Maya Deren ~ Meshes of The Afternoon (1943)

Directed by
Maya Deren
Alexander Hammid

Written by
Maya Deren

Maya Deren ~ The Woman
Alexander Hammid ~ The Man

Original Music by
Teiji Ito

EDITOR’S NOTE: The film was originally released silent, Teiji Ito’s piece was added later

Cinematography by
Alexander Hammid

Film Editing by
Maya Deren


Nat Evans: In a Shifting Landscape

Seattle-based composer Nat Evans, who specializes in very ambient electro-acoustic pieces, has released a new 20-minute work titled In a Shifting Landscpe. Having listened to it, it is truly a calming piece of work that combines his use of nature soundbites with string drones and glissandos that are reminiscent of Teiji Ito. Evans emailed me and explained his thoughts on the piece and its working process. Continue reading

ensemble et. al.

per·cus·sion [per-kuhshuhn] –noun
1. The striking of one body against another with some sharpness; impact; blow.
2. (Medicine/Medical). The striking or tapping of the surface of a part of the body for diagnostic or therapeutic purposes.
3. The striking of a musical instrument to produce tones.

ensemble et. al., a New York-based percussion ensemble that is the brain-child of Ron Tucker (Who’s aided by J. Ross Marshall and Charles Kessenich) have created some very peaceful, yet thought-provoking dulcet-toned tracks that almost invoke what Teiji Ito would make if he were to record a Christmas album.
Their latest EP, When The Tape Runs Out is the closest one could get to that.

“The ensemble’s sound is really a product of the diverse genres I have explored in the past,” explains Tucker. “A lot of percussion music can be overbearing, loud and dense–without any real sense of melody or structure. By contrast, ensemble et. al.’s compositions strive to incorporate melodic and harmonic motifs and to employ a simple, intimate, and delicately beautiful asthetic. My goal is to create music that is quietly and subtly moving, and that achieves its emotional effect in a simple, elegant manner.”

The EP’s 4 originals (as well as a cover piece; We’ll get to that in a second) are all very intimate and beautifully aesthetic, indeed. According to the group’s press release the recording features glockenspiel, vibraphone, and marimba, as well as metallic, wood and glass objects for their tonal resonance.

Of the 4 originals, my personal favorite is the second track “In a Crowded Room With Nothing To Think About” as lyrically this is very much my life story, but I also love the rhythm of the piece.

If New York Times writer Allan Koznin was quoted as saying “Drums are the new violins”, it would be crazy if he hadn’t heard this recording before then as it materializes as a audio cubic painting of a chamber ensemble.
The 5th track is Tucker’s arrangement of Arvo Part’s “Fur Alina”. The original being a lonely, stark piano solo piece, EEA’s version with the resonant chimes sounds like a more chilling loneliness.

Tucker needed the best possible circumstances during the recording of the EP. “I composed, recorded, performed, engineered, mixed and produced the recording myself in the ‘comfort’ of my small rehearsal studio in Brooklyn (Greenpoint). The 5 songs were recorded on my MacBook Pro using Cubase. The difficult part of recording in a rehearsal studio is finding a time when the space is quiet. Other rooms in the building where my studio is located are filled with indie-rock bands and unfortunately a very loud death-metal band is next door to my studio. Therefore, in order to track very delicate glockenspiel parts or resonant vibraphone tones, I would have to go into the studio in the middle of the night or extremely early on Sunday mornings. Since I handled all aspects of the recording while working a full-time job, the album took 5 months to complete. The tracking of the EP took about 3 months and the mixing and mastering took another 2 months. The EP was mastered by John Cohrs of Speenless Mastering.”

ensemble et. al.: In a Crowded Room With Nothing to Think About

ensemble et. Official website
EEA’s Band Camp page

Maya Deren: Dance World Dance

“I am not greedy. I do not seek to possess the major portion of your days. I am content if, on those rare occasions whose truth can be stated only by poetry, you will, perhaps, recall an image, even only the aura of my films.”~MAYA DEREN

I was always totally assured by that quote from Maya Deren that I didn’t have to feel like I had absolutely no arts sense watching any of her work, or not be able to get any of it right away. But I did, in fact, recall several images from Meshes of The Afternoon many years after I’d seen it on PBS late one night back in the ’70’s.
I remembered the key in her mouth more than anything else. To me, it seemed to express that there’s always an answer, or there’s always a way out of, or into something.

Meshes of The Afternoon (1943; also featuring Alexander Hammid; music by Teiji Ito added in 1952)

I also remembered the bizarre music in this film. Even though the original print of the short was silent (As it appears in the Martina Kudlacek documentary In The Mirror of Maya Deren), I was always familiar with the version with this really shrill, minimalist score consisting of acoustic guitar, flute, koto, cello, sho, percussion and humming. Teiji Ito (Musician/composer of scores for stage productions and films, longtime companion and then-current husband of Maya’s) had created more of a nightmarish atmosphere than the one that existed from the film itself. That’s not to discredit Maya’s work at all, but the insertion of the music makes quite a difference. What also made a memorable impression on me was that this was a film from 1943, and it wasn’t a Hollywood film or even a typical B-movie from that period, but a handmade artistic short with a lady that had a less-stylized “big” hair like you would see in that year, a tall grim-reaper with a mirror for a face (I always thought she/he looked like a tall nun), and the weird camera angles, slow-motion, pinball glasses, and the Ito music (BTW, I promise there’ll be a Teiji Ito entry in the future).

Maya Deren as a person and a public figure was quite fascinating as well. Apart from being a pioneering female avant-garde filmmaker (As well as her side-projects as a choreographer and a photographer), she’d been an activist during her teens in the Trotskyist Young People’s Socialist League; Later on, after receiving a grant from The Guggenheim for her film making, she went to Haiti and had become so immersed in the spiritual culture that she was dubbed a Haitian priestess (The story of Maya’s Haitian-related activities practically calls for its own blog as there is so much more lore than a single posting can get into, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least make some mention of the disappearance-on-the-boat, or the hurling-of-the-refrigerator stories; Please rent or buy the Kudlacek film as it is required-viewing and I highly recommend it).

Maya even had a musical side that can be heard in spurts on the documentary; With Teiji, she recorded a few songs like “Stones” (An interesting, if not amazing, acoustic blues ditty) and a really exciting take on the Haitian “Ghede Song” that they performed at a recital.

Not being a full-time film buff (Music is more my thing) I’ve never really had a film hero, but Maya Deren comes pretty damn close for me. She was introduced to the art of filmmaking by Sasha Hammid (Her sometimes-collaborator and second husband), and she made films that explored dream thoughts and images, she used inventive techniques in editing, slow-motion, negative reversal imaging, and, perhaps most noticeably, incorporated her love of dance into the films. It must have been so otherworldly for people to embrace at the time of her career, but Maya was blazing an incredible trail, and her work has simultaneously given me a stronger appreciation of films as well as choreography and dance.

A Study In Choregography For Camera (1945; featuring Talley Beatty)

“My reason for creating [films] is almost as if I would dance, except this is a much more marvelous dance. It’s because in film, I can make the world dance!”~MAYA DEREN