Unless it’s a rockumentary like Sound City or 20 Feet From Stardom, the soundtrack to a documentary usually isn’t much more than an afterthought. But for Jodorowsky’s Dune, the new documentary about one of the greatest films never made, the music is an essential part in bringing to life a film that doesn’t exist. San Francisco composer Kurt Stenzel has done exactly that with his synth-laden, spooktacular mood setting composition for the film.
The performance artist/musician had never been asked to make a soundtrack before, but his work in the electro-art group Spacekraft caught the attention of the filmmakers. His synthesizer list is extensive, ranging from Radioshack toys to Moog to custom Dave Smith creations. The result is pulsing, warped and sometimes eerie sounds that create a sense of uncertainty. It would have had a big impact on Jodorowsky’s film vision for the epic science fiction novel, had it ever been made.
Stenzel’s ambient music is non-offensive and, like abstract art, can be interpreted in many ways—unlike his former project, the New York punk band Six and Violence. The self-taught musician admits he doesn’t have “chops” in the traditional sense, meaning he won’t bust out with a Chopin etude on request. But he does know his way around a synthesizer, and his music these days is about texture and timbre more than virtuosity.
Stenzel’s texture on Jodorowsky’s Dune is reminiscent of Isao Tomita, the pioneering Japanese musician who rose to popularity with his futuristic synthesizer renditions of Holst’s Planets suite and pieces of the Star Wars soundtrack in the 1970s. Stenzel grew up in a “classical music household,” and is familiar with Tomita’s work. He’s also a big fan of the Krautrock genre, especially Rodelius and his group, Cluster. When Dune director Frank Pavich was looking for a “Tangerine Dream type soundtrack,” Stenzel was the obvious choice.
Spacekraft’s music is also represented in the film. About nine minutes of the group’s music was left in the film after Stenzel sent over some music “as a placeholder” to Pavich, while he worked on more original music. “Some things just kind of stuck,” says Stenzel. The group is largely performance art these days, with a whole crew of “flight attendants” and more accompanying the experience of a Spacekraft show, which can be seen usually at art galleries and grand openings. Listeners can sit in airline chairs and control the music with their own iPhones, or take personality tests during the performance. “The whole thing is designed to take you somewhere else,” says Stenzel. “We’re kind of weird and make some drug references here and there,” he cautions. Sometimes, the public doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. “People ask if we’re a software company, or Scientologists, or whatever.” For the record, they’re neither.
“We’re somewhere between the pretentious art world and the happy-go-lucky-Bay-Area-friendly-lets-just-do-this-for-fun kind of thing,” says Stenzel.
The soundtrack will be released soon in full analog glory on a double-LP. Stenzel says he’s now interested in writing more music for film. “I like to be challenged,” he says. “This one, I was already doing this type of music… I would love to do a drama or something different.”
Listen to Stenzel’s work in this trailer for the film:
Treasure Island Music Festival is more than just music, it’s an experience. The festival is so well produced that it wouldn’t be difficult to have a good time having never heard of any of the bands playing. The seventh incarnation of the two-day festival wrapped up yesterday, and it was another beaming success. In addition to music, there is a shopping area, arts and crafts tent, zine and comic library, silent disco (live DJ spinning for wireless headphone-wearing listeners), food trucks, a Ferris wheel, bubbles and the best people watching money can buy. Wow, that last part sounded creepy, but you get the idea.
But there’s also music—lots of it. Each stage is timed down to the minute, so there is never a dull moment. There’s also never a moment to let the ears relax, and the only booth with earplugs was selling them for a buck a pair. Note for next year, guys: GIVE AWAY FREE EARPLUGS.
I’ve listed some favorites and least favorites, not based on the quality of their set (I’m sure there are fans of the bands who might think it was the band’s best performance ever), but on entertainment quality from an outside perspective. I must stress that even what I found to be the most banal of musical performances still turned out to be quite entertaining.
Little Dragon: 3.5/5 Good stage presence and real instruments made this a highlight on a day of laptop-driven DJ tunes and pumping bass. Singer Yukimi Nagano flows musically and visually as the leader of this electronic music group. They split the difference with a live drummer playing an electronic drum kit.Danny Brown: 3.5/5 Once the sound engineer figured out how to properly mix rap vocals (it took a couple songs), Danny Brown’s nasally, violent delivery emerged and piqued the ears of festivalgoers that might not have come specifically to see the last-minute replacement for Tricky. The early performance was a good boost of live human energy to contrast the repetitive bass and synthesizer drum sounds the rest of the day had in store.
Saturday’s Least Favorites
Disclosure: 2/5 In haiku: such low energy / could not keep my eyes open / what was that you said?
STRFKR: 4.5/5 Not surprised that this electro-indie group was top notch, but surprised at how well their albums translated to live performance. They know their music is, at times, slow to develop. But they spruce up the show with visuals, like two dudes in padded sumo suits going at it for a couple tunes. They even played along with the bits, and it didn’t sacrifice the quality of the music.
James Blake: 4/5 Great soundtrack for the day shifting gears into cold night. Focused songs had energy in their own way, giving a nice break from nonstop dancing. Blake is an excellent performer whose passion is evident when he plays. His songs feature piano and good songwriting, a timeless, classic combination.Haim: 4/5 Wow. These girls rocked harder than anyone at the festival. The three sisters and their male drummer had a sound reminiscent of Prince, during his more rocking moments, and even captured some funk to go with it. Their “girl power” shtick was a little heavy at times, like when they spoke at length how they now know what Beyonce feels like when the wind blows hair into their mouths, and when they squealed with delight when handed candy from the crowd. But I’m not a young girl, so maybe it was indeed the perfect concert set for their target audience. Either way, it was impressive.
Sunday’s least favorites:
Animal Collective: 1.5/5 Sometimes art is so conceptual that it goes over my head. I was hoping this was the case with Animal Collective, and at one point I actually asked a friend if they knew what the point was supposed to be. Nobody knew. I’m not sure Animal Collective knew. A very cool stage set (inflatable teeth with individual projections made the stage look like a gigantic open mouth) and light show helped slightly, but the music was so repetitive and the melodies so simply and leading nowhere that I left to watch football about two-thirds of the way through. I still heard the music (it was impossible not to from anywhere on the island, really), and still was not impressed.
We’re already knee-deep in music festivals, so why not mention another one? San Francisco’s Treasure Island Festival announced its 2013 lineup today, and it features a couple big names and a whole bunch of small ones.
Thom Yorke’s “side project,” Atoms For Peace, is the main draw, with the illustrious and versatile Beck as the co-headliner. Also featured are: Animal Collective, Major Lazer, James Blake, Little Dragon, Sleigh Bells, STRFKR, Tricky and a host of others. This two-day fest takes place this year on Oct. 19 and 20. Traditionally, one day is devoted mostly to electronic acts and the other to indie rock.
Two-day tickets are on sale Friday, May 31, with one-day tickets probably becoming available soon thereafter. For both days, one ticket is $130, and it goes up to $150 as the festival nears.
“You know how many hits I got? We could be here all night.”
Ears ringing. Laying on the couch. Can’t sleep.
“Sign ‘o’ the Times” riff stuck in head on endless repeat.
Still thinking about the silhouette of his hair against the blue lights.
THWACK! at the screen door. What the…?
Oh, right. It’s the next day’s newspaper.
A steamrolled body, an obliterated brain, both riding out an adrenaline buzz: this is how I finally went to bed last night after Prince’s final show of a two-night, four-show stand at the small, 800-capacity DNA Lounge in San Francisco.
Was it worth it, you ask? Tickets were $275, the wait in line was two hours, about 50 line-jumpers cut in front of us drinking and smoking weed, and as a half-naked guy rollerskated up and down Harrison St., the doors finally opened. Inside, there was a strict no-photo policy during the show, and it was impossible to move—people packed in shoulder-to-shoulder—while idling out another hour-long wait.
Prince finally took the stage at 11:40pm. . . . and Lord, it was fucking incredible.
How I’ve gone this long without seeing Nick Cave live is beyond me, especially since I’ve always… well, “always been a fan” wouldn’t be accurate. (I own three of his albums.) More truthful would be to say that Nick Cave’s music has never, ever irritated me. Considering Cave’s extensive output, that’s saying something. Combine it with the full-blown “holy shit” moments his songs have given to me—like hearing “Nobody’s Baby Now” while nursing a $1 PBR at EJ’s in Portland, in 1997—well, Nick Cave finally demanded to be seen live.
If you’ve seen him, you know. If you haven’t, imagine a rail-thin circus ringmaster whipping a band of lions not out of but into aggressiveness. A flamboyant offspring of Valentino and Satan, Cave channels 55 years of romantic bandwidth into sharp, stinging things called “songs,” which are more like forays across continents than things you might sing in the shower. These forays are not for the faint of heart, or, evidently, for the young: tonight, he had a children’s choir backing him up, and when they exited the stage, they covered their ears and looked terrified.
Elias Bender Rønnenfelt staggered onto the stage, a Hamm’s in one hand. He clasped his other hand around the microphone, and then looked blankly from under his canvas hat, out onto the audience, all detachment and potential energy. Unimpressed with what he saw. The show had not started yet. Rønnenfelt was a walking magnetic field.
In ten minutes, Rønnenfelt would be falling into the crowd, wishing it was a mattress and beating the people in the front rows when he realized, over and over again, that it was not. He would be curling in a ball in front of the bass drum. He would be refusing offered replacements for a broken guitar strap, opting to sing lead, dropping his guitar on the ground.
“Wow, this sounds a lot like Black Sabbath” was the first thought that popped into my head last night at the Fuzz show in San Francisco. “These long haired dudes kinda look like Black Sabbath, too,” I thought. “But that drummer isn’t hiding behind two bass drums and only has two cymbals. And there’s no singer. This is really, really great! I never liked Ozzy’s voice, and these guys sound like a way bigger band than just a three-piece.” But all these great conversation starters were wasted on my own mind, however, because Ty Segall’s latest musical venture was so damn loud nobody in the Knockout would have heard a stampede of elephants running down Mission Street.
Despite what it sounded like, there was only one guitarist, Charles Moothart. Segall is really the one known for cranking out the rockingest rock with his incredible his guitar tones, but here he’s on drums. More on that later. Moothart’s appropriately fuzzy guitar was fat, so fat, in fact, that it shook my ribcage. Maybe it was a warning, like by body was saying, This Is Almost Too Much Rock, Be Careful. His solos were tasty, like hot jam dripping off a shortbread biscuit tasty. And then there was the hair–so much hair, it was everywhere.
Now Segall, who is a guitarist in something like three other bands, might be on the hook for battery if those drums decide to press charges. He beat them like they owed him money, like they insulted his mother, like they keyed his 1967 Mustang. His ferocity did not dimish the speed of the band’s last song, which kept a blistering pace for four times longer than most punk songs. Not only this, but he sang for some of the songs, most of which were new and will probably have lyrics soon.
The crowd at this Noisepop show may have been a little too hip for its own good. The feeling on the tiny dance floor was that familiar precipice of moshing, where either age, vanity or self consciousness kept people from truly smashing into each other like idiots. Instead, a couple of buzzed dudes in gingham shirts sort of pushed each other around a little, eliciting nervous smiles from the wary crowd around them. In a different setting, this would be the ultimate circle pit band.
Co-headling was OGB III, who took the stage after Fuzz. This band was delicious, filled with ooey-gooey cheese and mushy, fatty pork. Slathered in curtido and spicy salsa, they were too hot at first, but soon went down smooth with a cold Mexican beer. No, wait, that was the pupusas at Los Panchos. No offense to OGB III, but nothing was going to top what we had just seen and heard, and we wanted to leave on the highest note possible.
On a side note, local group Blasted Canyons opened, and were pissed off the whole time about, among other things, their monitor mix. Their playing reflected this attitude it in a bad way. But on the plus side, they did have an Oberheim synthesizer, which is high on the list of things that make really cool sounds. The Knockout is a great bar, with plenty of character and a decent dance floor and stage. It’s too loud and really small, which usually makes every show better. This night was no exception.
…Opening act Crazy Crab?
It looks like Candlestick Park will get one last musical hurrah before being torn down—Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z’s ‘Legends of the Summer‘ stadium tour hits the historic ballpark on July 26. Ticket info. is here—there’s Citi card presales and VIP packages and all that stuff before the general public onsale on Feb. 28.
Candlestick Park has a long history of concerts going all the way back to the Beatles’ last-ever show in 1966, where only 25,000 people showed up, paying between $4.50 and $6.50 each for tickets. The Rolling Stones played two nights there in 1981, and Metallica rumbled the infield in 1988 (see video of “Seek and Destroy” here) and again in 2003. There were a ton of raves at the ballpark in the ’90s and aughts, too.
As for me, I basically grew up at Candlestick, in the Will Clark-Kevin Williams-Jose Uribe era of the Giants. I can’t promise that JT and Jay-Z are going to be as exciting as the 1989 World Series, but still—it’s pretty damn great that the place gets a proper send-off in the form of what’s probably the biggest tour of the summer.
At the start of her packed show Thursday night in San Francisco, Jessie Ware’s token platitudes for the city of San Francisco started out as just that—expected banter from a touring musician, repeated hundreds of times over. By the end of the show, though, after constant affection showered upon the breakout UK star from an adoring crowd, her city-crush on San Francisco rose to fever pitch. Then, when someone handed her a bouquet of roses, Ware completely lost it.
“Oh my Gooooooodddddd!!” she wailed, in thick British accent. “This really is our favorite city!”
Ware’s full-length album Devotion still hasn’t been officially been released in the United States, whatever that means in the year 2013; everyone at the Rickshaw Stop seemed to know nearly every song. Opening with the title track, Ware and her rock-solid band emitted a slow pulse, built it to a climax and, as Ware sang loudly away from the mic, pushed the song into transcendence. It was a formula that would be repeated throughout the night, but never felt, well, formulaic.
The San Francisco Symphony’s opening night performance at Sonoma State University’s Green Music Center was beautiful and exciting. Each player in the symphony is fantastic individually, and together under the baton of the rockstar of the classical world, Michael Tilson Thomas, the orchestra elucidated every ounce emotion in the evening’s music program. Weill Hall, the acoustic gem and main hall of the GMC, plays gorgeously to this. The premier acoustic space seems to widen the ear canal, allowing for more sound to be heard at once than ever thought possible. The pieces on this night showcased this clarity.
Richard Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks (Op.28) begins with a sneaky little theme, proceeding to take the listener through all sorts of jollity but always with the sense of danger right around the corner. After all, a little mischief never hurt anyone, just don’t get caught. The clarinetist in this piece has a challenge, playing extremely high notes, the highest the instrument can make. I ran into a much loved SSU music professor during intermission, and he suggested this piece was specifically chosen for tonight to showcase the acoustics of the hall. I couldn’t agree more. The fast runs in the higher registers translated not into harsh overtones, but velvety notes that were easily followable in the clarity of the space. When the merry prankster does get caught (and executed), the low bass and drum notes were ferocious, vibrating my loose pant legs (or was that just my legs trembling from the tremendous magnitude of unamplified sound?)
The only sound that hasn’t made me gush so far in this hall is the low mid frequency. It can sound a bit muddled, especially with piano. On opening night with superstar Lang Lang at piano, his dexterous Mozart performance was lost a bit in this register, and parts of the SF Symphony performance were not as sonically brilliant in this area during faster sections. It sounds as though this frequency takes longer to develop than others in the hall. But really, this is splitting hairs. It’s not a problem so much as an observation.
Yefim Bronfman’s playing on Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto (Emperor) was superb. It was not flashy or self-indulgent but more bold and heroic like the piece itself. Though it did not have the passion one would imagine of Beethoven himself pounding the ivory keys, demanding more from his instrument than ever thought possible, it was not lacking for emotion, either. Whether it was just my ears or the players adjusting to the space, during the first five minutes it felt like the piano was just a hair too soft. But soon after, everything settled in. From then on it was pure ecstasy, like listening to a fabulous recording on the best audio system, but it was real, and it was happening right in front of us. I was reminded of this when, during a quiet moment just before the piano flourish at the end of the final movement, a cell phone, ironically with the “piano” ringtone, went off somewhere in the building. This only made enhanced the experience for me with its reminder that it was taking place in reality.
Also performed this evening was “Pandora,” which the SF Symphony had just performed for the first time the night before. This 20-minute piece for strings written by SF Symphony assistant concertmaster and violinist Mark Volkert in 2010 again showcased the heavenly acoustics of the main hall with several solos and double basses playing extended low notes, vibrating the floor in some cases. It is a 21st century work, to be sure, but it is more accessible than some newer pieces. It’s a story piece with a concrete narrative following the Greek myth of Pandora, and can be followed without too much confusion and with beautiful imagery. Volkert was in the audience and came up from his seat to shake hands with MTT after the piece. Both looked quite pleased with the result.
The sad truth of a generation hooked on mp3s is they will rarely experience a full acoustic experience in music. Earbuds are a terrible listening device, reproducing, at best, about two-thirds of the human hearing spectrum. The best mp3 is 25 percent of the data of a full recording compressed into the middle of the frequency spectrum where our ears are tuned to listen more easily. Without getting too technical, let’s just say the sound is flat and lifeless. The main hall at Sonoma State’s Green Music Center is the anti-mp3. It is pure sonic expression, giving music a forum to be heard as it was intended by its creator and perhaps even enhancing it through the warmth of the acoustic environment. Though their home, Davies’ Symphony Hall in San Francisco, is stunning in its own right, I wouldn’t be surprised if members of the SF Symphony prefer playing in Weill Hall. This was the first of four SF Symphony performances at the Green Music Center for its 2012-2013 season, and hopefully next season features even more.