Electric Shadow Theater: Film Truth + Surreal Sound by Fushigi Kenkyūkai (不思議研究会) ◉ silent films by Dziga Vertov (Дзига Вертов), Man Ray, and Maya Deren ◉ with music by Jorge Bachmann, Beth Custer, Tom Djll, Joe Lasqo, D. Skatchit (aka David Michalak), & Tom Nunn, Tue 22 Sep @ PianoFight, SF

The splendid Californicorn presides over PianoFight's musical and spiritual offerings

The splendid Californicorn presides over PianoFight's musical and spiritual offerings

I’m very excited to return to PianoFight, “SF’s Next Landmark Entertainment Venue”, 144 Taylor St., SF (map), with new ensemble Fushigi Kenkyūkai (不思議研究会), 7:30pm, Tue 22 Sep and some of the freshest, most exciting films ever made.

☞ Advance tickets available at a discount: here.

Formed by Rob Ready, Dan Williams and Kevin Fink (called “the bad boys of San Francisco theatre” by Theatre Bay Area), PianoFight has successfully managed venues (Off-Market Theater Complex); recklessly invited audiences to Throw Rotten Veggies at the Actors; formed two critically acclaimed sketch comedy groups (Mission CTRL and ForePlays); and built a three-man producing team into a 46-member company of artists.

Their latest adventure is PianoFight — a new theater complex with restaurant and bar at the former site of the San Francisco landmark restaurant Original Joe’s, 144 Taylor Street, with two theaters in the back of house, and a 60-seat restaurant and bar with a full liquor license and a cabaret stage at the front of the house.

PianoFight, SF's Next Landmark Entertainment Venue

PianoFight, SF's Next Landmark Entertainment Venue

This great new performing arts complex, in the heart of SF’s Central Market Arts District, takes forward the development of a music axis on Taylor Street, stretching from the Luggage Store, the Warfield, and Center For New Music to its northernmost and newest boîte. Meanwhile, its two black-box theaters have expanded the “San Francisco off-off-Broadway” that includes CounterPulse, EXIT Theater, and Cutting Ball Theatre.

My totem animal, Morgana, enjoyed joining forces with PianoFight’s totem animal, the Californicorn during my residency there in July, and we’re both keenly looking forward to performing there again…

The founder of the first "Paranormal Research Society" (Fushigi Kenkyūkai : 不思議研究会), in 1886, Enryō Inoue (井上円了)

Enryō Inoue (井上円了), the founder of the first "Paranormal Research Society" (Fushigi Kenkyūkai / 不思議研究会), in 1886

Since the founding of Clubfoot Orchestra in 1983, San Francisco has been a leader in pairing film classics with composed or improvised scores. Not only is Clubfoot Orchestra still scaling new heights, but a rich new crop of ensembles for film + sound have created a second wave of Bay Area shadow play for the 21st century.

Fushigi Kenkyūkai are a collective of film and sound artists, mixing veterans of Bay Area “wayang sinema” ensembles like Clubfoot Orchestra & Reel Change with pioneers of electronic, computer-based, and invented instruments.

The name Fushigi Kenkyūkai (不思議研究会) means “Paranormal Research Society”. The truth is out there.

This program uses a pioneering classic from the “Film Truth” (Kino-Pravda, Кино-Правда) movement of early 20th century Russia & two classic surrealist shorts to find it.

Line-up:

Jorge Bachmann (electronics)
Beth Custer (bass & other clarinets | vocals)
Tom Djll (surrealist prepared trumpet)
Joe Lasqo (keyboards | laptop | objects)
D. Skatchit, aka David Michalak (skatchbox | lap steel guitar | film curator)
Tom Nunn (invented instruments)

Program

Part 1: Shorts (20 min, with show break following)

Man Ray: Return to Reason (Le retour à la raison)
Maya Deren: At Land

Part 2: Main Feature

Dziga Vertov (Дзига Вертов): Man With A Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом). 68 min.

Poster for Man With A Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом) by Dziga Vertov (Дзига Вертов)

Poster for Man With A Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом) by Dziga Vertov (Дзига Вертов)

Voted into the “Top 10 Movies Ever” in the 2012 Sight And Sound critics’ poll, the astonishing Man With A Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом), a tsunami of jump-cuts, is well-observed and well-described by Roger Ebert in his essay on the film in his Great Movies series.

Here are a few of his insights & observations, with some added notes.

Ebert: “In 1929, the year it was released, films had an average shot length (ASL) of 11.2 seconds. Man With A Movie Camera had an ASL of 2.3 seconds. The ASL of Michael Bay’s Armageddon was — also 2.3 seconds.”

Poster for Man With A Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом) by Dziga Vertov (Дзига Вертов)

Poster for Man With A Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом) by Dziga Vertov (Дзига Вертов)

The throbbing visual polyrhythms established by this fast-paced series of jump-cuts, pioneered by Dziga Vertov (Дзига Вертов) a full generation before Godard’s Breathless (À bout de souffle), afford many hooks for rhythmic interplay.

Coming at the end of a decade that saw the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses 7 years earlier, and a fire-cracker string of subsequent masterworks in “stream of consciousness” writing like Italo Svevo’s The Consciousness Of Zeno (La coscienza di Zeno), Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Vertov’s film represents a stunning and pioneering application of stream of consciousness techniques to cinema, as he explores the consciousness of a city in a film — as he puts it in the opening titles — “without words, without script, without actors, without sets”. As Ebert says, “Movies could move with the speed of our minds when we are free-associating”.

Ebert tells more of the family that made the film: “His wife Yelizaveta Svilova supervised the editing from about 1,775 separate shots — all the more impressive because most of the shots consisted of separate set-ups. The cinematography was by his brother, Mikhail Kaufman, who refused to ever work with him again. (Vertov was born Denis Kaufman, and worked under a name meaning “Spinning Top.” Another brother, Boris Kaufman, immigrated to Hollywood and won an Oscar for filming On the Waterfront)”

Mikhail Kaufman (Михаил Кауфман), cinematographer of Man With A Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом)

Mikhail Kaufman (Михаил Кауфман), cinematographer of Man With A Movie Camera (Человек с киноаппаратом)

These 1,775 transitions coming at an average of every 2.3 seconds in the film create fantastic silent visual polyrhythms that are very interesting to interact with musically.

Not only did Man With A Movie Camera use jump-cuts a generation before Godard, but it also pioneered the “film about film”. Indeed its mission is to create a city by making and viewing a film.

As Ebert observes, it “opens with an empty cinema, its seats standing at attention. The seats swivel down (by themselves), and an audience hurries in and fills them. They begin to look at a film. This film. And this film is about–this film being made… The only continuing figure — not a “character” — is the Man With the Movie Camera… seen photographing many of the shots in the movie… Intercut with this are shots of this film being edited. The machinery. The editor. The physical film itself. Sometimes the action halts with a freeze frame, and we see that the editor has stopped work… there is a gathering rhythmic speed that reaches a crescendo nearer the end. The film has shot itself, edited itself, and now is conducting itself at an accelerating tempo… It assembles itself in plain view. It is about itself, and folds into and out of itself like origami.”

Maya Deren in her film At Land

Maya Deren in her film At Land

Maya Deren’s At Land (1944) is a drift-glass of images revolving around the land, sea and sky of Amagansett, a dinner party at which she is invisible, and an outdoor game of chess at which she interrupts two alter-egos.

Birthed from the sea like Venus, journeying through sand dune, table-tops, and dense growths of vegetation, towards a game of chess with a disappearing partner, she travels a long path with various men who may be the same man (one of whom is played by John Cage…), until the man becomes Death and a cat leaps from her arms.

Gathering a multitude of stones on the beach, she refracts into analogs and multiples that play a chess game with erotic overtones, until a pawn breaks loose, and the chase is on…

Frame from Man Ray's Return to Reason (Le retour à la raison)

Frame from Man Ray's Return to Reason (Le retour à la raison)

Man Ray’s Return To Reason (Le retour à la raison) is a bopping Dada romp through objects of everyday life transmogrified into dancing rayograms – words seen through cigarette smoke – paper shapes in moving dialog with light about shadows – and the moiré patterns of a surrealist window shutter on the torso of his lover, the notorious Kiki de Montparnasse, model to artists such as Francis Picabia, Jean Cocteau, and Alexander Calder.

“Acquiring a roll of a hundred feet of film, I went into my darkroom and cut up the material into short lengths, pinning them down on the worktable. On some strips I sprinkled salt and pepper, like a cook preparing a roast, on other strips I threw pins and thumbtacks at random; then I turned on the white light for a second or two, as I had done for my still Rayographs. Then I carefully lifted the film off the table, shaking off the debris, and developed it in my tanks. The next morning, when dry, I examined the work; the salt, pins and tacks were perfectly reproduced.” (Man Ray on Le retour à la raison, in his book Self-Portrait)

Carrying on the traditions of and sharing members with “wayang sinema” ensembles like Clubfoot Orchestra & Reel Change, Fushigi Kenkyūkai (不思議研究会) is comprised of:

Jorge Bachmann (aka Ruidobello)

◉ Jorge Bachmann (electronics)

Sculptor, electronics master, photographer, and engineer Jorge Bachmann is a multi-disciplinary, mixed-media and sound artist. Since the early 80s, Jorge has been exploring the strange, unique and microcosmic sounds of everyday life, collecting field recordings. The sound atmospheres created are meant for deep listening and are composed in symbiosis with the sculptural installations.

He creates equally sensual and detailed oriented photo-based work; and his art explores social and sensual constructs and experiences.

Starting his career in Bogotá, Colombia and then active for a long period in Lausanne, Switzerland, Jorge eventually relocated to the Bay Area and became a technical and artistic mainstay of MEDIATE’s Soundwave Series as well as the Engineer Scotty of the Starship SFEMF.

Now he’s returned to regularly giving solo electronic concerts such as his recent brilliant one at The Lab’s Serge 40-year Reunion.

Beth Custer (Photo - Anne Hamersky)

Beth Custer (Photo - Anne Hamersky)

◉ Beth Custer (bass & other clarinets | vocals) is a San Francisco based composer, clarinetist, vocalist, bandleader, and the proprietor of BC Records.

An original member of the Club Foot Orchestra, a trailblazing ensemble who pioneered scoring and performing with silent films (Pandora’s Box, Sherlock Jr., Metropolis, etc.), Beth is also a founding member of the 4th-world ensemble Trance Mission, the trip-hop duo Eighty Mile Beach, and leads the quartet of esteemed jazz clarinetists Clarinet Thing, as well as The Beth Custer Ensemble. The Pacific Film Archive commissioned Beth to compose a live score for My Grandmother / ჩემი ბებია / Моя Бабушка, a rare Soviet film, which she toured internationally in Russia, Czech Republic, Ireland, and England, supported by Trust for Mutual Understanding and Mid Atlantic Arts Fund awards.

She composes for theatre, film, dance, television, installations and the concert stage and has created scores for the contemporary chamber ensembles Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Zeitgeist, Earplay, City Winds, + Turtle Island and Kronos String Quartets; for the theatre productions of Campo Santo Theatre, Berkeley and San Diego Repertory Theatre, Magic Theatre, California Shakespeare, Overtone Industries, A Traveling Jewish Theatre, and Cornerstone Theatre; for dancers and troupes Joe Goode Performance Group, Flyaway Productions, Osseus Labyrinth, AXIS Dance Company, and butō (舞踏) masters Harupin Ha (ハルピン派), Koichi Tamano (玉野黄市) and Ledoh (レドー). Her score for JGPG’s The Maverick Strain, which won an Isadora Duncan Award, excerpts enjoyed a run at the Joyce Theater in NYC during April ’09.

Beth has performed and recorded with a diverse array of artists including inventor Trimpin; artists Vladimir Kokolia and Billie Grace Lynn; musicians Stephen Kent, Fred Frith, Miya Masaoka (正岡みや), Joan Jeanrenaud, Amy Denio, Tin Hat, Tango № 9, Pamela Z, Will Bernard, Sex Mob, John Schott, Grassy Knoll, ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Violent Femmes, J.A. Deane, the late, great Snakefinger, Greg Goodman, William Cepeda, Elaine Buckholtz, Mark Eitzel, Penelope Houston, Anna Homler, Ollin, and Connie Champagne.

She has over 35 recordings out with her ensembles Eighty Mile Beach, Clarinet Thing, Trance Mission, The Beth Custer Ensemble and Club Foot Orchestra.

Beth Custer performs "For the Grace of Any Man" at the Red House Speak Easy, San Francisco, June 2012

Beth created KQED’s Independent View theme with her band Eighty Mile Beach and composed for CBS/Film Roman’s Twisted Tales of Felix the Cat with Club Foot Orchestra, as well as creating music for the films of Cathy Lee Crane, Melinda Stone, Betsy Bayha, Julie Wyman, George Spies, Karina Epperlein, Will Zavala, Peter MacCandless, and Koohan Paik (구한). Beth created four musicals with award winning writer Octavio Solis in LA & SF, and her collaborative scores with inventor and MacArthur Fellow Trimpin led her to compose Vinculum Symphony, a site-specific, large-scale work that unites chamber musicians with experimental instrument builders.

Stephen Kent and Beth Custer perform in the Sanctuary of Dawn at the Garden of Memory event, Chapel of the Chimes, Oakland, 21 Jun 2012

Beth has performed and recorded with a diverse array of artists including inventor Trimpin; artists Vladimir Kokolia and Billie Grace Lynn; musicians Stephen Kent, Fred Frith, Miya Masaoka (正岡みや), Joan Jeanrenaud, Amy Denio, Tin Hat, Tango № 9, Pamela Z, Will Bernard, Sex Mob, John Schott, Grassy Knoll, ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Violent Femmes, J.A. Deane, the late, great Snakefinger, Greg Goodman, William Cepeda, Elaine Buckholtz, Mark Eitzel, Penelope Houston, Anna Homler, Ollin, and Connie Champagne.

She has over 35 recordings out with her ensembles Eighty Mile Beach, Clarinet Thing, Trance Mission, The Beth Custer Ensemble and Club Foot Orchestra.

Tom Djll (original photo by Dill Pixels)

Tom Djll (original photo by Dill Pixels)

◉ Tom Djll (surrealist prepared trumpet)

Tom Djll has spent over twenty years developing the trumpet’s wide sonic array of extended techniques. His musical language incorporates complex noises and gritty, unheard textures from electronica into melodic gestures and building asymmetrical formal structures. Tom has made a lifelong study of the art of improvised music, and has been actively performing since 1980.

Tom Djll (original photo by Dill Pixels)

Tom Djll (original photo by Dill Pixels)

Tom Djll’s approach to playing the trumpet has been characterized from its inception by an anti-professionalism that locates itself within a political rather than musical continuum. Although he had studied composition with AACM masters Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, and others, inspired by punk and DIY approaches to performance and soundmaking (Trans MuseqPiL, The Contortions, Alterations, Eugene Chadbourne), Tom rejected formal training in lieu of nearly fifteen years of blazing an idiosyncratic pathway through the instrument based on his studies and performances of analog electronic music. Working with a Serge Modular Synthesizer until the turn of the century, Tom described his trumpet sounds as products of an “analog lip synthesizer,” among other colorful epithets.

Mutootator, by Tom Djll and various accomplices

Mutootator, by Tom Djll and various accomplices

In 1989 Tom’s trumpet+electronics breakthrough was realized with the recording of TOMBO, using the Serge system’s endlessly disruptive causation chains to process, feedback-process, and process-feedback all sorts of trumpet and mouth sounds, culminating in Mutootator, the apex of his trumpet/Serge development. This set of improvised duets used a hybrid analog/digital live sampling and processing system (the “Mutootator”) of Tom’s own design, and featured William Winant, Tom Nunn, Jack Wright, Myles Boisen, and many others.

Lava, by Chris Brown

Subsequently, Tom studied in the graduate program at the Mills College Center for Contemporary Music, a period which saw his trumpet noises featured in Chris Brown’s ferociously difficult LAVA (for brass, percussion, and electronics, recorded on Tzadik). Tom continued working with Chris Brown in live performances of LAVA and other works (Brown, DUETS, Artifact) as well as with other Mills faculty (William Winant, Alvin Curran, John Bischoff) and eminent visitors to the school such as James Tenney, Bun-Ching Lam (品晶), “Blue” Gene Tyranny, Tim Perkis, and Pauline Oliveros (with whom he had previous studied her Deep Listening techniques). Others of Tom’s gurus incude Karl Berger, Lester Bowie, and George Lewis.

In the new millennium, Tom’s resolutely nonprofessional performance practice has centered itself in live instrument re-building, wherein the trumpet’s identity is broken down and reassembled onstage, using bits of plastic tubing, rubber bands, whistles, squeakers, toys and other horn parts. More recent performances have seen the re-entry of actual electronic sounds into the language. The festering soundworlds arising from this gallimaufry of resonator/muters suggest a parade of chancy characters; Tom gives them monikers such as Whirly Honkblatter, Zeppelin Launch Simulation Drone, the Nude Rubberlips Orgasm Chanter, and the Dissociative Tubular Identity Disorder Scalar Ambiguation Horn.

Tom Djll (original photo by Dill Pixels)

Tom Djll (original photo by Dill Pixels)

Tom’ current and recent projects include:

Grosse Abfahrt (w Gino Robair, Tim Perkis, John Shiurba, Matt Ingalls and international guests), Quartet (w Tim Perkis, Matt Ingalls & Scott Walton), Space Junk (w Jordan Glenn & Scott Brown), Beauty School (w Jacob Felix Heule & Matt Chandler), Mockracy (co-operative orchestra, actors, and maxed media), All Tomorrow’s Zombies (w Tim Perkis & Gino Robair), Dynosoar (w Ron Heglin & “Gongwoman” Karen Stackpole),  Kinda Green (w Tim Perkis), John Shiurba’s 5×5, Gino Robair’s I, Norton Opera Company, sfSound Group, led by Matt Ingalls, and Tender Buttons (w Tania Chen & Gino Robair)

Joe Lasqo & Morgana perform w Jim Ryan's Green Alembic in the sfSoundSalonSeries at Center for New Music, San Francisco, 15 Apr 2014 (Photo by Carly Hoopes)

◉ Joe Lasqo (keyboards | laptop | objects)

Pianist / laptopist Joe Lasqo studied classical music in India; computer/electronic music at MIT, Columbia, Berkeley/CNMAT; has been a long-time performing modern & avant jazz musician; & has lived, played and listened in several Asian and European countries (now in San Francisco). He’s keen on the application of artificial intelligence techniques to improvisation and the meeting of traditional Asian musics with the 21st century. His recent album, Turquoise Sessions, is available on Edgetone Records; with new releases planned in 2015.

Joe had a weekly residency for 3½ years+ in the afternoon piano series at Viracocha, and has appeared recently with Bruce Ackley and Steve Adams of ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Aaron Bennett’s Electro-Magnetic Trans-Personal Orchestra, Phillip Greenlief’s Orchesperry, his own Renga-kai (連歌会), Mukaiji-kai (霧海箎会), and Fushigi Kenkyūkai (不思議研究会) ensembles, synthesist Thomas Dimuzio, clarinetist/vocalist Beth Custer, pianist Thollem McDonas, percussionist Suki O’Kane, sound artists Joe Snape (UK) & Lucie Vítková (Czech Rep.), technodivas / electronic musicians Pamela Z & Viv Corringham (NYC/London) and many others.

AU QUOTIDIEN, a new album with German-Swedish saxist/flautist Biggi Vinkeloe, master drummer Donald Robinson, and cello madman Teddy Rankin-Parker is in production for release later in 2015.

David Michalak

D. Skatchit, aka David Michalak (skatchbox | lap-steel guitar | film curator)

David Michalak has made over 50 films with original soundtracks, including 3 features, starting out on the East Coast.

After decades of films such as Dreamlife, Inside-Out (featuring The Kate Foley Dance Company and score written with Nik Phelps, performed by the Club Foot Orchestra), When The Spirit Moves, featuring (Joe Goode) dancer Vong Phrommala & silent-movie style actress Billie-Marie Gross, Firefly, and Regenbogen, a soundtrack ensemble was formed to play live scores for David’s movies and other film classics. The group, called Reel Change has featured: Andrew Voigt, Joe Sabella, David Michalak, Phillip Greenlief, Adam Hurst, George Cremaschi, Tom Nunn, Kyle Bruckmann, Theresa Wong (天欣), and Tom Djll, releasing the CD Open In Total Darkness.

Tom Nunn playing his invented instrument, The Crab

◉ Tom Nunn (invented instruments)

Tom Nunn (Bold Italic interview, bio), has designed, built and performed with original musical instruments since 1976, and has built over 200 instruments, including his latest obsession, the visually arresting Skatchbox.

Your mind on Tom Nunn's Lukie Tubes Resonance Plates... Are You Experienced?

His instruments typically utilize commonly available materials, are sculptural in appearance, utilize contact microphones for amplification, and are designed specifically for improvisation with elements of ambiguity, unpredictability and nonlinearity.  Tom has performed extensively throughout the San Francisco Bay Area for over 30 years, as well as in other parts of the U.S., Canada, Europe, and New Zealand, both as soloist and with other musicians. Tom also performs with T.D. Skatchit, RTD3, Ghost in the House, Music for Hard Times (duo with Paul Winstanley) and has appeared on a number of recordings, including his solo CD, Identity (2007), T.D. Skatchit & Company (2009) and Skatch Migration (2010) (Edgetone Records). In 1998, he published Wisdom of the Impulse: On the Nature of Musical Free Improvisation.

His next major project will be Oratorea, a multimedia extravaganza involving not only invented instruments, but poetry, dance and who knows what else… look for it at the end of 2015.

◉ For Examiner.com preview of this show: here

———

Experience 1,775 visual pulses course through your body as your consciousness streams to surrealist music — come flicker with us at PianoFight, “SF’s Next Landmark Entertainment Venue”.

どうぞ。。。

Joe

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