A Silent Music Revival presents The Adventures of Prince Achmed with Dave Watkins

by | Aug 16, 2010 | POLITICS

Silent Music Revival is a unique event in the city of Richmond. Once a month this event combines classic silent films with live performances by musicians who have never seen the film. Silent Music Revival is going on its fourth year of putting on such a combination. Those four years brought the event to many different venues and even a few change of hands, and after a very short hiatus the event is back and has found its place at Gallery 5. On Sunday, August 29th Dave Watkins will preform a live, improvised soundtrack to one of the most beautiful animated films ever created, The Adventures of Prince Achmed. (1926)

I had the chance to ask Dave some questions about the progression of his music and his impression of the Silent Music Revival.

Silent Music Revival is a unique event in the city of Richmond. Once a month this event combines classic silent films with live performances by musicians who have never seen the film. Silent Music Revival is going on its fourth year of putting on such a combination. Those four years brought the event to many different venues and even a few change of hands, and after a very short hiatus the event is back and has found its place at Gallery 5. On Sunday, August 29th Dave Watkins will preform a live, improvised soundtrack to one of the most beautiful animated films ever created, The Adventures of Prince Achmed. (1926)

I had the chance to ask Dave some questions about the progression of his music and his impression of the Silent Music Revival.

Jameson Price: What do you call that 4-stringed instrument you play?

Dave Watkins: Well it’s a bit of a debated subject. It’s called a “dulcietar” by the guy who makes it, but the most common spelling for similar instruments is “dulcitar” which is how I mainly refer to it, but sometimes I refer to it as a “dulcitaur” after a friend jokingly asked me what kind of dinosaur it was at one particular show. I’m going to try and have the guy that built the one I play build me a new one at some point soon, with some extra features and most importantly two extra lower strings and officially call it a “dulcitaur”.

I’ve only had this thing since 2007, and it was by complete chance that I happened upon it, and by an even greater chance that it ended up becoming my main instrument. I was on tour with my day job (audio / visual supervisor for the Richmond Ballet) in Blowing Rock, North Carolina and had a couple hours off in town before the performance or rehearsal or whatever it was, and ended up in this tiny store literally called The Dulcimer Shop, they had all sorts of really beautiful traditional folk instruments that I had never actually played before. Mountain Dulcimers, Hammered Dulcimers, Bowed Psalteries, and other various odds and ends. The guy that owns the store was super friendly and just told me to play anything I like. About a minute into messing with a traditional Mountain Dulcimer he was like “Here, try this!” and grabbed this instrument from the back corner and handed it to me, and the rest is history, it was totally meant to be. I was so stoked about the dulcitar that I really didn’t look at it super carefully, and later on tour I was hanging out at a hotel playing it and noticed the luthiers tag inside. Turns out it was handmade by this guy Bill Neely who lives in Damascus, Virginia, and as far as I can tell he just builds these gorgeous instruments from time to time and sells them through this store in Bowing Rock. He doesn’t have a website, or really much about him online at all, in fact if you do a web search for his instruments, chances are you will most likely find some post that I have made about my dulcitar on a recording forum somewhere. The fact that there are not a ton of these things out there makes it even more fun for me and the audience, and mostly it just sounds like the mountains. i’m super lucky to be playing it.

JP: So, how did you progress, musically, into a solo act?

DW: It was a natural sort of thing I suppose, and it has happened a bit out of necessity. I have always been involved with lots of time consuming things, especially with my background in the performing arts, so being in a proper band was always a challenge due to the time constraints. I started of doing this solo acoustic instrumental guitar work that was heavily influence by my original guitar teacher when I was a kid, and it sounded kind of like Leo Kotke or John Fahey or a more modern example would be Kaki King. I’d focus first on simple enjoyable melodies and add these flourishes of finger-tapping, harmonic slaps, and playing drums on the guitar body and stuff to make it interesting, all of which have transitioned over into my dulcitar playing, which has gotten even more ridiculous over the last couple years as I have introduced effects and looping devices into the setup. Also, I don’t sing much so there’s a vaguely conscious effort on my part to try and create sounds that do enough sonically on their own, so that lyrics aren’t missed or needed all the time. Another huge part of my work is improvisation, about 50% or more of my live shows are improvised. the closing song is always pretty specifically plotted out, but for the most part, I just figure out some riffs, or tunings or effects settings that I know i’m going to use and build something completely new based on those ingredients, and the dulcitar lends itself well to that aesthetic. The solo thing just makes a lot of sense. It can be a lot of work sometimes because you have to do everything, but it’s really rewarding and the artistic license it affords is priceless. But all that is not to say that I don’t enjoy working with other musicians as well, I did the band thing in high school and loved it, and i’ve got this side project going now called the Colloquial Orchestra, that has a different rotating cast of musicians and instruments every show. it share a lot of the same improv leanings with my solo act but can get even more wild just because of the amount of people playing and instantaneously adding the ideas into the mix. we’ve had shows that were as minimalist as dulcitar and baritone ukulele to shows that were as insane as having three bass players and six drummers. i guess when it really comes down to it, i just want to have fun making music, be it solo or with company, and not hold anything back.

JP: Had you heard of Silent Music Revival before you were asked to participate? What was your impression of the event? What made you say “yes” ?

DW: Unfortunately, I had only been to one show, a lot of times I’d hear about the event after it happened, or it would conflict with my insanely busy work schedule or something. But I loved the one show I did get to go to, and the idea of the event in general, and really hope that I can makes as many of them as possible from here on out. There’s just something magical about the way sound and picture go together, when its planned out in the actual movie score it’s beautiful, and when the combination reaches that same level of beauty through spontaneity, as it often does in the Silent Music Revival, it’s even more fascinating. things just have a way of going together somehow for for no real reason at all, everything has its own natural rhythm and sometimes they just fall in sync. I have for years enjoyed putting on old films at parties and such and then putting some completely crazy music on along with it and seeing what happens, and most of the time when I play shows I bring a projector out and have some sort of abstract sound reactive visuals to go along with my set. It’s usually never a narrative, and isn’t something I actively look at and react to though, it’s just another layer to the performance to help create and atmosphere. With that said I’m really excited to let the visuals drive the momentum of the music, and I’ll probably end up playing things I’d never have dreamed of because of it.

JP: You are currently signed up for the longest Silent Music Revival screening to date at 68 minutes. What was you initial reaction to the length of The Adventures of Prince Achmed?

DW: I’m really stoked about it, I was kind hoping to do something a little longer so that I could really let things develop and resonate, it’s definitely going to be a bit of a challenge to play for an hour or so without stopping, especially since it’s just me up there, but I’ll definitely handle it, I think that having the visual to play off of is going to make this go by pretty quickly and just be a ton of fun.

JP: Do you have any surprises in store for us that you can throw out as a teaser?

DW: Well the whole thing is going to be a surprise for the most part, I’m definitely going to stick to the rules and not watch the film ahead of time, so other than seeing a few stills from the movie on the online invites and such, I really can’t plan anything to specifically go with the movie, so I’m just going to do my damnedest to just improvise and score the thing live. the only thing I’m going to be preparing for the show is the equipment, and I will have a lot more stuff than usual. dulcitar will of course take the lead, but I’m also probably going to have guitar and bass, some sort of keyboard/piano, some sort of percussion, and maybe some other odds and ends, but the big thing I’m working on over the next couple weeks is figuring out how to hook everything up so i can do the show in surround sound. I’ve been wanting to do a surround sound concert for a while, but this is the perfect opportunity to make it happen. This is definitely going to be the most interesting set I’ve ever played and I’m really looking forward to it.

_____________________________________________________________________

The Silent Music Revival will begin promptly at 8:00pm at Gallery 5, on Sunday August 29th.
Music by Dave Watkins to the 1926 classic The Adventures of Prince Achmed The event is free.

More information on Dave Watkins can be found at
www.davewatkinsmusic.com
www.myspace.com/davewatkins

these jet wings from dave watkins on Vimeo.

R. Anthony Harris

R. Anthony Harris

I created Richmond, Virginia’s culture publication RVA Magazine and brought the first Richmond Mural Project to town. Designed the first brand for the Richmond’s First Fridays Artwalk and promoted the citywide “RVA” brand before the city adopted it as the official moniker. I threw a bunch of parties. Printed a lot of magazines. Met so many fantastic people in the process. Professional work: www.majormajor.me




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