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Pick of the Week

Dr. Jekyll and Devil's Music

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When the Rialto Theatre opened in 1920, its fare was a mixture of vaudeville shows, newsreels, cartoons and short films. The first full-length film to play on the screen was The Toll Gate, on Aug. 29, 1920.

Films at that time were silent, and the Rialto's Kilgen pipe organ was played to accompany the films. It's not unlikely that the 1920 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring John Barrymore, was shown there with organ music playing in the background.

Flash forward 86 years, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is about to be shown again at the Rialto. But this time, the Devil Music Ensemble--a three-member group from Massachusetts--will return to Tucson to accompany the film.

The film is based on the Robert Louis Stevenson story. Dr. Henry Jekyll becomes interested in the two sides of human nature and creates a formula in his laboratory that allows him to alternate between himself and the brutal Edward Hyde. The 1920 version of the film stars John Barrymore, Drew's grandfather. Its tagline read, "The world's greatest actor in a tremendous story of man at his best and worst."

If that doesn't sound dramatic enough, the Devil Music Ensemble is set to perform accompanying music that will "... scare the audience's pants off," says ensemble member Jonah Rapino. "We make people drop their popcorn on the ground."

The Devil Music Ensemble may sound kind of scary, but they actually started out in a tame fashion--as a chess club.

"A group of people used to hang out in front of a record store (in Boston) and play chess. The three of us were part of that scene. (At first), I didn't realize these guys were musicians," says Rapino.

The three chess players--Rapino, Brendan Wood and Tim Nylander--formed the Devil Music Ensemble in 1999 after two years of chess games.

All three musicians received bachelor's degrees: Rapino from Boston University, Wood from the University of Massachusetts and Nylander from Harvard. Rapino plays the electric violin, vibraphone and synthesizer. Wood plays guitars, lap steel and synthesizer. Nylander is on drums and percussion.

The group started out playing improvisational music. "It was based on mathematical formulas," explains Rapino. "We made up mathematical rules and applied them to a physical manifestation of a drawing. They would act as our scores.

"We went off into a lot of other areas after that. We played country music, classical, rock, ambient, electronic ... Once, we were doing an improv game at The Brick House in Waltham, Mass. Tim had the idea to show images behind the band. He spent a couple of days making a collage from TV--The Cosby Show, 1950s commercials, news reports. ... We made a new game. We took improvisational cues off the collages he made and played appropriate music for each bit. It was all about having fun, experimenting with genres and sounds and goofing off."

The ensemble became popular and known for its improvisational style. "We were asked to play a mini film festival in Boston. It was packed. One thing led to another ..."

The Ensemble went on their first national tour last year, and performed original music in accompaniment to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Nosferatu. They performed at the Andy Warhol Museum, the Cleveland Institute of Art, movie theaters, college campuses and even in a barn. Their current tour kicked off in September in Baltimore. The ensemble came through Tucson last October to play for Nosferatu.

When asked how to describe the Ensemble's music, Rapino says "it's a mixture of Van Cliburn meets Black Flag and the Flintstones." You have to wonder what kind of minds mix classical piano, punk and a cartoon. In Rapino's case, he's quite passionate about what he is doing and wants to spread the word.

"It's a one-of-a kind experience," he says. "People will kick themselves if they don't go and hear (how good it was) from their friends afterward.

"These days, there is not a great appreciation for silent films. Now, millions of dollars are spent on films. These old films are magic ... They experimented a lot of ways. They broke every boundary in every way. I want people to understand these films are amazing."

The Devil Music Ensemble plays musical accompaniment to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, at 8 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 15, at the Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St. The Rosano Brothers perform jazz music when the doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $11 in advance and $13 the day of the show. For tickets, call 740-1000 or visit www.rialtotheatre.com.

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