Orchestra creates new, nontraditional sounds

by Jack Vaitayanonta | 10/10/96 5:00am

The Alloy Orchestra, a regular visitor to the College's artistic landscape, will perform their original score to accompany the 1927 film "The Unknown" by Todd Browning. The Orchestra is known for designing creative score to silent and classic films.

They will also perform for "Plane Crazy," Walt Disney's first Mickey Mouse film of 1929, to be screened in the same program, according to a Hopkins Center press release.

The star of "The Unknown," Lon Chaney, plays the role of Alonzo, the Armless Wonder. Alonzo has had his arms amputated to please the woman he loves, played by Joan Crawford.

She does not allow herself to be touched by any man.

The Orchestra hails from Cambridge, Mass. At the Coolidge Corner movie house there, they began writing music to accompany silent films in 1993.

They made their debut at the 1993 Telluride Film Festival with a score for the 1923 silent film "Sylvester."

The Los Angeles Times wrote about the show, "Vivid, ominous, riveting, this was silent film music of such power and passion it made everyone feel as if they had never heard anything like it before."

Bill Pence, the Hopkins Center's director of film, said that the Orchestra was the top group to emerge from the 1993 festival.

Movie critic Roger Ebert termed the group's performance at the festival as "the moment that best captured this year's Telluride."

When director Andre Gregory heard the group at the Telluride festival two years later, he fell in love with the sound.

The Orchestra is collaborating with him in a new play, "Bone Songs."

Pence said in the press release that the Orchestra is unique in its composition -- three musicians who sound like 60 -- and its instrumentation -- a synthesizer, drums and a pile of junk.

Ken Winokur, the percussionist, Caleb Sampson, the keyboard artist and Terry Donahue, the percussionist, form the trio.

Winokur said, "We will do anything we can to make the sounds we need."

The group uses traditional percussion instruments such as triangles, xylophones, snare drums, tomtoms and cymbals.

But they are also prone to using instruments they have designed themselves and made from scrap metal found in junkyards to create their sound.

Winokur said their sounds could not be produced with the use of traditional instruments. Some of the unique sounds they are able to create are that of howling winds, thunder, and even a city exploding.

He added that the combination of film and live music enhances both aspects of the show.

"It's like combining a concert and a film at the same time," he said. "The music brings back the tempo of the film. Because it's the sounds of today, it makes the film current again."

He added, "It allows some reverie. In those moments when nothing is really happening on the screen, your mind can slip away and concentrate on what the music is telling you."

This talented group has also been featured on "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross on National Public Radio, in The Smithsonian Magazine, two Lincoln Center film festivals and on major-city tours of the United States and Europe.

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