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article imageBringing a robot romance to life Special

By Cate Kustanczy     Jun 3, 2014 in Entertainment
Toronto - DJ Kid Koala returns to the Luminato Festival in Toronto for a second consecutive year, this time with a live version of his graphic novel, 'Nufonia Must Fall.' The performance will integrate music, puppetry, and a live filming, projected for audiences.
The graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall (ECW Press) was originally released in 2003 with a 10-track “film score” by its creator. The live version, being presented at this year’s Luminato Festival in Toronto, will be performed with live musical accompaniment and puppeteering, and will be cinematically lit, filmed, and projected to an audience in real time. While chaotic in its rehearsal stages, the end results could prove to be a nice integration of the DJ’s many talents, interests, and creative credo. Kid Koala (real name Eric San) calls it “a kind of cinematic theatrical musical experience.”
The story revolves around a robot who, in San's words, is “trying to write love songs, who's unable to do so, and… after living some life, finds a clever way to express it in the most authentic way.” San was (and remains) inspired by the silent films of Charlie Chaplin, and their themes of a slight figure up against incredible odds, pursuing love at all costs.
“There was a universality to what he did,” San explains, “and Nufonia (live) is my attempt at doing a 2014 version of one of those universal love stories, but in a silent film kind of style.”
The production, touring to the UK, Europe and South America following its Canadian run, has some Hollywood-calibre help. It’s being directed by K.K. Barrett, production designer for an array of films including Being John Malkovich, Lost in Translation, Where the Wild Things Are, Marie Antoinette, and most recently, 2013’s Her, for which he received an Oscar nomination in the category of Best Achievement in Production Design.
San has high words of praise for Barrett. “He’s a phenomenal production designer,” he exclaims. “I knew that whatever he directed would have that sort of dreamy beauty that’s in all the films he’s worked on. And I’m glad to give him the range as far as directing, because I wanted to focus more on the music. He’s been absolute dream to work with, and an amazing mentor. We all feel like we’re in a master class in filmmaking, hearing how he organizes each element and blocks it all out.”
San was part of last year’s Luminato Festival, his piece incorporating individualized headphones, animation, and specialized scent experiences for the live presentation of Space Cadet (Uni Books) his 2011 graphic novel. This year, his show uses a variety of figures including the talents of the Afiara String Quartet, a team of puppeteers, director Barrett, and San himself, on piano and turntable.
“There’s twelve people onstage all running around ” San explains of the live  Nufonia  present...
“There’s twelve people onstage all running around,” San explains of the live 'Nufonia' presentation. “It’s proper chaos, but what is reflected hopefully on the screen is a fully-realized, tranquil cinematic experience.”
AJ Korkidakis
The DJ/author/artist has been making cinematic sounds since his 1996 debut album, Scratchcratchratchatch (Ninja Tune), a work that wove together the threads of seemingly disparate worlds (cartoons, hiphop, classical music) into one beguiling sonic tapestry. Raised between Canada and the US, San grew up drawing, playing piano and loving the hiphop sounds coming out of the East and West coasts. His releases have nicely reflected his artistic pursuits and interests, with much of the material referencing comic book and cinematic cultures. His second album Some of My Best Friends are DJs (Ninja Tune), came with a 50-page comic book and a mini chess game; its cabaret-style tour featured featured three different DJs across eight turntables, a bingo game and a timed slide show. San has performed at the various comic cons, scored films (including playing turntables in the score for 2010's Scott Pilgrim vs. The World), remixed various artists’ work (for Emilie Sande and the Bryan Ferry Orchestra and Jack Johnson, among others), and opened for Radiohead and Bjork. His 2012 album 12 Bit Blues (Ninja Tune) salutes blues greats and was made using a classic bit of old DJ hardware. If there’s one thing San hates, it’s being overly comfortable.
“I always like a challenge,” he states, “just so I don't go into autopilot mode. I’m a fan of danger! I'm an adrenaline junkie that way... but instead of jumping out of airplanes, I try to do the most complicated show of all time.”
Nufonia Must Fall Live got its start when San met Barrett last year in Los Angeles. The DJ had heard about a “psycho-opera” the designer had done with The Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer Karen O called Stop The Virgens. A mutual friend introduced the two men, and “it got the gears turning,” San recalls. “I wondered, ‘How do we bring this together, him from film and me from music?’ He’d heard about Nufonia, I sent him a copy of the book and the soundtrack, and asked, ‘What do you think? Can we pull this off live?’ He read it and loved it and decided, yeah, let’s do puppets and miniatures.”
San originally wrote roughly 40 different musical cues for Nufonia, but in rehearsing with a full crew (including the string quartet), realized he’d have to adjust his approach. Similar to his cinematic inspiration, “each character has his or her own theme” now.
Like Chaplin’s hapless character in Modern Times, San’s robot is a figure trying to find his place in a rapidly-changing world. It's a theme with timely reverberations; the villain of the piece is “a faster, more efficient model coming in and getting the older robot fired from all his jobs, and within that struggle he has to find his own voice somehow.”
“I m referencing quite a bit   San says of the themes behind Nufonia Must Fall.  Everybody feels l...
“I'm referencing quite a bit," San says of the themes behind Nufonia Must Fall. "Everybody feels like the world is moving a little too fast and is getting a little too complicated. But every robot has a story.”
Corinne Merrell
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