In the time of COVID-19, Silent/Music Revival are bringing their unique combination of local music and silent film into the digital realm.
Silent/Music Revival has been a staple in the Richmond music and film community since 2006, but like so many things in the age of the quarantine and the COVID-19 pandemic, this long-running live event has had to adjust to the times. This year, the experimental project has transformed itself into a virtual event that can be enjoyed by fans from the comfort of their homes, both across the Richmond metro area and, for the first time, in other parts of the state and country.
Silent/Music Revival is the creative project of Jameson Price, a musician and silent film buff from Richmond. The event combines silent films with improvisational live performances by local musicians and bands. It is a unique artistic collaboration that acts as an adhesive between the separate art forms of film and music.
The event started in Price’s home more than 15 years ago as a spontaneous passion project, and has grown into a Richmond arts institution. “I got a small projector and started doing that event in my living room,” Price said. “My friends were like, ‘This is really cool – you should do it publicly.'”
Silent/Music Revival has partnered with The James River Film Society (JRFS) for several years now, which has allowed Price access to vintage equipment such as reel-to-reel projectors and an archive of silent-era movies from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This partnership has also led to Price becoming the vice president of the JRFS.
Today, there are at least two Silent/Music Revival screenings a year — and often more. “The event has enough rhythm now that I’ve been able to always do a Halloween and a holiday one,” Price said.
This year, though, Silent/Music Revival is going virtual with an online series they’re calling “Silent/Music Revival Goes Viral.” The season will include five episodes, broadcasting every Sunday beginning this past weekend and continuing through June 21. Each episode will feature a different film, along with RVA artists Swamp Tree, Ohbliv, Kenneka Cook, and Miramar will contribute soundtracks. Richmond’s own Dave Watkins contributed the soundtrack to the first edition of the series on May 17, which featured Jean Vigo’s A Propos De Nice, a 1930 French film documenting life in the Mediterranean seaside city of Nice, France.
Dave Watkins, Kenneka Cook, and Ohbliv are all Silent/Music Revival alumni, while Swamp Tree and Miramar are first-timers to the event. “In this season I wanted to bring back people who had already done the event, and have some repeats… to feel like we are both taking this experiment together,” Price said.
Traditionally, the artists performing at a Silent/Music Revival event can’t see the film they’re improvising a soundtrack for, and that remains true in the virtual format. For Silent/Music Revival Goes Viral, artists will perform live from their homes or practice spaces while Price projects the film from his home. The bands are encouraged to be playful, improvise, and create unique sonic moments in their set, while also working from material that their fans will recognize. The film is therefore chosen to fit and accompany the style of the musicians.
The end result is a symbiotic relationship between the film and the music, serving to recontextualize the film and allow for reinterpretation of the songs. For this season, rather than focusing on the films in the event’s promotion, Price has decided to focus on promoting the music; while the schedule of artists has already been released in full, each film will be announced to the public only a week prior to the coming episode.
The virtual broadcast format is a first for both Silent/Music Revival and James River Film Society, but both are up to the challenge of creating a new virtual version of this beloved Richmond event. “Being an experimental film event means you have to be willing to experiment,” said Price. “This is definitely an experiment. There could be glitches, weird sync-ups, etc.”
The first-ever virtual Silent/Music Revival on Sunday, May 17th, began with a short intro film used to test the broadcast and make sure everything was in working order. The intro film was an abstract and ethereal composition of textures and colors. Little white lights buzzed and beamed across the screen like stars or ufos filmed in a dark and empty sky. Dave Watkins’ ambient guitar music provided the perfect atmosphere to envelope the images and hypnotize the viewer.
As the music picked up with a driving rhythm of drums and bass, it created a feeling of frantic wonder, like running through an open field on a beautiful spring day. Words flashed in bright colors. Then the word “END” appeared on the screen, and all went black… but that was just the intro. There was still a full feature film to come.
In a strange time of social distance and isolation, creators and artists are being forced to connect in new ways. Silent/Music Revival’s new season is a testament to the Price and James River Film Society’s dedication to connecting, entertaining, and inspiring Richmond through film and music. Their willingness to experiment and adapt in the face of adversity only emphasizes their passion for this art form that much more. We may need the arts more now than ever before; it is thanks to people like Price and events like Silent/Music Revival that we’re able to get through with a much-needed dose of joy, wonder, and awe.
New installments of Silent/Music Revival Goes Viral take place every Sunday night at 9 PM for the next four weeks; the final installment is on June 21. Tune in to the live broadcast from the James River Film Society’s Instagram page, or catch their rebroadcast on their Facebook the following day to have your own Silent/Music Revival experience and see what all the buzz is about.
Top Image: from A Propos De Nice, Jean Vigo, 1930