Reed College, Kaul Auditorium, 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd., 730-8809. 8 pm Saturday,
March 17. $10-$15
Fear No Music composer-in-residence Joe Waters bids farewell to Portland with
a mischievous score to filmmaker Matt Smith's tree-of-life fable, Bob.
by BILL SMITH
"I was totally misunderstood by the morons who listened to the Ballet Mecanique
in 1926," wrote "bad boy" composer George Antheil.
Mecanique was Antheil's groundbreaking collaboration with artist-filmmaker Ferdinand
Leger, and an early attempt to meld "serious music" with cinema. Scored
for anvils, airplane propellers and other industrial widgets, Mecanique was as
furious a modernist blast at its Paris unveiling as Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.
Though the world's seen some progress, much of the music world is still steeped
in provincialism. Witness composer Joe Waters' recent departure from Lewis &
Clark College. In keeping with the school's rightist leanings of late, Waters
had to leave his composition post where he'd worked with young composers exploring
electronic and acoustic sound. For Waters, the switch from L&C's Republicanism
to a post at San Diego State is good news. For Portland, it's another artistic
loss due to backwater academics. Fortunately, he leaves us with a film score in
the restless spirit of Antheil.
As his third composition as Fear No Music's composer-in-residence, Waters offers
his soundtrack to Matt Smith's highly touted short film Bob. Waters is an enthusiastic
fan and practitioner of film scoring. His frantic bit of sound and image synchronicity
for Joanna Priestley's Garden of Kali last year was a great success for FNM. He
stumbled on Bob when FNM friend Susan Smith showed him some of her sibling's "weird
little films." "I was looking for something to follow Kali with,"
says Waters. "I saw Bob and thought, This is perfect."
Bob is a wry cinematic fable about growth and aging that may alter the way you
see fruit. Finished in 1998, the mordant short became an underground hit at European
festivals, eventually landing on French television. After snubs from every stateside
festival, Smith resubmitted Bob in '99 to capitalize on its Euro clout. Finally,
it clicked with Slamdance--the DIY Sundance--and was quickly nabbed by 30 other
festivals, even earning play on Dreamworks' website.
Waters' score for two pianos, percussion, violin and cello succeeds in melding
the tension and whimsy of Smith's fable.
To achieve that synthesis, Waters broke Bob down into a frame-by-frame analysis,
painstakingly matching notes to frames. Opening with a simple piano figure that
insinuates like an eerie lullaby, followed with piano clashes, pizzicato string
pops, jazzlike dissonance and tempo swings, the alternately somber and mischievous
score mirrors the images so compactly that it feels organic. "We call Joe
every name in the book every time we rehearse," says FNM cellist Phil Hansen.
"Bob is music that's incredibly hard yet incredibly invigorating. I'm going
to miss Joe for that."
In performance, Hansen, violinist Andrew Ehrlich, pianists Mika Sunago and Susan
Smith, and percussionist Joel Bluestone will get help staying with Waters' furious
pace by using a click track (fed through headphones), keeping tempo with Smith's
images as Waters conducts.
Bob closes the first half of FNM's concert, while, appropriately, the second half
concludes with Leger's Ballet Mecanique, with the Spokane chamber music ensemble
Zephyr playing Antheil's score live. It's a fitting farewell to Portland's own
misunderstood "bad boy" composer, Joe Waters.