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Comments on "The ABC of ROFFEKE" Screenings (September 2015 at iHub)

I liked all the films especially the one for Superman [“This is Joe”] and the last one which was longer [“ Frontman ”]. I look forward to at...

The Indie Bible

Friday, May 10, 2024

Video Interview: Daniel Lir and Bayou Bennett – directors of “Connection”

Daniel Lir and Bayou Bennett had set the bar high with their short film “Time is Eternal” so my expectations were in the stratosphere as I begun watching “Connection”. They - including the international cast and crew - did not disappoint! I (Mildred) sent Daniel and Bayou the following questions and they answered them in an awesome video. Enjoy!

1. Your short film “Connection” is a beautiful and captivating piece with a strong environmental theme and that spans different countries in different continents. Making films has an impact on the environment. How did you both and the cast/crew take care of the environment during the filming of “Connection”?

2. “Connection” begins with a quote by John Lennon: “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is a reality.” The cast and crew of “Connection” is diverse, which serves to enrich the short film. Was this choice part of the writing/pre-production or did it evolve as the project took shape? What inspired this film and the overall vision?

3.  Sticking with the theme of “Connection”, apart from Berite Labelle, Daniel Lir and Bayou Bennett, what are the other connections between this film “Connection” and the short film you previously submitted to ROFFEKE “Time is eternal”?

4.  Africa has 54 countries, including Nigeria, the home of Nollywood. Why Ghana as a location?

5.  If you both were to argue for “Connection” to be included as part of the curriculum in schools/colleges, what would you say?

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Interview: Simone Massi - Director of "in quanto a noi" (From our side)

ROFFEKE: You could have chosen to animate something that portrayed lighter themes but “in quanto a noi” (From our side) is about “sixty years of Italian History flow, taking us from one darkness to another”. What is the importance of highlighting darker themes, especially from historical events?

SIMONE MASSI: I could have chosen to talk about lighter themes, it's true, but this is the path I chose from the beginning. The first short film made at school, just under thirty years ago, told the story of the Resistance and fascism. I believe I was the first in Italy to address these issues and I made this choice with awareness of the difficulties and risks. Animated cinema should be a worthy heir to painting, to the studies of Renaissance painters. And they told stories and not jokes.

ROFFEKE: In the 2013 interview by Golden Kuker Sofia regarding a career as an animator, you said that you chose “a difficult job”. Animation is challenging and time-consuming but what are some of the advantages, highlights and fun aspects of being an animator?

SIMONE: There are mainly two advantages: freedom and being able to do a job that I love. How many can say the same thing?

ROFFEKE: In the same 2013 interview, you say you’ve been an animator since 1995. What would you say are the main differences between animation in 1995 and animation in 2024?

SIMONE: In my opinion there are no big differences, I continue to see animation as a splendid opportunity for expression and I continue in the same way, with the sequence shot, the zooms, the metamorphoses... I have taken into account that in the meantime the world is changed a lot and people might see my work as something ancient, out of time.

ROFFEKE: As an animator, what are your views about artificial intelligence and creativity?

SIMONE: What I have noticed is that much of what had been imagined by the writers and directors of science fiction films is coming true. And given that they unanimously prophesied catastrophic scenarios, I cannot hide that I am worried. Throughout its thousand-year history, human beings have never demonstrated wisdom or common sense.

ROFFEKE: Advice for upcoming animators?

SIMONEI belong to the older generation, which makes everything by hand, without using a computer, it is very difficult to give advice. Instead I have a hope, I hope that upcoming animators try to make their dreams come true without harming others.

ROFFEKE: In these hectic times, how do you take care of your mental health?

SIMONE: I try not to follow the media, not to rush. And then I try to take the good in life, accepting defeat and respecting others.

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Interview: Federico Santini - composer of "Boysong" from the film Quest for Feilong (Part 2)

ROFFEKE: During the 2020 lockdown, the world saw how Italians stood in solidarity with each other through music on their balconies:“In the flat in front of me, a couple with a small child appeared,”…“The mother carried him in her arms while the father played a children’s musical toy. They waved over at us and we waved back. We’ve never met.” (“Balcony singing in solidarity spreads across Italy during lockdown” The Guardian).

Did the lockdown increase your productivity as a composer or did it lessen your productivity? How did you cope during this challenging time? How do you take care of your mental health?

FEDERICO SANTINI: At the school where I worked we started with remote lessons immediately, so the teaching activity never stopped. Unfortunately, not long before I had started having breathing problems which worsened during the lockdown, not being able to rely on medical care. At a certain moment, as directed by the doctor who was worried it could be Covid (the symptoms of the disease at that time were not yet very well known), I had to isolate myself in a couple of rooms for about a month and my activity during that period had stopped completely. During the rest of the lockdown my composition activity remained more or less the same as before, even if the cooperation with the musicians who had to record the songs from the soundtrack took place online.

 Teaching activity became more difficult during the lockdown because the remote learning triggers a series of critical issues. Feedback with students is more difficult on screen. It is difficult to understand if the topics explained are clear and it is also more difficult for the students to interact with the teacher.
For me in that period, communication with loved ones was very important, especially with the Chinese harpist, Siyun Shen, whom I spoke about above [in part 1], with whom I had established a deep friendship. Especially during my period of isolation, Siyun was very close to me and we spent hours every day communicating via Whatsapp, especially with messages since my breathing problems made verbal communication a little difficult.

ROFFEKE: Your thoughts on artificial intelligence and music?

FEDERICO: As far as I'm concerned, I don't use artificial intelligence in composition, I like to take care of every aspect personally. So far I haven't found any really interesting compositions created by artificial intelligence. I think it does well in low and medium-low level compositions but so far I haven't heard any interesting music. However, when A.I. finally will be able, to write some beautiful music, and I think it's a matter of time, I will be very happy to listen to it. But I believe that there are big risks for composers due to the numerous instances where A.I. has been involved in matter of plagiarism. Artificial intelligence operates without awareness of what it means to copy a work, and therefore, which is why many artists are complaining about this.

ROFFEKE: Advice for aspiring composers?

FEDERICO: First of all, I would recommend an in-depth study of the subject. Searching for scores and analyzing the songs you like is a useful tool. Look for qualified teachers to take lessons from. Studying alone is not enough, it is useful to play in many different contexts and enrich yourself with many experiences. It was useful to me, in addition to playing in classical ensembles, being part of rock and pop bands, accompanying Gospel choirs, and so on. I think it is important to make yourself known by interacting with other people as much as possible. Avoid contexts for which you don't have time to prepare, you risk making a bad impression. I would also recommend being fair to other composers and protecting your works before sending them out.

(You can read part 1 of the interview HERE

Interview: Peter Böving - Writer, Director, Producer of The Heaviest Order (Part 4)

ROFFEKE: In part 3 of the interview, you said: " In my first "life," I was a musician – 25 years on live stage..." How has being a musician helped you in your work as an animator/filmmaker?

PETER Böving: I can highly recommend this sequence :) As a musician, you learn and practice not only the instrument and theory but also something extremely helpful in filmmaking: a sense of timing! One aspect of my cinematic work focuses on poetry films, with an emphasis on sound poetry and music. I have tested the texts of the poetry films created so far live on stage in various programs over many years. Audience reactions are, of course, an incredible gift: from one performance to another, you can fine-tune your performance, music, and intensity. How many filmmakers have the opportunity to collect so much feedback in the pre-production phase? However, it would be dishonest of me to claim that 25 years ago, I already knew I wanted to incorporate all these experiences into film productions later on. Sometimes, one is also lucky, and things just come together that seemingly belong together.
ROFFEKE: Your profile on says that in 2010 you "founded the animation studio "Kloetzchenkino"; from 2006 to 2011 you "held various commissions in the advertising film and music film industry"; in 1999, you "founded the audiobook label "Shower Records"...published numerous CDs in the field of literary dubbing, funk and jazz in the distribution of EICHBORN"; from 1993 to 2003 you "made extensive tours with your own literary program, visited the Goethe-Instituts in Germany, Switzerland, France, Scandinavia, the Baltic States and Russia"; since 1983, you have worked as a musician and since 1990, you have worked as "a composer in the field of theater music, mainly in North Rhine-Westphalia." How do you maintain work-life balance? How do you take care of your mental health?
PETER: This may initially seem like a lot to read. However, I've been around for quite a few years, and all these activities are already a bit scattered. It might sound strange when I say that, for my taste, I'm doing far too little. That's exactly what I've been thinking since I became aware that I might have been born into one of the most significant turning points in human history: the digital revolution! There aren't many generations here in Germany that have held printing plates, hand-cut Super 8 films, or learned their craft in an analog studio and later adapted to the digital world. As I mentioned before, it's crucial for me that in a semi-digital animated film, you can almost "smell" the analog production moments. However, this can only be achieved if you feel at home in both worlds. It's the grace of the timing of my birth: a privilege and responsibility at the same time! In just a few years, as AI sets out to conquer the last remaining spaces in cultural creation, people might envy us and possibly wonder why, in this unique time, we produced so much mainstream and had so little courage to develop something exciting.

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Interview: Federico Santini - composer of "Boysong" from the film Quest for Feilong (Part 1)

ROFFEKE: In your “About Me” page on your website, it is mentioned that you teach piano and music education at middle schools, high schools and music schools. What would you say is the importance of music education in middle school and high school?

FEDERICO SANTINI: I believe that musical activity has an important contribution in strengthening cognitive, emotional, linguistic, motor and relational skills, especially in developmental age, where the brain is still in the training phase. This is why I believe music education in schools is important. During the musician's activity, many brain areas are involved, from the auditory to the visual, from the motor to the language. The musician has to coordinate the movement quickly on the basis of what he finds written in the score. Furthermore, in addition to listening to his own playing, he must pay attention in real time to what others are playing, in order to play in time, to establish a joint interpretation of phrasing, etc.

Neuroscientists who have conducted studies on the subject, claim that musicians' brain connections are particularly developed as different brain areas are mobilized which must process stimuli of different nature. In addition, these stimuli and actions also involve the two different hemispheres of the brain, thus strengthening the corpus callosum which acts as a connection. Furthermore, the music, by involving the emotional sphere of the individual, especially at an age where this is not yet fully mature, guides him to greater awareness and maturation of the same. In the school program I often also include the topic of music used for advertising purposes. The advertising message, packaged in such a way as to appeal to emotional involvement, generally sees the youngest people as the most vulnerable because they still lack defense tools, so I try to explain some of the mechanisms to them, especially from the point of view of the advertising jingle.

Music is also often recognized as having a social and aggregative role. In fact, I have participated in several projects whose main objectives include not so much the students' musical performance but socialization and integration in areas and situations of social hardship. Music urges us to listen to others in order to work in unison and each member of the group or orchestra is important, each one with their part. In essence, I believe that musical activity within schools includes various aspects and substantially integrates the individual's education.

ROFFEKE: You have composed soundtracks for theatrical performances, advertisements, festivals, video games and short films like “Quest for Feilong” (song: Boysong). What elements of composing remain the same across all these different types of media and what elements differ, for example, differences between composing for a video game and composing for a short film?

FEDERICO: I think that the basis for all composition activity should be a systematic and in-depth study of harmony and composition in general. I think training based on classical principles is indispensable, but for a wider view I believe we need to grasp the harmonic principles linked to different techniques and deepen into the specific languages of many genres. In general, the different techniques of composition learned have served me for all kinds of composition.

The main differences, however, regarding music for video games compared to that of short films concern the interaction on the part of the player. When I write for short films (whether animated or live action) I have the precise timing of the scene and I can work on the synchronization between music and images. This happens both if the complete film is already provided to me and if I work with the animatic. In a video game, however, I have to predict the player's possible actions during the composition phase and make sure that the music can adapt accordingly. This can be done in a more or less complex way. A very simple example (but in my opinion not always effective) is the crossfade: one music fades out while the other is fading in. A more complex technique is to create a bridge between two different pieces of music. It is a harder task where several points must be foreseen in which the first music can transition to a short jingle that connects to the second music. Another method is to create a soundtrack with different rhythms and then move from a quieter mood to a brighter one.

Another substantial difference is the length of time the soundtrack is listened to. While a film generally lasts from an hour and a half to three hours, a video game can be played for more than 80 hours and the risk of monotony is very high . To overcome this, there will have to be moments where the music must remain as a constant background and then rise in the salient moments where it becomes more relevant.

ROFFEKE: Boysong is from the short film Quest for Feilong: “…created to promote integration in Prato where a strong presence of the immigration phenomenon takes place. Students of different ethnic groups participated, together with their teachers, in the making of the film, which touches on the issue of migration/integration.” Apart from this project “Quest for Feilong” and you teaching music abroad, how else has your musical journey helped you to interact with people from different communities and cultures?

FEDERICO: I went to a conference in Pakistan a couple of months ago to talk about music in education and I had the opportunity to meet colleagues teachers and musicians with whom we exchanged ideas, ways of working and organizing school. Musical activity also allowed me to play with people from different cultures. For a few years, for example, I have been playing in a duo with a Chinese harpist who in the meantime has also become a dear friend. I had the opportunity to collaborate with directors from countries other than mine or to play during exhibitions with artists of different nationalities.

(Look out for Part 2 of the interview).

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Interview: Peter Böving - Writer, Director, Producer of The Heaviest Order (Part 3)

ROFFEKE: In part 2 of the interview, you said: “…something often overlooked in creative processes is that experimenting with mistakes often leads to entirely new ideas, possibly even the best ones!” Please share any examples either from “The Heaviest Order” or any other creative work of yours where mistakes took you in new and interesting directions.

PETER Böving: In my first "life," I was a musician – 25 years on live stages and in a constant process of learning. There, I recognized the approach of "Error as Opportunity" and quickly cultivated it. Whenever tonally thrown off track while improvising, I noted that mistake – or, more sympathetically, the blue note – in the corresponding context and firmly integrated it into the further arrangement from that moment on. Ideally, one then weaves unpredictable turns in their improvisation on these detours. The crucial aspect is to "sell" what one is playing outwardly and always know where the emergency exit is, if in doubt... In filmmaking, I experience these moments much less frequently. A surefire way to create surprising moments is to "overlay" music or sounds onto one's films, ones that one would never have thought could fit together or complement each other. Approaching such a process openly ensures that one can certainly hear where a "match" can occur.
ROFFEKE: In part 2 of the interview, you also mentioned that your parental home influenced you to prevent food waste. In what ways did your parental home influence you in terms of creativity and the arts?

PETER: In addition to a few obligations, I was allowed to be a child. I would say that I played disproportionately much – often with things that were not necessarily age-appropriate. I essentially disappeared for years. Once, when my parents went on a summer vacation with my brothers, I chose to stay alone with my grandmother. During that period, I built ancient Rome from Kellogg's Cornflakes packages. When my family returned after weeks of relaxation, my fingers were sore, I was chalk-white with a happy face, and most importantly: Rome was completed!

ROFFEKE: “The Heaviest Order” has been featured in many film festivals all over the world. What advice would you give regarding making a film’s festival circuit successful?

PETER: This is something that probably few filmmakers are truly deeply involved in. My films also vary too much for me to create a guide to success.
A good idea or story, combined with originality and unique features, in my opinion, form a solid foundation for a film to gain attention at festivals. Impressive visuals and witty dialogues can also contribute, but in my opinion, they only bring something when the first point is fulfilled as well. Festival short films are, in any case, the ideal playground to experiment. Courage is often rewarded in the festival scene more than one might assume. Even if things don't go well at festivals, at least there is enjoyment in the production process.
What has personally helped me often: In addition to festival regulations, I also review photos from past screenings. If the atmosphere appeals to me and I feel I would enjoy being a guest there, it serves as a deciding factor for me to submit my work.
ROFFEKE: In “The Heaviest Order” there is a scene where the words “Something not right in Denmark” appear. I searched Denmark and food waste and came across a 2017 BBC article which said: “Around 29,000 tonnes of bread and cakes are discarded every year in Denmark, mainly because it is sold in portions larger than people need….” The article also says: “Yet Denmark now has more initiatives tackling food waste than any other country in the world.” It seems Denmark is tackling the food waste problem, so I’m curious, what were you referring to in that scene? :-)

PETER: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark" is just a saying originating from William Shakespeare's play "Hamlet." In Germany, it is often used to point out discrepancies, corruption, or general issues in a situation. In reality, it doesn't have much to do with the "present-day" Denmark. On the contrary, the Scandinavian countries are always one step ahead of other European states in terms of environmental protection, quality of life, innovation, and technology. So, dear Danes: No hard feelings, but you are also a bit to blame. This example vividly illustrates that not only does the internet not forget...
(The BBC article is "The country where unwanted food is selling out" by Prathap Nair, 24th January 2017. Look out for part 4 of the interview. You can read part 1 HERE and part 2 HERE)

Interview: Peter Böving - Writer, Director, Producer of The Heaviest Order (Part 2)

ROFFEKE: There are new artificial intelligence tools that, with a prompt, someone can create animated music videos or short films within minutes. What are your views on artificial intelligence? As a stop motion animator, what are the ways you see artificial intelligence being of use? What would you never use artificial intelligence for when it comes to animation?

PETER Böving: My sense is that AI will play a significant role in the creation of computer-generated animations. It seems like there won't be a stone left unturned. I can't elaborate much further as I have given my heart to the analog approach. The greatest strength of stop-motion animation lies in its analog nature, allowing one to potentially smell the materials and adhesives used in a film. Naturally, AI is gradually finding its way into my film and audio software without me actively installing anything.
However, something often overlooked in creative processes is that experimenting with mistakes often leads to entirely new ideas, possibly even the best ones! This only works when one has previously tinkered with the controls oneself. AI works largely flawlessly and doesn't reveal any vulnerabilities. But there are aspects of AI that I already wouldn't want to do without: the potential in the area of image scaling and restoration.

I will consciously keep artificial intelligence away from sound and music production, though. The evolution in this field has taken peculiar turns even before the era of AI: Instruments are being played live less and less, and arranging is often done using modular systems. However, in music, my observation is that it's not as easy to deceive as in the film medium. Those who merely 'claim' or hide behind 'effects' will be exposed much quicker by the human ear!
ROFFEKE: What are you doing in your own life to prevent wasting your food?
PETER: The whole program, I think: Planned shopping, making use of leftovers, proper storage, and minimizing waste or composting. However, I also know no other way: My parental home has greatly influenced me in this regard. We threw out little, whether it was money or food. Despite having the financial means, at our home, recycling came first before considering buying something new (of course, food was not recycled:). Probably, the post-war years, which strongly influenced my parents, still play a role here.

What I have newly discovered for myself, though, is the 'regrowth' of vegetable scraps. In our kitchen, there are little water glasses in every corner where leeks or vegetable onions grow again. That a harvested plant sprouts again is almost a miracle! After 4 weeks, there are fully grown, harvestable plants in the glasses again. Anyone who has ever grown leeks in their garden would have reason to doubt now. After 4 weeks, not much has happened in the home garden bed with a young plant, to be honest.
(Look out for part 3 of the interview. You can read part 1 of the interview HERE

Review: andymori - everything is my guitar (Music Video) directed by Brett Koehn

Synopsis: Frustrated with learning how to play guitar, a boy's world starts to get overrun by guitars until he finds his own way to approach the instrument.

Reviewer: Love Kassim

First impression: The concept of the boy's transformation from struggling at guitar to perceiving everything as guitars adds a unique and intriguing twist.
What I liked: The imaginative portrayal of the boy's growing musical proficiency intertwining with his perception of the world is a creative and engaging storyline.
What I didn't like: It would be interesting to explore the origin or reason behind the boy's sudden shift in perception and musical ability for a more comprehensive narrative.
Reminds me of: This narrative echoes elements of magical realism, similar to works where characters experience surreal shifts in perception or reality.
Conclusion: The story captivates with its imaginative blend of music and perception, leaving room for further exploration of the fantastical elements introduced.

Saturday, January 13, 2024

Interview: Peter Böving - Writer, Director, Producer of The Heaviest Order (Part 1)

ROFFEKE: Stop-motion animation takes a lot of time. How long did it take you to create "The Heaviest Order" and what challenges did you face?

PETER Böving: My biggest challenge is always the same: the start of shooting! After spending weeks on set design and characters, a large, imaginary wall builds up. Instead of being happy to finally get started, it always takes a bit of time before I really get going. Perhaps this is because stop-motion animation is like a live performance with a big unknown. However, once I've started, I usually stick with it – at least 28 days a week, continuously. It took 8 months for this film. However, I switch between tasks during that time: lighting, sound, editing, music, VFX – more or less in a bio-rhythmic manner. When one activity tires me out, I switch to another that challenges me on a different level. As long as I don't get sick, I usually maintain this 12-hour workload for months. But if I do interrupt the work, I run the risk of bringing the aforementioned problem into the studio: the start of shooting!

ROFFEKE: You have managed to creatively bring to light the serious topic of food waste, a topic that many people are either not aware of or are not interested in tackling. What advice would you give creatives who want to use their art to talk about serious societal issues?

PETER: I'm not sure if I'm in a position to give advice on this. Honestly, I'm just relieved every time I come up with a trick to present the respective subject in a creative way. Overall, the challenge might be to find a balance between a humorous story and infotainment to make an environmental film work. A personal dramaturgical touch is to keep the audience in the dark about my intentions for as long as possible.

In my current film, I admittedly went a bit overboard. The punchline would have worked even if the film had been only half as long, as originally planned in the script. However, during production, I found joy in 'stretching' the story. An example of this is a scene in the film where one of the over-the-top protagonists gets the idea to drill a tunnel in a giant cake to run his model train through. This was not in the script; during filming, this absurd turn of events seemed inevitable to me. After all, I practically 'lived' in the set and understood the perspective of my protagonists a bit better every day.

This is both the blessing and curse of productions where one person does everything. The desk-bound planner becomes an activist, creating space for adjustments while risking getting hopelessly bogged down. In the end, I stopped pushing it further simply because I didn't want to exceed a runtime of 10 minutes. As a rule of thumb, films longer than 10 minutes are a criterion for exclusion at many festivals.

ROFFEKE: Speaking of food, what are your thoughts on the ongoing German farmers strike?

PETER: A highly charged topic: I fully agree with the farmers and their demands. However, I believe that there are also many other issues being unleashed right now, issues that have been building up over decades. On the other hand, I'd like to point out that currently, we have an Agriculture Minister who is about as good as it gets. I hope that this realization will permeate the broader public. (As we know, it took a while even for our former Chancellor Schmidt to be recognized.)

(Look out for Part 2 of the interview with Peter Böving)

Monday, January 8, 2024

Interview: Dr. Nolan Stolz - composer of "Gravitation" (Part 2)

ROFFEKE: Your About page on your website says you are a “Composer, Scholar, Percussionist/Drummer, and Music Professor.” One could be criticized for not focusing on one career or lane. How do you juggle the different hats you wear? What are the advantages of being involved in diverse aspects of music/creativity?

DR. NOLAN STOLZ: Yes, I sometimes worry about that perception and potential criticism, and maybe it happens behind my back, but that's probably just imposter syndrome setting in. When I was in my late teens/early twenties, I was concerned about that in relation to my career as a jazz musician and a classical composer. For performance credits, I would put "Nolan Stolz," but for my composition credits, I would put "Nolan R. Stolz" to differentiate. I found that jazz musicians would treat other jazz musicians that had other interests as if they were somehow lesser artists—you wouldn't be able to admit listening to anything other than jazz without being mocked. I stopped caring about that and went in my own direction as a performer, one that fused jazz, rock, classical and even other styles. A similar thing was true with the classical music world, but to a much lesser extent (at least they admitted listening to popular music!). I remember one composer in graduate school saying to me, "you don't look like a composer; you dress like a rock star." It wasn't meant to be flattering, but I actually liked that idea! Over time, I was able to find my own compositional voice by not caring what others thought or how I'd fit in. My compositions are still firmly rooted in the contemporary classical tradition—even Gravitation, whose score looks like a 1950s graphic notation piece (by the way "Gravitation" is a portmanteau of "graphic" and "notation")—yet the sound of them is clearly influenced by jazz and rock.

             Nolan Stolz on Czech Radio, January 2023

The "scholar" bit didn't come until after graduate school, and I faced similar issues in that arena as well. I remember a time at a music theory conference over 10 years ago, I mentioned that I had a doctorate in composition. A music theorist (who has since become a very prominent scholar in popular music theory but wasn't yet at the time) said "I thought you were a theorist!" My response usually is "I am, and I am also a composer." I didn't do any musicology scholarship until even later. It was when a colleague asked me to write essays about Black Sabbath, Genesis, Rush, and Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention that set off a whole new path in musicology, one with a focus on Black Sabbath, complete with book, book chapters, presentations at conferences nationally and overseas, etc.

            Was There Another Black Sabbath? Dr. Nolan Stolz explains. . .

I might go to a musicology-related conference and others assume I have a PhD in Musicology (and I'm often introduced as a musicologist), and I get similar responses. Instead, I take it as a compliment—if I'm able to publish in the theory world or in the musicology world without a PhD in either, than I must be doing something right! It all came together when a musicologist said to me "I'm so impressed that you are able to publish as a composer, as a theorist, as a musicologist, and as a drummer, and do it all very well." My imposter syndrome decreased after that kind remark, but it's still there.

The juggling part is tough because I often have to choose which conferences to go to, how to spend those few hours of time, etc. but I enjoy it all, so I stay as active as I can in all realms. For me, it works to do these different things because they all inform one another. In fact, I no longer separate music theory and musicology, and just say music analysis. I've found that the better I am with music analysis, the better a composer and drummer I become. I often approach music analysis from a composer's or performer's perspective; it helps me understand others' music if I can "put myself in their shoes," so to speak.

In the end, it was my diverse skill set that got me the jobs that I've had over the years and that got me job interviews at places I never thought possible. The common thread was hearing comments such as "we liked that you did x, but also do y." In 100 applications for one position, nobody is going to have the same skill set (unless there is only one thing that you do). It's always been the secondary thing I do that got me the job interview or the job itself.

ROFFEKE: You have performed/recorded J-Pop with the band Swinging Popsicle. How did you get involved with this project? What did you learn from the experience? If you were to recommend J-Pop to a first-timer, what would you say?

DR. STOLZ: I was sitting in my office, and my cell phone rang, showing a number I didn't recognize, one that was far too long to be coming from inside the U.S. It was a friend from high school calling from Japan. He was calling because he had booked several J-Pop and J-Rock bands to perform at a festival in California, but one of them did not—and still does not—have a full-time drummer. Swinging Popsicle (as do many other bands in Tokyo come to find out) hires drummers ad-hoc without issue, but asking one to travel all the way from Tokyo to the U.S. would not have been cost-effective. 

Swinging Popsicle: "I Just Wanna Kiss You" San Jose Civic Auditorium (Fanime MusicFest) 5/26/06 

My friend, who was already confident in my abilities, called to see if I was willing and available to learn their songs with very little rehearsal time. They emailed MP3s, and I learned the drum parts. We only had a 30-minute rehearsal, which was shorter than the performance itself(!), so we only had time to rehearse the start and ends of songs and to discuss how they do things differently live than on the record. The only issue is that the translator was absent, so communication was very difficult, especially because we were pressed for time.

The first four gigs I did with them were at anime conventions. The thing I learned the most from the experience was that there is a whole subculture of anime fans that dress up ("cosplay," as they call it) as characters at conferences. I knew about anime, but not about anime conventions. So, I was pretty shocked to see so many people dressed up this way at our performances and around the convention generally.

ROFFEKE: Advice for musicians, music scholars and creatives in general?

DR. STOLZ: My advice depends on their goals.

For creatives not relying on their work as their primary income, I say "create the art that you want to exist in the world: music you want to hear, films that you want to see" and so on. If it's mainstream, great! If it's experimental, great! I wish that could be the case for all, but if you are trying to make a living at your art, diversify by finding as many ways to earn an income by providing a needed service. This means you may need to play music you don't like, do lighting for a show you don't like, etc. Doing this is a business choice, not an artistic one. Both are perfectly acceptable, and it depends on the person and the balance that is right for them. I know that I would be unhappy playing drums in a Broadway show or in a touring rock band—I'd get bored so quickly! As a teenager, those were my goals (except that I wanted to play drums in production shows on the Las Vegas strip and do the occasional tour with a band). After a few years of college, that was no longer my goal; doing those sorts of things was fine to pay the bills as a job, but I learned pretty quickly that I didn't like playing other people's music—I wanted to make my own.

For scholars, know now that you won't make much money off of book sales or royalties. Income from scholarship will come in other ways, such as a teaching position and invited talks. My advice is "write the book [or article, etc.] that you believe should exist but doesn't." There is so much joy in knowing your contribution serves its purpose. It pays off in other ways, sometimes not until years later. If I hadn't written those essays for that collection (which was essentially for free—my payment was a physical copy of the two-volume book), I probably would have never gone to England, France, or Sweden to lecture on Black Sabbath, written the book on Black Sabbath, gotten a personal email from Ozzy Osbourne. . .

(Read part 1 of the interview HERE)

                    "Gravitation" Teaser Trailer

Interview: Dr. Nolan Stolz - composer of "Gravitation" (Part 1)

ROFFEKE: You have done a 2020 “COVID” version of your composition “Gravitation” which is “an open instrumentation piece for any 5 to 8 performers” but in the Covid version, you overdubbed all the parts and used video to present it “in a way impossible in live performance.” I’ve been trying out various artificial intelligence tools, including the ones that make music. I must say that I’m very impressed with them and at the same time, I am conflicted because it seems as though something important is being lost in the process. What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence? Would you consider an “AI” version of  “Gravitation”?  Why yes and/or why no?

DR. NOLAN STOLZ: It sounds like what's being "lost in the process" that you are not satisfied with is the algorithm itself, which is likely hidden behind an easy-to-use interface. Before AI became widespread, the term we'd use for composing music in this manner was "algorithmic composition." The art is in the creation and execution of those algorithms with a result that is satisfying to the composer. An early algorithmic piece that I composed required the user to type in four characters on the keyboard—letters, numbers, symbols—the user's choice. The program I wrote took the ASCII code of the characters that the user entered and set off a series of events, which were then converted into musical sounds. The particular program I wrote made it sound a certain way, but I could have made it sound simplistic—perhaps even "pretty-sounding"—with limiting it to a simple scale and limiting the rhythms to imply a simple groove; I could have made it microtonal to avoid it from resembling Western tuning system and with bizarre/random-sounding rhythms; I chose somewhere in the middle where it was atonal and had unusual rhythms—but nothing too crazy. I titled it "Love is a Four-Letter Word."

 2018 SC Upstate Research Symposium: Nolan Stolz Rock Orchestra

I would love to create an AI version of Gravitation or have someone create one. The score for Gravitation provides quite strict instructions for timings, loudness, and frequency, but the sounds themselves could certainly be AI-generated. In other words, instead of choosing guitars and keyboards as the instruments used, AI would create the timbres. Some of the sounds are supposed to be wood against wood, metal against metal, and wood against metal, so perhaps AI could be used to control robotics physically hitting those materials. At least the timing would be incredibly precise!

ROFFEKE: You have authored “Experiencing Black Sabbath: A Listener’s Companion” and have also written many scholarly works on rock, specifically, progressive rock. With all the “more” important subjects that need to be researched – climate change, a cure for cancer, world peace – why spend so much time, energy and resources doing research on progressive rock and Black Sabbath?

DR. STOLZ: The simple answer would be is that I wasn't trained as a climate scientist, a cancer researcher, nor in politics. I began my music studies very young, and I knew that's where I was headed. Those things are important to me, but we live in a world of specialists, and I doubt I'd have enough impact on those issues with my skill set. However, I can certainly use my skills to point others to think about those issues, and maybe those with the right skills can make a bigger impact than I ever could (directly, I mean). For example, I talk about how a song such as "Into the Void" (1971) is about pollution, how "War Pigs" (1970/1) is still relevant today, and so on. 

There are many Black Sabbath songs that would have a large impact on listeners if they knew what the songs were about. So, if I can do my small part by pointing them to songs that addressed these issues over 50 years ago and yet are still relevant, then I think that's using my skills for the greater good in the only way I know how. 

The Emergence of Heavy Metal and Progressive Rock in Black Sabbath's Music from 1969 to 1971 (Stolz)

There are other issues that are also important to me that I believe I can make an impact, which hopefully inspires others to do the same, and, after time, I hope will make a significant impact. For example, poverty, hunger, and homelessness are issues that have always been ones that tug at my heart. If I can do a small part by buying some school kids some basic necessities and provide food, clothes, and personal hygiene items to a homeless shelter, it's wish others will follow suit. For example, just last week, I emailed all my colleagues at work to see if anyone else would like to buy some backpacks for students at my wife's school. Many of these kids come from families that cannot afford one, or if they have one, they are taped together and falling apart because they cannot afford to get a new one. I live in a neighborhood that suffers from poverty, so I see it on a daily basis.

ROFFEKE: Your About page on your website says you are a “Composer, Scholar, Percussionist/Drummer, and Music Professor.” One could be criticized for not focusing on one career or lane. How do you juggle the different hats you wear? What are the advantages of being involved in diverse aspects of music/creativity? (Check out Dr. Nolan Stolz's answer in part 2 of the interview).

                     "Gravitation" Teaser Trailer

Saturday, January 6, 2024

Interview: Dr. Lisa Spencer aka llysa - writer of Bad Syne

ROFFEKE: Bad Syne begins with the graffiti artist saying: “if there are more public places specifically allotted to the public creativity and the public's idea of whatever they want to do with Europe, it’s a lot easier, just walk up to a wall and write on it, no problem, it’s legal.” There is always a tension between freedom of expression and those who want to regulate art. What are your thoughts about this?

The regulation of art is dangerous. In history, we see artists being persecuted because they often were brave enough to express commentary on social and political mores and structures. One of the purposes of art is to make change in thought and in the action of art, the world continues to open up, change, and heal. The freedom of expression should only be regulated by consideration for others in terms of, for example: racism, sexism, exploitation, etc.

Governments, especially here in the U.S., have banned forms of religion, language, and art, dance and song, punishable by death. Art’s significance is vast, but its freedom plays a role in human freedom and human rights.

Speaking of regulation, what are your thoughts on artificial intelligence? If you had to re-do or update your dissertation: “The Journey, an Internship in Urban Activism, Music Videos: Zombie and Bad Syne, and a Study of Afro-Panamanian Identity & the Reggaetón Music Movement” how would you use various artificial intelligence tools to assist you?

I have never used artificial intelligence and in terms of my research, it would be irrelevant because the struggles of the Afro-Panamanian workers and their stories are organic and AI would only dilute their texture and impact.

As part of your dissertation, you interviewed Michael Ellis in 2014 who said: “But while we are here, we are here to serve. I try to keep it humble and simple. I am coming forward with the story of reggaetón now because you need this story…When I go, I want to leave you with something. I didn’t want to write a book, but with you writing this dissertation, you are uncovering the truth and piecing together the story. We are being blessed, we must be ready. When you are done, we will take it to the next level from the University to the people. We are going to tell the truth and let the history tell the truth. This music is a movement. It was a birth.” Please share with us your thoughts and feelings about these powerful words that were spoken ten years ago.

Thank you for mentioning Michael Ellis. Michael was a best friend, but also a lighthouse. Though we were so different in many ways and often held opposing perspectives, we had a deep bond and friendship. I met him while in Ecuador and I had befriended the homeless youth population and had his client meet them. I remember the first thing he said to me, “I would burn my heart in fire to have a heart like yours.” No one understood our friendship; it was beyond race, religion, nationality, gender, age, and social more. We were family; I miss him every day. I still am inspired by his love and belief in me and am working on re-releasing, The Journey... for the people and traveling to Panama.

There is a lot of uncertainty in the world today. How do you take care of your mental health in light of all that’s going on?

On a social level, I continue to teach the youth, feed the people, change laws, make music and film, and serve. On a person level, I try to eat well, drink enough water, sleep, swim, hike, dance, spend time in nature and with loved ones, find creative outlets, garden, all in a mindful prayerful manner.

Your advice to musicians, writers, filmmakers and creatives in general?

Find your people. Don’t focus too much on the naysayers. I am a woman. I’ve always been a second-class citizen, especially in music and film. You just express yourself authentically and the right people, opportunities, and unions will occur organically. It’s nature.

Monday, January 1, 2024

Interview: Mario Luis Telles, Screenwriter of "Time"

 ROFFEKE: What inspired your screenplay “Time” and how long did it take you to write it?

MARIO LUIS TELLES: In 2020 I was stuck inside for most of the year because of covid. I couldn't be around people because things were so weird. So I wanted to hear a happy story. I sat down with the memories I had from my jamming days, I remembered how to format a script from my days at the University of New Mexico, and I had new memories from acting and being on set. I sat for about 12 hours at my computer and out came "Time". As soon as I wrote it I saved it and submitted as it was, no editing, just because I wanted my peers and colleagues to see my work as I am. It turned out to be a success beyond my wildest dreams. To be accepted as a person in any way is a huge achievement.

ROFFEKE: What was your writing process? Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pantser?😀

MARIO: I would have to really feel what I want to write. To affect me in such a way that I would have to sit down and tell a story. Most people wouldn't take the time to stop and think about it, but to me it's an opportunity to be that story teller. To tell a tv show ok you're coming to life, I got to get you out on to paper. Seat-of-the-pantser totally. I wish I had a team to bounce ideas from, but it's just me for now😃🎥.

ROFFEKE: What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence? Would you be open to “Time” being produced using artificial intelligence tools or would you prefer it to be produced in the normal way?

MARIO: Anything put through AI would be a fun experiment. Like a what if come to life. I would really enjoy seeing the show come to life the old way and possibly in front of a live studio audience. Norman Lear I know you hear me where ever you are, thank you for bringing the live studio audience to the show instead of a separate entity. Like you can tell the difference from I Love Lucy to All In The Family. One was part of the show(All In The Family), the other was a fun spectator(I Love Lucy). Always for the audience!

ROFFEKE: You have worked as a stage hand at The Super Bowl, you have been a radio show host, you have been a musical guest on a network late night show and you have performed as an actor/stand in/ photo double in more than 30 TV shows and movies. Your family has supported and stood by you through all of these accomplishments. What would you say to family members who, understandably, are hesitant to support their sons/daughters to pursue a career in the arts?

MARIO: I would say "Quit Being Jealous"(like a tv show title, hmmmm could be a new show😃🎥) because it's not you that is successful. You may be close in relation, but it's still not you. The child is going to be successful no matter what. You, the jealous one, need therapy at the very least. Mom or Dad lost it because of the bitterness and jealousy they had towards their child is such a tragic thing, but I've experienced that from my Dad. My mom was/is always supportive. She passed away from cancer complications, but she told me to never give up. My dad's stuck trying to be cool. It's weird and sad.

ROFFEKE: What advice would you give a budding screenwriter/actor/musician?

MARIO: Don't ever give up. You will be the outcome of your hard work. The success is already inside you. Let it come out as naturally and as beautiful as you are. I love you all so much you creative artist you. Thank you for your dedication to story telling and performance. The world needs you.