Nufonia Must Fall began its life as a graphic novel by the Canadian DJ Eric San, who performs and records under the name Kid Koala. It tells the story of a soon-to-be-decommissioned robot looking for purpose and love against the odds. This week at SFJAZZ and next Tuesday and Wednesday at San Jose’s Hammer Theatre Center, it will be performed with puppets and live accompaniment by Kid Koala and the Afiara Quartet.
San got a book deal when he was in his 20s, and a successful touring DJ. He originally planned for the book to be about things he had learned doing that, but quickly realized his heart wasn’t in it. “It was a kind of a futile exercise, so I started drawing, which is what I always do to relax,” San says. “And out of those early drawings, birthed the robot.” The graphic novel’s first evolution was the addition of a soundtrack. “When I gave the manuscript to the publisher, they realized there was a bit of a plot point, where this robot who’s tone deaf is trying to write a love song. And said, ‘Hey, do you want to release the book with some music? We want to hear what this robot love song sounds like,’ and that’s pretty much why there’s a music component. The original soundtrack was me playing on an out-of-tune Wurlitzer piano that I recorded on my four-track and I kind of created these little classical music beds. And I didn’t know any string players at the time, so what I’d do was I’d just scratch all these string melodies off of records, and bend them off of records, and do all the counterpoints by vinyl.” The audience can see the live puppet show on a large screen, but also the small elaborate sets that are captured on multiple cameras during the live performance, “Like a live silent film in front of the audience… All those universes that I like, entertainment: everything from the Charlie Chaplin movies to Muppet show to classical music to jazz music to hiphop and scratching, it was a way where all of those elements could come together and just sort of underscore different scenes in the show.”