THREE HANS RICHTER FILMS SCORED BY MARIJUANA DEATHSQUADS
Led by Ryan Olson (Poliça, Gayngs) and featuring musicians Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), Isaac Gale, Benson Ramsey (The Pines), and Channy Leaneagh (Poliça), the Minneapolis-based supergroup performed its new commissions live to three Richter films, as well as others from the Walker's Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection, as part of the Sound for Silents program, held each summer on the Walker hillside. With the center closed during the coronavirus pandemic, we share for the first time three films by Richter and their live scores below—best experienced full-screen with the volume turned up—as a reminder of time spent together experiencing art, then and to come.
Upon receiving the Walker commission, bandleader Olson viewed films in the Walker collection, ultimately landing on avant-garde films from the 1920s. Richter and others created some of the first abstract films in cinema history, playing with non-narrative structures, breaking the rules of cinema and art, railing against the status quo. These film pioneers were risk-takers—and often controversial. Olson explains, “The goal was to create improvised music to the films that wasn’t ambling and that can be a pop song if it wants to be—a form of controlled improv.” Olson used sets of gestures, signs, and codes to lead the band in their live recording. Through a central computer system, he controlled the sound in order to “stay on track, take a right turn when needed, or stop on a dime.”
BY HANS RICHTER (1921)
SCORE BY MARIJUANA DEATHSQUADS (2018)
Rhythmus 21 by Hans Richter (1921), 2:28, with score by Marijuana Deathsquads
Richter was concerned with portraying the rhythm inherent to music on the screen by animating geometric shapes. For this reason, his Rhythmus contributions to experimental cinema are referred to as “visual music” as well as “absolute film”—films that exclusively utilize the formal components of the medium. This movement, which began in Germany in the 1920s, was founded by Richter and his contemporaries, Oskar Fischinger, Walter Ruttmann, and Viking Eggeling. The “absolute cinema” approach to filmmaking allowed Richter to diverge from the narrative tendencies of early 20th-century filmmaking. According to Richter, “The absolute film signifies the foundation of cinematic art. The absolute film opens your eyes for the first time to what the camera is, can be, and wants!”
BY HANS RICHTER (1923)
SCORE BY MARIJUANA DEATHSQUADS (2017)
Rythmus 23 by Hans Richter (1923), 2:28, with score by Marijuana Deathsquads
Rhythmus 23 is the second film in Hans Richter’s Rhythm series. It is visually similar to its predecessor, Rhythmus 21, with its dancing geometric forms. Originally titling the work Fuge in Red and Green, Richter intended to hand- paint each individual frame with the help of artist Werner Gräff, who studied at the Bauhaus under Theo van Doesburg, founder of the De Stijl movement. He was unable to achieve this wish with this film due to the labor involved. He did however a few years later achieve this with Rhythmus 25, but unfortunately only one copy was created, and it is thought to be lost.
TWO PENCE MAGIC
BY HANS RICHTER (1929)
SCORE BY MARIJUANA DEATHSQUADS (2017)
Two Pence Magic by Hans Richter (1929), 2:22, with score by Marijuana Deathsquads
Hans Richter's Two Pence Magic is an avant-garde advertisement for an illustrated tabloid newspaper (the films title refers to the cost of a newspaper in the 1920s). Utilizing a technique evident in his previous films, Richter creates a synthetic experience by "rhyming" with images instead of sounds.
The Sound for Silents full band line-up features:
Justin Vernon: guitar/electronics/vocals (Bon Iver)
Benson Ramsey: guitar/electronics/vocals (The Pines)
Jake Luppen: guitar/vocals (Hippo Campus)
Isaac Gale: vocals/synths (MDS)
Mark McGee: electronics (MDS)
Channy Leaneagh: vocals (Poliça)
Ben Ivascu: drums (MDS)
Mark Jorgensen: drums (MDS)
Drew Christopherson: drums (Poliça)
Ryan Olson: Conductor (MDS)
Sound for Silents was curated by Doug Benidt and Ruth Hodgins.