The 2nd Annual Oakland Internet Cat Video Festival took place a little over a week ago. Large numbers of cat lovers and cat-video enthusiasts descended on a block of West Grand Avenue along The Great Wall in celebration of cats, and of course your author was there, complete with crazy-cat-lady dress and bag.
The daytime part of the event had more of a street fair atmosphere, with numerous booths providing food and miscellaneous cat-themed products under a bright but cloudy sky. There were also numerous organizations involved in fostering and adoption of cats, including the East Bay SPCA (one of the main beneficiaries of the event) Cat Town, and Oakland-based group that finds foster and forever homes for local cats and is also opening what may be the first cat cafe in the United States!
Many of the organizations brought adoptable cats and kittens for viewing. We certainly hope some found homes that day.
The celebrity rock star of the event was Li’l Bub, who was on hand for visitors to meet.
Our friend Serena Toxicat of Protea performed a feline-themed set of music for voice and electronics. Among her songs was a tribute to the manual (or Pallas Cat) with the warning not to get too close to one despite its awesomeness.
Other daylight fun included a photo booth from the makers of 9lives cat food, inviting visitors to Instagram and tag themselves as #MorrisAndMe (and of course #catvidfest).
Finally, the sun set and the actual videos began. The videos were from a curated reel featured at the Minneapolis Cat Video Festival hosted at the Walker Art Center., and featured many familiar videos such as Henri the existential cat and Grumpy Cat, but also new discoveries.
What makes this experience unique is not the videos themselves, which so many of us know from our time on the Internet, but the act of getting together and watching them with others, and laughing together at the cat antics.
I am certainly looking forward to this event coming back again next year!
As SFMOMA prepares to close for its expansion, Christian Marclay’s cinematic masterpiece The Clock seems an appropriate final exhibition. The piece is all about time, how it passes and slips away, and returns over the cycle of a day. Thousands of movie clips, some well known and some obscure, were painstakingly assembled into a 24-hour video montage in which clock faces or verbal references to time appear at the time of day they represent. For example, an image of a clock at 2PM appears in the piece at 2PM.
[Christian Marclay, video still from The Clock, 2010; single-channel video with stereo sound; 24 hours; courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York.]
Time is a powerful subject in film and indeed in all forms of art, and clocks have a long history as symbols. But a 24-hour video containing clips of clocks arranged in real time is something else entirely. At first glance, the idea of the piece can seem a little trite and gimmicky. And the lines to get in to see the piece are daunting – I waited over three hours on Saturday to see a night-time stretch. But getting past these initial impressions and obstacles is well worth the effort, as the piece itself is mesmerizing. It is easy to get lost in a two-hour or even a three-hour stretch as one focuses on the clocks, watches and other visual and verbal representations of time.
[Christian Marclay, installation view of The Clock, 2010; single-channel video with sound; 24 hours; White Cube Mason’s Yard, London, October 15–November 13, 2010; courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York, and White Cube, London; photo: Todd-White Photography; © Christian Marclay]
I think our brains also naturally want to string the fast changing clips into a longer narrative around time. Towards this end, Marclay’s editing goes well beyond the placement of time in order, including overlaying audio from one film on top of another and having the sound cut out at specific moments, such as the closing of a door or hanging up a telephone. Scenes from different films are interwoven, such as through disparate actions and situations on opposite sides of a phone conversation. There are many moments of humor in these juxtapositions as well. Other scenes, however, just stand out on their own visually.
[Christian Marclay, video still from The Clock, 2010; single-channel video with stereo sound; 24 hours; courtesy the artist and Paula Cooper Gallery, New York]
In both viewing The Clock and reflecting upon it, one is struck by the amount of effort it must have taken to make. Indeed, the process of collecting the scenes to cover the full 24-hour period seems even more daunting than the actual editing and post-production processes, though given the number of clips and the length that is an impressive feat in itself. It apparently took over three years for Marclay to complete the piece.
It is worth also seeing at different times of day to see how the scenes reflect our expectations of real time. Not surprisingly, the midnight to 2AM section featured a lot of bedroom scenes, as well as individuals in lonely places. By contrast, 1PM to 3PM contained a lot more action scenes and workplace scenes. 4:30PM had more transitional scenes as day gives way to evening. Some intrepid souls have been able to view most of the full 24 hours, though such a commitment is not necessary to get a good experience of the piece.
The Clock will remain on view at SFMOMA through its official close on June 2. Lines to see it will be especially long during this final week, so get there ahead of time and plan to wait for a while (bring a book).
In the midst of this rather crazy time in May with multiple band performances, rehearsals, art fairs and other happens, we look back at the simpler time that was April. In particular, my performance as “Pitta of the Mind” with Maw Shein Win at Artists Television Access in San Francisco. The performance was part of a launch event for Doug Harvey’s new anthology “patacritical Interrogation Techniques Anthology Volume 3”, hosted by Other Cinema.
Other Cinema events are always a fun mix of the campy, the strange, the beautiful, and sometimes challenging material. The selection during this evening included the hilarious but incomprehensible “Turkish Star Wars” and an interest abstract french piece, shown below:
Throughout the evening, Doug Harvey also read selections from his new anthology. It was such an eclectic mix of elements ranging from criticism to found text, and I look forward to reading it myself.
Our Pitta of the Mind performance featured readings from Harvey’s collection of spam poetry. It was a different sort of text from our usual, but a lot of fun and provided more opportunities from abstract musical response. You can see and hear our performance in this video:
I also had the opportunity to accompany Harvey’s Moldy Slides, a piece based on a collection of 35mm slides in various states of decay. The images and concept were quite beautiful, and I enjoyed the opportunity to improvise to it on iPad synths. Unfortunately, I do not have a recording of that performance.
Harvey wrote a very complimentary review of our performance on his blog. Here is an excerpt:
The highlight of the San Francisco launch event for ‘patacritical Interrogation Techniques Anthology Volume 3 at ATA/Other Cinema (Craig Baldwin’s 28-year-old underground microcinema) was undoubtedly Pitta of the Mind (Maw Win & Amar Chaudhary) translating found email spam poetry from the turn of the Millennium into swinging intergalactic electro-transmissions. I made a video, so hopefully that will find its way online soon, but in the emantime, here’s a couple of action shots, and a sampling of the spoems:
Any dahlia can brainwash short order cook of, but it takes a real lover to for lover.Any trombone can approach fundraiser toward, but it takes a real guardian angel to traffic light of cleavage.piroshki remain sprightly.
lower adult drum electrophoresis
– Essie Russell
Follow the link to read more and see some photos.
A big thank you to Craig Baldwin of Other Cinema and to Doug Harvey for giving us the opportunity to participate in this event. I look forward to doing more with Other Cinema in the future.
Today we look at the recent premiere of Current Events by the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble and a new quartet from Dan Plonsey. Both groups performed on April 28 at Berkeley Arts.
We have featured recordings by the Jack Curtis Dubowsky Ensemble (JCDE) a few times on The World of Wonder radio show and podcast, but this was an opportunity to see them perform a live improvisation to short experimental films. Joining Dubowsky for this performance were Hall Goff on trombone, Erika Johnson on percussion and Rufus Olivier III on bassoon.
Current Events is structured around five short films concerning recent events or contemporary topics. The first film featured TV footage and simulations of Air France Flight 447 that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. The second featured a variety of video sources concerning both the technical aspects and controversy about drone warfare. Through both of these sections the music was relatively pointed, with short and often inharmonic notes from all members of the ensemble. While this was the natural state for the percussion, is particularly noticeable for the trombone and bassoon. Dubowsky was mostly on acoustic piano during these films, but did switch over to the synth for some longer extended sounds.
The next film featured “futurist cities”, 20th century utopian designs for cities of the future that are long in the past. This was my favorite of the films, primarily because of the material – I am a sucker for past visions of the future and lament that fact that our time does not always live up to their ideals, at least in terms of design. Musically, this was a transition piece with more long tones leading into the final two films which focused on nature. The first was about the polar regions, including the melting ice caps. But it also featured penguins (and who doesn’t love penguins?).
The music for this piece did veer into some of the cliches of high sounds and noisy drones that often accompany images of ice and snow, but there were also parts that were simply musical improvisation. The final piece on the desert was more inviting, partly because of the warm environment it portrayed but also the variety of musical elements compared to the polar piece. In all, the suite as performed was a particularly fun live set combining music and visuals, and I thought it was well done and well prepared.
The second set featured the debut performance of Dan Plonsey’s new quartet with Steve Lew on bass, John Hanes on drums and John Shiurba on guitar.
Between generous amounts of verbal banter – much of it around the relative difficultly and quality of the numerically titled pieces – the band delivered the type of jazz that still celebrates driving rhythms and strong harmonies alongside complex lines. I particularly liked the final “jam/funk” piece. It was just different enough to be original, but had the familiar qualities that makes funky pieces so addictive.
Personally, I could have done with less of the banter. It did get a bit repetitive, especially when members of the audience started chiming in. Even Plonsey himself, a voluble individual, suggested that they could have gotten to more music if there was less of it.
While Plonsey’s big band is fun, too, I do like the spare and focused nature of the quartet and hope they continue to perform in the future.
As part of my wanderings around New York this past week, I had the opportunity to hear an evening of experimental music produced by Issue Project Room. The concert, at the Actors Fund Arts Center in Brooklyn, featured two ensembles that were quite different in terms of music and instrumentation.
The evening began with a performance by the Brooklyn-based Ashcan Orchestra. The group is a project of composer p. spadine and involved a variety of colorful toy instruments.
Through the set of four pieces, the members of the ensemble rotated around the instruments, beginning with a piece for an ensemble of toy bells. The bells were actually quite sonorous, and one would be hard pressed to recognize this as a piece performed with toy instruments if only listening and not observing the bright colors. The colors were nonetheless an important part of the presentation and even part of the musical score.
As the performers rotated, the orchestration and timbres became more varied and complex, including more drums and other louder instruments, giving the impression martial music (ableit martial music with toys). In the end, however, they rotated back to the bells for one final piece. The music and presentation was a lot of fun, and I thought they could have easily done another piece. But the set as it was had a good structure. It was nice to hear the ensembles treatments of traditional harmony and ideas reminiscent of early-twentieth century music.
The second half the concert featured a collaboration of Mind Over Mirrors, the project of resident artist Jaime Fennelly, and the ensemble Zelienople. Fenelly’s work involves the use of harmoniums together with electronics. The combination was impressive to look at.
At least one member of Zelienople also used a combination of harmonium and electronics, while others used guitars and other instruments to produce music similar to droning or “space rock” that we have discussed on this site before.
[Mind Over Mirrors and Zelienople.]
In this case, the music was performed as a soundtrack to Gone, a film by Donald Prokop. The film appeared to be winter suburban scenes familiar to any of us who grew up around New York City, with bare trees, ranch houses, and white snow. A lone figure occasionally appeared, walking or entering and exiting a car, and occasionally the scenes dissolved into wintery abstract color contours. Throughout, the music remained based on long drones, but veered between moderate pads and loud dramatic flourishes. The structure of the music and the film both added to a sense of listlessness and disorientation – this was an experience to simply lose oneself in.
Overall it was a strong evening of music, and the performance was well attended. I hope that I can continue to hear programs from Issue Project Room during my visits to New York.
The Improv Hootenanny series from the Ivy Room may be gone, but we recently had a “Hootennany Revival” at Berkeley Arts. Lucio Menagon, who started the Ivy Room series, was back in the Bay Area and joined by Suki O’kane and other familiar faces along with new participants. The musical (and visual) artistry is of course the center of the Hootenanny experience, but drinks and lively conversation are also a key part, and there was plenty of these before the formal part of the program began.
The performance opened with a solo set by Henry Plotnik, perhaps the youngest participant I have seen in any of these Bay Area improv events. He made use of the venue’s acoustic grand piano in addition to his electronic keyboard, and effortlessly weaved a set that moved between tonal and inharmonic elements.
[Photo by Michael Zelner.]
Plotnik was followed by a duo featuring veteran improvisers Philip Greenlief and Ross Hammond, on saxophone and guitar, respectively.
[Photo by Michael Zelner.]
Their performance had a sparse but intricate texture, frequency bouncing odd melodic lines or noisy extended techniques between them.
The evening also featured a version of Lucio Menagon’s Strangelet project, with familiar members Suki O’kane on percussion and John Hanes on electronics as well as a relative newcomer to the Bay Area scene Stephanie Lak.
[Photo by Michael Zelner.]
Lak’s contribution contrasted physically and sonically with the other members of the group, who provided the steadily evolving cloud of improvised sounds I remember from previous Strangelet performances. She was completely mobile with a pair of toy megaphones and tiny amplifiers and moved around the stage area freely with bursts of vocal and electronic sounds that floated on top of existing soundscape.
All the sets were accompanied by visuals from the cinePimps (Alfonso Alvarez and Keith Arnold). Using film projectors, they layered abstract film clips along with old B movies on two walls of the space. There were also musical interludes featuring Raub Roy and the TreeJay OctoPlayer. Raub Roy had a collection of hand drums that he excited with balloons expelling air and electric toothbrushes. The effect was something that sounded drum-like but without the usual articulation. You can see part of his performance in this video:
The TreeJay OctoPlayer, a project of Thad Povey and Mark Taylor, featured eight independently controllable platters and styli for vinyl records. During their mini-sets, the performers switched among different records and changed speeds to create a rich and somewhat eerie musical collage. It was also fun to watch the process of working with this towering instrument.
[Photo by Michael Zelner.]
The final set featured Stanosaur with guitar and a wall of large amplifiers. Basically, he played long heavily distorted drones that drove all of the amps to create different beating and phasing effects at rather high volumes. And by “high volumes” I mean ear-splittingly loud! Fortunately, I had my ear protection, and earplugs were made available to the audience. But it was still an intense experience to hear and to feel the effect of this sound, and a fog machine and lasers added a visual element.
[Photo by Michael Zelner.]
In all, it was a fun night of friends and good music, which is something to be valued. I hope we can start another regular improvisation series in the Bay Area with the same degree of casual fellowship and quality musicianship.
Today we look at STILL, a solo exhibition of video and animation works by Pia Maria Martin at The McLoughlin Gallery in San Francisco. It is the first US solo media exhibition for Martin, who hails from Stuttgart, Germany. Martin’s work involves elaborate stop-motion films assembled meticulously from countless photographs. Stop-motion animation assembled from photographs is currently a strong interest of mine and an art-form that I have been exploring in my own recent work with silent video and live music, so I was quite excited to see this show and meet the artist. Upon entering the gallery, one is greeted by a large triptych featuring a procession of plastic red chairs.
The piece, entitled Zum Appell!, can be a little jarring with its inanimate objects marching in lock stop, but it is also playful for the exact same reason. I also like the mid-century modern chairs against the weathered concrete interior. The surreal animation of the chairs and design elements are both enhanced by the nearly life-size presentation.
[Pia Maria Martin, Zum Appell! Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]
The elements of both play and unexpected animation are apparent in many of the other pieces as well. Für Olga tends towards the more abstract with mechanical and industrial elements that defy gravity, as do her most recent pieces such as Scherzo with brightly colored ribbons curling and “dancing” in a stark white industrial space.
[Pia Maria Martin, Scherzo. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]
Kalekeitos takes the animation of fish in a more playful (albeit morbid) direction.
[Pia Maria Martin, Kalekeitos. Image courtesy of The McLoughlin Gallery.]
As someone who tends to anthropomorphize animals, I found the dancing fish in Kalekeitos quite endearing. But of course the fish (which are in fact already dead) are ultimately dancing towards their destruction as part of a soup or stew. Death and decay appear as subjects in several of Martin’s animations, with natural elements falling apart or becoming reanimated. It also plays into her piece XI which features a house demolition in progress. The simple geometry and gray quality made it more captivating than a simple chronicle of demolition and gave it the more abstract quality found in some of the other pieces such as Scherzo. This particular work was also great example of pairing music with the silent animation. Music plays an important role in Martin’s work, not only as an accompaniment to the visuals but as an organizing principal. XI featured Arnold Schoenberg’s Die Jakabsleiter performed by Pierre Boulez and the BBC Orchestra and Singers, which reflected the geometric nature of the visuals. In Scherzo, the second movement of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 9 is used as a “non-audible score”, although the actual music is performed by the artist friends (as described here). Once again, my own artistic interest in the silent-animation medium intercedes as I would love to do a live musical performance to one of her films someday.
Pia Maria Martin was able to be in San Francisco for the opening. In addition to introducing her work, she participated in a more general discussion of video and animation.
The lively and far-ranging discussion included the artist’s techniques and inspiration, as well as more general topics such as what it means to “collect video art” in this day and age. On a practical level, the pieces in this and other video shows are authoritative limited editions, much like photographic prints. Some of them are also objects that include the means of display (e.g., a flat panel screen and DVD player). But for a local art collecting community that tends to be a bit more conservative in its acquisitions, the idea of an art piece to be displayed on a TV screen or projected onto a wall and which requires media intervention to perceive is a new one. But we hope video art continues to make its way into collections.
The exhibition will remain on display at The McLoughlin Gallery through May 30.
A short video clip composed of Hipstamatic photos, a preview of what I am planning for the Night Light show at SOMArts this Friday.
A couple of weeks ago I attended an evening of silent films and live music at Artists’ Television Access called “Re-Tracked Animation.” The program was part of the regular Other Cinema series that occurs at ATA most Saturdays.
As we arrived, there were old film clips (from the 1940s or earlier) playing with various soundtracks. The initial film featured a keyboard player wearing a turban (to look stereotypically “exotic”) set against something that sounded like the Chipmunks. The next short featured a more abstract grainy cartoon with figures made from simple geometry against a more electronic noise-based soundtrack – this one was quite interesting in itself. The final video, a very old Porky Pig cartoon, was played straight.
It was then time for the main features to begin. Jeremy Rourke presented several of his animated video pieces with live accompaniment on guitar, voice and percussion – specifically, singing bowls. His visuals combined found material, often with a “turn-of-the-20th-century” feel to it, with more contemporary video backgrounds and illustrations. You can see one of the videos, eyes hearing stars, in this clip below:
This one in particular featured some moments I referred to as “Monty Python meets Central Park” in that it reminded me a bit of Terry Gilliam’s animations, but the highly processed background of modern-day urban park video and abstract graphical elements give it a unique feel. Musically, the texture was sparse and worked in concert with the video rather than vying for attention away from the imagery, so the overall experience was quite captivating.
For his final piece, Rourke came on stage wearing all white and carrying an all-white guitar. It was clear that he and his instrument were going to be part of the screen for the next video, and that is indeed what happened.
The final video featured more live footage than his earlier animations, and the music was purely guitar-based.
After an intermission, the program resumed with a screening of the Brothers’ Quay In Absentia with music by Karlheinz Stockhausen. Regular readers know that Stockhausen is one of my musical heroes, so I was quite interested to see and hear this piece. The film, although done in 2000, feels like it is much older. The grainy images paint dark and dystopian visuals of ruined machinery against the main scenes of a woman in an asylum and her repetitive existence, writing notes on paper, placing them in envelopes and into a grandfather clock. The music, which is from Stockhausen’s piece “Zwei Paare”, predates the creation of the film, but they nonetheless work together well to create the overall haunting and eerie landscape.
The final set featured members of the ensemble Thomas Carnacki with Greg Scharpen, Jim Kaiser, Jesse Burson, and Gregory Hagan performing live audio tracks to two films. The first was Jan Svankmajer’s The Fall of the House of Usher, based on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name. The Poe story was read live by Dean Santomieri along with the music. The visuals featured an empty and abandoned looking manner home, perhaps how the House of Usher would look after the fall. It was forlorn and sad, but rich with texture. And Santomieri’s voice is always captivating in live readings.
The final piece of the evening featured the ensemble performing live to Ladislas Starewicz’ strange but delightful stop-animation film The Mascot. The film, which was created in 1933, features a cast of puppet dogs, cats, dolls, skeletons and any number of other creatures.
It is amazing to think what Starewicz was able to do in the 1920s and 1930s with his creations, without the aid of 3D computer animation or even more modern model-making done at special-effects houses. Below is a still from the original film:
The film is available on the Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org) in its entirety, so I will be tempted to try my own hand at an audio accompaniment for it one of these days…