" Bring it to the runway -- now ! "
Robert Urban, a New York based musician and songwriter, who is also known for producing musical events and concerts, answered some of our questions about Ball culture, his contribution to the music in How Do I Look, and highlighting social issues in the arts.
Q. Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Have you been to any Balls?
A. I only learned of the How Do I Look film after Wolfgang’s documentary was already filmed (though not finished). I have not been to any Harlem balls, but I have attended several How Do I Look work-in-progress performance events that featured live performances by many of the film’s Harlem ball stars.
Q. What do you find inspiring about Ball culture?
A. First off, it’s genuinely entertaining – as all great art is. It is also a fabulous example of making a lot out of little – that is, ingenuity and inspiration. The sheer originality of the costumes, makeup, moves, attitude, etc. is staggering – especially when one considers the impoverished life circumstances that so many of the Ball culture stars come from.
Q. How does the music you write relate with the music that is played at Balls?
A. Generally speaking, it doesn’t. I compose all styles of music. My natural musical instincts are mostly rock and “classical” influenced. The music I contributed to How Do I Look is “film” music – used mainly as a background to scenes extracted out of the “live” ball runway sections of the film – scenes of people being interviewed and/or alone in daily life situations. Here and there I created or found grooves, loops that accompanied movement in the film – but much of the music that accompanied the documented live runway scenes was popular, canned “house” music from other, earlier sources.
Not all the music I provided for Wolfgang’s film was composed by myself. I hunted for and tapped, as “talent scout” to find music by other LGBT artists that I felt would fit the film.
Another aspect of my work on How Do I Look was to edit and arrange the soundtrack music. For example, the film’s theme song How Do I Look – with it’s hook line “Bring it to the runway -- now!” was composed and originally recorded elsewhere – but edited, altered and enhanced (one might say remixed) here at my URBAN PRODUCTIONS recording studio in NYC.
Q. As a producer of musical events, shows, and concerts, what do you think of the production values that go into the musical aspects of Balls? In other words, are you impressed by the work that goes into producing/staging Ball competitions? If so, what impresses you?
A. I know how much work goes into a large live-event production – especially when resources and finances are slim. There is so much cooperation between all concerned in Harlem Ball shows. Frankly, I don’t know how they do it! Even the audience seems to be in on it – Everyone pulls together to create a smash event – it reflects back on all concerned – producers – stars – audience. They all play off each other with great verve and joy.
Q. As you attended the work-in-progress screenings of How Do I Look, what were your thoughts about the evolution of Wolfgang's documentary?
A. Wolfgang really had sooooo much great footage to work with – in a way, all he had to do was to edit it cleverly… to put all the puzzle pieces together correctly. And that he did. I would see various stages of the film, and could see how he was switching scenes around, and tweeking little clips here and there.
The film really evolved when Wolfgang introduced the AIDS-education element into it – AIDS is an important social and health issue for us all – but is especially so within inner city groups, LGBT groups, African-American groups – all which include the Ball culture. The film gained a sense of gravitas. Before that is was more just artsy and fun.
Q. Could you see an "artistic progression" taking place within the artists in the film?
A. Well… how do I put it… the “stars” (or as Wolfgang lovingly refers to them as “the children”) of How Do I Look were true legends of a sort going into the film – and the same coming out. They are who they are. They didn’t so much “progress” or “evolve” as they really just deigned to allow us into their unique world. (there’s a finger snapping in the air right about here…)
In addition to his own 4 CDs (the album "godless" is available on Amazon.com), Robert Urban's work (especially as guitarist) can be heard on the recordings of many other musical artists. Mr. Urban is also an accompanist, session-musician, arranger/sound engineer and private music teacher. He supports the GLBT music community through producing/hosting Urban Productions BOLDLY Presents, the all-GLBT multi-artist live-in-concert music series (now in its 6th year). Mr. Urban is the author of a poetry collection Abominations and founder of Gay Guitarists Worldwide.
For more of our exclusive interview, please visit the Community Art Education blog.
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