There was something comfortable and nostalgic about being at Roulette Saturday night, where I was immediately reminded of all the dance and theater performances my parents took me to when I was younger. Yes, I had a beer in hand now, but it was nice to be in such an intimate space with a more...mature audience, especially after the raging, hipster fun of Crossing Brooklyn Ferry I’d experienced a few doors down at BAM the night before.
Saturday's performance of Toni Dove's, film Spectropia used motion capture controls developed by Dove and Luke Dubois that allowed portions of the film to be sped up, slowed down, and looped like a video game. Dove and Dubois joined Sharp and his ensemble onstage, their instruments a veritable Mission Control of computers and cameras, all perfectly synced as the film rolled (or stopped, or started.) Composer Elliott Sharp and the ’31 Band performed the silent film’s score live, filling the hall with discordant strains of electronics and trilling trumpets.
Spectropia's plot centers around a girl of the same name living in a dystopian world in the year 2099. While using a peculiar scanning device to try to locate her missing father, she becomes trapped in the body of a woman in 1931 New York City. From there, scenes run together dreamlike from the future to the past, and every which way in between, making it impossible to tell exactly what was going on at any given time. Is Spectropia having some sort of affair with her father in the past as another woman? How is her father in the year 1931 when she’s so much farther away in the future? Who is that shadowy man with a great belt? None of these questions were ever really answered, and at a certain point, you stopped hunting for explanations.
While the film itself was a bit disjointed and confusing, Sharp and the ’31 band were very much on point. Sharp’s score was perfectly tailored to the film, giving it depth and personality which it may not have had otherwise. The talented group consisted of Sharp on guitar (with a bit of saxophone and clarinet thrown in), Briggan Kraus on alto saxophone, Nate Wooley on trumpet, Art Baron, Curtis Fowlkes and Steve Swell on trombone, Anthony Coleman on piano, David Hofstra on string bass, and Don McKenzie on drums. For the scenes in the future, Sharp constructed a suitably atonal soundscape consisting of computer bleeps and bloops and distorted guitars. For the scenes in the past, he opted for noirish, instantly likable jazz in the vein of Duke Ellington. At one point vocalist Barbara Sukowa joined the group onstage for a performance of the main theme, “This Time That Place”; the haunting, sad song playing out perfectly with the downturned faces of the actors on screen.
As the evening came to a close and Dove’s fans hurried to the stage to congratulate her, I slipped out, wondering what I had just seen. But then, I realized it didn’t really matter. Music gives you all the coherency and understanding you need, especially when the eyes can be so deceiving.