Flying Lotus and Austin Peralta
Live Score of Harry Everett Smith's “Heaven and Earth Magic”
If Flying Lotus' live score at Cinefamily last night was any indication of the direction of his upcoming fourth album (due this summer), then his fans are in for something special. Putting a modern twist on beatnik artist Harry Everett Smith's crowning cinema achievement “Heaven and Earth Magic,” Flying Lotus' live accompaniment added another dimension to the film that Smith — a lifelong occultist and mystic — probably could've never imagined, but certainly would've approved of.
Considered the birth of abstract animation, “Heaven and Earth Magic” was initially released in 1957, then re-edited several times, with a final version being released in 1962. Aside from basic sound effects, no soundtrack accompanied the film at the time of its release. As with many of his films Smith, a renowned painter and ethnomusicologist, intended for the project to be screened with various musical interpretations. Improvisational jazz bands mostly accompanied the film during its first screenings in the late 1950's, and more recently artists like Phillip Glass and DJ Spooky have developed live scores for Smith's work.
It was only fitting that the most recent artist to tackle the project would be Flying Lotus, the grand nephew of avant-garde jazz queen Alice Coltrane (who was married to John Coltrane) and who grew up attending family jam sessions every Sunday at a local ashram. Prior to catapulting to fame as an experimental electronic producer, FlyLo also attended L.A. Film School for a year. Drawing from his vast knowledge of eclectic music and art house films, he was originally sought out by the Ann Arbor Film Festival to produce a live score for “Heaven and Earth Magic” in 2010.
Backed by the talented keyboardist Austin Peralta, Flying Lotus brought an updated version of the live score to Cinefamily last night, alerting the audience from the start that “this ain't no Low End Theory shit.” The first segment started off slow, with Lotus and Peralta laying down a delicate framework of atmospheric ambient melodies. The sound of a record spinning on a turntable could be heard underneath a layered harp sample. As the film progressed, the music began to evolve more quickly, and FlyLo's distinct tribal drum patterns kicked in just as a jar of liquid started dancing, and a galloping horse skeleton entered the picture.
As bizarre as it seemed, the film made much more sense after finding out Smith only slept for two hours at a time while making it. “If you go in at a very deep level and find out what a person really dreams, it's sort of like the symbols of the symbols,” he was quoted saying. Smith's intention was to mimic parts of his own dreams and incorporate them into the film itself, using the only animation technology available to him at the time: cut-outs, filters and slide projections. This made the animation in the film quite crude, but in combination with FlyLo's otherworldy musical style, every member of the crowd at Cinefamily seemed to be lulled into their own dream state during the screening.
Subtly embracing such weighty concepts as life and death and heaven and hell, various sequences throughout the film matched up perfectly with Flying Lotus' accompaniment. Offering a jazz-inspired improvisational style, Lotus and Peralta traversed through each sequence with a different approach, leaning on layered ambient textures but also bridging in to minimal techno and even boom-bap style hip-hop towards the end.
In the closing sequence, kaleidoscopic geometric patterns rotated around a random arrangement of numbers onscreen, FlyLo's bass bounced off the walls of the theater in triplets, and Peralta kept the score grounded with a soothing melodic arrangement. It was true audio/visual harmony, and further proof that Flying Lotus is a visionary modern producer willing to embrace different dimensions of his talent.
Personal Bias: My first Low End Theory experience was at Flying Lotus' ambient set on “formal night.” I wore a suit and got extremely drunk.
The Crowd: A wide ranging audience of 20-something white guys, both with and without glasses.
Random Notebook Dump: Flying Lotus must have the best teeth in the music industry.