Introducing: The Cornish Sound Unit (a music project by Mark Jenkin & Dion Star)
06 December 2023
Mark Jenkin, BAFTA award-winning director and Falmouth’s Distinguished Professor of Film Practice, and Dion Star, artist, musician and Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design at Falmouth, have joined forces on collaborative music project The Cornish Sound Unit. The project’s first outing has seen the duo sonically reimagine the score for Enys Men, Mark’s award-winning Cornish folk horror film.
As a film with minimal dialogue, the score for Enys Men – an arrangement of music and sound effects composed by Mark – is a crucial component in the film’s anatomy. Having recently received the British Independent Film Award (BIFA) for Best Sound, the score is a powerful vehicle through which the unnerving story of ‘The Volunteer’ unfolds on an uninhabited island off the Cornish coast.
Commissioned for live performance by the British Film Institute (BFI), Mark and Dion have given five performances of the live score across the UK to date, treating audiences to immersive and experimental viewings of the critically acclaimed 16mm film, including a sold-out date at The Poly in Falmouth on Sunday 3 December.
The live performance as The Cornish Sound Unit developed through collaborative practice sessions between the duo, and sees them stationed at a table, armed with cue sheets and surrounded by tape loops, analogue synths and field recordings as the film plays on the big screen behind them.
Due to the analogue nature of the equipment, the number of variables of the arrangement and the likeness of the tape loop to a ‘wild animal’, no two performances of the score are the same. It is this rawness that permeates each live set, allowing audiences to experience the disquiet of the film in a potent new way.
Both Mark and Dion are strong advocates for collaboration; Mark frequently brings in collaborators from across Falmouth’s creative community and beyond to work on his films, and as an artist, Dion’s studio practice centres around collaboration with film directors, sound designers, writers, poets and other artists.
Dr Kingsley Marshall, Head of Film & Television at Falmouth has worked with Mark for over a decade in the School of Film & Television, and has collaborated with him as a lecturer, music composer and film producer. Kingsley hosted a Q&A with Mark and Dion after the performance at The Poly and told us: “One of the things I enjoy about spending time on the cinematic island of Enys Men is that sound feels alive. Everything makes a noise; industrial noises thud and clank, waves crash, birds screech and, in the cottage at the centre of the story, floorboards creepily creak.
“While Mark’s previous film Bait was driven by its dialogue between a rich cast of characters, there’s little dialogue and few speaking characters in Enys Men, and I love how Mark pulls a rhythm of the film from footsteps, doors, and anything else that can make a noise in his world. His original score brings all this together, but the live performance of the score really brings the film to life in new ways.
“In his curated season, which accompanied the launch of Enys Men in cinemas, Mark made use of a much-cited Robert Bresson quote in the accompanying literature: ‘I’d rather people felt a film of mine before understanding it’ – and at The Poly, with the live score of The Cornish Sound Unit making noise in Cornwall, I felt the film.”
All images: Andy Lawrence Photography