The Adventures of Prince Achmed

(Asynchronous 04) Cover design by Keith Lobue

This CD contains music that was composed as a soundtrack which is performed live with the The Adventures of Prince Achmed (1926) by Lotte Reiniger, a silent silhouette animation, considered by many to be the first feature length animated film, and based upon One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales often known in English as The Arabian Nights. The music, which when performed with the film comprises a continuous score of 65 minutes, is here broken into individual tracks. It is performed live by a quartet of soprano sax, trombone, and two keyboards, against a pre-recorded track of samples, loops and live drums.

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Phillip Johnston has been composing and performing original scores for silent films for 25 years. His previous silent film scores include The Unknown (Browning, 1927), The Merry Frolics of Méliès (Méliès, 1902-1909), Page of Madness (Kinugasa, 1926), Faust (Murnau, 1926), the first three of which have been previously released on CD. Wordless!, his collaboration with graphic artist Art Spiegelman, is also a variant on this kind of work. The film and music have been performed across Australia, including the Sydney VIVID Festival, MONA FOMA and the Woodford Folk Festival. As of this writing it has yet to be performed overseas.

Prince Achmed musicians at Royal Theatre/MONA FOMA

Phillip Johnston: soprano saxophone
James Greening: trombone
Alister Spence: organ, keyboards
Casey Golden: organ, keyboards
+Nic Cecire: drums

Listen to ‘Pari Banu Kidnapped’ from The Adventures of Prince Achmed:


“Johnston’s soundtrack adds an extra dimension to the 2D-nature of the animation, with energetic jazz layered over the pre-recorded percussion track that builds up and flows through the film. While Johnston and Reineger’s compositions are each complex in their own ways, they come together simply and beautifully, stripping animation back to its abstract qualities of light, shadow, image and sound.”

–Anna Madeleine, The Guardian, 2015 (MONA FOMA)

Promotion by The Music Outpost

“…an atmospheric, occasionally hard-edged yet utterly charming film score that is. . . texturally and stylistically diverse. . . any attempts to pigeon-hole Johnston are an exercise in futility. There are consistent themes that run through the score, which explores Gamelan-like tuned percussion, and knotty explorations of both complex counterpoint and irregular meters. Irrespective of the direction(s) he heads to next, it will be well worth keeping a watchful eye out for anything that Johnston pursues.”

–John Kelman,

“If you’ve seen the film, to hear the music is to have the magical images once more dancing before your eyes. … Johnston’s intricate score…deepens the mystery of the images, while highlighting the humour, drama, and, of course, romance. To listen to it while highlighting the humour, drama, and, of course, romance. To listen to it independently of the film to be struck by the breadth of musical ideas that can hurl themselves from zaniness once moment to explosive grooves the next, and on to eerie beauty, while leaving scope for pithy little solos. …worth the cost of admission…”

– John Shand, Sydney Morning Herald, October 29, 2018

“… a joy, with rousing sax & trombone melodies giving way to some sultry organ, before a lazy, hazy trombone solo takes things out to a fiery conclusion… contain a wealth of groove and funky, futuristic samples, synths, and loops, moving parts of the album into almost full blown electronica. For jazz purists, “Alladin’s Tale” is a lovely piece, smoky organ and old school sax/trombone melodies just grabbing the listener and refusing to let go, while closer “Return to the Land of the Mortals” bridges the gap between classic jazz and spacey electronica.”

– Sea of Tranquility

“… referencing soul jazz (two keyboardists!), Tom Waits-ian percussion, and memories of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

– Il Manifesto (ITALY)

This is a complex album, one that needs close attention paid to it as the musicians embrace themes which may or may not be repeated, going off in tangents to the original, with trombone often playing a heavy bass part to contrast against the sax. The keyboards and drums are often in the background, with the brass taking centre stage. It is an album the definitely requires repeated listening, as the first time I felt there were certain passages and sections which were passing me by, all of which made far more sense the more time I allowed myself with the album. Well worth investigating…

– Jazz Music Archives (New Zealand)

“…his music for Lotte Reiniger’s classic 1926 silent film The Adventures of Prince Achmed…wakes up a near century-old classic by serving up a fresh aural slice from the mystical past of Arabia in such a manner that it brings to life not just locale, but smell, taste, sound, etc., too. And magically…in a manner that is far from gratuitously Middle Eastern…a refreshing change from almost all attempts to make the soundtrack “authentic” to the setting.”

– Raul da Gama, Jazz da Gama (CANADA)

“Johnston is creating a new perspective for this film, rather than composing music of the era. …Each segment of Johnston’s score stands on its own merit… Anyone who appreciates Johnston’s composing, whether for his bands or earlier soundtracks (including a few unreleased modern-era films), will devour the wide-ranging, free-spirited music heard here.”

–Ken Dryden, NYC Jazz Record

“4/5 stars. …Johnston’s swirling, engaging and frequently cyclic score… heighten and accentuate Prince Achmed’s adventures… Johnston’s themes regularly embody the personality of the movie’s characters. …there is plenty to hear which is enticing, exciting and sometimes enthralling.”

–Doug Simpson, Audio Audition