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Misfits and Hooligans Interview: Tom Flaherty and Quintan Ana Wikswo

25 Apr

In the second in our series of interviews with artists leading up to the Misfits and Hooligans concert on April 28 at Beyond Baroque, we talk to interdisciplinary filmmaker/visual artist/writer  (and Catalysis Projects Core Artist) Quintan Ana Wikswo, and composer Tom Flaherty.


Can you tell us a bit about your work that’s being presented on the 28th?

TF: “Shepard’s Pi” a piece that explores weird sonic characteristics of the toy piano, whose lowest notes can sound higher than its highest notes. The live toy piano is accompanied by electronic transmogrifications of itself, and the player gets to dance with a funhouse mirror of his or her playing.

QW: I have two new pieces on the 28th – one is a collaboration with Veronika Krausas: her music JONAS with my poem cycle and 35mm film suite, called THE ANGUILLADAE EATERS. The second piece is my film projection APIMANIAS, which I created to go alongside Aron Kallay’s phenomenal toy piano performance of Tom Flaherty’s equally-phenomenal and intriguing SHEPARD’S PI.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

TF: Named after cognitive psychologist Roger Shepard, a Shepard scale is an audio illusion in which a scale seems to rise endlessly, without getting higher. The constituent pitches consist of several simultaneous octaves, which fade out at the top of the scale and fade in at the bottom. Taken out of the moving context, the actual octave register of a note is ambiguous to the ear. A toy piano displays similar ambiguity: as the length of the sounding rods at lowest keys is too short to produce a true bass note, its overtones are louder than its fundamental pitch. Taken out of context the lowest F can sound more like its C overtone, an octave and a fifth higher. This ambiguity is part of the charm of the toy piano, and Shepard’s Pi enjoys playing with that charm, with lots of scales that seem not to get higher, sonorities whose octave register is ambiguous, and moments where the meter and tempo could be heard in several different ways.

Oh yes, pi. Just as pi = 3.14159265. . ., so too Shepard’s Pihas slightly more than three electronically produced sounds (all derived from the sound of the toy piano), sections, and tempi.

QW: When I first encountered Tom Flaherty’s “Shepard’s Pi,” the word “apimanias” began spiraling through my mind alongside the music. I find the musical work quite charming and endearing – it suggests an obsessive, insistent structural precision, a kind of auditory engineering that is similar to the unrelenting, exciting din of skyscraper construction – something rising, and yet never seeming to finish. Admirable, and inexorable, it’s the din of highly controlled creation. I immediately thought of bees. The preoccupying, intrusive, dominating and yet subtly complex sound of their wings spiraling in circles of flight – annoying, but breathtaking, and also quite gorgeous. As I read the score of Tom’s piece, the carefully nested progression of concentric octaves somehow echoed the precise mathematics bees use to build the structure of their hive. The Greek mathematician Archimedes approximated Pi by inscribing a hexagon into a circle: that is at the heart of bee geometry as well – their honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal wax cells that contain their larvae, honey and pollen. And dreams. The word Apimanias means “an excessive interest in bees.” And hidden within the word Apimanias is another word: pi.

While I was working on my B/ee-Movie, I became obsessed by the posture of the bees – their hunched backs bent down intently over their mathematical task. This ominous, slightly maniacal physical shape that suggests obsession and inexorable focus. During this time, I saw a video of Tom’s piece in performance and recognized an uncanny similarity between the bees and the toy piano player – both hump-backed and crouched, singlemindedly constructing geometry within a creation device…I suspect the honeycomb and the piano may serve the same function for two different species. Or perhaps, not so different species. I know pianists have very good posture, especially Aron.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

Do you consider yourself a hooligan or a misfit? Or both? Or neither?

TW: Definitely misfit. That used to be a requirement for admission to the Composer’s Union, though they may have relaxed their standards in recent years.
Perhaps hooligan, to my students.
film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

QW: I am probably mostly like a bee: both a misfit and a hooligan. Currently, there is an astonishingly large, obnoxious and ungainly wood-boring bee attempting to drill through the wall of my studio. At first, I thought it was a lawnmower. All that trouble from just a little fellow. There is a punk quality to its uncaring response to being in the way, being noisy and obstreperous, and generally being just not much of a joy to have around…but it’s just being a bee. And honestly, there’s also something quite silly about them in their ridiculous fuzzy carapace and ungainly wings and their sentimental affection for overwrought flowers. Yet nevertheless, bees can kill people. Lots of people are terrified of all sorts of bees – perhaps because they’re also very unpredictable. One never knows if a bee will kill somebody – they’re just as likely to land on your fingertip and slurp up a bit of tasty sweat as to put one into the grave.

But getting back to your question – it’s just the bee’s nature to drill and buzz and annoy and terrify and make life happen, and pollinate, and cross-polinate, and create. They are the best sorts of misfits and hooligans.

As far as new music, I think that Saturday’s concert – and new music in general – won my heart a long time ago with its ability to be the bee…to cause shock and horror, discomfort, and make enemies without even trying – but also to be a bit silly and ungainly, and wobbly and fragile and peculiar. Invariably someone seems to walk out of a concert once they realize the violin in never going to sound like Debussy. They seem partly ashamed of themselves – as if they know they must be missing something – but also betrayed by their friend, the obedient violin. So much new music invariably horrifies unsuspecting audience members who want to expect the expected. And that’s really quite thrilling to be within.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

Tell us about the most memorable oddball instrument you’ve ever encountered.

TF: There was a vegetable orchestra in Vienna a couple or years ago. That’s got to rank pretty high on the list. But clearly this question deserves greater thought.

QW: I grew up in the Cumberland Valley of Tennessee way out in the country, and my brother played dulcimer at Appalachian and mountain music jamborees. Jamborees are a glorious experience in making a lot of something from nothing. And for truly transcendent expression to come from the least likely situations, and equipment. I was probably about six years old and we were in some mountain hollow filled with hickory smoke and crickets and desolation, way out there in the Smokey Mountains.

Up on stage come these tiny blonde triplets in overalls, each holding a pair of spoons. Honestly, at first they made me really hungry. Everything in the south will make you hungry if you look at it the right way, but spoons just looked delicious. I kept thinking of what they were about to eat on that little rattletrap wood stage, and what it had to do with mountain music. Then it was just like a lightning storm descended into their little pink hands – flashes of bright white shining light and all sorts of glorious rhythm and vibration and clattering whirring cadence. They played a waltz. And a hoedown.

And a “fiddler’s choice” piece that probably belonged in a temple to some unknown displaced haint. They’d hit those spoons on the snaps and buckles of their little overalls. Just to get more range. I guess I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear something equally transcendent and shocking, but it hasn’t happened yet. Those girls really knew how to play their spoons.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

GUEST BLOG: Letter to Bao Bao

5 Jan

GUEST BLOG by Renée Reynolds

This is an excerpt from Renée Reynold’s For All Of My Wife, a collection of first-person narratives about Laowai life in Shanghai (Laowai means foreigner). Bao means ‘bag’ in Mandarin but can also be a nickname — especially in double form.  Renée Reynolds is an artist and writer who is currently based in Shanghai China who often works with Catalysis Project’s composer Veronika Krausas.

Letter to Bao Bao

I pulled it from my China box: a motley collection of items granted the Right of Asylum during my swift and violent exit from Moganshan lu. All of it still reeking of river water and cat pee. Stuck to the bottom was a notebook left on bus route 91 from Xujiahui to Caobao lu. It had the shape of having been in a giant back pocket for a year; or sat on, daily, in a curved chair, hiding from a teacher perhaps. Upside down and on the last page of box-lined paper was a hurry of humid blue words. I read it and then I took it: the ultimate trepverter (words that came too late — literally ‘stairwords’ in Yiddish). Flattened finally, and now, typed.

Dear Bao Bao,

We said bye bye on the street dark and now I am feeling sorry for my speechless mouth. And worse 2 since you are power off. “I like you really much but is difficult.” That’s what you said after alone. Now I have a difficult. A difficult thing. You. You are so good and small and cute but I feel like the ugly. The ugly one so big. It is impossible when I stand for kissing. And your baba. So confusing. Never moving his eyes and sucking his bones. Better if he hated and yelled on me. At least I’d know. But no. I don’t know. I never do. Your eyes. They are smaller than mine. We don’t see the same. When you feel light I love it. But you are so delicate and sensible. That sticks me to you. But when you speak about it, I don’t get it. So we always argue. Even when we say nothing. 1 km is 5 for me. I like tea and you preffer cafe. But then that excites. So much between. Ok. So lets both step on the wall to see which floats better. And if we don’t lets eat Butter. Without pain or any rain from our eyes. Lets dance on the blue skies. You said that. Those things. Sound better than. You are my puzzle and my cake. Even when I eat too much chocolate you welcome me. As you said, you are my Bao Bao and I fit no one else. Where r u now?

Renée Reynolds "History of a Future"

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

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.

Mystery Artifact

14 Nov

{NOTE: Elizabeth Glazner is a California-based writer, web designer and artist who occasionally blogs about drawing at Drawings and Digressions. She’s our guest blogger today.}

I don’t like the assumption that some people can draw and others can’t. Anyone who can hold a pencil or a pen, or in some way create some sort of mark-making, can draw, just as anyone who can think can write. We are all artists and writers in that sense.

Witness the doodle or the tweet. Both of these are means of communicating in our culture, though the first is usually done in a semi-aware and private manner and the latter is designed to be a shout out to others. What they have in common is that they are both organic. They both indicate immediate process and execution and are windows into the doodler or tweeter’s sensibilities. “Artists” are lauded for such behavior because of their specialness.

I found this doodle the other day and think it is worth sharing. Withhold judgment re: style or context, and it gains power as a mystery artifact:

Catalysis Projects: NEW ARTISTs in RESIDENCE!

25 Sep

Catalysis Projects is growing!   We’ve invited three terribly interesting individuals to be ARTISTs in RESIDENCE with Catalysis Projects for the year.  The duo who started PIE (People Inside Electronics) and who are each fascinating musicians themselves: pianist Aron Kallay and composer/performer Isaac Schenkler.  Also, the wonderful and talented Georgian artist and film maker NANA TCHITCHUOA.

The PIE boys have 3 events coming up that are all going to be super duper fantastic:


Doctor/professor/pianist extraordinaire ARON KALLAY explores the burgeoning alt + piano world, combining piano, teapot, wii controller, keyboard, prepared piano, keyboard sampler, and toy piano with tape and live electronics.

It’s this Thursday, September 30th, at 7:30 at USC’s Newman Hall.  Admission is free.

more info:

#2 PIE (People Inside Electronics) with In Frequency

are presenting the daring New York Composer Annie Gosfield at Club Fais Do Do (5253 W. Adams 90016) on October 2nd at 8pm.  Information and Tickets at

#3  Isaac Schenkler

is going to be whaling away on the ACCORDION on Saturday September 25th at Santa Monica Pier it’s Accordions on the Carousel at Glow Festival from 7 to 8:30pm.  It’s SIX, yes, you’ll be able to count them, SIX accordions performing all sorts of great stuff including a new work by Daniel Corral.  It’s all part of the GLOW FESTIVAL.  You can check out their website for more information:

And last but not least is Nanuka!

NANUKA is off to Georgia for a month and will be reporting back on art and life and culture in Georgia while she’s away.  Check out her website at  She’s also the person who runs the Tula Tea Room at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City.  There’s an authentic Georgian samovar with tea and biscuits for the curious and thirsty, who venture to the second floor.

"Entre" by nanuka

GUEST BLOG: Canadian writer André Alexis in Australia

6 Apr

This week we’re featuring a GUEST BLOG by the Canadian writer André Alexis, who has just returned from Australia where he was a featured writer at the Adelaide Book Fair.  Alexis has worked with Catalysis Project’s member and composer Veronika Krausas for over twenty years.

my most lasting impression of australia will be that left by the slightly obsessive and thoroughly engaging winemaker at samuel’s gorge, the vineyard in the mclaren vale. the man’s name is julian, i think, and he’s young, maybe somewhere in his mid thirties. on the day we were there, his ginger hair was in slightly ratty dreads, held loosely by a kerchief, he smelled of a few days sweat, and he was unshaven. he wasn’t sure what to make of us any more than we knew what to make of him. but once he felt we were serious about wine, he opened up and began telling us how much he wants to change the perception people have about australian wines. he wants to make wines that are subtle, more complex, more like old world, european wines. now, all that’s interesting enough, i guess, but what struck me was, when he allowed us to taste the batches of shiraz he’d have to combine  for this years vintage, the absolute – almost van goghesque – obsession for detail, his reliance on instinct, his near-rageful gropings to express details of taste in words. his attitude was like that of all the poets i’ve met in this life: eccentric, committed, slightly off-putting but, ultimately, attractive. so, for half an hour, in the middle of this resolutely commercial, winemaking vale, i thought of poetry even more than i thought of wine.

Here’s the vineyard’s website