DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


Song of a Child Servant

Mana Hashimoto in "Lullaby", 2009, video by Fred Hatt

Itsuki no komoriuta, or the Lullaby of Itsuki (a village on Kyushu Island, Japan), is one of the best-known Japanese folk melodies.  It will probably sound familiar to you even if you know nothing about traditional Japanese songs.  It’s been covered by many western musicians, including the French pop singer Claudine Longet and the Brazilian guitarist Baden Powell.  Here’s a lovely version in  a trembling, breaking voice style by Ikue Asazaki.

Dancer Mana Hashimoto, with whom I’ve previously collaborated several times, was inspired to explore this song in movement.  Mana describes Itsuki no komoriuta this way:  “Two centuries ago in Japan, it was common for poor families to sell their children, age six and up, to work for rich families as baby sitters or housekeepers. If the rich family were nice and open, the children might be allowed to go once in a while to visit their birth families, but often the children didn’t know when they would get to go home. Itsuki no lullaby is a song in the voice of a child missing her home town as she takes care of a rich family’s babies, putting them to bed.”

Norio Shimizu at lyricstranslate.com provides an excellent translation of the lyrics.  (“Bon” refers to the annual Buddhist festival to honor the spirits of the ancestors by dancing and by floating lanterns on the river.)

As soon as Bon arrives,
I will leave for my hometown.
The sooner Bon comes, the sooner I will go home.

I am no better than a beggar.
They are rich people.
With good sashes and good dresses.

Who will cry for me
When I die?
Only the locusts in the mountain behind the house.

No, it’s not locusts.
It’s my little sister.
Don’t cry, little sister, I will be worried about you.

When I am dead,
Bury me by the roadside.
The passers-by would lay flowers for me.

What flowers would they lay?
The water would come falling down from above.

Mana was struck by the sad, forlorn mood of the lullaby, and by the beauty of its melody.  It appealed to her sympathies as a mother.  “I always want to find some hope,” she says, “to give those children some light.”

Mana Hashimoto in "Lullaby", 2009, video by Fred Hatt

Mana incorporated Itsuki no komoriuta into her full-length choreographed piece “Yumema/Dream Between”, which she has performed recently at Dixon Place and Green Space.  The film “Lullaby”, which I made with Mana two years ago, represents the beginnings of her engagement with the song, as she improvises movement while singing it.

This film was made in the Brooklyn loft of my friend Sullivan Walsh, a metal craftsman, who created the bed and oval mirror seen in the background.

Mana explores space by contact and by reaching out, often using tactile objects as a base for her movement.  Here, a long banquet table is her stage.  In the first part of the video she explores the melody of Itsuki no komoriuta through gesture and voice, bathed in the golden light of the setting sun.  In the second part, she restlessly tests the boundaries of her narrow stage in the deep blue twilight.

The video of “Lullaby” is embedded here.  If you receive the blog by email you will need to click to the blog site or follow this link to the Vimeo site for this video.

Mana will be performing a different piece this Saturday at a benefit for Japan earthquake relief at Tenri Cultural Institute in New York.

Hi Mizu Kaze – rebirth A fundraising event for Japan featuring gagaku and beyond

Featuring Mana Hashimoto (dance) // Sadahiro Kakitani (ryuteki) // Kaoru Watanabe (flute & taiko) with Daniel Abse (recitation) + Yoichi Fukui (sho) + Yuko Takebe (film)

Saturday, July 16, 2011, 7:30pm. $10 suggested donation. Tenri Cultural Institute, 43A West 13th St. (btwn. 5th & 6th Ave.), New York, NY, 10011, 212-645-2800, www.tenri.org


3D or Not 3D

Still from “Convergence”, 2010, video by Fred Hatt

I love stereoscopic or 3D photography for the way it turns a picture into a window.  I’ve posted some of my 3D photographs on this blog (here and here), converted from side-by-side pairs to the anaglyphic process, which can be viewed with cheap old-fashioned red/cyan 3D glasses (available free from this site).  I noticed that the more abstract shots were quite beautiful as anaglyphs without the 3D glasses.  This led me to imagine ways of making simple and abstract anaglyphic 3D images that could be appreciated either with or without the glasses.  One form of simplified image that has long fascinated me is the shadow, and I’ve done several shadowplay performances, including this one.  I’ve also noticed that two colored lights will produce overlapping colored shadows.  So it occurred to me that if the light source for a shadowplay performance were not a single white light, but side by side lights, one red and one cyan, the shadows would appear as 3D if viewed with red/cyan 3D glasses.

Stereo photography has been around almost as long as regular photography.  The stereoscopic 3D effect occurs because each eye sees from a slightly different angle, and the brain uses the difference between these views to perceive depth or distance.  3D photography or cinema uses various techniques to show separate views to each eye, creating the illusion of depth.  If you see a 3D movie at your local multiplex nowadays, the views are separated through the use of polarizing filters.  The anaglyphic technique is an older way of separating the views using colored filters.  In the shadowplay video I’ve made here, the slight offset between the two adjacent colored lights casting the shadows differs in exactly the same way that the views between your two eyes differ, and when the video is viewed with red/cyan glasses the shadows take on an illusory but very convincing depth.

Still from “Convergence”, 2010, video by Fred Hatt

But of course my intention here was to create something that would be equally, if differently, beautiful when viewed without glasses.  Seen in that way, the shadows are fringed in red and blue, and the lighter areas are in various shades of pink, purple and violet.

The title “Convergence” refers to the coming together of contrasting principles: red and blue, light and shadow, male and female, giving and receiving, and also to the convergence of the eyes that is the basis of the 3D effect. The film portrays the fertile moment, the magical conjunction of opposites.

Still from “Convergence”, 2010, video by Fred Hatt

This film was produced simply and quickly, shot in one day in the studio at CRS, where I had my most recent art exhibit.  The performers are dancers Aya Shibahara and Masanori Asahara.  I was assisted in the production by Ignacio Valero, Yuko Takebe, Lili White and Alex Kahan.  The music is derived from music played at a ritual body painting performance I did at the Didge Dome at Brushwood Folklore Center back in 2002.  Drummer Daveed Korup got a bunch of percussionists, didgeridoo players, and others to play for that performance, and I sampled and remixed sound from a rather low-fidelity video made at that performance.

Stereoscopic or 3D cinema has been a passing fad several times over the past 50 years, and it’s currently enjoying its greatest possibility ever.  It’s a natural for computer-generated animation, which uses 3D graphics anyway, and James Cameron’s Avatar featured the most technically advanced form of 3D ever seen in mainstream commercial cinema.  I also recently had the opportunity to watch one of the FIFA World Cup games on ESPN 3D.  Unfortunately, most live action films now being released in 3D are really in fake 3D, a computer simulation applied after the fact to a movie shot in 2D, and I suspect the current 3D craze will be, once again, a passing fad.

So here I present my own very simple, very low-budget version of 3D cinema, that can be viewed equally well with or without the 3D effect:  “Convergence”.

convergence from Fred Hatt on Vimeo.


Okie Troglodytes

Still from "The Silo", 1988, video by Fred Hatt

In the mid-1980’s I was living in my home town of Enid, Oklahoma, working as a video producer for a local ad agency.  I had access to industrial video gear (a Sony DXC-M3 camera and portable U-matic deck), a romantic identification with stone age cave painters, and some unembarrassable friends, one of whom lived on a farm with an abandoned grain silo.  So naturally we decided to do some cave painting in the silo and make a video about it.

The young guy seen playing saxophone and recorder is my younger brother Frank, previously seen on this blog in another old video, Subway Sax.  Frank is now living in Western Massachusetts, where he still practices improvisational  music and dance.

Frank, still from "The Silo", 1988, video by Fred Hatt

The guy who’s driving the pickup truck at the beginning of the video is our friend John, one of my favorite people from my Enid days.  He was from a well-to-do family who owned local office supply and farm implement businesses.  John was a naturalist and an adventurer in the Victorian tradition, and an out gay man long before it was common in Oklahoma.  He had traveled the world, making a living writing adventure journalism about drug smugglers and the like for Hustler and other men’s magazines.  He’d been living in California with a partner who was the leading expert on the California condor.  After John’s partner died of AIDS, and John knew he was positive himself, he’d returned to Enid.

John, still from "The Silo", 1988, video by Fred Hatt

I got to know John because he was in the local writers’ club with my wife and me.  John was writing a hilarious, sexually graphic and scathingly satirical account of a gay coming of age in Oklahoma.  John lived in a little stone outbuilding on a farm outside town.  His place was a regular natural history museum, with an amazing collection of specimens and artifacts including a giant anaconda skin and a Tibetan ritual cup made from a real human skull.  Sitting on a coffee table was an elegant curved bone that everyone who entered his home felt attracted to pick up and caress.  It was a walrus’s penis bone.

Outside the stone house, John had built a large pen and coop to keep his pet exotic chickens.  I never knew chickens had been bred into as many variations as dogs!  John used to take us on nature walks, where he’d make us wade through waist-deep swamps and crawl through brambles.  He could spot all sorts of things I’d never have noticed, including dry owl vomit containing mouse skulls, ancient bison bones in the banks of creeks, and the nests of packrats and possums.

John was an inspiration to me because coming from a small, conservative city never made him think he couldn’t live large.  He gave me courage.  A year after I shot this video, I was living in New York City, working at the media arts center Film/Video Arts, where I edited the piece.  On one of my first visits back to Enid, I was devastated to see John wasting away in the hospital.  I present this video to the world in tribute to John, because, slightly silly though the video may be, it’s all I have.  And after all, isn’t it kind of fun, and doesn’t it have moments of beauty?

The Silo from Fred Hatt on Vimeo.

Some of the fragments of music in the video are what was playing on our boom box during the event.  I believe the breathy brass is from Jon Hassell’s Earthquake Island, and the polyrhythms are from Rhythm Devils Play River Music, by Mickey Hart, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim, and others.



Images from "Glossolalia + Katharsis", 1989, multimedia show produced by Fred Hatt

The tradition of the wild party for New Years probably has something to do with the idea of catharsis, an explosive releasing of pent-up emotion through acting out.  We want to exhaust the frustration, regrets and resentments of the ending year by burning off the lingering energy to awaken to a fresh new day.  Of course in real life it doesn’t work, and waking up to a hangover in no way feels like a clean beginning.  But perhaps an artistic experience can give a taste of liberating paroxysm.  In this spirit I present this little two minute primal scream made twenty years ago.

Excerpts from Glossolalia + Katharsis from Fred Hatt on Vimeo.

There’s a good story behind the making of this film.  One of my housemates at the time, Mike Montgomery (now known as the lounge singer Monty Banks) was planning a tour of the Fringe Theater Festivals in Canada with Buck Duke’s Wild Sex Show, a potpourri of dirty jokes, puppets, magic tricks and R&B music with audience participation.  To attract media attention, Mike planned to stage public confrontations between his character, Buck Duke, a profane cowboy mountebank, and a pompous European artiste named Lorean Dauphine, who would be portrayed in the faux showdowns by different actors hired in each Fringe Festival city.

Mike felt Lorean Dauphine needed his own show, and approached me about producing a multimedia extravaganza that could be presented in the festivals as Dauphine’s work.  I would have just two weeks to complete an hour-long show that could be shown without my having to tour with it.  I suppose I should have been offended that Mike thought of presenting my work as the oeuvre of a pretentious twit, but I thought it was an interesting production challenge and decided to take it as an opportunity to make something experimental.  Mike suggested basing the work on themes from Georges Bataille’s Erotism:  Death and Sensuality.

I put together a slide show with 280 images photographed from my own collection of art books:  depictions of heroism, death and horror, eroticism and enlightenment from many cultures.  The slides were ordered according to a classical hindu theory of Rasas, the gamut of moods or flavors in the arts.

To record a sound track we threw a party where we taped musicians improvising, under the direction of my brother Frank.  I still have his notes for the different phases of the improvisation, which read, “Mirthful glee – righteous rage – sexual ecstasy – wailing & bemoaning – military pride – all falsetto – sustained chanting – percussive noises – tribal trance – everybody improvise poetry at the same time.”  Frank and I had been doing what we called Glossolalia – freely improvised group sounding, mostly vocal – for several years by that time, and for the recording Frank led a large and, I’m afraid, unruly group in this.

We threw another party that filmmaker Eve Heller filmed in 16mm, at which “without rehearsal or preconceived structure, vocal and physical taboos were lifted and the resulting chaos became the ground on which the collective unconscious of the performers could realize itself,” as explained in a statement I wrote for a showing of the piece.  One hour of film was shot, to be presented unedited.  Around this time, I had first experienced the shamanic work of California performance artist Frank Moore, and his influence may be seen in the performance party.

That’s me in the film, juggling sheets of silver mylar and carrying a woman in a slip on my back.  Frank is the guy with a mustache making magic hands at the beginning, and Mike is seen in a wheelchair.  Party like it’s 1989!

The film, slide show, and sound track were created separately, to be exhibited simultaneously, with correspondences occurring only by chance.  The show was presented in New York and at the various Canadian Fringe Festivals.  One reviewer wrote, “Definitely in the running as the worst Fringe show of the year, this combines slides and experimental film in a way that goes beyond baffling. . . redefines self indulgence.”  I figure it’s always good when you can redefine something, and if the critic thought it was so awful I suppose it met Mike’s requirement to represent the work of fictional Lorean Dauphine.  April Panzer, director of TuCCA, the Tulsa Center for Contemporary Art, where the show was also presented, described it as “A cloud of chaos out of which periodically drop gems of insight.”

I felt there was a lot of good stuff in the piece, especially the slide show, but it was a bit long at an hour, so the following year I made this much shorter distillation of a few moments from it, and present it to you now as your cathartic New Years’ party.  All the best to you in 2010.

On my Vimeo page you can see the full credits for the film and music.


To Dance a Landscape

November from Fred Hatt on Vimeo.

November is a film I made in collaboration with dancer Jung Woong Kim of U-Turn Dance Company.  This is about as spontaneous as filmmaking can get.  Jung Woong and I just met one day at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, walked around looking for suitable settings, and then filmed Jung Woong’s improvisations in the moment.

Most dance video makers nowadays seem to rely heavily on editing, choreographing by assembling moments of movement.  Our approach, by contrast, was to find settings that would provide a frame or field of play, keeping the camera fixed and allowing mostly uninterrupted movement to sketch the spatial potential of the topology.

There is no music, but the crunching and swishing of dry autumn leaves becomes a complex rhythmic composition.  The urban aspect of the setting is expressed through the auditory environment, which includes aircraft, traffic, and distant voices.

Before the advent of high definition video, this kind of mise en scène approach required 35mm film.  This video was made with a humble Canon HV20 (with wide angle adapter and external microphone), but the detail is sufficient to show texture and atmospheric depth in a long shot, which conveys a great deal about a dancer’s exploration of the possibilities of a natural space.

If your computer can handle high definition video, check out the HD version on Vimeo.

Here are three still frames from the video:

Still from "November", 2009, a video by Jung Woong Kim & Fred Hatt

Still from "November", 2009, a video by Jung Woong Kim & Fred Hatt

Still from "November", 2009, a video by Jung Woong Kim & Fred Hatt

Still from "November", 2009, a video by Jung Woong Kim & Fred Hatt

Still from "November", 2009, a video by Jung Woong Kim & Fred Hatt

Still from "November", 2009, a video by Jung Woong Kim & Fred Hatt

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