Fertile ground in “Liquid Land”

Rene Broussard of the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center has had it  up to here with Hurricane Katrina films.

For “Liquid Land,” he’ll make an exception.

"Liquid Land" has its roots in an improvisational music project using instruments built from trash.

“Liquid Land” has its roots in an improvisational music project using instruments built from trash. Photo from lqdlnd.com

“Liquid Land” is a whine-free zone, where the vicissitudes resulting from the 2005 storm are acknowledged, but the focus is on the creative possibilities that also resulted.

“Liquid Land” got its start in the fall of 2010, when¬†filmmaker Michelle Ettlin joined Swiss musician Simon Berz and Dutch artist Kaspar Koenig in New Orleans for an art project: building instruments from trash and inviting local musicians to improvise with them.

I went to one of those concerts. The sounds were consistently interesting, but I appreciated the music only in fits and starts, which probably says more about me than about the improvisations.

Along with performance clips, “Liquid Land” incorporates interviews with the New Orleans musicians who participated: Helen Gillet, James Singleton, Bhob Rainey, Jeff Albert, Rob Cambre, Justin Peake, Dave Easley, Aurora Nealand and Moose Jackson. Their insights are relevant to anyone still settling into acceptance, even appreciation, of how life in New Orleans has changed since Hurricane Katrina.

For one thing, Hurricane Katrina changed the cast of characters. With the oddball circumstances of evacuation, a punk musician might find a classical musician to be the best available collaborator for a project.

Also, the threat to New Orleans’ culture provided a galvanizing sense of purpose for some musicians, and a clearer focus for their energies.

For centuries, disaster has made the transitory nature of life a central theme of life in New Orleans. Katrina struck that chord yet again, with special resonance for the improvisational artists of “Liquid Land” who highlight the value of music in the moment, more than as an extension of what happened in the past or an artifact to be appreciated in the future.

“If you have something to say, say it now,” Gillet says in the film.

Another “Liquid Land” screening and concert is scheduled for Nov. 6 at 10 p.m. as part of the Open Ears series upstairs at the Blue Nile. Later in November, screenings are planned in Austin, Houston, Los Angeles and Kansas City, with accompanying concerts in Austin and Houston. DVD release is scheduled for February.

Liquid Land Trailer from Michelle Ettlin on Vimeo.