Pull-String Duo

 "The Golem"

1920's Silent Film Classic by Paul Wegener

with Original Music Performed by

Pull-String Duo

The story of the Golem lies deep in the river of Jewish culture. Stretching as far back as the age of the Old Testament, there have been allusions and rumors of holy men who have miraculously given life to inanimate lumps of clay, formed in the likeness of man.  These magical beings, while quite powerful, cannot speak, and usually do as they are commanded by their creators. Their lives are a flawed conceit; the giving of life is something that only lies within God’s domain, and as a result, most tales usually end with the Golem causing destruction or bringing misery on their creators. Some variations on the Golem myth include more modern, non-Jewish stories such as Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Goethe’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” both of which illustrate this hubris theme well.

Set in medieval Prague, Paul Wegener’s 1920 silent film classic The Golem is based on one of the most famous versions of the classic Golem tale, one in which a Golem is created by the wise Rabbi Loew to save the persecuted citizens of Prague’s Jewish quarter. Threatened with unfair expulsion by the Holy Roman Emperor Luhois, the Golem (played by Wegener himself) fulfills his destiny as a servant and savior, but ultimately brings devastation to the beleaguered Jewish ghetto.

The story as presented in the film is a complex one, and has given some scholars moments of pause in regards to whether or not the Jewish populace is portrayed in a positive light. Certainly, Wegener depicts them as learned, loyal, and ultimately sympathetic victims of a snobbish upper class, but at the same time he represents their spiritual leader (the real hero of the film) as a sorcerer, one who delves both in magical illusions, as well as necromancy.

Even with these misgivings, the film ultimately serves as a great fantasy story. The chief role, therefore, of a new musical score would be to bring out the story’s central dilemma: the morality of idle creation, where paltry human jealousness causes a tool (the Golem) to be misused with dire consequences.

The music was inspired both by Jewish culture, as well as my musical partnership with  the excellent violinist, Matej Seda, who coincidentally is from the Czech Republic, not too distant from Prague. In contrast with the acoustic instruments (guitar and violin), the score utilizes digitally-manipulated electronic elements to highlight the underlying theme of artificial life. The idea of the “automaton” is an important element throughout, and as such, recorded sounds from broken music boxes, clocks, old phonograph records, and samples of John Cage’s prepared piano provided ripe sources for manipulation. This went so far as to even represent the Golem’s speechless “voice” with mangled historic recordings of the Czech Republic’s own Karel ńĆapek, who invented the word “robot” the same year that the film was released. The Golem’s unique existence as “unnatural” force is also represented by the musical material itself. He frequently is accompanied on-screen by permutations of his own special 12-tone row and the highly asymmetrical meter of 7/4.

While purposely avoiding Jewish musical clichés, sounds from Jewish culture abound throughout, with highly abstracted creations made from vintage cylinder recordings of  famous cantors, Yiddish musical theater, and shofar blasts during high-holy days. Additional material was created from sampling the violin and guitar themselves, tapping, striking, rubbing - you name it, creating percussion kits to drive rhythm and set the pace of the scene.

-D.D.