Thursday, November 19, 2009

That Man Peter Berlin Soundtrack Released

Now on iTunes is the original motion picture soundtrack I composed for the 2005 award-winning documentary That Man Peter Berlin.

It also includes one bonus "alternate" (read rejected) cue, for the ending sequence "(If I could) Redo My Life."

Revisiting this score, I am pleased with how it sounds. It was recorded in my former studio in a Victorian garrett on Laguna Street in San Francisco. The score has real flute, oboe, and cello throughout. I used two computers synchronized via MTC (midi time code). One computer ran video (.movs) and serial MIDI, using Logic, to control a souped-up Emulator E6400 and a Proteus module. A second computer ran digital audio on ProTools. Audio went through an analog mixing console. The mixes were recorded to DAT (all tracks on the ProTools system being maxed out), and then transferred back to computer digitally.

I believe I have printed scores for the whole project, or at least for the flute, oboe, and cello parts, somewhere. There are some interesting synth sounds used as well. The idea was not to hide the use of electronics, but to use electronic sounds which might blend well and support the acoustic sounds. So it doesn't sound like synth orchestra, it sounds like its own natural, organic thing.

Musically it's also a very interesting score. Some of the themes are rather sophisticated for film music. Check out iTunes' sample clip for "War" with the "Peter" theme stated in the flute. That theme is used in many of the cues, but they all sound rather different. "Magazines and Kitty" features some interesting tone clusters.

Check out what a nice job the German distributor did editing together music and clips!
Here's the opening montage.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Gaz Howards of San Francisco

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” andplotwise, 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

Opera as History Lesson ?

I did an email interview with Drew Bourne, a PhD who writes the Using SF History Blog.

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,, 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.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

José Antonio Sistiaga / Savage Republic / SF Cinématheque

Sunday 20 Septembre 2009. Victoria Theatre. San Francisco Cinématheque presented a rare screening of José Antonio Sistiaga's Ere Erera Baleibu Icik Subua Aruaren (1970). (The whimsical title does not have any literal meaning.) This 75-minute, entirely hand-painted, silent, abstract film is rarely screened anywhere. The 35mm print, along with a 7 minute short also by Sistiaga, was flown from Paris for this screening. Sistiaga painted on both sides of the film, to give it an extra-dimensional effect, according to Cinématheque Executive Director Jonathan Marlow.

As the film begins, it looks like you are driving through a heavy rainstorm of paint droplets. No image holds longer than a single frame throughout the whole film. Mesmerizingly, the film continues, treating us to dynamic visuals reminiscent of rippling water, veined leaves, bubbles, splotches of blood, or burrowing through rock and stone.

What is clearly magical is the way the brain makes the images appear to move. In fact, each frame of film is very small and while projected large, is still a separate image. The appearance of movement is manufactured effortlessly by our own perception.

Savage Republic provided a confident, highly appropriate musical accompaniment. Guitarist / percussionist / vocalist Ethan Port told me the music was in fact instrumental songs of the band's, strung together and extended for the performance. So while not precisely new music composed specifically for the film, it was a perfect fit, loud, psychedelic, dreamy, and hypnotic, a few "eastern" scales, and lots of jam band stylings. One section of the show was an erstwhile concerto for oil drum; that oil drum was the loudest thing there!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Halloween in the Castro, First Rehearsal (Chorus)

Tonight, Thursday July 9, was the first rehearsal of my opera Halloween in the Castro with the commissioning body, the Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco.

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

Chanticleer / Composers | Our Age

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.

Los Angeles: Pastrami, Tacos, and Chili Dogs

Would you eat a pastrami sandwich from a place that also serves tacos and chili dogs and burritos?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Lost World with Dengue Fever at SF International Film Festival

I am a big advocate of live music to film. I've curated and performed such shows myself. I think it's a great way to experience the art of music and theatre and film and performance all together in an exciting vibrant spectacle.

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

Oberlin Conservatory

I feel honored by the opportunity to speak at Oberlin Conservatory with Leah Curtis, another composer. We did so much I can hardy remember what went on over the course of two days. On a Monday we spoke at an Entrepreneurship lunch, an Entrepreneurship Class, then we did a public lecture; the following day we had private meetings with students, then we spoke to Colin Roust's Film Music History Class.  *whew*  Not to mention lunches, dinners, and some poking around in the electronic studio, complete with ARP 2600.  (mmmm 2600)
This is Colin Roust (L) and myself.  Colin is a foremost authority on French composer Georges Auric. I eagerly await Colin's monograph on Auric.  Auric, contemporary of Poulenc, Satie, Cocteau, member of Les Six, composed not only ballets and concert music, but scored over 120 films, including noir classic Rififi and Cocteau's La Belle et la Bete.  I am eating scallops.  Colin is eating some kind of pasta.  This is at the fancy restaurant in Oberlin.

Leah Curtis (L) and myself having breakfast at Black River Café.  Awesome biscuit.  Leah's last name is my middle name and we have matching orange laptop bags.  I should just stop there.

Leah Curtis, myself, and Colin Roust in Colin's corner classroom with great windows.
Love the black board.  Real Conservatoire.

Here I stand proudly before Oberlin Conservatory's "Radiator Building."  Everything was held at the Radiator Building except the entrepreneurship lunch.  That was in Wilder Hall, which I wondered if it were named after Gene Wilder or Alan Wilder?

Here we are at Case in the office of Daniel Goldmark.  The office is across from a practice room, which I think is quite cool, although I admit that could be distracting if you have work to do.  L to R is Daniel Goldmark, Colin's daughter Ellie, and Colin Roust.  Ellie's name reminds me of Ellie Armer, one of my Composition teachers. Daniel is the leading expert on music in American animation, as well as editor of Oxford University Press' Music/Media Series. Right now he's working more on film, music, Tin Pan Alley, sheet music covers, and a whole load of fascinating stuff.  You need his books.
Daniel and I lunching at the Albatross, a hidden but very popular eatery near Case in Cleveland. We are sitting at the bar. I am having mussels and fries and Daniel is having a salad.

With the family Roust, I have BBQ in Vermilion at The Pit BBQ.  Yes that's how they spell it: Vermilion.

Not bad.  These were the kind of ribs that are cooked for a very long time so the meat just falls off the bone.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Academy Award Best Music (Score)

My pick was Thomas Newman for Wall-E.  Just for the quirky oboe tune and the beautiful space ballet music.  I think it's Thomas Newman's best score to date, certainly his best since American Beauty (1999).  And it certainly packed a lot of emotion into a concise, recognizable, distinctive score.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Dubowsky Ensemble Live Music to Experimental Film at ATA Feb 20

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
(415) 824-3890

COST: $6


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

2009 San Francisco Tape Music Festival, Friday Jan 30

Schaeffer / McKinnon / Mercer / Block / Ussachevsky / Blum performances first half.

Had been sitting in the studio and working on Redwoods score all day.  
So couldn't really sit and listen to any more loud music and didn't stay for the second half.

Sometimes you just need a break.

But you should go.  Really.  It was packed.  And a young hip crowd too.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Scott Walker 30 Century Man

Opening night at Opera Plaza in San Francisco, featuring a live appearance and QnA with director Stephen Kijak.  

Kijak has lovingly made a music documentary of expatriate American Scott Walker, né Engel, who went from teen idol to iconic British "MOR" pop star to recluse.  Walker went from making four albums in three years in the late 60s to making one album a decade in the 90s and 2000s. Fairly early in his solo career he stopped touring or playing live; the commercial failure of Scott 4 (his first album of all original material) became an insurmountable detriment. Nevertheless, his four early solo albums became highly influential and he became a cult figure homaged by the likes of Marc Almond and Julian Cope in the 1980s when he had all but disappeared.  

This is a Jacques Brel song with English lyrics by Mort Shuman.  They both also performed Brel's signature song, "Ne Me Quitte Pas," in English as "If You Go Away." Walker's own compositions were little stories set to music, much like the "Elinor Rigby" type lyrics of the Beatles or Blur.  He often sang of sad lonely women, tattered lives, the "hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way" viewpoint as once described by Pink Floyd, but with an added veneer of colorfully poetic visual imagery similar to Nick Drake's.  One of many remarkable aspects of Scott Walker which could have been further investigated is how and why did an American become so quintessentially British, while not even faking the accent?  (At the QnA, Kijak brought in new information about the Walkers avoiding Viet Nam by remaining in the UK; this would have been great to address in the film!)

Scott Walker resurfaced again in 1995 with Tilt, but his voice, though still croony, was not the same. 

Walker's best known music is infused with drama and haunting arrangements, performed by live orchestral accompaniment. Sadly we learn little about Walker's personal life from the film; as a recluse, he is a tough nut to crack.  Despite years of courting and cooperating with Walker, labels, management companies, handlers and the like, Kijak could film only one 40 minute interview with the singer.  Does he have kids?  Has he ever been in love?  Who does he have relationships with? How has his personal life influenced his art?  I still don't know.

The film feels bifurcated into an "early Scott" section, with memorabilia, old clips, photographs, and historical anecdotes, and a "making of" section about his most recent album.  There's not much to connect the two, but that's ostensibly because... there isn't much to connect the two.

Like many documentaries of obscure cult musicians (see also my write up of the Arthur Russel documentary), Kijak's film is overly respectful of its subject.  Celebrity interviews (Jarvis Cocker, Sting, Radiohead, David Bowie, Marc Almond) are there largely (but not entirely) to lend legitimacy to the subject matter.  

By far the best part is interviews with old arrangers and musicians, talking about guitar parts and string parts, during which Kijak plays the exact snippets of music they are referring to.  It is a fascinating and informative technique.  Too often documentaries about musicians don't bother to include any real musical information.  By including producers, engineers, arrangers, composers, and musicians in the film, Kijak gives it a truly gratifying depth and insight.  Kijak is also upfront when he acknowledges he doesn't focus on Scott's albums from the 70s which he casts in the light of hackwork done for financial or business obligation.

The DVD should come out this summer, and hopefully there will be some extras to look forward to.  And this film makes me really really really want to see a documentary about Angela Morley, who was born Wally Stott, and who did orchestra arrangements for Shirley Bassey, Dusty Springfield, and the first three Scott Walker solo albums.  Wally had gender reassignment surgery in 1972, the same year as composer Wendy Carlos.   Angela Morley also composed one of my favorite film scores, Watership Down.  (No joke.)  She worked in Hollywood for twenty years.  Here's a bit from a BBC documentary about her.

There ya go. That would be a great documentary. Kijak has some great interviews of her. Sadly she died on January 14, 2009 at the age of 84. I don't know if Stephen Kijak knows. He didn't mention it. She was a truly amazing person. Enjoy some of her music from Watership Down.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

"Sisyphus" Video - Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble

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!

Order the CD here
Also available on iTunes

Make friends with the JCD Ensemble on Myspace

Directed, shot, and edited by Jack Curtis Dubowsky.

Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble at El Rio, Jan 10 2009

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Upcoming events:
2-20-09 : Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble at ATA. $6
Live music to experimental films including Jean Genet’s Chant D’Amour.
992 Valencia Street SF 94110 (415) 824-3890

Here's some pictures from the concert at El Rio on January 10, 2009.
Photos by Laurence Roberts.  
Jack Curtis Dubowsky: Roland Jupiter 6, Electric Bass, Glock, Percussion
Fred Morgan: Drums, Percussion

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Palermo Shooting / Wim Wenders / Berlin and Beyond Film Festival at The Castro

Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure is really a much better parody of The Seventh Seal.
Good underscore though.  Electronic with solo cello, saxophone, and accordion.  One interesting nice bi-tonal section.  
Wim Wenders is not the best public speaker you'll hear, but it was a rare opportunity to see the famed filmmaker in person.  Some interesting discussion about photography, Dusseldorf, and the interesting cameo by real-life Sicilian photographer Letizia Battaglia.