Controlled chaos

The method to the Ex’s madness
By MATT ASHARE  |  December 5, 2006

061208_theex_main
BORDER CROSSINGS: Fugazi, Sonic Youth, Pere Ubu, and the Fall are all fair comparisons for the Ex.

It’s 11 am on a Thursday, and Andy Moor is having his first coffee just a few doors down from the American Repertory Theatre’s Loeb Drama Center, the site that will be home to one of his most ambitious projects yet — his score for the stage adaptation of Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire that’s being produced by the ART in association with the Dutch company Toneelgroep Amsterdam. When you take into account the complexities of this unusual production, Moor’s contributions may seem minor. But Dutch/Syrian director Ola Mafaalani, who previously worked with the Dutch band Moor plays guitar in — the Ex — on a staged version of A Clockwork Orange, had no intention of doing anything remotely straightforward with Wings of Desire, particularly with the music. And if you’re Mafaalani looking for kindred spirits around Amsterdam, well, the Ex are bound to be pretty high on your list. Moor was drafted not just to compose incidental music for the production but to teach two of the performers to play guitar and bass during the show.

“There are bits where the music is loud and chaotic on stage,” Moor says with a sly grin. “But it’s not forced chaos, it’s not trying to be crazy. It’s just a natural part of what’s happening on stage. See, Ola has a punky, anarchic side to her. I can see it the whole time she’s working in theater. It’s a struggle. The whole time she wants this freedom and this anarchy and explosion. Some actors love it and some hate it because they go mad from it.”

What complicated matters was that only one of the actors knew how to play guitar before the production got under way in Amsterdam earlier this year. Moor laughs as he recalls the process. “I don’t know where to start because it was such a different thing. Ola wanted to have live music in the show, and we realized we only had one real guitar player. She wanted this intensity of a live band because in the film you have the scene with the live band [the scene with Nick Cave]. So we have one guitar player — Jesse Lenat — and he’s really good. Luckily, Hadewych Minis, who does the other voiceover in the play, was willing to pick up the bass, which she had never played. We spent the first five weeks just practicing in my bedroom. It was so strange to teach someone what to play. I’ve never done that before. In the Ex, everybody works out their own parts.”

Indeed, there’s much about participating in Wings of Desire that’s new ground for Moor, who joined the Ex after quitting the Dog Faced Hermans and moving from Scotland to Amsterdam a decade and a half ago. Generally regarded as Holland’s most forceful, politicized answer to the punk-rock explosion that had overtaken the UK, the Ex came out of an anything-goes squatter scene where experimental musicians, actors, directors, and artists interacted freely. That has ensured that when the Ex tour, they play gritty rock clubs, not big concert halls. (On December 12 they’ll be at the Middle East.) So even just being part of a production at a large, clean, respectable performance venue like the Loeb is a change for Moor.

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