Sumner McKane Group Performs Dynamic Live Score to Legendary Silent Film
The Sumner McKane Group, a modern instrumental music trio, performs their new original score accompanying the classic silent film “Nanook of the North.”
“Nanook of the North,” the first anthropological documentary film ever made, was filmed in 1922 and profiles the life of the Inuit people, known to most as eskimos; residents of the Northern Hemisphere living closest to the Arctic Circle.
The 80-minute film follows an Inuit family, led by patriarch Nanook, through their travels and travails enduring an Arctic winter. At the time of this filming, there were less than 300 individuals of these nomadic people braving the unthinkable conditions with little-to-nothing to work with. While Inuit culture and ways are bordering on ancient, their story of hope for survival is as fresh and timely as it ever was.
The live score, spanning the entire 80 minute run time of the film, is a meticulously composed work spanning moods, genres, and sonic environments to create a new fresh look at a timeless classic. The band plays on the stark nature of the winter landscape by conjuring icy themes to contrast with the simple joys of Inuit life.
The combination of live band/concert/silent film/performance is truly a sonic and visual experience unlike any other on stage.
A feature story from the Portland Press Herald reads:
“Not exactly your typical pop-song fodder.”
“In a sense, the venue is recreating the theater experience of the silent film era, when live musicians, usually a pianist, performed onstage or in an orchestra pit while the movie played onscreen. By using modern scores, it’s giving the tradition a modern twist. McKane said when he was approached about the series, he immediately thought of “Nanook of the North.” He had seen it, was fascinated by it and thought its slow pace and human themes would fit his band’s brand of instrumental music, which includes rock, country and ambient music.
“Being a documentary, it’s very different from most of the classic silent films that often get shown today with live musical accompaniment. Horror films, epics and slapstick comedies are the usual suspects for this kind of silent film/live music series.”
“While the family slowly travels over a barren, icy landscape, the band plays music that’s spacey and full of echo, with Mark Knopfler-like guitar work. When Nanook traps a small fox, the music becomes faster and joyous. Another scene where the music mimics the mood is when the family struggles to get its dogsled through a field of ice boulders. Once the sled goes up and over the last hill and can travel freely, the band explodes into a fast, thumping, rock ’n’ roll passage.”
Performances and CD Release
The new score to “Nanook of the North,” an expansive and expressive original piece of music composed by the Sumner McKane Group, was written meticulously in spring 2008 over a brief and harried 4-week period. The undertaking was part of the “Local Score/Silent Film” series, presented by One Longfellow Square in Portland, ME. Unlike other performers in the series, the group opted to score the entire film, using no improvised musical elements at all.
A national audience immediately took notice of this musical work. National Public Radio’s “Echoes” program, an ambient music show airing on 150+ terrestrial radio stations, featured a live recording of select scenes from the score as part of a holiday special in December 2008, and featured the “Nanook” CD upon its release in October 2009.
The Sumner McKane Group
The Sumner McKane Group is based in Maine, with guitarist Sumner McKane, bassist Josh Robbins, and drummer Todd the Rocket Richard residing in Wiscasset, Gardiner, and Westbrook respectively. The New Year brings a string of shows running throughout the Winter that will see the group presenting “Nanook” across Maine and the rest of New England.
Sumner McKane’s music has been a darling of NPR’s “Echoes” program and has been featured in countless episodes and podcasts, including 3 CDs in the “Echoes” Top 200 CDs of all time. Host John Diliberto has said of the music, “McKane’s landscapes are tinged in ambient atmospheres and pulled by an undertow of psychedelia that makes them some of the most unassumingly mind-bending music of the decade… Sumner manages to touch the nostalgic, wistful side of us, without being remotely quaint…”
He has been touring New England performing two shows. “In the Blood,” his documentary film about turn-of-the-century Maine loggers, which he directed and composed the score for. This project was the recipient of both Maine Humanities and Maine Arts Council Grants. “The Maine Frontier: Through the Lens of Isaac Simpson” features the exemplary documentary photography of Isaac Simpson, complimented by archived and current films, interviews of Simpson family members, and a compelling musical soundtrack. The Maine Frontier is a vivid and authentic illustration of northern Maine at the turn-of-the-century.