Monday, March 1, 2010

"What's the recipe today, Jim?"

Orson Welles said that having a motion picture studio at his disposal was the greatest electric train set a kid could have. I felt the same way with a radio station. Like an Erector set or chemistry kit, it was great fun to experiment with the tools of the audio trade: all analog, old school, reel-to-reel players, cartridge machines, cassette decks, and if you were lucky, three turntables. One experimented with them all. And a television set too. Perfect for recording the old Italian horror films that played at 2:30 in the morning, plus all those cheesy commercials on channel 13. Recorded with the pod for maximum or minimum echo effect. Many early mornings of fun, seeing what would come up in the mix. Cutting a piece of dialogue here; connecting to another piece of dialogue there. A new thought. Very Dada.

Continuing with the Green Neon Motel: I would come up with an idea for dialogue by front desk man Grungie Steinberg. In the background, dialogue from the ever-present "Plan 9 From Outer Space." Grungie answers the phone (almost immediately after a gunshot is heard from the film). He speaks with a customer. The audience only hears Grungie's side of the conversation. His conversation interacts with the dialogue of "Plan 9." It is meant to be subliminal. The conversation goes on to a certain point in the film when there is ultimately a knock at the door and it is someone. Many people knock at Grungie's door requesting certain accommodations or information, but more often than not, it is Chef Bruno Languini at the door. You can hear him far off in the background. The pounding on the door. Many doors, as there were many studio doors used over the years. Grungie would have to terminate the phone conversation and prepare himself for the far away but soon to be close entering sounds of the usually enthusiastic Chef. "Hello Grungie, how are you? Hello Grungue, how are youuuuuuuu?" This would be followed by the not visible, but incredibly oblique comment from Grungie saying "don't do that." Whereupon Chef would reply, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry that I tweaked your cheeks. How are you?" Then some inane bit of dialogue and conversation would continue.

The Orson Welles factor in all this was the fact that I was doing both voices at the same time. One pre-recorded, the other live. In almost all cases, Grungie was live. The Chef Bruno part was recorded, perhaps 10 minutes earlier in the other commercial production studio. The fun thing of cart machines was you could come up with a bit of dialogue, stop it, interact with it live, then punch the cart again, and if the Fates were working with you, all moved seamlessly, the timing could be ecstatic. Sometimes it crashed and burned. There could be technical problems with the carts. But for the most part, it was a form of audio improvisation that I enormously enjoyed week after week.

A thought or two about Chef Bruno: he was created pretty quickly after the idea of Green Neon Motel came to me initially. I had two images in my mind of the raspy voiced Chef. 1) That he would be Italian and an opera lover and I would physically base him on Luciano Pavarotti. 2) Being a chef, he derived from some early memory of Chef Boyardee. I knew I would name him after an Italian recipe. The name Bruno came first. Chef Bruno. I liked that. But what would his last name be? I had already used the word fettucini for famed I-talian director, Federico Fettucini (famous for his surrealist movie based on hat sizes "6 7/8"), so linguine became the Italian recipe of second choice. However, when I recorded the first bit, I accidentally called him Languini. Having put that out over the air live, Languini became his true name. And I think it's okay. I think he may have been related to the famous German-Italian director Fritz Languini.

Please note that this illustration and the previous one for the Green Neon Motel were executed by my artist friend, Mike Merenbach. These are his visual impressions of the characters as I created them, inflicting upon my audience the jokes you see. I am very fond that in the bottom panels, the dialogue from "Plan 9 From Outer Space" continues uninterrupted from the first cartoon to the second. I love "Plan 9 From Outer Space." Seriously. If the original "The Day The Earth Stood Still" was done in drag, this would be the result. Dudley Manlove or Michael Rennie? The decision is based on apparel.