It was a weird morning, last Wednesday in Austin. SXSW Film and Interactive both wrap up on Tuesday every year and overnight the Austin Convention Center turns over into a haven for massively bearded and tattered musicians, making cinephiles like myself personae non-grata. You can’t even hit the escalator without an escort. The message is clear: Austin is ready for music, back off if you want anything else.
So I figured if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. I made my way to the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz midday for a show called “Sound & Scene: Made in Israel”. In SXSW parlance, “Sound & Scene” refers to live music accompanying music videos on a movie screen. The second half of the title is a concerted effort to prove to Texans and Americans alike that The Jewish State has much to offer in the way of creativity and technology, sending “ambassadors” (the word comes from the program’s press materials) abroad to offer a cultural smattering on behalf of Israel. Dubbed “i: Made in Israel”, Israeli bands, filmmakers and tech companies came out to play, show and ask for your business.
And so, I was there to see two bands perform their music with video in the background, ideally. The first group, Onili, didn’t exactly deliver on that promise. Once the lights went down, singer Onili and drummer Barak Kram took the stage in complete darkness, bathed in a cool light from the singer’s computer desktop which was projected on the screen behind her. It was a photo of the duo plus all the accouterments of any productive person’s Mac (a Dropbox icon, several Adobe updates waiting in the queue), but no music videos.
The group started busting out heavily effected electro-pop with fat synths and Onili’s voice resampled a half-million times over. It’s dance music, but we were in plush seats with food tables in front of us. The Alamo is part theater and part restaurant; you can order food during or before a film and it will be brought to you quietly, without interrupting the show. For the occasion, they even worked with an Israeli chef to offer Shakshuka, though I went for the delicious breakfast pizza. Cheese, eggs and artichoke hearts meant I was going to stay put instead of cutting loose in the aisles. Also, and oddly, there were no lights to accompany the show. The house lights went down and since there wasn’t much doing on screen, we all basically sat and listened to the group perform in complete darkness. It was odd.
Finally, after a few false starts, the duo got a music video for the song “Sentimental” to play along with live. It’s a pretty cool bit of pop culture recutting (Onili hinted that she used as-of-yet unannounced software to make it) though it was tough to make out the many layers of meaning to it then. Repeated viewings should help to make sense of it.
Next up was the far more interesting performance from Eatliz. It was clear from the second they took the stage that they were prepared to play with music and video together. I’m not a music critic, so it’s tough for me to describe their sound, but I enjoy it. It’s sort of a No Doubt meets Björk sound, but that doesn’t really get it quite right. The videos are below, so take a look.
All of the videos they performed live with were animated on some level, either in 3D software or through stop motion animation. In one song, they even had lead singer Lee Triffon’s animated avatar sing a solo from the screen. It’s a neat trick, but not their best. That title goes hands down to the video for “Lose This Child”, which is stop-motion animation of figures in the sand. The video’s director, Yuval Nathan, joined us over Skype to talk about the process. The whole video was mapped out in 3D animation then shot over a period of some 35 plus nights on the beach. The video eventually gives way computer animation, but the hand-made portion is certainly a sight to behold.
After 5 days of non-stop film viewing (I saw 22 films at SXSW, and that’s on the low end compared to some of my colleagues) it was nice to sit back and enjoy a little bit of music. And the breakfast pizza was damn tasty too.