On closing night of the Memory Film Festival on Sunday, the audience will be treated to Cambodia’s 21st century breed of traditional musicians: young, talented and intense in their interpretation.
And the music they will play—set to accompany the silent film being screened—will have the touch of brilliance that Cambodian contemporary-music composer Him Sophy seems to instill in every work he conceives.
The international festival featuring popular films of the 20th century will end at 6 p.m. on Sunday with the screening of a 1924 silent movie. Entitled “Extraordinary Adventures of Mr. West in the Land of the Bolsheviks,” this Russian comedy is a spoof on Americans’ vision of the Soviet Union in the 1920s.
At the initiative of the organization Cambodian Living Arts, composer Him Sophy and nine young Cambodian musicians have created music to accompany the movie, and will perform it live while the film is shown at Chaktomuk Conference Hall on Sunday.
The group consists of seven traditional musicians, a pianist and a clarinetist with Mr. Sophy conducting.
The film is 78 minutes long, which made composition a major undertaking, Mr. Sophy said. He began by selecting traditional pieces of music to serve as the basis. “Then I tried to give the young musicians ideas, to encourage them to improvise as they played,” he said, adding that he also meant this as a workshop on composition.
“When we started working on the project, Mr. Him Sophy discussed the film with us, the meaning of the scenes, and he guided us on how to compose,” said Hem Daravuth who plays the percussion instrument roenat plos. “Each musician has composed a segment of the work….There are around 20 segments that mix classical, traditional and contemporary music.”
Reflecting film sequences in music has been no small task, the 24-year-old musician said.
“We need to know how to control our feelings and constantly pay attention,” Mr. Daravuth said. “We may have to play…a slow segment for a romantic moment, then have to change mood for a sad part. It’s very demanding for all of us…It seems as if we are acting as well as playing music.”
The musicians, who intently watch the screen as they play, don’t use music sheets.
“One of the key demands is to remember the entire story and the music for each scene,” said 22-year-old musician Phan Chamroeun who plays the bowed stringed instrument tro sau. “But this project has been quite incredible: We were able to compose music based on our own feeling…It has been fun indeed.”
Although each of the nine musicians wrote a segment of the music, the result under the direction of Mr. Sophy forms a harmonious work. It also has the eerie, distinctly contemporary quality that Cambodian traditional music often carries.
Held every day this week, the festival is organized by the Bophana Center, the Institut Francais and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage under the patronage of King Norodom Sihamoni.