Ever since Giorgio Moroder dubbed Metropolis with an ‘80’s rock’ soundtrack, composing music for silent films has become a cottage industry. Battleship Potemkin, rescored by the Pet Shop Boys, received great acclaim, but former Siouxsie and the Banshees bassist Steven Severin has been quietly doing this sort of thing for several years. For his latest ‘Music For Silents’ project, Severin has turned to Vampyr, a classic b/w horror film from revered Danish filmmaker Carl Theodor Dreyer.
Released in 1932, Vampyr was initially derided by critics: at a showing in Vienna, audiences demanded their money back, and rioted when refused. Poor box office contributed to Dreyer’s subsequent breakdown. Latter-day critics have been kinder, and praised the film’s nightmarish imagery: shadows move without bodies; the hero discovers his own severed head in a box; the vampire’s chief accomplice drowns in a huge vat of flour.
Severin’s live score uses droning, undulating synths to evoke a powerful sense of dread - a perfect match for Dreyer’s sometimes hallucinatory visuals. Off-kilter sounds hover under the music, coming to the fore during the more chilling moments: the death of one character is accompanied by a loud, electronic whip-crack; a key turning in a lock assumes menacing significance with what sounds like a punctured church organ.
Vampyr received only fleeting coverage in the Lowry brochure: a shame because Dreyer’s film deserves a wider audience, likewise Severin’s mesmerising music, which is distinctive enough to be heard on its own merits. Copies of the soundtrack can be ordered from www.stevenseverin.com