Chimney Choir talks tarot cards, music, and Wonderbound
It’s a warm August afternoon in a cozy Fairplay, Colorado cabin. Kris Drickey, Kevin Larkin and David Rynhart sing a tune into an iPhone, place the phone gently into an oven with a recording device, and hit play/record. When you go to Aphrodite’s Switchboard in February, and hear ambient transitional pieces between songs – you will be listening to this oven-born experiment in sound.
This playful soul and quirky vision is what Chimney Choir brings to their musical composition collaboration with Wonderbound. Since late summer 2017, the band has been writing and arranging music for the first ballet of 2018, Aphrodite’s Switchboard. The new ballet weaves various tales of Greek mythology throughout the plot, with the central character being the goddess of love herself—Aphrodite.
While Chimney Choir is no stranger to working with Wonderbound, having written an original score for 2015’s Boomtown, the creative process for this ballet was very different than it was a few years ago. “Boomtown was a great creative project, but it felt more constricted than Aphrodite’s Switchboard, because we didn’t know what we were doing,” says Rynhart. “This time, it feels very free.”
For Boomtown, Chimney Choir focused intensely on creating the characters with Artistic Director Garrett Ammon, making the composition match the storyline. This time, the musicians tried a different approach—just making music. Having understood Ammon’s creative process and the back-and-forth of what a collaboration entailed, Chimney Choir instead focused on loosely created themes and feelings that could be swapped around throughout the ballet.
To create music and sounds that carried emotion, the band played games. “We made up our own stories with tarot cards,” said Larkin. “We would pull cards, write our own narrative for it, and then score the story. We still call some of the titles of the songs by these scenarios we created. We did this to give the music a movement.”
Another game the band played to enhance working together was passing a song around among the three musicians. Said Larkin, “Someone came up with a beat, then the next person created the chords, and then the last person made up the melody line.” Rynhart agrees: “It would be hard to say who wrote what song in this ballet.”
All of this was in an effort to create an arc to an imagined storyline—and it turned out to be a highly effective method. “We made a point to come up with a lot of different moods and situations musically, because then there was a hopeful part, disappointed part, and so on. All the different colors to choose from in the stories we were making up—whereas in Boomtown we were more attached to the storyline and more specific,” Rynhart said.
The band drew on its prior experience with the dance company to inform the flow for this production. “Garrett will cut and paste and edit songs in Garageband, make it the length he wants to work with, and we fill that in and make it more interesting, which is a great composition exercise,” says Rynhart. “We didn’t know that when we were creating Boomtown. We now know its ok to give him things that aren’t quite complete, and then we fill in the blanks together.”
The band took multiple retreats together at various cabins in Colorado, which enhanced their process. “Having the experience of really getting lost in that world, in the stories we were creating, was an important part of the creative process for us. We had a schedule we adhered to—breakfast, writing, composing, etc.—really being able to step away and focus in the mountains was key,” said Larkin.
One fruit of their retreats was the aforementioned quirky sounds; aside from the metallic ambiance created in the oven, another sound that came forward was the “owl-tron”—the sound of an owl that loops throughout the song “Golden Age.” This sound was inspired by the character of Athena—who is often represented or accompanied by an owl in Greek mythos. The band also sampled old telephone recordings, splicing operator switchboard vocals into their songs.
No doubt about it—audiences will be astonished, and charmed, by the likes of the Chimney Choir/Wonderbound union—the band itself echoed that sentiment. “The most exciting thing about collaboration is that it puts you outside of your head and your habits, and you are susceptible to having higher ideas because of that,” said Rynhart.
“If any of us were going about it alone, of course you would experiment but you are still in your own orbit. But when you work with ideas you wouldn’t have had on your own, and then take all that and extend it to working with Garrett, or those with a different artistic discipline, and what they need from music, then it’s even more so out of the way of what we could do alone. There are just so many levels of being expanded creatively in this project.”
Have an exclusive listen to a demo concocted by Chimney Choir for Aphrodite’s Switchboard after drawing a tarot card called “The Architect”: