This May Early Monthly Segments, a regular series screening avant-garde and experimental cinema at Queen Street’s Gladstone Hotel, screened Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein’s silent classic Strike (1924). Accompanying the film was a live score performed by Canadian composer, musician and York University alumni Allison Cameron. Cameron is perhaps best known as a composer of chamber music, her compositions have been played at festivals and performances all over North America and Europe, but this evening she was in experimental musician mode.
She used a range of different instruments and sound making machines – guitar, thumb piano, effects pedal, record player, wireless radio – to create a sparse and abstract soundscape where isolated notes pierced unevenly textured sheets of radio static and a broken record skipped relentlessly, its pops and crackles repeating in a rhythmical pattern partially masking the original orchestral content. This foreboding mechanical monotony which drove the piece forward was interestingly accentuated by something beyond Cameron’s control – the basso continuo for the entire work came from the film projector – its continuous whir, a light flitting drone, underscored the haunted feeling Cameron’s music evoked.
Cameron resisted the temptation, evident in so much mainstream cinema, to mirror the film’s images in sound. Her music did not function, in film sound theorist’s Michel Chion’s term, empathetically. It didn’t take on the scene’s rhythm or express its emotional content. There were accidental points of convergence where sound met vision; moments where that heard could conceivably have been the sound of events seen, for the most part though Cameron’s insistent music proceeded, like the broken record and vintage projector – ineluctably, undaunted and almost oblivious to the film’s unfolding narrative. There’s a dramatic scene early on in the picture: a factory machinist is wrongly accused of stealing a company micrometre. The cost of replacing the lost tool, which management demand, stands to financially ruin him. His shame in unfairly shouldering this accusation and his frustration and anger at not being believed were almost unbearably intense emotions to witness. This unusually ferocious intensity was, I would argue, the result of Cameron’s skillful positioning of the scene against a backdrop of profound sonic indifference. This is for me where the power of her score lay – it made you feel more strongly. – Thomas Barker