Monday, September 29, 2008

What was that great song, Strange Tree? Kate Talks Music.

Hello, Dastardly B-spot readers!

Emily had asked me quite a while ago if I would like to post something about our show-soundtrack for The Mysterious Elephant, to which I said sure! and then proceeded to forget all about it for a few months. But then friendly blogger Paul Rekk posted a post about contemporary music in theatre and very kindly mentioned that he liked our choices for Elephant and that reminded me… wasn’t I supposed to… write… something…? And so I did. Another month later. Sorry.

However, it's a good thing that it did take me so long, as I just recently discovered a little site called myflashfetish (which sounds incredibly dirty but I assure you isn’t) which will allow me to actually post the songs (in playlist form!) without getting arrested (I hope!) for copyright violation (!)! Awesome!!! Buy these songs and support these artists if you like what you hear! Or better yet, go see them! Myself and a handful of other Trees can attest that Gogol Bordello will, in fact, knock your socks right the heck off!


What follows is a much too long post on why our soundtrack is our soundtrack accompanied by the actual tracks themselves:


When I began putting together the mixes for The Mysterious Elephant earlier this summer, I kept in the forefront of my Hype-Machine-prowling/iPod-clicking/CD-scavenging mind the types of instruments we were going to be using in the play itself as a jumping off point. This resulted in the following:

There's a horn in this? Awesome.

A ukulele solo? Score!

Sleigh bell percussion? Yes, please!

Save. Save. Save.

These initial (broad) selections, combined with the pieces Emily had been listening to while writing, lead to being a day away from tech and having a list of over a hundred songs to wade through when we only really needed about 20. This was totally on purpose, I promise. Leaving those final decisions for tech week while the lights and costumes and set are coming together makes a lot of sense when you think about it. It’s during this time, when all those pieces are clicking into place that the show finally comes into its own and forges its own identity. There’s no better time than this to start hitting that delete button since you now know for sure which songs are going to be frivolous and which will have weight, what melodies will best serve the world of the play and which just don't fit no matter how much you want them too. It’s not about the instruments anymore or whatever initial criteria you've set, it’s about the songs themselves – what kind of energy they bring, what kind of mood they convey and how that highlights what we are going to be presenting to the audience.

For the pre-show house mix I wanted songs that were jaunty and upbeat but also a little melancholy - especially when it came to the twins. I was interested in including songs that reflected where they have already been, such as “Dead End Street” by The Kinks and Belle & Sebastian’s “Expectations”, but I also wanted songs that traveled, that took them somewhere else. Little five minute adventures like Arcade Fire’s “Neighborhood #1 Tunnels” or The New Pornographers’ “The Bleeding Heart Show” turned out to be great for that purpose as they are songs that musically take you somewhere different from where you started, but still make sense tonally with who these characters are and who they become.


The twins get represented pretty heavily in the pre-show music, but everyone else has their say too including the elephant himself. All bells and xylophones, accordions and mandolins, the elephant’s songs share the same sense of adventure with a hint of the bittersweet, but there’s also a sense of hopefulness to his songs in particular, like Page France’s “Junkyard” or Liam Finn’s “Energy Spent” - gentle songs about being a little worse for wear but chugging along anyway, while "Start Wearing Purple", a crazy-rambunctious explosion of instrumentation and vocals is a pretty decent shout out to the family waiting to burst forth from their frames to kick the proceedings in the pants. And then there’s the swooping and vaguely unsettling "Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down" which makes me think of The Narrator and Aunt Ernestine waltzing dizzily in an empty ballroom, or perhaps the decaying living room of our own beautiful Victorian-Gothic set - the look and feel of which brought about the inclusion of the Vitamin String Quartet classical covers whose version of The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Snow (Hey Oh)” is an integral part of the intermission mix...


If the pre-show mix is about the feel of the play and its characters as a whole, the intermission mix is specific to where the end of the first act has left us. The “action” of the play may have paused, but the music here shouldn’t be a bookmark - it’s a sustained note that keeps the tension and energy up, that continues the story. The lights go out and while DeVotchKa's “Comrade Z” zips frantically along and the aforementioned “Snow (Hey Oh)” rocks out on those mournful cellos, The Narrator is escaping from his oriental rug, Edward is being bound and gagged, and poor Esther is left wondering what the hell she just did while our poor mechanical Elephant continues to slowly wind away, his “voice”, always the accordion, eventually waltzing us along with swirling violins and toy pianos into the second act via “Charlotte Mittnacht”...


By the end of the show, the good have prevailed and the bad are forced to spend eternity in a moldy trunk with absolutely no leg room. Huzzah! Beirut's "Elephant Gun" kicks off the curtain music, suitably triumphant and celebratory before "The Winner Is" picks up that accordion from the Beirut tune and changes it into something else, something sweet and tentative, those plucked violin strings taking tottering little steps before spilling forth like sunshine from the clouds, striding on cellos now too, pure and light and happy and moving forward - a song for a happy ending and a slow elephanty saunter into the sunset.


Scythian Empires - Andrew Bird
Start Wearing Purple - Gogol Bordello
Lady, Your Roof Brings Me Down - Scott Weiland
Dead End Street - The Kinks
Junkyard - Page France
Mount Wroclai - Beirut
Carribean Blue - Vitamin String Quartet
Neighborhood #1 Tunnels - Arcade Fire
The Underdog - Spoon
The Middle - Vitamin String Quartet
Guyamas Sonora - Beirut
Expectations - Belle & Sebastian
The Radio's Hot Sun - Handsome Furs
Energy Spent - Liam Finn **
The Bleeding Heart Show - The New Pornographers
Through the Roof 'n' Underground - Gogol Bordello


Comrade Z - DeVotchKa
Snow (Hey Oh) - Vitamin String Quartet
Charlotte Mittnacht (The Fabulous Destiny Of...) - DeVotchKa


Elephant Gun - Beirut
The Winner is - Mychael Danna/DeVotchKa **

** not on player

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Where the hell did you go, Strange Tree?

Hey!! Where did those Strange Trees go?

This is the time of year when tradition dictates that we here at the Strange Tree Group begin bombarding you loyal Tree-ers with blogs, emails, posters, midnight telephone calls, artful lawn-burnings, and all the other tools we use to promote our fabulous Halloween Show. You know the one: collaborating with the amazing ladies from Aloft Aerial Dance, we put together a musical, death-defying wow-ganza of gasp-eliciting stunts, songs, soliloquies and silliness. This year is no exception, except for one tiny exception:

We're not doing it.

Tradition is weakness: it shows undue reverence for the bourgeois superstitions of the past, and the Strange Tree Group will not be party to it. So, in the spirit of glorious revolution, we cast off the shackles of expectation and zig where our enemies (and fans too, maybe) expect us to zag! ha-HAH! Didn't see that coming, did you?! Neither did we. That's how fast decisions are made around here.

Come now, hush your crying! It's not the end of the world! It's not like we've canceled Christmas! We don't have the authority to do that! Not for you, anyway! (Note to Strange Tree Group Company Members: Christmas is canceled.)

If you're like me, and you're tempted to turn to the bottle for solace, let me just warn you: Lee's Discount Liquor actually charges MORE for malt beverages than most places do. Try Rainbow Beer & Wine on Montrose. I'll meet you there at 11 o'clock in the morning, every day.

HOWEVER: Whispers, Rumors, Mysteries...

I never thought that I would know so many novelty-cake bakers by their first names. Or know how to lease a stuffed lion. Or know where to find a stilt-walking juggler/acrobat on short notice. But then, I never knew that I'd one day be entrusted with planning a party for the infamous Strange Tree Group. But here I am.

For those of you who have never BEEN to a Strange Tree Party, all you need to know is: assume nothing. You may see things that will change your life. You may PARTAKE of things that you've never partaken of. At the very least, you will be entertained. And you'll get a chance to see ORIGINAL SCENES by that master of all things original, The Chicago Reader's own Playwright of the Year: Emily Schwartz! These are scenes that have never seen the light of day, and that may never see the light of day again... so catch them while you can!

I also have heard rumors that the amazing creatures from Aloft Aerial Dance may be making an appearance... OOOOOOooooooooo!!!

Details are still sketchy as of this writing, but the crystal should begin to clear over the next few days... in the meantime: wait. With bated breath. Strange Tree is Coming.

Compliments of The Narrator, Weston Davis.