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Uniting art and music: a guitar player’s proposal.

A guitar player’s proposal to unite film and live improve music set off a lot of thinking about how artists and musicians can create together

A guitar player walked into my studio  in Ajijic this afternoon to pitch a project for sponsorship by the Mexican  newspaper I write for, the Semanario Laguna.  Juan Casteñon, a world class jazz guitarist – actually a world class player any kind of guitar music –  presented an unusual proposal:  the local screening of a film  tour based on the union of cinematic art and live improvised  music by pickup bands.

The film by German film maker Sebastian Brunnlechner is called Global Styxx, a reference to the river Styxx of Greek mythology that separates this world from Hades.  Funded by a German foundation, it is metaphoric rather than a narrative, but it tells the story of humankind’s increased complexity and impact on the earth.  What intrigued me was the idea that it is not a film, but a “video installation” whose musical component relies on artists recruited in each city it tours to – essentially, a new soundtrack at every screening.

Some of my friends in LA who are music supervisors or film editors say that music should support a film, give it emotion, extent the visual environment into the aural, but be so good that the audience does not notice it. I learned that this advice is not always the case in the 90’s when I produced a series of TV shorts for the UN and, along with the carefully crafted celebrity interviews and global b-roll scenes, we encased each segment  in music from one of the country’s best film score composers.  We were nominated for two Emmys – best short series and best music.  We won the music Emmy. I have never forgotten that – music is the partner of art, not  just its sound background.

So when Juan told about a film director who was turning his soundtrack over to musicians he didn’t know, who would bring a different sound quality to the film in each showing, allowing the music to take center stage next to the film, I was sold.  The Semanario Laguna will sponsor  the  local showing of the film and specifically pay for the music.

But that made me think of another project  that I have given the working title  Espíritu de Music and Art.  The idea, launched by the local Director of Culture (a government position!)  is to  launch a movement to create opportunities for musicians in Ajijic and San Antonio Tlayacapan, two adjacent towns on Lake Chapala that have a large population of both  national level musicians and artists.

So, the question for me is, how can music and art be bought together as partners on a large scale in these two towns?

To explore that question  I looked at other attempts to unite music and art. Family Dog and other rock promoters melded psychedelic oil emulsion projection art with rock groups like the Grateful Dead in the 60’s.  I loved it,  but the music was the star; the art was background (and if you took enough LSD you didn’t need it anyway). 

The  Pageant of Masters, a weeks-long performance art display in a 5000-seat theater in Laguna Beach, California, uses music, actors and painters to create life-size exact diorama’s of famous paintings. The music gives dimensionality to the living art on stage, but it is still only a partner.

The Hayao Miazaki exhibition at the new Museum of the Academy of Motion Pictures uses light sculpture, background painting and electronic music to create magic trees and tunnels, where the music not only gives the art depth but also controls the lights. Close, but still, the visual leads the music.

A better example might be Burning Man, which  inspires groups of artists, musicians dancers to come together and create performances where the art or architecture or sculpture is the star. But the music puts the “performance” in Burning Man’s performance art.

Maybe the best example is Stephen Sohheim’s  Broadway musical “Sunday in the Park with George” which is inspired by and visually recreates the  famous painting – A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by the French pointillist painter Georges Seurat. The music and songs literally make the painting.

I will keep exploring personally, but since it is a group of musicians who are in charge of assembling the movement (all double bass players, go figure) my role will be to offer suggestions, research their ideas  and help raise money. 

Juan Casteñon’s proposal gave me a lot to think about, and the more I think about it, I – we – are surrounded by the union of music and art all the time, whether it is the  Pink Floyd Exhibition now in LA, or Broadway musicals, or touring video experiences that pick up bands along the way.  Lots to think about, but in  the meantime, I hope more  guitar players walk into my studio with great ideas.

Patrick O’Heffernan

If you are in Mexico or Central America this fall,  catch a screening of Global Styxx.

Club Alemán – Guatemala 23. November 2021 19:30

Larva Lab – Guadalajara 26. November 2021 20:00

Number 9 Venue – Ajijic, Jalisco 27. November 2021

Centro de las Artes, San Luis Potosi 30. November 2021

Centro Cultural Gargantúa, Monterrey  3. Dezember 2021

Centro Cultural La Besana, Saltillo 4. December 2021

Espacio Cultural Andre Breton, Guadalajara 8. December 2021 20:00

Berlin – December Quintett 14. December 2021 20:00



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About Patrick O'Heffernan, Music Sin Fronteras (442 Articles)
Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist based in Mexico, with a global following. He focuses on music in English and Spanish that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America, especially Mexico like cumbia, banda, son jarocho, and mariachi. He is also edits a local news website and is a subeditor of a local Spanish language newspaper. Check out his weekly column Music Sin Frontera on Sunday nights.

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