Last April, Gato Loco was playing at a music festival in Stans, Switzerland. A small mountain town, our tour van was slowly climbing the winding roads, passing picturesque farm houses and roaming livestock. Running late for soundcheck, we were getting anxious, and as the temperature was dropping, we noticed a sign by the side of the road. An easily translatable message read : “Beware of Bungi”. What is this Bungi, we thought? Imagining a swiss form of Big Foot, an ancient lost creature of this snow-capped countryside, terrorizing livestock and stealing children at night. What is this Bungi? As we raced along to Stans, the light began to wane. And then, amidst the mist and lightly-falling snow, past a roadside guard, and beside an ancient farmhouse, majestic and terrifying, ancient and wise, we saw …. the BUNGI.
In the silent era, one of the great binary relationships on the silver screen was between Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. Two of the biggest stars of all time, their personas — and films — both mirrored and contradicted each other. Between the two, you can argue, can be found everything great in comedic acting.
I’ve always loved was Mae West, though I never thought of her having a rivaling counterpart in conveying the sexuality and strength of that era. She is certainly the most iconic character of that period (though Betty Boop holds symbolic status). However, Barbera Stanwyck, though not quite as iconic today, delivers an equally powerful and dynamic character in the Mae West idiom.
In 1933′s “Baby Face”, Stanwyck plays a poor, rural girl who — literally — sleeps her way to power and riches. With nothing but brains and looks, she makes a fortune by seducing every man on the ladder’s next rung. While Mae West’s films are always tongue-in-cheek, with plenty of puns, quick wit, and humorously manipulative scenes, Baby Face is very close to the opposite. In place of puns and fast-paced dialogue, Stanwyck merely delivers a series of icy stares and half-crooked come-hither smiles. In place of tongue-in-cheek sexual references, Stanwyck makes it clear that she is sleeping with anyone and everyone for purely manipulative gain. There are — count them — SEVEN blatant sex partners in a film that clocks in at just over an hour. In place of West’s humor, there is a moral corruption and depravity to Stanwyck’s performance. In fact, three of those seven lovers wind up committing suicide.
Archetypal figures will never die. It is through these flat, simple characters that every story of mankind can be told. The tramp; the hero; the villain; the heroine. It is not the story that conveys the message — it’s the way the story is told. As much as I love West, Stanwyck digs much deeper, finding a haunting emotional depth that blurs the boundaries between hero and villain, morality and survival, love and lust. You never know which one of these emotions is happening at any given moment, because at any given moment they are all happening simultaneously. And she achieves this with the slightest of dialogue and the smallest of movements.
They call Buster Keaton “The Great Stoneface”, but Barbera Stanwyck certainly gives him a run for his money.
Last night I went to the Nighthawk Cinema to see the midnight showing of Tron. Nighthawk is one of a handful of theaters in the city that relishes in “cinema culture”. These cinemas have block-buster films, but also host revival and cult films. Both Nighthawk and Sunshine Cinemas host weekend midnight screenings of cult films. Dating back to the “midnight fright” movies from the 40s and 50s, to the international cult-phenomenon of movies like Rocky Horror Picture Show, the weekend midnight-movies have become a staple for cult & serious film-lovers alike. However, you will rarely see a movie from the silent era, with the exception of perhaps Metropolis or Nosferatu.
There are many amazing and special elements about Tron, (as well as some seriously lacking parts). Of course, it boasts at-the-time mind-boggling special effects, an early frole of a future cult-icon leading-man (senor lebowski, himself), Jeff Bridges, and a particularly wonderful and strange addition to the Disney catalogue… all this, as well as being a film entirely of and about the 1980s, dating it in that horribly perfect way that eternalizes it as a cult-movie staple. What has always confounded and confused me, though, is oddly-enough the make-up department. There were obviously certain visual sacrifices made in order to super-impose all the wild animation and light-bright sequences. But what is the deal with the pre-sound vaudeville make-up cake??? A style which is barely accepted in a D.W. Griffith film is, for the first time in probably 45-years, plastered on every actor, big and small. It’s a very strange touch, and one which subtly undermines any and all futuristic claims.
Enter “The Black Lodge”, a band of experimental metal-heads put together by Geoff Gersh and his buddies from the Blue Man Group crew, Clifton Hyde, Mack Price & Anthony Riscica. A metal band doing a live sound-track to Tron? PERFECT for the midnight screening vibe. I didn’t realize how perfect it was, though. The film was projected with the original sound-track up ’til the point where Jeff Bridges gets sucked into the computer matrix. At that exact moment, the film’s soundtrack was turned off and they began creeping in with sizzling, psychedelic poly-chords, and “ambient-metal” — sort of in a Mogwai vain. And that is the exact moment when the film’s look and style jumps from early-80s video-games-and-faded-jeans to a truly bizarre mix of futuristic sci-fi gladiators mixed with silent-film-era over-acting and caked-on make-up. My only explanation for this unusually un-vogue look is that they had to put the film through such extreme post-processing, that they were not able to capture the subtleties of facial nuances, etc., thus their over-stylized facial images. However, it creates a truly bizarre morphing of genre, time, and place — landing somewhere between a beautiful past and a crude future.
None-the-less, it felt like The Black Lodge had fully-scored an original silent film — and it was a better movie for it. They refrained from full-on metal-pounding til only the game-and-chase sequences, during which I was jumping up-and-down in my seat with excitement. The rest of the score was filled with beautiful ambient chord-crunches, slow-jam pulses, and theater-shaking (literally…..) dissonances. It was the best modern scoring to a silent film (that’s what I’m callin’ it!) since the Club Foot Orchestra’s scoring of “Sherlock Jr” — it retold the story, in a magnificent and exciting way. The relationships between characters changed, the motivations and tensions changed, and the flow-and-arc of the film was greatly enhanced. Instead of the odd lull that the film experiences about 1hr in, (after the novelty of the Tron-graphics wears off, but where the story must slug along for another 30 minutes,) the music propels it forward to a climactic end.
I was left breathless. It felt like the film had always lacked the proper growing intensity. It finally found it with this new scoring. I only hope these guys record it soon, so I can watch it like this every time!
Folks that know me are generally aware of my being a cinephile. If I’m not playing, making, or listening to music, I am watching a movie. And within that side of me, I have a deep passion for early animations. These films, as commercial and child-friendly as they may seem, have a truly surreal and, by today’s standards, “avant-garde” mentality — exploring rules of time, space, gender, and embracing the new medium of film by not just pushing, but BREAKING its bounderies.
I wrote a short score for the 1932 Betty Boop/Bimbo animation, “Bimbo’s Initiation”, scored for 2 bassoons (Dark & Stormy is the name of the group). It began as a one-off commission, but has quickly sprouted wings into a suite of music written for and inspired by more “experimental” animations. I’ve finished another piece for the Yuri Norstein film, “The Battle at Kerzhenets”, and I’m working on an piece based on the Out Of the Inkwell-series film, “Earth Control”.
Someone suggested I contact Molly Surno, who runs a series called “Cinema 16″, which puts on events of experimental silent films coupled with original music, performed by different groups each time. In my search for more and more “dissident” animations, I’d stumbled upon the abstract films of people like Oscar Fischinger, Robert Breer, Michael Snow, and other abstract film-makers. These films felt very stale; seen on a computer or TV screen, the random images and shapes quite often flat and life-less. The films seemed more like child-hood drawings, with bright colors and shapes, than mature and subtle films. It couldn’t help me to relate more with the Mel Brooks satire of this genre (and also HIS first film!).
The curation for the “Cinema 16″ show was 4 similar films in this genre : Standish Lawder’s “Color Film” (1971), Viking Eggeling’s “Symphonie Diagonal” (1924), Len Lye’s “Color Cry”, and Sabrina Ratte’s “Mirages (2010). I must say, it was WONDERFUL to see these films projected from beautiful prints, in a packed audience that was enraptured by them. The films really came to life, and the colors and shapes no longer felt flat and stale. The crowd was engaged and electric, and you could feel it. That energy alone really translated to the experience. Unlike modern films, where one goes to “see the film on the big screen”, older films actually benefit greatly from the communal experience, from the energy and excitement of watching it with a few hundred other people.
This was coupled by the beautiful and trans-like score by Matteah Baim, using only a laptop and guitar. Molly Surno’s introduction touched on the relationship between hallucinations and film, which was the undercurrent through all these films. Baim’s score really drove that energy home. Each piece was very dream-like, and segued all the pieces together.
The winner, for me, and a great discovery, was the film by Len Lye. It was the only one that really came across as an emotional piece, and truly moved me. I’ve since seen quite a few of his films. Naturally, his first and most important film, “The Color Box” (1935) has a great soundtrack — a mambo by Don Barretto, a piece which I’ve listened to many times. Of course it does.
My life seems to run in circles, and everything connects. This night was no different.
Well — the winter slumber of January & February has worn off — and Gato Loco’s getting ready to hit the ground running.
We have our first Gato Loco Coconino gig in almost 3 months tomorrow night, Saturday March 3rd. It’s at the Living Room, at 10pm. It’ll be a good one.
Upcoming — next weekend will be the NYC PREMIERE of the Gato Loco-featured acrobatic musical, MUMBO! We produced this show in Baltomore 2 years ago, to 7 sold-out shows of enthusiastic fans. The reception was great…. but somehow it never made a 2nd run. Until NOW! I’ll have a longer posting on this later this week. But for now, check it out, and buy advance tickets. It’s a great show, and we’re excited to be part of it! (this will feature the compressed band, Gato Loco Cuatro, featuring stefan zeniuk, joe exley, clifton hyde & kevin garcia).
A big show coming up! On March 17th, we’ll be playing at the 92nd st. Y (tribeca). This is a great venue, and definitely THE place to hear us this winter.
Tours are in the near future as well — stay tuned for those! Lots on the horizon.
As per the new usual, Wednesdays we’ll be uploading new videos. Regularly. These will include music videos, interviews with band-members, candid videos from tours, etc.
Week 1! A video that is an out-take from the upcoming Gato Loco music video for “The Mourning of Ginger”. This one features a beautiful poem by Krazy Kat animator & artist, George Harriman. Puppetry by Ceili Clemmens, animation by Stefan Zeniuk, and dying-cat trumpet by Jesse Selengut. Enjoy!
Saturday night I went to hear “Song from the Uproar: The Lives & Deaths of Isabelle Eberhardt”, a new fully staged multi-media opera by Missy Mazzoli. It was staged at The Kitchen, an institution for hosting world premiers of challenging new works by ambitious young experimental artists.
To give a quick summary of the show, it follows the story of the young swiss adventurist, Isabelle Eberhardt, who, in the turn of the last century, following a series of tragic family deaths, fled to Algeria, alone. She dressed as a man; converted to Islam; roamed the desert; fell in love with an Algerian soldier; survived an attempted assassination; joined a Sufi order; and died at the age of 27 in a flash-flood. Her jounals were saved, and later published in Western Europe. This piece follows her story through a series of poetic vignettes and musical images, taken from the journals in a dream-like fashion that floats the audience through a strange and mystical journey.
This piece fits squarely into the modernist genre of “multi-media opera”, championed to death in NYC by such venues as BAM and The Kitchen. Established prominently in the ’70s, with such pieces as “Einstein on the Beach” (Philip Glass), and “United States of America” (Laurie Anderson). The genre seems to require video projections, in order to satiate modern man’s addiction to film/tv/etc. The orchestras/ensembles are usually incorporated into the staging. There is usually some extensive sound-design, involving pre-recorded sound, artificial manipulation of the acoustic instruments, and the use of electronically-based instruments (keyboards, etc).
Song from the Uproar had some very bright moments, and some others quite a bit less-than. However, one thing that made this piece stand out was the lack of sub-text. This was a majorly refreshing aspect — the story, environment, music, and experience was, without a doubt, singular and focused. There was no philosophical, theological, or political doctrine. It was merely a beautiful, dreamy, wind-swept adventure through the desert, one filled with the expansiveness of the un-bound mind, the independent soul, and the expansive imagination. This was a piece based on poetry, not on doctrine. The story was simple; the actions were clear; there was no muddying intention. It was straight and clean.
The scoring was beautiful, with a small ensemble (NOW Ensemble) of clarinet (bass & soprano), flute, electric guitar, acoustic bass, and piano. The lead role was performed virtuosically by Abigail Fischer, who sang almost consistently for the full 75 minutes, all the time weaving elegantly in and out of the highly-stylized and choreographed 5-person choir, floating props, and even joining the band for one number (for a lovely 3-handed piano piece). The sets (by Zane Pihlström) were simple and lovely. By draping 2 giant pieces of canves on both sides of the stage, and filling the sides of the stage with sand, one was immediately swept into a world of canvas tents, sand, and wind. The films, too, (by Stephen Taylor) were quite lovely — never adding anything of specificity, but always adding to the dreamy poetry of the environment. They evoked a constant flickering of the sun, an on-going presence of light, and time, and memories. They consisted of mostly black-and-white grainy images evoking photos of our grandparents, of another era, of memories, of reflection.
A big problem that I had was the sound. I’m not sure if I can even point to the sound designer — but there seemed to be a complete disregard for sonic aesthetics.
1) What is UP with electric guitarists in new music ensembles? I feel like many young composers decide to incorporate electric guitars into acoustic chamber-style groups. Having grown up on Led Zeppelin and Hendrix, there is certainly a room for this aesthetic in today’s contemporary composers’ voices. But respect the electric guitar, and what it is made to do. Do NOT put a digital distortion on the instrument!!! The electric guitar was made electric so it could be LOUD. The distorted guitar was a natural outcome of playing SO loud that the amp was blown. The blown (broken) cones created a natural buzz and fuzz, one that was unique to each amp. It’s a beautiful thing, when it’s big, and loud, and BRASH. It’s common now to use pedals and effects to recreate that cracked, distorted tone… but it must be PLAYED with that original intention. There are ways to do this within a quieter setting, such as in a venue like The Kitchen, playing among a chamber ensemble. One such concept is to play through a tiny amp, one which “breaks up” (i.e. “turn it to 11″), while still remaining at a quieter over-all volume. There was some very beautiful writing for the guitar, involving plenty of lovely harmonics, and beautiful clean-sounding lines. However, when Mazzoli wrote for big, nasty power-chords, it sounded flacid. New Music guitarists/ensembles have a LONG way to go with incorporating the electric guitar into their sound worlds. I find this to be a common problem that drives me nuts.
2) In a medium-sized room like the Kitchen (roughly 300-400 seats, I’m guessing), all of the singers were miked with clip-on lavalier-type mics. It was sad, bordering on tragic.. The voices were strong and dynamic; hearing them through a PA system was not a good decision. There was a lot of nuance and dynamics that were lost, and in general it felt like the whole sound design was EQd poorly. I’m sure that a much better balance could have been struck between the singers’ natural voices and the “sound support” that was needed to compete with the room and the band.
This was a multi-media opera — the sound design should be CRUCIAL to the over-all experience. Instead, I found myself focusing on problems with the over-all sound of the piece. This, ultimately, distracts from the music itself, and removes your attention from the sweeping dream that this piece is supposed to take you on.
Just 3 weeks til our new album is released in the U.S., and some exciting things are happening over here in Gato Loco land.
How Low Can You Go? Gato Loco De Bajo is getting some low-end love on a New York City institution. Jon Schaeffer’s “New Sounds” radio show, on WNYC, will be featuring some of our music. You can check it out HERE. We will now also be streaming the entire 2008 album, “Malditos Besos” for a limited time. We’ll be playing this saturday, May 28th, at our favorite spot in town, Barbes.
Farewell To Normal Scene — It’s official, our US album release party is being held on June 18th, at Littlefield. Joining us will be some of our favorite bands, New Beard, Yula & The Extended Family, plus many special guests, free food, the works. Check it out HERE.
Other festivals — we’ll be playing at 2 other great festivals in the New York region. The Music Frees All Festival, on June 2nd, and then a trip up-state for the 2nd annual Beacon Riverfest on June 25th. Join us for a day in the sun along the historic and beautiful Hudson River!!!
There are a few other special announcements, which we’ll be unveiling over the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!
5-weeks to go to the album is officially out in the US. What a great week it’s been here in NYC. The spring weather is finally here after what’s seemed like the longest winter in recent memory.
We found a review of our show in Paris 2 months ago, that somehow we had skipped over. Getting unsolicited reviews and articles is an interesting experience — it’s always fascinating to see what other folks get out of our music, and this review was more of a surprise than usual! Extremely positive though it was, it went into depth about the relationship with Krazy Kat, the cartoon strip. Though it’s something of a distant inspiration, and a convoluted mascot at best, George Herriman’s art shares some rather deep similarities to our music and our ethos. I won’t get into those details right now, but perhaps soon I’ll share my extended thoughts on that.
On a similar note, our friend Daniel Gerstle over at HELO magazine is working on a full-on documentary on the band. It’s almost done, and Clifton, Joe & Stefan finished up one last round of interviews this morning. Very excited!
One of the real pleasures of living in New York is that pretty much every group throughout the world at some point comes through the city to perform/make a pilgrimage to what seems like the live capital of the world. This week was no exception, with Los Muñequitos de Matanzas performing 3 sold-out nights at Symphony Space. It had been a decade since this legendary cuban flame-bearing group of traditional rumbas and afro-cuban music had been here, and they brought every bit of deep, thick, complex afro-cuban performance that I was expecting. With only drums, vocals, and dancers, the performance was BIG — overwhelming the senses for a packed room of New Yorkers? WOW! The rhythms and vocal parts were miles deep, and combined with an almost 3-ring circus of graceful, forceful, and agressively beautiful dancing, was truly transcendental.
A few other notes — I recently discovered an incredible composer/arranger/clarinetist, Lucho Bermudez. Very interesting and beautiful arrangements and compositions. Definitely worth checking out. Also, Rich clued me in to a posting from one of the band’s favorite composers here in NYC, JG Thirlwell. Known for his compositions for the cartoon The Venture Brothers, as well as his long standing bands Foetus and Steroid Maximus, here is a GREAT collection of videos from his live show in Prospect Park last year. This was happening while we were in Bordeaux — otherwise we would have all been there at the show checking out this madness!
We’re doin’ a little countdown — I’ll be posting every tuesday, leading up to the US release of our new album, on Winter & Winter Records — June 14th. It’s being distributed by the lovely people at Allegro Music, out of Portland, OR. They’ve been very nice to deal with so far, and hopefully we can get some more thorough US touring underway this summer!
We’ve posted more links more concise links to videos from our recent show in Paris this last March.
This last week has been a busy one for the Gatos, in many contrasting and complimentary forms. Last friday, Jackie Coleman & Ric Becker premiered an excellent new group that they are co-leading. Playing all new compositions of theirs, the music was a cross-section of grooves, with strong horn melodies and stabs overtop and throughout. They’re still looking for a name for the band, so if you have any suggestions, let us know! Meanwhile, across town Joe Exley was playing at the 10-year anniversary for Anti-Social Music, a great new-music group that many of us Gatos have been involved with at various points in time. They fuse new-music classical styles with a sorta rough-and-tumble punk vibe. Always fun, and great folks.
The following night (saturday), Tin Pan played at a lovely new spot, The Way Station, out in the increasingly gentrified Prospect Heights. It’s a very nice new spot, loosely based on the Barbes aesthetic, and I look forward to playing there again. After the gig, Jesse and I raced back to manhattan to play a late-night set with Benjamin Ickies’ Ambitious Orchestra, an orchestra that plays rock music….. or a rock band that plays classical instruments? anyway, Stefan was playing English Horn, Clifton was playing French Horn, Joe was on tuba, and Kevin Garcia was on the drums….. it was a fun and DIFFERENT set of music, albeit even more crowded on the stage than usual.
And thanks to all the friends and fans that came out to our show Sunday night! After such a busy week for the band, it was refreshing and relaxing to play our music…. everyone was extremely comfortable and having a great time. a very special night! Thanks to Daniel Gerstle, of Helo Magazine, who videotaped the whole performance, so we look forward to seeing pieces of that online in the coming weeks. And of course, Jackie’s incredible band, The Chase Experiment, for opening up the evening. Always great to hear them!!!
One more great piece of news — if you’re in New York City, go to the Strand bookstore (on 13th street & Broadway). Back about 20 feet, next to the “sell your books” table, there is a beautiful set of Krazy Kat cartoons, that have recently been released. 4 books in the set, at a mere $8 a piece!!!!!! They comprise the complete full-color sunday supplements of the legendary cartoon, spanning from 1933-1944 (when Herriman passed away, and thus the strip ended). This is the first time that these beautiful strips have been made available in such a collection — the breath-takingly gorgeous coloring of Herriman was, alas, only awarded the full glory in 2 magazines (1 in Chicago, and 1 in NYC), and many of the original prints had been lost. Fortunately, an animation collector had painstakingly saved ALL of these cartoons in his collection, and they were able to compile them into this beautiful series. This is worth every penny. Highly recommended from all of us here at Gato Loco central.