Soundtrack for the Silent Screen
The Viennese band Radian plays live for the movies. An inspired event at the Gartenbaukino
Three musicians are on the stage of the Gartenbaukino, the largest of the single-auditorium art-house cinemas in central Vienna, all late 1950s wood-panelling and warm lighting. Above, a very wide, curved screen, blank for the time being.
‘Papa!’ shouts a toddler seated in the second row. Papa, it seems, plays in Radian, a post-rock combo made in Vienna.
Which of the trio is it, I wondered? The black-bearded, black-shirted, stern-looking guitarist cum electronics whiz kid? The drummer in a non-descript T-shirt occupying, meaningfully it will turn out, the centre stage? Or the bass-guitarist in a white T-shirt with faded print, silver locks tumbling down on his bent forehead?
From my third-row seat, I could see the odd computer screen in between the analogue equipment – these guys are no purists, and their abstract blend of advanced electronics and industrial noise rock has put them on the international map.
That night, they played music commissioned by the Viennale to accompany several short films, interspersed with free-standing compositions.
The concert began with Radian’s trademark elegant, syncopated sculptures of incidental noises. Their microscopic compositions involve glitches, distortion, delay, slow bass tones and the most subtle, versatile drumming imaginable – from the faintest rustling of tree leaves and tinkling of crystal, to thunderous, crashing blows, Martin Brandlmayr can seemingly generate every textured beat.
The first short film, La jetée, a haunting 1962 experimental work by legendary Chris Marker, set the tone: post-apocalyptic images of Paris, bizarre experiments designed to induce time travel, a man obsessed with an image from his past, the woman he chased back in time… The original French text was read in German by journalist and author Fritz Ostermayer. Radian’s soundtrack was up to the task, edgy and dreamy in turns, underlining the moods without drowning the off voice.
By the third short, toxic guitar riffs slowly climaxed in tense curtains of noise. This band hasn’t mellowed with age, if anything the sound has become rockier, angrier, less clinical! Combined with the furiously flashing, fuzzy black-and-white images of the film, it made for uneasy listening and viewing.
I wondered what the audience made of it all. Most of the enthusiastic, arty crowd seemed to belong to an unofficial post-rock fan club, brainy 30-40 somethings clad in obligatory dark, well-worn clothes. So I asked a redhead in a cheerful, blue and white Vichy-checked shirt and indigo jeans what had brought him here. Actually, he answered, it turned out to be a happy accident, as a sick friend had given him his ticket.
Yes, the blending of sound and vision had appealed to him, and he’d really enjoyed the music. He would not readily associate this sound with Vienna but had heard about the city’s underground scene. In fact, come to think of it, he said, ‘for me Vienna was always exotic, bizarre, different’ from the rest of Europe, especially his native Germany.
This indeed was a unique, off-the-tourist-trail Vienna night – futuristic music fused with experimental film in an intact 1960 location. The Gartenbaukino holds such events now and then, catch them if you can!
This live concert took place on Thursday, 27 September, a Viennale 50th anniversary project.
Band’s website: www.radian.at