Portland / Seattle

Lori Goldston Talks Harry Smith


“Classically trained and rigorously de-trained, possessor of a restless, semi-feral spirit, Lori Goldston is a cellist, composer, improvisor, producer, writer and teacher based in Seattle.”

On March 17, 2014, one time Nirvana cellist Lori Goldston comes to the Hollywood Theatre in Portland to celebrate Mississippi Records re-release of Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music. She returns to Seattle the following day, March 18,  to accompany Oregon Cartoon Institute’s expanded cinema screening of Harry Smith’s stop motion masterpiece, Heaven And Earth Magic, at SIFF Cinema.

Two events brought about this explosion of Lori Goldston love for Harry Smith: Mississippi Records’ decision to re-release Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, and the Society of Cinema and Media Studies decision to hold their 2014 conference in the city where Smith once lived, and where Goldston now lives.

Anne:  What draws you to Harry Smith?

Lori: My main interest in Harry Smith centers around his work as the editor of the Anthology of American Folk Music. I hold a very warm place in my heart for it and all the Folkways records,. I borrowed them from the library as a teenager and they were life-changing for me. They continue to exert an enormous positive force on the culture, focusing awareness of so many wonderful musical and human values— mystery, life experience, soulfulness, a beautiful mix and balance of regionalism and universalism; I could go on and on. This influence was no accident: late in life when he was awarded a Grammy for his work on the Anthology he said in his speech ‘I’m glad to say that my dreams came true. I saw America changed through music’.  He know exactly what he was doing. So it’s a pleasure to have a chance to spend some time with his work and, hopefully, help promote some appreciation of it.

I’ve also had a longstanding interest in experimental film, and certainly Harry Smith is one of the great stars of that realm. In preparation for this, and a couple of other shows,  I’ve been reading about his work and the scope of it is astounding. The understanding of pattern and rhythm in his films comes from a grasp of an incredible range of disciplines: anthropology, music, painting, ritual magic, animation, etc. He approached all these the eye, ear and heart of a scientist and artist. 


Anne: Harry Smith’s soundtrack to Heaven And Earth Magic is the only one he composed. Yet under his senior picture in his Bellingham High School yearbook it says that his career goal is to compose symphonies. What do you think of Harry Smith as a composer?

Lori: The score for Heaven and Earth Magic is weird and lovely. It’s all found sound and follows the appearances of the characters: a drill, a siren, a scream, etc. His friends recalled in several interviews that he recorded hundreds of hours of ambient sound, sticking the microphone out of apartment windows and later labeling the cassettes: “West 10th Street 6:00 am”, West 10th Street 11:00pm” etc. Earlier today I read  that he’d been a piano player in his early adulthood but had given it up, so maybe this crazy score is his symphonic work.


Anne: When did you and Dennis Nyback first work together?

Lori: I think I first worked Dennis at the Pike Street Cinema, although it might have been before that, when he was showing films at the Jewelbox Theater. All this would have been in the early ‘90s, or maybe even late ‘80s. I have a bad memory for this kind of thing. In any case, at some point in 1994 or so I offered to be the accompanist at the Pike Street Cinema. I was on unemployment (post Nirvana), always home practicing or playing with friends, and I guess I was up for a crazy challenge. I’d already done a few silent film scores with my band, the Black Cat Orchestra, but those were big, involved productions and I was interested in getting a feel for doing it in a more improvisational, less cumbersome way. He kept me very busy, sometimes two or thee nights a week, always with a different film.  There were several series: Louise Brooks, Leni Riefenstal, Pabst, I forget who else. It was a great education, and I developed a good memory for the sequence and length of scenes in a film. I think I ended up playing for over 40 films in less than a year, some solo and some with a friend or two.


Anne: You have released a CD of your original film scores. What turns you on about composing for film?

Lori: I’ve done a lot of playing with both film and dance. I think there’s something particular to my brain that makes the translation from visual movement to sound easy and satisfying.

Anne: Thank you, Lori!


A cautionary note: You never know what will happen if you attend an Oregon Cartoon Institute event. Eric Isaacson, the owner of Mississippi Records, attended the Harry Smith Seance last year, and found his love for Harry Smith, fellow vinyl enthusiast, re-awakened. That summer he took a program of music films from his personal archive on tour of Europe, and this month his record label re-issued the Anthology. If you come to the SIFF screening on March 18, you better be ready for anything.

More information: http://www.siff.net/cinema/heaven-and-earth-magic

Even more information: https://www.facebook.com/events/194933530713677/


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