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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.


6 Oct


On October 29, 2011, Issue Project Room Artist-in-Residence James Ilgenfritz presents The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera. Based on William Burroughs’ 1962 dystopian novel about identity disintegration, oppression of humanity’s collective consciousness through technological influence, and revolution through the subversion of those very technologies.

There are only a few artists whose grip upon my adolescent sensibilities was so thorough, so relentless, and so transmogrifying that I actually feel I absorbed them into my atomic matter.  William Burroughs is one such artist (Kathy Acker is another). A few hours after my own peculiar live performance works premiered last month in NYC, I happened to have a restorative beer alongside the delightfully insightful Brooklyn composer, bassist and educator James Ilgenfritz – he mentioned that my aesthetics seemed imbued with a certain Burroughsian hue, a certain WSB stink.

Yes, I said, with a fanatic, quivering gleam in my eye. Are you, too, an admirer of his existence?

When James said he was in fact creating a new opera based off Burrough’s The Ticket That Exploded, and that it would be premiering at the end of October at Issue Project Room in Gowanus, Brooklyn, I knew I would soon have to dissect the whorls and fissures of this likeminded brain over a nice pint of Belgian hops.

And so a few weeks later we adjourned to BierKraft in Park Slope to talk about the re-sexualization of narrative structure, the infliction of aesthetic discomfort,  the kinds of weeds that are engulfing William’s old car in the back yard, and James’ kickstarter campaign for the project.

QUINTAN: It seems that while some people are immune to the Burrough’s bug, some of us come down with it pretty badly and learn to treasure the aesthetic infection.  To create an opera seems highly symptomatic of this kind of full-fledged chronic infestation. I am fairly confident at this point that you’re highly contaminated.

What initially attracted you to Burroughs’ writing, and to this project in particular? 

JAMES: I read Naked Lunch in high school in the mid-90s and was drawn to both the unapologetic approach he took to disturbing imagery and the unorthodox structure to his writing. At that time there was a wealth of information on his work– the film came out, which was extremely inspiring though not necessarily related to what intrigued me about the book. I was fascinated both by his persona and by his bizarre creations.

I’ve long been fascinated by art that both elicits an immediate visceral response and then also requires a fair amount of consideration after the fact in order to begin to understand. I’ve read that this is what initially confounded listeners when they encountered Charlie Parker, Cecil Taylor, and Ornette Coleman for the first time. This definitely happened for me with Ornette’s music, though I was more prepared for both Cecil and Bird.

Naked Lunch definitely did that for me. I spent a long time considering the implications of opening that door, and I’m doing that now with this opera. When the residency at Issue Project Room came along, I knew I wanted to find ways to both challenge myself to create more ambitious work, but also to find a way to more fully address the unspoken force that guides my artistic hand, so to speak.

I quickly recognized that Burroughs’ work had a resonance that I’d been overlooking for a while, probably since the early 2000s when I last read one of his books. My copy of The Ticket That Exploded found its way into my life in 2010 in a very capricious fashion, and I tend to appreciate those fleeting moments- I like to build something big on a foundation that could almost have not happened.

QUINTAN:  The most phenomenal artworks really are a kind of pathology – there is the initial shock of contagion, and then a long time living with how it unfolds in the body, its repercussions and consequences and how the host adapts…or doesn’t. It requires a whole different kind of aesthetic outlook to create work that unfolds perhaps weeks or years after that initial encounter…an encounter that can often be quite unpleasant or uncomfortable or distasteful.  A sort of Darwinian approach to audiences, perhaps [laughter].

When I talk to people about Burroughs, the idea of Lawrence, Kansas often emerges as an imagined place – some sort of epic spacetime coordinate that lives only in mythos.. I went on a pilgrimage there as a teenager and it ended up being quite a bizarre, beautiful experience – I suspect it’s nearly impossible to have a normal, tidy, sane experience of his domain.

How did you end up making your trip to WSB’s house in Lawrence, Kansas, and what was that like? I half-expected to see his corpse in the driver’s seat of that car. A datsun, perhaps?

JAMES: As my idea to turn Ticket into an opera turned into a strong determination, two issues arose: one was that I felt that I wanted a more direct connection to the man. The creative work I’m doing is based on my personal experiences encountering his creative work, but I wanted another level of personal connection to Burroughs the historical figure. The other issue was that I wanted to make sure that I would be allowed to do this! Elliott Sharp helped me get in touch with James Grauerholz, who was a close friend and professional associate of Burroughs for the last couple decades of his life. James was very helpful on both counts.

It turned out that that day I could be in Kansas was a Thursday, a day where traditionally Burroughs and many of his associates in Lawrence would get together for a pot luck. So James and Tom King, who lives at the house and maintains the property, invited everyone back over and we had a wonderful evening full of stories and some incredible food.

Towards the end of the evening I gave a short concert, which was recorded and is now on Youtube. The experience was really great, because it gave me a chance to get some first-hand accounts from folks who knew him quite well. They were all quite gracious– as one can imagine, there are a fair number of random people who show with somewhat voyeuristic intentions because of his notoriety, but they were quite appreciative of my work and were all quite helpful– I’m definitely grateful for them referring me to Andre Perkowski, who has made an incredible film based on the Nova Express.

QUINTAN: Burroughs had a really shattering impact on many artists’ sense of narrative – not just textual, but visual and cognitive as well. He has the ability to take a subject that could be highly coherent and smash it over your head, leaving you to assemble the pieces within your own consciousness…or not. That smashing gives a lot of respect and power and responsibility to the audience, and serves as a reminder that our brains are capable of abstract aesthetic sleuthing. Fragments and shards force us to do the heavy lifting. It’s one of the aspects I love the most about his work.

Given the number of shifting components available within opera – text, voice, plot, stage setting, narrative, instruments and the multivalent score itself – how are you approaching Burroughs’ unorthodox deconstruction of narrative?

JAMES: Burroughs’ approach resonates with those of some of my favorite musical innovators– Anthony Braxton, John Zorn, Elliott Sharp, Laurie Anderson, John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Morton Feldman. These are all artists from whom I have learned things about texture, methodology, and structure. They have created work that challenged the concept of linearity and narrative, all in very different ways.

Opera is, in my mind, one of the great formats for synthesis, juxtaposition, cross-pollination, and appropriation, so I am looking to assemble a variety of performative methodologies in this work. The structure itself is modular– there are numerous discrete episodes which will be assembled in real-time during the performance. This is why I am referring to this as an “ongoing opera”– the materials will always fit together differently. Not only because the sections will not necessarily happen in the same order every time, but also because many of the sections incorporate indeterminacy and improvisation as well as notation with more implicit directionality.

I came up in a time where many filmmakers were experimenting with nonlinearity, from David Lynch to Quentin Tarantino. As I began to learn more about compositional structures that dealt with nonlinearity, I really started to see something that attracted me in a deep way. This opera actually has a big mixture of linear structures and various curved structures.

QUINTAN: I would be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t steer our conversation towards  the significance of gender and genitalia in these poly-matrix narrative constructions and compositional structures. You take 20th century queer artists – Burroughs and Kathy Acker and the phenomenal Monique Wittig, for example – who looked at how sexualized biological forms impacted narrative structure. That the “plot arc” is a male orgasmic structure. That linearity is rather penile. That a circular structure with multiple climaxes is a feminine construction…and so forth.

Their work has a conscious scatological, genital “obscenity” to it that really startles us out of these static forms and encourages us to tell our stories within a far broader framework of structures.

JAMES: Absolutely, I think Burroughs’ work shatters linearity in this violent and beautiful way. I’ve been inspired for a while by artists whose work identifies linearity as a phallic structure that needs balance. It was a great experience for me, seeing Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party at the Brooklyn Museum– a pretty deep experience, as was an experience I had a the Whitney a while back with the work of performance artist Hannah Wilke, whose work Through the Large Glass, which was represented in an exhibit called Off The Wall: Thirty Performative Actions (which inspired the title to my work Three Performative Acts, premiered earlier this year at Issue Project Room).

What was included in the show was a couple large images of Hanna’s performance in the 1970s– images of her standing naked, photographed through the shattered glass of Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare. Meanwhile, one floor down was a work by Christian Marclay that included film footage of Duchamp discussing the shattering of the glass, and how he felt it improved the very sexually explicit (though profoundly abstract) work.

I find similar beauty in the way Burroughs’ work, especially in the Cut-Up trilogy (that includes Ticket, along with The Nova Express and the Soft Machine) seems to shatter linearity. My hope is to do that with this opera.

QUINTAN: I encourage everyone to check out the opera itself on October 29th at Issue Project Room in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and to contribute your available pocket change to your Kickstarter campaign. Keep us posted with your progress, and let’s go have another beer.




On October 29, 2011, Issue Project Room Artist-in-Residence James Ilgenfritz presents The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera. Based on William Burroughs’ 1962 dystopian novel about identity disintegration, oppression of humanity’s collective consciousness through technological influence, and revolution through the subversion of those very technologies.  Featuring live vocalists Ted Hearne, Nick Hallett, Anne Rhodes, and Megan Schubert, video vocalists Melissa Hughes, Steve Dalachinsky, and Ryan Opperman, an ensemble of thirteen instrumentalists, and live video projections from Jason Ponce, the opera will be organized using the same cut-up techniques and emphasis on fragmentation of language that distinguishes Burroughs’ literary work.

An ongoing opera is one which has set material but is perpetually reconfigured during the performance, mixing composed material with indeterminate composition strategies and conducted improvisations. With zero staging, all visuals are conveyed through projected live video manipulations.  Pre-recorded video performances will facilitate vocalists to interact with other vocalists who are not present, or even to sing a duet with themselves. These efforts to perpetually repurpose the musical and visual content of the opera are a direct effort on my part to draw comparisons between the performative and the generative– to make the very act of reorganizing materials function both as a blueprint for making art and as art itself.

Anne Rhodes, Megan Schubert, Ted Hearne, Nick Hallett: Voices

Steve Dalachinsky, Ryan Opperman, Melissa Hughes: Video voices

Jay Rozen: tuba

Sam Kulik: trombone

Douglas Detrick: trumpet

Justin Wood: alto saxophone, flute

Mike McGinnis: clarinet / bass clarinet / flute

Julianne Carney: violin

Nathan Bontrager: cello

Denman Maroney: piano

Andrew Drury, John O’Brien, Vinnie Sperazza: Percussion

Taylor Levine, Ty Citerman: Guitar/Electronics

Nicholas DeMaison: Conductor

Jason Ponce: Video Artist / Live Processing


Brooklyn composer, bassist, and educator James Ilgenfritz has been active in creative music since 1999. His work has been praised in Time Out New York, All About Jazz, and Downbeat Magazine. Recent performances include work with Lukas Ligeti, Pauline Oliveros, Elliott Sharp, Steve Swell, John Zorn, and Anthony Braxton. James has received grants and residencies from Issue Project Room, the American Composers Forum, and OMI Arts Center.

Notable performance venues include Roulette, The Kitchen, The Kennedy Center in Washington DC, The World Financial Center Winter Garden, Symphony Space, and the New Museum in SoHo. James hosts the Ten Thousand Hours Podcast, featuring conversations and duets with such musical innovators as Robert Dick and Pauline Oliveros.

In 2011 James is Artist-In-Residence at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn. He holds degrees from the University of Michigan and the University of California San Diego. James is on Faculty at the Preparatory Center of Brooklyn College and at Brooklyn Conservatory.


Quintan Ana Wikswo is a multidisciplinary artist whose projects integrate photography, original text, multichannel and projected video and film, site specific installation, and performance collaborations with composers and choreographers. Working with damaged antique battlefield cameras and military typewriters, Ms. Wikswo explores unmarked locations where obscured histories and crimes against humanity have taken place.   Her projects appear in museums, galleries, performance spaces and publications throughout Europe, Asia and the US.

The first major solo museum survey of her work appears at the Smithsonian-affiliated Yeshiva University Museum in Chelsea/NYC from August 2011-Feb 2012.

Narrow Lands Production: Deborah Martin Notes from the Studio

21 Jun

This NOTES FROM THE STUDIO column features CP Core Artist Deborah Martin,  a contemporary realist painter, fine art photographer and curator. Visit her work online here.


The Drawer 36 x 36″

Oil on Canvas

I am in a painting frenzy working on 10 paintings that will be shipped out to Cape Cod, MA in mid July. While I attended the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston, I used to frequent Provincetown. Duirng one of my visits to Provincetown, I spent the night in the very house that several of the paintings and poems from this exhibit are based on. The house has since been abandoned. I actually had forgotten that I had slept in the house-with a gang of girls (strewn about on the floor.) The memory came back to me later while working on the selection of images for this series. I have made a complete circle.

NARROW LANDS is an ongoing multidisciplinary collaborative project between CP Core Artists Quintan Ana Wikswo and Deborah Martin. For any one living on the East Coast anywhere near Provincetown-I hope you will have a chance to see this exhibit.

Here’s a note from the press release:

Martin’s sea bleached and dusty-colored paintings exist in intimate conversation with Wikswo’s spare, sensual prose poems, yielding poignant and often enticing portraits of Provincetown buildings and the women who live and love within them.

Together, the works inhabit a uniquely Provincetown landscape, forming a powerful meditation on human erosion, transformation and renewal, and a powerful encounter with the Cape itself.

The fine art book NARROW LANDS: Paintings and Prose Poems has been published by CATALYSIS PROJECTS, and will be available in hardback and paperback.

Here is a preview of one of Quintan Ana Wikswo’s Poems that will be part of the upcoming exhibition and Narrow Lands Book.


by Quitnan Ana Wikswo

The veins on the back of her hand a delta, veins swollen and exposed. Under the nails – dulled and chipped – oyster shells nibbled in hopes of reaching the meat.

On her wrist, split blood vessels hunched and sharp as sea nettles.

Her nose arches over her long neglected mouth, and a dangling brown braid locked tight against the salt and moisture of the coast.

She wishes she’d been born looking like this, some fierce seafaring Venus sprung from a whale, split asunder and screaming on the shore.

But instead she’s grown this way, and slowly.

Slow enough to notice.

Hamper 36 x 36″

Oil on Canvas

This is a painting I am working on titled Hamper. I  have yet to tackle this hamper which is still outlined here in Pencil.

All three of the images included in this blog post are based on the house in Provincetown I made reference to. I hear that the house is owned by Penny and Chuck who are residents of Provincetown. My dear friend Linnie relayed that she ran into Penny and Chuck and had told them about these paintings coming to Provincetown. I wonder if they will come to the opening. As I write this I am thinking how strange this all is and how somehow we are all connected…

The Narrow Lands exhibit opens August 5th -24th, 2011 (opening reception  Friday August 5,  6-9pm) at The Patty Deluca Gallery in Provincetown, MA (courtesy of The School House Gallery.)

The work will be on display at The School House Gallery opening Labor day weekend September 2-21st, 2011 (with an opening reception on Friday Sept 2 7-10pm.)

Hanger 36 x 36″

Oil on Canvas

MicroTextual Musings: Quintan Ana Wikswo Interview

7 Apr

Quintan Ana Wikswo is an interdisciplinary artist whose projects integrate a constellation of works in photography, original text, video and installation, as well as performance collaborations with composers and choreographers. Catalysis Projects interviews her about synesthesia, washing dishes with kitty litter, and microtonal fantasies.

MicroTextual will premiere Quintan’s Floriography I/Coimbra 1452 (with Rafael Liebich) and Floriography II/Bavaria 1543 (with Philip Shakhnis), a diptych of video-integrated text performance works about medieval botanical and ecological life at Inquisition convents and Crusade villages.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door

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?

QAW-This summer in Czech Republic – where the character system and language are completely different from English – I spent a long time in a shop trying to distinguish a box of dishwasher crystals from a box of cake mix. Both were cardboard containers of white powder with images of a kitchen and a cat and a half-eaten slice of cake on a plate. I stood there giggling happily while the workers glared at the demented Gypsy lady who might steal the box of cat litter.

A few years ago I was told I have synesthesia, which tends to tangle up meaning through some aberrant neurological and cognitive wiring. As a visual artist and writer, this is a big tangle. For instance, the color yellow makes a sound, and thus has stronger auditory than visual meaning  – yellow is not a “color.” Likewise, letters are very visually and emotionally evocative – much as human faces convey very distinctive personalities.  When I make words, I make little villages. Sentences are civilizations. The integrated text-video-performance pieces for MicroTextual (Floriography I and II) explore mass slaughter and genocide, but I built the texts using letters whose personalities are extremely gentle and pretty and demure. A bit shy, with the tendency to daintily cringe away from any unpleasantness.

Clearly, there’s no way an outside audience could share in that kind of personal language. Yet every creature is fairly clueless about what its fellows are trying to say, and at some point it’s the process of conveying meaning that can be most mesmerizing – watching someone try to wash dishes with kitty litter, or bake a cake using dishwashing powder is more intriguing than doing it just like everyone else. This struggle about attaching symbols and meanings have resulted in psychiatric asylums, Carnegie Hall, and the Crusades. It’s nice to imagine that as artists we finally have the right to draw our own conclusions.

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?

QAW-My most fertile conversations begin with misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and errors of interpretation. Otherwise, there’s no friction. No rough edges to catch against. I find a perverse pleasure in being artistically uncomfortable and confused and disoriented. Over time, this sensation has become a barometer that monitors my stagnation and aeration. I never create a work from a tidy place of comprehension – my own works are documents of an awkward struggle to understand something I find unwieldy.

As artists and audiences, I think it’s very important that we get excited by – rather than intimidated by – disorienting, perplexing, unfamiliar communication. I rarely want anyone to pre-digest anything for me, and I try to carry that philosophy forward to audiences, whether they like it or not.

Overall, I think it’s fruitful to resist the marketplace-driven phobia about being misunderstood – the whole idea that everything must be distilled to a tits-out elevator speech where god forbid something isn’t quick and easy and sexy. It’s repellant, but not in the fun way.  Likewise, the attempt to control the outcome for an audience is very dull and stultifying – when artworks are presented with a hegemonic surveillance around “the right meaning” it completely kills the chemical reactions between artist and audience.  It makes artworks that smother rather than kindle.

A lot of my work is politically engaged, and so for me to try and control or police meaning would get really ugly. The pieces being performed at MicroTextual explore epic historic genocides, and of course I have various points to make. But it would be splendid if someone just gets that there are green butterflies in a field. When someone attaches a new meaning to my work, it means the piece sprouts renegade tendrils and grows weird vegetables in someone else’s brain. Birth is meant to be a struggle for everyone involved.

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

QAW-I realized recently that I have developed an little fantasy about microtonal music being an arcane, Kabbalistic, alchemical treasure hunt where secret notes are hidden between the visible notes.  Rather like an auditory wormhole through which one can vanish out of mundane do-re-me territory and emerge someplace altogether fantastic. Like sailing to the edge of a flat earth and expecting to fall off, only to discover a sphere…or vice versa. How lovely!

Microtonal music is also such a wonderful imposition on musicians and audiences who might otherwise fall into a rut of twelve – let’s make it fast! Let’s take the interstate, instead of Route 66.  I love how microtonality forces participants to navigate unfamiliar, disorienting situations, and requires people to grow new perceptual antennae to sleuth out what’s going down. The risk is feeling foolish, vulnerable, overwhelmed, annoyed and exhausted, but the reward is gaining a new auditory knowledge that’s a bit secret and arcane.

When you approached me about contributing works to this event, the challenge was to find a analogous “microtonal” tuning in literature – a way of composing and performing text that involves that sense of striding off the map, sailing over the edge, spending time in uncharted waters. I thought about how much I love spending time in countries where I’m illiterate in the written and spoken language because I’m forced to embark upon that treasure hunt for other clues of meaning, like gesture and expression and context.

So I created two works for the April 16th concert that involve finding the small spaces between languages – each text piece is visually projected in English, while being overspoken in other languages such as Russian, Hebrew, and Portuguese. In a sense, the audience is the performance, occupying that space between the two languages where a third meaning emerges.

I’m very excited to hear everyone’s pieces at the April concert, especially so many premieres. It’s impossible for artists to really play it safe within these creative parameters, and that’s tremendously inspiring.  Besides – if the world doesn’t turn out to be spherical, the ship will make a lovely crash as it falls off the edge of the world.

Lying in a Ditch on a Stormy Day: Quintan Ana Wikswo’s Notes from the Studio

10 Feb

by Quintan Ana Wikswo

This NOTES FROM THE STUDIO column features CP Core Artist Quintan Ana Wikswo, who creates work in text, photography, video, installation and performance.  Visit her work online here and here.

When I was a teenager, some fortuitous creature slid me a copy of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.”

Since then, I’ve been mesmerized by the indefatigable pursuit for a practical space for private creation and cogitation, with a door that locks. My first studio was the lower limb of an apple tree – when I got older and heavier I graduated to a maple tree – then a steamer trunk, a closet, a semi-abandoned sweatshop, my lap, the bathtub, the kitchen table.

A studio is a great place for scraps.  It’s like the manure pile of art: mostly shit, but very rich in nutrients.

Nowadays my studio is located on an upper floor in a 1920s building in downtown Los Angeles, with huge chickenwired windows peeking into the bleached out well of a courtyard. I have always considered chickens to be my muses, and perhaps it is the chicken wire windows that draws me into this vista with fantasies of transcendence.

My view is all soot stains and articulated smog, the cool hues of concrete and charcoal asphalt, and a monochrome obstructed light. All the chemicals are in flux: every visible surface is oxidizing, peeling, rusting, dissolving. Somehow, I find this galvanic activity very exciting.

It’s because of Virginia. Her command for studio is unconventional:

“Lying in a ditch on a stormy day, when it has been raining, then enormous clouds come marching over the sky, tattered clouds, wisps of cloud. What delights me then is the confusion, the height, the indifference and the fury. Great clouds always changing, and movement; something sulphurous and sinister, bowled up, helter-skelter; towering, trailing, broken off, lost, and I forgotten, minute, in a ditch.”

Required qualities in a studio: confusion. Height. Fury and indifference. Great clouds ever-changing. The smell of sulphur. Everything sinister and lost. Broken off. Bowled up.

And I forgotten. Perhaps that is the most important part – the humility of beginning with scraps and growing shoots from the muck.

Next to me on my workdesk today is a glorious bit of deliciousness sent my way from a musician friend. It’s a rejection letter sent to Gertrude Stein by a publisher.

I think it’s very much appropriate this week, when VIDA released its new report about the shameful, bigoted disparities in “the publishing world” between female and male writers. As the Guardian writes, “The gender imbalance at the heart of the British and American literary establishment has been laid bare by a new study confirming that leading literary magazines focus their review coverage on books written by men, and commission more men than women to write about them.”

In essence, women are writing, but their work is not seeing the light of day in major magazines, including Tin House, where my own work has been published. Then again, many people think the name Quintan could only be attached to a man.

One argument – made by a rather smug and odious editor Peter Stothard of the Times Literary Supplement, suggested that women don’t read and furthermore don’t know how to read quality literature, so why allow them to review quality books?

I offer him a sulphurous and sinister “screw you.”

Guardian books editor Claire Armitstead writes: “My own feeling is that there is an issue of confidence among women writers.” Hm.

So must we believe that women don’t submit our work to publishers, but rather keep it locked away in our hope chests with our tampons, barbie dolls and cooking aprons?

These are hardly credible alibis in any editor’s quest for misanthropic absolution – publishing is still a segregated industry, with women writers consigned to women readers, and the male writer deemed best at representing the literary expression of humanity.

But as long as we’re on the topic, it’s important to “submit” work. Without being submissive. Gertrude Stein didn’t get where she got by listening to fools like Arthur C. Fifield, whose role in advancing literature is surely as pathetic as the creature at the Times Literary Supplement.

Shortly after I read A Room of One’s Own, someone gave me Alice Walker’s retort, with her call for all women (not only wealthy white women) to have studio space. Today is her birthday, and her consistent efforts to get all women to the table is especially resonant.

Let’s have all the chickens in studios.

From within the fury and bowled up sulphurous confusion of the studio, it’s good to be forgotten, but only while mucking around in the manure pile. Afterwards, let’s send all the chickens out into the street, squawking.

I love the ridicule of this rejection letter, sent in derisive rebuke of Ms. Stein, who shouted her poems into the streets of Paris unabashed, furious and sinister and helter-skelter. And look where it propelled us.

Studios should be locked and then unlocked. When the work is done, send it out, ladies and gentlemen.

Send those chickens out beyond the wire and let them spread their icky little feathers everywhere.

And to catch up on the hoo-hah about the VIDA report, check out these articles:

France and Waterland and Oscar Wilde

1 Nov

Musée des moulages (Lyon, France)

Observations  by Veronika Krausas

Last weekend was the official European premiere of Waterland, an electronic piece with text by André Alexis and video by fellow Catalysis Projects member Quintan Ana Wikswo, sound design by another Catalysis Projects member Aron Kallay, and music by yours truly.

The performance was part of the Concert International Alliance for Women in Music that will be/has been performed in Lyon, Taiwan and 4 other concerts in the US. http://www.iawm.org/concert2010.htm

Musée des moulages

I ventured to France in the midst of their rioting and striking and somehow magically managed to navigate completely around all the problem days/spots etc. The concert was held at the Musée des moulages in Lyon, which is a super cool place to have a concert.  The large empty space was full of statues (reproductions of ancient Roman and Greek statues) with the audience in the middle surrounded by these silent and very attentive statues and 12 speakers.

After the concert, Mehdi, our wonderful friend from Lyon, took us on a ‘watering-hole’ tour of old Lyon that started out with a stop at Le Florian – a family-run ‘Pub Vénitien” that has been passed down from mother to daughter for several generations. It was really an interesting place with a very eclectic clientele, from toothless men to types that looked almost Mafioso and very well dressed.  It was small, intimate and full of character.

The painting on the wall behind us looked as if a pistol shot or sword had pierced it!  Because it was quite high up we all fantasized about it being a pistol shot that had been fired by someone who was either very drunk or had bad aim OR both.

En route we stopped by Place des Terreaux with a marvelous 19th-century fountain, designed and built by Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi. (by the way,  Bartholdi is famous for having created the Statue of Liberty in New York.)  The plaza in the center of Lyon was magical at night surrounded by all sorts of folks strolling and some staggering around.  A few younger and more inebriated types who, were coming out of the bars, started to throw their friends into the fountain and some were just taking their clothes off and jumping in.  Talk about a juxtaposition, the night before this had been the precise location of some of the worst riots in France due to the French government trying to raise the retirement age by 2 years.  This night there was no rioting but happy lunacy.

Bartholdi FOUNTAIN: VK, Mehdi, Irish composer Judith Ring, Paris-based Australian string theorist Nick Halmaygi

Getting on the train the next day to go back to Paris we managed to stupidly get onto the TGV (the super fast train) going the wrong way!   We’ll blame it on not sleeping and Lyonaise hospitality!  But the conductor on the train was lovely, and let us ride back for free, despite our tickets being non-refundable!  The French are lovely people, they’ve got super fast trains, and their croissants really are so much better!

Finally, back in Paris I had a lovely fall Sunday afternoon stroll around the Père LaChaise cemetery with a slight drizzle.  I stopped by the graves of  two of my musical heros:  Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf.  The best grave stone was Oscar Wilde’s! 

The entire thing was covered in kisses & graffiti with little gifts and tokens left.  There was even a potato in the shape of a heart.

On my way back to LA the US border guard took my passport (none of them were smiling as they’re probably trained to do).  He took my passport and asked for the reason for my trip.  I said I had a concert.  He asked what kind of music it was.  I said “contemporary classical music” to which he grinned at me and said “I guess there was no mosh-pit.”  I replied “Sadly, no.”  He volunteered for the next time, if I should need a mosh-pit instigator!  That’s something to strive for – having a mosh pit at a classical music concert!  Wow that would be something.

Waterland at PIE

6 Jun

BY VERONIKA KRAUSAS Last night PIE (People inside Electronics) had a concert at the Boston Court in Pasadena, in conjunctions with CATALYSIS PROJECTS. This marks our first performance event, and we are pleased to announce that it was sold-out show.

In the introduction, one of the two founding directors, Isaac Schankler, talked about the solitary existence of composers and mentioned that working with electronics sometimes gives composers a false sense of not being alone!

Composing, or many creative processes, are quite solitary but I think we often don’t realize this because our brains are so busy and entrenched in the process that it’s not until afterwards, when we look back, we realize that we were all by ourselves and spending perhaps too much time with just our own brains and thoughts and selves!

Then when the piece is finally performed, that sense of isolation really is front and center, because you realize it’s you and your music that’s going to be standing with your pants down in front of the whole audience!  I’ve had my share of wonderful and not so wonderful experiences but I have to say that last night, the premiere of WATERLAND was definitely in the “happy” category!

Waterland was originally an electronic work created in 1990 on some very forgotten and very long gone equipment in Toronto to accompany a great text by the Canadian writer André Alexis.  Aron Kallay (the other founding member of PIE) asked to perform the work but since it was on a cassette (last century’s technology and a very low quality recording) he offered to help me recreate it using LOGIC.  And poof, we did.  John Payne was amazing reciting André Alexis hallucinatory text.  The video was by fellow Catalysis Projects Core Artist Quintan Ana Wikswo and it was brilliant in its vividness and beauty.

So this solitary venture turned out into a wonderful collaboration with all sorts of amazing people & I think that this was a much less solitary venture than normal!

Make sure to check out PIE’s next concert in the fall.