The General is Buster Keaton’s prolific 1926 silent comedy, which was inspired by the Great Locomotive Chase, which took place in the American Civil War. With an initial disappointing reception things soon changed, as the film is now considered one of the great American movies, with it being recognised time and time again by the American Film Institute. Travel the Atlantic and take yourself to the British Film Institute in London, who have commissioned Derbyshire’s Haiku Salut to compose a new original soundtrack for the classic, as part of their Comedy Genius Season.
After their last release, There Is No Elsewhere, and VR extravaganza, the twenty-three track score was written within a two-month period over winter in the band’s studio at the edge of the Peak District. It’s safe to say the trio, Gemma Barkerwood, Louise Croft and Sophie Barkerwood have given the revered silent film an electronic injection, alluding us to believe it might be for Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
As expected from Haiku Salut, glitchy electronica and hypnotic piano pieces are certainly present in this score, a score so wondrously produced, refined and emotive. With every listen intrigue kicks in, as I attempt to envisage a screening with this synthesized and oft-throbbing contemporary score. I must admit, I think I need to see it for myself.
Loves, I am told, charts Buster Keaton’s character Johnny Gray woo-ing his true love Annabelle, a stunning piece incorporating piano, guitar, more traditional instruments, keeping it simple and classic. Going Back is a little more akin to their last record, which combines tangled electronica with more haunting vocals, fusing the old with the new, perhaps indicative of trains and locomotives in this era. With their capabilities in composing immersive soundscapes, it was only a matter of time before they were commissioned for a task such as this, a wonderful compilation of cinematic sounds, kicked up a notch with this newfangled approach. There is much “loopery and laptopery” throughout these twenty-three tracks, that certainly does not detract from the warmth of the film (I would imagine) as it’s deeply embedded in the melodica, harmonies, keys and surreal.
Enchanting, captivating, and endearing, The General is listenable in it’s own entity but let’s hope they bring a live scoring of the silent film north of the border, as I cannot imagine anything more pleasing than putting my inquisition to rest.
The General is out now, via Secret Name records.