Composer Chris Becker’s Music For Silent Films
by Ramon LP4
Thus Sunday at Freneticore composer Chris Becker will be performing Music For Silent Films. Becker will perform composed and improvised music to go along with some silent films by various New York City and New Orleans artists but there Experimental filmmaker and film theorist Maya Deren’s seminal 1944 work At Land will be featured as well. While it recently had its debut at Caroline Collective the improvisational aspect of the work will guarantee that this performance will be quite different. We recently spoke chatted with Becker about the show and his music.
FPH – Why don’t you explain a bit about the show this weekend? Just let us know what should people expect to see and hear?
Becker – I will be improvising musical accompaniment to a program of silent films by friends and fellow artists including Lydia Hance and Stephanie St. Sanchez (Houston, TX), Noe Kidder (NYC, NY), and Aurora Neeland (New Orleans, LA). I’m also screening and playing to Kenneth Anger’s gorgeous film Rabbit’s Moon as a way of putting the contemporary films into some kind of context.
FPH -How did the project come together? How did you select the pieces for the visual part? How do you approach the improvisation? Is this fully improvised or do you have any kind of roadmap as to what you are doing?
Becker – The films are films I’ve collected over the past five or six years while performing with a variety of musicians. I usually do this show with at least two other musicians, but recently, I’ve been flying solo and it seems to be working.
I do have a roadmap or “template” for each piece – that’s where my compositional technique comes into play. But frankly, once a film starts rolling, any preplanning goes out the window and I have to just wing it. It’s a very weird process.
FPH - A lot of your work has been done via grants from arts organizations. Given the current budget battles in DC, how do you see the state of the arts world affected by potential in cuts in arts funding? Will the affected arts thrive or will they find another way to express itself?
Becker – This is tricky because the tools artists have at their disposal – particularly those you find on the Internet – have changed and developed so quickly within a relatively short amount of time. Even how one raises money, gets a grant, and/or secures financial support has changed in the past five years. And as artists, I think we’re still hanging in there waiting to see what works and what doesn’t.
Houston has a very collaborative spirit among its artists – be they dancers, visual artists, and/or musicians, and I think that spirit – that sharing of resources and support – is what will help us all survive what looks like some very tough times ahead.
FPH - Your work is informed by a wide range of things – everything from Neil Young to Gospel to Brazilian drumming. How do those influences come into the projects and how does it shape you as a musician, performer, and composer?
Becker – A project sort of dictates in a weirdly intuitive way what sounds are going to be appropriate or no. Sometimes a dance needs steady, chiming electric guitars, other times it needs arrhythmic electronic noise. The musicians I bring in then teach me things as I’m working with them about music or their instrument, and those lessons then are applied later in future projects. It’s a wonderful process.
FPH - Thinking back to your earliest experiences, what was the thing about music that emotionally drew you to it the most?
Becker – The physical reaction I had to it as a young man. I would get chills when I listened to particular moments in particular songs. I knew that visceral response pointed to an experience of reality that I wouldn’t get any other way and provide me with the means to navigate that other world.
FPH - When working on a piece and you run into a dead end or simply realize that it’s simply not working how you expected how do you recognize it and how do you move forward?
Becker – That’s simple: The piece just sounds like shit. I’m not being cute, it really can be that simple. If I’m not enjoying the sounds, then something ain’t working.
How you move forward can be complicated. Basically, my imagination along with a somewhat developed understanding of music and composition is what I rely on. I often go to friends for suggestions though – I’ll play them a rough mix and they’ll tell me honestly what they think I might want to change or revise.
FPH - Often times an idea in someone’s head is quite different than the finished work. Do you find that to be true and, if so, how is that transition from the world of ideas to the fully realized project affected by that interaction with the real world?
Becker – I think playing a piece of music for an audience completes the process. And a piece of music sounds different when someone other than you alone listens to it. Try this with your favorite record. Play it for just one other person – both of you listening – and you will hear things you did not hear before.
What’s surprised me is that films change for me depending on when and where I screen them. They’re actually malleable works that respond to live interaction.
FPH - On a similar note how are those ideas affected by your collaborators. How do those collaborations color the work in positive ways and how can collaborations fail?
Becker – Collaboration is crucial to me. Jazz informed by music studies early on, although I don’t play jazz (although I have a good friend who plays jazz who disagrees with that!)
Many of the sounds I’m using for Music For Silent Films come from recording sessions with musician friends I’ve come to know over the years. If they can’t be at a gig in person, I can interact with them using Ableton Live and the films. I’m very heavily influenced by those I collaborate with.
FPH - You went to university to study music almost a quarter of a century ago. Do you feel after all this time that you succeeded in your goals? How do you define success and also what do you think, in a very broad sense, are helpful and counterproductive ways to measure success?
Becker – I’ve never had any particular goals beyond just making the music I want to make and collaborating with inspiring people. So sure, I’ve “succeeded” – but don’t really think in terms of “success.” Art is a process.
Musicians get into trouble when they A/B themselves with other people in their field. By “trouble” I mean they’ll get distracted from whatever it is they are meant to be as an artist. There’s no timeless or sell by date in art.
FPH - Aside from this weekend’s performance, is there anything else you have coming up?
Becker -My next gig will be April 16th at Divergence Vocal Theater at a post-performance after party. Not sure about the time, but its after that evening’s performance and will feature some kind of crazy-ass projected video by CulturePilot. I’ll be on laptop doing my thing.
FPH - Lastly, why music?
Becker - No idea. I didn’t choose it, it chose me. I can’t imagine a day without it.
Music For Silent Films featuring Chris Becker
Sunday, March 13th, 2011
@ Freneticore Theater
5102 Navigation Blvd., Houston