Through the years, Duane Lundy’s office has been a recording studio, a haven where he can create sounds, moods and textures for all kinds of artists, be they local acts or established nationals. But this winter, he chose to, figuratively, flee to Rome.
His journey was to the bloody, vengeful fields of Titus, Blackbird Dance Theatre’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s most unapologetically gruesome tragedy, Titus Andronicus. It runs through Sunday at the Downtown Arts Center.
At the request of Blackbird artistic director Jenny Fitzpatrick, Lundy was asked to create a soundtrack — not a serviceable backdrop of the devastation and disemboweling that runs rampant in Titus, but a selection of music as flexible, dramatic and functional as the dancers bringing the story to very crooked life onstage.
“When Jenny asked me if I was interested in doing this, I said what I would like to try was percussion-based material along with abstract, ethereal tones over the top of it,” Lundy says. “Jenny likes stuff dark. Really dark. I love working in that direction as well. So upon our discussions, she said, ‘OK. Dark and percussive. That’s good. See you in two weeks.’ So that’s where we went from.”
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Fitzpatrick says, “I told Duane I wanted something tribal, something percussive. He began playing with these beats and colors just for fun. The demos he came up with were super cool, so we went from there. He knows I like percussive, bass-heavy, really fast rock ’n’ roll with almost a punk rock feel.”
Whenever you do music like this, you have no idea if anybody is going to like it. You just do it and hope that you are close.
Duane Lundy, composer
That’s when Lundy literally went out of his element. Instead of the familiar confines of his Shangri-La studio, he explored some portable recording technology beginning with an Akai MPC-series app that he downloaded to his smartphone. That enabled him to compose music simply with the gadgetry in his hands.
“I wanted to get out of the traditional sit-behind-the-recording-rig deal, so I downloaded an MPC. These are the things the rap guys use for drum stuff. Then I got a couple of Eno apps (created by veteran ambient composer-producer Brian Eno) and a few other things.
“So I would go to dinner or on a drive or to a bar having a drink and just compose stuff on my phone. Then I’d build from there. A lot of it is very put together in a very abstract way, but it turned out to be some of my favorite stuff I’ve ever worked on.”
What that became is roughly an hour’s worth of composed music surrounded by beat-driven melodies, many with vibrant, rubbery bass lines that play out as the warring factions square off at the onset of Titus. Denser fabrics of keyboard and guitar-esque sound then unfold in layers in a way that recalls David Byrne’s 1981 soundtrack to a much different dance production, Twyla Tharp’s The Catherine Wheel.
“That’s what the dance is being done to,” Lundy says. “Then I’m doing an underscore live. So I’ll be upstairs at the DAC working with my keyboard rig and some other outward gear delays and whatnot and doing a bit of live music under the narrative. A lot of that, to be frank with you, is improvised. So it’s two of these very wide-scoped deals.”
We wanted to plant the seeds about discussing violence and how we approach it. That’s what makes this story so relevant.
Jenny Fitzpatrick, choreographer and dancer
At times, Lundy’s live playing resembles a dissonant hum. In other instances, it’s an intrusive wind. It borders close to electronica when the recorded music takes over, but it eases into more serene soundscapes, not unlike 1970s-era Tangerine Dream, when the MPC-produced beats trail off.
“Whenever you do music like this, you have no idea if anybody is going to like it,” Lundy says. “You just do it and hope that you are close. Jenny would come to the studio and just start dancing around and said, ‘Love it. Keep going.’ So the music kept growing and growing and growing. About 80 percent of it was worked from that type of stuff. I would just build and compound on top of that.
“Jenny gives me things that are defined, but she also she gives me free reign in a fashion that can, for me, seem very selfish. That’s not my job, usually. My job, in most cases, is to facilitate whatever is brought to me. Here, it was a little bit of the opposite.”
The story that was brought to Lundy was unavoidably violent. But Fitzpatrick said her intent with Titus, and the music surrounding it, was not to present an obligatory bloodbath.
“We aren’t out to just shock people or gross them out,” she says. “People can turn on the TV and see that. We wanted to plant the seeds about discussing violence and how we approach it. That’s what makes this story so relevant.”
“Jenny is an amazing collaborator,” Lundy says. “I have such respect for her work. Working with her is not like anything other project I’ve been involved in.”
If You Go
What: Modern dance production based on William Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicous by Blackbird Dance Theatre.
When: 8 p.m. through March 6
Where: Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main St.