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CULT WITH NO NAME - and the cult with a name - The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari


ImageCult With No Name, the honorable post-punk balladeers, have done it again. But this time they score in a different away. After two great albums for the Trakwerx label - Paper Wraps Rock (2007) and Careful What You Wish (2008) - Erik Stein and Jon Boux, instead of a giving us a proper album, introduce us to a new DVD score for the silent film classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Trakwerx 2009). This may sound odd given that CWNN themselves are real maestros of 'real songs', but then they didn't waste the chance to prove that their ability to write good tunes is not just one dimensional. Indeed, they have further improved and enriched themselves in an area where you would expect them to be limited. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is not only a teaser for Erik and Jon's next adventure, but an integral part of their legacy and musical personality.


Plastelin: So, how they decide on doing an original soundtrack for the silent movie classic?


Erik Stein: - Well, the short answer is that we were asked. Cult With No Name will attempt anything. Our label, Trakwerx, had already released two fabulous new scores for classic silent films, namely 'Nosferatu' and 'Battleship Potemkin' (both by Del Rey and the Sun Kings). Our initiation was to compose a piece for a compilation of short films by the pioneering filmmaker Georges Melies that Trakwerx were putting together. Trakwerx had always mentioned that they'd like us to do a silent film score, but I guess it wasn't until they heard our Melies track that they asked us to attempt something bigger.


Jon Boux: - Yes, we were very fortunate to be asked and I think it quickly became apparent that the format sits well with our approach.


Was it more challenging than usual to compose a score because you're following the imaginations and creative direction of other people, or was it good because you discovered new strengths within yourself?


- I don't know if challenge is the right word, it was just different. It was very daunting at first, because you're not sure where to start, especially given that it's 51 minutes of continuous music. Jon suggested including some songs, which was a great and bold idea, as it immediately set us apart from modern Caligari (and most modern silent film) scores that had gone before. Luckily we had some songs that fitted perfectly. We also had some help, as we sampled part of Jeff Brenneman's abandoned score. In terms of the rest of the score, we split the film up into smaller pieces and Jon dissected them further in his laboratory. Of course, writing a score retrospectively is very different to composing a new score to a new film. It immediately struck us how unsettling it is to write to an old silent film because everyone you're engaging with is now dead.


- I would say that it definitely allowed us to explore a new way of approaching our sound. The songs in the score work really well for me. Some of my favourite modern soundtracks use song and lyric so effectively (e.g. 'Donnie Darko'), so the feeling was why not try it with silent film! As Erik says, there is a sadness to Caligari that we really tried to capture. Not only are all the actors long gone, but the character Cesare is someone quite tragic - a victim really.


So the way that you approached the writing and recording of Caligari will affect they way you approach other projects?


- Working on Caligari did stretch our creative boundaries - I think we have come out of the other side with some new ideas and ways of working. Having said that though, we did stick to some tried and tested methods when putting together the soundtrack. We know each others strengths which works well.


- I think one thing that working on Caligari has shown us is that we have a much wider pallette of sounds than we first thought. It's given us a wider and richer source of atmospheres and moods to draw from.


Do you have a favourite work in this field? You mentioned Bill Nelson's Caligari score once to me?


- It's funny, really. I have a few thousand records but within that maybe only a dozen soundtracks. With the exception of 'A Clockwork Orange' by Walter Carlos, soundtrack music is not something that had really ever interested me that much... until now. So, it would be unfair of me to choose a favourite new score, as I haven't seen or heard enough of them. Having said that, I can tell you that 'Battleship Potemkin' by Del Rey and Sun Kings is excellent.


- I'm greatly influenced by soundtracks and have a number of faves including Vangelis ('Bladerunner') and Michael Nyman ('The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, Her Lover') but my favourite soundtrack composer has to be Ennio Morricone, with stand out scores for me being 'Once Upon a Time in America' and 'The Good, The Bad and The Ugly'.


Many artists return to this form. Do you have any plans for something similar?


- Love to - I feel we've only just scratched the surface!


- Yeah, no plans yet. As usual, we're waiting for our invite.


What other plans are there for CWNN in the future?


- We have at least two performances of the Caligari score coming up, which will be exciting. Other than that, we're contributing some music to a play entitled 'Bored Stiff', and are working on a collaboration with someone quite high profile on a possible album release. I shouldn't really say who at this point. We also have at least another album's worth of material half-recorded. Business is good.


You had Blaine Reininger of Tuxedomoon guest on your last album. When will new one be out?


- Well we'd certainly love Blaine to guest again! We have links with lots of amazing people now, but it's important not to have guests on your album for the sake of it. They need to fit...join our cult, even if just for one day. We'll have to see what's needed, and then seek the appropriate help. There are no release dates yet for new material, but rest assured we're busy cooking.


People that haven't heard your Caligari score can listen to and download it from It works great on its own, as well as with the film. Why did you decide to offer up the soundtrack separately?


- Thanks very much for saying that the music works on its own. I'm so pleased you think that. It's a record label decision to make the music available as widely as possible, and obviously that's great for us. With a thousand different ways to access and listen to music these days, it would be suicide to only make your music available one way and make everyone conform to you. We're not dictators, nor suicidal (although sometimes we may sound it).


- One of the really pleasing things about the soundtrack is that people have enjoyed the music with and without the image. I'm with Erik in the sense the more ways we can make the music available, the better.


Author: Mileta Okiljevic