Talking Call Them All...
Composer, violinist, and musical story-teller Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) is back with his second ACO commission, a multimedia project entitled Call Them All, premiering March 17 & 18, 2006. To make it happen, DBR collaborated with dancer/choreographer/narrator Bill T. Jones, filmmaker Janet Wong, and laptopist/turntablist DJ Scientific. Music writer Kurt Gottschalk spoke with members of the artistic team.
Kurt Gottschalk: Let's start at the beginning. How did Call Them All come together?
Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR): I had an idea about two years ago. Collaborations are tied to conversation, they really are. I wanted to create a DJ concerto, a laptop concerto. I wanted the concert to support Bill T. Jones's storytelling. Originally I thought Bill T. Jones could do the narration live, but due to his schedule he wasn't able to. But the film came first.
Janet Wong: I work with Bill [as his rehearsal director] and I was very impressed with some of his stories. I asked him if he remembered them and he said "like it was yesterday."
DBR: What I find so provocative about Bill's work is his ability to tell a story and have those stories become not self-referential. They have a way of making you think about yourself.
KG: Because of the multimedia nature of the work, people might expect very modern or avant garde music, but it actually reminded me a bit of Aaron Copland. What were you trying to evoke with the orchestral part of the music?
DBR: As a black composer trying to do good work, people have expectations. The music is unabashedly tonal. When you say electro, techno, people think "loud." I wanted it to have ethos, heart.
KG: The piece draws from so many different traditions. Who do you hope comes to the performance?
DBR: I'm a black composer, but on top of that I'm a composer and I want to be legitimate. I don't want it to be a copy. I'm interested in working with people that know tradition. One of the things I love about collaborations with other disciplines is people bring in their own audience.
are the challenges to integrating electronics with an orchestra?
KG: The piece is subtitled "Fantasy Projections for Film, Laptop and Orchestra." What is the "fantasy"?
DBR: In classical music, the word "fantasy" means a composed work with room for interpretation. The word came from something Bill had said early in the text. The title came last -- it arrived from a story that came from Bill's mother Stella. I'm also redefining for myself what the word "concerto" means. I think the implication of "concerto" is solo playing. There's something of ego in concerto, you have to have ego to put yourself in front of an orchestra. My whole point in doing this is to what extent can an actor/dancer/storyteller have on classical music.
KG: Janet, your video mixes a lot of styles and moods - handheld, B&W, what looks like old film, scenes from where Bill grew up in upstate New York, and a lot of framing that reminds me of still photography. Is everything in the film new footage?
JW: Everything except the scene of the birds is new. I wanted to travel. I chopped up the final story into two parts. A lot of it was feeling where I was at the moment, what stories went in and what images represented them. I worked nonstop, it was an obsession. It's all new footage -- filters, filters, filters. I went back up to Binghamton and Johnson City, where he used to live, and I emailed pictures of three houses to Bill that day and he said "the middle one."
KG: It seems like a lot of work for two performances. Is there a chance for future performances? Would it be possible for other ensembles to perform it?
DBR: The work is love, the work is joy. When I was young, there were never enough second performances. Some things have to be earned and if this work is well received, it will be performed again. Scientific and I will be doing versions of the piece without the orchestra. Everything's notated. Scientific reads music. They're called "event pieces." There's a vertical and horizontal element to sampling. The vertical is the sample, the horizontal is how those events play out over time. If you look at the score, it's a traditional score but there's also a DJ part, a series of numbers and cues and words.
KG: Scientific, Daniel said it takes ego to stand up in front of an orchestra. What is it like for you to perform the piece?
DJS: I try not to think about it because if you think about it, it becomes too much. It's the first time I've done something in front of a large audience and they're sitting there and staring at me. As a solo artist, you know that you're controlling the audience more than anyone else.
KG: How would you describe the mood of Call Them All?
DJS: I feel it's a warm piece. They're definite things in his life. Emotionally it went everywhere, but the clarity of ideas mixed with his presence and the way he speaks is very comforting.
DBR: Ultimately I'd like it to be meditative. I'd like it to provide an occasion for the audience to think and rethink and meditate upon their own stories and memories and whatever feelings those memories bring up, so be it. I hope that after Call Them All is played, people will want to call someone they love.
JW: It has a certain kind of nostalgia I'd probably want to shy away from most of the time, but this time I don't.
KG: Is there a moral to the piece?
JW There's moral in everything I do, but no, not with that intention, but whatever stories come together of a real person with a real heart. It's about one man being asked to look back and I work with that man so there's always a lot of heart and a lot of words.
DJS: With my music there's always a moral to it. I'm trying to get a message across. There's a definite reason why. I want people to understand what is hip hop, what is classical. It started with love, so when you hear that you go OK, I understand what he's trying to do.
artists are very self-involved people often. And for me, there's so
much going on in the world. Concerts are an antidote. They're an
opportunity for communing. They're an opportunity for relieving the
dialogues that are out there in the world. It's medicine. When I look
at the last few frames, there's that road. It's wonderfully nebulous.
Are you going somewhere? Are you returning? Everytime I see it I
wonder "am I going back home or am I gong somewhere that might
become my home?"
Gottschalk is a freelance