James Sibley Watson’s 'The fall of the house of Usher' (1928): improvisation – images - complementary serendipities.

Sholl, Robert (2016) James Sibley Watson’s 'The fall of the house of Usher' (1928): improvisation – images - complementary serendipities. In: UNSPECIFIED. (Unpublished)

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This paper embraces music’s continuing role in the Surrealist movement,
multimedia in a specific work, and interpretative approaches to this thought through improvisation to a silent film.

This research will present extracts from the first recorded organ improvisation (recorded in Arundel Cathedral, UK) to James Sibley Watson’s experimental silent film: The Fall of the House of Usher (1928) https://vimeo.com/34810401 based on Poe’s short story (a siren for the surrealists). Research on this film (around 12 minutes long) has focused on the cinematic context and modernism (Cartwright 1995) and the reconstruction of Alec Wilder’s original score for the work (Brewer 2015), but has not explored the surrealist context or potential of the film.

In a commentary (1928), Sibley Watson states: “the importance of the piece lies in its mood – in a development of emotional tone almost without action. We decided to make a picture with a mood rather than a story.” I argue therefore that the images create a dépaysement or disorientation (Calvin 1982: xvii) through fading, dissolving, and prismatic images. The film therefore provides rich grounds for improvisation that employs a “systematic hybridity” (Sholl, 2015) in which structures (whole-tone, octatonic for example) are distorted. Improvisation therefore sustains and defamiliarizes and provides a complementary serendipity in which a new “image” is created that is a “rapprochement of two more or less distant realities.” (Pierre Reverdy 1975: 73)

I use organ improvisation treatises from the 1920s (the film was shown all over America (Horak, 2008: 35)) to differentiate my practice. I present an improvisation, which deliberately attempts to create a flat, terse and dream-like (Breton 1980: 328) interior choreography. This “mood,” I propose, is performative of an “unarticulated language” (Stravinsky 1942: 128) that provides a surrealist counterpoint to the film.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (UNSPECIFIED)
Subjects: Music > Musicology
Depositing User: Robert Sholl
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2018 08:54
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:26
URI: https://repository.uwl.ac.uk/id/eprint/5137

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