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A Tramp in the Assembly Line

for Orchestra
A Tramp in the Assembly Line - Aspen Conducting Academy Orchestra

The movie, Modern Times (1936), is a comedy film written and directed by Charlie Chaplin. The “Tramp” character struggles to survive in the modern, industrialized world. In the movie, he suffers a nervous break-down from ever-so-hardworking machines, makes clumsy mistakes that got him imprisoned, then when he is out of the prison he participates in the worker's protest, meets the love of his life which ends up on both fleeing out of town, and so on. Despite the satire is conveyed underneath, the story is filled with dance and humor and eventually ends with a hopeful message.

My intention is not about conveying the message of Modern Times. Rather, I wanted to depict the scenes that were left with me with strong impressions: the rotating motion of the conveyor belt; the regular-pulsed machinery sound from the factory; the clown-like walking gesture of the character “Tramp”; and black-and-white scenes without sound. Also, there were other inspirations I had from the movie, such as the old big-band version of the song “Caravan” (although it was never quoted in the actual movie), and the image of a person looking into the Kinetoscope. With these selected scenes, I wanted to create a musical panorama - enumerating it with equal importance and independence, instead of a single plot with a logical flow. As the musical ideas shift from one to another, a sense of discontinuity can be found between the sections.

In the movie, the character “Tramp” functions as a medium to put together different stories into single plot. In my work, a consistent pulse in the background, an oscillation of notes, and a limited pitch material act as apparatuses to bind the piece into a single whole.

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