The Chicago Humanities Festival presents “Joan of Arc Presents Carl Dreyer’s ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc'” at the Music Box for a single performance on Tuesday, May 30, with the Chicago band reuniting for the first time since 2018, performing their original score to Carl Th. Dreyer’s 1928 silent film. Tickets here.
We asked a few things of former frontman of Joan of Arc Tim Kinsella.
How does a piece like this come about?
This is our third time doing it.
The first time was in 2011 for CIMMFest (Chicago International Movies & Music). That was at a mysterious and mostly unused old church on North Avenue that added a tremendous amount of drama to the whole thing and I’m sure they thought to ask just because of the JOA / JOA connection. That version was recorded live and released as a double album with instructions for syncing each side to the film.
The Art Institute asked us to do it again in 2017 and had a vision in place before they even invited us: it would be outside, projected on the front of the museum. We had a slightly different lineup compared to six years earlier that involved more synthesizers than guitars. So we knew it’d be different. We ended up changing it quite a bit, constructing a meta-narrative involving lots of interruptions—a recorded narrator, a live narrator, two little girls singing live and lots of historically incongruous samples.
Another six years has passed and we’ve been invited to do it again, this time by the Chicago Humanities Festival. This time we are no longer a band. Our last show was in Berlin in 2018. But it’s obviously an honor to be invited by the Humanities Festival and even though we don’t want to be a band for a number of reasons, we are still all very tight and miss playing together and this seemed like a simple-enough loophole to do that without actually reuniting.
The lineup has changed again. Me, Bobby Burg and Theo Katsaounis have done all of them. This time we will be joined by Whitney Johnson on viola and ARP [synthesizer]. So it’s mostly similar to the original composition from 2011, but has continued to evolve.
How was the score composed?
When we originally wrote it we had just completed a years-long collaboration with the performance group Every house has a door. That was the first time that we were ever part of scoring anything so long! We learned a lot from them. It was intimidating at first, but once the initial codes were cracked, you know, obsessively detailing and charting out this kind of compositional challenge is exactly the kind of thing at the root of our friendships. We very much enjoy the process of broad strokes coming into focus and weaving and warping themes.
How does it resemble other JOA efflorescences, or work by everyone in the making and the performance?
I think part of why JOA was able to persevere for so long is that we evolved into having a pretty expansive practice. We all enjoy all kinds of music and it was always a great thrill for us to work new elements and gestures into what we do while not losing track of our core. This project specifically is a way for us to indulge our interests in twentieth century minimalists. It’s exciting for us to use the familiar sounds of rock-band instrumentation—guitars, bass, drums—and apply them to forms that usually employ different tonality.
What does it mean to collaborate with Carl Th. Dreyer?
We mostly just try to stay out of his way. We aren’t collaborating as much as accompanying.
Which other accompaniments of the film are you aware of? (The Criterion edition of the film includes scores by Richard Einhorn; Will Gregory and Adrian Utley; Julia Holter; pianist Mie Yanashita; Roger Eno; and Nick Cave and the Dirty Three.)
Did any of them provide a challenge or a caution?
Yeah, years ago I checked out as many as I could find and made notes. I don’t remember which is which and haven’t thought about them in years. Ultimately it becomes liberating that there’s so many versions by so many different people. It gives us a sort of permission, proves that there’s no right or wrong we need to worry about except for trusting our collective gut.
What other films have you ever done this to?
We did a very cool score for the Charlie Chaplin film “His New Job,” performed in the same room that the film was shot in ninety years earlier. That was intense: when we did a walkthrough of the room a couple days before the event, we learned there was not adequate electricity for a band to set up, so we had to do some intense last-minute creative problem-solving, transposing it quickly into an acoustic piece. We also fucked with the film speed a little, to heighten and warp the moments of violence, and that felt effective.
The Chicago Humanities Festival presents “Joan of Arc Presents Carl Dreyer’s ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc'” at the Music Box, Tuesday, May 30, 7pm.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.