Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Thursday, February 24, 2005


Hey Los Angelenos and jet-setters, Film Forum Los Angeles is devoting the evening of March 6 to showing films by my friend Ross Lipman. The oldest film of the group, “10-17-88” -- I made the soundtrack for it, back in 1989.

The film is a collage of mostly found and archival footage, beautifully manipulated by Ross, who is a master of optical printing techniques. When he invited me to make the soundtrack, I was excited to try out some collage ideas of my own.

I’d come to collage via John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg, and my idea was to choose source material that I loved, and mix it up into something else I could love.

I borrowed a 4-track cassette recorder from another friend. For some forgotten reason I chose the early ‘30s Duke Ellington tune “Solitude” as the centerpiece. I took Thelonious Monk’s haunting solo piano recording from his Ellington tribute album and the brilliant 1961 recording by the Louis Armstrong sextet with guest pianist Duke Ellington. I used snippets of the recordings, putting them together, speeding them up, slowing them down, playing them backwards at some points. I added in swatches from Debussy’s “La Mer” from a gorgeous Szell / Cleveland record that my grandma had given me, and swatches of a piano roll of Debussy playing his “La plus que lente” from a record my mom had given me. “La Mer” went backwards sometimes too, and slower, and fed through a guitar fuzzbox at times -- a lovely warm effect on Debussy’s orchestra! Combined the different pieces as seemed fit. Recorded myself singing the Ellington tune and accompanying myself on guitar, singing the 4 strains of the song’s classic AABA structure in separate pieces, and mixing them in with the rest of the fragments to taste. One of the strains I did in a free-jazz-scat-punk-noise-rubato-expressionist style and then tried a second take which uncannily “fit with” the first without trying and ended up using them both together. Gave the several completed stitched-together fragments to Ross, suggested a running order that followed the sequence of the song, with room for discretion with the non-verbal sections, and told him to put as much silence between the fragments as he wanted.

I couldn’t have been more pleased with how Ross used the pieces and with the film they accompanied. I know I’m biased, but I love the finished thing.

(Historical aside: Some time not too long after working on this soundtrack, I heard De La Soul for the first time, and I nearly fell out of the car, I was so blown away. So arty! So pop!)

Of the other four pieces on Ross’s upcoming bill, I can only completely vouch for “Rhythm 93,” in which Ross beautifully uses a variety of natural light tones to film an actress silently, wordlessly improvising in several short scenes. “The Gift” features our friend Michael Barrish telling a story, and he tells good stories, and he tells them well. I read an early draft of the script for “Keep Warm, Burn Britain!” and liked it a lot -- Ross is a good writer. (It pleases me to remember that back in Ann Arbor I acted in two plays he wrote.) On the basis of Ross’s skills as a writer and filmmaker, and from knowing that our friend Lisa Black is a highly skilled actress, I have no trouble recommending “The Interview” either.

My spouse and I will be going to the L.A. area before too long to visit family; alas, we didn’t get it together in time to see Ross’s showing.
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