Brute Heart on scoring The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, and what's next for the band

Categories: Q&A
brute_heart_sophia_hantzes.jpg
Photo by Sophia Hantzes
Dark, dreamy art-rock trio Brute Heart are set to bring us an encore live performance of their score to the haunting 1920 German Expressionist silent horror masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on Friday night at the Cedar. Brute Heart will be joined by cellist Jonathan Kaiser (former Blackthorns bandmate with violist Jackey Beckey) and electronic musician John Marks in producing this live score to "Dr. Caligari," originally commissioned by the Walker Art Center which premiered in August as the Summer Music and Movies series finale.

On Friday night at the Cedar, in celebration of Halloween, Brute Heart are reprising their eerie, mystical performance for the murder-mystery featuring a crazed doctor and his zombie-like sleepwalking follower. Joining them in setting the mood in the dark, intimate Cedar will be fantastical sets by Kaiser, who is transforming the space with dramatically spooky infinity rooms, replete with staircases to nowhere, smoke and mirrors, and creepy shadow puppets by Christopher Allen. While walking through these sets you'll be surrounded by hypnotic soundscapes by MAKR (Mark McGee). Black and White costumes are encouraged for the performance, and recordings of the score will be available for purchase, along with Brute Heart's other albums.

Gimme Noise had the good fortune of interviewing Jackie Beckey and Crystal Myslajek in their home one chilly autumn evening.

See Also:
Brute Heart's Lonely Hunter: A mesmerizing sophomore album
Brute Heart perform for City Of Music

Brute Heart's music is propulsive with haunting mystical incantations appearing to call forth a tempest of elemental forces sublimely and tumultuously dancing together. The songs span worlds of ancient and future music, creating new vistas in your mind. Violist/vox Jackie Beckey, drummer/vox Crystal Brinkman & bassist/vox Crystal Myslajek draw upon art-rock, classic metal, post-punk, and various international music to create compelling "hypnogogic" music that entrances you and makes you want to dance at the same time.

All members of Brute Heart have been involved in theater production - Jackie Beckey directed the music and performance for Barebones Production: Halloween Pageant for the past six years - so this is familiar terrain for them, although it's the first time they've scored a full length film.

Gimme Noise: Please talk about your inspiration to do The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari.

Jackie Beckey: They approached and commissioned us. I'd seen the film before. After seeing it, we all agreed it's a perfect fit.

Crystal Myslajek. I'd seen parts of it. When we did music for a performance at the Bedlam, they'd asked us to watch a scene from that film for inspiration. So we'd already used it in the past.

JB: I think it was pretty natural for us to write music for it. The movie is pretty trance-y itself with the sets and getting lost in the visuals. That's how our music is.

CM: Also the dark nature of the film and the psychological thriller element, and the element of questioning what's real and not real - I feel like our music does that, with the lyrics. I feel it's not a narrative that's trying to tell you something. Our music is more layers that are trying to create a mood. So when they asked us to do this, it made a lot of sense. So being inspired wasn't hard-pressed. The harder thing was having a lot of ideas and narrowing them down. We're pretty passionate about everything we do! [We laugh - that's an understatement] We are! We want everything to be perfect. We could spend an entire day on three minutes of the film. For every little motion - "We could do this, and then do this!" But "We don't have time for this!"

JB: We started rewinding it in slow motion and making little dance moves (dances something like DEVO might and laughs).

The process of composing it - how did you decide what to cut, not to make it so intricate?

JB: We went for it and as we instinctually did it we spent less time on the knit-picky parts of the film and making the music a priority - was making sure it was representative and sounded good.

CM: After we had music in place, we divided up sections and would say "You're responsible for this piece and making it representative, for this part of the film, e.g. finding where it was too repetitive." We learned to budget our time too, e.g. you only have 30 minutes to work on this part of the film.

JB: The film is 72 minutes long. So we knew we wanted to repeat themes in the music. It made more sense for the music to connect in the film.

CM: We wanted to have common threads and themes; we wanted things to strategically repeat. And we connected melody lines from one piece into another so it sounded different but the mind could recognize it.

Is it quite different than how you write records?

JB: The process was still collaborative like we do, but sonically it sounded totally different than our normal stuff. Which is cool because as a band there's a pressure to write a song vs. a soundscape. Five minutes or less. Your lyrical content should be meaningful versus just making sounds. Or you're going to be playing this in a bar or a show space so people are going to want to move or feel something. A lot of our music for the film is trance-y and ambient soundscape, which is cool because there's not the pressure to go anywhere. I'd like to explore that more because it's a cool direction.

CM: Its also freeing because playing in a band that plays in bars a lot- its louder, and noisy so you find yourself making music to fill up that space a lot, and play faster. Sometimes its hard to make minimalist music in a bar setting. We've written a few pieces that are minimalist and try playing in bars and it makes me really nervous because it might fall apart. It works in a gallery setting. In a bar setting you're competing with noise a lot. To have the space where it can be more about people watching that, you have the visual stuff happening too. And with the film you've got the thing where the song has to go longer, or, you have to end it now. But that can be difficult too in needing to add a couple bars or cut a song short.

Would you do it again?

[Both] Yeah!
JB: It was really fun. We've all been attracted to visuals in music. We've all done a lot of theater stuff. So we're all in the realm of doing stuff to other things. Mixed media type stuff.

What do you have in the works after this?

JB; Write new material. As a band we've been promoting Lonely Hunter and touring with that. When that calmed down the Walker commissioned us for this. That kind of dominated the summer and spring. It will be nice to write new songs and tour.

CM: We have two new 7-inches too!

JB: The second ones been released but we haven't had a release show yet.

Would you talk about how you formed, and how Brute Heart came together?

CM: Jackie lived next door for 3 months and she was directing music for the first time for Barebones Productions Halloween show and I knew her because she played in the Knotwells as a string player as I did before her. So I was really into that band when I was in it. She asked me to be in it. I was really excited. I really wanted to be in it. I wanted to write songs too. I wanted to assist, so I was like, "What can I do to help?"

JB: I was like, "We can jam."

CM: I was like "I never thought you'd ask.

JB: We'd get together and drink tea and play. Then we asked Crystal Brinkman to join us.

CM: Crystal worked at the Hub Bike co-op for a short time. We also did catering together. I was like 'let's find a drummer.' I told her I was in a band and we were looking for a drummer. She's like, nonchalantly, "Well, I'll play drums!" I was like, "Do you play drums, or do you just want to play drums, or . . ." because she was so nonchalant.

She was like, 'No, I've got a snare, I want to play.' We had a vision of - we were into a band called the Ex. We have a similar vision. We didn't want total lyric driven music. We wanted to make music that was layered and rhythmic. We had a similar vision but didn't know how to articulate it.

We talked about the 7-inches and you're looking for a show for that.

JB: We plan to tour Europe. We haven't decided when . . .

CM: We want to tour in January.

JB: West Coast, New England, and Europe.

(To Jackie) Are you involved with Barebones this year?

Not this year, I'm taking a break. Last year was my sixth year.

What else is in the works?

CM: I feel this takes up a lot of time. I play piano on my own. Between band practices and piano that takes up all my time. I and Jon Marks are working on a new project together.

Is Jonathan Kaiser a more recent addition?

JB: He joined us for this project. Although we used to play music together a bunch. We were in the Blackthorns together. And we do stuff together here and there. He performed a few songs in Lonely Hunter and performed with us at Heliotrope festival.

CM: Jonathan and Jon were integral to this Dr. Caligari project and process - their ideas and their dedication. It wouldn't be what it is without them.

How did the Walker art center piece go?

JB: It was really fun, and dreamy. Literally dreamy because it was a film about dreams but it was perfect, too. We were like high, afterwards. The weather was perfect.

CM: The only problem we had was a mic that reacted to the weather. It started crackling really loud. Other than that it was super fun, the weather was great and there was a great turnout.

To write all their music for one night . . . because we invested all this time, and all this energy - we're like we can't only do this one night!

JB: And the show at the Cedar is going to be insane.

We're obsessed with Halloween so we'll have tons of Halloween decorations and Jonathan Kaiser is nerding out to an awesome extreme. He's doing set design so literally a wall of infinity rooms, and there's going to be low-flying fog machines. A friend Christopher Allen is doing shadow projection in these set designs. It's going to be totally interactive and environmental. You walk in and it's going to be crazy. The stage sets are inspired by the film and set on platforms.

We have small-scale drawings of the rooms. Mark McGee is going to perform soundscapes too, so that's going to be part of the experience. And, popcorn!

JB: people are encouraged to dress up, in black and white. This all happens preceding the show between 7 and 8.

It's going to be so nerdy! I'm so excited!

Brute Heart Performs Live "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" Score
With MAKR
Cedar Cultural Center

416 Cedar Avenue South, Minneapolis; 612-338-2674
$8 October 19

7 - 8 p.m. Pre-performance walk-through of infinity rooms, shadow puppetry and MAKR Soundscapes
8 p.m. Brute Heart performs "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" Score

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