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Street musique

9 minutes

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The street music of Montreal inspires an animator’s psychedelic joyride

Warning: this film features rapidly flashing images that can be distressing to photosensitive viewers.

Depending on one’s mood and the context and quality of musicianship on display, the sounds of street music can either prompt a spark of joy or a jolt of annoyance. But whether you’re entranced by a sidewalk Dvořák cello performance or simply trying to work through your daily podcast routine in peace, street music is, in most cities, unavoidably woven into the overall fabric of the urban experience. And, from hip hop in South Central Los Angeles to flamenco in southern Spain, the sounds of the streets can provide an unvarnished window into the local culture.

For his short animation Street Musique (1972), the celebrated Canadian artist Ryan Larkin tapped into the hippie busking culture of early-1970s Montreal. Interspersing black-and-white footage of street musicians – what the National Film Board of Canada calls ‘a popular group presented as sidewalk entertainers’ – Larkin uses the freewheeling acoustic folk sounds as a springboard for a flowing ‘visual improvisation’ inspired by the music.

Aside from mining the sounds and sensibilities of Montreal’s street scene, there seems to be no grander message or narrative to Larkin’s work other than, for his part, an opportunity to riff on the art of the performers, and for the viewer, an invitation to enjoy the delightfully unpredictable ride. Larkin pivots between styles, including abstract watercolours that give way to surreal landscapes, and simple, hand-drawn amoeba-like shapes that drift in and out of creaturely forms.

As with Larkin’s earlier film, Walking (1968), the eclectic rhythms of human movement seem to provide inspiration; but, just as soon as a figure becomes recognisably humanoid, it shifts out of visual grasp. In this way, Larkin’s images resemble the fickleness of an unfocused stream-of-consciousness – like entering the wavering mind’s eye of someone experiencing an unfamiliar piece of music. And, happily, Larkin’s mind’s eye is a joy to witness – a psychedelic whirlwind of creative energy that forms a gleeful pairing with the source material.

Written by Adam D’Arpino

Director and animator: Ryan Larkin

Website: National Film Board of Canada

5 May 2021