Gotham is the first piece of an ongoing collaboration I have with filmmaker Bill Morrison. The idea of the series is to capture the aura of a city through music and imagery. In this case, the city is our city where we both live New York.
Everyone who lives in a big urban place has a special spot that they have found where their soul relaxes. In the first movement of Gotham, I was thinking about the places we go to escape New York while being in New York. The spare opening music, which starts with solo violin and piano, slowly becomes majestic as the strings, winds and then brass join in. Images of old New York begin with a surprising scene of a man tending sheep. As the camera pulls back, the surrounding urban landscape is revealed, and the viewer realizes he is tending sheep in what is now Central Park.
In this collaboration, the film footage has been cut to the music. The film is primarily vintage black-and-white footage in Bill Morrison's signature style, where the celluloid has decayed to the point that the film provides an ongoing commentary of psychedelic splotches and graffiti on top of the visual imagery.
The middle movement captures the daily assault of the city, with a hyper-intense pulse in the orchestra and blaring glissandos in the trumpets, almost reminiscent of sirens and carhorns and the industrial howls of New York life.
The third section is a wild jig, with rhythmic violins setting the pace and all the other instruments piling in until there is a huge mass of sound an ecstatic dance gone wrong.
Gotham looks at the underside of the city the sidewalks, manhole covers, the construction what goes on in daily life here. Living through 9/11 made me think about where I live with fresh eyes and fresh ears. I wondered, Why am I living here? One doesn't live in New York City because it is beautiful or an easy life. Those aren't the reasons. It's intense, it's noisy, it's exciting, it's dirty. It really juices you up. In Gotham, we took a fresh look.
Gotham was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra.