Chris Becker is a recent addition to the Houston avant-garde music scene. He’s an electronic musician and a composer whose work ranges from improvised pieces for silent films to hour-long compositions for ballet and contemporary dance. (You can see excerpts of the 2005 performance of If the Shoe Fits, a dance piece that he composed and performed for a New York dance company here.) These days he works at Musiqa, a contemporary music group that seeks to expand Houston’s musical and artistic horizons by creating new pieces that blend music, film, visual art, and dance.
[You can watch one of the films that Chris played to on Sunday, Meshes of the Afternoon, here.]
SCR: So, you got to Houston in April?
Chris Becker: Yes.
Did you move here for Musiqa?
No, I moved out here mostly because my mother and my step-dad had lived out here for a long time. My wife and I had lived in New York for twelve years, and we were ready to make a transition. It took about two years to really pull it off, but we were ready to get out of New York and come back down south — we met in New Orleans, actually, got married there.
So I have a connection, always have had, with the South. But I’m going back to New York next month for a performance with a dance company that I write for.
Yeah, I saw that on your website.
So we’ll keep going back and forth. And I’ve brought musicians from New York down here already, and a dancer. We’ve done some shows down here already, and I’d really like to keep that exchange happening.
Yeah, I’d like that too. So the piece you’re going up to New York for If the Shoe Fits. Tell us about that.
It’s sort of loosely based on Cinderella. And a lot of other fairy tales. It’s something we did back in 2005, an evening-length work. We’re bringing it back for one night in the theatre, with a lot of the same cast. And the score is basically non-stop music for about an hour. It’s like twelve different pieces of music all mixing and queuing in, kind of like what I did tonight.
Good. So, you mentioned the Wild Moccasins. Do you have any other favorites in the Houston music scene so far?
Yeah, yeah, I really dig The Black Angels. [Ed. Note: They’re actually from Austin, but hey…] Their latest album is very cool. I think it’s mixed beautifully. They know how to groove. I haven’t seen them live, though.
I’m embarrassed to say I’ve only really gone out to see classical, jazz, and avant-garde stuff while I’ve been here; I haven’t really checked out the rock scene. I need to get out there to hear some stuff. I know there’s a lot of bands in this town that I would really dig, but I just haven’t heard them yet. But I’ve got my ears open!
It’s kind of the opposite for me. I need to see some more jazz and classical. And dance.
Yeah, I haven’t seen much dance while I’ve been down here, which is kind of weird, because I did a lot with dance in New York, composing for dance. But I’m not sure who to check out yet. So I guess I’m kind of waiting. I think it’ll happen naturally — you know, somebody bubbles up on your radar, and all of a sudden you’re out there seeing good art.
Well if you’re looking for contemporary dance, Suchu Dance is very good.
Okay, I haven’t heard of them. I’ll definitely check ‘em out.
So, you were talking about how, when you perform, it’s all sounds that you’ve made and collected and stored away over a few years. When you go and perform with a film that you’ve performed for several times before, that you’re familiar with, is most of it still improvised? Or do you kind of have an idea of where you’re going with it?
I try to map it out in advance, but that never works. Once the film starts rolling, something happens where I see something, and I queue a sound, and then my brain makes other decisions.
You know, that’s what’s kind of neat. It’s fun to turn the TV volume down and put on a record. Dance is the same way. If you have a video of dance, it’s fun to put on different kinds of music while you watch it. So that’s kind of what happens. I have these templates that I’ve put together over the years that I keep adding to and removing from.
Some of the sounds you heard today are from five years ago, and some I recorded last weekend. And there’s kind of an intuitive sense of “these sounds should go well with this film, or that film.” But tonight’s a good example of me wanting to play to a film, a Maya Deren film, that I couldn’t get to for technological reasons. So I had to play to a different one of hers that was very intense, full of violent images. But the sounds I prepared were for something a bit more languid and surreal.
So, I think this was kind of Maya laughing at me somewhere, saying, “well, see what you can do with this!” But I was pretty happy with how it turned out.
Yeah, I thought it worked just beautifully.
Thanks. Maybe I shouldn’t have told people that I was I was experiencing technical difficulties, now that I think about it… (laughs)
I like improvisation. It’s a big part of what I do. I compose, I do write music down. But I can’t work with people who don’t improvise. And a lot of the musicians I work with don’t read music, so it’s kind of pointless. You work differently with people like that.
Right. So it seems like a lot the films you played to today were made by people you know personally. Is that how it is with most of your performances?
Yeah. I’ve just been lucky enough to gather a lot of films by friends of mine. They’re all different — but they’re all silent, that’s about the only consistent thing about them.
For a while I tried meeting filmmakers in New York online. But I just kept meeting one cheesy-ass filmmaker after another, who don’t listen. Like, I would play them my music, and they would say something like, “Well, can’t you write something more like this other film?” They just weren’t thinking about music and film in a very creative way.
Somehow, I got lucky enough to meet Noe Kidder, and she introduced me to other filmmakers, who introduced me to others, and I was set. But it took me about five or six years in New York to meet people who were making that sort of stuff.
So you also work at Musiqa. What is your role there?
I’m the assistant to the executive director. I’m in charge of public relations. It’s a small crew — there’s two of us, the executive director, artistic director, and the board. So we all kind of do a lot of things. Like, some of what I do crosses over into marketing, production, management of the show. But that’s mainly what I do, the public relations.
Are you going to be at the Musiqa Loft Concert this Thursday at the CAMH?
No, I’m going to be out of town. I’m going to be a guest composer at University of Louisiana. A friend of mine who teaches over there is bringing me over. I wrote a piece for five electric guitars and one electric bass.
So I get to go over there and work with the students and hear a lot guitar music. So I get to put on my composer hat for the weekend. We’ll see how that goes.
So I’m missing the Loft Concert, but everyone should go see that. It’s free, first of all, and it’s going to be great music. Todd Reynolds is just a badass on his instrument. And the pieces are very unique. Todd needs to learn more about Houston’s community, too. He’s kind of coming down here without knowing anybody. Like I said, I really want more exchange happening between here and other cities.
Sure, l’d really like to go. We always want musicians from other cities to come and visit Houston. So when and where can we see you performing next in Houston?
In Houston, I don’t have any set dates. I’m in New York in March, so it’ll be after I get back. So maybe in the springtime.
I’ve done sets at the Binarium Sound Series a few times, so maybe I’ll do something there again. Avant Garden is another great place I’ve played. I like the vibe there a lot. So we’ll see. But now I’m kind of enlisted in the Caroline Sessions group…
It’s a good group to be in!