Friday, November 30, 2007

Bird is the Word...

It is Thursday, November 29, 2007 and I have just had an art-of-body experience.

Justin & I made our way to Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence to see Andrew Bird, violinist extraordinaire, and his experimental band of gypsies perform. I'm writing about it here because I believe what I experienced tonight was less of a concert and more of a witnessing of event, never to be replicated; fully autonomous.

We arrived on time to make sure we got a great spot, and we did. We were about 10 feet from the stage with a perfect view of everything. Just slightly off center to the right, one could say we were in the Golden Mean of stage viewing.

Upon entering the space of the stage we noticed an *insane* drum kit. I don't even know how to explain it. All of the cymbals were altered. Several of them were cut, welded together, spiraled, shaped and reshaped. One of the spirals was probably five feet high. This was the kit of percussionist Glenn Kotche.

He was a one-man army of sound. He had several different items with which to strike things and a profound number of items to strike. He had no bass drum, but he did have what I believe to be a series of crickets in boxes. I can't do it any justice by trying to explain it. See it for yourself here.

And while Kotche was a pleasant and welcomed surprise, even more so was Andrew Bird's brilliant performance. Nothing short of rich and lively was this man who has been sent by heaven's holy messengers to create performance art masked as music. If you're not familiar with his work, visit his website and download a couple tracks from Armchair Apocrypha.

First: the set. He has these awesome altered Victrolas. One of them is oversized and on a decorative stand with antiqued wallpaper and these gorgeous little drawing/paintings coming from its darkest parts and spilling outward. Both traditional and progressive, it really spoke to me as an object and as a metaphor of *everything* that should be. The other Victrola (or gramophone?) was hooked to another one much like what I could accurately describe as a Siamese Victrola which with a pedal he could make it spin really really fast.

The drummer played keyboard, too, and the guitarist used some sort of space-age (handmade?) object on his guitar to make special sounds. At one point, Mr. Bird used a child's pull toy (A is for Apple or C is for Cow - I couldn't see the front) for some sort of strange effect. All in all there were three men performing the tasks of at least 9.

And the songs were expertly progressive and altered for live performance. While they were still recognizable on some levels and the lyrics remained mostly untouched, the melodies and delivery were bounced around, toyed, altered and - at times -felt even impromptu - yet somehow still cohesive and dedicated.

And it was good they didn't strictly adhere to the Armchair Apocrypha set. While this album is really great, AB has a long history of experimental, exploratory, and extraordinary music that can fit into almost anyone's tastes at one point or another.

He didn't perform "Dr. Strings" but the video is super cute if you haven't seen it yet. There were some requests for it, and I hadn't heard of this venture, so when I got home I looked it up and it's pretty much fantastic. It makes me love him even more (insert big, pulsating hearts in place of eyeballs). If he comes to your town, run to your venue and buy all the tickets you can afford, then give them away to people you love.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Using a Rembrandt as an Ironing Board

At long last, I have finished reading the book "Dada- Art and Anti-Art" by Hans Richter. It was a well written and very informative book by someone who had actually "been there, done that", which makes the book all the more believable since the information was first hand...a very rare thing indeed in the history of art.

The first thing that caught my notice were the ongoing explanations of just what Dada is/was. Every new section of the book has a new meaning, and though they are all different, they pretty much say the same thing. "Dada means nothing...thought is production of the mouth". (Dada Manifesto, 1918)

The second thing I would like to point out is that Dada seemed to be an excuse to exercise bad behavior, since Dada gave the group the freedom to not give a damn about anything. It was the "absence of opportunism", in an age without reason or future...which seem to bring about a kind of wild abandon within this group of artists. This was the "central experience of Dada" (p. 50)
Since the emphasis on Dada was "chance", then absolute spontaneity was called for. Hence, the importance of living in the moment was emphasized. These behaviors brought about monumental changes within the art world. (P.91)

The Dadaists valued personal freedom and independence- a concept that has been in existence in our (USA) country since its inception. This new idea of total freedom from pre-conceived
ideas and relationships opened up endless possibilities within the sphere of creativity.

The "pure chance" of Dada led the author (and visual artist) Hans Richter to begin experimenting with ways in which to paint. Working in twilight, he began to create "Visionary Portraits". As the light began to fade, he would continue to paint until he was working in the dark. Working in this manner, free of conventional methods, Richter found himself painting with his "inner eye". The experience had a profound effect on him. Creating though sheer instinct showed him a freedom he never before experienced in his work.

I would like to take this moment to draw a comparison between this method of working, and my "Blind Sewing" performance. The action is the same. Pulling the threads with a practiced hand while envisioning where the stitches will land and what they will look like was a completely freeing experience for me. All Dada is pure chance. The portraits and the sewing began as the random actions of the artists, and turned into a process of working with innate intuitiveness.

The most wonderful aspect of Dada is having the freedom to discard preconceived notions about process and techniques. Dada went beyond the tried and true methods of creativity. The lines between the individual categories of art became blurred. Painters became writers, and poets, dancers. Artists no longer felt tied to convention, but blossomed under a new-found freedom that enabled artists like Marcel Duchamp to conceive what he called "reciprocal ready-mades"....hence the idea of using a "Rembrandt as an ironing board." (p. 89, 109)

Thank God for Dada.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

This is the first long-hand video of Red Square Diaries. I have some ideas I might like to employ to create a more finished and sincere end result for future performance recordings, but this is definitely a start. Comments and/or suggestions are welcomed and appreciated.

Sao Paolo, Brasil, I think?!

Friday, November 9, 2007

St. Red Square

Performance Residue, St. Mary's Church, Pawtucket, RI

Wednesday, November 7, 2007


Performance, 90th & 5th, NYC; November 2007