Ken Winokur, Roger Miller and Terry Donahue pulled objects from Boston dumpsters to kickstart what would become Alloy Orchestra in December of 1990. The three men gathered chunks of discarded machine parts, worn tools and appliances to be played alongside their own homemade instruments.
In the main theater of Keene State College’s Redfern Arts Center on Oct. 31, the Alloy Orchestra arranged their unique arsenal of instruments as a pit band to The Phantom of the Opera.
According to their pamphlet, the freshly-formed Alloy Orchestra hasplayed for thousands of Boston spectators during the annual First Night celebration. Nearly 25 years later, their rustic style continues to be showcased, but in an unexpected way.
The original Phantom of the Opera film, colorless and silent, was produced in 1929. This version of the classic received early 1900 color treatment with methods like hand-coloring and film-tinting, making scenes a shade of one color entirely at certain moments.
Although a classic horror movie in itself, The Phantom of the Opera intensified with the presence of Alloy Orchestra. From start to finish they played along with the film, following rapid jump-cuts and orchestrating the mood.
During a ballet performance in the movie the orchestra created an upbeat tune that bounced with the dancers.
Member Terry Donahue tapped on strung horseshoes that each produced a different note. During tense scenes Donahue held the end of a saw and scraped its side with a violin bow to create a high-pitched wiry noise.
In one scene of the movie, the Phantom played the piano sporadically as he kept getting interrupted.
Pit keyboardist Roger Miller played a piano tune whenever the Phantom did, stopping and starting in accordance to the Phantom on screen.
For the Redfern performance, Alloy Orchestra used Zildjian-brand percussion equipment as well as junk bells, wind chimes, horseshoes, a saw, a triangle and a heating coil.
Alloy Orchestra members write the expressive music scores to fit the movie they’re performing with, according to their pamphlet.
The silent film screening drew in both students and area residents. In the promotional memo, Redfern Arts Center faculty encouraged viewers to come in costume to celebrate the holiday.
A Keene woman who arrived as a caterpillar, but came as a fan of silent film said, “That’s why we came. I think it just helps to get people more absorbed in it; bring it to life.”
Ken Gregory of Keene, however, said he had never seen a silent film with live accompaniment.
“I enjoyed it,” Gregory said, “I thought it was interesting.”
KSC Senior Megan Lindsey had a similar experience. “This is my first show with music and I thought it was fantastic,” Lindsey said, “It’s great that we have opportunities to have something like this.”
Alloy Orchestra has showcased their work in more than a thousand venues across North America.
Paolo Cherchi Usai, co-director of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, was quoted praising Alloy Orchestra’s innovative technique to embellish silent films. “They’ve done more than anyone lately to bring audience to silent films,” Usai said.
Allie Baker can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org