Planning and the artist

IMG_2225-crop-swBy nature I am a planner – a long-term thinker.

I tend to engage in projects that take years to unfold, and that require carefully considered steps to arrive at a final destination. Sometimes the journey is that destination, at others there is a clear perceived goal.

My Cine Plaza at the Fox documentary series is an example of a project in which the journey is the destination. It began with the examination of a long-demolished theatre that meant so much to Tucson’s Mexican American population. It evolved through the study of Tucson’s barrios, important cultural centers and the urban renewal program of the 1960s that was such a blow to the city’s Mexican American population.

Currently the series is looking at the important art forms (mariachi and folklórico dance) that have helped Mexican Americans discover their culture, reconnect with their roots and set sail toward the future. After that it will touch base with the Tucson-born father of Chicano music – Lalo Guerrero – and revisit more of the barrios. And eventually it will turn to the evolution of Mexican American political power and the struggle for quality education.

In my musical pursuits, Jonestown has been a source of inspiration and reason to work for decades. Since the early 1980s I have been creating pieces around Jonestown as a means of building the skills, the knowledge and the unique musical vocabulary to eventually take on the subject as a full blown opera. In the early days I used tape loops to construct experimental creations. Later digital sampling technology and more traditional scoring methods were employed. I wrote a string quartet for the Kronos Quartet in the mid 1990s using audio recordings from Jonestown to tell a different story in each of the four movements.

Jonestown-w-Josh_DSC0052-swWhile I started my Jonestown Totentanzes (Dances of Death) back in 2008, I knew that they were going to take a long time to develop as they were really about building a new vocabulary and engaging an audience in ways different from how I am most comfortable. They are a pivotal element in the evolution of the opera that is the eventual goal.

And just as the Cine Plaza documentary series has progressed methodically from step to step, so the Jonestown project is simultaneously taking shape. This too is normal for me as I often take on several projects at once, each becoming an escape from the other so that my mind is constantly focused, yet cleared in creative ways.

As 2013 begins I am engaged in the film on the rise of the mariachi and folklórico movement in Tucson, while planning the next steps in that documentary series. At the same time I am trying to carve out time and resources to hunker down on the Jonestown Totentanzes, to continue my studies of the source audio materials and to generate other installments in that series.

There have been other significant series works in my output as a composer. My 1987 opera “West]” turned out to be a starting pint rather than a destination. In writing it I started to develop a musical language bent on sonically portraying the landscapes and historical markers of the American west. This led to a series called the Prevailing Westerlies that continues to this day.

And like every composer, there are works that, for the moment at least, have no apparent connection to one another. Who knows where they may lead, and if similar new directions will evolve in my film work.


~ by Daniel Buckley on February 21, 2013.

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