Art and About
It's quite fitting that for this Art and About adventure, I stepped inside a used-to-be abandoned hospital — some say it is haunted — built on top a pre-Civil War cemetery turned into artist lofts. Post-Katrina, Elder Street Lofts served as the home for many displaced creatives and is now buzzing with creative energy.
At least, I hope that's what that was.
I was infiltrating the rehearsal space and living quarters of one of Two Star Symphony's musicians. It was crowded with instruments including toy pianos, small glockenspiels, harp, string instruments, music, old records, gargoyles and an inquisitive black kitty, but it was the looped video of stage blood dripping on a white canvas that made me wish I had a crucifix and some garlic — and I am a Jew.
In all seriousness and leaving all ridiculous stereotypes aside, think of Two Star Symphony as the classical ensemble that turned to the dark side, doing away with music and a written compositional process in favor of a collaborative improvisational style. That's right. The ensemble composes and performs by memory.
It was the looped video of stage blood dripping on a white canvas that made me wish I had a crucifix and some garlic — and I am a Jew.
Nothing is ever written down — not to be confused with the painful cacophony of experimental jazz where music is almost reduced to unpredictable noise, the sound of Two Star Symphony is indistinguishable and hauntingly melodic, trance-like, per se.
"When we first started playing together, almost a decade ago, we did it just for fun, " Jerry Ochoa, violinist, says. "We would sit around in a circle and someone would come up with a bass line or a melody and we would kick it around until we all had parts for it that we liked. Then we would move on to the next section. By the time you have arranged it the way you like it, it's already memorized.
"That's always the approach we've taken as far as our song writing goes."
Not unlike a typical band.
I had the opportunity to see the ensemble rehearse, which is akin to watching people communicate at a subliminal level. Each of them lives in his or her own world, but somehow, they all coexist. Don't expect too much eye contact. That would be too earthly. The members get each other, and it's OK if you don't.
It's unfair to call Two Star Symphony goth. They are not, even if the melodies make listeners want to screw a snake and sacrifice a virgin. At its roots, it's deeply entertaining and highly hypnotic.
Titus Andronicusis the group's newest album and is based on the bloody, violent and lamentable tragedy by the Bard himself, written in the late 16th century. It was one of William Shakespeare's most popular works in its time, though it fell out of style due to its graphic content.
On Saturday at Divergence Music & Arts at Spring Street Studios, Two Star will birth Titus by performing the score in its entirety, twice — at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Expect an inquisitive alternative crowd, adult beverages, free tattoos, fake blood and dizzy, nasty fun music. Funding came primarily from a crowd sourcing IndieGoGo campaign that exceeded the initial goal of $7,000 in 60 days with most of the contributions coming in between $20 to $100.
It was recorded and remixed by Todd Hulslander in the Geary Performance Studio at KUHF.
Titus is the result of an intense partnership with Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, evoking the spirit of the Roman general for a live music/ballet collaboration.
"Something I love about Two Star's work is how they are able to bring out narration and character through their music," Dominic Walsh says. "For Titus Andronicus we were able to really work together in discovering the personalities and motives of all our characters. I had a synopsis they followed in composing the work, then we would meet together and sometimes move around the themes to better fit certain characters."
The composition process became truly collaborative, balancing aspects of movement and music in and out of sync. Sometimes, movement influenced music, at others, music influenced movement.
"We are on classical instruments but we don't sound like the traditional classical ensemble," Debra Brown, Two Star Symphony violinist, says. "Dominic takes material from the classical era like ballet, but tries to push the envelope and bring something new. We had that in common."
Titus is not the first collaboration between these two arts innovators. In 2004, they joined forces in Alchemy for the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company in New York, living and working intensively together to generate a common voice between the two art forms. Titus expanded the scope of such collaboration. Through sketches, the companies communicated their aesthetic ideas, but the fine tuning happened live during rehearsals.
"As the story develops its own arcs, the music develops its own arcs," Ochoa says. "The themes developed organically from the storyline, inspired by the action we saw on stage. The characters determined the motifs."
Though conceived with movement in mind, the origins of the idea of Titus precedes Walsh. The ensemble had been considering tackling the project early on, even composing some tracks years prior with the intention to be included in a full-length Titus. The music, stands on its own, partly due to the addition of extra-musical sounds.
Life after Titus?
"This chapter is ending and will free up some creative space for our next project," Margarate Lejeune, cellist, says. "We have a lot of plans and I am ready to jump in. I want to write the symphony of the Seven Deadly Sins. That's my next big project."