There’s a lot going on this Friday. Having spent the past few quarters allowing the math section of my brain to die a slow, pitiful death, the task of counting all the various Greek philanthropy events and formals scheduled for Friday is beyond my skills. Joe Pug’s in town. So is Tommy Wiseau.
Among all these parties and bullshit, a movie and music festival called Sonic Celluloid might go unnoticed. That’s unfortunate for what Doug Kaplan (Comm '11) said he expects to be “one of the more amazing events happening at Northwestern this year.”
Sonic Celluloid is a collaboration between WNUR and Block Cinema that plays experimental films silently at Block while live bands perform an extemporaneous soundtrack. Friday marks the event’s 10-year anniversary. Although unforeseen circumstances forced last year’s event planners to team up with Chicago’s Neon Marshmallow Festival and move the event off-campus, this year’s Sonic Celluloid will once again take place at Block.
Although seeing the words “band” and “improvisation” in the same sentence evokes thoughts of jammy Phish-type rock, the music at Sonic Celluloid is more chill than previous years, the experience more relaxed.
“It’s not going to be raucous and it’s not going to be crazy,” said Weinberg junior Ethan Simonoff, a producer of WNUR's Rock Show helping to organize the event. “It’s going to be artsy and subdued.”
This year’s source for that artsy music will be Cleared, Wume and Good Willsmith. In Sonic Celluloid tradition, all three are local Chicago bands. Two members of Good Willsmith (Kaplan and Max Allison, WCAS ‘11) also play in The Earth is a Man, the post-rock outfit scheduled to perform at this year’s Dillo Day. Despite the shared members, Kaplan said Good Willsmith’s music is quite different from his other band and much more fitted to the Sonic Celluloid atmosphere.
“We play long-form drone and ambient music focusing on transcendental bliss,” Kaplan said of Good Willsmith. “That’s very different from The Earth is a Man, where we play hyper-composed stuff. This is more improvised, with changes in timbre and dynamic.”
Cleared and Wume play similar types of drone-based ambient and psychedelic music, which partners with the type of films they’ll be playing along with.
“I’ve seen both Wume and Good Willsmith in the WNUR studios and they have a really cool energy that is going to go well with the films,” said Medill junior Lily Oberman, another Rock Show producer working on the event. “They’ve got a good stage presence.”
Each band works with Block to select films to accompany their set. Kaplan said they sent a list of their choices of black-and-white experimental films from the early days of cinema to members of Block’s film staff, who then had 35-mm projector-ready versions shipped in. He said the combination of improvised drone music with the experimental nature of the chosen films will make for an interesting, chilled-out experience.
“Our music is very intense and pretty overwhelming,” he said. “We want people to completely zone out of this world. I think it’s going to be a very immersive and transcendental experience.”
Sonic Celluloid begins at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 18 at Block Cinema. Tickets are $4 for NU students and $6 for community members.