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Al Church Refreshes the Cinematic Universe

Photo by Smouse

For the past couple of years, Al Church and his swiss army orchestra of musicians have created a live soundtrack to a classic movie. Imagine Mystery Science Theater 3000, but where a band sits on stage, facing the life-sized images on screen, and composes music to match the movie. 

This modernized revitalization of a soundscape is then weaved into dialogue pieces, resulting in a fresh coat of paint on an old movie.

Photo by Smouse

For the Parkway Theater, it’s a PB&J collaboration that expertly utilizes the stage and widescreen to showcase local music and the artful movie classics at the same time.

Al says that he’s always been interested in film/music ideas and finding inspiration from visuals. He started a band in 2010 called Clustercuss that did similar things. The band is now called Major Major Minor Minor.

Photo by Smouse

The Parkway recently screened The Last Man on Earth (1964 film), in with Vincent Price scrambles around a post apocalyptic, plague-driven undead landscape, while Al Church and special guest The Nunnery curated a thread of electronic loops, hand percussion, and saxophone music to bring the film, pardon the pun, to life.

Photo by Smouse

The black and white film rolled on while bathed in blue, as the band shifted tones and moods that lined up with dystopian scenes. The Nunnery (Sarah Elstran) added gentle hums and looping soft drum beats in the moments of tender loss onscreen. Al leaned back and forth between his magical board of pedals and volume control over the dialogue being shown on screen.

Photo by Smouse

Al says that the start of his interest in film soundtracks came when he saw Prince show up in the first Batman. “That was the first time music and film collided for me,” he says. Although Vincent Price played Egghead in the Batman TV series, we weren’t treated to any early Prince sightings at this film.

Photo by Smouse

Having never seen the film, I was concerned about not catching enough dialogue to understand the original story. But as the film played out, Al expertly weaved in the important lines, cutting out the unnecessary. It gave us enough to understand the plot while still keep us rested in the music.

Photo by Smouse

Most of the films used in the series are public domain. Al has tackled many films over the course of the series, but still has a category unchecked. He’d love to handle an anime film, which could be a cool challenge for them.

Jessica Paxton at the Parkway hits the series on the nose.

“This series perfectly incorporates the two things that The Parkway is renowned for: classic movies and a beautiful performance space. This series allows me to give someone like Al Church, a very talented and well-respected Minnesota musician, the chance to bring his own vision to life: adding sonic soundscapes to rarely-shown classic films. Al always pulls together a great mix of musicians and the result is this incredible free-form, in-the-moment approach as they musically interpret what’s happening on the screen.”

Photo by Smouse

The film ended inside a church with Vincent Price (spoiler alert) taking a spear to his gut. We were left with sorrow and tragedy as the band gently finished with one last fade out of breathy tones.

Keep your eyes open for a future opportunity to witness this unique series and rejuvenation of classic films. Much like that beautiful graffiti art mural done over that historic neighborhood wall, Major Major Minor Minor will leave you appreciating the present.

Written by Smouse

Having spent 13 years recording and producing Minnesota artists, along with running a small record label, Smouse is a passionate advocate of musicians and artists in Minnesota.

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