The Riley Project Dazzles

Ask any local Joe where one finds "high art," and he'll direct you to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Old and valuable are the determining factors that make an artwork worthwhile to many people. Everythi

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Ask any local Joe where one finds "high art," and he'll direct you to the Cincinnati Art Museum. Old and valuable are the determining factors that make an artwork worthwhile to many people. Everything else falls into various "low art" categories — avant-garde, emerging, experimental and the most marginalized of all art, student artwork.

Every one of these "low art" labels applies to first-time director Marcelina Robledo and her performance documentary, The Riley Project. What separates Robledo, 31, from her art peers is that she wears her "student" tag proudly.

She doesn't know the names of arts philanthropists like Joe Hale or Melody Sawyer Richardson. She's never been at a reception attended by Gov. Bob Taft or Mayor Charlie Luken.

Robledo is an arts outsider with little exposure to the cultural elite. As a result, she and her Riley Project team have created something energetic, enthusiastic and artistically pure.

Filmed in early May at SSNOVA, the performance and gallery space in the fledgling Brighton Corner arts district, The Riley Project is a concert documentary about 19 local musicians who come together to perform veteran music composer Terry Riley's landmark composition, "IN C."

Comprised of 53 melodic patterns that are to be played in sequence, "IN C" is credited with creating the minimalist music movement upon its debut performance in 1964.

A CD of the May performance captures the partly improvisatory, partly intellectual spirit of Riley's technique. The music is ethereal and engaging, and I can only imagine how beautiful the May performance must have been. Robledo is the brainchild behind the film, but she's quick to share credit with others.

"I thought that if I really want to become a filmmaker, I might as well do it now," she says, speaking at an Over-the-Rhine restaurant. "So I took a deep breath, and I went for it."

It's a weekday morning, and Robledo is having coffee with keyboardist Kevin Shima. Better known as a member of the band Homunculus, Shima helped Robledo gather musicians for The Riley Project. Between sips of coffee, they recount the project's origins, tracing it back to a drunken viewing of Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory at Robledo's apartment.

A friend studying at UC's College-Conservatory of Music recommended the idea of a concert film involving Riley's music. Before long, The Riley Project spark spread to Robledo's classmates at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College's Multimedia, Information and Design program. The film would be a senior project. It would also become a whole lot more.

Robledo and her Cincinnati State friends formed a filmmaking crew known as The Production Lounge. Another Cincinnati State student, Jennifer Grothian, designed The Riley Project poster as an assignment for her Photoshop II class. Numerous local musicians and artists donated their time and talents.

The documentary remains in post-production, due for completion later this fall, but everything else about The Riley Project looks impressive. The CD is mesmerizing. The film's Web site looks sleek. Grothian's poster is impressive.

Based on everything I've seen so far, I'm eagerly awaiting the chance to see The Riley Project. I expect it to be an impressive movie.

The lives of Robledo and her artist friends revolve around cheap beer, videos and bottles of tequila, and I hate to think what Cincinnati would be like without them. They want to create something of artistic value. More importantly, they want to do it in Cincinnati.

The Riley Project promises an eyeful of stark images and an earful of experimental sounds. It feels youthful, optimistic and artistically worthwhile.

Robledo is too laid-back and humble to say that The Riley Project is deserving of additional support and recognition, so I'll say it for her. I don't know what will eventually come of this work, but I do know it deserves to be seen. The folks behind The Riley Project have a dream, and it's a dream shared by all young artists who hope to make Cincinnati into a better city.

Robledo is too busy to consider what's next on her plate. My only request is that she does it in Cincinnati.

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