The Boxhead Ensemble: Stories, Maps and Notes from the Half-Light
Improvised Music Performance and Film Screenings
Curated by Astria Suparak and Braden King
2001 + 2004. Tour dates.
Michael Krassner – piano, organ, guitar [Ensemble Director, Lofty Pillars, Simon Joyner, +…]
David Michael Curry – viola, coronet, + [Willard Grant Conspiracy, Empty House Cooperative, Thalia Zedek, +…]
Fred Lonberg-Holm – cello, nylkaharpa [In-Zenith, Pillow, Terminal 4, Freakwater, +…]
Tim Rutili – Guitar, Organ [Califone, Red Red Meat]
Scott Tuma – guitar, harmonica [Souled American, +…]
Mick Turner – baritone guitar, melodica [Dirty Three, Tren Brothers, Bonnevill, +…]
Jim White – drums and percussion [Dirty Three, Cat Power, Smog, Nick Cave, +…]
Plus special guests in select cities.
Filmmakers (new and existing short work):
Stephanie Barber, Brian Coffey, Jem Cohen, Gustav Deutsch, Paula Froehle, David Gatten, Grant Gee, Gerard Holthuis, Peter Hutton, Braden King, Barbara Meter, Laura Moya, Julie Murray, Chris Petit, Seth Price, Guy Sherwin, Phil Solomon, Anita Thacher, Garine Torossian, Naomi Uman, Christopher Wilcha
Improvising to a stellar international program of new and existing short films curated anew each night by filmmaker Braden King and independent curator Astria Suparak, the Boxhead Ensemble will perform at events in The Netherlands, Belgium, France and the UK before finishing with two nights at the Doclands Festival in Dublin, Ireland.
Initially joining forces to create the critically acclaimed soundtrack to Braden King and Laura Moya’s film, Dutch Harbor: Where the Sea Breaks its Back, members of the Ensemble’s rotating lineup have participated in such notable musical groups as Wilco, Cat Power, Souled American, Freakwater, Gastr del Sol and Dirty Three, among others.
* indicates new work made for Stories, Maps and Notes
New York Waters (Numbers 1 and 2)*, Jem Cohen, 2004, 16mm, about 6 min.
“Here in the city we forget that Manhattan is an island and we take our waters as they find us. (Incomplete movie for musicians to finish).” – JC
Breathless Ghost*, Paula M. Froehle, 2001, Regular 8mm & video, color, 3 min.
“A meditative exploration of some of the most graceful, tranquil and deadly animals on the planet.” – PF
Hardwood Process, David Gatten, 1996, 16mm, color, 14 min.
“A hand-made, diary film generated from alternative processing techniques, chemical treatments, and optical & contact printing. A history of scarred surfaces, an inquiry, and an imagining: for the marks we sees and the marks we make, for the languages we can read and for those we are trying to learn. Written in the scratches on the floors, the scars on the hands, and the chemical etchings into the film emulsion, these languages of experience are unstable ones, their vocabularies constantly shifting with the passage of time. The film is contact printed by hand on an old Bell & Howell model C printer resulting in individual, unique release prints.” – DG
Study of a River, Peter Hutton, 1997, 16mm, b&w, silent, 16 min.
“The first part of a seasonal portrait of the Hudson River. This section portrays observations of winter over a period of two years. ” – Canyon Cinema catalogue
Greece, to me, Barbara Meter, 2001, 8mm to 16mm, color, 8:30 min.
“The emotional center of the film is my love for Greece” – BM
De Kade, Barbara Meter, 2003, 8mm to 16mm, color, 5:50 min.
“The magic of ships when they dock, the expectation on the quays, the exciting theatre of the people with and without their vehicles, the hello’s and goodbye’s are typical of veryday life on the Greek islands.” – BM
0*, Julie Murray, 2001, 16mm, color, 4 min.
“In the way that a jelly-like substance is injected into the veins, arteries and capillaries of a donated corpse so as to solidify the tissue and render it more amenable to inquisition, so the angular spiral of the staircase (very dark) serves as an image of the double helix of dna (very dark on purpose).( I read about this in a book) and walking up and down such a structure is the equivalent of a kind of deep dreaming in a state of open consciousness full of physical effort , dreaming about things for which there are no names (yet).” – JM
Filter Beds, Guy Sherwin, 1998, 16mm, b/w, sound, 9 min.
“Made at the site of the disused Middlesex Filter Beds in east London. Images of grasses and reeds, subtle shifts of focal point, the appearance of a vapour trail.” – GS
YES, I SAID YES, I WILL, YES., Phil Solomon, 1999, 16mm, color, sound, 3 min.
“The title is, of course, borrowed from the last lines of Molly Bloom’s monologue, where, after reviewing all the lovers of her life, she comes home to Bloom, in a swooning affirmation like no other in all of western literature. I have always loved making ‘quickie’ films for a specific occasion, and this film was made in couple of days as a wedding present for my wife. My most simple, direct, and joyful film.” – PS
BOXHEAD ENSEMBLE HISTORY
The first incarnation of the Boxhead Ensemble dates back to 1991 in Los Angeles, where Michael Krassner assembled a group of local musicians to improvise a score Braden King and Larry Stuckey’s student documentary, “The Original Pantry Cafe”. In 1996, Krassner assembled a new incarnation of the Ensemble to score Braden King and Laura Moya’s lyric documentary, “Dutch Harbor: Where the Sea Breaks its Back”. The resulting soudtrack, featuring performances by Joseph Ferguson, David Grubbs, Charles Kim, Michael Krassner, Douglas McCombs, Will Oldham, Jim O’Rourke, David Pavkovic, Rick Rizzo and Ken Vandermark was released to international acclaim by Atavistic in 1997. Shortly therafter, the Ensemble embarked on both European and U.S. tours, with a rotating lineup providing live soundtrack accompaniment to screenings of Dutch Harbor. The tours resulted in two additional CDs, “The Last Place to Go”, a document of the European tour featuring Edith Frost, Ryan Hembrey, Charles Kim, Michael Krassner, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Will Oldham, Julie Pommerleau, Scott Tuma, Mick Turner, Ken Vandermark and Jim White, and “Niagara Falls”, recordings from the U.S. tour featuring Jim Becker, David Grubbs, Ryan Hembrey, Charles Kim, Michael Krassner, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Darren Richard. On August 21, 2001, the Ensemble’s latest CD, “Two Brothers” was released by Atavistic, with a new lineup rotation: Jessica Billey, Ryan Hembrey, Glenn Kotche, Michael Krassner, Fred Lonberg-Holm and Scott Tuma, plus David Michael Curry, Steve Doracke, Gerlad Dowd, Joe Ferguson, Guillermo Gregorio, Jeff Parker, Mick Turner, Jeff Tweedy and Jim White. “Stories, Maps and Notes From the Half Light” is the first Boxhead Ensemble tour in nearly three years. For further information on Boxhead Ensemble, see Atavistic’s website.
SHAKENSTIR LIVE review of Manchester show:
The critically acclaimed improvised soundtrack to the documentary film Dutch Harbour launched Boxhead Ensemble on extensive world tours for several years.
When asked by the Irish Docland Film Festival to perform Dutch Harbour this year, Michael Krassner and Braden King saw an opportunity to create an alternative, fresh film/music performance vision they’d shared for a couple of years. The idea was simple; commission and find a series of silent short films and enlist the ensemble players to improvise the soundtrack to each film on stage.
Acceptance of the concept by the festival organisers signalled the beginning of a new and more adventurous phase for this group of the world’s best wandering avant-rock players. This, Boxhead’s first short European tour of the show (described by Krassner as a ‘trial by fire’) culminates at the Doclands Film Festival and further developments of the idea thereafter in preparation of world tours next year.
The new performance space provided by the jagged architecture of the Contact Theatre in Manchester proved an ideal environment for the show. And performance space is critical to allow space for the players (they have to be able to turn to look at the screening while playing for the audience) and a large back-projection area for the films.
As the players formed a semi-circle of musical excellence, lights dimmed and the first film flickered into the stillest and calmest monotone life. In the necessary darkness of the stage, it was difficult to spot who was playing but, of course, individuality is not on the agenda here. However, black bodies and instruments silhouetted against the massive and bright projections created images of memorable and stark beauty. Everybody, including the players, were focused on the screen’s images, while the sounds drew the audience deep inside each of the nine fascinating short films.
The visions of huge passenger jets casually caressing the tops of high-rise tenements on route to Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak airport were surreal and terrifying. Jets from different angles, appearing and disappearing, near and far, corner to corner, top to bottom, fast and glacial, rising ominously over the heads of the musicians whose sparse accompaniment heightened the tension. New York, New York!
A crashing crescendo of drums and percussion following jellyfish pumping their way upwards in a palette of angry red and boiling blue. An arm ends in a burning piece of cloth that splinters into a thousand oblique shapes and colours. A pigeon sits on a branch while another launches itself into frozen animation. Sepia bodies melt and peel. The cello doesn’t sing, it talks. The violin doesn’t soar, it creaks. The trumpet doesn’t bark, it screams. Cymbals don’t crash, they shimmer. Images and sounds sometimes in contrast, sometimes in unison, sometimes gut-wrenching, sometimes at peace. Moments of respectful silence, creeping tones, and musical brush strokes.
Compelling, magnetic, perfectly imperfect. This is performance art at the cutting edge but eminently accessible and personal. It is relevant, it is wonderful.
TIME OUT UK preview of London show:
This loose collective of some of the most creative names in the alt.americana and new minimalist music scene first coalesced around frontman Michael Krassner several years ago when they produced the immaculate, glacial score to tour director Braden King’s stunning monochrome documentary Dutch Harbor: Where the Sea Breaks Its Back, an exploration of an Alaskan fishing port. Improvisation is high on the agenda for these guys and here they’ve got a startling crop of new and premiere shorts work to riff along to, from some of the most intriguing names in left-field experimental image-making. 20 filmmakers are represented, including Britain’s own Chris (Radio On, The Falconer) Petit, promo prince Grant Gee and Guy Shwerwin, as well as Chris Target Shoots First Wilcha, the prolific Jem Cohen and Armenian-Canadian Garine Torossian. A storming line-up on both mikes and lenses should make for a memorable evening. But don’t delay: the HH [Horse Hospital] is mighty intimate.
– Gareth Evans
NO PHOTOGRAPHY review of Dublin show:
See article and IMAGES from the shows at: http://www.nophotography.com/box.html
Last Saturday evening the 29th September the Boxhead Ensemble played The Temple Bar Music Centre as part of The Doclands Documentary Film Festival 2001. No Photography witnessed the ensemble freely improvise to a series of short films described by its curators Braden King and Astria Suparak as ‘right on the edge of documentary film making’.
As Guy Sherwin’s film Filter Beds slowly unfolded its images of grasses and reeds via subtle shifts of focal points, the ensemble provided gentle viola and harmonica. Jim White’s rolling drums broke the serenity and evoked a mood of danger to Breathless Ghost, a film by Paula M. Froehle which explored the colour, form and movement of the jellyfish. Jem Cohen’s six minute film In Cape Breton shot on 16mm black and white comprises of a series of beautifully composed still life sequences calling to mind the images of the American painter Andrew Wyeth. The exactitude of the imagery on screen coupled with the highly considered yet improvised playing of the ensemble provided one of the highlights of the evening. Other highlights included Convalescing by Barbara Meter documenting a point ‘where one is allowed not to take part in the world…’ and the final film of the evening HKG. This extraordinary film by Gerard Holthus tells of life in a city and its air traffic; an observation of city dwelling at the end of the 20th century. Over its 14 minutes the viewer experiences astonishing images of aeroplanes taking off and landing in close proximity to the people and buildings of Hong Kong. The music by the ensemble served to heighten the fragility of the relationship between the city’s occupants and these huge chrome machines as they soar dangerously close by during their daily flight paths.
On this occasion the Boxhead Ensemble comprised of Michael Krassner, David Michael Curry, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Tim Rutili, Scott Tuma and Jim White who are members of such diverse bands as Willard Grant Conspiracy, Freakwater, Califone, Souled American and the Dirty Three.
MELTING VINYL preview of Brighton show:
The first incarnation of the Boxhead Ensemble dates back to 1991 in Los Angeles, where Michael Krassner assembled a group of local musicians to improvise a score to a Braden King and Larry Stuckey’s 16mm film short. By 1996, a new incarnation of the Ensemble were scoring Braden King and Laura Moya’s lyric documentary, Dutch Harbor: Where the Sea Breaks its Back. This soundtrack, featured performances by David Grubbs, Doug McCombs, Will Oldham, Jim O’Rourke and amongst its mighty number. Oh yes…
From time to time the Ensemble has reshaped, regrouped and reconvened, but this new tour, entitled Stories, Maps and Notes From the Half-Light, marks the first Boxhead Ensemble tour in nearly three years. This time around the Ensemble will be improvising against a stellar program of new short films. Curated by Braden King and New York-based Astria Suparak the program features an international roster of filmmakers and several world premieres. The musicians include Michael Krassner, Ensemble founder and Director, who has also played with a galaxy of others such as Edith Frost and Songs:Ohio; cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, who has worked with such heavyweights as Anthony Braxton and John Zorn; the Dirty Three’s Jim White and Mick Turner, you should know from their recent visit; plus others.
The outfit will play to images by 20 filmmakers, including Brighton’s own Grant Gee who made Radiohead’s actually-very-excellent Meeting People is Easy, as well as videos for Stephen Malkmus and Sparklehorse; Chris Petit who made the British new wave 70s road movie Radio On (Great film, great soundtrack); and a truly international line-up of experimental film artists.
When all’s said and done, it’ll be a beautiful thing.
– Jason Weaver, http://www.meltingvinyl.co.uk
Photos from Manchester show. http://sparror.cubecinema.com/archive
Sept. 19, 2001
@ Paradiso, Amsterdam, NL
Sept. 20, 2001
@ Patronaat, Haarlem, NL
Sept. 21, 2001
@ Belgi, Hasselt, Belgium
Sept. 22, 2001
@ 4AD, Diksmuide, Belgium
Sept. 23, 2001
@ Instants Chavires, Paris, France
Sept. 24, 2001
@ The Horse Hospital, London, UK
Sept. 25, 2001
@ Contact Theatre, Manchester, UK
Sept. 26, 2001
@ Redgrave Theater, Bristol, UK
Presented by The Cube
Sept. 27, 2001
@ The Duke of York’s Picture House, Preston Circus, Brighton, England
Presented by Melting Vinyl
Sept. 29-30, 2001
@ Doclands Festival, Dublin, Ireland
March 13, 2004
FotoFest Biennial 2004
@ The Aurora Picture Show, 800 Aurora St., Houston, TX