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Starter Set - Starter Set: New Dance and Music for the Camera

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Artist: Starter Set

Album: Starter Set: New Dance and Music for the Camera

Label: Kill Rock Stars

Review date: Feb. 27, 2006

Starter Set mines the fertile middle ground among indie music, modern dance and filmmaking. The results look and feel like all three: part music video, part performance document, part experimental film. If that sounds like the entire kitchen sink… well, it is, and producer Katie Eastburn knows it and revels in the ambition of the project. Herself a modern renaissance woman, Eastburn uses this occasion to bring together and show off her community of multi-talented friends, including choreographer/dancer Jane Paik, dancer/actress Lindsay Beamish, musicians from groups such as Young People, Liars and Vaz, and a handful of filmmakers/editors/camera people. DIY enthusiasm runs thick.

Dance, music and film usually take a number of well-trodden paths when put together. Character portraits, performance documents and music videos all possess their own shortcomings – the dryness of sitting a camera in front of a stage, the condescension of a thinly veiled sales pitch (a.k.a. music video). Less often do collaborators find an interaction that uses movement, editing, sound, or composition to create a fresh perspective or unlikely relationship.

Starter Set clearly has eyes for this kind of original interaction. The choreography is not mere decoration or cheerleading for the music. The music is often composed or remixed in order to fit the particular project of the filmmaking. And the images don't serve to just show the dancers doing their thing, as if the camera were planted stage left. So the majority of the disc offers that much intrigue at least. At the same time, all these elements can cause some head scratching; the abstraction of modern dance adds another layer that can send people up the river sans paddle.

The best pieces manage to pull every element into the fold. "Your Grave" places Eastburn smack in the middle of a windy desert, gown billowing as she hops up and down, tracing invisible figures in the sand. She could be either frustrated or giddy, but an evocative piano ballad with close breathing suggests something in between. "I'm the Insides" hits full experimental mode with gauzy sketched images and lo-fi found audio making macabre confessions. Two women in their underwear (Eastburn and Paik) wander around a dank, mirrored room filmed by director Beamish. They evoke insides, outsides and gestalt therapy, and offer the sexiest piece of the set by far. Other pieces don't work as well. The varied movements and extended length of "Senior Picture" get tedious, and the choreography repetitive. The overwrought design of the musical "LaundrOdyssey" looks a little painful.

On top of the DVD medium, Eastburn and her collaborators also take Starter Set on the road, most recently opening for Deerhoof and performing in other music-related spaces. In various ways, these performers take dance out of the black box theater and into the world; they want to expand their audience and inject some new life into the average perception. With that goal, they also run into the risk of new audiences falling flat on a medium they don't follow. So cheers to the brave ambition, even if it might not land perfectly every time.

By Jeff Seelbach

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