Friday, July 9, 2021

Stephen Horne spellbound in darkness, and silents

Musical accompanist Stephen Horne is a longtime friend, not only to myself but also to Louise Brooks and the Louise Brooks Society. In fact, he has probably accompanied the screening of a Louise Brooks film as much as anyone. 

I likely met him "over the internet" well more than 10 or 12 years ago when we did an email interview about Prix de beaute back when I was writing for In the years since, we have met a few times in person when Stephen came to San Francisco to accompany a film at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. He is a great guy and a great musician. As no longer exists,  HERE is a link to a later incarnation of the interview I did with Stephen about Prix de beaute.

The other day, Stephen was a guest blogger on Pamela Hutchinson's wonderfilled Silent London blog. (It is a blog well worth subscribing to, and supporting.) Stephen's thoughtful piece, which is titled "Silent Sirens: Stephen Horne on playing for the ghosts of silent film," begins with the musician's near mystical experience when he once accompanied a Louise Brooks film. There was nothing "new age" about Stephen's account. Instead, it has to do with the special experience so many of us experience when we view a silent film. We are transported. 

Stephen wrote "At one point Louise was held in an extended close-up – her smiling, enigmatic beauty framed by silver light. Then she started to speak and, although there was no intertitle, it was very clear to me what she was saying. In fact, just for a few seconds, I could actually hear her voice speaking the words. At least, that’s how it seemed. In retrospect, I realised that I had almost certainly been lip-reading. However, something about the moment, as immersive as it was, made the words transform into the sound of a voice within my head." 

He continued, "I didn’t give it another thought until some time later, when I realised that there seemed to be something pleasantly haunting about silent films, particularly when accompanied by live music. They can sometimes feel like a form of cultural séance: the audience gathers in a darkened space, hoping to make contact with long departed cinematic spirits. The musicians are almost like musical mediums and, at its best the music they produce can be a form of channelling." 

That last paragraph really struck me. I hope you will check out Stephen's entire piece "Silent Sirens: Stephen Horne on playing for the ghosts of silent film."


Readers may also want to know that Stephen's first CD, Silent Sirens, is to be released on July 9 on the Ulysses Arts label. Silent Sirens is an album of music composed and performed by Stephen Horne. And, it is something I am really looking forward to hearing.

The tracks on the album are intended to stand alone from the films from which they were initially inspired. However, according to the artist, most of these films have two things in common. "Firstly, they share a certain haunting quality, leaving unanswered questions to reverberate in the viewer’s mind long after ‘The End’. Secondly, at least for me, the strongest impression is made by the films’ leading women – the actresses and their roles. Combining these two elements suggested the theme of Silent Sirens."

More information on Stephen Horne's Silent Sirens, including purchase and streaming options, can be found HERE.

For more on this musician's approach to accompanying silent film, here is a video interview from 2009. Stephen Horne spoke to Marek Bogacki at the Killruddery Silent Film Festival about his career in silent film music.


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