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June 23, 2005

Toon Time with the RZA

My brother Deet checks in with the following cool item:

I just returned from a special night at the John Anson Ford Amphitheater. Tonight featured a live performance by the RZA, musical architect and leader of the hip hop supergroup Wu-tang Clan in an event that is a part of the Los Angeles Film Festival.

RZA took the stage about 9:00pm and thanked everyone for attending. He mentioned that we were about to witness a project that he’d always wanted to do in a public setting since he’d been doing it privately ever since he hooked a couple of VCRs together as a kid in the 1970s. Even then, he loved cartoons (who didn’t?) but wanted a fresh approach using the sounds he could create.

RZA took his place on the raised platform to the right of the stage, elevated to give him clear view of the enormous movie screen (those who remember Deb’s graduation ceremony last Friday can picture the platform where the live musicians played) and those of us in the packed house braced ourselves, not knowing what to expect.

Actually, what I expected was to see old cartoons with RZA updating them to the 21st Century by utilizing his enormous audio archive.

He did that and took it to a whole new level using the latest technology. He told the audience that 3 weeks ago he got his hands on a new video device that allowed him to manipulate video images with extreme dexterity. In essence, RZA was able to “scratch” the digitized 1950’s cartoons as easily as he DJ’d the vinyl albums on his dual turntables.

The result was astounding.

He flipped the script by making the cartoon images follow his rhythm---not the other way around. And even though things started rather roughly (he warned us that there might be a few kinks), by the third cartoon the characters were moving (forward and backwards) to the sounds of everyone from the Beatles to Al Green to Johnny Mathis to Wu-Tang Clan. Mainly heavy blues with a great beat sampled in.

It was incredible to hear him play a live drum track, use sampled sound effects, scratch vinyl records AND change the speed and direction of the video images….all live! To call him the maestro of the rhythm is the best way I could describe RZA’s performance. Animated scarecrows dancing to Al Green; Superman soaring through the sky to the Brothers Johnson "Strawberry Letter 23"; Birds moving to the beat of “Fly Robin Fly”…. a remarkable achievement.

RZA performed for about 70 minutes nonstop with deft control of the video and audio scratching. The amazing thing is he seemed like an artist before an enormous canvas with a crate full of records and a DVD full of classic cartoons from the 50’s (think of Mickey Mouse/Steamboat Willie Style obscure animation) and almost seamlessly blending them together in a well-rehearsed manner.

At the conclusion he played a video tribute to ODB, better known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, a member of the Wu-Tang Clan who died of heart failure last November at the age of 35.

It was also announced that RZA was the “musician in residence” for the LA Film Fest and three of his favorite films (“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly”, “36 Chambers of the Sholin”, and “Ghost Dog—The Way of the Samurai” will all be screened at this year’s festival.

It was a great event and one that highlights RZA’s remarkable skill, control and creativity.

By the way, this was a great way to close out "Wu-Tang Month" for me: I bought two of their CDs, read RZA's new book "The Wu-Tang Manual" and watched "Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2", films scored by the RZA. Whew!

Posted by mbowen at June 23, 2005 07:18 AM

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Wow, that sounds really cool.


Posted by: Okolo at June 23, 2005 10:02 AM