Archive | March, 2011

Musical Patois: Isaac Schankler’s event preview

30 Mar

I wanted to share with you all another upcoming musico-textual event (to coin a dubious phrase) organized by Elaine Chew and Alexandre François, and sponsored by Visions and Voices, the USC Arts and Humanities Initiative.  It’s exciting to see collaborations like this happening more often!

Musical Patois is a unique collaboration among a neuroscientist, a composer, a performer/engineer and a computer scientist, this event will boldly explore and transgress the boundaries between science, music, technology and art. The event is inspired by the research of neuroscientists Aniruddh Patel and John Iversen and composer Jason Rosenberg, which demonstrated that the instrumental music of British and French composers reflects the rhythm and intonation of their native languages. Patel, along with composer Peter Child, pianist-engineer Elaine Chew and computer scientist Alexandre François, will examine the influence of language on music through an evening of scientific presentation, musical performance, interactive visualization and lively conversation.

Thursday, March 31, 2011 : 7:30pm

University Park Campus
Alfred Newman Recital Hall (AHF)

Admission is free.

More information at the Visions and Voices website.

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MicroTextual Musings: John Schneider Interview

29 Mar

The third installment in our series of interviews leading up to Catalysis Projects’ April 16 MicroFest event features guitarist, composer, author, broadcaster, Professor of Music at Pierce College, and founder of MicroFest, John Schneider.  John’s radio show Global Village can be heard on Thursdays from 11am-1pm on KPFK 90.7 in Los Angeles & worldwide at www.kpfk.org.

John will be performing Harry Partch’s Barstow, for guitar, voice, and chromelodeon with keyboardist Aron Kallay.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Why do you choose to compose in a microtonal language?

JS-I compose using microtones because they produce harmonies and melodies that I’ve never heard before: but when I do hear them, they seem oddly familiar, and somehow exactly right. As a young pianist, I kept asking my teacher to give me scales to practice that were interesting – really exotic. Bartok didn’t cut it, though the Mikrokosmos got near – there was just something….missing. Stravinsky felt like he got closer, and atonality even closer, but still not IT. Now I know what was missing – they were the wrong notes.

CP-It seems to us that most people who are drawn to microtonality had an ah-ha moment where they realized the possibilities afforded by breaking free from equal temperament.  What was your first experience with microtonality in music?

JS-Surprisingly, it was the music of Bach! As a guitarist, I play an instrument that is chronically out-of-tune (Lou Harrison says that most of his just intonation students were ex-guitarists), and have played hours & hours of Bach. Then suddenly, I heard the music in Well-Temperament, followed almost immediately by Dowland in Meantone tuning. After that, I’ve never been the same. That led me to Lou Harrison’s music, and after that – all roads lead to Partch. Playing his music has been a revelation. His humor & boisterous personality drew me in at first, but now that I’ve had the pleasure of performing & analzing so many of his works, I find places in my musical ‘soul’ touched that have never been touched before. I know that sounds hokey, but there must be some reason I keep coming back and back to his music for over 20 years now, with no end in sight. Just this year, a new instrument – the Spoils of War – has come to life, and I’m just as excited as I was when I made the first Adapted Guitar in 1990…we’ll be taking it on it’s maiden voyage at REDCAT this year.

www.myspace.com/partchensemble/videos

CP-Just as there are an infinite number of pitches between any two keys on the piano, there are an infinite number of ways to compose microtonally.  Do you adhere to a particular flavor of microtonality, and, if so, why?

JS-I do tend to favor Just Intonation over any of the equal-division systems (quartertones, 19/tone, etc). There is something deliciously special about the intervals created by the harmonic series (the DNA of all harmony) that reside in each pitched note…dancing with those frequencies is endlessly entertaining, and deeply satisfying from an emotional/acoustical point of view.

CP-Performers often shun microtonal music because they perceive it as being too difficult to play.  How have you overcome this obstacle as a performer, and/or composer?

JS-Difficult? Yes…because in my case, the guitar has to be drastically modified in order to produce the notes. But if you’ve done it once, the rewards are SO great that the sounds themselves seduce me to go to almost any lengths to hear & touch them again. Yes, including remaking Harry Partch’s instruments, too…  Ben Johnston wrote me a song cycle back in 1998, and it took twelve years to learn how to play and sing those microtones simultaneously – but I’m glad I did it. There is just no other way to get those notes without putting in the work…but the results are so unique, it’s worth every minute.

Click here to hear an excerpt of John playing Ben Johnston’s The Tavern

MicroTextual Musings: Kim Ye Interview

24 Mar

Continuing in our series of interviews leading up to Catalysis Projects’ MicroFest event on April 16, interdisciplinary artist Kim Ye weighs in on embedded text, relating to the public on a bodily level, and the ambiguity of trans-disciplinary collaboration.

Kim is creating performative sculpture for composer Isaac Schankler’s new work for soprano, women’s chorus and electronics, Honey, Milk and Blood.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Language can be defined as a system of symbols that convey meaning. In your artistic practice, how do you convey meaning? In what way do you use your medium to create your own language?

KY-In the visual arts, I think many of us read objects and images as texts. We try to find meaning in the piece by decoding, or trying to decode, the symbolism of its components, production process, and its emotional affect on us. In group crit situations, there is this attempt to withhold judgment, to suspend your knowledge of what you like or dislike, in order to give the object a chance to speak.  But because there are so many layers of text potentially embedded in one object, the meaning of the work—what the piece says—is really dependent on what language you listen for.

In my work, the intention is not to inject a specific meaning into a piece for the audience to extract later and then either “get it” or not. More and more, I’m approaching what I make in terms of creating an ambiguous, maybe amoral, force—something that might be meaningless in itself, but forces people to project onto in order to make sense happen.  By asking people to make choices, maybe I’m asking them to identify what language they are listening for…

CP-Text can be understood as a code – a symbolic mark-making that some others can “read,”  but yet completely unintelligible to people not fluent in that language.  How important is it to you whether your “text” conveys a comprehensible meaning or communication to your audiences?

KY-I think the question of “who is your audience?” is an important one. The fact that work can perform boundary-work, which creates a group of insiders who speak the language vs. outsiders, who don’t, is really fascinating and problematic to me.  I think my current m.o. is to make sculptures, to make work in general, that can be interpreted through and float between various bodies of knowledge.

There is always an affective component to any work I make, which tries to relate to the public on a bodily or emotive level. I think that I gravitate towards this type of communication because it kind of operates as the “unknown known”—like the things that drive us to sleep, to eat, to learn, to buy, to perform, to like or dislike certain people, to be attracted to someone, are all things that operate underneath the surface. Our moods, associations, fears, and compulsions determine our practices, but are not really beliefs. This is an area that everyone has experience in, but in completely idiosyncratic ways…so instead of trying to force someone to have a conversation with me, maybe I am suggesting that he should have one with himself.

CP-How does your work on the April 16 concert find the small spaces between the keys or between the words.

KY-On a very basic level, Honey, Milk and Blood is a sculpture-based performance embedded in a microtonal oratorio of sorts. In a way, the collaboration between Isaac and myself involves exploring the space between positions; the work we are presenting is not a musical performance in a concert venue, nor is it a performance in the white-cube, art gallery way either. So what are our roles? Am I a set designer, or costume provider for his composition? Or is he a sound provider for my installation?

The emphasis changes depending on how the project is framed. The ambiguity of trans-disciplinary collaboration is pretty powerful and still mysterious even though there are plenty of practical and political implications latent within it.

CP-Here at Catalysis Projects, we believe that the collaborative process can lead us in new, exciting, and sometimes unexpected directions.  Have you ever had a collaborative experience that led you to results you didn’t expect?

KY-Well I collaborated with Jeff Jenkins, who directs commercials normally, in the making of the Gastro Porno video. My original idea was that it was going to be a straightforward documentation of a performance where I would eat unfamiliar/nasty-looking food sensuously. In my mind it would be cut together fairly randomly switching back and forth between the different foods. Jeff comes in and is like “Where’s the story? You gotta have a story…otherwise who cares?!” and after some grumbling on my part, I’m like “Ok, well let’s do it then.” So the video ends up being a music video with a cover of Britney Spear’s Toxic as the song!

The final result was way more commercial, but probably much more compelling, than what I would have churned out on my own. (You can see the final version on the homepage of www.kimye.com)

Kim is creating performative sculpture for composer Isaac Schankler’s new work for soprano, women’s chorus and electronics, Honey, Milk and Blood.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

MicroTextual Musings: Bill Alves Interview

20 Mar

In anticipation of Catalysis Projects’ MicroFest event on April 16, we sent the same fourteen questions to some of our collaborators, and asked them to answer a few.  We haven’t been disappointed… the answers have been as illuminating as they are thoughtful.  First up is composer, video artist, writer, professor of music at Harvey Mudd College, and co-director of MicroFest, Bill Alves.

Troy Quinn will be conducting Bill’s piece Luminescence for choir and tape on the concert.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual: music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
http://www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

CP-Language can be defined as a system of symbols that convey meaning. In your artistic practice, how do you convey meaning? In what way do you use your medium to create your own language?

BA-My piece Luminescence references a mantra, a repeated ritual text. In such a practice, the “meaning” soon transcends the semantics of the words, which we quickly cease to hear independently, and affects us through the repetition itself. The words themselves become musical and gently dig a furrow in our consciousness. In Luminescence I also sought to achieve this state by expanding the words until they become disembodied vowels and meaning shifts to that which conventional language does not express.

CP-It seems to us that most people who are drawn to microtonality had an ah-ha moment where they realized the possibilities afforded by breaking free from equal temperament.  What was your first experience with microtonality in music?

BA-I began experimenting with microtonality in college when I saw the possibilities inherent in electronics, but (like others I imagine) I was soon overwhelmed by these possibilities. I had just put a great deal of effort into learning music theory with 12 tones; composing with some other number seemed to take me back to square one.

It was only some years later when I began trying out the ideas from Harry Partch’s Genesis of a Music that I began to see that understanding microtonality means seeing what lies *behind* what’s taught in those conventional music theory courses, not an entirely separate music theory. The mysteries that traditional music theory sweeps under the rug in order to give students a rule-based and gradable structure were suddenly answered. Yes, painting in color would be daunting challenge if all you’ve ever known was mixtures of grays, but what painter wouldn’t want to try?

CP-Performers often shun microtonal music because they perceive it as being too difficult to play.  How have you overcome this obstacle as a performer, and/or composer?

BA-It’s true that it is difficult to overcome years of ingrained motor skills and ways of listening, so that (so far) I haven’t taken Ben Johnston’s route and asked a string quartet, for example, to play precise and extensive microtonal pitches. That’s a huge commitment to ask of someone. Instead, I have instruments or electronics that are pretuned to the scales I want, and ask the players of other tunable instruments, such as voices or unfretted strings, to play in tune with the fixed pitch references. Good musicians always listen to play in tune with each other, so simply asking them to do so with a different set of pitches is a much more manageable task.

CP-The term microtonality is generally applied only to music that uses a tuning system other than twelve-tone equal-temperament.  However, we believe that, because microtonality breaks down one of the fundamental building blocks of western music (the tyranny of the twelve), it is a term that can be applied to other disciplines of artmaking.  Do you see microtonality in your, or other, fields?

BA-Although they won’t be presented on the MicroTextual concert, I have created videos which are inspired by the same symphonies of numbers in their images as in the microtonal soundtrack. I find that through the same proportions as in my musical tunings we will see analogous consonances and dissonances, tensions and resolutions, a great choreography of number and geometry that touches our emotions directly.

THE INDUSTRY launches in Los Angeles: Veronika Krausas’ Event Review

18 Mar

By VERONIKA KRAUSAS –

On Wednesday night (March 16, 2011)  THE INDUSTRY held a launch event at the fabulous Royal/T Café in Culver City.  Over 300 people came out to celebrate!  Excerpts from Anne LeBaron’s opera Crescent City were highlighted amidst wine and chocolates and a very electrifying vibe.

THE INDUSTRY aims to be a bridge between the visual arts and musical worlds here in LA.  They’ll present new and experimental productions that merge music, visual arts, and performance in order to expand the traditional definition of opera and create a new paradigm for interdisciplinary collaboration.  It’s an exciting time to be in LA and the artistic director and founder Yuval Sharon said in his opening remarks:

I’m excited about the audience in Los Angeles, as well as building the audience here for boundary-breaking work… LA’s rich cultural heritage of innovative music is the foundational inspiration for The Industry.

We’re all really invigorated by the reception for this new venture in our wonderfully creative city.  Their inaugural production of Crescent City will be in the Spring of 2012.  Stay tuned for more news.

http://www.theindustryla.org/

ps  definitely check out the Royal/T  Café – it’s a wonderful place for art and music and tea and their turkey burgers ROCK! www.royal-t.org

ROYAL/T Cafe in Culver City

Battering Down the Walls: Isaac Schankler’s Notes from the Studio

14 Mar

NOTES FROM THE STUDIO
This week your friends at Catalysis Projects introduce the sixth in our series of new columns – brief notes from the studios of our Core and Resident Artists. This week our Resident Artist composer Isaac Schankler posts the first in a series of entries looking at connections between speech and music.

I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between speech and music, maybe partly because they employ the same medium (sound waves, with an approximate visual notation) yet carry such different kinds of information.  Speech is representational, while music is expressive — okay, but this delineation isn’t as clear-cut as it first seems.  Certainly speech is capable of being expressive in its rhythms, cadences, rhetorical flourishes.  And music can be used to represent cultural codes (e.g. what subculture(s) you belong to).

So where can the boundary be drawn?

When the two are combined, interesting things happen.  Both change shape to fit the other.  In opera, the distinction between recitative (parts where the needs of the text take precedence) and aria (parts where the needs of the music are paramount) is an old one.  Many composers seem to have been dissatisfied with this distinction and have tried and batter the walls down from one side or the other.

Leoš Janáček was a champion of “speech-song” theory, in which musical ideas were driven by the rhythms, pitch contours and inflections of normal Czech speech.  (But, a bit like Ornette Coleman’s harmelodics, it seems to be next to impossible to find out what “theory” actually was behind it, other than some vague principles.)

Janáček filled notebooks with musical transcriptions of everyday speech, and when his daughter fell ill, he even went so far as to transcribe her final, dying breaths.  This strikes me, somehow, as a uniquely composerly act: a bit obsessive, yes, clinical and detached and at the same time incredibly sentimental.

I think this gets to the core of my fascination with speech and music; when you put them together you are able to be at once abstract and personal.  They seem to be the same thing, even.  The world seems to be at peace, almost.

Congratulations Jennifer Egan: Quintan Ana Wikswo’s Notes from the Studio

12 Mar

NOTES FROM THE STUDIO
This week your friends at Catalysis Projects introduce the fifth in our series of new columns – brief notes from the studios of our Core and Resident Artists. This week our Core Artist Quintan Ana Wikswo points out just how clueless and distasteful the Los Angeles Times can be in reporting on women writers.  

I am quite pleased that Jennifer Egan’s novel “A Visit From the Goon Squad” was awarded the prestigious fiction prize from the National Book Critics Circle last night. Go pick up a copy at Skylight Books. And while you’re at it, pick up a copy of the nonfiction winner, Isabel Wilkerson’s riveting book: The Warmth of Other Suns: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (sorry Skylight, but you say you don’t carry it).

But I couldn’t be more horrified that the LA Times article today made an atrocious series of choices in announcing Jonathan Franzen NOT winning the award, rather than a talented female writer WINNING the award.

First bad choice? The headline: “Egan beats Franzen in National Book Critics Circle’s Fiction Prize.” Isn’t it enough that she won, without naming the famous man whose work was NOT selected?

Second bad choice? The tagline: “The Jennifer Egan work bests Jonathan Franzen’s ‘Freedom.'” Um, you might want to name the winning book (“A Visit from the Good Squad”) rather than the name of the novel by the man who didn’t win.

Third bad choice? The photograph: of a typically fatuous looking loser Jonathan Franzen, instead of the female winner, Jennifer Egan. Here’s an actual author photograph:

Jennifer Egan

I like the damning article by Cynthia Newberry Martin in Contrary Magazine, who offers an alternative headline:

EGAN WINS NATIONAL BOOK CRITIC CIRCLE’S FICTION PRIZE.

Click here to respond to the LAt Times: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/editorials/la-op-email-form,0,3054191.customform

Artists and Escorts: Kim Ye’s Notes from the Studio

3 Mar

NOTES FROM THE STUDIO
This week your friends at Catalysis Projects introduce the second in our series of new columns – brief notes  from the “lost and found” desks of our Core and Resident Artists. In these posts, our artists offer a glimpse into one of their interdisciplinary, collaborative projects, including artifacts from the flotsam and jetsum that litter their creative spaces. This week our Core Artist Kim Ye’s asks whether ARTISTS and SEX-WORKERS hold parallel positions in our current economy?

Below is an excerpt from a discussion I’ve sent to Miwon Kwon as a project proposal. The writing that would result from this line of exploration would be for a seminar called Exchange Rate in which the changing economics of dematerialized art is addressed:

I’m interested in exploring parallels between the artist’s position as a service provider and an escort or sex worker’s position as a service provider. Specifically, I have Andrea Fraser’s Untitled and Art Out Artist Escort Service in mind. In both cases, the artist is taking part in the experience economy, but the experience is of the artist’s body and/or subjectivity. What is the nature of this exchange? What does the client/guest receive and what does the artist receive in this encounter both materially and symbolically?

I was thinking about the interview you did with Andrea wherein she states that while she does have moral dilemmas in regards to selling art work, she does not have any in regards to sex work. In addition, she mentioned that her intimate relationships have helped sustain her financially over the years. While Untitled subverts the client/escort relationship in certain ways, I am thinking about how analysis of artistic practices can be applied to the practices of high-end escorts and vice versa. My hope is that through this comparison, I can answer (or begin to answer) the question of  “What is the nature of–or what is behind–the economic value being added in the experience economy?”

I would start by stating the following:

Sex work in the United States is becoming increasingly professionalized and entered into as a voluntary career path. With this shift, highly-paid escorts start to embody members of Veblen’s cultured class; their clients expect to receive not only a physcial/sexual encounter, but also a “girlfriend experience”–the consumption therefore becomes that of the escort’s subjectivity, and not only of her body. I would argue that this shift from service to experience-production of the sex worker parallels the shifting position of the artist.

Artout (and other works like Andrea’s Untitled, Abramovich’s The Artist is Present, and others?) exchanges the client’s economic contribution and bodily involvement for the opportunity to “experience the artist” both physically in real time/space as a companion for an activity, and psychically/symbolically as a form of cultural capital which augments one’s social position.

What is it that the client is getting out of this type of “intimate” encounter that allows him to pay $250/hour for an artist’s companionship? Perhaps here is where we can draw additional vectors that connect the artist to the sex worker.

On the other hand, it might be interesting to ask what position within the experiential economy do artists occupy? Up to here, I’ve assumed that artists are the producers of the experience, and viewers/participants the consumers. But, in acts of condensation, aren’t artists also transforming the experiences they have consumed (art school, for one) or delineated for themselves (I’m thinking of Helen Molesworth’s mention of Process Art) into art objects? So, in this way, for certain artists, their capital is in their body experiences. Again I find myself thinking of Abramovich (especially in her performances with Ulay), where the strength and intensity of the work is located within the artist’s actual experience.

Perhaps this last section gets a little murky/tangential and perhaps there is a more contemporary practice I can reference there (Francis Alys’ melting ice block perhaps?), but I think there is potential in using sex work as a frame for analyzing contemporary experiential art practices.

Video still from Andrea Fraser's Untitled

For further reading:

Dirty Money on CNBC.com: http://www.cnbc.com/id/26869953

Andrea Fraser’s “What do I, as an artist, provide?”
http://www.kemperartmuseum.wustl.edu/exhibitions/2350

Confessions of a Client: http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/27651436/ns/today-today_people/