Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rediscovering "Conquista!"

Our personal influences are immeasurable.  They pour in through our senses every day, constantly shaping who we are and the choices we make.  There are also those subconscious influences, akin to the Butterfly Effect, which is a belief that any event, including the waving of an insect wings are said to be enough to shape human behavior.  If true, that would also apply to mosquitoes.

When I was in high school, I watched a television special that depicted the first meeting between a horse and a Native American.  The story took place in the 1500s when the Spanish arrived, bringing horses to North America for the first time.  I was interested in the program as I had been riding horses since I was 12 at a summer camp in central Missouri called Camp Crystal Creek.  The camp honored Native American culture and history, and a network TV program that showed the Indian’s point of view was just new in mainstream media.

The story begins on a western prairie. A young Native American encounters a horse, an animal he has never seen before.  Over a single day, the horse and man struggle for dominance, in some of the best stunt riding scenes I have ever seen.  In the end, the horse accepts the Indian as a rider and companion.

I recorded the audio of the broadcast on an old reel to reel tape recorder.  During my final year in high school, I listened to the soundtrack over and over.  A few years ago, I began searching for the film, for which I had forgotten the title.  I had no luck until very recently.  In a dated blog post, several fans of the film were asking about the program and what it was.   Replies appeared, and with details.  It turns out the film was a BBC production made in 1970, filmed in Spain and directed by author/filmmaker Michael Syson.  It was called “Conquista”.  The music was by composer John Scott.  The acting and stunt riding work was Jose Maria Serrano.

Apparently there were several versions of Conquista, beginning with the original 40 minute theatrical release in London, followed by a U.S. network broadcast with actor Richard Boone’s narration, and finally an abridged version, distributed for schools. 

Finding the movie wasn’t easy.  Aside from a reference to an out of print VHS, few people I wrote to had even heard of the film.  After weeks of failed leads, I found a film collector who was liquidating his inventory of 16mm school films.  To my amazement, he had the film, and was willing to part with it. 

I watched the movie for the first time in three decades.  I wasn’t shocked that the movie didn’t live up to my memory, but I wasn’t disappointed either.  Conquista may not have been a big budget production, but the director certainly delivered on his unique vision.  John Scott’s music is still inspiring.  Surprisingly modern, his orchestrations have a classical-Spanish flare, much like Ennio Morriconne’s spaghetti western scores from the same period.  I reflected on Conquista’s hidden influence in my own music.  I could see why it had such an impact on me as a teenager.  The setting, the discovery, and the struggle, along with the physical adventure, is a great coming of age story.

Here is a few minutes of “Conquista”, Including the Indian’s first successful ride.

Conquista! (The first ride) from Rotoscope on Vimeo.

UPDATE 10/15/14: Conquista Update!

After many months, a classroom version of Conquista  has undergone restoration to color and sound from a surviving 16mm print.  Some scratches remain, and the color is still muted with a slight cast, but the picture is much cleaner than the original.  My thanks to all the Conquista fans who have written in!  If you have any questions, post a message with your email.  Here is the restoration preview.

Monday, December 19, 2011

An Introduction To "Bunk Beds"

A Making Of video for the holiday-children's single "Bunk Beds"

Download the "Bunk Beds" Single

My friends, here is the new single, "Bunk Beds" as a free download via Soundcloud. It was fun recording this song, and I hope everyone enjoys it.
I came up with "Bunk Beds" during summer 2011, one afternoon while I was practicing guitar at a local pub. Slide guitar is usually played in an open tuning, and I was playing in G, which I hadn’t worked in for a while. I was just fooling around and the melody came together in a few minutes. Over the next few weeks I added a middle section, and once the song was together, we recorded it with guitars, piano, percussion and vocals. I wanted to go for as big a sound as possible, but recorded with live musicians (Celso Alberti percussion, Troy Arnett keyboards, sister Tate and Reece Bissinger vocals) rather than canned orchestration. This gave Bunk Beds a “live” and intimate feel.