Argyle Kabuki


“Argyle Kabuki” was maybe the third or fourth project Dax and I had made together, and our first attempt at visual music. Dax wanted to make a completely abstract film specifically for the Punto y Raya Festival, who accepted an early version of the project with a draft score — a densely-layered, analog synth- and organ-based piece that grew out of the looping chiptune level-end music I had written for Dax’s second iPhone game, Jigsaw Kiss.

After days and days of sequencing with harsh saw sounds, I was fighting serious hearing fatigue and decided to take all of my MIDI files and replace the synths with acoustic pianos to tone down my high-frequency intake until I completed the piece. When my then-TST bandmate Jess R. heard it, she was adamant that it sounded light years better as a piano-driven piece and suggested that I abandon the chiptune idea and continue on a more organic path instead.

Dax and I continued to exchange revisions working from this new perspective (“Vince Guaraldi meets American Analog Set”?), with each of his new animation ideas matching the music more closely, and vice verse. The many layers of synths and organs became just three or four pianos, and drum machine parts became acoustic drums. I added cymbals and vibraphone, brought back a couple of the synth sounds from the original version, then sent it to Scott Kramer for mixing and mastering. The result was one of my favorite collaborations with any director.

Dax’s film made the finals in competition at PyR, and then became part of the 2009 touring festival, which screened at a slew of other international film festivals and venues, including Animex Screen, School of the MFA Boston, Espacio Fundación Telefónica, the Exploratorium (my favorite science museum as a kid growing up in San Francisco) and the Guggenheim Bilbao. At a screening at the MAC in Dallas, MAD Actions told Dax that of all of the shorts in the touring program, kids responded most to “Argyle Kabuki”, which makes me think of all the weekend afternoons in my childhood spent sitting cross-legged on a carpet square on the floor of North Beach Library watching 16mm prints of NFB animated shorts.

In 2014, “Argyle Kabuki” also screened at a special program at ITFS (Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film), Experimental Abstract Animation, alongside films by the likes of contemporary abstract animation greats Stephanie Maxwell and Chris Casady during International II, which, according to curator Vibeke Sørensen,

“…presents works by international artists that traverse the increasingly imaginative, active, and technologically sophisticated period from the late 20th century to the present.”

This film means a lot to both of us and it’s fantastic that it continues to be programmed. We’ve continued to collaborate on visual music projects. At this point, “AK” is part of a trilogy that includes further abstract animated excursions set to experimental country (“Slipstream Engine“, 2011) and clubby EDM (“Going Forward, Backwards“, 2013 — also available for programming via SMPLMCHN).