Early sounds

The programme for the Sounds of Early Cinema in Britain conference has been announced. Organised by the Institute of Musical Research, the conference takes places 7-9 June 2009 at Senate House and the Barbican Centre, London. The conference is intended to complement the British Silent Film Festival, which is taking place at the Barbican 4-6 June and has the theme of music and British silent film.

This is the provisional programme for the conference:


Sunday 7 June 2009: Barbican Centre, Cinema 1

3–3.15 Introduction to conference: Julie Brown
Introduction to D.W.Griffith and Way Down East: Professor David Mayer

3.15–6.15 Way Down East: original score by William Frederick Peters and Horace Silvers, reconstructed and conducted by Gillian Anderson (prog. includes short interval)

6.30–7 Gillian Anderson in conversation with Professor Ian Christie

7pm Depart for dinner

Monday 8 June 2009: Institute of Musicological Research

9am Registration

9.15 Welcome

9.30–10.45 Film Lecturers

  • Film Lecturers in the UK, pre-1907, Dr Joe Kember, University of Exeter
  • ‘Sound’ and silent cinema in Scotland, Dr Trevor Griffiths, University of Edinburgh


11.15–1 Early musical practices

  • ’Motivated Music’: the evidence for accompaniment practice in London cinemas, 1896–1913, Prof Ian Christie, Birkbeck College, University of London
  • Music in Mitchell and Kenyon shows, Dr Vanessa Toulmin, National Fairground Archive, University of Sheffield
  • Music for A Trip to the Moon? A Probable English Film Score for a French Film Fantasy, Prof Martin Miller Marks, Mass. Institute of Technology


2–3.45 The 1910s: UK and US practices

  • Entertainment licensing in the UK during the ‘silent’ film era, Dr Jon Burrows, University of Warwick
  • The Sound of the City: Music, The Show, and the Picture Palace, Dr Jim Buhler, University of Texas at Austin
  • “The efforts of the wretched pianist”: Fiction as Historical Resource, Prof Andrew Higson, University of York


4.15–5.15 Resources 1: Film and Documents
Dr Phil Wickham, The Bill Douglas Centre, University of Exeter
Luke McKernan, Curator, Moving Image, British Library
Bryony Dixon, Curator, Silent Film, British Film Institute
Prof David Sanjek, University of Salford

End of day discussion, followed by Buffet (at IMR)

8pm Barbican Centre, Cinema 1
The Flag Lieutenant: original score by Albert Cazabon. Arranged and performed by Philip Carli (pno.) with Gunter Buchwald (vln.) and Paul Clarvis (perc.)

Tuesday 9 June 2009: Institute of Musicological Research

9.30 -10.45 Music and/as transition practice

  • Another mystery from the pen of Mr. Edgar Wallace? The case of the vanishing part-talkie, The Crimson Circle (British Talking Pictures, 1929), Fiona Ford, University of Nottingham
  • Live music and the transition to sound in Britain, Dr Julie Brown, Royal Holloway, University of London


11.15-12.30 Retrospective Research: Early Sound Films and Silent Practice

  • Scores in early sound film as sources for silent film accompaniment practices, Dr Ian Gardiner, Goldsmiths College, University of London
  • The Development of Dialogue Underscoring in Sound Films in the Early 1930s, Prof David Neumeyer, University of Texas at Austin


1.30-2.45 Resources 2: Technology and Ephemera
Phil Wickham, Curator, The Bill Douglas Centre, University of Exeter
Dr Mike Allen, Birkbeck College, University of London
Len Rawle, Cinema Organ Society
Other panel members tbc.


3.15 – 4.30 Musical Performance on Film

  • Silent Mancunians: Overcoming Silence in Silent Operas, Dr Chris P. Lee, University of Salford
  • Variety Performance as Captured in Early Film, Prof Derek B Scott, University of Leeds

The conference closes at 5.30 pm after a short open forum.

The Sounds of Early Cinema in Britain research network is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, under their Beyond Text programme. The research team is Dr Julie Brown (Royal Holloway, University of London), Principal Investigator, and Dr Annette Davison (University of Edinburgh), Co-investigator. They describe the conference aims thus:

The aim of this interdisciplinary conference is to bring together researchers from widely divergent fields to share perspectives on the sonic practices associated with early film exhibition, particularly in Britain. The first decades of film exhibition in the UK were characterized by flux and experimentation. Musical and sonic practices were often improvisatory, but always contingent upon the resources available, their stage of technological development, and the exhibition venue itself, which might have been a music hall, fairground, theatre, or purpose-built venue. Elements of performativity and contingency continued well into the sound era; live musical performance long remained a key part of film exhibition in many cinemas. This conference is the first of four events organised by the AHRC-Funded Beyond Text Network “The Sounds of Early Cinema in Britain” to enable, encourage, and consolidate research and practical activity in this field, and is particularly concerned with the nature, limitations and potentialities of the sources available for studying these practices.

Programme and booking form can be found on the Institute of Musical Research site. Information on the British Silent Film Festival can be sound at http://britishsilent.wordpress.com.