In its original language, the full title of Germany's famed horror epic is "Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens." This translates to "Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror."
The title is especially fitting for The Devil Music Ensemble, which has turned the silent 1922 classic into a live concert experience. The Boston-based act is touring theaters throughout the country performing its original score to "Nosferatu."
"The most challenging thing is not allowing the music to smother the film," says Brendan Wood, Devil Music Ensemble guitarist and founder. "The film essentially becomes another part of the group."
The trio doesn't just provide a piano or organ backdrop like what generally accompanied pictures during the silent era. Instead, the band concocts an ambient, avant-garde soundtrack that supplies color to the grainy black-and-white images.
"In terms of our music, there's more of a rock thing that happens, largely because of the instrumentation that we use," says Wood, who shares the stage with drummer Tim Nylander and violinist/keyboardist Jonah Rapino. "With 'Nosferatu,' for me on the guitar, there's definitely a heavy metal thing."
Wood admits the process of scoring a silent movie begins rather simplistically.
"Initially, we'll just watch it," he says. "We'll have popcorn and a pad and pen. We'll take notes and talk about it. Then we'll actually watch the film with our instruments. We more or less just improvise upon what we'll see visually. It slowly builds itself that way."
For this tour - which is the band's first cross-country trek - the group is alternating movies along the route. In addition to "Nosferatu," the troop is showcasing its scores to the German Expressionist masterpiece "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920) and the rather obscure western comedy "Big Stakes" (1922). The latter benefits from the fact that the ensemble spent two years playing country music at a Boston tavern every Friday night.
Wood believes the group's current lineup (which has been together for three years) has gotten quite proficient at the task. So is the ensemble capable of crafting music for any silent flick?
"I think we could," he says. "I'm sure that some films would pose more of a challenge than others."
The Devil Music Ensemble formed in 1999 as a rock band, with Wood fronting an ever-revolving lineup of musicians. He took the trio's name from the George Crumb composition "Black Angels," inspired by the Vietnam War. The fourth section of the 13-movement piece is called "Devil-Music."
"Some people have a problem with the name of the band," Wood says. "We've played in places where they don't want to say Devil Music Ensemble because they perhaps fear we're Satan worshippers. Frankly, I don't care. I'm not going to worry about changing the name of the band because someone might not like it. That's not my problem. That's sort of their problem."
He adds, "The music doesn't have anything to do with a pagan religion, as much as it does with adventurousness in music."
Despite the adventurous mindset, the ensemble isn't the only group to attempt this merging of sonics and cinema. Rivals such as The Alloy Orchestra, Blue Dahlia and Club Foot Orchestra all predated Wood's outfit.
"I'm not sure that they differ incredibly, aside from the fact we're three different people and the music we create is obviously different than the music they create," Wood says. "We're each doing something very similar. But there's no guidebook or set of rules on how to set live music to film."