What happens when two of Charleston's quirkiest artists get together for an evening of experimental film and live music? It's gonna be a weird trip, that's for sure.
Kicking off its monthly film series for the new year on Jan. 29, the Charleston Music Hall will host a screening of director Myles Walsh's animated film Slam Dunk Summer Camp, Volume One with a live soundtrack performed by Designer Audio School, an ensemble handpicked by lo-fi electronic musician Nick Jenkins. (To read a recent cover story on Jenkins' eclectic musical career, click here.)
Walsh, a former College of Charleston computer science student who discovered a love for animation while in school, works with hand-drawn cel animation and animated GIF files to make looping animations for screens big and small. Recently, he has created some offbeat music videos for South Carolina musicians including Rachel Kate, Southern Femisphere, Mechanical River, and Those Lavender Whales (see a few examples of his work below).
Walsh says the 45-minute film will have "no plot at all" and will consist of a series of GIFs he has created from hand-drawn art. He says the accessibility of the medium drew him to it. "Animation is just so time-consuming, but with a GIF you can put out an idea in a lot shorter time," he says.
The live band will include Jenkins on a laptop and MIDI controller, Walsh on synthesizer, Dan Hanf on bass and electronics, and Alana Lewis — a.k.a. DJ Lanatron — on turntables or a laptop. Jenkins is composing the music, but he says he'll leave the live performance open-ended. "There will be some loose melodic ideas, really loose textures, but I think the fun of this project will be to see how people's imaginations are sparked," Jenkins says. "It's one thing for me to be like, 'You play this you play this' — I've done that before, but I wanted to leave it a little bit more open."
Jenkins is explaining all this to me over tea at P.I.E. Bake Shoppe on Warren Street. In usual fashion, he speaks in deadpan, furrowing his brow in concentration as Katy Perry's bombastic radio single "Roar" percolates over the speakers in the background.
Anybody who's followed Jenkins' career knows that this sort of experimental gig is squarely in his wheelhouse. A prolific musician who's released 36 solo albums and EPs since November 2006, he's fond of using things like found sounds, odd percussion, and TV commercials — captured on the built-in microphone of his road-weary old Macbook — to create head-scratchingly beautiful musical moments. He's also an extensive collaborator, contributing to recordings by artists including Slow Runner, Lindsay Holler, Joel Hamilton, and Run Dan Run, and touring with the cutting-edge Young Jean Lee's Theater Company. Last year, in addition to releasing four solo albums, Jenkins appeared as a drummer on the critically acclaimed self-titled debut of Brooklyn orchestral pop group San Fermin. His latest solo album, Hoi Polloi: Part One, was released Christmas Day as a pay-what-you-want download on Bandcamp.
"I really love Myles' work, and I've always wanted to score some films," Jenkins says. Musically, he says he's been leaning toward-loop-based, glitchy sounds in recent months, so the film project was a good fit.
Jenkins says he picked the name Designer Audio School to connote a group of "laboratory sound nerds," and he hopes to make it a revolving cast of musicians who will work on future projects with visual artists.
"I just wanted to have some event or experience where there was a live movie and a live orchestra," Jenkins says. "I really appreciate experimental theater that has unconventional sound design — like maybe there's some prerecorded stuff, but maybe there's also some musical numbers that you don't expect. So I'm just trying to explore that world some more."
"Polloi" by Mr. Jenkins
"Shake Your Palm-Palm Branches" by Those Lavender Whales (directed by Myles Walsh):
"Gimme Me" by Mechanical River (directed by Myles Walsh):