How Wonderbound, Chimney Choir make music that really cooks

by John Moore | Jan 24, 2018

Chimney Choir 5 Chimney Choir is collaborating with Wonderbound on a new ballet called Aphrodite’s Switchboard, performing Feb. 9-24 at three metro locations. Photo by Amanda Tipton.

Ambient folk band joins Wonderbound for new ballet with live music that was truly, madly, deeply baked ... in an oven

By Erica Prather
For the DCPA NewsCenter

It’s a warm August afternoon in a cozy cabin in Fairplay, about 90 miles southwest of Denver. 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.

Those who attend Wonderbound's first ballet of 2018, Aphrodite’s Switchboard, will be listening to this oven-born experiment in sound as ambient transitional pieces between songs. This playful soul and quirky aural vision is what the band Chimney Choir brings to their upcoming musical composition collaboration with Wonderbound, an adored Denver dance company that mingles very human dance with a live music element.

Westword described Chimney Choir, which formed in 2011, as "a folk band that combines harmonies, ambient electronics and swirling textures of rhythm and melody into a style of music that is not easy to define." Since late summer, the band has been writing and arranging music for Wonderbound's Aphrodite’s Switchboard, a new ballet that weaves various tales of Greek mythology throughout the plot, with the central character being the titular goddess of love herself.

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,” said Rynhart. “This time, it feels very free.”

Above: Exclusive audio demo concocted by Chimney Choir for 'Aphrodite’s Switchboard' after drawing a tarot card called “The Architect.”


For Boomtown, Chimney Choir focused intensely on creating the characters with Wonderbound 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.

Chimney ChoirTo 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. “Someone came up with a beat, then the next person created the chords, and then the last person made up the melody line,” Said Larkin. Rynhart said it would be hard to say who wrote what song in this ballet.”

Read more: Here's our 101 primer on Wonderbound

Chimney Choir. Amanda TiptonAll 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.”

(Photo at right: Kevin Larkin and David Rynhart at work creating the music for Aphrodite’s Switchboard from a mountain cabin. Photo by Amanda Tipton.)

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.

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

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.

“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.”

Erica Prather is a freelance writer and ballet dancer from Kansas currently living in Denver. "I believe strongly that life's purpose is to use our bodies and minds to explore, to connect to and feel one another through our adventures," she says, "and to preserve, bring peace, and protect our planet so that we may share it with one another and generations to come." Contact her at ericaprather@gmail.com   
              

Aphrodite’s Switchboard: Ticket information

aphro-400In a tall office building on the corner of a busy street, Aphrodite is a switchboard operator who discovers that she has the power to control the love lives of mortals with a single phone connection. But beware crossed wires and best-laid plans, as meddling may have unintended consequences and the goddess herself may become ensnared in the very cords she wields.

Presented Feb. 9-24 at three Denver-area venues:

1. At the Pinnacle Charter School, 1001 W. 84th Ave., Denver, 80260

  • 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 9
  • 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10 
  • 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11 Buy Tickets

2. At the PACE Center, 20000 Pikes Peak Ave., Parker, 80138 

  • 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 17 
  • 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb, 18 Buy Tickets

3. At the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, University of Denver, 2344 E. Iliff Ave., Denver, 80208

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John Moore
John Moore
Award-winning arts journalist John Moore has recently taken a groundbreaking new position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist. With The Denver Post, he was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the US by American Theatre Magazine. He is the founder of the Denver Actors Fund, a nonprofit that raises money for local artists in medical need. John is a native of Arvada and attended Regis Jesuit High School and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow him on Twitter @moorejohn.

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