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A 12-Headed 'Creature Choir' Invades The Bronx

By Patrick Wall | September 14, 2012 1:57pm

LONGWOOD — Passersby who peeked through the gym doors at the Casita Maria youth center recently were met by a strange sight.

Mark Bolotin, a visiting Australian artist, stood before a plastic 12-headed creature singing and playing the keyboard. The creature sang along.

Bolotin, 32, and his band were rehearsing for Saturday, when the Lumiphonic Creature Choir will make its Bronx debut.

“It’s an interactive, multimedia, rock-and-roll show,” Bolotin explained, “a true collaboration between the virtual and the real.”

Bolotin transported his tentacle-necked creature from Sydney to New York in May to take part in a program run by Residency Unlimited, which connects artists with work spaces across the city — in Bolotin's case, to Casita Maria in the South Bronx.

With the help of Casita staff, Bolotin filmed the faces of about 30 Bronx artists, elders and school children as they shared their thoughts, recited poems and made noises. During the performance, Bolotin will play snippets of those recordings, along with others he filmed in Australia, as projections of the speakers’ disembodied heads hover above the band.

Frantz Jerome, a Bronx poet, squeezed his head into a padded brace in front of a camera and answered a battery of questions about his dreams, his memories and his native borough for the project.

“It means The Bronx is represented, it’s listened to,” said Jerome, 29. “And that is avant-garde because it’s so rarely done.”

Bolotin produced his first film — about a scientist who invents a reusable ice cube — in his final year of college, then made several more in the early 2000s after graduating.

Soon he formed a multimedia company, Synarcade Audio-Visuals, which produces films, music videos, live shows and projections for concerts.

Over time, Bolotin began to experiment with interactive films — hybrids of live and prerecorded performances that respond to the audience.

Beginning in 2005, he started to develop a show where the audience designs a virtual being through a series of real-time decisions that trigger videos and live actors. Two years, 70 collaborators and hundreds of film clips later, “Emergence: Build Your Own Being” premiered at the Sydney Opera House.

“I really don’t like creating work that’s just academic, theoretical,” Bolotin said. “If people have to scratch their chins about it, I’m not really interested.”

After “Emergence,” Bolotin began work on his next interactive project — the Creature Choir.

In Sydney in 2009, he assembled the creature, a sort of audio-visual instrument, out of PVC pipes and masks, then created a computer program that synchs video clips to a keyboard. Next, he recorded live artists so that, for instance, when he played a C-sharp on his keyboard, one of the creature’s heads would display an opera singer bellowing that note.

In The Bronx, Bolotin recorded a dozen children making beat box sounds, which a live drummer will trigger by beating an electronic pad. Bolotin also recorded interviews with adults and children that he can control with his keyboard.

In one interview, a young girl described how she would heal the world.

“I would gather all the robbers,” she explained. “And the police start spanking them until they say they aren’t going to do bad stuff anymore.”

At the rehearsal Wednesday, the human band — a drummer, bass and guitar players and a female vocalist — tried to harmonize with their blinking, grinning, virtual counterparts.

Between songs, Bolotin offered some advice.

“We have to interact with these creatures,” he said. “The more we give them respect and actually react to them, the more alive they’ll be.”

The Lumiphonic Creature Choir performs a free show at the Casita Maria Arts and Education Center at 928 Simpson Street in The Bronx at 3 p.m. Saturday.