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Mary Richards is a graduate of James Madison University and an artist. In this short piece, she describes the creation of a backdrop that was used for the Tropic of Metallotronic music festival organized by Kansas House resident Derek Morton.

I think Derek did approach Treiops (Treyfid) to do the backdrop, but he was a real artist. I don’t think he was showing much enthusiasm for the project. I was hanging around Kansas all the time (lots of JMU grads) and, at JMU, I had done some visual and performance art and used to organize shows, book bands, and that sort of thing. Anyway, I was dying to do something creative. (My day job was a front desk position on the Hill. Flag requests and constituent mail weren’t exactly saving the world but it was where I wanted to be most of the time.) Somehow, I inherited the backdrop to coordinate at some point.

Derek wanted to make the Black Cat look totally different than a normal night. It was a collaborative process between Derek and I initially and then it took on a life of its own from there.

One night hanging out (maybe at Galaxy Hut), I asked a bunch of people to come over on a Saturday afternoon and bring certain stuff (I think I only asked for instruments or music at that time). A bunch of folks showed up with some stuff but not a lot, which was why we needed to break it apart — there wasn’t enough to work with. Oh, and we sort of thought the instruments might clang around and make their own music or be interactive in some way, which I finally realized would have looked and felt too literal. It just happened that in the moment of creating this thing we modified the original idea and settled on the idea of a backdrop that seemed like exploded music and art. Also, someone had a busted TV at Kansas, so we expanded the idea to be anything with a mechanism that you could make music or art with. Anyway, we were trying to break all this stuff apart in the front yard — unsuccessfully — which was why Suz started chucking stuff off the roof/out of her bedroom window. Well, to be honest, things were thrown from the roof for the sake of creativity and the fun of destruction — often the same thing to a bunch of 22 year olds.

That took up the whole day, as I recall, and I ended up with a stack of crap that I had to figure out how to use. We had some stuff that was smashed to bits and couldn’t be used at all; and other stuff was going to be damn hard to suspend as a backdrop. I also had to figure out how to fill out the backdrop and give it some depth and some cohesion — make it something to look at that didn’t look like garbage. That’s how I decided to make the PVC frames and bend and warp some flashing (the thin metal that is used around chimneys in home construction — it’s also VERY sharp). The backdrop ended up being really shiny and reflective and it filled out the huge space. I think in the end there were three separate pieces that I hung.

Oh and Derek and I pissed off Dante because I hung the backdrop from, I think, the lighting rig over the stage at the old black cat. I’m pretty sure neither Derek nor I asked anyone about this monstrous backdrop before I hauled out a ladder and started hanging it up — it was apx. 30 lbs of PVC framed flashing, busted instruments, and parts of video cameras, televisions, and maybe an old turntable. I think Suzanne Clarke and I went over to the Black Cat after work to do this the night before the shows started. Anyway, Dante wasn’t amused, which wasn’t fun for us. But we talked him into letting us fix how we hung it and, in the end, he didn’t make us take it down, either.

On the other hand, the old guys at Cherrydale hardware enjoyed my several visits to purchase the right flashing and PVC pipe — that was funnier.

I think I still have my original drawings of the backdrop in a box somewhere.

Oh, and you should ask Derek about the academic musicians (NYU ethnomusicologists?) who played the show and wanted, among other things, a locked garage to keep their car in overnight — they were leaving their handmade gamelan instruments in the car & they refused to leave in the driveway at Kansas. More than a dozen bands were happy to be playing this great show, but that one band had Derek running around for days. And, I think Derek had a website he created around this time as well as his listserv (you were on ‘hipfux’ right?). Derek ran it for years before he handed it over to Jimmy to run (now it’s runnykine).

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