Bradbury’s future becomes multimedia opus

April 15, 2009
Athens Banner-Herald
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Bradbury’s future becomes multimedia opus
By Mary Jessica Hammes

There’s a war about to happen, but no one notices, distracted by a constant stream of visual clatter from wall-sized television screens and noise pumped into ever-present earbuds.

Printed media is way out of style – in fact, it’s viewed as so dangerous that what’s left either is torched or illegally hoarded.
Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel “Fahrenheit 451” remains an introductory primer on what “dystopia” means for countless schoolchildren, and it still resonates with plenty of adults, like local jazz musician Dan Nettles.
“I find the themes in it to be timeless,” he says. “For many people, this is the first experience reading about a world committing cultural suicide.”

In 2007, Nettles wrote music inspired by the story for a stage production in Brunswick. The experience compelled him to explore the story even more, creating a multimedia show that involves a six-piece live band, theatrical readings and video. After receiving support from the Ideas for Creative Exploration program at the University of Georgia, Nettles’ band, Kenosha Kid, is presenting “Fahrenheit” at CinĂ©.
“There are characters and themes in the book that inspired me to create 10 musical settings,” says Nettles. “The audience will be swept away by the music and visuals, and the readers will provide a dialogue that expounds upon that.”

Bradbury’s story takes place in a future where books are outlawed, readers are branded mentally unstable and exiled to asylums, and firemen spend their time setting fires (to books, specifically) instead of putting them out. One fireman, Guy Montag, radically alters his world view and soon is on the run, chased by his former colleagues and seeking refuge among a secret community of other literate cast-offs.
Nettles has composed pieces inspired by themes and characters in the book, so there is music that recalls the mechanical hound, that awful creature sent to track down and destroy the book-readers; walls that are made up almost completely of television screens that essentially take the place of family; the ideas of burning and destroying versus the cool safety of water (Montag escapes via a river); and a society that is both embroiled in an endless war and too distracted by television to notice the latest attack.

Also, “I think there’s a lot of commentary on the oversaturation of media – the idea of a billboard or the Internet or television always in your face, always telling you how your life can be better,” Nettles says.

Bradbury himself has maintained the book was not a commentary about censorship or the government, but a reaction against the then-nascent but blossoming world of television.

In one of many videos you can see at his Web site (, he says, “I was worried about people being turned into morons by TV. … ‘Fahrenheit’s’ not about censorship, it’s about the moronic influence of popular culture through local TV news and the proliferation of gigantic screens and the bombardment of factoids. We’ve moved into this period of history that I described in ‘Fahrenheit’ 50 years ago.”

Nettles’ project brings together artists from all over the country. “I think it’s in the spirit of the ICE grant to gather people like this,” Nettles muses, considering his friends. The musicians are Jacob Wick and Aryeh Kobrinsky, both of New York City; Greg Sinibaldi of Seattle; Neal Fountain of Athens; and Jeff Reilly from Los Angeles. Stationed on either side of the band will be readers Dan Bollinger of Athens and Laylage Courie of New York City; meanwhile, local filmmaker Eddie Whelan will be in the projection booth, his images glowing as a backdrop behind the performers.

“We have a history,” says Nettles of the performance group. “Many of them are on my last record. When I have an opportunity like this to make something really special, these are the people I’d like to involve. Each one of them is an incredible bandleader or composer already.”
You can expect the musicians to create two distinct environments. Sometimes, the musicians will channel the voice of the oppressor (the bad, soulless types). Some songs will sound like they were made in “a world in the distant future that’s never heard music from the heart,” Nettles says. “It’s music someone would make if they’ve never heard of Muddy Waters.”

Other times, the music becomes the voice of the dissident outlaws (the good guys) – passionate, smart, strong.

“In a society like this that’s crushing the culture, there’s always going to be individuals clinging to creative endeavors,” Nettles says.