A long time ago, in a coffee shop far, far away (a now defunct Diedrich's in Brea, CA), I had the good fortune of befriending one of the baristas, a young Chapman University film student and musician. Steve had taken an interest in a music magazine I was reading. (I still subscribe to the magazine, Cadence, which will publish its last issue at the end of this year, a circumstance worthy of a separate post.) Steve had heard of some of the performers featured on occasion in the magazine: Nels Cline, the folks in Sonic Youth, etc. But being an OC rocker, one of whose bands, The Autumns, managed to do pretty well in Europe, he was largely unaware of the vastness of the world of kindred musicians, the network of improvisers and noise makers who constellate the magazine's reviews and interviews. So I invited him over to spin records. Steve shared that he had been working on a movie to complete his degree, a profile of guitarist Nels Cline, whom he had filmed in action and interviewed already several times in and around Los Angeles.
My family and I moved to the Bay Area. After graduation Steve continued filming and refining his idea. He visited and we played more records. He contacted more musicians: Bob Ostertag, Miya Masaoka, and others whom he'd first encountered at our evenings of record playing. Before I knew it, his Nels Cline movie had become an account of the impulse to improvise, a cinematic analog to Cadence. He traveled the world filming and interviewing musicians and performances. At some point, for a period of two or three years I lost touch with him, until a little over a year ago, when he again visited with an entirely revamped film, dubbed The Reach of Resonance. Instead of cataloging a dozen or more oddball improvisers, he'd decided to focus on four musicians whose work combined composition, improvisation, technology, and one way or another an explicit link to the natural and political world in which they work. He let me view it on his laptop the night he stayed with us. It was stunning. As film, as an expression of a maturing idea about how music engages us, as a radical transformation of what began as a tribute to performers he admired into an original thesis about art and life, Steve's work is inimitable.
Steve Elkins's dedication and ambition, his genuine humility and sturdy self-confidence, his cinematic and musical intellect utterly inspire me. I've seen him work, filming, photographing, interviewing, and I believe he's as close as it comes to being a natural. He works hard, but without pretension. He's receptive to all ideas, but driven by a personal vision. His movie deserves a wider audience than the Cadence readership. This past Monday night, Steve took an important step toward attracting that audience. The movie premiered at Montreal's International Festival of Films on Art. I really hope readers of AB will take time to view the trailer and some of the movie's excerpts and interviews linked from the RoR site. Even if the music, or whatever you call it, isn't your cup of tea, I know you'll admire Steve's craft and find intriguing the peculiar work of the artists he explores.