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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
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.