Music Like You’ve Never Seen: “Other Musics” Film Series Concludes Season Tuesday at Grounds For Thought
According to Phil Dickinson, one of the two brains behind “Other Musics: Four Free Films on Free Sounds,” it began with an e-mail. Rob Wallace, Dickinson’s partner in the four-part documentary and performance series, dropped him a line and asked what they could do to share their passion for music with the fine folk of Bowling Green, Ohio.
And a one-of-a-kind experience was born. Once a month, from January through April of this year, Wallace and Dickinson set up their projector and screen at Grounds for Thought, Bowling Green’s premiere indie coffee shop, and started showing films about music you’ve likely not seen or heard before. The last film in the series is this Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at 7 p.m. 
The pair can’t help themselves really. Dickinson is a PhD and Associate Chair of the Bowling Green State University Department of English and drummer for The Solar 8. Wallace is an instructor at BGSU and a trained musician. Educating the public about topics as diverse as free jazz, Hindustani classical ragas, or the little understood musical instrument, the Theremin, seems to come as naturally to them as breathing.
They kicked off their documentary series with Rising Tones Cross, by Ebba Jahn, documenting the free jazz scene in New York City.
Their choice for February was the BBC documentary Krautrock, which detailed the rise of post-Hitler era electronica in Germany.
Kraftwerk (considered the most famous band to come from the movement,
Since I had missed the January screening, Menegon and Wallace provided me my first taste of free jazz: a sometimes mad looking (and sounding) fusion of sound. To borrow a film quote, “If they love it, they will always love it. If they don’t, they may learn to appreciate it, but it will never become a part of their soul.” This is true of free jazz. The seats, which had been packed during the film, had emptied a bit before Menegon and Wallace took the stage. Those who remained were treated to a frenzied, madcap, joyful romp across this musical landscape. I had no idea what I was in for!
Menegon used his entire instrument in service of his art, pounding the body, sliding a magnet along the frets, even pouring lighter fluid on the neck (which I will admit made me wonder if we were in for a Jimmy Hendrix moment), to achieve the just-right tone he was going for. Wallace used his whole body as well, kneeling in front of his smorgasbord of sound, sometimes using both hands and his mouth, each on separate instruments, to accompany Menegon’s play. Any attempt I might make to capture the tonal qualities of this musical performance will surely fail. Suffice to say, I was transfixed, smiling like a loon at the sheer whimsy of it all. This music is “play” in its purest form. Both musicians are professionals and well-trained (Wallace is steeped in musicology and quite a good tabla player), and they certainly needed that foundation to build their tree-fort of sonic fun upon.
At one point, Menegon held up index cards on which he’d written “What?” He passed the cards out to the audience, asking us to intone our “What’s” at random intervals, creating an interactive musical experience.
The next installment in March was a double bill:
It’s a pretty neat skip from the joyous free jazz of the month before into the emotional rollercoaster of raga singing. Wallace is the Indian music scholar, studying with one of the best tabla artists in the world, and one can see his influence in these film choices. Dickinson, however, provides another take. A fan of psychedelic “drone” or ambient music, he looks for music and films which demonstrate how he feels “the drone aspect” (like that of the Indian tampura) transcends the mundane and goes straight into our bodies. “It’s contemporary church music, as serious as life itself.”
Call me naïve, but I fell in love with both free jazz and raga singing thanks to these films. There is a recording of a younger Pran Nath, singing a raga at midnight in Soho in 1976, which Dickinson shared with me simply because I was so moved by the film. One hour and fifty-four minutes of sound and feeling vibrated through my body. I did not hear the music so much as experience it. So, you can well imagine I am anxiously awaiting the film series finale, this Tuesday, April 24, at 7 p.m.
The final film in this eclectic series is Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey.
It details the creation of the instrument you play without touching it, developed by Leon Theremin. Again, one can see the underlying “drone” tonal quality of the instrument of choice. The Theremin has become a staple of electronic music. The Beach Boys song “Good Vibrations” was written as an ode to the Theremin (although in the song itself, the Theremin is curiously not used). According to Dickinson, this final film is “the most mainstream” of the series.
Dickinson admits he and Wallace are surprised at the popularity of the series, and are making plans to continue it, probably with a new film cycle in the fall. Look for potential concert films in the mix in the future. A large part of their success, Dickinson believes, is the venue; Grounds for Thought, where on any night, you may find retirees playing Scrabble, students (and teachers) working, and children playing, along with periodic live musical performances (my first there was John Nemeth), and of course, shelves filled with used books, comics, vinyl albums, video cassettes, and dvds.
“What an amazing place. How many spaces like that are in this culture? None,” says the British-born Dickinson. And it seems he and Rob Wallace plan to take advantage of, and add to its authentic, music-centric flavor.
“Other Musics: Four Free Films on Free Sounds” Documentary Film Series concludes this Tuesday, April 24th at 7 p.m. at Grounds for Thought, Bowling Green, Ohio.
 Address 174 S. Main, Bowling Green, OH
 From “Pretty Woman.”
 Classical Hindustani (Eastern Indian) drum
 Kirana: A classical Indian raga singing tradition dating to the 13th century.
 A classical stringed instrument which is omnipresent in Hindustani classical music. It sets up a droning tone under the melody.
 From “Midnight: Raga Malkavns,” 2002
Writer, singer, student, single parent, musical explorer... My interests are so varied as to appear contradictory, and I like that about me. Hope you enjoy my little slice of the blogosphere.