Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Music of Merchant

I’m supposed to be at Great America right now riding roller coasters.

Paid attention to the weather people and stayed home.

It better thunderstorm sometime today in Gurnee or I am going to be pissed. So instead, I’m doing laundry and working on Merchant.

Just received e-mail from our choreographer, Alka, regarding the two dance sequences for Merchant.

We’re cutting and pasting several sequences of music together and the music will develop as the choreography develops. Should be fun to see the final product.

The notion of pastiche has been on my mind since I first read the script. The world of Merchant on Venice is massive from the scope of the cultural conversation in the play to the myriad of references and allusions scattered on every page. Shishir is a smart dude and if I am able to understand 75% of the references, I will be lucky.

How about the master of pastiche, Baz Luhrman? No matter how cool I would like to be, I’m a classicist at heart. When I score a play, leitmotifs and meaningful key structures abound while characters have their own instruments and situations have their own rhythms. I learned a lot in college and I’m spending the rest of my life figuring out what to keep and what to throw away. Yup, there’s a definite love/hate relationship with academia.


Anyway... Baz Luhrmann.

I went back to Baz’s film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. Although it was not a critical success, the use of music (definite pastiche) is sensational and completely insane. Whose crazy idea was to mix Garbage, Wagner, Butthole Surfers, Des’ree, Mozart, Radiohead, and Stina Nordernstam? It’s unbelievable and inevitable simultaneously!

Wow... can I try this method?

Why does it work? Is it the solid combination of music/emotion/context? Does the music somehow loyally adhere to the overall dramatic arc? Is it gut instinct? Did they go for broke and hope it would work? Was it trial and error? Was it just another cog in a campy design that was barely controlled? If everything goes over the top in concert then did all the designers feel compelled to join the party?

I’m in uncharted waters.

What to do?

Have to re-login... my partner Todd’s Itunes library is on our main login so I need to use another one. God forbid that some of my stuff end up on his Ipod. Must suck to live with a sound designer. Especially one whose hearing is going and can’t wear headphones.

Sonic hell for Todd.

So first thing’s first. I need to listen to as many musicians referenced in the script.

Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., The Rat Pack, at least the singers.

Esquivel, Mexican lounge God, reminds me of some Ennio Morricone remixes I know. Morricone somehow defined a certain cool in his scores for the Italian spaghetti westerns. I wonder what he thought of Gil Evans. These remixes really tell a great story in their pseudo 60’s In Like Flint lounginess. Carol has her sharkskin suit and I have my Morricone lounge mixes. God I love that vintage Hammond B3 sound.

The Doors... man... that music is so iconic. Listening to L.A. Woman and Strange Days. The chord progression at the end of the chorus of Strange Days is something I need to come back to.

Leif Garret... really? Maybe I should just watch The Surreal Life. Ok, ok... listening to borrowed time.

INXS... listening to Devil Inside. Hmm. For some reason, the production, melodic structure and the vocals remind me of John Cale/Lou Reed, particularly Songs for Drella.

Ann-Margaret... listening to Thirteen Men... love the vibes.

Pat Boone... holy cow, he recorded “In The Metal Mood”. Listening to Pat Boone sing Stairway to Heaven. This is cracked out.

Sheila Chandra... spa anyone?

Mohammed Rafi... the great things about Silk Road -- I learn so much about music I don’t come in contact with often. Amazing.

Kishore Kumar... the polyrhythms... Ennio and Kishore seem to share an aesthetic.

Todd... stop hanging over my shoulder and messing with the mouse.

Ozmati... so many influences... hip hop, Latin, salsa, jazz, a bit of funk...

Quetzal... Chicano band from East L.A....Migra. The lead singer Marha Gonzalez has one big colorful voice.

Santana... African Bamba. And Batuka. The new stuff is so much glossier than the old stuff.

Antonio Carlos Jobim... there’s seems to be a lot of mallet work in all of this music. Vibes and marimbas... a bit of xylo.

First impressions of the music of the musicians mentioned in Merchant:


What a terrific exercise. Shishir has given me tone, texture, color, rhythm.

Although it’s a pastiche of artists, they somehow make sense together.

Off to do something with this stuff I have in my head. After I put the wash in the dryer.

Rob Steel

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