Musical Director & Supervisor's Note / Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets

14 September 2017

'What Are They Building in There?'

So ran the questions outside the Malthouse Theatre rehearsal room during the preparations for Black Rider: Tom Waits’ and William S. Burroughs’ brilliant re-imagining of the age-old German fable The Fatal Marksman.

What was being built was a production that seeks to honour the long legacy of Waits’ distinctive musical style—a style driven by his whip-smart intellect and singular aural aesthetic.

Equal parts hobo cabaret, Morricone Western and liquor-drenched vaudeville, the music speaks to the traditions of Weimar cabaret through the lens of toolshed percussive invention and down-home Americana.

The score is built around an instrument synonymous with Waits —the pump organ—in our case a newly refurbished American Missionary Organ dating from the 1860s. He has built much of the rest of the score around lower register instruments: contrabassoon, bass clarinet, bass trombone, tuba, upright bass and cello.

There are also, as is to be expected, a series of more idiosyncratic instruments: the musical saw, a toy piano and found-object percussion instruments including, of course, a kitchen sink.

What a joy it has been to work with such a fantastic bunch of misfit musico-dramatic actors who are as generous as they are audaciously talented. What an equal pleasure, too, to work with a pit full of technically brilliant multi-instrumentalists. This is a work that is owned collectively by all of us, and we thank Tom Waits for his jewel of a score.

MUSICAL DIRECTOR & SUPERVISOR / Phoebe Briggs and Iain Grandage


The Fatal Marksman served as the basis for Carl Maria von Weber’s 1821 opera
Der Freischütz.