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Exploring in Novels and Music

8 Jul
 NOTES FROM THE STUDIO:  Catalysis Projects’ Core Composer Veronika Krausas muses about the similarities of traveling and exploring in novels, on land, and in musical composition.

Space… the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its continuing mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before…

The reason I bring up Star Trek, not because I’m a trekkie, although I loved the new movie with the cameo by Leonard Nimoy (always a hero – logical and mathematical) and did watch the series as a kid (Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scottie and the gang always kicked ass, just like Batman and Robin except in space), it’s the quote from the beginning of the show/film etc. that pertains to my blog this month.  …to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations…

Right now I’m in the middle of two things:  I’m reading Embassytown, the newest work by one of my favorite authors, China Miéville and I’m writing a new piece.  Interestingly they both have something  in common – the process of acclimatization.

Miéville’s novel is set in the future and humans have colonized a distant planet, home to the enigmatic Ariekei, sentient beings famed for a language unique in the universe, one that only a few altered human ambassadors can speak.

Diving into this novel is like arriving in a new city or starting a new piece.  There is little or no familiarity with things:  understanding the syntax of new words and ideas, the new streets and buildings, or the harmonic language of a new composition.  Your legs feel wobbly; your brain is in overtime to make connections and link concepts, ideas, notes, street names!

As the story progresses with these unknown words and concepts—that are slowly revealed or you have to work out for yourself—there’s a level of comfort reached when the comparisons turn to understanding. It’s like learning a new language – constantly translating words to English until they attain the status of becoming their own entity without being a comparison or needing a definition anymore.

I think about explorers first encountering a new culture and new language and new everything!   There was movie called the 13th Warrior a few years back and what I remember about this movie is one brilliant scene when the hero (I think Antonio Banderas) was thrown into a group of Vikings (or some bearded types) and didn’t speak their language.  It showed his progression of recognizing and understanding individual words and over time grouping them into sentences, and then into meaning.  I loved the way that the writers didn’t just assume everyone spoke English in Medieval Europe.  So it’s a process of acclimatization.

With writing novels (I’m assuming) or music (which I know) it’s the creation of a new universe and even in that creation there’s the period of acclimatization for your own internal understanding.  This is a tough period and often very elusive – nothing makes sense in your brain and very unrelated and strange things achieve great importance (such as the sudden need to clean behind the fridge).

Getting over that hump is a great relief and then links are made more easily and naturally (and who cares what’s behind the fridge … you can’t see it anyway!)


A Love Song for the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles

9 Jun

NOTES FROM THE STUDIO – Catalysis Projects’ Core Artist Quintan Ana Wikswo waxes passionate for the charms and magic of The Last Bookstore, a pleasure dome of literary delights in downtown Los Angeles.

Consider this a love song for the Last Bookstore in Los Angeles – but wait, it’s not what you’re thinking. This is no tragic love song for the disappearing anachronism of the Los Angeles bookseller. No. This is a joyful, jubilant falling-in-love song for a used bookstore called “The Last Bookstore,” – a funhouse xanadu, a valhalla nirvana that despite all odds is located in Los Angeles, rather than belle epoque Budapest, Barcelona, Mexico City, or London. It’s the boulevard of dreams-come-true that invites us on an expedition of cerebral stimulations.

If somewhere within you dwells a misrecollected pink, this will tickle it.

If there is a seventh gear for jubilation, here is where you shall shift into it.

Look at it this way: Gertrude Stein has brought you to a magical attic of succulents, birdcages, faux-taxidermy wooly mastodons, where the tufted charms of Henry Miller’s seductively tattered Chesterfield seduces you to recline, indolent, whilst dragging on a contraband Chesterfield – you are wrapped in a rapt ardor amidst the precise sort of hazy spectral ambience that drives a Bronte to orgasm. Now it’s yours. If you can’t hallucinate your way through the halcyon literary lexicon of 1930s Paris, Lisbon, Buenos Aires, Saigon or Prague, you can come here.

A lifetime could vanish happily amidst these spendiferous stacks of books. You’ll emerge, bespectacled and blinking, equally conversant with antimatter spaceships orEdwardian ghosts. You will have books in your hand, and you will feel transcendent.

And even better for me, it’s downstairs from my studio, on the ground floor of the inimitably noir-ish Spring Arts Tower, a 1923 structure by the renown architect John Parkinson located at the corner of 5th and Spring, in downtown Los Angeles…a semi-hidden gem of a building dense with affordable artist studios. I ask you: how often is a writer’s studio located directly above three thousand ingeniously-curated, spookily perfect used books that is also an enticing timespace portal to various mecca of literary avant-garde culture? Never. Now you understand why this is a love song. A very ecstatic love song.

If you live anywhere near Los Angeles, do your body, mind, heart and soul a favor – hie thyself to the corner of 5th and Spring downtown, and enter the wonderland that is The Last Bookstore. It is a phantasmagoric delight for the eyes, the cerebral cortex, and the human heart.

The space itself is monumental in design and execution with an eye for quirky, sultry, brooding steampunk magnificence, with a kick of lighthearted quirk.

This is a place to dwell for hours, if not days, fully enthralled.

Waiting for you are thousands of books in angled cases. They lurk and waltz and careen and impose themselves upon your best self beneath an ornate vaulted 1920s ceiling, where the visitor would be unsurprised to see the Hindenburg, Poe’s

hanging bats, or Fred Astaire dancing on the ceiling.

At each stack, I expected to haggle with Borges over a book of Margaret Bourke-White photos. Or flirt with Mina Loy about Patti Smith’s Horses CD.

This is an Angeleno pantheon  to that uncommon variety of epic literary grandeur we find only in our fantasies. This is less a bookstore than a portal into a transcendent palace of literature, a resplendent temple to the word. Its ambiance befits a cathedral to the written word – commerce seems an afterthought (which is why all of us must visit it, with a few dollars in our pockets).

The Last Bookstore presents a dazzlingly shabby, majestically mythical old world intellectual playfulness that so often seems to elude Los Angeles. Go here when you feel that all hope is lost. Go here when you feel you were born in the wrong time, the wrong place, with the wrong dreams and impractical ambitions that lean more towards poetics than plastic surgery scars. This is a place to forget what’s irrelevant and remember why you were born: there’s a suspension of mundanity happening here, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there is more than a little magic going down. Something holy and enchanted.

In this cranial pleasure dome there is more to love than what meets the eye: the curation of the books themselves seems to inspire paranoia in every visitor: how did they know about my favorite books? My first five minutes yielded works by Jack Spicer, Mallarme, Anne Waldman, Paul Celan, and even the poet Giuseppe Ungaretti‘s works…in Italian. My beating heart henceforth shakes the building.

A few hours later, my studio assistant returned bearing a stack of vintage classic horror stories and fairy tales. Later that evening, the filmmaker leaving my studio after helping me on some video installations reported bliss at discovering a trove of beloved children’s books that would later leave his nephews in paroxysms of delight.

We were all experiencing literary paroxysms of the most delightful kind.

Please, my dear ones, bring your raw and bleeding heart in your hands, the nooks and crannies of your long-forgotten chimeras that say, why isn’t there anywhere to go in Los Angeles where I can simply read a book, and feel my skin shiver with delight in the polysyllabic written word, in goose-fleshed jubilation that our cave dwelling ancestors once learned to put grunt to charcoal and sketch out some marks with meaning. Words. We have them here, they abound and resound. They’re at The Lost Bookstore, on sale cheap. Go. Go. Go.

Learn more about Quintan Ana Wikswo here, or read her most recent short story here, in Gulf Coast journal.

REVIEW: Microtextual at the Microfest 2011 concert series

5 Jun


Catalysis Projects

April 16, 2011

MiMoDa Studio, Los Angeles

Review by CP composer Veronika Krausas

One of my favorite things is bilingual poetry books – English on the right side and the original on the left.  Sometimes it’s a foreign language I understand but often not. Still, it makes me feel a little bit like a traveler to an exotic place – comparing the alternate versions.  It feels like a magical and secret world that is private and I’m opening up a little cabinet of wonders to enjoy and watch sparkle. 

CP’s MicroTextual, curated by Aron Kallay, for me was just like that – a land of wonder, from the moment you walked into MiMoDa.  The space was transformed to an art exhibit with soft lighting and mysterious scrolls hanging from the ceiling and paper-origami-poof lamps  (my term) and a super cool vibe.  This concert featured many of the Catalysis Projects artists and what a collection of creativity and performances it was.

The reason I bring up bilingual poetry books is that the work of Quintan Wikswo is a 3-D version but so much more.   Her ‘cabinet of wonders’ included two wonderful works combining her texts with sublimely beautiful video footage.  They’re from her Floriography collection:  Floriography I (Coimbra 1541) and Floriography II (Bavaria 1543).  Her term is a “diptych of text-integrated video installation.”  

Wikswo "Floriography"







On the back wall, in amongst the mostly red images floated text, in English, while Rafael Liebich read, as an echo, the same text in Portuguese, with trombonist Matt Barbier playing a microtonal composition by David Rosenboom.  In the second work, the texts were read in Hebrew to a soundscape of flies and frogs.  These pieces were a visual realization of bilingual poetry books.


Starting the program was the amazing Honey, Milk and Blood, a collaboration by composer Isaac Schankler and visual artist Kim Ye, inspired by the ideas of Serbian-American inventor Nikola Tesla.  The scrolls were explained – they were functional art!  It was the score for the dozen singers, dressed in off-white flowing clothes.  The soprano soloist Andrea Zomorodian was herself a sculpture, a kinetic sculptures by Ye, a mermaid plant with a long root carried out by her attendants.  LOVED the music, LOVED the kinetic sculptures – it was the first sparkle opening up the cabinet of wonders.


And what microtonal concert would be complete without some quintessential Harry Partch, the grandfather of American microtonal music?  The Barstow:  Eight Hitchhikers’ Inscriptions by Partch was brilliantly performed by baritone and guitarist John Schneider, one of the co-directors of the Microfest series this year and Aron Kallay on chromelodeon.  

The second half of the concert started with a minimal and very serene work by Cat Lamb, The Field (for Agnes)There was a world premiere by Jeffrey Holmes, Fragments for soprano and piano.  The vocal line is more of a chant or what Holmes calls “a spell” in a series of images that use text from a variety of anonymous Latin sources. It was a Teutonic saga full of rich harmonies and virtuoso piano writing.  The virtuoso piano part was expertly performed by CP member and organizer of the whole evening pianist Aron Kallay

Holmes: Fragments

The most amazing thing about this piece was visual and completely accidental. I just happened to be lucky enough to be sitting in the exact spot to notice – Katherine Giaquinto, the singer was standing in a spot that when I looked in the mirror on the opposite wall, her body was replaced by the reflection of one of those paper-origami-poof lamps.  This alternate body was like another sculpture by Kim Ye and added to the chant-like Latin text’s magical and removed quality.

The concert concluded with Luminenscence, a gorgeous work by this year’s other co-director of Microfest, Bill Alves.  In his program notes Alves writes:

… an oton [is] a ritual that is performed 210 days after the birth of a child when the baby’s feet touch the earth for the first time. Before that time she is considered still too close to the realm of the gods to be allowed to touch the ground. The only music at this ceremony came from the chanting of the officiating priest and the small bell whose sounds he wafted to the fascinated baby’s ears.  Those chants, or mantra, are … a way of tuning oneself to the vibrations of the universe. These are in a very real sense the sounds of the transition from the celestial to the terrestrial world.

The singers now changed from white to black – from light to dark – balancing the visual and aural in the concert, touching the audience’s feet to the ground.  The whole evening was a wonderfully surreal and dreamlike experience.


If you, like me, love bilingual poetry books – definitely check out The Madness of Amadis by Jean Cassou, translated by Timothy Adès  (Agenda Editions).  Cassou (1897-1986), was a war-time Resistance leader, created France’s National Museum of Modern Art, and a poet!  It’s wonderful poetry and a brilliant and sensitive translation.

PS #2

The concert was part of the Microfest Concert series that started in LA in by the fabulous John Schneider in 1997.

Eco Amazons by DORKA KEEHN

2 Jun

Recommended Reading by

CP composer Veronika Krausas

I have just received a new book – it’s an absolutely beautiful hardcover by the San Francisco writer, documentary film maker and activist Dorka Keehn, who is definitely her own force of nature.  I highly recommend it!

Eco Amazons brings together for the first time the women leading the charge to ensure a healthy environment for all life on earth. Through intimate interviews conducted by journalist and activist Dorka Keehn and arresting images by award winning photographer Colin Finlay, Eco Amazons calls attention to this century’s critical environmental challenges by focusing on the remarkable women developing solutions and guiding us towards a sustainable future. Their efforts demonstrate how individual concern gives rise to passion, how passion leads to action, and how action effects meaningful change—efforts that can be emulated by each and every one of us.
If you’d like to order one, they’re  on Amazon OR at a 30% discount is available on if purchased by June 5, World Environment Day (WED).
If you are in the Bay Area and would like to meet Dorka, please join us at Gump’s, 135 Post St, SF CA on June 16 5:30-7:30 PM. Rsvp:
Through decades of WED celebrations, hundreds of thousands of people from countries all over the world have been galvanized for individual and organized environmental action. For more information and activities, please visit

Dorka Keehn

Dorka’s been a guest blogger for CP and here’s more information:
Dorka Keehn is a journalist and social entrepreneur. She is currently working on ECO AMAZONS, the first book on American women environmental leaders to be released on Earth Day, 2011, with images by Colin Finlay, one of the foremost documentary photographers in the world. She completed in November 2008,Language of the Birds, a large-scale solar powered permanent site specific sculpture for a new plaza in Northbeach, commissioned by the San Francisco Arts Commission, that was voted one of the best public artworks in the United States by Americans for the Arts. As a filmmaker, she has produced several films for television including the two-time Emmy award winning documentary, OF CIVIL WRONGS & RIGHTS: The Fred Korematsu Story (PBS POV 2001.) She is a founder of EMERGE AMERICA, the premier training program for Democratic women who plan to run for political office, and has been a leader in the women’s movement for over fifteen years. Mayor Willie Brown appointed her twice and Mayor Gavin Newsom re-appointed her to the San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. Dorka was also the West Coast Director of Gloria Steinem’s Voters For Choice, the largest non-partisan, independent pro-choice political action committee in the U.S. And she has served on innumerable Boards of Directors of women’s, environmental, media and educational organizations.

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.

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"


28 Apr


This Sunday, I was delighted to don a dress and attend the Los Angeles garden party for Les Figues Press, a visionary literary vehicle ably driven by Teresa Carmody and Vanessa Place. When both Bloomsbury and Kathy Acker were invoked within Mistress of Ceremonies Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum‘s first welcoming breaths, I knew the day was made…and not least of all a joy was seeing Sarah herself preside throughout…she who authored the fabulous fabulist novel Madeline is Sleeping.  And the spooky sweet churchly organ stylings of Laura Steenberge were transporting (rather like the faery iron archway in the garden corner, where I saw a hummingbird fly in, and a pomegranate come out). I want to hear more of Mme. Steenberge, and as soon as eerily possible.

At a loss for summer reading? Start with the fine folks above and the Les Figues list, and the frying months will become scrying months, and inscribe themselves happily within your mind.

But back to yesterday afternoon, which included several readings by other favorites of mine whose new books await multiple re-readings.

Kathy Acker, Queen of the Pirate Words

Following other readers including Janice Lee and Matias Viegener, Los Angeles poet Wanda Coleman shook the dusty air from out the very clouds above with her reading of several selections of her work featured in Les Figues’ collection Feminaissance: A Book of Tiny Revolts.  If a shamanic breath blew through our forsaken city around 5pm last night, thank Wanda, for it was in part her doing.

And from my MFAlma-mater SFSU came San Francisco poet Paul Hoover (I include the link to Paul’s blog, because I quite like his essay on memorability: “the Poetry of Forgetting”), who read from his often-merry, very textually elastic new collection Sonnet 56 (fifty-six variations on Shakespeare’s Sonnet 56), including a recitation of one of my very favorite pieces, in homage to one of my very favorite literary schools: Oulipo, founded by  Raymond Queneau, amongst others who include Italo Calvino. Paul’s piece uses the S+7 method, where each noun in a given text is replaced by a noun to be found seven places away in a chosen dictionary.

Raymond Queneau, Let Us Reincarnate You!

I use this opportunity to highly recommend another summer reading gem: Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual. It sits alongside Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, Monique Wittig’s Les Guerilleres, and Jean Toomer’s Cane as lifelong beloved companions that broke boundaries in between words and witchcraft.

Seated nearby Wanda for much of the afternoon, it was lovely to see her hold the familiar spine of an old Black Sparrow Press edition of her work – a publisher long beloved by both admirers and practitioners of experimental text (Charles Bukowski and John Fante were bookends in their house of writers). Like Bloomsbury, Black Sparrow was the original home-on-paper of many artists who – were they alive today – would struggle to find a place in print in today’s corporate bookmarket.

The honor to sit in the garden yesterday was significant, because all us writers working on anything the slightest bit odd owe much appreciation to the fortifying vision and valour of independent publishers, and a growing handful of other journals and collectives of their ilk and kin and stripe and kind. (May the nascence soon transcend, amen!)

Time and again, conversations begin with the prices charged by the big chain bookstores to even stock books at all – those books featured at the end-displays of a row? the books shown face-up instead of spine-out? That’s a surcharge, please. Commercial bookstores are not as much bookstores, as bookshelves for sale to the highest bidder.

These bookstores remind me of cemeteries, where you must pay rent on your burial plot.

We enter an era where the art and wisdom of literary curatorship has vanished from bookstores, who once upon a time could be relied upon for recommendations, guidance, and navigational tools to facilitate discovery of latent treasure. Those days are gone, and many feel adrift in a vast and treacherous sea – awash in a plastic island of chick-lit and diet guides and hot pink word porn.

I look at unsuspecting Americans departing those corporate chains like the whale who died on Seattle’s beaches last week, its stomach full up with human garbage: bits of plastic beer hats, anal suppository wrappers, and the dismembered arms of action figures.

whale prostrate with grief at state of american publishing industry. Oh, I mean, as a result of human greed. Well, every desecration is pretty much a result of human greed.

Conversation rages on about the efficacy and potency of independent presses in re-shaping the empty-caloried American literary diet – a pursuit similar to Alice Waters’ whole food revolution (we hope it all works out, for how could it get worse?). It’s a David-and-Goliath enterprise.

But regardless of the rise and fall of stones and slings, presses like Les Figues keep alive the art of curating words. Providing leadership of eye and ear in the finding of writers and readers from lost corners. The orchestration of reunions, communions, collusions, collisions, and productive rendez-vous.

The Rise and Fall of Stones and Slings

Sunday’s garden party was a joyous sail in a rebel ship on the high text seas, capably crewed with madcap insurgents, theorists,  barricade-builders, clowns and jugglers and cockeyed saints and martyrs and ragtag bunch of heroines…with cucumber sandwiches, an electric organ, and quite a thrilling cascade of hummingbirds.


thanks for the cucumbers, getty images, and LES FIGUES!

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