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Published: 2011/01/25
by Tom Volk

Marc Ribot
Silent Movies

Pi. Recordings

Divorced from the context of their intended visual images the 13 tracks that unfold over the hour long “Silent Movies”, the latest release from the mercurial Marc Ribot, still succeed at nailing the essential element that all good films scores should: provoking emotion. Whether the films these tracks were destined for are real or imagined by Mr. Ribot is beside the point, the music contained therein is an excellent addition to a markedly diverse cannon.

The tone of the album, all pieces for solo guitar, is ominous and foreboding. This is music for a contemplative western or a 19th century period piece set in Prague that depicts someone’s maniacal downfall. Mr. Ribot won’t be working with Judd Apatow any time soon.

There is gorgeousness in the darkness though. Witness “Flicker”, three tracks in, the quiet urgency of the finger picked rhythm is haunting, and anchors the piece while being underscored by the slightest hint of overdubbed noise that lends a ghostly presence. It encapsulates the intent of the album perhaps better than any of the other tracks. One can picture the film it was intended for, a solitary character in a dark, orange-lit room, a lone candle flickering on the table, a scene full of neuroses and psychotic tension as sinister plans are made.

Seemingly every time Mr. Ribot is interviewed the topic veers towards guitar tone, whether it is using alligator clips to manipulate the tone, the reason foreign made Telecasters are superior their American made counterparts or manipulating the ratio of acoustic to amplified sounds. In short, he is a tone hound, and it’s his attention to that detail that keeps the mostly acoustic album from seeming staid. The feedback swells that punctuate the beginning of “Natalia in (E Flat Major),” the slowed down subway noise at the beginning of “Requiem For a Revolution” or the slightly elevated amplification of “Fat Man Blues” and “Radio” all impart a much needed element of contrast to the album.

It is not just the manipulation of his equipment to that end either, he varies his technique to create even more subtle variation. To wit, the precise, crisp picking of “Fat Man Blues” contrasts with the imperfections of “Solaris,” where you hear every muffled note which only adds to the tracks grace. The rumbling acoustic picking of the latter seems to slow down and speed up at times, an elasticity that allows the piece to breathe and build tension.

In the end though, it wasn’t all of the scenes of darkness and madness dancing through my head that left the greatest impression on me. In fact, “Bateau” was evocative of one of the most pleasant that I can recall. Four and a half years ago my wife and I were on our honeymoon and stopped in Saint Tropez for a day. In the harbor near the town proper there were dozens of local artists and craftsman that were lined up to sell there wares to would be tourists and day trippers. We coveted a large painting entitled “Bateau Rouges” (red boats) but ultimately passed because we couldn’t wrap our minds around the expense and settled for a much smaller, typically French scene of sun flowers and a country house that still hangs in our bedroom. We talked about the red boats for months afterwards, staring at the perfect spot for it in our newly purchased home, ruing the fact that we hadn’t been bold enough to pull the trigger. I hadn’t thought about that for years until the lilting melody of “Bateau” wafted out of my speakers. Memories of the busy center of Saint Tropez flooded back, the pollarded plane trees in the town square, the rocky beaches we climbed over to get away from the bustle of the town, and the piercing Mediterranean sun that permeated every crevice and illuminated every field. A smile comes to my face as I replay that silent movie in my head, a memory that found its soundtrack years later thanks to Marc Ribot.

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