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Jim Sclavunos Talks Faustian Pact
Luke Turner , February 10th, 2012 09:37

The Bad Seed adapts Faust for the Perth Festival. Photographs thanks to Sarah Lowe

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Now he's got downtime from both Grinderman and The Bad Seeds, the affable drumming gent Jim Sclavunos is heading to Perth Festival in Australia to perform Faustian Pact, an adaptation of FW Murnau's film, Faust. We called up Sclavunos for a chat about the project, which is being produced in collaboration with fellow musician and Peter Mavrogeorgis and choreographer Micki Pellerano.

After an approach from the Festival organisers, Sclavunos suggested the radical reworking of the 1926 film. "We thought rather than playing live with a film, why don't we go in and re-edit and refashion the entire theme of it," he explains about the decision to go further than a simple live soundtrack. "In addition to a live musical performance we actually have live stage performers. We've made it really complicated and do it in the furthest possible place from where we live, and the hottest possible place we can do a show. 100 degrees every single day this week."

Sclavunos says the decision to do this radical re-edit of the film was in part thanks to what he feels are certain deficiencies with the Murnau original. "It's not generally held as one of his better films, and it takes some regrettable liberties with the the original narrative," Sclavunos says. "In a way what I was trying to do was highlight what I found were the more interesting aspect of Murnau film, plus refashion the textural and thematic motifs in it. Micki has a particular interest in that sort of thing, he's actually written a script that strongly brings out the pantheistic undertones of Goethe's original, which are are almost elimated in Murnau's version of the story."

Visually, this will include "rituals" performed as dancers part-improvise routines onstage. Of the musical accompaniment, Sclavunos says that it will be "largely minimalist drone. We're using waterphones, which are weird-looking sculptural things that you bang on or pluck or bow with a cello bow, they don't really look like instrument." There'll also be bass synthesiser pedals and "various other devices... nothing that looks like a rock & roll instrument" to make "a heavy dark drony thing with sudden blasts of fanfare. We'll be using some horns as well."

Improvisation will be a large part of the Faustian Pact performance, according to Sclavunos: "We don't actually know what it's going to be like because we're actually going to be using a lot of local band members who'll only get one day of rehearsal with us. We've really consciously kept it as spontaneous as possible. Peter and I will be improvising onstage, and the dancers will be improvising as well. The film is the framework, but everything else is going to be of the moment."

Peter Mavrogeorgis and Sclavunos have collaborated since the former was a member of The Vanity Set. Sclavunos went on to produce Mavrogeorgis' group The Bellmer Dolls before the pair teamed up as Silver Alert, where they work sometimes with Sclavunos as the producer, sometimes with Mavrogeorgis producing and Sclavunos "in an advisory role, or cable wrapper-upper". The pair both have Greek dads and Italian mums which, says Sclavunos, adds "a bit of Mediterranean spice" and gives them "a lot of common ground culturally." Their ethnic heritage was also the reason for their adopting the Silver Alert name. "Because we've both got greek surnames and it gets a bit unwieldy ‘James Scabdabdoobinus and Peter Mavrodavrojorgis', he explains. "Silver Alert is pretty snappy."

And where does it come from? "Silver Alert was a sign that appeared over the highway when I was driving around down South. I didn't know what it was, but it sounded cool. It turns out it's when grannies or grandads forget to take their medication, are slightly senile and go off take the family car and drive the wrong way down the highway, they have this alert system in areas where they have a high density of senior citizens and it's called the Silver Alert. There's also the Amber Alert for young girls. I thought it was the kind of alert that might go out for me when I'm renegade from the Bad Seeds or Grinderman."

Silver Alert's Faust takes place at the Perth Festival next Tuesday, February 14th. find out more here.