When writing about the genre-defying sound of LA band Timur and the Dime Museum, you might run out of hyphens—their charming glam-rock-cabaret-punk-opera-mischievous magpie-style requires experiencing first-hand to fully appreciate the influences embedded in their eclectic approach to music. New York audiences will have a chance to see this first hand when the band comes to town this week with one of their most ambitious projects to date. They will be presenting a piece called Collapse as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival.
Collapse is described as a glam rock requiem for the natural world with music and lyrics by Daniel Corral, video design by artist Jesse Gilbert and one-of-a-kind costumes designed by fashion-designer Victor Wilde and Bohemian Society. Although the work will explore dark, environmental themes, speaking with lead singer of the band Timur Bekbosunov and Corral, we discuss how Collapse, has at times a playful spirit despite the heavy subject matter.
Bekbosunov calls the work a “kind of a love letter from us to the environment and the world.” Corral thinks it is close “in spirit to a New Orleans funeral” where you are “celebrating the life of this person,” noting Collapse becomes “a celebration of the life of the planet.”
The show addresses topics such as fracking, radioactivity, honeybee colony collapse, and global warming. But dark humor bubbles up in many of the songs. In one number, two large sea algae blooms speak to each other like star-crossed lovers, with one lamenting, “Fertilize my heart/Oxidize the dark parts/Tear the world apart/With you so far away.”
Bekbosunov’s three characters in the show (as expressed through Wilde’s unusual costumes) reflect this unexpected mix of darkness and light as well. Bekbosunov changes from a demonic priest Father Moloch, to “a glitzy Liberace meets Elvis meets kind of a David Bowie” figure, and last to an androgynous character where the “figure of man and woman come together.”
Bekbosunov points out that Corral’s compositions structurally follow the form of the kind of requiem Haydn or Mozart would have written. Then he laughs, “But of course it is so radically different from any of those examples.” As far as I know, Haydn and Mozart are not known for their thrashing guitars.
Collapse follows the traditional musical segments of the Catholic requiem mass with an Introit, Kyrie, Offertory, Tract, and Sanctus. But here these pieces are entitled things like Ecophagy, Goddamn the Atlantic Salmon, Pacific Gyre Holiday, and Honeybee, Come Home. Corral enjoys exploring the “interaction or conversation with the ritual of a requiem” since it hearkens back to the “classical roots” of many members of the band and it is a form “that a lot of us have studied at great lengths.”
Both Bekbosunov and Corral studied at CalArts. Bekbosunov is a classically-trained opera tenor. Corral is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and songwriter working in a variety of genres. The genesis of their collaboration came from working together on a late-night puppet cabaret and an unusual acoustic cover of NIN’s Closer.
The band, which formed in 2009, has seen their sound evolve beyond their original acoustic cabaret style. “Our interests were bigger than that. Even though life is cabaret,” Bekbosunov laughs. “We’re redefining what it means to be a band” with work that is being performed in “art festivals and theater,” he remarks.
The band’s sound is influenced by the members and their distinctive interests. The band members are working musicians with wide-ranging musical backgrounds (including experience in contemporary classical music, jazz, bluegrass, and industrial rock) and artistic endeavors beyond the Dime Museum. Bekbosunov’s operatic voice certainly impacts this as well. He loves of “singing in different genres” and “different centuries of styles.”
Collapse marks” new territory” for them. With the encouragement of producer Beth Morrison, they embarked on creating something with “a theme or a storyline or a bit of dramaturgical substance to it” says Bekbosunov. The idea of a requiem about the environment came from Corral who had grown up in Alaska and seen first-hand the impact of climate change. “Seeing environmental things, like the effects of global warming, are a lot more obvious [in Alaska] than they are in a place like LA or an urban environment. You just see these things happening [in front of you]. ‘Oh there’s that glacier, it’s tiny. Whereas I remember when I was a kid that glacier was humongous,’” Corral recalls.
Corral had also worked as a sound designer with Sojourn Theatre and their artistic director Michael Rohd. Sojourn’s dedication to arts-based civil dialogue and a focus on social justice issues struck Corral as inspiring. It left him wondering “what could I possibly do that might have potentially a positive impact on the world.”
Thus Collapse was born. But Bekbosunov says they wanted to be sure to avoid it being like an “educational symposium.” “[We] didn’t want to hit people on the head but rather allow them to be moved on a very guttural, emotional, visceral type of level,” he says. Most of all, he notes “we want to make sure people are having fun.”
Timur and the Dime Museum have no shortage of showmanship. But to enrich the theatrical tapestry of the performance, they have integrated into the show interactive video designs by Jesse Gilbert. “It’s quite a multimedia carousel of sorts,” Bekbosunov remarks.
Gilbert’s interactive process involves capturing on “his microphones the sounds the musicians are creating and then the sounds are interpreted by his software. He mixes it all in real-time as we’re singing,” explains Bekbosunov. The results of this is “when you see things moving on the screen a lot of them are following the contours of the sound-waves,” says Corral. Every night the show will have a different look because of this.
Each performance of Collapse promises to be a unique experience from this idiosyncratic creative team. And it may leave you in wonder at the natural world as well.
Collapse will be performed from Sept. 17-19 at BAM, New York – more info here