WNUR, Block Cinema team up for experimental music, film showcase

Sophie Mann, Reporter


At an upcoming performance of “Sonic Celluloid,” an audience will watch silent films while live musicians soundtrack them, experimenting with manipulations of the sounds of saxophones and other instruments.

The project, which takes place Friday, is a collaboration between WNUR, Northwestern’s student-run radio station, and Block Cinema. It strives to showcase experimental music against the backdrop of silent films, said Bienen junior Wesley Levers, one of the musicians in the production.

The name of the event reconciles the two parts of production — film and music — as celluloid is the material with which film strips are made and sonic refers to sounds, said Weinberg junior Evan Lee, a co-producer of WNUR’s rock show. He added that “Sonic Celluloid” has become a tradition after over a decade of the annual production, which strives to bring a different form of music to students at NU.

“The focus on experimental music is just a continuation of the mission of the station at large, especially the rock show,” Lee said. “In 2016, you have to ask what the point of radio is when you have Spotify and all this stuff, so we try to focus on playing this music you may not really hear listening to the radio.”

Similarly, Levers said this is one of the few times Bienen students and other students are able to explore this type of music.

Along with his long-time musical partner, Weinberg junior Ajay Nadig, Levers will be improvising, using computer processing to manipulate Nadig’s saxophone as a film plays in the background, he said. The pairing with film makes experimental music more accessible for people who do not often listen to it, Levers said.

Art theory and practice Prof. Walter Kitundu, a former artist-in-residence at the Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, said he was excited to get involved with the event because it’s a natural extension of his work.

“I’m interested in the mind’s expansive ability to make connections and discern patterns,” he said. “With live film scoring there is usually a wonderful mix of intention and happy accident that create a singular experience of a film for the viewers.”

In the past, Kitundu has scored theater and dance works, as well as improvised scores to films in conjunction with Experimental Sound Studio, a Chicago-based organization that focuses on allowing artists to explore sound in different ways, he said.

In addition to artists from NU, WNUR is bringing in outside groups, such as Zs, an experimental music group based in New York. WNUR’s production and technical director Brock Stuessi, a Bienen sophomore, said Zs is one of his favorite experimental artists, and “Sonic Celluloid” is one of the few opportunities to bring artists like this to campus.

Stuessi said he joined WNUR his freshman year to meet like-minded music listening people on campus. He described the project as something special for him and music majors in general who may not get the exposure they desire to experimental music in their regular curriculum.

“While Bienen does bring in a lot of musicians, it’s not experimental, and it’s not (always musicians) I look up to,” Stuessi said. “This gives us the opportunity to bring in someone who influences my musical life.”

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