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A MIAD event brings filmmakers and musicians together in a unique process of collaboration

An audience watches a video of geometric shapes and designs, colored yellow, red, and blue.
Isabella Jacobson
Attendees watch one of the eight short films screened at LIVE AV.

If you were given a silent film, and told to create music for it, what would you do? Artists were given that challenge at a Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design event in November.

MIAD faculty invited eight filmmakers to create short, silent films. The films were then sent to sound artists and musicians, who created scores. The filmmakers had no idea what the music would sound like until it was performed live at an event called LIVE AV.

For one film, two guitarists played along to flickering images of trees and happy families. In another, titled Direction of the Road, a passing train illuminated by a bright light moves slowly to the sound of a flute.

MIAD alum and artist Darienne Hood was tasked with scoring a film called Desire Path by Sofia Theodore-Pierce. The film is a collage of scenes, including flashing lights at a bar, images of nature, and a woman doing her makeup.

Hood explains that when she first received the video, it resonated with her. This influenced how she chose to score the film.

A musician sings while a video plays on a screen behind her.
Isabella Jacobson
MIAD alum and artist Darienne Hood performs at LIVE AV

"In the video, you see lots of footage of horses running around and open shots of water," Hood says. "I just think that to me, it read as being open and free and going where you want to go and doing what you want to do and going for it. Like what's your path? What do you desire to do?"

Watching the video gave Hood lyric ideas and the overall vibe of her song. For her performance, Hood stood in front of the video as it played behind her.

The co-producers of LIVE AV are MIAD faculty members Kim Miller and Peter Barrickman. They say this project pushes artists to collaborate and create in new ways.

Miller says, "It's kind of a situation of, the sum of the pieces are greater than the whole, where the video plus the audio creates something new that wouldn't have been possible."

"Collaboration is a moment where you make yourself vulnerable. Most artists like to have things their way at certain times. They like to be in control of the setting, and they know for the most part what they need to do in order to have an outcome that they want to have," Barrickman adds. "I celebrate all these artists for being people who may have made themselves vulnerable by being willing to step up and open themselves to the unknown, which is that third thing that happens when two people come together."

Artists Roman Edirisinghe and Louis Morton also participated in this type of collaboration. Morton is the filmmaker–his video is called Leg. As the title suggests, the video’s main subject is an animated leg, dressed in bright yellow pants. Musician Edirisinghe improvises his score, playing his synth in time with the tap of the foot.

A musician plays a synth while looking up at a projector screen.
Maayan Silver
Roman Edirisinghe plays his improvised score to Louis Morton's film "Leg"

For both Edirisinghe and Morton, having their work interact in this way created unexpected moments of synergy.

"The beginning part I felt was what I was thinking like, just a percussive thing lining up with the foot," Morton says. "Then, especially the last third or so with, like, the slow down and the electronic stuff, I thought that that was really rad that really fit in well. Those were the couple parts where I was like 'whoa, you kind of read my mind there somehow.'"

Tammy Williams is a film studies professor at UW-Milwaukee. She attended the LIVE AV event because, as an expert in silent film, she was excited to see the different combinations of silent videos and music.

"Silent film was never silent," Williams explains. "It always had an accompaniment. The films are always very visual because that communicates across national boundaries and across linguistic boundaries. Even when there's wordlessness, there's always still sound, and there's always rhythm. When we were looking at films in which the musicians or sound makers were creating sound for the films, you can say those films already had a sense of sound about them, even before they were made."

Williams says that events like LIVE AV help people realize that sound and image are always interacting, not just in art, but in everyday life.

"We hear images and we see sounds," Williams says. "Whatever we're looking at, we're going to hear an accompanying sound in our mind and whatever we're hearing, we visualize something. They’re natural partners, sound and image. I think this kind of experience makes us more aware of that."

November’s event was the fourth iteration of LIVE AV. Organizers Kim Miller and Peter Barrickman hope to continue creating space for artists to get out of their comfort zones and collaborate in new ways.


Nadya is WUWM's sixth Eric Von fellow.
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