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Composers Revitalize Forgotten Classic


Photo credit: Elizabeth Mikautadze

Written by: Colby ShoupJanuary 18, 2017

Harmonizing is an integral part of the musical process for Silbo Gomero, a duo consisting of IPFW alumni Hope Arthur and Kurt Roembke.

“Hope and I tend to come up with musical ideas that are unique to us as individuals, and then those ideas almost always mesh nicely together. Almost like musical harmony,” Roembke said.

This theme is especially apparent in their latest collaboration, an original score written for the 1926 animated film “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,” Roembke said.

Roembke and Arthur will be performing their score live alongside a screening of the movie at Cinema Center at 7 p.m. Jan 27. The duo will be accompanied by six fellow musicians from across the midwest. The screening is part of Cinema Center’s Sound and Shadow series.

“The Adventures of Prince Achmed” is the earliest known animated feature film still in existence and was made by German director Lotte Reiniger. The movie is inspired by Arabic folklore and focuses on the titular Prince Achmed, who, along with his magical horse, battles demons, meets a Genie and falls in love along the way.

The film pioneered a silhouette animation technique, but was largely forgotten by historians until recently due to very few copies of the film surviving, said Michael Kaufmann, director and associate professor of liberal studies.

Silbo Gomero was first formed to compose music for a whistling choir, but later went on to compose scores for silent films “Battleship Potemkin” and “Man with A Movie Camera” as part of Sound and Shadow, as well as two independent movies from local filmmakers.

Roembke said he first fell in love with “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” when he saw a Google Doodle animation paying tribute to Reininger. After researching the film, he asked Jonah Crismore, artistic director of Cinema Center, if they could create a score for it as part of Sound and Shadow.

In the process of creating the score, Arthur said she became as passionate about the movie as Roembke was.

“I didn’t have the initial reaction that Kurt had because he’s the one who came across it and wanted to do it,” Arthur said. “Since working on it though, there’s definitely a charm and a magic to it that I feel like I definitely connect to and try to live by.”

The two wanted their score to reflect this magical quality without distracting from the movie. They accomplished this by paying attention to what emotions Reiniger was trying to convey and “harmonizing with the film’s voice,” Arthur said.

Roembke said they apply the same idea to working together as songwriting partners.

“The name Silbo Gomero is … basically a language in which the whistler imitates spoken language through their whistle, allowing them to project to people in loud settings, or through great distances,” Roembke said. “I think the name is really special to both of us because it symbolizes the deep bond that Hope and I share. By chance, we had each stumbled into another person that made absolute creative sense to one another. So, while we don’t necessarily implement whistle choirs in our music, it still defines our bond.”

Tickets  to “The Adventures of Prince Achmed” cost $10 for members and students and $15 for nonmembers at the Cinema Center box office or online at cinemacenter.org. The event will also include a discussion of animation led by Steve Leeper at 6 p.m.