Cut-It Ensemble Returns to the Apollo

Nicole Gutman

The Cut-It Ensemble performed in the Apollo Theatre on Thursday during the viewing of Berlin, die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Berlin, the Symphony of a Metropolis) by Walter Ruttmann. Founded in the fall by Doron Galili, visiting assistant professor of Cinema Studies, and Peter Swendsen, assistant professor of Computer and Digital Arts, as a collaboration between the Cinema Studies and TIMARA departments, the ensemble of musicians improvises contemporary avant-garde music to silent films.

Berlin, die Sinfonie der Großstadt is a 65-minute film capturing a typical day in 1927 Berlin. The film was shot in a documentary style that incorporates experimental qualities and special effects. Additionally, it is divided into five acts, each representing a different part of the day.

Conservatory senior Kevin Layer performed on a harp with electronics during the first act, which featured citizens eating breakfast and going to work. Layer’s music imitated the sounds that may have been heard in the depicted scene. The film began with a train stopping in Berlin; looping electronics mimicked the sounds of a train engine. The streets of Berlin were shown as people made their way to work; the music imitated the sounds of passing cars, trollies and passersby. The second act, played by double-degree first-year Christiana Rose on keyboard and double-degree sophomore Paulus Jan Horne on electronics, depicted Berlin’s work life. Rose’s music reflected the motions of the machines, synced with shots of factories, offices, kitchens and shop windows.

The third act, performed by Conservatory junior Eastman Presser on electronics, took place during the city’s lunch hour. The film displayed high-class restaurants and the preparation of meals and also included shots of children playing. Presser took a similar approach to Layer’s by imitating the sounds of the featured objects. However, Presser also used sound to illustrate the intensity of particular scenes. The fourth act was performed by Conservatory first-year John Burnett on electronics, College senior Ross Chait on percussion and flute and College sophomore Matt Omahan on viola. The act, focusing on individuals leaving work and school, included scenes of children playing on the streets and people swimming in the canals and having dinner. The group of musicians took a more ironic approach to their music in the fourth act. Accompanying shots of parents with their children, the viola produced soft squealing noises while electronics buzzed in the background, alluding to something darker behind the happiness.

The performance concluded with the whole ensemble playing the last act as the film finished on Berlin’s vivacious nightlife. Rather than following the steady pulse commonly associated with party music, there were long streams of sounds with a sonic tone, while scenes of high-energy nightlife played on screen. The combination of improvised sound and visual media constructed a unique dynamic between the audience and the silent film.