4 Stars Movies Music

Yo La Tengo perform live to Jean Painlevé’s Science is Fiction in Prospect Park, 2006

Hoboken institution Yo La Tengo performs a live score to several of French filmmaker Jean Painlevé’s underwater documentaries. Interestingly, English subtitles indicate the films were apparently not silent in their original form, with narration and perhaps scores of their own. So not only is the audience’s experience of the films filtered through a spoken-French-to-written-English translation, but also by Yo La Tengo’s contemporary score.

Most of the films concerned the mating rituals and birth cycles of sea creatures ranging from octopi to mollusks. A rare intrusion of a human hand is seen during the dissection of a pregnant male sea horse. Without seeing the films in their original form, it’s hard to judge if they were clinical or artful in tone. Only one film was clearly intended to be abstract: a series of images of vividly colored liquids crystalizing, evoking the “Beyond Infinity” sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Yo La Tengo’s musical interpretation transformed nearly every sequence into a dreamlike, non-literal cinematic experience.

I’m curious… was the band influenced by the original soundtracks? To what degree was the performance planned and/or improvised?

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