Johnne Eschleman, like the troubadours of yore, relives that time with his music-film-installation project, The Distance Formula Travelling Cinema. By combining his film and music because "they all just blend together, anyway," he's resurrecting the idea of self-sufficiency in art and taking it a step further: he builds his own venue, a portable movie theater, showing experimental films while playing live music to make an interactive viewing experience.
It's not a new idea; silent films often feature live musicians performing the soundtracks to eerily fascinating moving pictures. But it's something new for our century, lost to the monopoly of THX and corporate-sponsored soundtracks. Plus, in Eschleman's theater, "there's a secret compartment on the back. A lot of the time, I'm in there playing and people don't even know I'm there. Every time, it's totally different," says Eschleman. His music, a thick, dank guitar groaning to the slow bullets of drums (both live and on record) recall the ever-popular Chicago-Louisville sound. "Usually when I play music as The Distance Formula, it's math-y guitar. I do reel-to-reel tape loops and sample keyboards. It's almost like guitar techno. That's a really bad name for it, though."
Eschelman's music, while well-played, isn't brilliant. The artistic merit of his art lies within the time he spends searching for and splicing film, as they're really just a collage of found footage. His films are his forte, slippery things with poetically mysterious titles like "The Vanishing Point" and warm, deeply human morals. And while the math rock thing is eons better than some of the trite beer-rock Portland churns out lately, it's not exactly an unattainable creative ideal.
However, when you put it all together, there's something profound and organic about Eschelman's project. It's empowering as a sort of sepia-toned revelation. Part of the beauty comes from the power Eschelman derives in doing exactly what he wants. It's a testament to freedom, and proof that musicians still have that freedom, if they're willing to take it. Tiny labels, British hair-dos, and cheap gear aside; there's nothing more indie rock than constructing your own venue.
Busking is a close second. "I've done a lot on the street here. There are outlets everywhere downtown. You just go down there and plug in. I've never bought into the whole gallery idea, and venues are so hard to get. So I designed the Travelling Cinema," says Eschelman.
It's probably one of the most logical things in the world--taking control of art and music and doing what you will. It's like Eschelman's living the sequel to Book Your Own Fucking Life, the one where the band gives the venue the finger and actually performs for the sake of creativity. And he believes in it. Isn't that what true art is all about?