Movie Music - A Rant

Like many American music enthusiasts, I studied classical piano in my younger years but really only had the interest for more popular-oriented orchestral music like film and video game soundtracks, which combined all manner of "concert hall instruments" with synthesizers, drumkit and electronic percussion, guitars, bass, what have you - a true mashup that is somehow much more tacky than it sounds. But while I liked some of these themes and scores enough to listen to them separately, I usually had no interest in their clumsy application to a film, usually with obvious edits and maximum volume to completely destroy any chance of you noticing how subtle they aren't. Even worse when the film is about some non-Western subject, and the music takes on awkward non-Western instrumentation for the sake of boxing the audience about the ears, screaming "Listen you! We're not in AMERICA any more!"

All this is building up to something, and that's the curious conflict of Avatar. See it - it's probably $12 in theaters for 3D but it's worthwhile for an immersive, probably revolutionary visual effects experience that successfully suspends my disbelief in many moments. The effects are simply that flashy, but with a certain amount of subtlety that makes it all the more convincing. But the less said about the atrocious script, riddled with Action/SF cliches, the better. The less said about the pan-indigenous mashup that is the alien race the Na'vi, with their 10 ft height, feline faces, dreadlocks, accents that are somewhere between southeast Asia and Kenya, etc, etc, etc, the better. The less said about the heavy-handed but still vague environmental metaphors that also have the time to pick up a dash of fantastical reverse-assimilation stories like Dances with the Last of the Samurai etc, etc, etc, the better. But I shall not be silenced on the subject of the music which is so explosively terrible and doesn't even provide a basic function of distracting from bad dialogue. The perpetrator here is James Horner, whose fascination with taking a folk instrument and beating an audience to death with it is well known thanks to the (for some reason) million selling Titanic soundtrack. However since ethnicity is here more ambiguous, Horner's score draws on every continent in a synthesizer's "World Instrument Section," mixing "Airy Panflutes" with "Warm South African Vocals," "East Asian Lutes" with "Oriental Percussion Kit." (These are actual names of synth presets on one of my programs. We are SO post racial...) Actually these recordings probably fat-paid a BUNCH of musicians but boy those sessions must've been boring.

Although I can't be sure; is it more sad that scores like this exist, continuing Western art and popular music's fascination with the "exotic other" that has early documentation with what was long known as the "Local Color" phenomenon? The phrase is used in classical textbooks, describing the decisions of composers like Mozart or Puccini for using imported percussion and pentatonic melodies in operas set in Turkey and China, and it is rarely used as a complement, since it usually reflects only a superficial familiarity with the source instrumentation or melody and some show of coercion to align it with the western orchestra. Or is it more sad that scores like this exist BECAUSE over the past century of Hollywood's fascination with and dramatization of the "other," composers have established particular timbral and melodic cliches that completely bastardize the context they were stolen from?


12/27 Show Location Changed, Cankickers added

Due to an unlikely coincidence our little show grow out of the Infoshop. The Can Kickers were due to play another show that night that got canceled when the series' booker was sacked. (Bummer too, the Sundazed at BAR series brought some of the widest range of fringe music New Haven has to offer...)

So the folks in charge of this show contacted them about combining the two shows, and they agreed. The flier time is still 5:30 and the location is the Fucking Discovery Zone, which will be temporarily heated by space heater and whiplash punks for the sake of fingers not arthritically impaired by cold...

So, to review:

5:30 PM
An Historic
Mark Leonard
Mike Bird
Filthy Still

Fucking Discovery Zone.
Vegan Potluck.
Donations for touring bands.


Erratic Bits of Activity

I write, mostly for fun. More often than not the pieces are fiction, short stories and fragments thereof, but my curiosity fuels quite a journalistic streak in me, and has for years. Currently I write an occasional review for the Avant-Garde Metal(http://www.avantgarde-metal.com) webzine. At the end of this month and early next month, my first interviews will be published, with John LaMacchia of Candiria/Spylacopa, Toby Driver of Kayo Dot, and Mirai Kawashima of Sigh. I managed to get some pretty excellent answers to very particular questions, and all I need to do is brush up on some basic HTML formatting.

An Historic is playing a set on a show at the Elm City Infoshop (810 State St.) on December 27th. Mark Leonard, Mike Bird, and Filthy Still will also be playing. The show will start at 5:30, originally to finish in time for the now canceled Can Kickers show at BAR, but someone's working to try and get them another location. Acoustic solo accordion, with original songs, instrumentals and covers, as well as various strains of folk-punk.

My trio Broadcloth, after a very successful free-improv debut at the December 12th Uncertainty Music series, is hard at work on some new improvisational exploits, in addition to compositions by each of us (and whoever else of our friends we can solicit music from.). We have a gig at the Stone (yes, that one) on Sunday, February 28th at 8PM, and this set promises to be a sleek beast, if recent rehearsals are any indication. If any composers happen to read this and are interested in writing compositions or improv structures for a trio of Cello, Voice and Accordion (with marginal recorder skills) please let me know: (weillwedance@gmail.com)

Finally there's a decent chance that I'll have two gigs on the same day January 29th. I'll be playing a new piano composition along to the Modern Dance Ensemble performance of the Neighborhood Music School. Later that night the Elm City Guitar 4tet +3 will play a show in celebration of the release of the CD "Crash." That's Bob Gorry, Jeff Cedrone, Chris Venter and Tom Gogola - Guitars, John Venter, Bari Sax and Bass Clarinet, Steve Zieminski - Drums and percussion, and myself on Accordion and clarinet. This is a raucous group full of energy at its best, and provides some imposing moments as well as moments of real clarity. The show isn't yet confirmed, however.

Less stressful holidays to everyone.


Briefly, a really busy weekend...

All you wonderful folks have three whole chances to check out some cool stuff I'm involved with this weekend!

Friday, 12/11 - 1 year anniversary Show of the Fucking Discovery Zone, featuring An Historic, The Book Slave, Colorguard, Baby Crazy, Derrick, and Bela Reese. Should be tons of fun - starts at 7 PM.

Saturday - 12/12 - I'm in an improv trio tentatively known as Broadcloth featuring myself on Accordion and Recorders, Anne Rhodes doing vocals and Nathan Bontrager on Cello. Carl Testa will also do a solo bass set - starts at 8 PM

Sunday - 12/13 - A gig with the Yale Tango Orchestra, details STILL tba. But it starts at 4 PM.