Interview: Marc Houle

While the global EDM scene still debates the merits of “pressing play,” techno veteran Marc Houle has been wowing audiences for over a decade with a live performance that is constantly evolving night after night, in city after city, at clubs and festivals worldwide.

Raised adjacent to Detroit in Windsor, Ontario, in the same fertile music community that spawned his former label boss and mentor Richie Hawtin, Houle’s obsession with electronic sounds goes back to the noise of ’80s video games and vintage synthesizers. And while too many electronic artists use their machines as merely tools of convenience, Houle regards his with a dedication found in few producers.

The results have been extraordinary. A decade-long career of seminal records on Hawtin’s Minus label, as well as his own Items & Things imprint, that not only helped define the beloved minimal sound of the mid-‘00s (“On It”), but had a laugh at its expense (“Techno Vocals”), before transcending the limits of the sub-genre completely by incorporating industrial, disco and new wave influences (“Undercover”).

This ADE, Marc Houle brings something truly special to Amsterdam as he will debut his original score for the 1920s Japanese silent film A Page of Madness. Houle’s live performance premiere will form part of the Films @ ADE programme, a series of documentaries and films hosted at Melkweg Cinema. Taking place on Thursday 15 October, the screening will be free for ADE Card Holders and conference delegates.

Originally created in the 1920s, A Page of Madness (Kurutta Ippeiji) was long believed lost until the creator, Teinosuke Kinugasa, rediscovered it hidden deep in his garden shed. A masterpiece of Japanese silent cinema, Kinugasa uses a striking array of expressionist and surrealist filmmaking techniques to evoke the inner thoughts and feelings of patients in a mental hospital.

Anticipating this most interesting event, we caught up with Marc to speak on Japanese surrealism, his approach to constructing a live soundtrack, what the original film’s score was lacking, and much more. You can check out full details and get tickets (Ticket: € 9 | Discount: € 8
ADE Card & Cineville Card: free (limited)
to the screening event at the conclusion of this article.

“Growing up, I slowly realized that everything I like seemed to come from Japan”

When were you first introduced to ‘A Page of Madness’? What was it that drew you into the film in the first place?
There were so many things that hit me at once. The dark mood is done in a very smart and subtle way. The characters are so amazing and work well to tell a big story full of symbolism and feeling. I was really surprised that I had never come across this film before because for me, it has everything a great film needs. After every time I watched it, I understood another piece of the puzzle which made it so fun to watch again and again.

The original film contains a jazz score, however I have read that you did not quite feel that decision fit with the visuals. What was it about the original score in particular did you think could be improved upon?
The score I first heard was one that was added in the 70’s and seemed matter-of-fact – like it was just added with out much thought. The music for me detracted from the mood rather than adding. There was also no sound effects to help set the tone like the storm going on in the beginning or the hollow feeling of being inside that asylum. The project began as an experiment to see what would happen if I added these elements and some darker music and I was surprised enough to want to do this again live. I would love to have heard it back in 1926 with the original score and benshi narration.

You can see that the film’s Director was heavily influenced by classic European cinema, especially the theoretically driven Soviet cinema, as well as the aesthetic and philosophical German Expressionist Cinema. Speaking generally, do you see such influences in the film or do you find it distinctly Japanese?
Oh definitely the early european experimental cinema had a great impact on his work. This film seems to gather all the different great films of the 1920s into a definitive piece so you can really appreciate how ahead of their time some of these early film makers were. Being from Canada, the silent movies I was exposed to were more Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin which were great but not as emotional and dark as the stuff coming out of the Eastern Block.

The film contains no intertitles, a common practice of silent cinema, in order to subvert a cohesive narrative. As it traditionally would be screened with a live narrator, as well as live score, how do you feel your score drives the plot in a cohesive fashion?
When I play the movie for friends in my home, I’m usually the live narrator helping to explain quickly who the characters are so they can understand the plot better. For a live show I am still figuring out what the best practice would be – Im thinking some really brief subtitles as to not detract from the visual elements going on. But there should be some sort of guidance to help people enjoy the film more. If the story wasn’t so interesting and powerful, the music would be enough.

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