Artists get animated for Fixed Fragmented Fluid

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      In one of the most memorable sequences from the acclaimed animated feature Ratatouille, aspiring rodent chef Rémy has a near-psychedelic experience while sampling cheese, mushrooms, and strawberries. Canadian-born animator Michel Gagné is responsible for the vivid, swirling abstract shapes that accompany this passage, and while he was drawing them, he was no doubt thinking about the creamy smoothness of a washed-rind Camembert, the earthy goodness of a plump cí¨pe, and the concentrated essence of spring that is a bowl of just-picked fraises de bois.

      Rather surprisingly, he was also thinking about Paul Plimley.

      Just what does Vancouver’s wildest pianist have to do with an award-winning animated rat? Well, it seems that Plimley’s music unlocked some kind of creative impulse in Gagné. Ratatouille’s dream sequence was created using techniques that the animator originally developed to accompany a recording of the pianist with bassist Barry Guy, and now the three—along with violist Maya Homburger, cellist Peggy Lee, saxophonist Evan Parker, trumpeter Peter Evans, and percussionist Lucas Niggli—are debuting Fixed Fragmented Fluid, a groundbreaking collaborative performance that combines acoustic music and digital media in new and unprecedented ways.

      On the line from his Bellingham studio, Gagné credits Coastal Jazz and Blues Society staffer Rainbow Robert with introducing him to improvised music in 2007, by way of a Plimley solo performance.

      “I was kind of blown away,” the animator says. “So I turned to Rainbow and I said, ”˜You know, I could totally see abstract animation to this. I don’t know if I have synesthesia or something, but when I closed my eyes I could see shapes and stuff bobbing in my head.’ And she said, ”˜Well, this is why I brought you here. I hoped you’d say that.’?”

      Three years later, Gagné is about to go where no animator has gone before: on-stage with an all-star band, improvising in real time. And in Guy, who’s creating an hourlong sequence of musical structures the cast can jam on, he’s found an ideal collaborator. The bassist and composer’s graphic scores are works of art in themselves, incorporating geometrical figures and sweeping curves in addition to the usual notes and staves. As he says from the home in rural Switzerland that he shares with Homburger, he’s always been deeply moved by visual art.

      “I’m looking at about 14 large paintings here in my studio, and they sit on my walls and they just reverberate all the time,” Guy explains. “They just offer up so much energy. So for me to move to the idea that Michel had of making abstract animated images according to the music seems a natural extension. For instance, all the paintings here just look as if they could make that jump to a new condition, in a way.”

      Guy describes Fixed Fragmented Fluid as “an offer from heaven”, and Gagné doesn’t disagree.

      “I’ve been wanting to do a project like this for 20 years, but I had just never found the right type of music,” he says. “So when I saw Paul that night, a light bulb went on, and I went ”˜This is the music I’ve been looking for all this time!’ Before that, I’d always been thinking, ”˜Well, maybe with classical music or something,’ but nothing really hit me that strong. But this is abstract music, so it’s perfect.”

      Fixed Fragmented Fluid takes place at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Friday (June 25).