Upon hearing that Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain would be projected at La Sala Rossa accompanied by a group of musicians, I immediately knew I had to check it out. The 1973 surrealist film, for those who may not know, is a gloriously weird and unapologetically provocative film. It’s not exactly the first movie I would’ve imagined seeing at any venue, but it’s heavy symbolic content and psychedelic imagery are what make it a perfect match for the multi-faceted and dynamic Ensemble Eta Kooram Nah Smech (это курам на смех). Members of this group are Sarah Albu, James Annett, Dina Cindrić, Pat Conan, Will Eizlini, Tamara Filyavich, Jonah Fortune, Isak Goldschneider, Sarah Pagé, James Schidlowsky, Sam Shalabi, Jason Sharp, Marie-Douce St-Jacques, and Elizabeth Anka Vajagic. They are led by conductor Spike Tailor.
Long story short: Overall a great music and film experience. The live soundtrack and visuals made for an unforgettable evening. I have a somewhat biased opinion on the matter, having already been a fan of the movie for a long time, but it’s clear the ensemble’s performance is the core of the show and it’s well worth the ticket price to see them perform alone. The ensemble plays a collection of acoustic instruments (drums, harp, piano, double-bass etc) and electronic instruments/devices that create a rich ambience. Add to that a vocal ensemble that produces both hauntingly soft melodies and at times wild, heavily-processed psychedelic choruses.
Short story long: When the full house was seated the show began with what seemed to be two performers engaging in a chaotic piano duel in the centre of the room. It soon became clear they weren’t actually playing pianos but rather piano players, which are also called pianolas (think footpedal-driven automatic pianos). They started at once playing two different songs. The crude overlapping of both pianolas was both entrancing and confusing as the two players operated the pianos with their feet and not their hands. At some point I’m sure many wondered if the whole show would continue on this way, as the two kept replacing the piano rolls when they had finished. It was only after a few rolls that one of the performers spoke. We were told the film would follow after a performance of Tiny Tim’s “Sitting in the Sunlight” and an intimate rendition of “White Christmas” with the help of a smiling crowd. The whole thing was quite quirky, funny and effective in readying the crowd for a night of weird cinema.
As the projection began, the crowd became still and quiet in anticipation. Immediately, I took notice how well everything sounded. The wide array of instruments set up right in front of the sitting area made it an immersive performance. I was practically sitting among the musicians and it was a unique chance to catch a close look. Voices could be heard from the singers in front of us and from the system above, which enveloped the audience even more. This was particularly awesome during vocal harmonies and when voices became heavily processed. Also, an impressive looking set of tables with an assortment of effects pedals and synths created extra sound effects for the production and was a nice complement to the acoustic instruments and soothing voices.
Each instrument section follows conductor Spike Taylor with precision through the many different moods of the film. The pieces ranged from folk inspired tracks to more experimental and entrancing sounds which took my ears on a sonic journey. On another note, it was interesting to see that Taylor had a variety of musical duties, including providing extra percussion and sound effects with buckets of water, the latter of which were meticulously used to create a unique sounding beat for one of the numbers. He did so simply by splashing his hands around and it sounded amazing.
Even though it was getting late around the time the 2 hour projection was over, I simply could not get enough. Tired though I may have been, I could’ve easily sat and listened to this group till the early hours of the morning. It was really inspiring to see such a strange cult gem matched with great live music. I would definitely go see L’Ensemble Eta Kooram Nah Smech again soon.
The performance by L’Ensemble Eta Kooram Nah Smech conducted by Spike Tailor is part of the Suoni Per Il Popolo festival mostly in June – more info here.