Watchface: The Spring ’87 Collection, La MaMa, NYC April/May 1987
May 1987 – Knitting Factory, NYC
May 1987 – Tweed Ensemble Fourth Annual New Works Festival, Teatro La Terraza, Charas, NYC
May 1987 – Limelight, NYC
June 1987 – Dixon Place, NYC
July 1987 – The Bottom Line, NYC
September 1987 – Limbo, Hollywood, CA
September 1987 – Zelo, Santa Barbara, CA
September 1987 – CBGB, NYC
September 1987 – Siberia, NYC
The Music Project
A Study of Passionate Obsessions
It’s a Scientific Fact/Zoom a Little Zoom
Just as some have referred to producer George Martin as the fifth Beatle, Joshua Fried was
the only person who could plausibly claim to be the eighth member of Watchface, if he had
so chosen. Joshua was a collaborator on seven of their productions, usually as a composer
of original music, but he also appeared onstage in four of the shows. The Music Project was
the only one, however, for which he was one of the creators from its inception. Joshua,
Chazz Dean, and James Siena came up with the concept to create a show that built on the
basic structure and technique used in Chazz and James’ popular two-person club show
Stereotype but added original backing music composed by Joshua to expand their rhythmic
vocabulary and increase the work’s complexity.
James and Joshua had known each other since their college days at Cornell University in
Ithaca, New York, when Joshua lived in the same building as James’ girlfriend at the time.
They became good friends, and James encouraged Joshua’s involvement with the Ithaca
art collective Dinosaur. Thanks to a Dinosaur performance in New York City, they both met
Iris Rose; by the time James moved to New York City in October 1982, Joshua was already
living in the city and collaborating on a performance with Iris. Soon, James was doing the
same. He and Iris created The Money Show, and Watchface was born, though it would be
three years before it was known by that name. Iris’ close friend Chazz moved to the city from
California at nearly the same time and became another frequent collaborator.
By the spring of 1987, Chazz and James had worked together on eight different shows,
including an earlier collaboration with Joshua, Case, and Stereotype, which was performed in
many venues and was a regular act in Danceteria’s No Entiendes cabaret. Stereotype used
rhythmic phrases and movements set to a 4/4 beat, though the metronome that set that beat
was entirely internal since there was no musical accompaniment. Chazz remembers that
once or twice a club band that was already seated onstage behind them began playing
spontaneously, serving as a rhythm section for the piece, but generally the rhythm came
entirely from Chazz and James’ unison chanting.
For The Music Project, the rhythm came from tapes that Joshua carefully constructed by his
usual method. Joshua often performed in clubs as a kind of one-man-band, using tape
loops played on reel-to-reel decks and creating a unique live version by using a mixer as a
musical instrument. Joshua at Pyramid Club For his Watchface soundtracks, including Case and
The Music Project, Joshua created multiple tape loops that he spliced by hand and
re-recorded onto single tracks of a 4-track tape, building a complex foundation. Once the
rhythm was established, he added a keyboard part on a synthesizer, completing the
multi-layered composition. synthesizer diagram While developing his ideas, Joshua made
rhythm notes on any handy scrap of paper. rhythm notes
Stereotype’s sections were portraits of different types of people, including fathers, police
officers, gay men, and cartoon characters. For The Music Project, though many types of
characters were also portrayed, the sections were based on modes of communication that
were rich with possibilities for expressing emotion. For instance, the first section, the only one
in which Joshua did not physically participate, was called A Study of Passionate Obsessions.
The obsessive personalities profiled ranged from Barbie collector to stalker to glutton to nun.
A Study of Passionate Obsessions script
The second section was Lies, and Joshua joined in the physical actions and rhythmic phrases
with Chazz and James. In creating Lies, they identified five categories of falsehoods and
used them to create their lyrics. After the opening lines – “I didn’t do it! I didn’t do it! I didn’t
do it! It was self-defense” – the first category was “Excuses,” such as “Long line at the bank,
long line at the deli, long line at the post office” and “The car wouldn’t start, the car broke
down.” The next group they referred to as “Denials”: “It isn’t as bad as it looks” and “Honey,
we’re just friends.” The next group fell into the category of “Insincerity” and included “I love
your outfit, I really love your outfit” and “It won’t hurt a bit, you won’t feel a thing.” The group
they termed “Cultural Myths” were cliché phrases with little basis in fact, like “Big feet, big
dick,” “Father knows best,” and “World’s best coffee.” The final category was made up of
“Vows” like “I promise on my mother’s grave” and “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a
needle in my eye.”
Repeating between each of these categories was a chorus that Joshua had constructed by
taking one of the lies – “Checked all the lifejackets” – and adding pieces of others – “I didn’t
do it”, “No”, “Yes”, “Definitely,” and “Honey!” This chorus had a rhythmic structure that was
significantly more complex than anything else in the show, or anything James and Chazz
had attempted in Stereotype. Since the other two performers didn’t read music, Joshua
provided them with a sheet that visually represented the rhythm in words. Lies chorus chart For
his own notes for The Music Project, he used musical notation to remember the rhythm of his
lines. Outbursts notes Lies ended with the Liar’s Paradox of classical philosophy: “This statement
Lies was followed by a section in which James and Joshua sang “It’s a Scientific Fact” and
“Zoom a Little Zoom (Rocket Ship),” two catchy tunes from the 1961 album Space Songs*.
Recorded by Tom Glaser and Dottie Evans and written by Hy Zaret and Lou Singer, Space
Songs was one of six in a series of albums for children, known collectively as Ballads for the
Age of Science. For The Music Project versions of these songs, James and Joshua supplied the
vocals while Chazz provided a dance solo and a few bits of spoken word. Joshua created a
new rhythm track that was used for both songs, though it was speeded up for “Zoom a Little
Zoom.” A different synthesizer track was used for each, laid down on top of the rhythm track.
In addition to the recorded music, James and Joshua played toy instruments live, and James
held up a ball that represented the earth when Chazz sighted it after “landing on the moon.”
The final section in The Music Project was Outbursts. The causes of the outbursts were quite
varied, including physical pain – “Honey, can you zip me up? Aaaah!!” – joy – “Yeah! It’s a
girl!” – and anger – “You made your choice! You made your fucking choice!” Joshua
contributed the latter from an actual breakup conversation he had experienced not long
The Music Project was one of many new pieces created specifically for Watchface: The Spring
’87 Collection at La MaMa. This two-week, six-evening series was made up of nine shows,
including both revivals of old favorites and premieres. La MaMa card Four of the shows were reprised less than a month later at the Tweed Ensemble Fourth Annual New Works Festival in the Teatro La Terraza space at Charas, an East Village community center where Watchface had presented 1984: The Future Repeats Itself four years earlier. Tweed postcard It was the third consecutive Tweed festival to include Watchface shows.
The Music Project went on to perform at clubs (a benefit for the Mermaid Parade at Limelight),
Limelight poster performance spaces (Dixon Place), and music venues (The Bottom Line, where they opened for Frank Maya). Joshua also incorporated Outbursts into his individual club set and once invited James and Chazz to join him on stage to perform it.
There was discussion of developing a new section called Cute that was never completed.
They held an initial brain-storming session and Joshua’s notes indicate that audiences might
have seen Cabbage Patch dolls, pound puppies, drooling, happy faces, and children with
spaghetti on their heads.
Working on The Music Project was in many ways more similar to Joshua’s usual solo shows than
his other Watchface collaborations had been, since he was essentially presenting dance
music. For the other performers, it was more of a departure. Chazz remembers that The Music
Project was much harder to perform then Stereotype. Besides being set to a more complex
and slightly faster tempo, it required the performers to stay in sync with an external rhythm
track that was at times challenging to follow. James recalls that during their Bottom Line gig,
they were unable to come in at the right spot in the intro to the opening section, A Study of
Passionate Obsessions, and requested that the soundman re-start the tape.
Listening to the accompaniment many years later, Joshua understood the difficulty the
performers had hearing recognizable markers in the music to judge where they were in the
sequences. This was apparently an inherent problem in creating backing tapes for
performers. When Joshua composed the soundtrack for the Velma Barfield section of The
Serial Killer Series, Iris requested that he add more audio signposts so that she could gauge the
progression of her performance in relation to the music; though it was not a rhythmic piece,
she needed to be performing the correct text with the music intended for it. In hindsight,
Joshua also felt that some of the rhythms he created for The Music Project were too complex
for the task at hand. It was his tendency as a composer to employ syncopation and strive
for rhythmic interest, but that was already happening in the vocals, and he believes the
background music perhaps should have been more straightforward.
Though it had its challenges, The Music Project was an ambitious step toward creating more
complex work originating from the Watchface style.
*The most noteworthy revivals of Space Songs tunes occurred when the band They Might Be
Giants released their own versions of two other tracks, “Why Does the Shine?” (1993) and “A
Shooting Star is Not a Star” (2009). Besides sharing their affection for a particular 1960s
children’s record about science, They Might Be Giants collaborated with both Watchface
(Nancy/Marty/Masterpiece Theatre, The Serial Killer Series, and More Songs of Desire and Despair) and Joshua, who produced official remixes of their songs “The World’s Address” and “She’s Actual Size.”