Rinde Eckert is a singer, composer, instrumentalist, actor, dancer,
writer and director whose solo pieces and collaborations with other
composers, dancers and musicians have been performed throughout the
United States and abroad. Known for his remarkably flexible and inventive
singing voice, Rinde is also a multi-intstrumentalist (piano, accordion,
guitar, harmonica, trombone, baritone horn) who has long been celebrated
for his performances in multi-media theater pieces with the Paul Dresher
Ensemble and the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company, among others. But,
in recent years, it is his work as a solo artist that has attracted
increasing attention. In reviewing Eckert's performance at Manhattan's
Dance Theater Workshop, the New York Times' John Rockwell described
it as "the most exciting performance art this writer has encountered
since the early days of Laurie Anderson."
Rinde's musical approach transcends stylistic pigeonholes. He is
a classically trained singer who has expanded his vocabulary to reflect
a wide range of contemporary musical styles. This modern treatment
of a variety of vernacular and classical music straddles the boundary
between the time-honored and the new, the mysterious and the familiar,
taking the listener on an uncommonly fascinating journey.
Rinde recently performed on Jerry Granelli’s new CD Sandhills
Reunion. Produced by Lee Townsend, it features music
by drummer Granelli and this bandmates with vocals and spoken text
written and performed by Rinde. The band members are Francois Houle
(clarinet), Jeff Reilly (bass clarinet), David Mott (baritone sax),
Christoph Both (cello), Christian Kögel (electric and acoustic
guitars) and J. Anthony Granelli (bass, lap steel guitar). It has
been released on the Canadian label, Songlines.
Throughout the 90’s Rinde collaborated on three CD’s
with Producer Lee Townsend. His most recent is Story
In, Story Out (Intuition, 1997), featuring two audio
plays in which Rinde sings, plays and speaks. One, Four Songs Lost
In A Wall, was originally produced for "New American Radio Series"
on American Public Radio and tells the tale of a loner with fantastical
delusions, taking the listener on a journey inside Carlo’s mind.
On this piece, Rinde plays sings, piano, organ & baritone horn.
On the other, Three Days In the Sun, Rinde is backed by the “heavy,
blues-based fire and airy rhythms of Jerry Granelli and UFB”
(People Magazine). On it Rinde sings, plays a ten-string slide guitar,
harmonica, and a pipe en route to illustrating three days of adventures
while hitchhiking across the United States. The bluesy, rugged music
sounds much like the American west itself.
In 1990, Eckert and producer Townsend assembled The Compleat Strangers,
to perform his original and multi-faceted music. The group was described
as "not exactly a rock 'n' roll band, but a kind of international
roots / country and western / gospel / art music band" (San Francisco
Bay Guardian). His debut recording, Finding
My Way Home (DIW, 1992), featured his original compositions
as well as contemporary re-workings of traditional folk songs. "His
songs range from pop and country to Celtic Blues and medieval chanting
and the eight pieces hinge on the metaphor of a physical and spiritual
pilgrimage" (Pulse). It can also be seen as a series of musical
vignettes and encounters with a number Rinde's performance characters.
In addition to the Compleat Strangers, guests Bill Frisell, fiddler
Suzy Thompson and drummer Jerry Granelli appear on the album.
On his second CD, Do
the Day Over (City of Tribes, 1995), Eckert's
musical travels begin in the sanctuary of the churches, but he soon
departs down roads and rivers through songs and soundscapes that resonate
with echoes of the heartland. It's a journey through our hopes and
longings, darknesses and sorrows, conflicts and dances - and in the
end he settles simply for love. "Supported by his sensitive backing
band, the Compleat Strangers, Eckert's second album is full of accessible
melodies and emotive singing, with just a touch of eccentricity to
make it tasty." (The Oakland Tribune).
More recently Rinde has enjoyed substantial success in a number of
celebrated new musical theatre pieces. His newest project will be
a touring theatre/opera production set to debut in fall 2005, entitled
The American Repertory Theatre commissioned and produced Highway
Ulysses, a full-evening opera conceived and written for a major theatre
company. Directed by ART artistic director Robert Woodruff, Highway
Ulysses has a cast of eight, including Eckert, with music performed
by the Empty House Cooperative. It won the Norton Award for Best New
Play in Boston.
In 2000, his production of "And God Created Great Whales",
created quite a stir. It is a
music theater piece about a gifted composer on a quest to finish his
opus - an opera based on Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick.
"Total magic is what Mr. Eckert delivers. He has the gift of
writing both words and music very well, and from one moment to the
next for 75 intense minutes he delightfully subverts every expectation
he arouses…. He has a command of gesture that lets him fly from
fear to fury and from dancing to dying in an instant…. And his
singing, whether in falsetto or baritone, can be thrilling….
There is a constant sense of opening up intellectually, emotionally
and visually." New York Times (June 2000)
"One of the most strikingly original works to be seen in New
York in quite a while…. Nathan is brilliantly played by composer
/ performance artist Eckert. Eckert creates a piece of theater that
is able to touch the heart as well as engage the mind. It is an intriguing
and often funny evening." Billboard (September 2000)
"Mr. Eckert is mocking operatic conventions, but he is also
teasing Melville.... The jokes are fun. But in the end one is overwhelmed
by the power of quest and loss and by the beauty of the music."
New York Times (September 2000)
Rinde continues to be a much sought-after soloist and featured performer
with a variety of collaborators. He recently appeared in Joe Hill,
a piece by composer Wayne Horvitz for chamber orchestra, vocalists
and guitar soloist, performing with Robin Holcomb, Danny Barnes, Bill
Frisell and the Seattle Chamber Players. He had the lead role in the
Paul Dresher Ensemble’s touring production of Ravenshead, a
two-act opera by composer Steve Mackey for which Rinde wrote the libretto.
He also performs his solo theatre piece Romeo Sierra Tango –
a musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which was commissioned by
the New York Public Theatre and premiered there in 1999. The Idiot
Variations, which premiered at Hancher Auditorium at the University
of Iowa in January, 1995, is a combination of music, song and narrative,
which finds Eckert making his desultory way through an only slightly
bewildering array of recognizable fools. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune
called it "A weirdly stunning adventure of imagination and stagecraft
... out of the mists, the sheer power of the poet is capable of sweeping
In 1992, Rinde premiered his performance work, The Gardening of Thomas
D. The piece, which takes its inspiration from Dante's Divine Comedy,
was described by the Iowa City Press-Citizen as having "an undeniable
thread of truth...There is no pretension here - only brilliance".
Dry Land Divine, which is still occasionally performed and Quit This
House, are his earlier solo works for stage (both 1988). Shoot the
Moving Things (1987) and Four Songs Lost in a Wall (1995), both radio
musicals, have been featured on the "New American Radio Series"
on American Public Radio.
As writer/performer in the Paul Dresher Ensemble, Rinde has written
the text and collaborated in the creation of Awed Behavior (1993),
Slow Fire (1985/86), Power Failure (1989) and Pioneer (1990), the
Ensemble's contemporary music theater works. Eckert and Dresher also
collaborated with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company on Shelf Life
(1987). They received an Isadora Duncan Award for their score for
this piece. Shorebirds Atlantic (1987), Rinde's collaborative duet
for the stage with Ms. Jenkins, was adapted for PBS' "Alive From
Off Center" video series in 1989. Woman Window Square (1990)
was created in collaboration with the Jenkins Dance Company and video
director John Sanborn. In 1990, Rinde appeared again on "Alive
From Off Center" in a video by Mr. Sanborn. Other collaborations
include Secret House (1989) with the Oberlin Dance Company, Dresher
and Jay Cloidt and Not For Real (1987), written and directed for Leonard
Pitt. He was also the featured performer in Bruce Nauman's video installation
entitled Anthro/Socio, which was part of the "Dislocations"
exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1993.
"Jack of all Stage Arts. Mr. Eckert is a singer, moving from
tenor to countertenor to all manner of post-modernist vocal sound
effects. He is also an instrumentalist (trombone, accordion, harmonica
and percussion with keyboard). He is a poet whose texts transcend
the jejune rhapsodies often achieved by multimedia performance artists.
And he is a more than usually compelling mover. Eckert is an American
loner-eccentric, with touches of Bertolt Brecht, Samuel Becket and
Tom Waits. Laurie Anderson is evoked not just by the strength of his
work in this solo performance-art genre, but also by the use of technological
devices that alter his vocal timbre and by the high polish of the
production as a whole." (New York Times)
Rinde lives in New York.
2006 New York Times article
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