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The New Music Circle sets its decidedly modern works to old newsreel footage in Pathétopassé

The New Music Circle perform the latest of their annual concerts accompanying early silent films at the St. Louis Art Museum Auditorium this week. "Circle/Cinema VII: Pathétopassé" joins the avant-garde musicians of the group and newsreels from the 1920s in the free performance.

Audiences have enjoyed the unique marriage of silents set to NMC improvisational music before, in evenings showcasing such gems as the surrealist films of Man Ray, The Phantom of the Opera and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Tuesday's video stimuli are newsreels, which in the '20s were apparently heavy on a recent invention called the airplane; daredevils; and daredevils in airplanes. Big hype surrounded the Teapot Dome scandal, Lindbergh's transatlantic crossing and a series of eruptions of Mt. Vesuvius.

Newsreels, were, of course, short features of news and public-interest items shown before movies, until the '50s, when television began to supplant them. Before newsreels, the static images in newspapers and the images in your mind woven by radio were the extent of video news.

The 48-minute performance features Randy Titus on percussion, toys and voice; Justin Stienbecker on hand drums, effects and voice; Tom Sutter on "various familiar instruments and magic" and Rebecca Ryan supplying vocals. The ensemble is clearly not confined by traditional notions of music or instruments.

Surely at this momentous turn of the post-Jesus odometer, the newsreels are meant to encourage one to speculate on how far civilization has come in the past century (airplanes, daredevils, cars, world wars, computers, men on the moon, VCRs, the Internet, porn on DVD, etc.) and where earthlings might find themselves in another hundred years or so (biomedically engineered winged men, teleportation, yogurt in a tube, holographic porn, etc.). If you're not hyped out by the Y2K frenzy, you just might enjoy these ponderings on man's position in the cosmic continuum or, at the very least, be amused by the juxtaposition of the forward-leaning sounds of the NMC with the antiquated images of the newsreels.

The New Music Circle performs Pathétopassé at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 25. Call 995-4963 for more information.

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