Light and Magic: WHPK and the Film Studies Center team up for their annual concert

Most of the time, people never notice the background music that accompanies their movies, focusing instead on the spectacle on the screen. But what happens when music and film are equal partners, the movie theater includes a stage, the movie is an experimental silent film and the soundtrack is improvised by a live performer instead of recorded and prepackaged with the movie? “Pictures and Sounds,” a screening of experimental films that goes hand in hand with live performances by local musicians, provides an answer to this question. This annual event is a unique collaboration between WHPK 88.5 FM Chicago and the Film Studies Center at the University of Chicago, which provides the venue for the concert and screening next Saturday evening.

Of course, a live performance needs performers; Fortieth Day, Ghost Ice, Mykel Boyd and Mac Blackout will provide the music. The performers each bring their own background to “Pictures and Sounds.” Fortieth Day is a duo made up of Isidro Reyes and Mark Solotroff, both originally from the band Bloodyminded. They create a dark, dense style of music using guitar, synth, and bass. They are interested in expanding the scope of their performances and they often collaborate with other artists to add film and visual media to their performances. Ghost Ice’s music falls into a very different genre–he is a rap and reggae artist–but he shares Fortieth Day’s interest in multimedia experimentation. One of the idiosyncrasies of Ghost Ice’s approach to music and performance is that he has refused to release any recordings of his music. Event organizer Sam Henry says, “He’s turned down offers from every major noise label…It’s a special treat to have him up here for this show.” His music is something that can only be experienced live and in person. Mykel Boyd is a solo experimental musician whose work uses sounds made by everything from metal bowls to chirping cicadas to produce a droning ambient noise. Mac Blackout’s music is informed by his long-standing interest in visual media; he is a painter and printmaker as well as a musician.

Each performer chooses one or more short films and improvises a score to accompany it in his or her musical style. Of course, the scope of possible combinations of films and music is vast; performers have the whole history of cinema and every genre of film to choose from. The performers’ exact choices for films have not yet been determined. Event organizer Sam Henry reports that Ghost Ice will choose the film “Radiodynamics” by the mid-twentieth century German avant-garde filmmaker Oskar Fischinger. Films chosen for previous years of “Pictures and Sounds” have included both contemporary experimental films and old silent films, which, appropriately enough, were meant to be accompanied by live pianists when they were first shown in the early twentieth century. The result of all this mixing and matching of numerous styles and periods will be an unusual multimedia tableau that should appeal to anyone interested in film and music, or even just the senses of sight and hearing.

The result will likely be cacophonous, but original. The event’s hosts differ markedly, too; WHPK is a student-run radio station, while the Film Studies Center is an academic department whose programming often tends towards the obscure and highly intellectual. The collaboration of these two organizations will set the stage for the performers and films that make up 2008’s “Pictures and Sounds.” Come see it–and hear it–for yourself this Saturday.

Film Studies Center, 5811 S. Ellis Ave Rm 310. February 23. Saturday, 6-9pm. www.whpk.org