“‘HELLO!’ Makes you notice doesn’t it.” Mark Strong’s dark and dramatic voice aims to focus your attention before a film. It’s a modern classic. But imagine a time when that space was filled with the hubbub of a 21 piece orchestra starting to strike up. They would then provide an immersive live performance to accompany the main feature. How focused would you be then? That’s exactly what used to happen at the Paignton Picture House. Now a sound artist has recreated an orchestra in the building for an even more interactive event.
Sound designer Chris Timpson has recreated the Paignton Picture House orchestra with some hi-tech jiggerlypockery. It’s part of the Eye-View festival in Torbay. The whole festival explores and relooks at the Bay’s uniqueness.
Chris, who is part of Aurelia Soundworks, has some experience of creating soundscapes. And the Paignton Picture House project pulled together a pile of skills and ideas.
“We started looking into the history of the Picture House and came across the fact that there used to be a 21 piece orchestra here,” Chris tells D&CFilm.
21 piece orchestra sound
That immediately struck a chord. He’d done a lot of work with surround sound system that has 21 speakers.
“We wanted to recreate the sense of this 21 piece orchestra in the cinema as a sound installation, “says Chris. “That was something that hadn’t happened for perhaps a century.”
And the Electric Sound Palace was born.
Working with the Paignton Picture House Trust, Chris poured through the archive and found references to how music was used in the cinema. He has incorporated that info into the piece as well.
Plus there’s an added modern-day twist. For one thing there are 21 speakers, not a 21 piece orchestra. But he’s also built-in the possibility of individual interaction.
The music is provided by the Torbay Symphony Orchestra. “They’ve been wonderful in accommodating us at quite short notice,” says Chris. As an amateur orchestra the TSO punches well above its weight in terms of quality and professionalism.
Paignton Picture House: vanguard to vintage
Originally known as The Paignton Bioscopic Exhibition Centre, the Paignton Picture House is believed to be the oldest purpose-built cinema in Europe. And it’s that combo of cutting-edge through the ages that has added an extra dimension for Chris.
Once considered the vanguard of entertainment, we now see places like the Paignton Picture House as vintage. But more than that, there’s a question of how people interact with the art form.
“We’ve uncovered a really interesting time in the silent film era when there was a crossover between theatre and film. The live music had a human element. And the projector provided a faultless mechanical side to the performance.
The live element of entertainment
From then on the audience became far more passive. And were lulled into a state of just receiving this experience that has no live element.
“One of the things we are interested in is giving the audience some control over parts of the creative experience. For them to recreate some of that tension that might have existed at the time this orchestra was here. We’ve done this by actually giving the audience some control of the orchestra. They can takes risks and maybe even mess it up,” says Chris. “What will the audience do? Will they collaborate or will they make a cacophany?”
Multi-speaker installation work is natural for Chris. But this is slightly different.
Making it sound wonderful
“We’re often trying to create very enveloping sounds systems where the listener is in the middle and they are surrounded by a dome of speakers that gives a very immersive effect. With this, because we’re exploring the orchestra, it’s slightly different in that the loud speakers have taken the place of the orchestra – there’s a fun element to that, and a sad one as well, says Chris.
“Every project tends to be unique and here we are trying to build an installation that brings the room alive. It’s a beautiful room . We’re just trying to make it sound wonderful.”
The Electric Sound Palace is at Paignton Picture House from Friday, June 7 to Sunday, June 16. Check out the website for times and details.
(Apparently, the musicians at the Paignton Picture House were paid a guinea, which, after extensive D&CFilm research turns out to be a price not a value – pre-decimal times, eh? In monetary terms this would be 21 shillings, the modern equivalent of £1.05. But put 21 shillings from 1915 into a converter to the 2019 spending power and you get £82.65… ish. If anyone wants to add to this, please do!)