Silent Films/Loud Music by Sydney-based educator, composer and musician Phillip Johnston is an academic text, which looks at “new ways of listening to and thinking about Silent Film Music”. Suitably published by a specialist academic press, the book is specialised in its structure and approach, and includes considerable engagement with contemporary philosophical theory and practice. 

Silent Films/Loud Music

While the idea of enhancing silent classics by directors such as FW Murnau, Abel Gance and Buster Keaton is nothing new, musical accompaniments have generally fallen back on improvised soundtracks in a wide variety of styles and structures. Johnston’s book is concentrated in its prose style, and unique in its content and approach. As such, it is worth sticking with – and not only as a primer for composers in the field and students – as it contains first-hand knowledge and experience in writing for silent films from the early part of this century, as well as a thoroughly contemporary theory when it comes to incorporating music by today’s composers. 

In his text, Johnston crosses musical styles and boundaries in classical, jazz, rock and electronica, but does so by looking at improvised and structured...