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Alloy Orchestra is a musical ensemble based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, that performs its own accompaniments to silent films of the classic movie era. Percussionists Terry Donahue and Ken Winokur and keyboardist Caleb Sampson founded the group in 1990. After Sampson's death in 1998, the band was joined by keyboardist Roger Miller, better known as the guitarist of post-punk band Mission of Burma.
Since its first performance on December 31, 1990, in Boston, the Alloy Orchestra has developed an extensive repertoire of music and sounds that it performs during the projection of silent films. Its three musicians use an array of found objects and electronics as well as traditional percussion, wind and keyboard instruments. In 1999 Entertainment Weekly put the ensemble on its "It List" of the 100 most creative people or groupings in the entertainment world. Terry Gross on National Public Radio called the trio "one of the pioneers in composing new music for old movies" and Lloyd Schwartz discussed their recording of scores to a pair of Buster Keaton films: "Most silent movie music just fills the void. Some of it even gets in the way. But the Alloy Orchestra really helps us see what we're watching and often the music, whether driving or fanciful, is worth listening to on its own."
The ensemble has performed at film festivals and a variety of cultural events worldwide, including an annual performance within Maryland Film Festival each May. It also performs on tour throughout the United States at local movie houses such as the Colonial Theatre in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, the Oriental Theater in Milwaukee, the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, and the Rose Theatre in Port Townsend, Washington. University appearances have included Clark University, Webster University, St. Louis University, New York University, Cornell University, and Brown University.
They revise their scores as better and more integral prints of films become available. For instance, they performed a new score to accompany the recently restored version of Fritz Lang's Metropolis at the TCM Classic Movie Festival in April 2010.
Alloy also works in collaboration with film archivists and collectors, such as George Eastman House and the British Film Institute, to present audiences with the very best available prints of some of history's greatest films. For example, Alloy acquired its own new print of Dziga Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera from the Moscow Film Archive (Gosfilmofond) and wrote its own score based on Vertov's notes for the film’s 1928 premiere. In 1995 the group took that copy of the film on a tour that included performances at the Telluride Film Festival, the Giornate del cinema muto in Pordenone, Italy, the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, the National Gallery of Art, and the Midnight Sun Film Festival in Finland.
The Alloy Orchestra has also composed and recorded scores for other DVD releases. "The General", "Steamboat Bill Jr.", "Masters of Slapstick", "The Lost World", "Strike", "The Unknown", "Arbuckle and Keaton (volumes 1 and 2)", "Manslaughter", "Wild and Weird short films", "Phantom of the Opera", "The Last Command", and "Underworld".
In addition to their work on silent films, Alloy Orchestra has done music for contemporary films, including Fast, Cheap & Out of Control and Vakvagany.
- Music CDs
- New Music for Silent Films (1994)
- Lonesome: New Music for the Classic Silent Film (1995)
- Silents (1997)
- The General - Original Soundtrack - Buster Keaton (2004)
- Man with the Movie Camera (1929, soundtrack)
- "Caleb Sampson Obituary". Sun Journal. Retrieved December 11, 2012.
- National Public Radio: Lloyd Schwartz, "The Alloy Orchestra: Silent Movie Scores," March 16, 2004, accessed June 7, 2010
- WBUR: Andrea Sea, "Retro 'Metropolis:' Boston Trio Re-Scores A Sci-Fi Classic," April 23, 2010, accessed June 7, 2010
- Independent Film and Video Monthly, vol. 25 (2002), 15ff.
- New York Daily News: Mary Talbot, "Alloy Orchestra's Brand of Heavy Metal," August 9, 1996, accessed June 8, 2010