film to represent a whole city � especially in a relatively short space of time in winter. Shooting without sound also meant we had to find activities which might visually reveal the life and identities of the city and musically suggestive for Ed Hughes, the composer. Public parades and marches are a feature of most cities but there are great deal of them in Brighton reflecting maybe both the desire for community there as well as its progressive past and present. Ed responded to my sequence on the Pride parade by producing music which, strikingly different from the pop we might usually hear at Pride, confers an aura of stateliness to the procession of drag queens and others in fantastic costumes.
The dawn to dusk structure, mimicked from Ruttmann gave us a useful frame work to decide on the tempo and tone of the various movements and also what kinds of things to film people doing. We also we knew we wanted to get activities that would mimic the ones we see in Berlin � i.e. people travelling to and around town working, playing, socializing, picking each other up - not only to imitate but highlight the differences between then and now, Berlin in the 1920s and Brighton in the 21st century. We pondered what the identities of the city are and asked people what they would include themselves in a portrait of it. Quite a few said: Seagulls.
Ruttmanns film has fascinating value as a record of old Berlin � not only the physical old Berlin that was bombed during the war, but the old Berlin of the liberal Weimar Republic soon to be lost in the repressions of the Nazi regime. While his film focuses on the present, we wanted to include some of the fascinating archive of forgotten Brighton from Screen Archive South East (University of Brighton) and find a way of integrating this into the day in a life structure. I did this through using a series of screens as a means of transition, such as the steam train that appears on the plasma screen commuters are pointing at at the station. I realized too our film might also become a record of a moment in the towns history. Some of the places we feature will soon themselves no longer exist � such as New England House, a brutalist but interesting relic of the 1960s and hive of small businesses from yogurt-making to carpentry. Also the Wheel, by the pier. Id never ridden on the Wheel before. Filming on and around it made me realize how beautifully engineered it is and how sad that it will be lost to the changing whims of planning. Rather like the lovely deco pool at Black Rock which we glimpse in remarkable colour footage from 1968 - soon to be replaced by the unsightly concrete of the Marina where the well-to-do can keep their boats. Joris Ivens wrote that in documentary there is a clash between material and concept that occurs during the first day of filming � what you do with this clash is critical. In responding both to Ed's evolving music and to the people and places we encountered the film inevitably took us on a different journey from our original city symphony. It is the serendipitous moments such as the young man dancing bare-chested in his record shop at the end of the day or the woman doing an impromptu turn with her office dog that which provided small gems to evoke the extraordinary in the everyday. My associate producer, Catalina Z. Balan who shot much of the film with me has a remarkable eye for evocative and telling detail � such as the fish staring back at us through a magnifying glass in the Sea Life Centre and the rain on the cobbles of the North Laine. Not having to create a conventional storyline allowed us a freedom to use these moments to maximum effect. We also asked colleagues and students to contribute footage and this gave us some more rich material � such as the wonderful baker by John Hondros - to weave in.
I first worked with Ed over ten years ago on my film about the surrealist photographer, Claude Cahun Playing A Part for which he wrote some of the music. More recently we collaborated on an experimental sound piece drawing Voices in Movement on interviews from Sisterhood and After: The Womens Liberation Oral History Project for which I was video director.
Ed's sensitivity to the detail of movement and texture within and across shots helps us to see the familiar and unfamiliar sights, people and places of the city with a fresh eye. Layers of instrumentation bring intriguing and unexpected meanings and moods to the images � not least at the first live performance which I await with great anticipation � an exhilarating prospect for someone like me who is used to working mainly with recorded media.
Brighton: Symphony of a City was conceived in collaboration with the film maker Lizzie Thynne. There are two results of this work: a 46 minute silent film, and a 46 minute full orchestral score. In combination the two pieces of work aim at producing a third and powerful effect. The contrasting tempos, themes, patterns and textures of the film and music deliberately map on to one another. However mickey-mousing is deliberately avoided. As such, the piece is in a line of work which explores the rich artistic practice implied in a field that explores an equal connection between moving images and music, recalling some of the most aspirational artist-led work of the pre-sound cinema decades.
Indeed, this project was inspired by the city symphony films of the 1920s and 1930s. Through a silent film with live music the aim was to produce a visual and musical portrait of the city of Brighton. It was commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Brighton Festival and premiered in the Brighton Dome with the Orchestra of Sound and Light, conducted by the composer, on 11 May 2016. The film creates a dynamic portrait of Brighton today, and in its dawn to dusk and then night approach consciously references Walter Ruttmann's great rhythmic and poetic film Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927). The music conveys colour and contrasts, echoing those of the modern urban environment, but constantly aware of seascape. In my work, I aim at cross rhythms which gently pulsate like natural phenomena such as sea and light; but I also mix in themes and rhythms of greater urgency, recalling the urban colour and dramatic contrasts of Brighton as a city. Previous projects of mine have included a new score to Regen (Rain, 1929) by Joris Ivens, also a silent city film which depicted Amsterdam in a shower of rain. Some of these natural phenomena and urgent city rhythms are echoed in this new work, also combining the moving image and music, but on a much larger scale, both in terms of duration and instrumental forces.
Unlike Ruttmann's Berlin film, Thynne also draws on archival silent moving images from Screen Archive South East, creating unexpected, informative and poignant juxtapositions. In my initial working notes on the archive material, I found I wrote 'I love the dancing lady' - a reference to a shot from the first extended piece of archive to be used in Lizzie's film, from the 1950s, on the beach, during the Neptune sequence. There is a delightful and rhapsodic innocence here as well as always a sense of fun and slight naughtiness which seems to be just as true of Brighton life today. Watching this lady's silent dancing (because the archive films are mostly silent cine by amateur home movie makers) set off lilting rhythms in my own mind, and this in turn formed the basic material of this movement overall. This recalls the composer Hanns Eisler's idea about film music - how it can be initially anchored in something definite, and then continue (within reason) to create a musical line of its own - thus producing a kind of choreographic relationship between moving image and music that is more like dance, perhaps, than normal film music effects.
For me as an artist/composer, collisions between past and present are very fruitful and exciting. I like the way histories of music can sometimes erupt in very contemporary soundworlds. The opportunity to work on this score has led to stimulating discussions about the relationship between the archive and contemporary framing of such material. Similarly, we've used the wonderful, shimmering and opulent palette of the traditional orchestra, but also added in some contemporary colours in the form of modern percussion, some electric instruments, as well as instruments with a contemporary feel, such as saxophone and bass clarinet.
I love the scenes in the allotments, the pick up scene, and the skate boarding scene. These are moments in which one feels re-sensitised to the grace and beauty of human movement and interaction through Lizzie Thynne's purely visual language. Music's role here is to provide elision and connection so that the beauty of these movements can be understood as a kind of choreography, but one drawn very remarkably from real life.
I personally enjoy the fact that towards the close of the film the images employ montage and the music and picture seem to fuse into a state of symphony as their separate languages merge. To me there is a kind of compositional virtuosity at work here in the eliding of the visuals and music, thanks to the skillful filmic conception and cutting. In this project there's a real sense of the urban and naturalistic rhythms and patterns of the two media being intertwined and richly informed by one another.