Helicopter Copter: Denver Collaboration Uplifts, Refreshes, Challenges

Musicians and music writers alike do get tired of the same. old. thing. Our fingers, usually so merrily picking and typing, grind to a halt. Our songs stop coming. Words don’t flow. Finding new ways to interact with art is, I’d say, essential to creating art.

On a day when my inbox was flooded with coverage requests from bands flitting through Denver on their way to bigger and better, something homegrown caught my eye: an art project I would come to realize is remarkable.

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I became acquainted with Michael John McKee when writing a previous review of Glowing House, a band among several for which he is drummer. Michael is now the mind and heart behind “Helicopter Copter”  – a mixed media art project incorporating “adventurous processes, materials, and collaborations.”

McKee, under his aircraft-ish art moniker, started an experimental song-to-video collaboration among four Denver artists called “Whisper Down the Lane.” The players are McKee (drums), Ian Argys (guitar), Neil McCormick (bass) and Merne Judson III (videos). Here’s what happened, in his words:

Each of three musicians recorded two primary tracks (thematic musical ideas) and passed one to each other musician. Having received two primary tracks, each musician recorded secondary tracks onto the primary tracks. Secondary tracks were passed again, and tertiary tracks were recorded. All recorded layers were then passed to a videographer for visual content, recorded in Colorado. One video was released each week, between March 26 and April 30, 2015.

Helicopter Copter describes itself as a “sound experience,” exploring the ways in which music and sound is created and perceived. Challenging musical paradigms. Asking where music lives and dies, how it consumes and is consumed. The evolution of the songs and attached videos unfolds right here.

I love to imagine the second musician listening to what the first had recorded. The sparks igniting in his musical heart as he considers what comes next. There is a certain solitude that comes through loudly for me when I watch the videos. The way the images roll along, the absence of voice … there’s a melancholy thread to each film. I like to believe it just happens to feel that way as a glorious, unrehearsed consequence of the method used to create the songs.

There are standouts in each film: Ian Argys’ innovative, clutterless riffs in #1, Neil McCormick’s driving bass line in #2,  Michael McKee’s jazz session drums in #3, Judson’s shimmering nightscape in #4 … aaahhh. Throughout, there is plenty of Colorado snow that, to me, stands in for the vocal – a mute witness to each scene. I think the best way to take them in is all at once, headphones in, lights down, somewhere that you won’t be disturbed.

What do you take from the series? What might you and the band do different the next time the muse taps your shoulder? Perhaps Helicopter Copter can illuminate the possibilities. A beacon, if you like, that points to unknown musical shores.

Read another good review of the project on Westword.

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