“Expanding the frame of reference – the reason behind the Collection” by Timur Bekbosunov of Timur and the Dime Museum
I remember having a conversation with Gian Carlo Menotti, one of the most influential opera composers of the 20th Century, whose operas have appeared both at the Met and on Broadway. I asked what he thought of differences between writing serious music and popular. He replied, saying that ‘well, the differences, they do exist’, but although he always knew what was opera and what was not, he also realized that eventually, with time, the differences will morph into something intriguing.
All of the classical musicians, members of Timur and the Dime Museum, were also aware of such differences in their own environment with a concentration of works from classical contemporary and modern realm. Influenced by our formal education and professional experience in classical music, we wanted to apply our knowledge and skill to popular music and specifically, to the music of bands and songwriters, whose pieces are capable of genre-bending interpretation. Often playing together in various chamber ensembles and orchestras, we desired to explore the wider potential of the classical approach as it can be applied to the fullest effect to the popular genre.
As we set to work with the extremely talented Daniel Corral, who crafted the highly complex and intricate instrumentations of songs, we realized that we were on the brink of creating something that resembled one idea, which strives in its ability to blend the borders, and definitely, bend the genres. Something that has that ambiguous sense to life and a certain resistance to labeling.
Surrounded by a variety of influences that came from many bands and artists (Radiohead, Klaus Nomi, Bjork, Nina Simone, Ute Lemper) and disparate styles (jazz improv, opera, classical contemporary, and classical chamber music), we began to resound and infuse each song with qualities that transcend our own classical heritage and practice, and which in return, unlock the songs through contemporary gestures and techniques, thus truly becoming original, cross-over compositions."
Notes on Songs
That’s Something New
Originally composed for guitar and voice, this song was arranged by Daniel Corral with a classical Bossa-Nova style in mind, while adding some extended glissandi on violin and cello, and an electric organ in the best traditions of Paul Barranca. We recorded the song thinking that we were performing in a small but busy café somewhere in Argentina, where the singer is standing in the corner on a tiny stage, singing a heart-breaking song, while the people in the café are bustling around with life.
Trent Reznor and his industrial rock musical project, the Nine Inch Nails, in this highly controversial song of the 90s, received a completely different treatment from the original song. Using no electronic sampling in its tracking, the arrangement was conceived specifically for classical instruments, even quoting the gestures of Lutoslawski’s Second Symphony in the middle section. We attempted to give the song a dementedly wry underlining, which is at once fragile and demonic, eventually reaching the dramatic point, where the laugh and cry become one operatic scream.
Vadim Kozin was a Russian-Jewish singer and composer of many well-known songs in USSR. Like many brilliant artists of his time, during the Stalin era of repressions, he was sentenced to years of heavy labor and was never officially rehabilitated by the Soviet government. We decided to create a tango like arrangement of the song, allowing the sadness that is hidden behind the music and words, to come out with a more classical sophistication, as if the music wants to last forever.
Life in a Glasshouse
This song by the renowned band Radiohead, whose compositions fascinated classical, contemporary and popular music listeners worldwide, has received a particularly experimental introduction and arrangement in the likes of Berio and Nono. While still retaining the original syncopated rhythm, our take on it became more dramatic and resolute with despair, reaching into a very operatic climax.
Although originally written for Klaus Nomi and his rock band, our acoustic arrangement, with a sly wink on a toy piano, became a new way of finding tight textures. We wanted to keep the same fun drive and enthusiastic approach to the melodic vitality and rhythm of the original song, while creating an even larger panorama of an apocalyptic vision of destruction and heightening the vocal leaps from the tenor voice into falsetto with more color and brisk energy.
Anarchy of Love
Composed by Kristian Hoffman, this song explores the duality of evil, and certain animosity present in dogmatic philosophies. The arrangement was directly inspired by Stravinsky’s two masterpieces, In Memoriam of Dylan Thomas, and an Elegy for J.F.K. Complicated counterpoint, rhythmic inner-play and harmonic content, created by violin, cello and clarinet is combined with the extended technique and feed-back of the electric guitar. Combined with the solo voice, this song morphs itself into a chamber opera with the devil playing the man of the hour.
This strikingly sophisticated song by Vadim Kozin with new words, written in the best traditions of Russian and Argentinean dance styles, receives an orchestral treatment in terms of instrumentation and the use of dynamics. The long lines are often interrupted by pizzicati, and the solos are played with a feel of a Viennese style of romantic operetta.
Life on Mars
Composed by David Bowie, this song is probably the most operatically sung on the album, for it requires several B flats in a row, produced in a classical approach. The often calm, unusual and elusive instrumentation, featuring an accordion, gives the song a completely fresh and very intimate meaning, as if performed on the barricades and in the concert hall simultaneously.
Another gem by Vadim Kozin takes on a rather intoxicated approach to interpretation. Starting from a dazzling violin line, the song stumbles around metrically, to evoke a quality of being slightly “buzzed”, which is especially evident in trombone that slides between the tones to ease its urge for a good stiff drink.
Lite of the World
Composed by Kristian Hoffman, our light-hearted Hawaiian-inspired arrangement is peppered with the dark ambiguity. Featuring both the Hawaiian guitar and a pedal steel guitar, the song also uses in tuba, bassoon and clarinet to underpin the various aspects of the human soul. In a way, each instrument creates a complex gamma of intricate sounds that in turn allows for the ambivalence of the emotion to be exchanged between the male, male falsetto and female voices.
I put a spell on you
Taking the original theatrical element, so vital and present in the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins version of this song, we decided to reach out to the outer world and channel the ghosts of broken relationships. Attempting to capture the essence of love, the spirit of the beloved, brilliantly portrayed on a bass clarinet, eventually morphs into a duet-like dialogue between the voice and the spirit, echoing each other fears and frustrated passions, ultimately becoming a little grand opera in itself.
What I really meant to say
Our experimental arrangement of Kristian Hoffman’s song is highly influenced by the works of Stockhausen and Xenaxis. It features harp and electric guitar and uses heavy processing to the extreme effect, often destroying the vocal line and deforming the whole structure of the song. Generations lost in a war, nuclear bombs tested on populations, lovers leaving and never returning, the world ruined by the cruelty of leading hierarchy, all of that is eventually erased by the music, which remains there to soothe the soul.
Excerpts from the LA WEEKLY review by Erica Zora Wright of our live show is below.
Please visit our website: www.theoperaoftimur.com
"In downtown Los Angeles last night, some set out for the Music Center to see Ukranian bass Vitalij Kowaljow sing a passionate farewell to his daughter, as Wotan in Wagner's "Ring" cycle, while others tucked into the Central Library to see Timur Bekbosunov, a tenor from Kazakhstan perform operatic versions of "I Put a Spell On You" and "Closer" backed by The Dime Museum, an 8-piece Vaudevillian band.
Bekbosunov knows what his audience likes and he is a brilliant architect of tension. Dressed in stone-washed black and white striped pants, with an iridescent belt draped around his waist and an outrageous, striped coat with comically elongated cuffs and lapel, singing Radiohead covers and Kristian Hoffman originals, the CalArts graduate fits the part. Unabshedly quirky, Bekbosunov is one of those kids with a freakishly high creative IQ, a policy of giving his audience the benefit of the doubt.
Bekbosunov is a fascinating Kazakh-American hybrid, a flamboyant performer with the emotive tendencies of Rufus Wainwright and a beautifully haunting voice which is not quite as polished as Antony Hegarty's, but approaches a similar place.
There were costume changes, face paint, a sparkly black tail attached to his behind that Bekbosunov whipped around for his version of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," in which the "f" word was replaced with the "l" word (love), until the final line, when Bekbosunov finally let out a scratchy, exhausted "fuuuuuuuuck." Oh, and a bass clarinet solo from Brian Walsh during "I Put A Spell On You" that was so completely dirty it would have made Screamin' Jay Hawkins shriek.
The band finished the set with a Hoffman original, a ukelele-supported tune with the cheery instrumentation of a Belle and Sebastian song and dark lyrics that wouldn't be out of place on a Thom Yorke album: We'll make religion out of fear/When did the killing get so serious/Let's get ethereal."
Biography of Timur:
“The charismatic” (LA Times) Kazakh-American tenor Timur Bekbosunov, a noted interpreter of contemporary music, has made solo appearances with Los Angeles Philharmonic, Opera Boston, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Long Beach Opera, Israeli Opera/JFLA, Santa Cecilia Academy, LOOS Ensemble, Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, Kazakh National Symphony Orchestra, Opera Kansas, Band DeVotchKa, and Rosanna Gamson/World Wide Dance Company; at the Hollywood Bowl, Redcat Theater, American Repertory Theater, Zellerbach Hall, Indonesian Ubud Prince Theater and Walt Disney Concert Hall, among many others. Praised by the Wall Street Journal, as "program's promise fulfilled", San Francisco Chronicle, as “a sybaritic delight”, and La Repubblica, as "talented and effective", Timur has worked and collaborated with many celebrated composers, including Thomas Adès (Powder Her Face), Evan Ziporyn (A House in Bali, Oedipus), Anne LeBaron (Crescent City, The Silent Steppe Cantata), Silvano Bussotti (Silvano Sylvano), Anthony Davis (Revolution of Forms), Gian-Carlo Menotti (The Consul), Meyer Kupferman (In a Garden), Peter Eotvos (Snatches) and Tobias Picker (An American Tragedy). As a founder of the Art of Opera, a non-profit organization dedicated to contemporary opera-related projects, he has directed an operatic multimedia installation DO_SCREAM, based on Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and the Death of Virgil by Broch; he co-wrote a critically-acclaimed music film “Autumn”, based on the diaries of Russian cabaret singer Vadim Kozin. Currently, he is developing the Mad Muezzin Fantasy, and co-producing The Silent Steppe Cantata, a large-scale sonic portrait of Kazakhstan, with funding from City of Los Angeles, CEC ArtsLink and CalArts. His upcoming 2010 performances will include Rosanna Gamson’s project Tov involving Polish theater Chorea, west coast premiere of An American Tragedy at the Broad Stage, world premiere of the Silent Steppe Cantata by Anne LeBaron in Kazakhstan, regional premieres of A House in Bali by Evan Ziporyn at the Boston Majestic Theater and BAM, opera “Hot” at the Berlin Konzerthaus and performances with his band, Timur and the Dime Museum, at the Aloud series and elsewhere. Searching for ways to transform and unite the disparate genres of music and theater, he is currently conceptualizing a project inspired by Charles Darwin and the process of becoming human, with songs composed by songwriters Sondre Lerche, Nick Urata, Amanda Palmer (The Dresden Dolls) and Kristian Hoffman. Please visit, www.theoperaoftimur.com