Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Land of Noise

My mom has repeatedly advised me to leave Los Angeles before an earthquake sinks it into the ocean. In his Lost Angeles exhibit at Subliminal Projects, artist Stanley Donwood's outlook is slightly bleaker.

"Los Angeles is fucked. Everything is fucked, everything, and really, we all know this."

Those are the opening words of introduction to the exhibition catalogue. The centerpiece of the show is Lost Angeles Kozo, a panoramic series of linocuts depicting LA being destroyed by fires, floods, meteors, earthquakes, etc. There are also quite a few screen prints on the same subject. Each portrays one or more iconic LA buildings being subjugated by the elements (including Disney Hall, pictured below). These are complimented by London Views, a collection of prints that subject the city of London to a similar treatment, and Diamond Heist Bear.

You might recognize London Views from the cover of Thom Yorke's Eraser album. Like many others, I first heard of Donwood from his numerous Radiohead album covers (every album since The Bends). I sometimes wonder if I would have known about him otherwise, but it doesn't really matter. I really like the look of these linoleum prints. They vaguely reminded me of a multitude of other artists I love, like PosadaPeter KuperGorey, or even a little Doré. And I have definitely had similarly magnificent/terrifying visions of the destruction of LA.

I had never been to Subliminal Projects before, but they seem to often have music-related exhibits. Prior to Lost Angeles, they displayed art by Jamie Reid, who did the cover for Never Mind The Bullocks, Here's the Sex Pistols. Their next exhibit, Post Moral Neanderthal Retardist Pornography, is a collection of linoleum prints by Amphetamine Reptile Records founder Tom Hazelmeyer (they've released albums by bands like The Boredoms, Jesus Lizard, Melvins, X, etc.). Today (Sat, 05/26) is the last day Lost Angeles will be on display, so better hurry if you want to see it!

Friday, May 25, 2012


I always enjoy going to the Velaslavasay Panorama. It's a beautiful space to see/hear chamber music, and it seems like a perfect fit for a Microfest concert. Gnarwhallaby played there on Tuesday night.

Gnarwhallaby is a quartet consisting of trombonist Matt Barbier, cellist Derek Stein, clarinetist Brian Walsh, and pianist Richard Valitutto. These fellows are all monsters on their respective instruments, and their combined efforts are capable of gnawing through the most gristly of  Polish complexist scores. I first heard them perform as a group at Royal T, playing a piece by Edison Denisov.

Valittuto got to play with all the cool toys, switching from toy piano, melodica, pump organ, chromelodeon, and MIDI keyboard. The show began with Sussurrous (adj.) by Matt Barbier. The piece offered a wonderful Stuart Dempster-esque wash of tones, orbited by a constellation of toy piano notes.

Then came Nick Deyoe's FLUFF: Nos 1, 7, 8, & 11. In stark contrast to the other two pieces on the first half, FLUFF was a set of refreshingly aggressive bagatelles. It was obvious that these were the right men for the job, as they attacked the piece with the necessary ardent furvor (they even played one piece twice) - and a great excuse to blast away on a melodica!

Klaus Lang's Rote Asche steered the concert back towards the post-Feldman/Oliveros territory of Sussurrous (adj.). With Valitutto switching now to pump organ, I imagined LaMonte Young standing on the beach listening to planes take off overhead.

The second half of the concert was devoted to two pieces by Tasmanian composer Ron Nagorcka. I had never heard Nagorcka's music, and I don't think I've heard any Tasmanian music before at all. I found myself thinking of his music as a spiritual cousin to Conlon Nancarrow or John Luther Adams - an educated composer who decided to take his business elsewhere, like Mexico, Alaska, or Tasmania.

For Song of the Central Tree, Nagorcka joined the ensemble onstage to sing the basso profundo melody (a setting of text by Keith Harrison). The piece had Valitutto triggering audio samples from a MIDI keyboard. Birds, forest ambiance, woody creaking, pitched down spoken recitation of lyrics, and reverb-tinged marimbas all made cameos in this deeply idiosyncratic song while the rest of the ensemble supported Nagorcka's voice in this piece reminiscent of Dane Rudhyar.

With Myriad Degrees of Light-Dark Infusion is an otherworldly chorale, in which Valitutto alternated between chromelodeon (one of two belonging to John Schneider, Microfest impressario) and sampler keyboard, while the rest of the ensemble stirred up a fascinating pot of microtonality to match. I imagined one of the myriad ensembles that inhabit Ives' world of simultaneity, but pared down and playing Ben Johnston for their local New England church.

Gnarwhallaby is an exciting new music ensemble that I look forward to hearing more of. I also plan to spend some time on Ron Nagorka's website, getting to know a bit more about his wonderfully enigmatic compositions.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

This Week in LA Music

It is that time of year when every concert you've been dying to see will happen on the same night at the exact same time. The regular music season is coming to a close, and most musicians are storing up for the dry spell that is summertime. My weekend will be spent playing in Crescent City, but here are some awesome concerts that are all happening this week:

TUESDAY, 05/22

Gnarwhallaby will perform at the Velaslavasay Panorama at 8pm as part of MicroFest. The group consists of trombonist Matt Barbier, cellist Derek Stein, clarinetist Brian Walsh, and pianist Richard Valitutto.


Malabomba at La Cita starts at 9pm! Somehow, I've never been able to actually make it to one of the Malabomba Gypsy music/dance parties. I get excited to go every time, but by some strange fluke I always have a conflict and can't be there... they have a great lineup of bands!


This is the last weekend to see Crescent City! I wrote about it in my last post. The show runs Thursday through Sunday at 8pm every night.

FRIDAY, 05/25

Will Salmon presents a show of improvised music at the Glendale Moose Lodge at 8pm. Insuu Bunkai will perform, as well as a trio of Trevor Andries, Tony Digennaro, and Will Salmon himself. Will has been fostering improvised music and interdisciplinary collaborations for a long time, through Open Gate Theater at the Eagle Rock Center for the Arts. He recently started doing shows at the Moose Lodge as well.


Betalevel doesn't seem to put on many concerts these days, but when they do they are always interesting. At 8:30 you'll hear experimental electronic sounds by John Weise, Wyatt Penn Keusch & Scott Kazan, and RALE & Casey Anderson.
Southwest Chamber Music will play the final concert of their LA International New Music Festival. This one features premieres of pieces by Gabriela Ortiz, Tôn Thât Tiêt, Alexandra du Bois, and Vu Nhat Tân

SUNDAY, 05/27

Closing night of Crescent City. Last chance!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

From above Crescent City

Gyorgy Ligeti, Perez Prado, Benny Grunch, and Screaming Jay Hawkins walk into a bar, where On The Corner is playing on the jukebox (maybe Bruno Maderna comes along too). Not an exact metaphor for Anne LeBaron's Crescent City, but it's in the right direction. It's also not what one would expect when describing an opera, but that's what makes it interesting.

I've been looking at various stages of this music for quite a while. Timur & The Dime Museum (in which I write, arrange, and play accordion) has played excerpts at several The Industry fundraisers over the last year. The entire Dime Museum is in the orchestra (I'm playing accordion and chromelodeon), along with about 12 other fantastic musicians. I also helped Anne with some copying and orchestration. I remember seeing/hearing it in it's embryonic state as Wet in 2005 at REDCAT. It must be exciting to hear such a long-term project come together in such a fully realized version as this.

Anne LeBaron coined the term "hyperopera" long before I had met her, and I imagine this production fits squarely in that nebulous genre-space of the new. It is a fun piece to play. A wide collusion of styles, it sways between New Orleans jazz, Euro-centric modernism, Afro-centric drum grooves, industrial-tinged electronica, and more (you can read all about those sorts of things in the reviews, including the LA Times and Out West Arts). As such, the musicians necessary are the sorts that CalArts tends to pop out: people that know their traditional and extended techniques, and feel comfortable playing both written and improvised music.

The orchestra for Crescent City is hidden away in a loft above the stage. If you look above "the swamp" you might see the backside of conductor Marc Lowenstein's giant ictus. It is very hot up there, and I am very glad we aren't doing this in August. My personal nightly highlight comes from getting to play the Chromelodeon, on loan from Partch Ensemble maestro, John Schneider.

From my seat in the attic/pit, I can hardly see anything onstage. As the Chromelodeon is onstage in the "dive bar," I have to go downstairs to play it (it makes a too-brief cameo accompanying Timur Bekbosunov as Deadly Belle). This gives me a very brief chance to cool off and watch a little bit of the action. Since I have hardly SEEN any of the production, I can't make much of an informed comment on Yuval Sharon's stage direction, but the reviews talk about it in detail and the snippets I do manage to see are quite nice. I will say that I was taken aback the first time I entered the warehouse at the scale of the whole production. It feels very epic in there.

Anyway, you should go early and get a bite at Atwater Crossing. The food is fabulous. On opening night (when Timur & The Dime Museum played a 30-minute set AFTER playing the opera), the cafe provided a whole buffet of staggering deliciousness. The lamb slider I had that evening really topped the night perfectly, along with the Avery Belgian they had on tap. And during the show, check the texture of Timur Bekbosunov's outfit.

Crescent City runs this weekend and four nights next weekend. Come on down!

And finally, a confession: I am sometimes secretly imagining this song during Gwendolyn Brown's breathtaking solo aria:

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Time Out For Funds

If you haven't heard, the crowdfunding site expects to provide more funding to the arts this year than the National Endowment for the Arts. In her rebuttal to TPM, NEA spokesperson Victoria Hutton didn't really dispute that claim.

A lot of artists I know are using Kickstarter or Indiegogo right now to raise money for projects. Check out the following videos and give them money!

1. TEENAGE WASTELAND OF THE ARTS is a Los Angeles artist collective for teens aged 14-19. It's directed by Lee Lynch and Thorbjorg Jonsdottir.

"Our current project is a two night gallery show at Human Resources scheduled for May 18th and 19th, consisting of work made by the teen artists in the collective. As well as the gallery show, we are planning to release a DVD catalouge with work by members of the collective, including work from the show."

2. INDEPENDENT SHAKESPEARE COMPANY gives free performances of Shakespeare in LA's Griffith Park throughout the summer.

"Last year over 25,000 people attended the Griffith Park Free Shakespeare Festival. No mean feat for an organization that up until last year was run from the garage of company founders David Melville and Melissa Chalsma! The surge in attendance is certainly welcome but it comes with challenges (when you have nearly 2,000 people in the audience they all need to hear, for example)."

3. THEORY OF HAPPINESS is a film by Gregory Gan, with a soundtrack by composer Marc Sabat.

"Deep in the Ukrainian countryside, a group of people are trying to discover happiness through mathematical formulas. Will they succeed, or do dreams of utopia inevitably turn into a veritable nightmare?"

4. STAR  is one of seventeen plays that make up Erik Ehn’s Soulographie. It is being presented by Katie Shook, Eric Lindley, and Sibyl O'Malley.

"With original music and puppetry, Star conjures the hallucinatory visions of a jazz singer working at a Kansas City Starbucks and bent toward revenge. Insidious cultural and economic appropriations—smooth jazz and Salvadorian/Guatemalan/Rwandan coffee beans—permeate an atmosphere flitting with caffeine fairies, poisoned dogs, and the vague foreboding of consequence."

5. THE ACCIDENTAL INSIGHT OF SEBASTIAN KRAINE  is a piece by Dominik Krzanowski, a self-taught magical craftsman and theatrical story-teller.

"Our hero, Mr. Kraine, a recluse but imaginative watch maker adrift in fantasy is forced from passivity to agency by a force he can’t see or understand. The fantastical story is told in a series of mystical vignettes employing Dominik’s years of magical experience and craftsmanship. Watch as Mr. Kraine struggles to understand the unknown and unseen forces at work in his life.