Brent Green is a self taught animator, based in Cressona, PA. Tonight he presented the entire oeuvre of his work so far, bringing them together with a soundtrack co-written with musical luminaries, Jim Becker (of Califone), Brendan Canty (of Fugazi) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (of Wilco and other major projects), creating a band sound to sit alongside his narration and animation, this was part screening and part performance.
I was sat on the back row of some steeply raked seating, nestled at the rear of the crowd. I found myself level with the screen at the rear of the stage, with a vantage point to watch the musicians, close enough to see their actions. In some ways, this was unfortunate; it was difficult to watch both the films and the band, meaning that to gain the full experience was difficult. Being a musician myself I was naturally drawn to watching the musicians rather than the animation. I suppose the question lies, therefore, in whether or not this meant I missed out, was it imperative to see both at once? This set up, reminiscent of an opera, with the orchestra in the pit and the action on the stage (or screen, in this instance) pulls away from ideas of acousmatics, the band instead in full view. Green himself, on stage left, talking to the audience between numbers, much like the front man of a band, draws attention to himself, moving around to change instruments, especially the book he repeatedly hits with a gong stick. He is central to the whole event, this is a performance, not a screening.
Greens narration adds a whole new dimension. He sounds nervous at times, frenzied at others, the use of the speed and tone of his voice to build tension and atmosphere is very noticeable. As much as his vocal narration is a separate entity, sitting above the music, telling the story and filling in the gaps, it becomes part of the music, an instrument in its own right, becoming part of the mix and affecting the atmosphere in the room. It is incredibly effective, especially sat alongside the almost passive musicians. The beat remains jazzy until the last number, slow, gentle and with a loose groove before exploding into a rock beat during the crescendo finale of the final piece. Professional musicians are exactly that, professional, and those I watch here are no different. The execution of the music is exemplary; they make it look easy, even as if some of it is improvised and up to chance. None of it is, the pieces have been composed deliberately to accompany the films, even the tweaking of effects. They seem laid back and comfortable within the environment; all are veterans of performance, after all. This sits well in contrast to Green, self admittedly overawed by his company and well aware of his inexperience.
The decision to use a live band adds a whole new dynamic. It removes the audiences complete attention from the films, and places it on the musicians, broadening the appeal in the process. They are exposed on the stage, and the animation becomes a backdrop to the music. In the centre is Brent Green, after all this performance was titled ‘An Evening With Brent Green’, it is him we have come to see. It is unusual to see films being played in this environment, with other focus points created. Their position at the rear of the stage brings a consideration of which element came first. I assume it is he narrative, which now takes centre stage. The films came second, and the music last. Do the films therefore begin to feel unnecessary? They have been created within a lo-fi environment, in a barn; using iMovie, free software, rather than a more expensive, more professional platform. Within the animation you can see the pieces of acetate he has placed on top of background drawings, and as a result are partially aware of the creative process. The music, on the other hand, was co-written with professionals, people who have been working in the industry for decades, and therefore it can be assumed that high-end software and studio facilities will have been used, even though what we hear is being played live.
The films do remain integral to the performance, another set of stimuli for the audience, and each of the three elements can be seen as an interpretation of each other. The piece is a progression of thought and concept; what we see is the final product with an added element of performance. I do wonder what it would have been like without the band in view, if they were hidden away or if the sound came from a recording. It would loose an element of unpredictability; as much as the music is performed with great skill, there are elements which would never be the same twice, partly due to human error, partly due to musical performance always being responsive to the atmosphere. Green’s vocals certainly are. At times musicians begin playing with live affected sound. A performance of this sort can never be the same twice, perhaps a sign of looking back into tradition – “music…was an event that was perceived in a particular situation, and that disappeared when it was finished” (Eno, B 2006). All these elements create a unique piece. In fact, if you watch videos of previous performances on YouTube or Green’s website, it is noticeable that at least his vocal changes each time.
I left disappointed that I could not take in the whole of the performance, that my seat meant I could only watch either the band or the animation at any given point. Perhaps now, in hindsight, this was not of such importance. Every element worked together to produce the work, being produced in response to each other. In some ways I would have liked to see just the band, and effectively I did as that was how my attention was drawn, a film maker or animator would have had a different experience. The films provided a way back in when thoughts began to wander, keeping my mind set on the narratives, rather than allowing for the music to take me away. This allowed Green to take me where he wanted to. For that reason they were integral, as was the narration and music, allowing different mindsets the opportunities to find a way into the work, and to create an atmosphere and an all encompassing effect.