Performing The Adventures Of Prince Achmed
PhilaMOCA, Philadelphia, PA, U.S.A.
Wednesday, 15th March 2017
It was on a ritual sojourn to NYC’s wonderful (and now sadly gone) “Other Music” back in 2004, that I was first introduced to the infectious prog/psych/pop sound of Dungen, courtesy of their latest release at the time Ta Det Lugnt. Since then it’s been a non-stop love affair and, between Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore, I’ve managed to see them live about seven times now.
With the recent and highly unfortunate election of Donald Trump, witnessing live musical performance, and absorbing its role in the expression of our humanity, has felt even more of a necessity in keeping my mind from going to some very dark places these days. When I heard that Dungen were going to be touring their live soundtrack to Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 film The Adventures of Prince Achmed, which is understood to be the oldest surviving full-length animated feature, I figured that the simultaneous screening of the film would surely make for an even better escape. Though, in hindsight, I really had no idea of just how intense an evening I was in for.
I knew the concert was going to be different as there were to be none of Gustav’s wonderful vocals. I had got the soundtrack LP,
Häxan (‘The Witch’) at this past year’s Record Store Day and was pretty much familiar with it though, I must confess, it didn’t get nearly the attention that all their other LPs have received over these past 12 years.
The Philadelphia venue was small and intimate and had a raised stage set filled with a large centrally located screen. The band were physically split and slightly crammed with Reine and Johan on the left and Gustav and Mattias on the right. As they took to the stage, Gustav even commented on how he would try to not fall off the side (which he almost later did as he tried to get a finicky keyboard voice to work)
The film, which uses shadow puppet techniques with cut-out cardboard and lead figures, is ablaze with color and action right from the introduction of its main characters. The music began immediately and was amazingly sync’d in real time with no backing tracks. Mattias, in particular, watched the film intently and adjusted his tempo to keep the pulse and cues for various changes on track. Gustav chose a memorable melody which figures in different permutations throughout the film. Instruments used included Reine’s trademark space guitar run through his trusty tube-staged Klemt Echolette, Mellotron, organ, piano, bass, drums and assorted hand percussion. The Mellotron was used to great effect in creating a continuous gauze of sound with Gustav’s piano and organ carrying the main melodies. There was a definite early Italian Giallo and Camille 2000 vibe, Matthew Fisher-era Procol Harum, touches of Radley Metzger soft porn themes, and even Pink Floyd’s early soundtracks More and La Vallee, though, in the hands of Dungen’s collective superior musicianship, these influences were merely points of departure as the soundscape ran from ethereal Mellotron and organ washes with malleted cymbal flourishes to the intense psychedelic guitar workouts with motorik grooves that Dungen do so well. From start to finish, this was one of the most musically and visually satisfying two hours I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend.
Having witnessed this film as set to Dungen’s spirited and imaginative performance, I can no more imagine it without their soundtrack than I can the classic cartoons of my childhood without Raymond Scott or Carl Stalling.
A bonus of the evening was a limited edition repress of the Haxan soundtrack with an extra EP of music from the film plus a lovely booklet. Don’t miss this amazing performance if it comes anywhere within a few hundred miles of the comfort of your turntable.
Peri Banu vid sjön
Jakten genom skogen
Den Fattige Aladdin
Trollkarlen och fågeldräkten
Aladdins flykt över havet
Aladdin och lampan, del 1
Aladdin och lampan, del 2
Achmed och Peri Banu
Gustav Ejstes – Keyboards, Piano, Organ, Mellotron, Percussion
Reine Fiske – Guitar
Johan Holmegard – Drums
Mattias Gustavsson – Bass
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