No Age – ICA, London 03/04/11

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Sunday nights are meant for an early bath, fresh pyjamas and a glass of warm milk before bed, with a worn out record of Peter and the Wolf crackling comfortingly in the background. After being tucked in by mammy and daddy you have dreams of sugar plum fairies and candy coated rainbows. This Disney utopia could only be beaten with a story about an orphaned bear to pull at the heart strings and make one feel fuzzy and warm. Luckily childhood fantasies are brought to life thanks to the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Upset the Rhythm who, on this Sunday night, are showing us a film about an orphaned bear.

Fantasies, when realised, are always perverted though, and tonight is a true reflection of Sunday night: one where you haven’t done your homework and have P.E. first thing in the morning, edgy, sleepless and slightly uncomfortable.  This anxiety comes thanks no Californian noise oiks No Age, who are here for a very special, one off, performance; a live soundtrack to Jean-Jaques Annaud’s 1988 film The Bear. Set in late nineteenth century British Columbia, The Bear follows a bear cub, harrowingly orphaned at the start of the film, and encounters wild cats, hunters and another bear. It covers traditional themes of loss, adversity, friendship and honour which have been transposed on to nature and emotionally manipulated by Randy Randall’s and Dean Allen Spunt’s musical score.

This dual media interpretation has only previously been performed in Los Angeles and New York and allows No Age to take their experimental Shoegazing hardcore into the realms of traditional cinema and silent movies. However this is no honky-tonk piano and slapstick, it’s emotionally charged experimental gadgetry akin to Philip Glass. Neither is it a traditional No Age gig; Randall is seated with a guitar and armoury of effects, and Spunt stares hypnotically at a screen surrounded by sequencers, magic boxes and things that go bleep in the night.

As the film starts ethereal noises emerge from the men sat underneath the screen and one is a bit confused as to what to look at. Should one watch the film or be muso and pay attention to what the band are doing, but the quality of the piece being performed means our senses are able to pay attention to both.  The sound track being created before us is directly linked with the emotion of the images rather than the visuals directly. This means there is a slight delay between what is seen and heard. It’s not like Peter and the Wolf where every time a bear or a hunter appears we hear the same tune, nor is like a cartoon where if a character is running, or is sad, the music sounds like it. Instead if there is drama such as a chase the score builds to reflect the tension, but doesn’t stop when the chase is over. Rather it lingers and fades away slowly, as ones heart beat slowly returns to normal and adrenalin fades.

Linking the soundtrack into the emotion rather than what’s on screen is an effective tool and enhances the artistry. Of course sometimes our feelings do need to be shoved in a certain direction; during the moments of high drama, Spunt moves on to drums and we experience the No Age we are familiar with. Other times the score is fairly happy and uplifting such as when the bear finds his friend.  But such obvious interpretation is understandable as music does accompany emotions in such ways. With this linked detachment the soundtrack can be a piece in its own right as it uses the film as inspiration and isn’t a step by step narrative of what’s happening.

The problem with the experience was not with No Age’s sequenced loops or fuzz-laden echoes, but with the inclusion of the original film sound track. The roars of bears, sounds of the woodland and muffled voices of hunters were still audible and distracted from No Age’s score and reminded one that this is merely cinema rather than a full sensory experience.  The film certainly pulls at the heart strings, and No Age has given them an extra hard yank, and I couldn’t image seeing the film without the score.  It feels personal to them and is something they will rarely divulge, and it comes sounds like a piece of work they need to make to reflect a calmer somewhat serine No Age which they wouldn’t want to normally admit to.

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