After visiting Preservation Hall during his first tour stop in New Orleans — his father told him he must visit — Canadian turntablist Kid Koala, aka Eric San, spent six months working on his version of "Basin Street Blues," the first track on his second album, Some of My Best Friends Are DJs. He describes the track as a sort of "stop-motion animation" version of the classic jazz tune, in which he meticulously layered single instrument notes sampled from classical music records.
After that focused effort, it's funny to hear why he chose a robot character for his first graphic novel, Nufonia Must Fall.
"I loved robots," San says via phone. "I always loved robots. But the real answer is that humans are really hard to draw. ... Eyebrows exponentially change the amount of work you have to do. In short, the answer is that I am lazy."
San produced Nufonia Must Fall while on tour, following the release of his first album. He never studied drawing but always has kept a sketchbook at hand for the meditative pastime. It was useful on tour.
"Nufonia was drawn over the course of three or four tours between 2000 and 2003," San says. "We did some Deltron (3030) shows. I was on the Radiohead tour, I was on a bunch of Ninja Tune tours."
Nufonia Must Fall is the story of T4, a puffy robot who communicates through video cassettes and always wears headphones. He falls for Malore, a human engineer, as he fears being replaced by a more sophisticated robot. The 300-page book had almost no dialogue and came with a CD when it was released in 2003.
In 2014, San decided to turn the Nufonia story into a live stage show, an idea partially inspired by silent films such as Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times. Nufonia Must Fall is at the Contemporary Arts Center April 14-15.
San works with K.K. Barrett, a production designer for several Spike Jonze films (Being John Malkovich, Her). Barrett originally suggested making a movie version of the story and having San and musicians perform a live score. But San wanted to have the entire show produced live.
"It became apparent and obvious that this was a way to maximize the cinematic impact," he says. "I like the fact that it's completely live and has that urgency to it. It's like 15 of us on a surfboard. You can feel it."
Accompanied by a chamber group of string instruments, San cuts music with records and an arsenal of synthesizers and gadgets while a camera crew shoots and projects the work of puppeteers on 20 tiny sets.
The show continues to evolve, as San and Barrett add scenes and film effects. They also include local references in each show.
At the CAC, San also will DJ a kids' party Thursday afternoon and a party after the Saturday performance, and he'll discuss comics and graphic novels on a panel at 7 p.m. Thursday.
While in New Orleans, San plans to record music for his next graphic novel, Storyville Mosquito, about a country mosquito who moves to the city to play clarinet in a jazz band. Some of the music for the project already has been recorded at Preservation Hall.