Wordless Wednesday: Fishies! (Delancy/Essex Subway Station)

Piscine mosaic in the New York City subway.  Specifically, at the Delancy/Essex Street Station.

We passed through this station last November during our Ai Weiwei expedition.

Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, New York

This fall and winter in New York featured an ambitious citywide art project by Ai Weiwei called Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. Through fences, cages, netting and other forms of “barrier”, Ai Weiwei well-known landmarks as well as quintessentially “New York” locations into expressions of global migration – a complex phenomenon that includes refugee crises around the world as well as the fights for and against immigration in our own country. While the large installations at Washington Square and Central Park perhaps get the most attention, they are also scattered in smaller locations that are part of daily life in the city. We at CatSynth attempted to track down all the major installations and compiled our experiences into this video.

The large sculptural pieces in Washington Square Park and Grand Army Plaza at the corner of Central Park were the most impressive as iconic.


[Grand Army Plaza / Central Park]

The cage at Grand Army Plaza is quite literal, an easily identified barrier between those in the cage and the rest of the city going about its business outside. Of course, one can freely enter and exit this cage at will. The mirrored piece that fills the Washington Square Arch is more abstract, with the silhouettes of human figures forming a welcoming portal in the midst of an imposing fence. This one was the most aesthetically beautiful for me, with its play on reflections and light from the surrounding city.


[Washington Square Arch]

Many smaller installations were scattered around the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood long associated with immigration and new arrivals to the United States. Indeed, the European Jewish side of my family settled in this neighborhood in the early 20th century, so it holds particular significance.


[Chrystie Street]

Ai Weiwei. #goodfencesmakegoodneighbors #NYC Essex Street Market

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One could be forgiven for overlooking some of these (though the Essex Street Market installation is quite large). In fact, one at East 7th Street was just a narrow fence in the space between two apartment buildings. It took me a couple of minutes to locate it. And business at the boutiques and cafes at ground level went ahead seemingly oblivious.

We also made it to some of the installations in other boroughs, including the one surrounding the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens.


[Unisphere – Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens]

The Unisphere is one of the remaining ruins from the 1968 Worlds Fair and with its positive (albeit cynical) message of global and international solidarity, its an apt setting for reflecting on the current migration crises and increasing nationalism worldwide. The borough of Queens has also involved since 1968 to become one of the most diverse places in the world.

And no artistic journey through the would be complete without Brooklyn. Fulton Mall – a section of Fulton Street closed to form a pedestrian mall and bus corridor – was the site of a series of installations adding fencing to some of the bus stops.


[Fulton Mall, Brooklyn]

One more Fulton Street Mall. Ai Weiwei #goodfencesmakegoodneighbors #brooklyn #NYC

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Downtown Brooklyn has become an important part of my own experience of New York in the past decade, and it seems fitting to end here, where older discount stores and new high-rise condo buildings collide. We will have to see how this ultimately plays out…

We end in the Bronx, where this billboard on the Deegan Expressway may not be part of the official presentation, but it made for a fitting conclusion.


[Deegan Expressway (I-87), The Bronx]

Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors will be on display through February 18, 2018. You can read more about the project and its many locations here.

Amanda Chaudhary and Tania Chen at Spectrum, New York

Today we look back at my performance with Tania Chen at Spectrum in New York, a little over a week ago.


[Photo by BC]

Our duo is built around a mixture of experimental improvisation with electronic instruments and other elements, and songs with lyrics, melodies and chords, often segueing seamlessly from one to the other. Spectrum has a wonderful Steinway grand piano, which allowed to Tania to exercise her piano skills while I focused on chords and rhythm with a Nord Electro keyboard and DSI Prophet 12 and Moog Mother-32 synthesizers. At times the sound was dark and droning, others very sparse, and many times quite humorous – after all, we did sing a “Cheezy Love Song.” The songs themselves were quite structured, but there as well as the improvisations in between we were able to play off one another to create patterns and textures.



[Photos by BC]

I particularly like the sections combining the acoustic piano with the Prophet 12, and our dueling Casio keyboards. And yes, we had a lot of fun. You can see our full performance in this video below.

Overall we had a great time performing and it was quite well received by the audience. It wasn’t actually our first show together in New York. That was at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn and will be discussed in a separate article.


Our performance was in the middle of the bill. The evening began with a set by Hey Exit, a solo project by Brooklyn-based Brandan Landis.

Using guitar, electronics and video, Landis created a dark soundscape, sometimes noisy and drawing from his backgrounds in punk and noise, but at other times quite haunting and ethereal. The room was particularly dark, with light only from the video screen and a nearby candle.

Hey Exit was followed by a solo set by Jeff Surak featuring sundry electronic and acoustic sound sources.

Much of the set featured long drones with rich timbres, but also details such as beating patterns and occasional breaks in the sound. The timbres could be tense at moments, but overall tt was a very meditative performance; and a perfect sonic segue into our very different set.

We were immediately followed by Jarvis Jun Earnshaw performing with guitar, voice and electronics.

His sound at times was reminiscent of cafe folk singers, but his voice was anxious and abstract. The entire performance mostly followed the pattern of combining these elements with high-feedback delay and other effects.

The final set Jenn Grossman, another Brooklyn-based musician and sound artist.


[Photo by BC]

Her electronic set featured vocal experimentation with electronics, including rhythmic and ambient elements. Although also making use of drones, it was very different from Jeff Surak’s sound, more harmonic and thicker, more like a dreamy movie scene versus a tense dark space. There were percussive hits and noisy bits as well, which gave the music a defined texture.

It was overall a great experience being back at Spectrum and performing along with all the other acts. And we had a sizable and appreciative audience, despite the space being a little hot that evening. Thanks as always to Robert Pepper (Alrealon Musique) and Glenn Cornet for hosting us, and hopefully I will play there again soon.

Wordless Wednesday: Contrasts, Lower East Side (NYC)

Lower East Side, New York City

Wordless Wednesday: I Kitty NY (Spring Street)

I Kitty NY (Spring Street)

Wordless Wednesday: New York Rooftops

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An Independence Day post

In addition to fireworks, barbecues and the occasional embarrassing musical tribute, Independence Day is an opportunity to reflect on living in one of the world’s most unusual countries, even as it sometimes tries to pretend that it is a normal country. The latter comes out the imagery one sees today, with celebrations and streets lined with flags, and people and places that we try to think of as representative of the term “American”. Here I look some images and ideas from my personal and family history that are part of “American” that most readers, both in the U.S. and beyond, would not usually associate with the typical 4th of July.

You likely will not see the tenement buildings of New York’s Lower East Side, where half of my ancestors, Jews from Central and Eastern Europe (primarily Austria as well as Russia) settled at the beginning of the 20th century.

My mother’s family later settled in the central part of the Bronx – richly vital neighborhoods at the time that would later be synonymous with controversial building and demolition projects (think of the Cross Bronx Expressway) and still later with urban blight and decay.

It’s even less likely that you will see the countryside of Uttar Pradesh in India, with the other half of my ancestors came from.

My father from this part of India came to study in Minnesota, and numerous other relatives have settled in various towns and suburbs arounds the U.S over the years. Indeed, the equivalent image to the New York City tenement builds for the Indian side of my family might as well be the New Jersey Turnpike, another image you are unlikely to see in today’s celebrations, but is quintessentially American.

These are the states that I can think of immediately where relatives either currently reside or did so in the recent past:

New York
New Jersey
California
Maryland
Virginia
Georgia
Florida
Minnesota
Illinois
Wisconsin
Michigan
District of Columbia (Washington, DC)
Arizona
Texas
Indiana
Pennsylvania
Connecticut
Hawai’i

The Hawaii story is fun, actually. As it was related to me by a friend and former colleague who is from Hawai’i, he was playing with his band and a middle-aged man from New York approached them – ultimately, this led to his reciting his somewhat edgy poetry with their music in the background. It turns out that the poet is my cousin – our names are quite different, so there is no way my friend would have made the connection if I had not told him (the surprised reaction was priceless).

The family story is really a complex interplay not only of ancestral origins which get much of the attention, but of class, religious practice, geographical preferences, and the changes people experience even within a single lifetime. This complexity is another feature of American culture and history that is often hidden from our usual imagery – even the positive imagery that celebrates diversity, immigration and multiculturalism leaves out the complexity. And it is hard to think of life here without it – the idea of a homogeneous heritage in a single hometown with people who look and sound like each other seems…well, foreign.

So where does that leave things for me, now, in this story? Well, it’s complex as well. I find myself coming full circle to my Jewish ancestors in the Lower East Side – perhaps I may even live there sometime in the future. Some of my most experimental music pieces include instruments and idioms from Indian music. Some things have little to do with my ancestry, jazz which I have been returning to in the last year as a musical practice, the bits of East Asian culture I picked in both Asia and California, are all part of the mix. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that I might find myself in Hawai’i sometime doing improvised music and poetry. And like others, I am figuring out how to take all of these things make something of it in what seem to be rather challenging times. In the end, there is no conclusion, on the personal, family or national narratives – and it seems appropriate that way.

Wordless Wednesday: New York Against The World

[Click to enlarge]

Wordless Wednesday: Rose II at New Museum, New York