To re-hash Samuel Johnson’s infamous words for the millennial era, “when a man is tired of London, he moves to Berlin.” But what about when he’s tired of that? Berlin’s ride-or-dies are dropping like flies, so fixated on discontent they’ve forgotten the zeal and spontaneity that brought them here in the first place. And we’ve all had those moments — you can’t hack the hedonistic Berlin lifestyle that once gave you such joy (or at least kept you satiated and living for the weekend), you’re sick of being ripped off on Neukölln rent (we know there are apartments out there for 350 euros, but WHERE DO YOU FIND THEM?), not to mention the subzero climate. But just when you think you’re finally done with it all, something like “Symphony of Now” comes along, and reminds you of a love (almost) lost that’s worth rekindling.
“Symphony of Now” has been described as a ‘“love letter to Berlin”, and that’s not far from the truth. But while it’s irrefutably romantic in its tender sun-kissed moments and hedonistic revelries, it’s also real. Born from a montage of footage compiled and directed by Johannes Schaff, “Symphony of Now” is a cinematic portrait of the city that’s holding us willingly captive — and captivated.
A documentary without dialogue, “Symphony of Now” is unconventional in more ways than one. Adopting an experimental approach that’s made possible by Audi’s enterprising creative platform, Audi Zeitgeist Projects, the film turns cinematic convention on its head by leading with its soundtrack first. Nearly a century ago, Walter Ruttman made “Berlin – Die Sinfonie der Großstadt”, a masterpiece of silent cinema which explored a day in the life of the then capital of the Weimar Republic. It’s here, oddly, that “Symphony of Now” finds its feet, seeking to capture a moment in the city’s history — to document Berlin.
With Innervisions’ Frank Wiedemann heading up the soundtrack, the score is uncontrived from its process to its outcome. Enlisting a string of Berlin’s electronic veterans that includes Modeselektor, Hans Joachim Rodelius, Thomas Fehlmann and Gudrun Gut, Wiedemann has worked tirelessly to produce collaborations which use the original film as their backbone. Mimicking the five-act structure of Ruttman’s old symphony, Wiedemann creates his own symphonic, intricately synchronised to the visuals of the original.
The (previously) secret location premiere at Prenzlauer Berg’s Delphi Theatre in Prenzlauer Berg pays homage to the film’s roots. A landmark of silent cinema in Berlin, the venue provides a fitting backdrop for the revitalised theatrics — a dynamic live-scoring by all seven musical contributors. Schaff’s vision plays out in synchronised harmony with Gudrun Gut’s distorted vocals, Modeselektor’s signature minimal bass, and Alex.Do’s assertive electronic composition. The visuals traverse Berlin in its entirety, while being tied to the night. Lil Internet’s vibrant camerawork captures after-hours dance rehearsals, the solitude of a late-night cleaning job, and peeps behind the thick velvet curtains at Berlin’s theatres and concert houses.
The coherent yet fragmented scenes constantly redefine what’s thought of as “night-life”. They’re splices of Berlin life that prompt the giddy joy of recognition: “I live there!”, “I work there!” and “I party there!” From east to west, no stone is left unturned, no nook unexplored — even that infuriating Mitte gentrifi-café where they grow their own salad, and then proceed to charge you 9 euros for it. Everything you love about Berlin, and everything you love to hate — “Symphony of Now” paints a picture of it all.
A collage of the night, “Symphony of Now” serves as a time capsule of Berlin — a moment in the city’s history immortalised in cultural memory. Just as flipping through your old snaps and seeing that old Blu mural brings back all kinds of feelings, “Symphony of Now” is a monument to nostalgia. It’s a visual marker of the city’s history, a time-stamp of the “now”, which, in a city changing at such a dramatic rate, is a welcome gift. More than that, it’s also a reminder that as we longingly reminisce over a Berlin of the past, we could be living in the now. “Symphony of Now” we thank you — you’ve made us fall in love with Berlin all over again.