This Friday and Saturday, Church of the Friendly Ghost will be presenting a performance of composer Benton Roark’s Songs from the Rainshadow’s Edge. It is self described as a haunting and lush five-part song cycle that is scored (unusually) for Soprano, Narrator, Electric Guitar, Flute, Viola, Double Bass, Percussion, and Sampled Sounds.
Accompanying the 33-minute orchestration will be a film produced by Jeanne Stern, an Austin School of Film instructor. We sat down with Jeanne to talk about the film, collaborating with a composer on a companion piece, and all things art!
Obviously, this is a big collaborative project. How/when did you get involved in it?
Jeanne: I met Benton Roark (the composer) at an artist residency in Florida, called the Atlantic Center for the Arts. It’s this fantastic residency where they bring together artists from three different disciplines- music, visual art, and writing. Benton saw what I was doing with film and animation and felt like our work shared common threads, so he asked me to design the album art for his piece and later to create projected video for his live performance. The album art is an ink painting of silhouette trees reflected in the water. I made it by pouring ink down a sheet of paper and folding it in half to make a mirror image of it, over and over again. I used a similar concept of mirroring for the video, but this time with real world footage.
When you make a complementary piece like this, what is your process? How closely did you work with Benton (Roark) in conceiving the ideas for the film?
J: Working with Benton was really enjoyable for me, because he gave me so much freedom to work in my own style, but he also gave me structure and lots of concept images. The piece is a 33-minute song cycle, made up of 5 movements. Each movement is like a little poem, for example “rain spattered in the city by the sea, spittle on my window and salt in my tea”. The words are visceral. I could see, hear, and smell the world that he created. I used the text as a sort of script, storyboarding the images I saw in my head. Then I went out to gather the shots, like my friend Kathryn walking through puddles. I used the music itself to edit the shots to. Benton was really supportive. When I sent him ideas, instead of saying “I like this” or “I don’t like that”, he’d riff off of what I said and throw more ideas at me.
What draws you to working in the medium of animation?
J: I like being able to create an entire world of my own. When you sit in a dark room to watch a movie, you become immersed in the glowing screen in front of you. I’ve always loved to draw. I find the act of mark-making, creating something out of almost nothing, incredibly satisfying. Animation brings drawings to life.
Are there any new projects you are currently working on that you can talk about?
J: Yes! I am making a tiny animated and puppeteered grocery store out of 1970’s magazines and old book covers. I’ve been making cans and boxes of food out of product ads. I’m at the stage where my work table is just covered in tiny pieces of paper.
As an instructor at ASoF, what classes do you teach?
J: I teach handmade animation, experimental animation, 2D animation, and Photoshop. One of my favorite classes is called “Victorian Gothic,” which combines Victorian literature with animation.
What makes you passionate about teaching the arts?
J: I love teaching art and film. It forces me to break down my own process, and to better understand the medium I am working with. I also love to meet like-minded people, and be part of the process of making art with them. It feels very collaborative. I try to come up with project ideas and materials that would be exciting to work with, and then see all the cool directions my students take them in, coming up with totally new ideas. It’s really exciting. Many of my students continue working after the class is over, and I like meeting with them and helping them in any way I can. My students are my colleagues and friends. I have met many kindred spirits through teaching.
Songs from the Rainshadow’s Edge has performances on Friday, May 27th @ 10 PM, and Saturday, May 28th @ 10:00 PM; both at the Salvage Vanguard Theater.
For information on tickets, click Here!