As the notion of genre is becoming increasingly difficult to define in today’s musical landscape, artists are actively embracing this ambiguity not only as a happy byproduct of our endless channels through which ideas are shared, but as an artistic advantage.
When New Music USA launched the inaugural round of our project grants in November 2013, we had high hopes for the breadth of art we might see resulting from a process designed to better meet the conventional and unconventional needs of creators. We have not been disappointed. One of many awardees who perfectly embodies this artistic freedom is the Reno/Seattle-based choreographer/filmmaker/composer/performer duo Marion Walker (Jessie Marion Smith & Kyle Walker Akins).
We Won’t Be In Love Much Longer is their most recent [of many] collaborative endeavors that challenges the boundaries of dance, live performance, film, and music video. Today, we are delighted to host the online premiere of their culminated efforts.
Their project is unique in our body of supported work; it deliberately exists as an independent entity, but the film’s longevity is contingent on its presentation to live audiences in a communal, musical setting. To get a better idea of their motivation surrounding the creation and multi-faceted presentation of what they call “dance cinema,” I interviewed Jessie and Kyle about their refreshing approach to this budding conglomerate of styles.
Emily Bookwalter: As two seemingly jack-of-all trades artists, you two work together in myriad manifestations. As a result, your work is delightfully difficult to define in terms of any historically conventional genre or style. How would you choose to describe stylistic trends in your collaborative work thus far?
Marion Walker: The best way for us to talk about style is to talk about process. We are obsessed with “inventing accidents.” We are willing to try a million different combinations before we sit down and edit ourselves. The style that we’ve developed is out of a maintained practice that, to be honest, isn’t a choice for the two of us. Any and all of our conversations return, as predictable as high tide, to our process and our practice. That is truly the style we’ve developed. We often remind ourselves of the rules attributed to John Cage. THE ONLY RULE IS WORK!
Artistically, our lineage stems from collectives living in times of worldwide cultural turmoil. Artists such as Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings of the Zurich DADA collective, John Cage, Joseph Beuys, the Fluxus Movement, and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable are the wellsprings on which we are drunk. We are also letting the current, dire state of our times filter in through our work. While we may not be overtly political, it is ever present in our abstracted forms.
The song “We Won’t Be in Love Much Longer,” is a way for us to examine the dejected experience without dwelling in it. While the archetype of ‘love’ can trigger an array of responses in an audience, the idea is ultimately about our inability to stay together in a timeless context. It’s an effort to dismantle our ineptitude at reaching permanent solutions.
Musically, we come from sources/bands like The Velvet Underground. We are literally living and breathing with other artists in a warehouse congested with creativity called The Warehome in Reno, NV. This rich artistic community allows us the flexibility to exist in the grey area where we love to work. And, this penumbra operates as our own gateway through mediums. Even within the new music community, we are an oddman outfit, being more rock’n’roll centered in our pursuits. Our inclusion within this organization just speaks to the reach that creativity, at its core, can have and the importance of cross contamination between artistic discoveries.
As songwriters, we may experience our own particular version of synesthesia. We often start by sitting down with a color or feeling. As we get into the process of crafting the song, it inevitably takes interesting twists and turns. Rather than staying constrained by an initial idea of style, or a common songwriting structure, we follow the direction of the song as it reveals itself. Kyle likes to call this “ serving the song. ” We do this with all of our creations. We connect with any genre, medium, or method we can that helps us to fulfill the pieces we are making to their utmost potential.
EB: Were there any new stylistic discoveries in the making of this film?
MW: When we set out to make “We Won’t Be in Love Much Longer,” we had no crew. This was an interesting challenge. (Especially for Jessie, who as a choreographer is particularly intent on designing camera action to exemplify movement.) When we were both in front of the camera that meant no one was behind the camera. So, we started playing with the camera and light to develop a visual styling that was engaging with a still frame. This was an exciting discovery for us. The two of us are very used to working as a self-contained unit. (Except for the rhythm section that we play with as a band. We have to give a shout out to Donald John McGreevy Jr. and Paul David Heyn, who played on the recorded song for the video. And, Donovan Jordan Williams and Clark Carvil Demeritt, who we are currently playing with.) Working without a cinematographer to shoot “We Won’t Be in Love Much Longer” pushed us into different ways of thinking about making the video, forced us to call on our other perspectives, and design a new lens through which to look at the work. We ultimately constructed the video with thousands of still photographs. With no true video images present, the scenes of the video are isolated incidents within time.
In “We Won’t Be in Love Much Longer,” we applied a specific logic to both our visual and musical technique. As sound can only exist within one moment, the pleasure of music exists on a temporal plane. When making this video, we also followed that rule. Because we have an agreement on syntax, music exists. With the memory of the note/word just previous to this moment, and the expectation of the next note/word to arrive, we have language, we have music.
EB: This work in particular is part of your larger efforts in what you have described as “dance cinema.” Could you educate me a little more about what that is and what dance cinema means to you?
MW: We have been calling this video a dance film, a music video, and an art flick. So clearly our definition of dance cinema is pretty broad. For us, there isn’t a hard line between the realms of dance cinema and music videos. As video editors, we lean towards high paced cuts that keep things constantly engaging. We create arcs with our edits that are often very driven by the music. These choices might be thought of as falling more into the music video category, where a dance film might be more driven by choices dictated by the choreography.
The form of music videos is pretty wild (there aren’t too many rules that have to be followed). Some may think that the “high art” context of dance cinema makes it more constrained. We think it can be just as wide open of a form. We taught an all-ages, all-levels workshop on making dance films awhile back and it was really fun to expand the participants’ ideas about this. A lot of them were concerned with the idea that you have to be a highly trained dancer to make a dance film. We talked about how dance cinema can also mean things like choreographing the camera action over a still object or choreographing an object rather than a body.
EB: Presenting a video work that could very much be a final product in and of itself no doubt poses some challenges for live performance. What are some of the ways that you’ve chosen to introduce this work to larger audiences?
MW: We had a live event last month to premiere the video to Reno audiences. We set up the evening with the intention of re-contextualizing dance cinema within a music setting so we held the event at a local music venue/bar. Marion Walker played live music. And, because the bar was too small to house a proper projection screen, we got our hands on the biggest flat screen TV we could find and held it over our heads while the video played. It was a great party!
We also had a little personal viewing station with headphones in the back corner of the bar. A real highlight of the night was walking by that station and seeing people fully engrossed in the video despite all the commotion around them. We saw many people return to the TV multiple times throughout the night and even drag friends over to watch it!
Having the video hosted here, on NewMusicBox, and getting to share it with the internet world at large is another great way for us to get the video out to new audiences. We are also planning to screen it at dance cinema festivals in the future. We want to frame “We Won’t Be in Love Much Longer” in as many different settings as we can and get it out there in all different sorts of fashions.
EB: Do you two take on many artistic projects as individuals, or does the majority of your work take place as a team?
MW: More often than not we are holed up working on Marion Walker projects together but we do take breaks to focus on other projects individually. Jessie has her own dance company, Dead Bird Movement, as well as choreographing for Seattle art/theater group Saint Genet, and dancing with Seattle choreographer Dayna Hanson. Kyle has his own visual art practice, working predominantly with felt, as well as recording for and playing in a few other bands.
EB: Do components of this work exist independently? I.e. is the dance an entity that can be performed live? Is the music an independent entity that happens to be within a film with dance? Or does this work have to exist as a cohesive whole?
MW: The dance was made specifically for the video so, for now, that is its only existence. The song was actually composed first and we made an extended version of it for the video. That extended version has since come into regular rotation in our live music shows. It is also featured on a 12” vinyl LP compilation of Reno bands called “Guide to Permanent Oblivion Vol. III” that will be coming out on the “Intruder Alert! Intruder Alert!” record label in early April.
EB: What other projects do you have on your horizon?
MW: We are currently in the thick of recording/mixing a tape EP that is coming out on Casino Trash Records this March called Serious Picnic. We also have a split 7″ vinyl EP with fellow Reno band Plastic Caves coming out in mid-May. We will be heading out on a six week US tour this summer to promote all these releases! See you on the road!