I remember when Jason Swinscoe entered the scene: it was 1999 and he released the album “Motion”. Thirteen years later, he's closing a harmonic circle with “In Motion #1”, an album with (sort of) the same title and intention, pursuing a synesthetic quality in music, according to which sound can be 'seen'. Swinscoe, when he formed The Cinematic Orchestra, was interested in cinema above all else (and with a band name like that, he wasn't trying to fool anyone). He wanted to echo Stanley Kubrick's famous words, which he's been repeating over and over all this time: “A film is - or should be - more like music than like fiction.” “Motion” mixed the languages of jazz and indie soundtrack music (which could be, or not, synonymous with atmospheric), and gracefully circulated over oboes, discreetly trip-hop-like rhythms and strings - halfway between the electronic orchestrations of UNKLE, the scores of Steve Reich, and Sun Ra's cosmic jazz. Since then, The Cinematic Orchestra went back to that point over and over again, inflexible in their idea about what music should be, how it should be played and what it should evoke. Over the years, Swinscoe and his musicians have delivered some notable albums (my favourites being 2000's remix LP, “Remixes 98-2000”, and 2007's “Ma Fleur”, both on Ninja Tune), and he's fulfilled his dream to get into cinema, rather than evoking cinema. In 2003, they completely reconfigured the soundtrack to “Man With A Movie Camera” (Dziga Vertov's classic Soviet documentary, to which Michael Nyman also dedicated a new score), and they've been playing constantly, which has been documented in a long string of live recordings. After all this time, the band is a perfectly oiled machine.
Now, the time has come to extend the idea even further. When The Cinematic Orchestra emerged, many artists were dreaming of working for film (it was the time of the 'imaginary soundtracks'). Today, especially in the realm of modern classical music, which the band entered through the back door, those dreams have been completely fulfilled. So going back to the start is the natural thing to do, to make music for film, dreaming and thinking about film, but without the film itself. That's what “In Motion #1” is about: chose a few films, see them, take them in, and write music starting from them, rather than for them.
A clarification: “In Motion #1” isn't a new album by The Cinematic Orchestra, but a project directed personally by Jason Swinscoe, in which musicians participate like pianist (and skater) Austin Peralta, and Dorian Concept. Of the seven pieces, four have been written by The Cinematic Orchestra (“Necrology”, “Entr’acte”, “Regen”, with folk singer Grey Reverend, and “Manhatta”); the rest is by Peralta (“Lapis”) and Dorian Concept, in collaboration with Tom Chant (The Cinematic Orchestra saxophonist) on “Outer Space” and “Dream Work”. The compositions seem unconnected, but, as a whole, they form a very homogenous piece (with “Regen” as the exception) because of the lines along which the music moves: melancholic pianos, teary strings, and a sensation of atmosphere rather than virtuosity.
For instance, “Necrology”, based on the short film by Standish Lawder, revolves around some nervous percussion; but it's a storm died down by the calmness of some easy brass instruments, like a fresh breeze, until the violins come in bringing light and chasing away the dark clouds. “Lapis”, based on the animated short film by James Whitney and with Austin Peralta on piano (with hardly any virtuosity, stressing the strings as if it were a collaboration between Keith Jarrett and the aforementioned Nyman), emphasises that calm mood, as do the two pieces by Dorian Concept and Tom Chant, parting from two animated short films by Peter Tschekassky, even though the saxophone wants to rise from the music, like John Lurie did in the music of The Lounge Lizards, on Jim Jarmusch's soundtracks. Beautiful as well is the moment dedicated to “Manhatta” (a short documentary from 1921, the New York answer to the films of Dziga Vertov, another way of closing the circle), and absolutely essential is the piece based on René Clair's surreal short film, “Entr’acte”, 20 minutes during which the weightlessness leaves you gasping for air. The song completes the project: to see the music rather than hear it, feel it like a story (or a poem), and not so much as a collection of sounds. After a long time kicking back on the shores of trip-hop, Jason Swinscoe has found his way again.