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Short Scores: old film clips, new music

In Short Scores, Eye on Sound playfully pushes at the boundaries of film music. We asked a new generation of musicians and composers to create new mini film scores to accompany a short piece of film of their choice from Eye’s collection.

By Thijs Havens23 September 2021

Many of the more than 50,000 films in the Eye collection are super short – a lot of them less than one minute. Miniature works of art that can be seen as tableaux, time capsules, or moving paintings. Their length means they don’t often get shown, even though their short duration gives us an intriguing glimpse into another time and world – a glimpse that often stays with us for longer than some films lasting hours. Could this be because the work is over before we can even blink, so we don’t have time to get distracted?

How long does it take to get inspired? To feel an atmosphere? To plant a cinematic seed? To get a taste of a completely different place and time? To test the strength of an artistic idea?

Music has always been the ‘finishing touch’ to a film, adding impact and context and bringing new meaning (or sometimes several new meanings). In Short Scores, Eye on Sound playfully pushes at the boundaries of film music.

Film music is often associated with long, epic films, but these days we are also constantly bombarded with ultra-short music videos on social media platforms and bombastic music in advertisements that is over before we can even zap away. But these still attract our attention because the image and sound are sexily, effectively used in combination. Which just goes to show that you can do a lot in very little time.

Whether we like it or not, the ‘short sprint’ in film is now indisputably a major element of the way we consume media. Which strangely enough is an echo of the very early days of film, when short, single shot films were shown as a spectacle at fairgrounds.

Cinema as spectacle? Cheap thrills? Sure. But perhaps this is because this short-but-sweet form of film is now being used almost exclusively by the likes of TikTok and advertisers. If so many people are spending so much time on this, does Eye as a custodian of the art of the moving image not have a duty to keep its eye on this filmic form, to investigate and re-interpret it (and perhaps, in so doing, criticise it)?

Why shouldn’t we experiment with the short sprint and see if we can transform it into something new? This is exactly what Eye on Sound wants to do with Short Scores. We have asked young, contemporary artists to create a mini film score to accompany a mini film they have chosen from our collection. We have given them complete artistic freedom to use the material as freely as they like in creating something new from these images. The result is a series of refreshing new mini works of art which bring two different worlds together in a short, sharp, creative flash.

All Short Scores to date

Every three weeks, we will add a new clip accompanied by fresh new music to the Short Scores collection, which will therefore keep growing.

Watch all Short Scores clips

Two birds with one stone: with Short Scores, you get to see mini gems in all their glory which you otherwise wouldn’t see from Eye’s rich collection, while at the same time getting to know brilliant young musicians and composers, many of them trying their hand for the first time at creating a musical score to accompany images. In doing so, they are helping Eye on Sound with its ongoing investigation of the tensions between image and sound and how we can see and hear these in ever new ways.

Don’t be deceived: ‘I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one’, Blaise Pascal once said. For a musician, apart from a fingering exercise for ‘the real thing’, it is a great challenge to create a mini piece of music that is able to really do something in such a short time. But of course, as everyone knows, a true master will make good use of such limitations. See these films as unique little film bonbons; they are not trying to replace the full three-course fine dining experience Eye normally serves up, but are a different beast altogether.

This first series of mini films is based on exceptional Biograph and Mutoscope films from the period 1897-1902 – thanks to their unique format (68mm), these are able to show an unparalleled amount of detail. Eye has restored a large number of these mini films in cooperation with the British Film Institute (BFI), and last year published these in a compilation called The Brilliant Biograph. More background info on this project can be found in this video:

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The making of The Brilliant Biograph: Earliest Moving Images of Europe (1897-1902)

Other elements of the Eye collection will also be brought to life in a similar way in the future.