Archive | December, 2010

GUEST BLOG: History of a Future by Renée Reynolds

15 Dec

History of a Future

by  Renée Reynolds

Renée Reynolds is an artist and writer, currently based in Shanghai China, who is a longtime collaborator of Catalysis Projects member Veronika Krausas.  This is an excerpt from her forthcoming work on her impressions of China.

Red Lantern - photo by Renée Reynolds


Old people walking backward, posing brides in funeral white, swans eating Styrofoam cups, trees growing root-ward, million-dollar watches that don’t keep time, Poverty Chic, mobile phone stock traders on a high-school-bound metro, the art of the copy; the copy of the art, skin whitening lotions next to tanning creams, North South East West, West East South North, poisonous vitamins, a gold-plated beggar’s cup, toxic medicine, hazardous housing, flawless empty eggshells for 10 quai, eco-friendly car alarms, warm baijiou with green tea, death by foot traffic, cloud seeding, overeducated baristas serving undereducated engineers, Awarded Nobel Peace Prizes deemed blasphemous, the terms over-educated and disposable income, Earthworm-scented perfume, flower-pot Rodins, Corporate Social Responsibility of Defense Weaponry Designers, melamine for babies, Nuclear Bomb Health Insurance, Free Money, acrobatic blow-jobs cheaper than a steak dinner, bowling Olympians, a stolen copy of The Economist, carbon credit auctions, heart-shaped birth control pills, Over-capacity, 100% Cotton-free Polyester, A Pure Blend, stylish bikini with matching wimple, A Global Tradition, ‘My other personality is a winner’ reads the T-shirt of a toothless cherry vendor, platinum-plated dildos, accidental assassination, night-shadows sharper than the day ones, Sunday Marriage Market in People’s Park, Muslim-themed Barbie, ‘Gan bei! Want to see our pet Orca now?’


Shanghai Tree - photo by Renée Reynolds

Armageddon-themed multi-million dollar blockbusters, Christmas in Baghdad, Luxury Logo Tattoos, Ugly is the new beautiful; Persuasion the new Truth; Green the new Black, Coercion the new Kindness; Disruptive the new Eye-catching, Chaos Theory, Cost of Living, Waking Dreams, Anti-matter, Subject Verb Object, Object Verb Subject, Reverse Psychology, Structural Analogs, Palindromic Sequences, Human DNA.

Shanghai 2010

Shanghai Model - photo by Renée Reynolds

FREE REED CONSPIRACY: accordions, zippers and a ZOTE

14 Dec

A REVIEW by CP member Veronika Krausas

This evening I attended the concert of the Free Reed Conspiracy, an accordion quartet with Catalysis Projects Resident Artist and composer extraordinaire, Isaac Schankler, along with mastermind of music boxes and music Daniel Corral, with James Barry and Jimi Cabeza De Vaca. It was at the Pasadena Library and part of their Creative Music Concert Series.

For most people accordions bring to mind om-pah-pah music, polkas, beer steins, burly smelly men and lederhosen.  There was not a one of any of these in sight.  The four musicians sat as still and erect as a string quartet.  The music was mostly minimal-process oriented- slowly unfolding music.  It was really a treat.  The first piece was by Dr. Schankler’s charming Chocolate Phase that’s his minimalist take on YouTube senations Tay Zonday’s Chocolate Rain.  The other 3 works were by Daniel Corral:  I-V-I, Neotrope, and Mandala Fanfare.  This last one had guest percussionist Andrew Lessman who performed on a snare (with a lovely dirty blue t-shirt thrown on the skin to dampen the sound) with a pair of sticks/brushes that looked like they had been gnawed on but they made the best sound!

It was a lovely hour and a half of hypnotic accordion sounds which ended miraculously at the exact same time as the library’s announcement of “The library will be closing in 15 minutes ….”  came on.  The performers and the audience were absolutely stunned at the timing!

The accordion is just a rockin’ instrument.  At the concert I ran into a fellow composer who leaned over after the first piece and said “you realize we first met at an accordion concert, does that mean we both have accordion fetishes?”  My answer “Yep … but don’t tell anyone!”  I frequently run into this same composer at other concerts including the ‘respectable’ ones at the LA Philharmonic.  At one particular concert, probably one of the Green Umbrella variety, this same composer was wearing a really cool pair of pants and I commented “hey, great pants.”  To which he replied “they’re women’s pants” (by the way he’s a he) and I said “How can you tell they’re women’s?” and he enlightened me that the zipper on men’s pants is done up with the right hand and women’s ‘traditionally’ with the left. Fascinating!   I reminded him of this encounter this evening and we proceeded to discuss this and the side buttons are buttoned up on on men’s vs. women’s shirts – but that’s for another blog.

When I got home I decided to do a little scientific research.  I went into my closet and counted zippers on pants.  The first thing that was utterly shocking – Good Lord! I own 24 pairs of pants!    Thirteen zip on the right, nine zip on the left and 2 pairs zip on the side.  The left ones include most of my dress pants and suits (including those made in Thailand).  The majority of the others are jeans, cords and an old pair of orange suede jeans.  The right is winning!  Maybe women’s left-sided zippers are slowly being converted to right-sided ones.

Since zipper begins with a Z (I still pronounce this ‘zed’ being from Canada and all) …  I must quote one of my favorite writers from a book that is always on my desk:  Edward Gorey’s The Utter Zoo Alphabet.

(About the Zote what can be said? There was just one, and now it’s dead.)

Recommended: FREE COFFEE & DOUGHNUTS: Music from The Great Depression(s)

10 Dec

Free Coffee and Doughnuts:

Music From The Great Depression(s)

December 13 and 14 at 8pm

Neighborhood Unitarian Church, Pasadena

WHAT’S NEXT? ENSEMBLE is teaming up with LA Sonic Odyssey and grammy award winning entertainer Ian Whitcomb to present two evenings of music inspired by the recent financial meltdown and the great depression of 1929. New works from LA area composers, electronic musicians, and improvisors as well as arrangements of depression era songs for voice and ensemble by Patricio da Silva. Additional performances by Bryan Pezzone, Jennifer Logan, Yevgeniy Milyavskiy, and  the Imaginary Folk-Duo. Check out for more information. Discounted and student tickets are available, just click the link below and type in “conductor” or “conductorstudent” as the discount code when purchasing.

$35/27 General Admission
$15 Students


HYPERKINETIC GUMBO & THE PHANTASMAGORIC ANUS: a review of the Wooster Group’s Vieux Carre at RedCat

7 Dec

guest review by Atalie Kessler

Ari Flaikos and Kate Valk in "Vieux Carre." Photo by Nancy Campbell.

The Wooster Group’s production of Tennessee Williams’ “Vieux Carre” at the RedCat should come with a warning for those seated in the first five rows: actor’s anuses are closer than they appear.  After sitting through the two hour production – no intermission – I left feeling like I needed a shower, a feeling exacerbated by the semi-consentual intimacy of my third row vantage point of prosthetic penises, breasts, leather floss thongs, tubercular lung blood, porno video loops and, as already mentioned, neatly waxed anuses.

“Vieux Carre” is a memory play based on Williams’ experiences living in a Depression-era New Orleans flophouse.  The original 1977 Broadway production closed after five days, and it is no mystery why: the play is a gumbo of melodrama and half-remembered characters.

Scott Shephard and Ari Fliakos in "Vieux Carre." Photo by Frank Beloncle.

The Wooster Group’s production is a phantasmagoria of sexual degradation, poverty and abject loneliness staged and played back on screens in both real-time and fast-forward. The acting is vigorous and abusive; the cast members molest each other throughout the production with an ease that evidently comes from years of working together.  Despite the tawdry costumes and incessant inanity, the production is enjoyable for its originality and fine acting. Kate Valk’s performance as the homicidal landlady “Mrs. Wire” and lovelorn “Jane Sparks” is enlivened with humor and pathos, and worth the price of admission.

The Wooster production attains a level of sophistication through elaborate video and audio manipulations, which creates hyperkinetic projections of the Writer’s (played by Ari Fliakos) own sexual awakening and loneliness. Characters appear as grotesque ghost like figures both on screen and off, tempting and tormenting the Writer. Unfortunately, by the end, they torment the audience too.

“Vieux Carre,” REDCAT, 631 W. 2nd St., Los Angeles. 8:30 p.m Tuesday-Saturday, 7 p.m Sunday. Ends Dec. 12. $45-$55. (213) 237-2800 or Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes (no intermission).


Atalie Kessler produced her first video, Attack of the Killer Vanity Products, when she was just eleven years old.  After graduating from the American University with a BA in communication, she joined Feld Entertainment’s creative services department and learned how to juggle bowling pins while producing multiple shoots for Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey Circus., and Disney On Ice.  Since then she has gone on to produce and post-production supervise a number of projects ranging from the The Radio City Rockettes to the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Scott Shepherd in "Vieux Carre." Photo by Frank Beloncle.

Listening in Technicolor

4 Dec

by Aron Kallay

Remember in The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy opens the door of her house after being thrown about by a tornado, and all of the sudden, everything is in color.  Not just color, but hyper-realistic technicolor.  Well, I had the musical equivalent of this experience a few years back, and it has colored (sorry…), just about every decision I’ve made in my career since.

While in conservatory, I had an aural skills teacher tell me to think of a minor second (the distance between adjacent keys on a piano) as the smallest distance between two pitches… so tiny that it’s impossible to squeeze more notes between them.  I was skeptical.  I knew that the octave (the distance from, say, C to C on a piano) is divided into twelve equal steps, which is why we call the tuning equal-temperament.  But, why twelve?  Why not thirteen, fifty-three, or even eighty-eight!!?  And, why do the steps have to be equal; could there possibly be any benefit to having steps of different sizes?

Of course, the answer is yes.  Not only is it possible, non-keyboard instruments do it all the time.  When a string quartet plays in tune with itself, each player is actually making micro-adjustments in pitch related to the other players (which is one of the reasons why it is so difficult for string quartets to play with piano).  And, the pitches that they choose turn out to be vibrating in small whole number ratios.  For example, if one player makes his string vibrate 440 times per second, another player may make her string vibrate 660 times per second; a 3/2 ratio.  This is the basis of what is called just intonation.  Not surprisingly, it’s been around for thousands of years.

So, what’s the big deal, and why should anyone care?  Well, composers (beginning with Harry Partch in the 1920s) have been using basic mathematics, such as ratios, to come up with different “flavors” of the same interval, making it possible to have dozens of closely, and not so closely, related pitches per octave.  Just imagine the panoply of emotional expression that becomes available to the composer using just intonation.  And, the pitches all fit together to create amazing consonances and clangorous dissonances.  Think tonality on steroids… uber-tonality.

Which brings me to the point.  The first time I heard American composer Ben Johnston’s String Quartet No. 4, composed in 1973, I knew nothing about just intonation.  Twelve equal steps was good enough for me.  Then, like Dorothy, I was thrown into a world I never knew existed.  [click here for an excerpt] The quartet, a set of variations based on the hymn Amazing Grace, takes us from 14th century Pythagorean tuning all the way to an experimental form of extended just intonation, where pitch relationships are so obtuse as to be, well… gritty.  But, the grit is never out of place, it happens exactly where and when it needs to in the context of the piece.  And, at the end of the piece, when the hymn comes back, stated simply as in the beginning… there is nothing quite like it in the repertoire.  Sometimes, when I need to recharge my spirit, this is the piece I listen to.  In comparison, equal-temperament sounds drab and lifeless.

In the Wizard of Oz, I think Dorothy got it wrong.  Despite the shortcomings of Oz–i.e., witches and evil flying monkeys–it is so much more satisfying than dreary old black and white.  Equal-temperament was a good thing.  We wouldn’t have a lot of the music we do today without it.  But, given my druthers, I’d much rather live in Ben Johnston’s world, in technicolor.

[Click here to listen to me play New Aunts, a piece in just intonation by Kyle Gann]