Film-with-Live-Orchestra Concerts: A New Hope
Sureshkumar P. Sekar
A Film-with-Live-Orchestra (FLO) concert ‘features a live performance of an underscore… accompanying a screening of a motion picture from the sound era’ (McCorkle Okazaki, 2020). I prefer the name Film-with-Live-Orchestra (FLO) concert to ‘cine-concert’ (ibid.) because it clearly describes what an audience member gets to watch in this event—a film, and a live orchestral performance.
Many Hollywood blockbusters are presented in the FLO concert format and huge audiences from across the world attend these events. Since 2016, nearly 3 million people from 48 countries have watched, in over 1300 FLO concerts, symphony orchestras perform the score live to the projection of the Harry Potter films (CineConcerts, 2020). Lucy Noble, the artistic director of the Royal Albert Hall, says, ‘We’re so delighted… particularly in how it [FLO Concert] introduces new audiences to classical music…’ (Royal Albert Hall, 2019), implying that the addition of an audiovisual element helps audiences to engage with and appreciate live orchestral music. In my investigation of the experience of an audience member attending an FLO concert, I have found that it does help audience appreciate orchestral music, but also that it does so much more.
In ‘Film-with-Live-Orchestra Concerts: A New Hope’, I trace the beginnings of FLO concerts, and discuss how this concert phenomenon
- shows the way traditional performance spaces respond to the accelerating audiovisual culture, for FLO concert is an event in which there is concomitant occurrence of both live (music) and mediatized (film) performance, two different modes of arts consumption that are, as Philip Auslander (2008) says, unequal rivals in the cultural economy;
- responds to the ongoing discourse on diversity and inclusion by attracting audiences from vastly different ethnicities and backgrounds to symphonic spaces, the spaces they would rarely step into otherwise, and
- offers, aesthetically, a new, immersive, audiovisual experience to the audience, from which emerges my concept of “aLiveness”; and
- remains the last performance art that retains its characteristic of ‘Classic’ Liveness. No FLO concert was performed to an empty auditorium before or during the long stretches of COVID-19 lockdown. No official recording of an FLO concert is made available for asynchronous consumption yet. Whereas, on YouTube or in other digital platforms or recorded mediums, one can easily find official recordings (mediatized versions) of most other performance arts: circus, magic show, play, musical theatre, stand-up comedy, silent film with live music, opera, ballet, planetarium, vaudeville, pantomime, contemporary dance, acrobat, literary festival, lecture recital, Lecture, masterclass, poetry, puppet theatre, film music, DJ/EDM, visual music, new music, video game music, anime music, synth music, debate, public speech, fashion show, Baroque music, early music, chamber music, solo recital, classical choral, contemporary classical, orchestral non-classical, orchestral classical, popular classical, jazz, pop, rock, psychedelic rock, hip-hop, heavy metal, reggae, soul, blues, rap etc.
Philip Auslander (2008) defines ‘liveness’ as entailing physical copresence of performers and audience, and ‘mediatized’ as requiring neither copresence nor temporal simultaneity of production and reception. By adding a live orchestra to a film screening, an FLO concert adds a manageable challenge to the audience’s experience of watching a familiar film, causing a state of ‘arousal’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), a state ideal for learning, which then leads to a ‘flow’ state, to having an ‘optimal experience’. Annabel J. Cohen’s (2014) Congruence-Associationist model explicates how the brain processes audio and visual stimuli when watching a film. The brain, however, could skip a few steps in the process when re-watching a familiar film, and in a FLO concert, this available mental resource could be used to observe the live orchestra and to learn to appreciate the affective power of orchestral music and the effort it takes for the musicians to play the music perfectly in sync with the film.
I draw from Auslander’s (2008) concept of liveness, Csikszentmihaly’s (1990) flow model and Annabel J. Cohen’s (2014) Congruence-Associationist model to construct the theory of “aLiveness”—an experiential phenomenon that occurs when the audience becomes conscious of the affective power and the aesthetic elements of a work of art. With ‘aLiveness’, I argue that orchestral music can co-opt video in its live presentation to make its internal structure and patterns intelligible, and its pleasures accessible and enjoyable, to all audiences.
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Sureshkumar P. Sekar is a third year PhD student at the Royal College of Music, London, and a RCM Studentship Holder. He is conducting an empirical study on the experience of an audience member attending Film-with-Live Orchestra concerts in the UK. He holds an MA with distinction in Creative Writing (Biography and Creative Non-Fiction) from the University of East Anglia. He has presented papers on the theory of ‘aLiveness’ at BFE-RMA Research Students’ Conference 2021, University of Cambridge, UK, and at Towards 2040: Classical Music Futures Symposium, University of Maastricht, Netherlands. He has also presented papers on autonetnography at Information Overload? Music Studies in the Age of Abundance conference (2021), University of Birmingham, UK, and at NVivo Virtual Conference – Transcending Boundaries in Qualitative Research 2021.