Category Archives: Black Gospel Music Restoration Project

Record Store Day

Happy Record Store Day

Many many years ago I worked in a record store in Hackensack, NJ with a whole mess of great people, many of whom I’m still in touch with. (Hi Rita, Sam, Bob, Jack, Helen, and Wayne.) Though it was a chain store and not an independently owned shop, it was still very High Fidelity. Oh, the lists…

A certain kind of person works in a record store, then and now. Then the customers ran the gamut, from Kenny G. fans to people who couldn’t wait to get the latest Ministry 12″. Now, it seems the only people who visit record stores are more apt to dig for that Ministry 12″. Well, maybe not Ministry.

Certain things have been gained with the digital revolution where music is concerned. But some things have been lost, too. I miss two things. 1) That tactile sense of holding an LP, reading the liner notes, staring at album cover art groovy enough for framing. 2) As the number of record stores continue to dwindle, the face-to-face interaction with other folks interested in music is disappearing. And I think that’s a shame. (Yeah, I know, you can find folks with similar musical tastes online, but it isn’t the same, really, than, you know, leaving your house and talking to someone.)

So, to honor Record Store Day and the interactions that happen in such establishments, I put together the following blog-only clip from footage Wolfgang Held shot at Hyde Park Records in Chicago, when we first met Robert Darden. Mine is the low voice you hear in the beginning, talking about the Redd Foxx LP being displayed above the gospel section, “the sacred and profane in one eyeful.”

Big thanks to Redd Foxx and the wonderful customer for making this pretty special. I hope you like it. And why not celebrate the day by going to your local record store and taking part in the festivities. I understand many of you ditched your turntables, so maybe you can buy a cd while you’re there. [Do people still have CD players.]

So, what was the last CD/LP/45 you bought?

Click here to view a clip from the documentary, A Life’s Work (work in progress), featuring more footage shot in HPR.

Artist Rita Flores, who was one of my co-workers all those years ago, today coincidentally posted a piece about the joys of record stores on her blog, Through the Lava Lamp.

“I must have more shots of the military!”

I’ve been editing a section of A Life’s Work that relies on some archival footage, so I’ve been searching and watching and thinking and searching and watching and cutting. A new post about archival footage coming soon, but here’s one I wrote back in 2009. Think of it as Archival Part I.

[The title of this post if from Tim Burton’s Ed Wood.]

Edward D. Wood, Junior
Edward D. Wood, Junior

I share with Ed Wood a fondness for stock footage. There, I hope, the similarities end. In fact, I don’t even like to call it stock footage. I prefer to call it “archival.”

I think it goes back to when I was in high school and my history teacher included some AV as part of a lesson on the Great Depression: “Brother Can You Spare a Dime.” Here was a voice singing about poverty and desperation, traveling over time and space, and punching me in the gut in 1978.

And that’s how I like to use archival. It’s evident in the SETI clip and the redwoods clip. That footage of redwoods being felled (from The Redwood Saga) looked a lot differently to people in 1940 when those images were first seen than it does to people now. Then it was a sign of progress: those trees were being used to build an America that was economically growing. Watching it now it seems like a mass execution. With the Soleri clip I posted I didn’t do that, not exactly. There I wanted to show Frank Lloyd Wright’s L A R G E presence; interviews you see or read with Soleri invariably begin with an introduction that includes his apprenticeship with Wright, and in Dome House you see Wright everywhere, except, as Soleri points out, in the table.  (In another Soleri section I use archival extensively to show the passing of time.)

I also have a feeling that when I’m using archival and home movies I’m working with found objects and incorporating them into a bigger canvas. I’m repurposing, in a sense, and I like that.

I’ve been thinking a lot about archival these days because I’m about to edit some new footage–the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project sections of the sample. These sections will add about eight minutes to the sample, which will bring it in at 35 minutes. It is now beginning to look more like a film than a sample.

But how to use it to advance Robert Darden and the BGMRP’s stories, and of course A Life’s Work as a whole? What footage do I choose? Where do I place it? How much? If I use gospel performance footage, what performer(s), which song(s), from when during the golden age? Big questions. Some of them have obvious answers, others don’t.

But finding answers to those questions is an exciting part of the process, and I’m grateful that I’ll have a chunk of time to examine those questions.

More on that chunk of time in the next post.

Process: A Life’s Work and the Canon 5D by Guest Blogger Andy Bowley

Today’s post was written by cinematographer Andy Bowley and originally published in June 2010. I’m putting up this “encore post” because shooting video with the Canon 5D has recently come up several times at my day job. That, plus I just like this post and Andy is an awesome writer.

I know. You’ve been wondering after reading this blog: what’s Licata really like to work with in the field? Sure, he seems measured and nice and all when he’s tapping away in his socks, all warm and cozy in his New York apartment–but what’s he like in the trenches? Is he a screamer?

Well, no–the opposite, actually. He’s a wonderful collaborator. But more importantly for my sake, he is well in touch with his inner geek.

Example: When he invited me to shoot the work being done by the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project in Waco, I suggested we do some macro work with extension tubes and obscure Ukrainian/East German lenses to get close-up shots of needles and grooves.

His initial response? “Ooooh”

I told him it would be tweaky and slow working with these lenses, which would sometimes allow us just a millimeter or two of effective focal range — and that we’d have to mount them to a Canon 5D DSLR and go through a not-yet-tested workflow.

His response? “Great. If you can think of more possibilities, bring ‘em on”

Just what I hoped hear. A director with patience. But more importantly, another geek who understood. I was excited. But time was short.

I began to test my macro set-up the next day. I was training for a trail race at the time, running every morning along the paths that cut through a wooded section of Central Park. Along the way I found a pinecone–perfect for the test–and maybe useful for A Life’ s Work.

My Manhattan pinecone had lots of interesting shapes and exuded its own woodsy charisma, but I needed to make it move for the camera. Not having enough time to construct a motorized turntable, I biked to the hardware store, bought a lazy Susan, plunked it under a metal Ikea filing box (the heaviest thing with a flat surface I could find in my apartment,) mounted my Zeiss Jena 80mm lens on an extension tube and tilt adapter, and shot some test footage with the Canon 5D.

The results?

I liked what the lenses did that day – but the lazy Susan filing box turntable system was less than optimal. No matter. Much of the macro stuff I hoped to shoot in Waco would be moving–records spinning, needles dropping–and if all else failed I could use my new Kessler pocket dolly to make the moves.

That night, I somehow managed to pack all the gear (lights, grip gear, tripod and dolly) into two checked bags. I was leaving for Waco early the next morning.

Tune in next week for Here’s Andy’s post about the shoot and some beautiful HD footage. If you want to read Andy’s tech notes about the pinecone test, click here.

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Andy Bowley is a NYC-based cinematographer whose projects have won many national Emmys and one Peabody, but he considers the coolest thing on his mantle to be an old Pentacon six medium format camera, which now sits next to his beloved Manhattan pinecone. He has found a lot of other things while running through wooded sections of Central Park, but doesn’t want to talk about it.

E-mail Andy: a b o w l e y at  e a r t h l i n k d o t n e t

 

How to Conduct an Interview, Part 2: Asking the Questions

Last week in How to Conduct an Interview Part 1, I dealt with preparation. This post features some pointers once you are sitting across from the interviewee with your questions in hand. Ready? Go!

(Note: Make sure to read this post’s comment by Andy Bowley. He’s worked with some great interviewers so he knows what he’s talking about. That’s him operating the camera, and me in the corner, trying to be invisible.)

Listen

You’ve organized your questions and they have an arc and everything. That’s great. But don’t be a slave to the pages in front of you. Interviews are best when they are more like conversations. With Jeff Stein, President of the Cosanti Foundation (Arcosanti) and Jill Tarter of the SETI Institute, I’d ask one question and they’d answer it and the next few follow-ups as well. I’d then ask the next logical question without having to look at my printed questions.

Shut Up and Listen Some More

You are not there to impress the interviewee with your knowledge of their subject. You are also not there to tell them your personal history. To paraphrase the Dalai Lama, when you talk to you’re saying something you already know; when you listen you might learn something new.

That being said you don’t want to be a question-asking automaton. Be friendly and personable, and judiciously share a brief anecdote  or two to show that you can relate to interviewee , but don’t go over do it.

Be Expressive and Responsive

You will not see or hear me in A Life’s Work, so it is important that I not talk while the interviewee is talking, and that includes no hmmms, ahhhs, or ooohhhs. And those interjections, under ordinary circumstances, propel a conversation.  So I nod a lot, smile a lot, frown a lot, raise my eyebrows a lot. This gives the interviewees something to respond to. You need to show you’re interested, after all, because then they’ll be excited to tell you their stories.

Silence Is Gold

Don’t be afraid of silence. There is the small silence necessary after an answer so you’re not stepping on the toes of the answer and making for difficult edits, but there is also a bigger silence. I will pause once in a while and check my page of questions to make sure I’m covering ground, and this bigger silence can lead to unexpected places. Often subjects thinks they’ve finished answering, but then something comes to mind that they want to add during that silence. This is often the real good stuff. Another reason to do this is you may want a shot of the subject sitting silently — these can be interesting shots — and these pauses can provide that.

Be Ready to Improvise

Some people are talkers and don’t need you to ask questions. David Milarch of the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive is one of those people. I had the great, mind-blowing pleasure of shooting an interview filmmaker Roland Tec conducted with David Hockney and he was this way as well. They are unbridled and there is no way to control them, so you just have to let them go. When they give you a chance, sneak in a question and get out of the way.

You’re the Boss

While some folks cannot be reined in, it’s important to remember that you are still the boss. Be confident. You did the work and deserve to be where you are. There’s nothing to fear.

This is not always easy to do, believe me, I know. When I had to interview Robert Darden of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, I was very aware that I was interviewing a man who not only had been interviewed many times, as all of the subjects of A Life’s Work had been, but also a journalist who conducted hundreds, maybe thousands of interviews.

Full disclosure: The first few interviews I conducted, I had this at the top of each page of questions.
header

Rephrase Questions When Necessary

Come up with a couple of different ways to ask the big questions. The big questions deserve being asked more than once, and sometimes a simple rephrasing will yield the answer you could only dream of. Do this, too, if you feel you were misunderstood or if the answer given wasn’t deep enough for you.

Take Your Time

Don’t rush it. And if you can, conduct interviews you think will be lengthy over two days. As I’ve said elsewhere, everyone gets tired after a couple of hours. Sometimes though, you are hard pressed for time. In that case, try to take a little break, go to the bathroom, get water, stretch your legs. Talk about something unrelated to the topic, joke around.

Don’t Be Selfish

Though you are the boss, there’s no reason to be selfish. Invite the interviewee to ask you questions. I always ask the cinematographer I’m working with if s/he has any questions they’d like to ask of the interviewee. Their questions, and the subsequent answers, have been very valuable.

This has been a public service from A Life’s Work.

Was it helpful? I’d love to add to it. If you have questions or tips, please send them my way.

About the Clips

There are a bunch of original clips using footage shot for A Life’s Work on this blog. You can see a list of posts that contain clips by clicking here. If you visit the A Life’s Work Youtube Channel you can watch them without reading the text.

What’s With the Clips, Anyway?

Each time I put a clip up I have a little fear that someone will see it and think it’s part of the finished film. And then look at another clip and say, “Huh, what the hell are these two clips going to be in the same film?”

Editing at the MacDowell Colony, 2010.

Some are taken from the 36-minute sample editor Cabot Philbrick and/or I put together (“The Redwoods,” “Looking for Rare Gospel Vinyl,” “Jill Tarter on Growing Up in the 50s”), but most I edited especially for the blog. The film right now has a somewhat sturdy outline and many of those clips don’t fall within its parameters. Does that mean they won’t be in the finished film?

My Notebook

Some most definitely won’t be (“First Shots”)*, and others will most likely not be (“What’s My Favorite Tree,” though part of David Milarch’s answer and the archival footage might be). And the rest? Who knows? This blog has become a notebook for me, a way for me to focus what I’m working on and try some new things. Editing the clips makes me review footage and think of new possibilities. “Paolo Soleri Discusses Arcosanti Residents” is a good example of this. It’s quite possible that some of those shots and edits will make it in the final film, and that clip was really put together exclusively for here.

So, when you watch a clip, you might be seeing something like the birth of an idea that will be in the final film, or something that might make it to the DVD extras, or, in the case of something like “Ends,” just a favorite shot of mine that will only be seen here.

No matter where they wind up, it’s exciting for me to share them. Do you enjoy watching them? Let me know.

You can view most of the clips I mentioned and a LOT more by visiting the A Life’s Work Youtube Channel.

 

* “First Shots” and nine other clips are on Vimeo. These clips are mostly tangential, more like outtakes. They are usually just a series of shots or some weird little one offs such as this one: “Banter at the Allen Telescope Array.”

 

Top 10 Gospel Christmas Songs

I asked Robert Darden, author of  Nothing but Love in God’s Water: Volume I, Black Sacred Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement and People Get Ready!: A New History of Black Gospel Music and founder of the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project, to list some of his favorite gospel Christmas songs. Enjoy!

The songs are in quotes and can be found on the CD (or LP) in italics.

Odetta: Christmas Spirituals
“Rise Up Shepherd and Follow”

Died  December 2008. Legendary folk/blues/spiritual singer. Active in the Civil Rights movement. Influenced many artists, including Bob Dylan. Music historian/performer, legend.

from Black Nativity

Featuring Marion Williams and Princess Stewart
“Mary, What You Gonna Call That Pretty Little Baby?”

With arrangements by Professor Alex Bradford, gospel re-telling of Christmas story. Electrifying performances on Broadway in 1962. Took to London for several tours and revivals. Considered one of the inspirations for Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar. Two powerful voices – Marion Williams’ lower, warmer voice and Princess Stewart’s higher, raspier voice.

The Harmonizing Four

“Sweet Little Jesus Boy”
Little known group from Richmond, Virginia but very popular during the Golden Age of Gospel Music. Very traditional – rarely with instruments, a cappella, flat-footed jubilee style. Wonderful arrangements of old spirituals and hymns. Sang at funeral of Franklin Delano Roosevelt… best known for their speaker-rumbling bass singers, although sadly not on their few Christmas releases.

A Gospel Christmas Celebration
“Silent Night” by the Mighty Clouds of Joy
One of my all-time favorite groups … one of the last of the best gospel quartets to be formed … singer Joe Ligon is one of gospel’s last great shouters … and is the model for Wilson Pickett, who used to guest with them occasionally … called the “Temptations of Gospel” … still hard on the road today!

The Texas Christmas Collection
“Christmas Hymn” by Karen Kraft
Know virtually nothing about Karen Kraft … this was recorded for a small Austin label in the 1980s, heard she lives in Bryan-College Station … interpretation of a song originally written by Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith – but the original doesn’t sound much like this!

The Legendary Groups of Gospel
“Go Tell It on the Mountain” by the Mighty Clouds of Joy

From Black Nativity
Featuring Marion Williams and Princess Stewart
“Joy to the World”
My favorite gospel soloist is the late Marion Williams … rarely in better voice than on this recording in 1962 … Most adventuresome gospel vocalist, endlessly inventive, taking chances and probably drove her accompanists crazy …

A Gospel Family Christmas

“Hallelujah Chorus” by Pastor Donald Alford and the Progressive Radio Choir
Most recent track in collection. The Progressive Radio Choir has been based and recording in Chicago since the 1970s. For a time, recorded with Pastor (now Apostle) Donald L. Alford, including their hit “He’s Alive.” Alford is now head of the Progressive Life-Giving Word Cathedral near Chicago, but the choir continues and this may be the best legacy of their short collaboration.

You can find some of these songs and many more great gospel Christmas songs on my Youtube playlist.

Want more  Christmas gospel music suggestions? Check out  The Twelve Classic Gospel Songs of Christmas by Bob Marovich.

What’s A Life’s Work about? It’s a documentary about people engaged in projects they won’t see completed in their lifetimes. You can find out more on this page.

We recently ran a crowdfunding campaign and raised enough to pay an animator and license half of the archival footage the film requires. We need just a bit more to pay for licensing the other half of the archival footage, sound mixing, color correction, E&O insurance and a bunch of smaller things. When that’s done, the film is done! It’s really very VERY close!

So here’s how you can help get this film out to the world. It’s very simple: click the button…

Donate Now!

… and enter the amount you want to contribute (as little as $5, as much as $50,000) and the other specifics. That’s it. No login or registration required. Your contribution does not line my pocket; because the film is fiscally sponsored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, all money given this way is overseen by them and is guaranteed to go toward the completion of this film. Being fiscally sponsored also means that your contribution is tax-deductible. So why not do it? The amount doesn’t matter as much as the fact that you’re helping to bring a work of art into the world. And that, I think, is really exciting!

Questions? Email me at d a v i d ( aT } b l o o d o r a n g e f i l m s {d o t] c o m

Why Artist Residencies

Here’s a post from the early days of the blog, December 2009. It was written at VCCA, where I am right now, though I am typing this in C2, a composer studio, and not in the corn crib. I think it’s as timely as ever and worth reposting. And this one has especially good comments.

Last week I had the honor of being asked by Sheila Gulley Pleasants, Director of Artists’ Services at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, to screen my film Tango Octogenario to the VCCA Board of Directors and say a few words about the value and importance of artist residencies. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but it went something like this.

A name tag I didn't mind wearing at all.
Here’s one name tag I didn’t mind wearing.

Time and space are the most obvious gifts a residency provides, but just as important is the interaction between artists of different disciplines. I storyboarded Tango Octogenario at Centrum Arts and Creative Education. Could I have done that in my apartment? Probably. But while I was at Centrum I met a choreographer and told her I was making a dance film. She invited me to her rehearsal and asked me to videotape it. As I did, the ideas were buzzing in my head like bees in a hive. Many of those ideas then made their way into the storyboards. Could that have happened in my apartment? Not very likely.

Here at VCCA, I met a poet, Alex Chertok. I told him about A Life’s Work and the Black Gospel Music Restoration Project and he told me that his father owns a collection of rare jazz films. Did he have any gospel? I asked. Alex put me in touch with his father and sure enough, he does. Will I be calling on him for footage? It’s very likely.

And then there’s the deep stuff. Listening to the readings, looking at the sculptures and paintings, casually conversing in the bucolic setting or around the dinner table about art, travel, food, histories, who knows what’s seeping into our subconscious and how it will manifest itself in our work down the line? And the friendships that develop may be fleeting or lifelong, but they are always significant.

I hope that I give back half as much as I get from my fellow artists at residencies. I hope, too, that I can someday give back to these havens that have given me so much. For now, my screening and talk will have to do.

Thanks again for the opportunity, Sheila.