Cam Butler: Save My Soul

ACMI 30 August, 2012


Cam Butler’s CD, Save Your Soul, is lush and romantic. The music has an epic quality that is effortlessly cinematic. It’s no surprise then that he commissioned a variety of filmmakers to add images to his compelling compositions, which combine orchestral strings with electric guitar. There is no doubting the quality of Butler’s music, which wears its influences subtly. However, the films that accompany the music are a mixed bag, and Butler’s ‘live’ appearance at ACMI was more like guitar karaoke than a concert. Armed with a guitar, amplifier, and an array of effects pedals, Butler played over a recording of his album sans guitar parts.

Butler is a man of few words. He comes across as a quiet, unassuming chap, but there’s a steely determination to his approach to music. I guess he lets his guitar do his talking for him. After being introduced by a friend, he just got on with the business of playing his instrument while the films were projected in quick succession with no commentary or explication. Butler’s guitar playing is as understated as the man himself. Always melodic and tasteful, he eschews histrionics and overt displays of virtuosity for its own sake. He’s no guitar slinger, which is in many ways his great virtue. He is the master of atmosphere and tone, which is why Save Your Soul lends itself so readily to the cinema.

The title track evokes Ennio Moriiconne without becoming a blatant stylistic copy, or meaningless pastiche, and the film attached to this composition is easily, for me, the most compelling of the collection. Jake Simkin’s images of Kabul, Afghanistan, portray a land of stark contrasts and quiet beauty, which is made all the more poignant by the spectator’s knowledge that this is a war zone. Simkin shows people going about their daily business, attending school, walking the streets, shopping at markets. He lingers on faces, old, young, male, female, and also includes eccentric, sometimes incongruous pictures of a body building contest, graffiti artwork, and a live TV show. Butler’s melodic music is sympathetic and emotional without becoming cloying or sentimental, and its rhythms complement Simkin’s manipulation of his video images, which are often played in slow motion, or with a time-lapse effect.

‘Simple Fate’ by Ana Diaz is a haunting dance video shot in black and white in Berlin.  Diaz alternates between moody studio shots that utilize shadows and shade to almost violent outdoor sequences in a Forrest with a dancer who looks a bit like Iggy Pop, and who displays a similar wild kinetic energy. The film is beautifully edited to the music, and is perhaps the most technically polished film in the collection.

I was less than impressed by the other material, but came away from the screening with a renewed enthusiasm for Butler’s music.

You can find the videos for the album here.


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