I was the only one watching this show, and what a mistake the hordes of people outside on Victoria Street made. Modern Robot, consisting of guitarist Ben Singer and drummer Phil, provides an astonishingly powerful exhibition of musical talent. The concept of the show is simple: a man with an electric guitar and a drummer provide a devised soundtrack to one of cinema’s most iconic silent classics, Faust by F. W. Murnau.
The film is itself an incredible feat of cinema. First premiering in 1926, Faust was ahead of its time in terms of visual effects, with shots of villain Mephisto towering over the town where Faust lives, as well as beautiful cinematic perfection in the form of faux-aerial shots of cliffs, snowy mountains, and the shoreline.
If you’ve never seen Faust, even with its original score, the fact it’s being shown at all with a live soundtrack is worth the admission fee immediately. The original score, written by Werner R. Heymann, has no place in this version of the film, and what a treat that proves to be.
Modern Robot provide a pulsating, breathtakingly epic score to the film. The distinct, atmospheric movements accompanying the different scenes and themes of the film are expertly arranged and the post-rock Godspeed You Black Emperor-esque guitar and drumming is of an exceptional quality. Not once during the film does the music feel out of place, a testament to the incredibly thoughtful process that goes into creating a score to such a fantastic piece of classic silent cinema.
The different and fluctuating emotive feelings from the film are superbly transferred to the music. The faux-aerial shots provide an opportunity for Singer to show his more relaxed side, with the music providing an air of complete wonder and astonishment, perfectly mirroring the action on screen. As Mephisto, the main villain of the movie in the form of both the devil and Faust’s corrupted mind, gets progressively more menacing and dangerous, so too does the music.
The highlight, although it feels ridiculous to attempt to choose one, is without doubt the scene where Gretchen, the love interest of Faust, slowly loses the will to keep looking after her bastard child while battling a snowstorm. Ben takes centre stage here, with the effects pedal being used to completely draw you into the story while simultaneously providing an auditory masterclass of the howling wind that faces Gretchen through her struggle. It doesn’t stop there as the crescendo at the end of the movie is pulsating and powerful enough to make you completely forget the age of the film you are watching.
This is a supremely good show. The quality of the musicianship on the show is astronomical, and twinned with the iconoclastic Faust, it makes for an experience I wouldn’t mind reliving again and again.