Drac is back! A unique event premieres this Saturday (October 29th) in the National Concert Hall, Dublin: a screening of the classic 1931 movie Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi, will be presented with the World Premiere of a new contemporary score, as part of this year's Bram Stoker Festival.

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The idea was percolating in eminent contemporary Irish musician/composer Mathew Nolan’s head for sometime. Embracing the Bram Stoker Festival's intent to to reclaim Dracula and its author Bram Stoker as part of the great Irish literary pantheon, Nolan enlisted pioneering Irish composer/musician Seán Mac Erlaine as co-collaborator - Mac Erlaine has expansive experience with improvising scores for live dance and theatre performance.

“This struck me as the most interesting film from that early talkie period - it’s a real cinematic curiosity just by virtue of not having any original soundtrack” says Nolan. "It has almost no music, and led to a conversation: 'Let’s do something interesting'."  

Matthew Nolan

Other contemporary composers, notably Phillip Glass, have composed their own scores for Browning's film. What, then, makes this one different? "Our secret weapon is this Norwegian guitarist called Eivind Aaarset," says Mac Erlaine, "He brings this glacial, Nordic soundscape which he is a complete master of. Once we had him that was kind of clear indicator of the direction the music was going to go in." On the night, the trio will be also joined by Irish vocalist Sharon Phelan.

The pair say they have worked with the Director’s original intent for the film. “What’s unusual about Dracula is the film has all of these silences, this kind of empty crackling soundtrack," says Nolan, “this eerie emptiness. It’s fair to say we are definitely treating the film as it is, in its’ own right. We’re not looking to do any secondary reading or add empirical undertones - even the static on the soundtrack is part of the soundscape that we use."

Neither Nolan nor Mac Erlaine wish to tell the audience how to feel when experiencing the film. “It’s something that we talked about a lot, the idea of leading people on emotionally, or not," says Mac Erlaine. "What we’re doing is a lot more subtle - maybe in parallel with what’s happening in the film. It’s ambiguous because the film is ambiguous, and ideally should be read that way."

Sean Mac Erlaine

Ultimately, Mac Erlaine is rather reluctant to define their 'experiment in sound and prepared piano'. "If it’s in an improvised, expanding and contracting music form," he says, "relating to the four musicians, who are also relating to the screen and the room - well, that’s the great quality about improvised music. It’s shifting and morphing all the time, so it doesn’t make sense to put tags on it.”

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The Bram Stoker Festival have fully embraced the idea. “Tom [Lawlor - Festival director] has been great," says Nolan. "He’s really been behind the project”. Together, Lawlor and Nolan navigated delicate negotiations with Universal Pictures, owners of the rights to the film, to bring this project to fruition. Following Saturday's World Premiere, the intention is to perform the piece elsewhere across the globe

“I thought this was a really interesting way of reconfiguring Dublin once a year,” says Nolan, “and great to see recognition for Bram Stoker - not that he’s ever been lost as a literary figure, he’s always been part of contemporary consciousness, but you don’t see his face on the pub posters with the rest. Yet in terms of reach, he was more deserving of a festival of this nature than any of the other literary figures by virtue of what has been drawn from his work.”

Dracula Live is at the National Concert Hall, Dublin on Saturday 29th October - go here for tickets.