Life In Berlin: 'Black Mountain' Techno Interpretation Of Wagner's Parsifal

Jul 11, 2016

The soundtrack from Black Mountain is the product of a techno producer from Berlin who has taken on Richard Wagner’s Parsifal.

“Basically, he (Wagner) invented film music, in a way. These are really simple chord progressions that narrate the story, and we took these chord progressions together with Moritz von Oswald, who created a techno soundtrack with them,” says Nicholas Mockridge.

Mockridge, from the artist collective “Like a Wild Beast’s Fur,” directed Black Mountain - a short, experimental film based on Parsifal, Wagner’s final opera. He condensed the four-hour piece down to ten minutes. 

“The approach was really focusing on the Leitmotifs,” he says. “So this is something that Wagner invented. Leitmotifs are musical themes that narrate topics, like love or realization.”

Black Mountain’s premiere coincides with the lead up to the Wagner Festspiele in Bayreuth later this month. The title of the short film is a playful acknowledgment of the town’s world famous opera house.

“It’s situated on top of a green hill. So people, when you go to Bayreuth, they say, 'We go to the green hill.'  So we said, ‘Bayreuth is the green hill, history, Wagner, 19th century. And Berlin is the sort of dark, industrial, techno place.’ Green hill, Black Mountain, two worlds, techno, classic,” he says.

The plot of Parsifal - a fairly complicated one - derives from the legends of the Knights of the Holy Grail. Simplified, it’s the story of how the innocence of youth renews a corrupt community through compassion. In Black Mountain, Wagner’s characters are portrayed by Berlin cult figures.

Co-director Lilja Rupprecht says about the casting process, “Everybody is in Berlin now. So we thought, ‘Who is the modern Kundry? Or who is the modern Parsifal?’”

Kundry, the wild woman, who eventually finds peace in the third act of the opera, is portrayed by Canadian musician Peaches.

Canadian musician Peaches as "Kundry" in "Black Mountain."
Credit Audi AG

“It’s not presented so wild; I think it's the most tame I've ever been presented,” says Peaches.

Black Mountain lives off its mysterious Berlin characters like Sven Marquardt, doorman of the techno club Berghain, or legendary 60’s German super model, Veruschka, known for her cameo in Antonioni’s film Blow Up. But, to take on Wagner in an urban, “Berlinesque” setting is still a bit intimating, even for Peaches.

“It’s just really difficult because of the whole daunting opera style,” she says. “So it’s more like a pastiche - or just like fragments of an opera - but I guess it relates to the future; how our attention span is quite short and our technology is quite vast.”

Initiated by the German carmaker Audi, as part of their Zeitgeist Project, Black Mountain is directed at the Digital Generation. Gallery Ebensperger, a former crematorium in Wedding, screens Black Mountain until the end of July.