Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let No One Put Us Under

Go West always will define the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra. It is our first score to a feature-length silent. It is our introduction to Silent Era film. It is the first romantic encounter with the love of our life. However furtive and bashful we were at times in composing our score, by the end of our premiere performance of Go West at Webster University we had declared our love and made known our intentions.

We were hitched. To this day we remain smitten.

It seemed only fitting, then, to capstone our September El Leñadency with a romantic renewal of vows upon the fourth anniversary of our making them: performing our score in accompaniment of Buster Keaton's Go West.

This coming Monday evening's anniversary party could have been canceled. As we are saving every dollar for a new touring van, our paying a fee for permission to screen Go West would have put us under. We are fortunate enough to have friends and family who are willing to donate their hard-earned money to secure the permission to screen Go West. The majority of the funds raised come from donors who live outside of and far from St. Louis - friends and family from Arizona ... to Colorado ... to Northern Illinois. These donors won't be able to see and hear Monday night's screening, but they believe that it's important enough of an event in its own right to make possible. We are forever grateful and humbled.

Also coming from out of town to our rescue is Googolplexia, a.k.a. Mustard RØB.
While Mustard RØB hails from right here in St. Louis, he's been touring the country for the past three weeks. He's returning in triumph to El Leñador this coming Monday evening. After his opening set, he'll help us thank the donors who made Go West possible. Prepare yourselves for a very special recitatif backed by the R&P MPO.

Come celebrate our love this Monday night.


10PM: Googolplexia

11PM: Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra performs its score in accompaniment of Keaton's Go West

Monday, September 26th
10PM Music Time
El Leñador
3124 Cherokee St. STL MO

21+, free admission (but donations welcome and appreciated)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Eisensteinian Ambition at El Leñador

Sergei Eisenstein's Strike (1925) was the director's first full-length feature film, as well as Eisenstein's first full-fledged development of the ideas set forth in his now-famous 1923 essay "Montage of Attractions." Eisenstein's use of quick and rhythmic edits in Strike (and later that same year in Potemkin) forever expanded the possibilities of what film could do. Some eighty-six years after its premiere, Strike's editing and pace resemble that of a contemporary 2011 feature film.

Eisenstein's late-April 1925 premiere of Strike so impressed the Soviet Central Committee that they immediately demanded another film from Eisenstein by the end of the year. The compressed schedule for shooting and editing Potemkin for its premiere in December led to what must have been one of the most harrowing of situations in cinema history:
In his account of the premiere at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow from Immortal Memories: An Autobiography, Eisenstein confirmed how rushed the whole process was, with the final reel not yet spliced together––even in the projection booth— when the opening section of the film was being projected. “The sequence of the meeting of the squadron was made up of extremely short cuts,” he wrote. “To make sure they would not be lost or get mixed up, I stuck them together by licking them with my tongue, and gave the reel to the assistant to splice. Then I took a look at the first version. Tore it apart. Looked at the second. Tore and changed that one too.”

To Eisenstein’s horror, the assistant threaded the film onto the projector without cement-splicing the cuts. Miraculously, the film ran through the projector without sputtering into bits. The premiere was a success, and the rest was history.
While nowhere near as difficult, stressful (and ultimately as thrilling) as Eisenstein's 1925, the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra's 2009 had much in common with Eisenstein's 1925. 2009 was the first (and so far only) year in which we composed, rehearsed and premiered two full-length feature film scores. Further making our work difficult was the spacing between each premiere: our new score to Strike was to be premiered at Webster University on September 27th and our new score to Murnau's Nosferatu was to be premiered on Halloween night at Vanderbilt University.

Composing our new score for Strike began in July of 2009, and as soon as we had enough score to start rehearsing it, we started rehearsing it. Meanwhile, Brien and Pace continued to compose some twenty minutes of film ahead of the full ensemble's rehearsals. As soon as Brien and Pace composed the last notes of the Strike score, they started composing the first notes of the Nosferatu score. (That moment happened in early September, if I remember correctly.) It was as if we were inside that Bolshoi Theater projection booth, and the full ensemble was the projectionist, and Brien and Pace were Eisenstein the editor ... just twenty minutes ahead of the full ensemble.

At the same time during that late summer and early fall of 2009, we wanted to expand and develop both as composers and musicians. Our previous scores for Go West and The Last Laugh had been loose and less technically demanding affairs. With Strike's quick and rhythmic editing, we took the opportunity to "compose above" our technical skills and challenge ourselves to meet the demands of a technically demanding score that we ourselves had composed. Strike is an audacious and often muscular film that demands an audacious and muscular score. What we composed was a score that gives us a workout unlike any other. Perhaps we were a little crazy. Thank goodness that we pulled it off. The months leading up to our Strike and Nosferatu premieres were the most difficult and stressful of our ensemble's existence. Each premiere was equally as thrilling as the difficulty and stress leading up to them.

The May Day Orchestra is the opener for R&P MPO's performance of its score in accompaniment of Strike, this coming Monday the 19th at El Leñador. May Day Orchestra will perform its folk opera May Day, or Songs for Lucy Parsons. The songs of Lucy Parsons center around the people and events related to the Haymarket Massacre. The subject matter seems a fitting complement to Strike. Further in complement of Strike (and of the venue), May Day Orchestra will perform Lucy Parsons as Eisenstein's ¡Qué viva México! is projected on the big screen.

Eisenstein Evening

10PM: May Day Orchestra performs Songs for Lucy Parsons in accompaniment of Eisenstein's ¡Qué viva México!

11PM: Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra performs its score in accompaniment of Eisenstein's Strike

Monday, September 19th
10PM Movie Time
El Leñador
3124 Cherokee St. STL MO

21+, free admission (but donations welcome and appreciated)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

From Prehistory to Present

IMDb lists it as 2002, so I suppose perhaps it was the year before that, 2001, when Aaron Crozier brought a stack of storyboards to my and Pace's apartment in University City that outlined the plot of a caveman movie called Grumboon. At the time, the both of us were in a band called the Baysayboos. My friend Suzanne had brought Aaron to one of our shows, and now Aaron wanted us to write and record the music for this new caveman movie he was directing. He had bona fide storyboards! This was for real!

Since the movie was set in caveman days, there was to be no dialogue (cavemen can't talk). Instead, it was to be a "silent" film with a musical score. After raising the money, shooting the film (much of it at Elephant Rocks State Park) and making a final edit, Aaron handed a copy over to Pace. Pace ended up writing most of the score, in of all places, a hotel room in Toronto. At the old Radio Penny Studio on Lemp the Baysayboos recorded the score synced-up to the movie. Grumboon premiered at the Omnimax at the Science Center where Aaron worked. Later, the Baysayboos live-accompanied Grumboon at the Tivoli for the St. Louis International Film Festival.

is a prehistoric film in more than one way. Grumboon is prehistoric too in the sense that it's the prehistoric R&P MPO. The score for Grumboon is, for two of R&P MPO's current members, the very first movie score we wrote and recorded, and the very first movie score we performed live in accompaniment.

Next Monday evening we're screening Grumboon at 10PM in addition to three other locally produced and directed short films of which all or some of the ensemble has had a musical part. After the screening of these local films we'll play our scores in accompaniment to three Buster Keaton shorts, including our most recently-composed score to Keaton's The Goat.

Prehistory to present ... I'll probably get at least a touch nostalgic about all of it.

Local films + 3 Keaton Shorts

10PM: Aaron Crozier's Grumboon (musical score by the Baysayboos), Mike Pagano's Chicken & Waffles (musical score by R&P MPO), Hugo Fleming's The Cask of Amantillado (musical score by Heather Rice) and Cody Stokes' Heartland Transport (musical score by R&P MPO)

11PM: The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra performs its scores in accompaniment to Buster Keaton's The High Sign, The Goat and One Week (One Week score composed by Kevin O'Connor)

Monday, September 12th
10PM Movie Time
El Leñador
3124 Cherokee St. STL MO

21+, free admission (but donations welcome and appreciated)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

"Don't hate the player; hate the game."

This is a kind of trite thing to say, but it's pretty damn true. The massive post-War project in the United States of mass post-secondary education coupled with the now dominance of the internet has put "literature" in transition. There are more people in the USA than ever doing "literature." At the same time, the means of production and distribution are wildly different than they were just some twelve years ago. The industry (whatever that is) is in flux. I know absolutely no one involved in this latest niche imbroglio, and only know of a couple of people secondarily or tertiarily related to it. It seems that a lot of the commenting has been about siding with one party over the other based on loyalties, friendships, aesthetic/political or "poetics" stances, et cetera. That is fine and good. Everyone should have a friend.

Two people removed from the situation each have a more systemic (I know ... another trite word) take on the matter. Mike Meginnis breaks it down in a kind of microeconomics style, while Joseph P. Wood breaks it down in a kind of sociological/political economy style. Both takes seem to me the most clear-headed and insightful. I think that both takes end up more or less "Don't hate the player, hate the game."

Even if you could care less about "indie-lit," the dynamics of the imbroglio and the subsequent discussion have analogous threads in any creative enterprise these days. The means of production and distribution of music and film have very certainly and very radically changed. Making and distributing is way easier and way cheaper. The "barrier to entry" is nearly ground-level. What was "indie vs. mainstream" twelve years ago isn't "indie vs. mainstream" today. Maybe, as Joseph Wood hints, it's a matter of whether to view the arts on a spectrum rather than oppositional. Maybe the spectrum has been the usual, but the Twentieth Century's means of production and distribution, e.g. mass media, set up binary oppositions - i.e. "mainstream" vs. "alternative/avant/ ..." Maybe this 20th Century type of means of production was an anomalous hiccup.

And so maybe that's why there's so much difficulty, anxiety, screw-ups, shadiness, and hurt feelings right now. We've all been raised and schooled under a mass-media model of culture - mass production (and its opposition) , mass distribution (and its opposition) - that just isn't operative anymore. Maybe it's a new game, and maybe the players are figuring it out as they go along.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Der letzte Mann

The first time that I saw The Last Laugh was in college for an intro to film studies class. The professor had us watch it as an example of 1920s-era German Expressionism (the conventional film studies wisdom being that this was the last film in that vein). Watching the film even then, at my most jaded mid-90s self, I was moved to several teary moments.

Fast-forward roughly a decade later, and there I was watching The Last Laugh again ... and I was even more teary more often than last time. This time, my friends in the Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra were performing a score that they had written for it at Webster University. Maybe it's just that I had turned into an old romantic fool by then, but I think that a lot of it had to do with how beautifully and seamlessly my friends' music evoked the mood of the film and complemented it.

Fast-forward to now, and it's my honor to be a part of this ensemble. It's also an honor to have a small part in a free R&P MPO screening of The Last Laugh this coming Labor Day evening at El Leñador.

What can I tell you about The Last Laugh without any spoilers? Well, how about this: To me lately, The Last Laugh is about the pride and identity one brings to her or his station in life, and how quickly that station can change, and how psychically devastating that can be. I know, I know ... heavy stuff for the last night of a Labor Day weekend. But then again, maybe given what day it is, it's especially appropriate.

F.W. Murnau's The Last Laugh

Musical score written and performed by
The Rats & People Motion Picture Orchestra
Monday, September 5th
11 PM Movie Time
El Leñador
3124 Cherokee St. STL MO

21+, free admission (but donations welcome and appreciated)