Looking For Miami Beach At 100, In Sound And Screens

Jan 29, 2015

New World Symphony rehearses for the world premiere of El Sol Caliente, in honor of the 100th anniversary of Miami Beach. Morrison's film stretches across eight screens.
Credit Alicia Zuckerman / WLRN

The composer Michael Gordon and filmmaker Bill Morrison have been fusing their visions for upwards of 17 years. Some of their work together is included in a Bill Morrison retrospective up now at the MoMA in New York. Their first piece was for Bang on a Can, the new-music collective Gordon co-founded. It was called "City Walk," and over the years, a lot of their work has been about cities. Though, to say it's about anything isn't quite accurate.

Their work isn't narrative. It's more like it evokes something, often the feeling of a place, like the frenetic-ness of New York in "Gotham" or the film noir dreaminess of Los Angeles in "Dystopia." (They've done 13 pieces together so far, and about a year ago, their best-known work, "Decasia," was entered into the National Film Registry of the U.S. Library of Congress -- alongside "Mary Poppins" and "Pulp Fiction.")

The commission from New World Symphony to create a piece to mark this year's centennial of Miami Beach has resulted in the third in what's turned out to be a series about cities. "El Sol Caliente" ("The Hot Sun") has its world premiere Friday, Jan. 30, led by Michael Tilson Thomas with a second performance Saturday. That will also be projected into the park off Washington Avenue via Wallcast.

Here's a sneak peek of an excerpt from the film before it premieres tonight.

When they got the commission, they thought, "Well, OK, let's just start looking for Miami Beach, and see what we find," says Morrison.

What he found was rare archival footage of the 1926 hurricane, including a ship that'd washed up into the middle of the city, and World War II troops training on our beaches. 

Morrison was here for Art Basel in December, and some of the footage is from that week, too. He made a video of one of the Basel highlights, the artist Theo Jansen's beach-walking Strandbeests

Composer Michael Gordon as a student at Miami Beach High School student in 1973 where he wrote he first piece for orchestra
Credit Courtesy of Michael Gordon

A MIAMI BEACH CHILDHOOD

Gordon grew up in Miami Beach. He came here with his parents from Nicaragua when he was eight, so his memories were the impetus for some of the piece.

He and his band used to go poolside to poolside at the hotels, collecting tips in hats. And it was as a student at Miami Beach High that he wrote his very first piece for orchestra.

After Gordon and Morrison got this commission for the Miami Beach centennial, Gordon was rolling  ideas about his old city around in his head and published this letter about the role Miami Beach played in his life in music.  

Gordon says the premiere of "El Sol Caliente" will be bittersweet, because his parents, who so loved New World Symphony, are no longer alive.

Click here for information about the concerts.