Marco Benevento @ MASS MoCa
Author: Staff Date: October 25, 2010
Words by KC Orcutt
Photos by Dan Foote
NORTH ADAMS, MASS — Marco Benevento greeted a bloodbath with a soundstorm Friday evening at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams.
Marco Benevento presented his original score to Roger Corman’s film, House of Usher (1960), and the performance was featured as part of the 12th season of the Williamstown Film Festival.
Prior to the film’s start, a stuffed animal lion’s head mounted on Benevento’s piano proudly kept guard of the instruments on stage and watched as people filtered into the theatre, found their seats and flipped through glossy programs detailing the performance.
The film and original rescore was co-commissioned by Mass MoCA and BRIC Arts for the Celebrate Brooklyn! Performing arts festival. Benevento first performed his score on August 6 in Prospect Park in tribute of the film’s 50th anniversary. For this project, Jay Cooper joined Benevento by overlaying visuals over the original film footage and incorporating psychedelic projections and other editing effects.
Promptly at 8 p.m., Benevento gave a playful thumbs-up to the crowd and took his rightful seat in front of his Wurlitzer piano and electronic set-up. Benevento was joined by bassist Reed Mathis and Andrew Borger on drums. The trio was scattered on stage with Mathis in the corner, Borger with his back to the audience and Benevento’s profile was illuminated by the LEDs rigged on his piano and the flickering images of the film on the 40-foot screen behind him.
The film itself was based off of the short story written by Edgar Allen Poe in 1839, The Fall of the House of Usher. The plot of the film revolves around the basic concept that the Usher family bloodline has been cursed so all members of the lineage will be driven insane. Madeline’s fiancée travels to the mansion to rescue her from the evil influence of the desolate, haunted mansion and from her brother, who discourages her forthcoming marriage. Throw in hyperbolic dramatic acting, gothic adornments of the mansion, ever-increasing suspense and intensity, hints of being buried alive and other eerie details and that is the House of Usher that Benevento meticulously studied in preparation for his score.
Benevento in his brilliance was enthralling to watch himself, and was like a child in an electronic candy store, constantly tweaking synth and adding effects to his playing. Mathis banged on wood blocks and metal tins, and their collective sound was building as the House of Usher itself was falling apart.
A character on screen picked at a mandolin during one scene and the imperative nature of music in this film was clearly evident. The score was done well, but not without challenge because the sound was removed from the film but the actor’s original voices (and classic cult horror screams) remained.
Cooper’s projected alterations to the screen also were enjoyable, with oil spill effects and repetitive candles, for one example. The performance was just as visually stimulating as it was auditory. Benevento’s musical commentary and sound engineering to the film was not overbearing, keeping true to the focus of the evening being about the film. The duality of the performance in its modern renewal of vintage material was truly unique and one that took a few moments to digest because there was just so much going on.
Benevento played into the credits and then despite joking that he has “been sitting just as long as you all have,” carried the night purely into his own direction, performing a few select songs of his own, with the backdrop of his own video clips, concluding the evening covering the Knife’s “Heartbeats.”
Benevento and Cooper answered a brief Q&A at the end of the evening and then joined the remaining audience members in the lobby for a reception with hot apple cider and Halloween/horror-themed treats, while artists from the Czech Republic worked into the night building an installation.
Marco Benevento can be found online at marcobenevento.com