Back at the dawn of Ninja Tune just over two decades ago, critics often talked about the label’s artists creating soundtracks for movies that didn’t exist, alluding to the extended, experimental turntablism and cut ‘n’ paste aural narratives the label specialized in. Beginning with their new score for Dziga Vertov’s 1929 silent masterpiece Man With A Movie Camera, performed at the Porto Film Festival in 2001, The Cinematic Orchestra — led by former Ninja employee Jason Swinscoe — took this concept a step further, composing and performing new soundtracks for movies that already exist, a practice they’ve pursued ever since.
In Motion Pt. 1 is the latest iteration of Swinscoe’s project, inviting various kindred spirits — including Austria-based electronic maverick Dorian Concept, young Los Angeleno pianist Austin Peralta, and Brooklyn singer/songwriter The Grey Reverend — to join his ever-evolving band in composing new soundtrack pieces with a string quartet. The Grey Reverend’s “Regen,” penned to accompany a poetic 1929 short depicting a rainstorm engulfing a Dutch city, is a meditative piece; the Rev’s deftly plucked acoustic guitar evokes delicate rainfall, with occasional stormy interludes from the string section. Austin Peralta’s “Lapis,” inspired by an early work of computer animation from 1966, is entrancing, with Peralta’s opening piano chords establishing a doomy, overcast vibe that never quite clears. Meanwhile, “Dream Work” — a collaboration between Dorian Concept and Cinematic Orchestra saxophonist Tom Chant, soundtracking a 2002 short by Austrian avant-garde film-maker Peter Tscherkassky — is a fittingly experimental piece, full of futurist-pastoral electronica and bleak sax notes.
Most satisfying of all the pieces, however, are the contributions by Swinscoe and his Orchestra. “Necrology” — penned for a 1970 short by Standish Lawder, subtitled “Roll Call of the Dead” — is mesmerizing, thanks to the turbulent interplay between the fidgety snare-drum rumbles and repeating melancholic piano figures. Swinscoe’s piece for Rene Clair’s 1924 Dadaist short Entr’acte is the album’s centerpiece and standout, rewarding patient attention spans and encompassing moments of tender grace, anxious disquiet and bruised beauty across its 21 minutes, and making best use of his Orchestra.
The films re-scored are all easily accessible via YouTube, and there’s nothing to stop you watching along with In Motion Pt. 1 playing on your headphones. But the album also succeeds surprisingly well without the accompanying imagery, a collection of ambitious mood-pieces that seduce you with their eerie magic.