Unique Alloy orchestra comes to IC


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The accordion, the keyboard, the musical saw, as well as less-common instruments such as pots, pans, and assorted junk, are Alloy Orchestra members' go-to tools when they create musical scores for silent films.

"It's kind of a perfect situation for a musician," member Ken Winokur said. "Even though the three of us remain constant, the films are so different from one another that every time we're working on a new film, it's like a new band. It's got a level of diversity that you don't normally get out of a musical group."

When Alloy Orchestra makes music, the members watch a silent film of their choosing and begin composing music to complement the film, scene by scene.

The group comprises three people: Winokur on "junk" percussion and clarinet, Terry Donahue on junk, accordion, musical saw, and vocals, and Roger Miller on the keyboard. Together, they write and perform live scores to classic silent films. The film that they are touring with is a newly released version of Metropolis.

Andy Brodie, the booker and presenter of the show, first saw the group when he attended the University of Iowa and first brought it to Iowa City in 2006, when he was a codirector at the Bijou.
He said he enjoys the group's contemporary, vibrant sound, and the way the band can appeal to people of all ages.

"I've seen young children who probably wouldn't necessarily have taken an interest in Metropolis see this show, and you can see the look on their face and in their eyes, and they're just amazed by it," Brodie said. "So it's cool the way people respond to it."

One Alloy Orchestra member has ties to Iowa City.

Winokur graduated from City High, and his mother still lives here. He said the band is unique in the way that it can sound completely different depending on what film it is working on, and this keeps the band members and their audiences engaged.

The band, based in Massachusetts, has been creating music for silent films for more than 21 years. The members started with Metropolis, and they have worked with the film numerous times throughout their career as new, more complete versions have been released. The members say that the epic film works well with their style.

"It's got machinery, it's got science fiction, it's got battle scenes," Miller said. "It's got everything that really works for the Alloy Orchestra because it allows us to be very percussion-heavy, drumming and hitting on pieces of metal, hitting gongs and stuff when buildings are exploding. So you see the grand side of Alloy Orchestra very well."

The members said their sound is eclectic and different for every movie score that they create. For Metropolis, members said, there were no real restrictions, and they could fully settle into a "post-rock orchestral" sound.

"It's very percussive, very exciting, it's loud. It's got the thrill of a major rock performance even though it is not at all rock music," Winokur said.

The group strives to envelop an audience so completely in the atmosphere of the movie that they will forget that they're watching a movie and seeing a performance.

"It's more than a movie, it's more than a concert, it's a unique experience," Donahue said. "You get two really cool art forms working together to create one, hopefully, magical show."

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