Back in the Fall of 2012 when we were just trying out production strategies for the Twilight Angel, we decided to put together a little experimental short based on James in the process of painting. It needed music to help hold the editing together. My legacy of producing music-videos asserted itself in the pinch for putting this thing together in time for an event we were using to drum up support for our Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

I shot the footage one night so James and I could get a feel for working together in the intimacy of the artists’ process. We got some good material, but it wasn’t part of a narrative yet. So, to edit something together, I chose as the foundation a piece of music I had created with Rusty Kirkland about a year earlier.

It was sort of an exotic groove with a lot of polyrhythmic guitar and percussion that I knew would be fun to cut the video to it. I layered-in a spoken word recording I had of James’ and the short “Duende” manifested itself.

When we showed it at the fundraiser it got such a great response that it served as a model for most of the painting scenes that we did for the movie. Based on the feedback we got, it seemed like the music was a good fit. James encouraged Rusty and I to come up with more contributions to the soundtrack.

Months later, after the narrative story and the production strategy was more nailed down, we revisited the need for a substantial amount of music. We felt like it was essential to balance the monologue parts of the film and had evidence that viewers liked the way music worked with the act of painting.

Witham and Kirkland in the studio

Rusty and I go way back as co-creators. We were friends and had done some music together in college in the mid 70’s. A few years later he came into the studio in Chicago to help me out when I was working on finishing some of my own ideas after my band, the Free Lunch Theory, drifted apart. He was awesome on guitar, and adapted well to improvising within a context. Plus, I think he had a lot of fun immersed in the technology of the recording studio environment. We liked working together.

For Twilight Angel I knew Rusty and I already had about 4 or 5 pieces that might work well in some of the scenes that we had finished shooting. There was another test screening of substantial portions of the film coming up in 6 weeks and I needed some more new music to edit in to what we would show to our supporters and new fans.

After that first screening of Duende, James had been very supportive of Rusty and I doing the majority of the music for the film. We finished shooting all the principal photography and I began editing, I needed the tracks to integrate with the editing. James sat in with us one day at Rusty’s studio to get the ball rolling for creating the rest of the soundtrack.

Rusty Kirkland, guitar

I recall so clearly being at the recording console that afternoon. After the three of us had some discussion, Rusty strapped on the guitar and started to play, just improvising freely based on thematic concepts we had talked about. After pacing about a bit, James settled on the studio couch, leaned back and closed his eyes. Rusty played and I provided some minimal beats for timekeeping. I recorded everything.

At one point James exclaimed, “Oh! That’s Grandma’s house.”

We kept on. Rusty exploring an ambient approach at some point later elicited, “That’s me going AWOL” from the couch. Each time I annotated what got a response and then over the next few weeks we produced something from those seeds. We finished 6 more pieces for the test screening and another 3 soon thereafter. There are 15 Witham-Kirkland pieces in the full feature.

Studio Collaboration

Studio Collaboration

That first afternoon in the studio epitomized the creative process for me: you put several artists in the room together, and they will invariably make something dynamic and evocative. I believe it is a testament to the cooperation of the individuals involved that we ended up creating such a wonderful soundtrack for the Twilight Angel in such a short time.