The film documentary A Touch of Noir put together by Dr. Ana-Isabel Ordonez and François Olivieri pays homage to film noir, which is based on the dramatic look portrayed in German Expressionism and cinematography. Ordonez and Olivieri add a new dimensional to its presentation with live improvised music played by avant-garde musicians during the showing of these films in select theaters throughout the USA and Europe. Film noir is a form of filmmaking that accentuates the drama of human emotions by using techniques which manipulate lighting and camera angles and take audiences inside the heart of the characters. These techniques were implemented by Hollywood directors such as Fritz Lang, Robert Siodmak and Michael Curtiz during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Ordonez and Olivieri’s project A Touch of Noir, creates a platform for avant-garde musicians to improvise music scores during the showings of the film, thereby, making it a unique sensory experience at each showing.
She proclaims, "Since this documentary is a silent film, the improvised music brings another art form and dimension to the experience and adds to it the musical score, which will create the intangible feeling that those film noir represented visually."
The accompaniment of avant-garde musicians varies from venue to venue, so the improvised scores which correlate with the images on the screen are different at each showing. The purpose of this project is to demonstrate that avant-garde jazz musicians can enhance the dramatic expressions presented in film noir with aural representations that intensify the visuals, and therefore, bridge two forms of artistic expressions in a way that has been overlooked before by cultures.
Ordonez expresses, "A Touch of Noir, the project, was born in my mind when I saw Mark Dresser, Denman Maroney, and Herb Robertson performing The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam in 2005. This film is the gem of German Expressionism. Film noir’s aesthetics are deeply influenced by German Expressionism, but despite the overwhelming presence of avant-garde jazz at the time, the link between improvisation and film noir is absent, as Hollywood studios imposed traditional romantic scores, which didn’t fit the angular depiction of these stylish crime dramas."
A Touch of Noir became a reality when Ordonez and Olivieri received a grant from the Luxembourg European Cultural Capital 2007. "I have been living in Luxembourg for nine years, so when the Luxembourg European Capital 2007 was going to be launched, I had the idea to do a project which combined my passion for film noir and jazz. The project was entirely in my hands. Through our local non-profit association La Belle Usine a.s.b.l., I contacted François Olivieri, cultural animator at Dudelange town hall, and invited him to join me in the adventure."
Ordonez delivers, "Together we built up the first film noir installment called A Touch of Noir. I submitted A Touch of Noir and the musician’s line-up to the sponsors. The Dutch Embassy in Luxembourg, the USA American Embassy in Luxembourg, Ville de Dudelange, Sofitel Hotel, Cottage Hotel, Imprimerie Kremmer & Müller and Domain Cep D’Or all believed in the idea, and their funding was of great help, as they gave us the chance to accomplish this project. La Belle Usine a.s.b.l. and Ruby Flower Records also provided funds for A Touch of Noir. "
She explains, "A Touch of Noir depicts the best moments of film noir as viewed from the wounded male perspective, à la James Dean, and has been performed with great success in Europe (Luxembourg, Netherlands)." She elaborates, "For A Touch of Noir, François Olivieri created a loner, introverted, troubled, hard-boiled, pessimistic protagonist trapped in the hands of his own destiny. Herb Robertson possesses an enigmatic speaking voice, and François Olivieri and I chose him for narrating the monologue."
She exposes, "Almost every film noir features men who often function as the typical female archetypes. Like the femme fatale, the hard-boiled protagonist wants more than he should more money and often a dangerous dame, too. Neither character can resist society’s demands, yet both have a cynical perspective on life. The femme fatale is not always the only woman in the life of the male main character. There is often a balance of the evil femme fatale with another pure and virtuous woman who only wishes the best for the protagonist, but he is often powerless to make the choice of the woman who is best for him."
To offer audiences insight into the women of film noir whom the wounded males are attracted to, Ordonez put together Shades of Jazz on Noir, which she provides, "For Shades of Jazz on Noir I conceived a dangerous female who lures, tempts, and seduces the protagonist with her glamorous, sensual allure, and is able to quiet men with a stern glance." She classifies, "This new addition shows the antagonistic character of film noir, which is the femme fatale. Shades of Jazz on Noir is like the isomer of A Touch of Noir."
It is impossible to talk about A Touch of Noir without mentioning Shades of Jazz on Noir, which Ordonez cites, "Shades of Jazz on Noir is the second installment of a film noir and jazz series created for the Luxembourg European Cultural Capital 2007." Both A Touch of Noir and Shades of Jazz on Noir are film documentaries, which are accompanied by avant-garde musicians during each of their showings.
She proposes, "A Touch of Noir and Shades of Jazz on Noir were conceived to combine the passion and despondency of classic film noir with the texture and dynamism of modern improvisation." She describes about the showings, "Audiences will experience the music with film noir as it could have been."
She acknowledges, "As I’m neither a cinematographer nor a film editor, I searched for a film editor, whom I met at a jazz festival in Groningen, Netherlands and sought advice from people who work in theatre and cinema." She notes, "The excerpts used for both film projects come from film noir that are now in the public domain. The film is a documentary not a commercial project (DVD). It is used as a tool for improvisers and aimed to be shown in schools, festivals, jazz clubs (which occurred in Luxembourg and Bimhuis, Amsterdam)."
She declares, "Film noir is one of my favorite cinematographic genres, so to assemble the films I first dug in and enlarged my own collection. We also used material from François Olivieri’s personal collection and from local film forums. For both installments, classic film noir excerpts were organized following the screen-board."
She analyses, "The element of original improvised ‘jazz’ adds the sense of hearing to the visual, to which the audience members can respond as a collective or individually. The audience can interpret this experience as they individually or collectively feel. There is no right or wrong in the interpretations. Every interpretation and experience will be sole and subjective to the participants, performers and observers alike."
She divulges, "For the first installment, A Touch of Noir, I discussed the ideas and aim of the project with Dutch pianist and composer Michiel Braam, who actually wrote a book that contains composed music while musically improvising with the film. The Bad Big City Band was formed with highly skilled improvisers. For our premiere in Dudelange, Luxembourg, in addition to Michiel Braam and Herb Robertson. I invited violinist Terry Jenoure, bassist Wilbert De Joode, drummer and percussionist Gerry Hemingway, saxophonist Steve Potts, reedist Frank Gratkowski, trombonist Wolter Wierbos, vibraphonist Pascal Schumacher, and cellist Thilo Krigar."
She stipulates, "The music of A Touch of Noir is basically improvised and every now and then some written notes can come around. Michiel Braam decided that there would be no director; every musician’s role was completely equal. That meant that if any musician felt like the time was right to play any part from the written music, they just made clear that intention musically or with a signal. The forms of the written parts (slow, fast, loud, quiet, etc) were not fixed, which allowed the music to be played more than once and with different formations within the band."
She establishes, "Confidence and a searching ability add distinct personalities in each of these musicians’ correspondence with each other."
She discusses, "When A Touch of Noir performance popped up in New York, I had no doubt to call Gerry Hemingway. I’ve known Gerry for several years now; he is a charismatic leader and one of the greatest drummers I have ever met in the avant-garde scene, a fine inventor and improviser; I love his work. Gerry played on the premiere of A Touch of Noir in Dudelange (1st June 2007). His performance was awesome. Gerry knows very well the project, A Touch of Noir. Herb has also invited Terry Mac Manus on guitar. We love his voice and manipulations on the strings."
The upcoming showings of A Touch of Noir will also feature reed musician Matt Darriau, whom Ordonez has a close bond with and discloses, "A Touch of Noir (edited version) was my present to Matt Darriau because the paradox between the supreme artistry and emotional fragility is so powerful in Matt’s music and character that I know that any performance lead by Matt will certainly pave a new thing on the approach of visual image and multi-language music input. Matt is a creator, a very special space case. You have to be spaced and very special anyway to keep up with the avant-garde."
She reminisces, "The second performance of A Touch of Noir was recently presented at the Bimhuis in Amsterdam. For this occasion we gathered a nonet composed of pianist Michiel Braam, cellist Jörg Brikmann, bassist Santiago Botero, violinist Rick Sturtewagen, drummer Michael Vatcher, saxophonist Roby Glod, trombonist Wolter Wierbos, reedist Frank Gratkowski, and trumpeter Herb Robertson. Actually, this was the first time that I had the opportunity to work with a big band, but indeed I have made different projects with Herb Robertson and Frank Gratkowski and personally know Terry Jenoure, Wilbert De Joode, Gerry Hemingway, Wolter Wierbos, Pascal Schumacher, Michael Vatcher, and Roby Glod. I met Jörg Brikmann and Rick Sturtewagen through Michiel Braam, Santiago Botero through Wilbert De Joode, and Steve Potts through Roby Glod. Thilo Krigar was recommended by Herb Robertson."
She applauds, "Working with special people like this makes things run very smoothly and effortlessly. All of the ensemble players are strong in their personal approaches to improvisation and they have unique voices on their instruments that can really sing!."
She stresses that this project is "only used for academic and pedagogic purposes. It’s a sole digital DVD."
Ana-Isabel Ordonez’s experience with avant-garde musicians stems from her position as co-founder and co-owner of Ruby Flower Records, which she shares, "Ruby Flower Records was founded in 2005." She instructs, "We are a small independent label just willing to put out great avant-garde music, so we never had the inclination toward big business and making tons of money. Our love is in the art and for being a part of it, to get some of the music to people who are interested in this music and its artists. There are a lot of struggling artists who never receive the attention they deserve. Imagining that every artist can get a big record contract and become a millionaire is just not reality, but you can always keep your message real."
Her projects for the Luxembourg European Cultural Capital 2007 are guided by her sense of keeping her messages real. "The visual arts create stories and present images," as she juxtaposes, "Cinema and music are art forms, and all art utilizes expressions of emotions. Actors and musicians are artists of an emotional display because their expressiveness is what evokes a response in their audience. The synchrony between visual art stimulus and improvised music indicates how much feelings and emotions interact. It is reflected and also reflects the depth of the engagement of musicians, so the moods will eventually mesh. You need to have compatible timing to coordinate your movements. Improvisers can bring others under the sway of their own. In this project every musician is a leader and the mark of a powerful leader or performer is being able to move audiences in this way."
She sums up, "Overall, I realized that rhythmic structure through visual images provides necessary timing cues to aid in expression and intelligibility. Images and music can be used as motivational tools to elicit eye contact, cause/effect skills, and peer interaction. For musicians, the access to a repertoire of media resources significantly enhances the abilities to communicate. Expressiveness and receptive language are approached by imbedding the desired response into music as a way of providing a syncopation and breaking in the unexpected!"
Each showing of A Touch of Noir can promise unexpected happenings with a cast of musicians who apply their own interpretation to the visuals being presented in the film. The project promotes free-thinking and individual expressions, which avant-garde jazz shares with film noir. Ordonez’s goal is to enlighten people’s perceptions by having them experience the juxtaposition of these two cultural art forms in a way that deepens the visuals emotionally for audiences.
Tour Schedule for A Touch of Noir:
April 9, 2008 @ The Stone in New York, New York
April 20, 2008 @ Barbes in Brooklyn, New York