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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Blog posting written by Kimberly Capehart, Documentary Studies and Production ’16, FLEFF Blogger, Cherry Hill, NJ
On Tuesday, January 28th, the Cloud Chamber Orchestra accompanied the silent ethnographic documentary, Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life (you can read Blaize's blog post for a synopsis of the film as well as her reflection on the screening!).
The screening took place in the historic Sage Chapel on a snowy hill of the Cornell University campus. It was my first time inside the Sage Chapel and I was amazed by its beautiful interior: abound with stained glass, hand-painted designs on the lofted rafters, and elegant mosaics surrounding its altar and apse.
Despite the beauty of the chapel, the real delight was the Cloud Chamber Orchestra who were situated in front of a giant screen that had been placed at the alter. As a pleasant surprise the group, which is typically comprised of only three men, had an additional member in the form of pianist Peter Dodge’s son, playing percussion. The addition of a fourth member greatly contributed to the richness of the sound echoing throughout the chapel.
An intriguing combination of electric guitar and other electric instruments performed by Robby Aceto, cello performed by Chris White, piano and horns performed by Peter Dodge, and percussion performed by his son perfectly accompanied the silent documentary. The instrumentation created an ethereal ambience during slower parts of the film and also matched the energy of more exciting parts of the film.
Though there were a number of technological malfunctions with the projector due to the cold interior of the chapel, the group’s improvised score held the attention of the audience even when the film cut out.
It was incredible to watch these musicians as they played: they, themselves, watching the film to get a feel for what they wanted to play.
Aceto, White, Dodge and Dodge received a standing ovation as they lowered their instruments as the film ended. A gracious group of musicians, they hung around after the chapel began to empty to talk to students, friends, neighbors, and the like.
Overall, it was an excellent performance to accompany a fantastic documentary. Don’t miss out on your next chance to see the Cloud Chamber Orchestra, when they improvise a live score to the classic Sergei Eisenstein film Battleship Potemkin during this year’s Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival!
What silent film would you like to see scored by the Cloud Chamber Orchestra?
Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Robby Aceto: To say preparing a live improvised score for October presented some challenges would pretty much be a massive understatement. Here you have an incredibly complicated film by the brilliant director and film theoretician Sergei Eisenstein who incidentally, is credited with inventing the art of film montage and influencing such directors as Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and virtually every other filmmaker to come after him; his film is telling the story of one of the most significant and complicated series of events in world history, large events written very large, and anyone who has ever seen this film has seen it presented with a score by the legendary modernist composer Dmitri Shostakovitch. Okay, are we seeing any challenges here?!
I studied this film in college and have seen it many times over the years, so when the prospect of improvising a score for it at FLEFF was floated out to the group, I was initially very excited. But then I was also very daunted. I mean, how does one go about replacing (with an improvising trio!... and in a live setting!) a score by Shostakovitch? (rhetorical question). At first I spent a lot of time trying to track down the written score to see if any of its elements might lend themselves to interpretation by our group. I figured, if such an experiment was successful, it would be the first time Cloud Chamber Orchestra performed using any pre-conceived or written elements. But as soon as I began looking at the score on its own, simply as score and unattached to the film, my first thought was "Oh good grief, it's a total MONSTER!". I must admit I became more than a little paralyzed with fear and wanted to crawl into a hole. Then something interesting happened; I discovered that the score by Shostakovitch was written in 1966; it is known to us now as his tone poem "October". The film October was made in 1927. Anyone alive who has seen October has seen it synchronized with music that was written for it nearly forty years after it was released. I did some further digging and came to the realization that virtually no one knows exactly what kind of musical presentation accompanied the film during its first theatrical performances. There was a light at the end of the tunnel after all! It sort of ligitimized in my mind the notion of us improvising a score in a way that might be relevant today.
Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Blog post written by Colleen Ryan, Television-Radio '12, Anthropology minor, Lansing, NY
The list of amazing guests keeps growing and growing, and by golly I don't think there's anything about FLEFF that I'm NOT excited for.
Here are five guests I'm most looking forward to:
1. Elizabeth Coffman. She's many things that I aspire to be: Documentary filmmaker. Writer. Teacher. Mom. If you haven't checked out her writing on the Inside Higher Ed, "Mama, PhD" you should! It's great! I've been reading it all morning. Coffman is also the co-producer of Veins in the Gulf, a documentary about the disappearing coastline of Louisiana, a film I'm dying to see and that will be screened the last day of FLEFF (April 1st).
2. Menna Khalil. Suffering in the Middle East is something I know little about, and I wish I knew more. Khalil's activism and work sounds extremely inspiring, and I can't wait to see her presentation that documents Iraq Burin and stories of Palestinian village who were witnesses to uprising. To read more about her work, check out fellow blogger Brian McCormick's interview.
3. Matthew Podolsky. His non-profit organization "Wild Lens" incorporates all my passions into one: Activism. Science. Conservation. Art. Wild Lens wishes to "present biological facts in an exciting and accessible way, and broaden the public interest in environmental and wildlife conservation – one species at a time." It's pretty safe to say my dream job may be exactly that -- word for word.
4. Robby Aceto and the Cloud Chamber Orchestra. As I said in a previous post about Aceto and his improvisational music trio, I can't wait for the Cloud Chamber Orchestra's live scoring of "Nanook of the North." It will be my first experience of any kind of live music played with film. I love music, but I don't believe my brain has the ability to fathom performing live with a film, while also improvising and collaborating with two other musicians. To an audience it must seem so effortless, but holy cow the talent one must have!
5. Bernie Upson and his Quartet. I'm a wannabe jazz fanatic. Whenever I listen to jazz, I feel as if I was born in the wrong decade. I picture myself dolled-up in a smokey mid-century jazz lounge, with the bass vibrating through my veins. I'm thrilled to see such a talented group of musicians play. It's not everyday you're in the presence of jazz legends!
19 days until FLEFF. Ready. Set. Get excited. I know I am. Are you?
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Blog posting written by Chloe Wilson, Television-Radio ’14, FLEFF Intern, Ashland, Massachusetts.
1. It’s interdisciplinary. FLEFF brings people of all mediums together. You can be an Environmental Studies major learning about new media, an electronic musician watching a silent film, or an aspiring novelist immersing him/herself in The Concert For Microtopias, Every FLEFF attendee brings something to the table.
2. It’s inter-generational. Whether you’re a student, a media professional, or an Ithaca resident, FLEFF has something for all ages. The welcoming environment and endless opportunities for FLEFFers to mingle leads to inter-generational conversation. Who knows what you’ll learn from another FLEFFer?
3. It’s intellectual. This is one of the many goals that FLEFF accomplishes each year. FLEFF inspires attendees to learn from media and its creators, as well as from other attendees. Everyone has a story and lesson to share, and FLEFF celebrates that by providing countless opportunities for FLEFFers to do so.
4. It’s a great opportunity for professionals and students. For students, there is no better professional opportunity. You learn directly from industry professionals about working with all forms of media. Students learn about media (as well as film festival protocol) through their experiences with the festival. And for professionals? They get to show and talk about their work to an incredibly eager audience! What could be better?
5. It is not static. FLEFF is always changing. While some professionals come back and give presentations year after year (like Robby Aceto), FLEFF always brings something new to the table. This is why FLEFF has themes: to allow each festival to explore new technologies and ideas, and this is what makes FLEFF so stellar.
It was hard to narrow the list down to five, but what do you think, FLEFFers? What do you think makes FLEFF unique?
Thursday, March 1, 2012
Fellow blogger Meagan McGinnes asked guest Robby Aceto last night at the FLEFF intern meeting how his improvisational music trio, Cloud Chamber Orchestra, forms a cohesive sound, despite having a different take on the film they score.
“The baseline is respect,” he said. “Even though you can have completely different views, they can still work together as long as you have respect.”
And there it is. Collaboration. Adaptation. Appreciation. Microtopias.
“[When performing live music you must] Embrace accidents, figure out ways to utilize them, and not allow them to cause disaster, which waits at every moment,” Aceto said.
“You have to be in control of the environment. Not making sound is just as crucial as making sound. Embrace the silence.”
Even though just speaking about improvisational music, I believe Robby really captured the essence of FLEFF, and I felt very touched and inspired by his words.
Flaherty’s portrayal of Nanook and his family, although slightly fabricated, is a beautiful romanticized film about the life of the Inuit people, and I’ve never watched it with any sort of accompaniment – just dimmed buzzing classroom fluorescents.
Aceto stated that most of his trio’s scores are pretty modern, yet “vocative of place and time.”
He told the FLEFF interns that his trio inhibits the mindset of the filmmaker. They take into consideration what his wishes might be, and what the filmmaker achieved with his film at the time of its creation.
Although a child of the technological age, I sometimes feel as if I was born in the wrong era. I wish I could have witnessed life in a simpler time, without the instant gratification of technology.
From the vantage point of a 21st century citizen, technology we have today was just pure fantasy to those at the time of “Nanook of the North.”
Aceto also told the interns, “In a way now, we can feel superior to [the filmmakers then], but they were making it up as they went along, and they had to think much more creatively than a filmmaker now. “
“We’ve narrowed our expectations of what a film experience should be,” he said, and I agree.
The trio’s performance on the closing night of FLEFF will be the first silent film I've ever experienced with a live score, and I personally think that it’s a tradition that although seemingly archaic, is a lost and under appreciated art form!
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
I am sure everyone has heard of a little silent movie called The Artist. The musical score in this film brought the picture to life. The growing popularity of this film within mainstream culture has expanded the somewhat limited view we have about what qualifies as a good movie. For most, a “quality” film means explosions, a good love story and some 3D glasses. FLEFF, with the help of improvisational musician Robby Aceto, is bringing back the idea of beauty within simplicity. And even though there may be no explosions, simple does not mean boring. Because there is nothing boring about improvisational live music to a silent film.
Improvisation is all about evoking a response from the audience. It is interesting to think that improvisation could be considered the utopia for music—if we are applying the definition of utopia as a state of being without guidelines or restrictions. And this is not the only way in which the idea of a utopia, or better yet a microtopia, applies to improvisational music and its process. Aceto states in his improvisational trio, the first thing they need to do is establish a common base for their understanding of the film. There has to be a respect for the wish and intent of the director. Once that communication has taken place and once that basic understanding is met, all factors will work together, even if perspectives and interpretations between the musicians are different. Because differences create a textural sound-scape that allows the pictures to come to life off the screen (and without 3D glasses, imagine that!). As I have said before, FLEFF is all about the texture. In the microtopia FLEFF creates, communication is key. Though we may all be attending FLEFF for different reasons and with different viewpoints, we all have one thing in common: a basic respect for environmental advocacy and art through film. All the other differences, the unexpected interpretations of our minds—or even of the music—add texture, interest and excitement. Something you can’t get from your standard, explosion-filled blockbuster film.
What do you think of the idea that the category of improvisation is a musical microtopia?
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Tonight at our weekly FLEFF meeting, us interns got the amazing chance to hear electronic composer Robby Aceto share some information about the scores he has recently created and took some questions from the audience. You can get a chance to hear him as he will be improvising live music during the screening of the ninety-year-old documentary, Nanook of the North at Cinemapolis.
"We are so sophisticated in our technologies, and a hundred years ago these things were just fantasy." He begins by speaking about the way sound in film has evolved over the past hundred years from live music accompanying each screening to revolutionary technology that made synchronous sound possible. Does the Jazz Singer ring a bell for all you film scholars out there? After that, he took some questions from the audience:
7:12 PM - Aceto informs us that the electric guitar has become a ubiquitous instrument in today's musical world, but as a "color guitarist," he deviates from this typical sound and offers a truly unique sound.
7:14 PM - "It's not the easiest thing to do." Striking, but true. Aceto talks about being a freelance musician and the negatives that come with it when it comes to getting gigs and finding your niche. However, he gives some optimistic advice: "be available and try to make a name for yourself." And let's be honest because this is true despite what field you are working in.
7:22 PM - Working in a group is kind of like duking it out. The baseline is respectable material and there is a sense of collaboration that goes into perfecting the piece.
7:30 PM - We get to hear one of his pieces! As an outrageous and bizarre silent film appears onscreen (through an excessive use of vignetting), the music resonates with a sense of respectability and relevance. This proves that despite how ridiculous the visual may be, the power of sound in film is incredible and truly influential.
7:45 PM - Yet another piece comes on and the sound is remarkable. Through a myriad of instruments, including a toy piano, a cello, a mandolin and an open-air mic, a harmonious final result is achieved. No wonder the FLEFF co-directors Thomas Shevory & Patricia Zimmerman asked him to return to the festival for a fourth time.
7:52 PM - What is composing you may ask? "The idea is that you're not there to comment on what's going on. You're there to interpret and try to be a part of it."
I think leaving off on these last words is appropriate. Although in context he happened to be talking about scoring music for film, I believe his words have the ability to speak on a much stronger level. By integrating yourself with what is surrounding you rather than take note of it exemplifies the interactive nature of FLEFF. Do you agree that actions speak louder than words?
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Blog posting by Isabel Galupo, Cinema and Photography '14, FLEFF Intern, Towson, MD
Aceto is an internationally recognized "color" guitarist. He explained that the term "color guitarist" allows him to signal that he uses his instrument in unexpected, non-traditional ways.
He explained, "there's an expectation of what you hear from a guitar, especially an electric guitar...it's used in very narrow ways...[but] the capabilities of the instrument are really much broader than that."
This year will mark his fourth year performing at FLEFF.
Aceto will be performing on the closing night of the festival at Cinemapolis, the local independent art cinema and long-time FLEFF partner.
He will be scoring the silent film "Nanook of the North," which is considered the first feature-length documentary film. 2012 marks the 90th anniversary of the release of the film.
Scoring silent films is a crucial part of film history. Before synchronous sound technology was developed, it was very typical for orchestras to accompany the screening of silent films in theaters.
In explaining the integrity of scoring silent films in modern times, Aceto also stressed the importance of active audience attendance and participation in these performances:
"Being there, you have an effect on the outcome."
Many interns inquired about the process and technique behind improvisational film scoring. Some of his tips included:
"Embrace the accidents that occur."
Ask yourself: "What did the filmmaker want? If he was here now, what would he think?"
"You've got to embrace the silence, as well as the noise."
And, above all, "You've got to make it happen."
The one thing that struck me the most about Aceto's presentation is the almost cautionary statement he made as soon as he stood up before us:
"I'm not an academic. I'm a person who is always doing things."
The nature of Aceto's improvisational work for FLEFF is doing. He does not glue himself in front of his television watching and re-watching films, completing hours and hours of preliminary research before he performs. He sees, experiences, and feels the film, and then translates those raw emotions into uncensored musical language.
In today's society, are we encouraged to process information by doing as Robby Aceto does?
How does FLEFF create a safe space for artists and academics alike to explore ideas through action, through doing?
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Blog posting written by Chloe Wilson, Television-Radio ’14, FLEFF Intern, Ashland, Massachusetts.
Back for his fourth year, Robby Aceto is at FLEFF once again!
I got the chance to listen to Acteo speak about his work. This year, he'll be performing live music to accompany the silent, 90-year-old documentary film Nanook of the North (he's part of an improvisational trio, how cool is that?).
Here are some choice quotes from Aceto's talk, ranging from live music to film festivals itself to contributing to the microtopia of FLEFF. Hopefully this helps you become a part of the moment, FLEFFers!
"A big part of FLEFF has always been the pairing of live music with silent film. Why do we do that? It's a tradition that's just as much a part of film history as anything."
"There's a tendency to feel superior to people who created things hundreds of years ago... These guys were making films and they were making it up as they go along. They didn't have a lexicon of technology to choose from. They had to figure out as they went along how they were gonna do this. In a way, they had to work and think more creatively than a filmmaker does now. I think that, as an improviser, that really speaks to me."
"First time at FLEFF, I was hired to be a guitar player for an ensemble that was playing a commissioned work. There was some spoken word and it was a great experience, it was great fun, and then Patty said 'We want to do something again.' So get involved in as many things as you can. It's a crapshoot, being a musician, but it's worth it."
"Not making a sound is just as much action as making a sound."
That last quote was my personal favorite; it held a lot of weight to me. It really reminded me about how the difference that each person can make, no matter if it's intentional or not. Every person's action (or lack of action) contributes to something, whether we notice it directly or not.
Aceto played some of his clips for us, and I can't wait to hear more! Aceto calls himself a "color guitarist," but his music has clearly been influenced by his previous collaborations with musicians who specialize in other instruments. You can check out some of his work here.
Lean back, pop on some headphones, close your eyes, and listen to Aceto's work. Do you have a favorite piece? Are you looking forward to hearing him perform at FLEFF?
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Blog posting written by Ian Carsia, Cinema & Photography '14, FLEFF Intern, Hamilton, NJ
6:51 p.m. Blogging live with Robby Aceto. Aceto will be performing in a live musical accompaniment of "Nanook of the North" for FLEFF 2012.
6:53 p.m. FLEFF T-SHIRTS ARE IN!
6:57 p.m. This will be the fourth time Robby and his co-conspirators have performed at FLEFF.
"Who has heard of Nanook of the North?"
100% of hands shoot up.
"Who has seen Nanook of the North?"
90% of hands go down.
WE ARE HERE TO LEARN!
7:02 p.m. Robby Aceto: "Right now, you don't have to convince anyone. You can just do it."
7:05 p.m. Robby Aceto: "The biggest problem that a group [of artists] has to overcome...is connecting with the mindset of someone 100 years ago making a film."
7:08 p.m. Robby Aceto: "We've narrowed our expectation of what a film is supposed to be."
7:11 p.m. Robby Aceto: "My approach to an instrument is to use it in a textural way."
7:17 p.m. Robby Aceto: "First, we try to get into the mindset of the filmmaker: What would he want?...Even if it looks silly to you, you have to remind yourself 'This guy was deadly serious' about whatever it was...And as far as doing it differently...just as a matter of course, it's going to be different."
7:43 p.m. Screening clips of accompanyment with Ernst Lubitsch's 1921 film The Wild Cat (Dr. Zimmermann: "The only German expressionist comedy.")
7:50 p.m. Robby Aceto: "Once you step into the realm of "This is what is happening on screen," you take it away from the audience."
7:54 p.m. About to screen a clip from 1925's Grass.
7:56 p.m. Robby Aceto: "None of the musicians know what the other's going to do...Not so much "call-and-response," more like...reaction..."
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Blog posting written by Brian McCormick, Film, Photo and Visuals Arts '12, FLEFF Intern, Wilbraham, MA
I had a great conversation with musician Chris White the other day about his upcoming performance at FLEFF, playing the cello for a live musical score of the silent film Storm Over Asia.
This is happening Sunday, April 17th, 7pm at Cinemapolis -- a one time event!
Accompanying White in the performance will be fellow musicians Robby Aceto and Peter Dodge.
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White isn't new to FLEFF -- he has been performing for the silent films for the past few years. With years of experience playing classical and non-classical cello, White is very open to and excited about musical improvisation. Here's what he had to say about what he's done and his upcoming FLEFF performance.
Q: Can you talk about your history as a cellist and where you're at now?
A: "I studied cello in western New Hampshire, and also in France and Spain, and then I did a masters in cello performance at Ithaca College. While I was growing up learning cello, I was also playing the guitar self-taught on the side, just improving on the guitar. At a certain point I decided to start trying to improv on the cello and to jazz and stuff like that. When I lived in Spain I'd play flamenco with singer-songwriters and all kinds of fun stuff.
I also founded and am director of a cello festival for cellists who are interested in non-classical uses of the cello. That's an annual event , and the 17th annual is going to happen at Ithaca College on June 10th - 12th. That puts me in touch with people around the world who are doing innovative things with the cello, all different kinds of styles, rock, pop, and world music, and all kinds of cool stuff."
Q: How did you get involved with FLEFF and performing for silent films?
A: "About six years ago, Patty Zimmerman asked me if I'd consider playing along with the The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and I said "Sure, I'll give it a try." I played with my electric cello and some electronic effects, and I had a really fun time and got good feedback from others.
It's been like that pretty much every year where I've been doing at least one silent film. It was a few years ago I started to do it with other musicians as well. I'm doing this one with Peter Dodge and *Robby Aceto, and that sort of opened up a whole other new area of collaboration and improvisation."
[ * Read the interview by Kelsey with Robby Aceto here! ]
Q: What are you looking forward to?
A: "It's been a very fulfilling experience playing in FLEFF, playing in a theater -- we've been playing in Cinemapolis -- and I'm looking forward to playing in the new Cinemapolis, the past two times we were in the old Cinemapolis. The people that did the sound, and the lighting were really good and helped create a really nice ambience there.
Just playing for a live audience where we're kind of watching the film with everybody else. We've gotten feedback like, "The music was great, I just got lost in the film, and sometimes I forgot that there was live music playing." That was kind of cool because that would be our goal, for people to really feel like the music worked that well with the movie that they just took it all in.
I think for this year we're really looking forward to the new space, and I just really like working with the FLEFF team and I feel really well treated by everybody. We're excited."
Q: How do you prepare for this kind of performance?
A: "We definitely get together and rehearse. The first time we got together, for this year, we just watched the film and as we watched it we'd stop and talk about this scene or that scene or the feeling that we'd like to have there.
One of our approaches is to take turns being the person that would sort of lead a certain scene or feeling so that the others could come in as they wish and join that. The different people generating the music that would make it so that it's more variant rather than just jumping in all at once. We'll try to have just one person playing or two and three and try to change it up that way, too."
Q: What does the cello bring to creating the appropriate film ambience of the silent film?
A: "The cello has a lot of warmth and texture and into the human voice like range, I think that speaks to a lot of people that way, the sound of the cello. Because its a bow instrument, and the bow gives a lot of life to the sound and vibrancy that also works. It makes it so that I can stand out and hold a note as long as I want, and I can also change that as I go.
With the bow you can do effects that sound like distortion, and there's just a wide palette of sounds to choose from just from the use of the bow. There's spiccato if I'm plucking at it, it can feel like a base and driving sound, a percussive rhythm that way. I can use some electronic things like the looper which allows me to layer different notes on top of each other or a series of a notes. Robby, the guitarist, also uses looping so we can kind of create a bigger ambience of sound that way and build upon that to sound like we're a much bigger group sometimes."
Q: How is performing for a silent film different from other things you have done?
A: "It's more free for me because it's wide open and the parts of the film inspire us in different ways. It's very different from jazz or classical or most of the other types of improvisation I've done because it's so open and unscripted. The script is kind of like the movie, we're kind of creating the score as we go.
We do watch the movie and then play together with the movie to anticipate the changes in the different moods and feelings we want to convey. It will be sort of like playing and improvising to poetry maybe or art where you can do what you want, but you're still trying to fit into the mood of what you're watching. It's pretty cool, it's very different."
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Don't miss this once in a lifetime performance!
With Chris White, Robby Aceto, and Peter Dodge playing LIVE, come see Storm Over Asia, 7PM on Sunday, April 17th at Cinemapolis!
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Blog was written by Kelsey Greene, Documentary Studies and Production, '13, FLEFF intern, Buffalo, New York
I had the chance to interview the talented Robby Aceto, who is an internationally recognized musician. He will be doing a live improvised score for the silent film "Storm Over Asia" with Chris White and Peter Dodge Storms.
KG: Can you please explain why you are drawn to the electric guitar? What about the instrument is appealing to you? What makes it distinct from other instruments?
RA: It's true the instrument I am most often identified with is the electric guitar. When I get a call for a tour or to work on something, it's usually my guitar playing they are looking for.
But now, in my fourth decade of doing this, I guess I've begun to consider myself a musician first, then somewhere in there, a guitarist, and then more specifically, an electric guitarist.
The fact is I play a lot of instruments. I love all kinds of things with strings: the guitar in particular, in all its many many permutations. It's been around for centuries, it's common to many cultures all over the world, and comes in all shapes and sizes. There's that element of connection to something age-old that resonates with me.
It is an instrument that begs to be tampered with. You can change the entire character of how the instrument speaks by altering the way it is tuned. You can change the entire roadmap of what's available with its range and harmonic possibility. It's incredibly flexible.
And this is really just about the guitar in general. But the electric guitar; it's just another animal altogether.
The moment you introduce electricity and amplification into the picture, it really becomes another instrument. The largeness it provides, the energy, the ability to very easily alter and expand the timbal character of the instrument and the way it lends itself to sonic explorations well outside the confines of the notes found on the fretboard. It's an instrument that can be approached in unlimited ways and offers immense creative possibility.
KG: What do you view as your career highlights and why?
RA: There are many moments that come to mind: places in the world I've had the chance to go, performances I've been a part of, amazing people I've worked with...
Unless you are the kind of artist who works exclusively by yourself, music is something you do with others. For that reason, the relationships you develop over the years become very significant… the caliber of musicianship, the quality of creativity, the ability to think alike and share some kind of end vision.
So for me it's not so much about where I've been and what I've done as it's about the incredible people I've had the good fortune to work with and forge lasting friendships with. Every relationship contributes in some way to you becoming the musician you are always trying to become, and I've been extremely fortunate to have worked with some of the best: Chris Frantz & Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads, Mick Karn, David Torn, the always amazing Douglas September...so many others come to mind... great friends, and fantastic artists.
All that said, and for almost the opposite reasons, I can also say that I think completing the score for "Saved By Deportation" stands out for me as a real turning point; it was the first score I did completely on my own and featured a type of writing that was very new to me at the time. It put me on a path I am very much still following today.
KG: How did you become involved with music scores for films?
RA: I guess I started out as a collaborator, playing on scores by other people. That's a very high-pressure situation, especially if you are working to deadlines and on a studio clock.
I finally got smart about ten or eleven years ago and was able to build my own production room.
Two things happened as a result of that; working in my own room made it possible to continue to collaborate with others, but I could work on my own clock and without packing up and traveling to another city. So even though I was going out the door less, I was still able to more or less maintain the income stream I had worked hard to develop.
I found when I worked without someone looking over my shoulder, I became better at, and more comfortable experimenting with different ways of getting sounds from the guitar to tape, and this freed me up to try to be more inventive, to look at using other instruments in my compositions and to develop my skills as a mixer.
And most importantly, it allowed me to focus more deliberately on my own output. I made a conscious effort to put myself in situations where I had to deliver on deadline, but deliver work I always felt was my best.
KG: What do you enjoy about creating music scores for films?
RA: I like being in the "hot seat" and being solely responsible for getting the thing done. I enjoy working within the changing demands placed on the role of music in a film; the idea that it's solitary work, but ultimately a shared outcome.
KG: How did you get involved with FLEFF?
RA: My first FLEFF as a performer, I was asked to be in a performing group to help realize a work by the wonderful composer/violinist Judy Hyman. It was a live performance of a fairly large group to a commissioned film with spoken-word component, also performed live.
Before that, the environmental issues film, "The God Squad" by Emily Hart (that I worked on with composer Bobby Lurie) premiered at the very first FLEFF, back when it was still jointly run at Cornell, IC and Wells colleges.
"Saved By Deportation" also screened at FLEFF a few years ago. So I guess I have a history now with the festival.
KG: What do you enjoy about working with FLEFF?
RA: It's a world-class film festival right here in our back yard...what could be better!
KG: What are you looking forward to about this year’s festival?
As you probably know, last year's FLEFF had a different paradigm and there wasn't much opportunity for the live-improvisation-to-silent-film that has become a sort of hallmark of the festival. For the 2010 festival, Patty Zimmerman invited me to work with Anne Michel and Phil Wilde on developing content for the FLEFF online programming streams, which I really enjoyed doing.
It's an important film in many respects; it's the first film to be shot in Mongolia, features some amazing camera work, and is deeply rooted in the Marxist dialectic, telling the story of the Revolution through the eyes of a true believer.
For me, it's now doubly significant, given the disaster that was the ultimate result of the way the great social experiment of Marxism eventually played out; an economic and human disaster of almost epic proportions.
I'm also looking forward to improvising with those two great musicians... and excited to be performing with "Storm Over Asia.”
KG: You mentioned improvising. Can you explain how you, Chris and Peter will be approaching your score for "Storm Over Asia?"
RA: Chris, Peter and I have done several performances at FLEFF, and at screenings for the film school.
Traditionally, we have worked in a totally improvisatory setting; meaning the score is invented live to picture and is a one-time event, impossible to recreate.
For this reason, it's unlike other scores. It moves almost into the realm of ethnic music; you have to work at it on many different levels.
We usually have some minimal thematic materials to draw from, but only very minimal. Instead, we focus on what instruments to use, what kind of "setting" we want to inhabit, and then in rehearsals, we set about working to develop a group vocabulary and a way to communicate.
"Storm Over Asia" is a great film and I have a great feeling about how we might interact with it. I've also been an admirer of Pudovkin since looking at his films when I was in college, so it's something I'm really looking forward to doing.