Thursday, November 19, 2009
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
A few days ago I attended an art opening in San Francisco. Great and iconoclastic visual artists have come out of San Francisco, but nevertheless, art openings in San Francisco are not what they are in New York or London. Much of the crowd, and what passes for galleries, can usually be described in one of four ways: catering-to-tourists, young-DIY-art-students, Valencia hipsters, or residue-of-some-old-clique.
The opening I attended fell squarely into the last category, peppered with veterans of the mid-90s San Francisco underground performing arts scene, many of them still active with their endeavors.
One such performer whom I’d not seen in years approached me, all wide eyes and smiles, and immediately began to talk about himself. Something along the lines of, “Why haven’t you seen my show?” What a way to reanimate that old cliché, “But enough about me, what do you think about me?”
The other thing it brought to mind was the Gaz Howard character from HP Mendoza’s musical film, Fruitfly. I had just seen Fruitfly for a second time when I was at image+nation in Montréal. (My own film Dan’s Big Hands was the opening short. “But enough about me…”) I found I enjoyed Fruitfly much more the second time.
Gaz Howard is a locally successful performing artist (magician) who rapturously talks about himself at every opportunity, and always turns the conversation back to his own work, events, talent, and importance.
In a similar fashion, back at the gallery opening, once that performer was done hawking his show, there was nothing else to talk about and the conversation was over.
There seems to be too much of this attitude and approach in San Francisco. I always think it’s better to have other people talk about you, rather than talking about yourself. I wonder, is this unique to San Francisco? Does it happen everywhere? Is there something about San Francisco, the narrow confines of the city, the limited possibilities, and the suffocating compression of a small but ambitious art scene that fosters such a self-centered attitude?
Fruitfly received much criticism for its lack of plot and direction. Variety said the film has “low narrative drive” and “plotwise, little happens, and once introduced, subsidiary strands … are simply neglected.”
I would suggest that, in Gaz Howard, Mendoza had the perfect villain in his lap. It was only a missed opportunity. Gaz Howard could have really given the film a powerful climax, as opposed to being a loose thread in an otherwise fine tapestry. After Gaz gets the theatre instead of Beth, Gaz disappears and that plotline fizzles. From there it could have gone to another, higher, more dramatic level. I’m not going to suggest an alternate ending, other than to say that instead of having Gaz disappear, his character and all he represents could have played a major role in the film’s ending.
While Fruitfly seems to be about Beth and Windy, Hag and Fag, it is Gaz who supplies the most dramatic tension. And rightfully so. Windy is on Beth’s side. They may have misunderstandings and adventures together, but Gaz is evil lurking in disguise beneath a smiling exterior. We never see that evil fully realized, unleashed, and combated. I’m not suggesting who would triumph, or what the denouement might be. I am just saying, there’s your story. Gaz Howard v. Beth. Gaz could have amusingly been connected to some of the other evils presented as well. After all, San Francisco is a small town with many tangled webs.
Which returns me to gallery opening, which made me realize what a brilliant take on San Francisco life and culture Fruitfly is. Gaz brilliant caricatures many artists and scenesters.
Why are people like that? Does it make me want to go see their show? Is this personality type a natural breed or is it a result of the lack of appreciation for the arts? So many people run around screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” If I dwell on it, I think, am I like that, too?
But enough about me. What do you think of me? Oh yes, and why haven’t you seen my show?
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
These are the questions he asked me and my responses.
Q1) How far back in time does the opera go in presenting Halloween in Eureka Valley / the Castro?
A) It is unspecific. In Act II, the Sister recalls previous Halloweens, and recounts the involvement of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. The event grew from a neighborhood event to an event which was a fund raiser which raised money for charities and had shows and donations, then after some years became unmanageable. One year, there were more arrests than Sisters present hosting the event! This led to a vote in which the Sisters decided they could no longer host the event, because of the number of arrests and threat to public safety.
Q2) What kinds of sources were used to develop the opera's version of how Halloween changed over time in the Castro? For example, did you rely primarily on published material (books, newspaper accounts, articles for periodicals), or perhaps on oral histories / interviews with living persons? Did you use any material from any Bay Area archives (such as the San Francisco History Center, or the California Historical Society, or the GLBT Historical Society, or the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley)?
A) I lived in the Castro from 1994 to 2001. I've lived in SF on and off since 1991.
Factual research was done online sourcing legitimate news sources, including national television, mainstream press, and local gay press. Please see the attachments to this email.
You should understand that I use the story of Castro Halloween in the way a librettist uses a historical backdrop. This is very common in opera. Many operas are situated in political events or times; think of Tosca, Billy Budd, Le Grand Macabre, Doctor Atomic, Appomatox, and so on. The primary story is a human story, of love, death, tragedy, and strong human emotions. The opera uses Castro Halloween as a backdrop or locale for all that. The opera is not a documentary nor a docudrama. It's not a re-enactment. It mentions, in Act II, in the scene with the Sister, the horrors of Halloweens past, and all those horrific events are true. However, the 'present day' story of the opera is a fiction, it's drama.
I did not use the GLBT Historical Society for any research for this project, although I do have a connection to the archive. Director Todd Wilson passed away in 2005. I had scored Todd's groundbreaking TLA feature film Under One Roof, about an asian-white interracial gay relationship, and we had become close friends. When Todd passed away, he left behind boxes of art, photographs, scripts, notes, and film that the family was about to throw out. No one really came to 'claim' the material, and they had a whole house of stuff to deal with, and they were really not equipped to handle anything like that. I took all the boxes, as much as I could fit into my 1977 MG Midget (that I had at the time), and took it down to Terence at the Historical Society. They took ALL the material. It was a very emotional time and thing for me. I could not bear to see anyone's creative work thrown away like that. And I felt good that the archive took it all. I don't know if it's been catalogued yet. Some of the photographs are amazing. I thought about taking some of them, but I decided it would be best for posterity if the archive had the entire collection intact. So it's all there at the archive. One day I hope it's catalogued.
Q3) how do you see the history of Halloween in the Castro as being important? In other words, do you hope that audience members, upon gaining a richer understanding of that history, might somehow use that understanding in any particular ways?
A) The history of Castro Halloween is a microcosm for the issues facing San Francisco.
For many years, Halloween in the Castro has degenerated from a fun, quirky, San Francisco neighborhood event to a massive, uncontrollable human mass plagued by bashings and murder. While cities like New Orleans profit from gay events – Southern Decadence brings the city $100 Million or more – San Francisco has been unable to harness any similar benefit from its popular celebration. While simple solutions which would raise money for the city are plentiful – re-routing traffic, metal detectors, charging admission, a Guardian Angel type program to name a few – any solution is repeatedly ignored year after year, while politicians try to ‘cancel’ the event, leaving the Castro without street closures, toilets, or police protection, and allowing the bars to stay open and profit from mass consumption of alcohol.
The yearly Castro Halloween debate and debacle has become a microcosm for San Francisco at large. As San Francisco has grown with money and population from the technology boom, the facets which reflect a quirky, queer, hippy, idiosyncratic, beat, or neighborhood population have become rare, commodified, or disrupted. While the Castro is thought of as a ‘Gay Mecca,’ it struggles with how to manage an historic event through reoccurring violence and masses of gawkers. San Francisco as whole struggles with the loss of a creative, lower-income, hippy, queer population as it becomes swamped with a mainstream influx unconcerned with the lasting impact on what was a unique and delicate human environment.
Q4) How would you describe the challenges or opportunities inherent in using opera as a format to deliver an historical account (as opposed to using other formats, such as creating a documentary; publishing a book or article; developing a website; or staging a demonstration)?
A) Well, I'd like to emphasize that we're not delivering an historical account. We're putting on an opera. There's historical references in it, which are necessary to act as exposition for fictional events which unfold. Some bits of the opera are very Gilbert and Sullivan. The characters are archetypes, amalgamations, archetypical representations of classic San Francisco characters. The Bitter Queen. Castro Gym Queens. The City Supervisor. The Policewoman. And so on. Each of the characters is either archetypal, or an amalgamation of various San Francisco public figures. So there isn’t any direct, one-to-one correspondence with real people or historical figures. However, different political factions and popular approaches are represented. It’s fairly well known who the major interests in the Halloween situation are. Of course, some of the archetypes are mocked, in a very Gilbert and Sullivan kind of way, and there are of course references to real events and situations. The goal was to tell a story and to be real and true to the political concerns which are facing the Castro and San Francisco at large. Many of the characters are also based on personalities you commonly find here. And it’s a big cast with many important roles.
When opera tackles an historical account, contemporarily Doctor Atomic or Appomatox, for example, it's good in the sense that people know the story coming into the opera. They may not know all the details, or how it will be done, but they have an idea of what it's about. So it helps get an audience in the door and it helps get an audience interested and it helps find an audience which will relate to the subject matter.
The opera is very different from publishing a book or an article in a peer-reviewed journal, or making a website or staging a demonstration. To me that's a bit like comparing apples and oranges, and I'm not sure where to begin. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps they all fall into some kind of community activism. Because LGCSF, the commissioning arts organization, is a community organization, they are boldly making a political statement about Castro Halloween as a community. So much of the community has been subject to policy decisions (like closing muni stations, or putting up barricades not to protect pedestrian crowds from traffic, but to keep them crowded on the sidewalk). There have been "community meetings" but if you look at, for example, homeforhalloween.com, there's references to meetings which were never announced. Why not blog about the meeting before it happens so people will know about it? This opera could be considered a form of community activism, like a website or a demonstration. It's the community having their own say about the matter. The opera mocks the foibles and hypocrisies of local politics. It doesn't give out any solutions. It doesn't attempt to solve any problems. Like Gilbert and Sullivan, it just points out the flaws in the system, and suggests that Castro Halloween is worth caring about, and that there is a viable solution out there.
Friday, October 16, 2009
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Thursday, July 9, 2009
I've been meaning to blog more, but I have been so busy with this project, and some others, it's really taken me away from writing on this blog. Perhaps I will create some other posts, out of chronology, of earlier events I'd meant to blog. Perhaps I won't.
So tonight the chorus read through most of the first completed draft. (070309) (July 3, 2009). It went very well. There's still some revisions I need to make. That's all I can think of really. Stephanie sat at the piano, and I sat just behind her to her right. I thought Stephanie would just distribute the choral numbers, but she gave them pretty much everything, so they have a good sense of the work. Shane laughed, "there's seven pages of 'you go girl.' " How baroque! Behold the Monster Polypheme!
Friday, May 15, 2009
I'm finally getting around to writing about this Chanticleer concert March 20, 2009 at the San Francisco Conservatory. I have been quite busy composing Halloween in the Castro and other projects, so I'm going to rely on notes sketched in my program.
This concert featured new work from young emerging composers. All chose mature, literary selections of text for their work.
Tarik O'Regan didn't attend the concert. My notes on his "No Matter" indicate it made use of pyramids, which I think is interesting for vocal music. My notes also indicate "sustained high male falsetto will lead to much throat clearing." Chanticleer are a truly virtuoso group, and if you can force too much throat clearing from them, the problem is with you, pal, not the singers. Don't get carried away with groups who can "do anything." It's not an abusive proving ground for poor ideas. Now that my harsh critique is out of the way, my notes also say there was a moment of Ligeti Bagatelle like artifical overtones. That sounds very cool. Ligeti did that with woodwinds. I didn't expect to hear it in voices. The effect is when two high pitched tones rub or beat against each other, a third artifical overtone can be created, with the right combination. Way cool.
Shawn Crouch spoke a bit about his "The Garden of Paradise." This commission was made possible by a Chorus America Award through the Dale Warland Singers Fund; Dale was in the audience himself. Thanks Dale. Shawn said the text, a mash up of poems by Brian Turner and 13th century Persian Rumi, was inspired by his brother Kyle, who served as a Marine in Iraq, and the dilemma of "how to go before God knowing you've killed on the battlefield." There was a memorable chirping bit on the words "I am the bird from the Garden of Paradise." Of course, many composers have imitated bird sounds in their choral pieces. My notes on the program also indicate an "active refrain" on the words "It should make you shake and sweat."
Mason Bates, pictured above at the concert, discussed his piece "Sirens" and his interest in "electronica." I use quotes around "electronica" because I have my suspicions the word may grow dated, and may in fact trivialize the type of music it so succinctly describes. Moreover, "electronica" seems to both apply to a very narrow slice of electronic music and to be used as an overbroad brush stroke to pigeonhole a large body of music. At any rate, Mason said there were two aspects of "electronica" that he is particularly drawn to and which inform his classical work as well. First, there is a rhythmic aspect. Second, there is strong use of sonorities and textures.
Mason said that the movements of "Sirens" are "indebted to language" for their music; the movements are in Greek, German, Italian, Quechua, and English. I found the movements to be related but severable. Movement II, Die Lorelei, my notes describe as "grandiose, jazzy, tonal, chorale." Movement III featured a "twinkly Maj7." Movement IV, in Quechua, had spoken, rhythmic, whispering which reminded me of Mylène Farmer's "Alice"; it also had shakers and a catchy little rock refrain which I notated above. Movement V, my notes call "stunning. real music." Movement VI, my notes indicate "ends Sailor Moon." That is, if I heard it correctly. That's a mM7 chord used to end a piece, this is also used a lot in James Bond soundtracks. Mason's piece went really well, and shows he can write very strong choral as well as instrumental music.
I conclude this post by stating the obvious, how wonderful it is that a group as talented and respected as Chanticleer would have the enthusiasm, courage, and vision to program new works by emerging composers. I expect them to continue to do so. I hope they will program lots of new music into regular concerts as well. That's the best way for new work to penetrate public consciousness.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
It's great that film festivals more and more are programming these kinds of events. At San Francisco International Film Festival this year, Dengue Fever performed a live sountrack to the silent stop-motion classic The Lost World (1925).
I'll acknowledge that I'd not heard of Dengue Fever, which people uniformly pronounced "Dengay Fever." The conductor-less group struck me as first and foremost a band. Which is to say, they are quite interesting and cross-cultural and great musicians, but they appear to traffic primarily in a pop idiom and are mostly comfortable working in song structures.
Apparently they are quite popular, and given their strengths, The Lost World was an excellent choice for them as a vehicle for performing a live, original score.
The Lost World features extensive stop-motion dinosaur action by animator Willis O'Brien, who later did King Kong. Especially remarkable were scenes including the heaving breaths of a fallen dino and closeups of snarling dinos. On the big screen at the Castro, with the live music, this was better than Jurassic Park. Dengue Fever's music, with contemporary beats, live trumpet and trombone, and effective keyboards, gave the film a great energy, and made it feel quite contemporary.
Today at a screening of Kimjongilia at the Kabuki, I was engaged in conversation with some other festival filmgoers who had also attended the Lost World program. Although the Lost World audience was terrifically enthusiastic (despite the guy next to me texting during the movie... what is it with some people?), not everyone, it turns out, was convinced.
While I was a little surprised these festivalgoers could be critical, I was able to pin-point what was at issue for them, having some expertise in these matters.
While Dengue Fever did play throughout the entire film, the music was structured primarily as a string of songs, not as actual underscore. So the main difference between their performance and the music you might ordinarily expect to accompany a motion picture was a difference of form. In cinema, the moving image typically creates or dictates the form of the music, which will fluidly accompany, support, and react to the film. Dengue Fever, as a band, is clearly more at home with song form. This was particularly in evidence when the band would stop at some points, and the audience would applaud, as it were the end of a song. Clearly for many in the audience, this was a Dengue Fever concert with film, which is okay too. I was told that some people in the audience had come wearing Dengue Fever t-shirts; if this is a popular band that brings in a new audience to experience live music with film, great. I can certainly forgive them their issues with form, which all musicians go through.
Another interesting facet of The Lost World relates to race in film. While the film is ostensibly set in London and the Amazon, there is included in the cast an obligatory blackface comic character who speaks (in intertitles) in the requisite jargon. He's paired with a cockney-accented British fellow, and they are both, as you might expect, servants or helpers or whatever you want to call it.
The film has been restored, but still appears washed out, with low contrast, and the color is inconsistent. It was suggested to me this was intentional tinting in the original, but I don't know about that. It was also suggested to me that this restoration was done on a very low budget and privately finanaced; this page seems to support that idea.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Leah Curtis, myself, and Colin Roust in Colin's corner classroom with great windows.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
JACK CURTIS DUBOWSKY ENSEMBLE
Performs Live Music to Experimental Film
Featuring Jean Genet’s Chant d’Amour, works by Derek Jarman, and contemporary experimental filmmakers.
DATE: Friday February 20, 2009, 8pm
VENUE: Artists’ Television Access (ATA)
992 Valencia Street San Francisco CA 94110
HIGH RES PHOTOS: http://www.destijlmusic.com/jcde.html
The Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble, a groundbreaking new music ensemble led by classical and film composer Jack Curtis Dubowsky, performs live musical soundtracks to experimental films including Jean Genet’s underground classic Chant d’Amour (shot by Jean Cocteau), works by Derek Jarman, and new works by Phil Maxwell (UK), Hazuan Hashim (UK), Ben Coopersmith (NYC), and Samara Halperin (SF).
The Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble specializes in abstract, spacious, free form, transcendental, electro-acoustic contemporary music. Dubowsky has scored five feature films including That Man Peter Berlin and Rock Haven. Dubowsky has received grants from Meet the Composer, Zellerbach Family Fund, Friends of the SF Public Library, and this year from the American Composers Forum.
The Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble I album was performed and recorded live with no overdubs; no pre-recorded music is used in concert either.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
Music Video for "Sisyphus" by the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble.
Available on the CD Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble I.
(c) + (p) 2008 De Stijl Music (BMI)
Jack Curtis Dubowsky: Roland Jupiter 6, Washburn Bantam Headless Electric Bass
Fred Morgan: Drums
Recorded live in studio without overdubs.
This is only two people, playing live!
Live music to experimental films including Jean Genet’s Chant D’Amour.