Jules Gimbrone / ARIA ORION

WREST is a multimedia performance created by artistic collaborators Jules Gimbrone (music), Elliot Montague (film), and Jules Skloot (dance). This is an excerpt from WREST performed live at University Settlement May 8th, 2010.

Exclusive interview with Jules Gimbrone

Hilda Magazine: Your work seems to have started as a collaborative enterprise from the beginning, as you state in your website, saying the work with Jen Rosenblit was one of the first catalysts for your artistic production. What is the importance of collaboration in your composition? How does it influence your music or the way you compose?

Jules Gimbrone: When I collaborate with visual artists, I find myself able to engage my work in a more holistic way, that isn’t so dependent on the audience having, or not having, a specific music (with a capital M) experience.  Music is such a huge part of most of our daily lives, that we all have very personal and developed tastes, and ways of listening.  When I work with visual artists, be it dancers or filmmakers, in creating a performance, I am interested in developing a third, conversational space between mediums.  This seems to take the pressure off, both myself and the other collaborators, to define and limit what we do to a specific, predetermined set of rules and expectations.  As a visual artist myself, I often use drawing or painting as a way to work out musical problems, or to develop a context in which the work can exist.  When I am working in a stimulating collaboration, I find it endlessly fascinating to see fellow artists in process.  Like with Jen Rosenblit, the most exciting collaborations happen when they are asking completely different types of questions, and seem to be using an alien language and set of codes.

Hilda Magazine: You have a leading role in Aria Orion as a composer. How is the work with the other member of the ensemble, and how much part do they take in the composition process or the collaboration with other artists, of other media?

Jules Gimbrone: ARIA ORION is the name of a project that I started when arriving to New York about 4 years ago.  The idea was that it would basically function as an ensemble of musicians that would rotate and change based on their availability and the nature of the music I was composing at the time.  Our first recording, Let the Sharp Stone Fly, is comprised of my written compositions, with periods of improvisation by the instrumentalists.  The album is structurally a narrative, that I wrote and edited while in rehearsal with the members of ARIA ORION.  While I plan on phasing out the name ARIA ORION in replace for my own name, the basic concept behind the ensemble still remains. I spend a lot of time in my ergonomical studio (my friends call it my space station) writing on my computer, but the most important development of the music is in rehearsals with the brilliant musicians that I have the honor to work with.  In that setting I see myself more as a conductor/performer who is responding to the interpretations and impulses of the musicians in the room.  None of the work exists in a vacuum, and at this time am not sure how I feel about sending my compositions away to be performed by folks in distant lands.  I re-write and re-arrange parts based on what happens inside of rehearsal.  I listen to input from the musicians, and while I don’t always agree, we all crystallize a deeper understanding of the piece within these questions.  Basically, I see it all as one big collaboration: it starts with my conversations with the other artists working in other media, then moves to me writing music with the strengths of specific instrumentalists in mind, and finally worked out in the interpreting the music during rehearsal.  

WREST is a multimedia performance created by artistic collaborators Jules Gimbrone (music), Elliot Montague (film), and Jules Skloot (dance). This is an excerpt from WREST performed live at University Settlement May 8th, 2010.

Hilda Magazine: "Wrest" seems to be the most layered work you have produced to date, involving dance and film. Could you tell us about the collaboration and creation process with filmmaker Elliot Montague and choreographer Jules Skloot?

Jules Gimbrone: Elliot and I are long-time best friends and collaborators.  Our work together probably started about 7 years ago when we met in Western Massachusetts and realized our shared love and artistic investment in queer experimental narratives, spirituality, the desert, and cats.  We officially started working together on his film, Mainstay, that I scored.  Some of the music from Let the Sharp Stone Fly appeared in the film. In addition, when ARIA ORION performed these songs live, Elliot created a visual video montage to go with the show.  After Let the Sharp Stone Fly and Mainstay, we wanted to do I more deliberate performance collaboration that we created together.  We decided that we wanted the piece to be a queer story that developed through film, music and dance.  Elliot knew Jules Skloot through school, and thought that he would be a good match for the nature of the project. I had worked with filmmakers and choreographers in a creative process before, but this was the first time that I worked with both at once.  The logistics of this type of performance proved to be at times very difficult because we didn’t have an outside director.  Ultimately we developed a performance arc collectively and individually made decisions about our specific mediums.  It was a multi-layered process, where we were meeting all of the time and talking a lot about structure and themes. 

The music developed cohesive sections pretty early on in the process; so at times the other mediums were working off of the tone and time-limitations of the music.  I was sending many midi files before us musicians actually began rehearsing the music.  We had three huge rehearsals (with all of the dancers, musicians, and three panels of video) that were spaced out through the six months of creating the piece.  At these times, we would fit our mediums together and try to have some objective clarity to see what was working.  Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Honestly, I am quite amazed that we pulled off such a huge project without any previous experience in the magnitude of this type of performance and with no overarching director.  I learned a lot about the magic of performance and collaboration through the Wrest project, and am in the process of turning the music from Wrest into a studio album.  But this time, I am looking for help from an outside producer.  

Hilda Magazine: The website mentions Joan of Arc as a reference for contemporary representations of identity. This is a difficult question, but how does gender enter your composition work?

Jules Gimbrone: For Wrest, we used the story of Joan of Arc as an archetypical gender non-conforming narrative.  We were interested in Joan’s story as a template through which to structure the piece, and less in her as a historical figure.  We are telling our stories through exploring the extreme stages in Joan’s life leading up to her death.  We used the phases of her life as metaphoric points of human development independent of a specific linear time-line.  For example, we have a section that we informally called “visions” where we explore the experience of a disassociation with oneself and the world.

I identify as genderqueer or transgender, or more generally, as a person who has a tenuous relationship to gender-as-usual.  This ambiguity in my body reflects in the way that I compose music. When I write a piece of music, I leave loose ends.  I build a structure with the hope of tearing it down.  This dismantling can be in the interplay between the dance/film and the live music, or can be a momentary conducting detour. Often I use my voice as a puncture. I am compelled by the spiritual space between objects, to become the embodiment of tension, magnetism, and liminality.  My work consistently contains an emotional vulnerability that punctures formal musical structural elements.

ARIA ORION recording at Monkeytown 5.15.09 with film by Elliot Montague and Stephen Remington. Jules Gimbrone (composer/vocals/guitar), Geo Wyeth (Drums, vocals, accordion), Daniel Arnnow (Bass), Batya Sobel (oboe). Videographer, editor Billy Keefe.

Hilda Magazine: Your works have been performed in very specific spaces, project rooms in New York and the Judson Church. Does space matter in a very technical manner, or does space define the work in more creative terms?

Jules Gimbrone: Judson was an amazing space to perform in, and working with Jen Rosenblit, we strategized about how the music and dance would interact in such a huge and impressive space.  Often when you see music performed live with dance, the musicians are shrouded in a dark space in the back of the room. There is something fundamentally awkward about this to me, being that we are all performers, and musicians in addition to dancers take up visual space during a performance.  At Judson, the musicians formed an inner circle that served as a structural visual element on the stage.  We were engaging in our own little world while being a part of the larger picture.  In general, yes, I think about space a lot when planning a performance.  In more traditional music venues, we don’t have much flexibility, and that is something that we accommodate to as well.  

Hilda Magazine: You are the main vocalist in the ensemble, along with Geo Wyeth. Could you tell me specifically about the texts your oralize, vocalize?

Jules Gimbrone: Lyrics are used to evoke states of being, or momentary visual recognition of the self.  I often consider the lyrics to be a picture, or snapshot of the environment.  I develop complex characters that are then stripped down to their most intimate moments, and use imagery and sensory experience to show their relationship to their world.  I tell queer stories that focus on the obstacles of human interaction and disclosure.  When I sing, I become the embodiment of that moment.
Geo is another best friend/collaborator who I have learned from and developed with over the past three years.  I love to play music with him, and this is especially true in singing with him.  We spent a week in New Mexico this summer driving around the desert and singing together in ancient caves and expansive emptiness.  Recently, we performed together with Jen Rosenblit in a semi-structured experimental way that centered around pre-verbal harmonious vocalizations.  We pretend that we are in the womb together, two-headed monster singing to itself.   We are working on little recordings.

"THAT SICK SOUND", Judson Church, November 7, 2007 An experimental collaboration between the choreography of Jen Rosenblit/BottomHeavy Productions and the music of Jules Gimbrone/ARIA ORION.

Hilda Magazine: The first video I saw of your work was "That sick sound". It seems different from the others, but I cannot pin down why. Could you tell me about this work in relation to "Wrest" and "Let the sharp stone fly"?

Jules Gimbrone: This was the first time in my life that I officially took on the role of the composer.  When I listen to this music I hear it’s vulnerability and where it is unsure of itself.  I actually like this quality, it allows clarity and moments of emptiness.  The space itself, Judson, also added to the expansive symphonic feel of the recording. 


Jules Gimbrone is a Brooklyn based composer, performer and artist who leads the music ensemble, ARIA ORION. Gimbrone often collaborates with film makers and choreographers. Beginning in 2007 as a humble collaboration with renowned NYC dance choreographer, Jen Rosenblit, the compositional skills and forward thinking vision of Jules Gimbrone led ARIA ORION to perform at highly acclaimed venues in NYC including: The Judson Church, Glasslands Gallery, Joe’s Pub, Zebulon, Monkeytown, and Galapagos Art Space. In the spring of 2009 Gimbrone played and recporded a series of shows with NYC based experimental video artists Elliot Montague. Gimbrone is a proud Teaching Artist of music and digital media for Urban Arts Partnership and the media director for the radical queer youth program Q.u.E.S.T. In 2008 Gimbrone received the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media and is a 2010 Brooklyn Arts Council Regrant Recipient.