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), 8pm, Tue 23 Feb 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.
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, has enjoyed joining forces with PianoFight’s totem animal, the Californicorn during my solo residencies and previous film+music shows there, and we’re both keenly looking forward to performing there again…
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.
The program uses two surrealist film classics and a cubo-futurist mechanical “ballet” to find it.
Jorge Bachmann (electronics)
Beth Custer (bass & other clarinets | vocals)
Bryan Day (invented instruments)
Thomas Dimuzio (electronics)
Tom Djll (surrealist prepared trumpet)
Joe Lasqo (keyboards | laptop | objects)
David Michalak (skatchbox | lap steel guitar | film curator)
Suki O’Kane (percussion allsorts)
Part 1: Cubist Culottes & Surrealist Shorts (33 min, with short break following)
Fernand Léger: Ballet électromécanique
Maya Deren (Майя Дерен): Meshes Of The Afternoon
Part 2: Main Feature
Jean Cocteau: Blood Of A Poet (Le sang d’un poète) 55 min.
(1930) ◉ Blood Of A Poet (Le sang d’un poète), by Jean Cocteau
Cocteau described his first film, Blood Of A Poet (Le sang d’un poète) as “a descent into oneself, a way of using the mechanism of the dream without sleeping, a crooked candle, often mysteriously blown out, carried about in the night of the human body.”
A tall smokestack starts to collapse…
A mouth in an artist’s sketch starts moving, wanders off the paper and occupies the artist’s hand, then finally finds a home on a statue in the studio, making it come alive…
Now able to talk, the statue tells the artist how to pass through mirrors to another world, where he voyeuristically peeps on tableaux of levitating children, ambiguous sexuality, and opium dreams through room keyholes at the «Hôtel de Folies Dramatiques», culminating in his suicide, resurrection, and return through the mirror…
After this shamanic journey is complete, a young school boy is murdered by a snowball in a courtyard — that turns out to be a stage where a card-game is being played before an audience of aristocrats watching from boxes.
Will the black guardian angel keep the dead boy’s Ace of Hearts from the artist, who has become the card-shark?
After we find out the answer, a tall smokestack continues to collapse…
About this first installment of the Orphic Trilogy, Cocteau said:
“My relationship with the work was like that of a cabinetmaker who puts together the pieces of a table which the spiritualists, who make the table move, consult.”
“I was the only one of this minority [the surrealists] to avoid the deliberate manifestations of the unconscious in favor of a kind of half-sleep through which I wandered as though in a labyrinth.”
“Blood of a Poet draws nothing from either dreams or symbols. As far as the former are concerned, it initiates their mechanism, and by letting the mind relax, as in sleep, it lets memories entwine, move and express themselves freely. As for the latter, it rejects them, and substitutes acts… that the spectator can make symbols of if he wishes.”
Jean Cocteau started a long string of technical film-making discoveries with his first film by turning mistakes that he didn’t have the money or technology to undo into profoundly inspired excuses for improvisatory cinematography, incorporating even the dust kicked up by cleaners in the studio to provide surrealistic effects, and pioneered trick shot techniques to realize strange effects like the sideways gravity of the «Hôtel de Folies Dramatiques» and the mirror portal between worlds.
Another highlight of the film is the only extensive film appearance of surrealist & documentary photographer Lee Miller, who plays the living statue of the film as well as the antagonist of the card-shark near the film’s conclusion — she of whom Cocteau said, “I could tell you that the snowball fight represents the poet’s childhood and that when he plays the card game with his Muse, his Glory, with his Destiny [Lee Miller], he cheats by drawing from his childhood instead of from within himself.”
Brilliant collaborator and lover of Man Ray, Lee Miller met Ray, as described by Jonathon Keats (link), “in the spring of 1929 at a Paris bar called the Bateau Ivre. Miller was seeking photography lessons. Ray said he didn’t take students, and was leaving for vacation in Biarritz. “So am I,” she responded, starting one of the most tempestuous and creative relationships in the history of 20th century art.”
Later the wife of British surrealist painter Roland Penrose and documentary photographer of the Nazi concentration camps at Buchenwald and Dachau, Lee Miller numbered among her friends and photographic clients Picasso, Joseph Cornell, Paul Éluard, Eileen Agar, Jean Cocteau, Dorothea Tanning, Henry Moore, Max Ernst, and Jean Dubuffet.
Documenting the horrors of the Holocaust left Lee Miller in a life-long struggle afterward with what we today call PTSD, and she was after the war investigated on suspicion of being a Soviet spy by Britain’s MI5.
(1924) ◉ Ballet électromécanique, by Fernand Léger with new electronic score
Ballet mécanique marks a turning point in both film and music history.
Recovering from the mustard gas attack that nearly killed him toward the end of World War 1, Léger began to integrate his wartime experiences with the machinery and inhumanity of the front into his art, producing paintings with machine-like figures, like The Card Players.
He said of this period:
“…I was stunned by the sight of the breech of a 75mm in the sunlight. It was the magic of light on the white metal. That’s all it took for me to forget the abstract art of 1912–1913. The crudeness, variety, humor, and downright perfection of certain men around me, their precise sense of utilitarian reality and its application in the midst of the life-and-death drama we were in … made me want to paint in slang with all its color and mobility.”
The film is usually credited to Fernand Léger, with large contributions from Dudley Murphy and Man Ray, and with a lot of uncertainty about who did what. For the sake of simplicity, let’s consider it Léger’s film here.
This cubo-futurist period in Léger’s work was propelled by a kinetic esthetic that emphasized movement, repetition, and a nascent transhumanism in its fluid and porous boundaries between human and machine.
The film is laced with additional spice in the form of Fernand Léger’s animation sequences bearing strange oblique references to Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times.
Intertwined with Ballet mécanique the film is another Ballet mécanique — the musical piece by George Antheil.
Originally conceived of as the soundtrack for the film, the two pieces drifted apart in production, with the music winding up 1½ times as long as the film.
The orchestration was: 16 player pianos (or pianolas) in four parts, 2 regular pianos, 3 xylophones, at least 7 electric bells, 3 airplane propellers, siren, 4 bass drums, & 1 tam-tam.
The synchronization of the 16 player pianos was technically impossible in that MIDI-less era, but perhaps that only added to the fun of the affair….
Antheil — as assiduous a marketer as the later John Cage (who appeared on game shows to get nationwide broadcast performance opportunities for his pieces) — vigorously hyped his bizarre baby by arranging to appear to have been kidnapped before the first performance (whose patroness was at the end of the concert tossed in a blanket by 3 baronesses and a duke…) and hiring professional provocateurs to infiltrate the audience and heighten the sense of scandal at later performances.
Despite the glorious music, which you can check out in a superb revival recording from Other Minds, the severe length mismatch kept the music and the film in separate universes until the advent of modern editing technology in the 90’s when clever cutting and sewing created the illusion of synchronization in a length-matched compressed-music version.
Up to then, the music had been performed (very rarely…) as a stand-alone “ballet” (with the exotic stage machinery standing in for dancers).
The film was premiered silently, without the intended music, and then became fair game for various musicians and composers to have at it, which is exactly our plan — to salute the singularity with a new 21st-century electronics-enhanced version in a Ballet électromécanique.
(1943) ◉ Meshes Of The Afternoon, by Maya Deren (Майя Дерен)
Maya Deren (Майя Дерен) said of her Meshes Of The Afternoon that it “does not record an event which could be witnessed by other persons”.
A shifting exploration of ambiguous transitions between sleep and waking, life and death, self and double(s) that’s imbued with an eerie and indescribable coherence, Meshes Of The Afternoon achieves its impact by means of brilliant and very musical use of a number of motifs that it puts through set-theoretic permutations in a way that would have made Milton Babbitt proud, while yet retaining a powerful and mysterious human poetry.
A flower on a long driveway, a knife in a loaf of bread, a phone off the hook, a Grim Reaper with a mirror instead of a face, a key falling, a phonograph, and other motifs all participate in a spiraling fugue where potential meanings are developed and abandoned like polyphonic lines.
As Robert Robertson says in Cinema And The Audiovisual Imagination: Music, Image, Sound, “Taking the model of chamber music, she advocated its lyrical qualities, it’s abstract forms, its economy, but also its virtuosity, as an example for what she called ‘chamber films’.”
Traveling across many stairs, pathways, and physical levels of a house and its environs, the protagonist encounters various doubles, mirrors, and situations reflected between her dreams and what passes for the film’s reality.
We’ll map and reshape these motivic lines, inversions, and transformative repetitions in a new electronic score for what, due to its musical qualities, has become one of the greatest “standards” for film+music sonification.
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 (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 (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.
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 (박구한). 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.
◉ Bryan Day (invented instruments)
Bryan Day is an improviser, instrument inventor, illustrator & installation artist based in San Francisco. His work involves combining elements of the natural and man-made world using field recordings, custom audio generation software and homemade instruments. Bryan’s work explores the parallels between the patterns and systems in nature to those in contemporary society.
Bryan has toured throughout the US, Europe, Japan, Korea, Argentina, the Philippines, & Mexico, performing both solo as Sistrum and Eloine, and in the Shelf Life and Seeded Plain ensembles, as well as with innumerable collaborators, and has over 40 solo and ensemble releases.
Since 1997 he has been running the new music label Public Eyesore and its sister label Eh?. Through Public Eyesore and Eh?, Bryan has produced and released over 200 albums of improvised and experimental music by artists from all over the globe, in addition to curating the music series at Meridian Gallery in San Francisco.
◉ Thomas Dimuzio (electronics)
Thomas Dimuzio is a composer, multi-instrumentalist & electronic musician, mastering engineer, sound designer, and label proprietor based in San Francisco.
Long regarded as a musical pioneer for his innovative use of live sampling and looping techniques to create compelling works, Thomas is a true sonic alchemist who can seemingly create music events out of almost anything. Listed sound sources on his various CDs include everything from ‘modified 10 speed bicycle’ and ‘resonating water pipe’ to short-wave radios, loops, feedback, samplers, and even normal instruments such as clarinet and trumpet, while his current work is facilitated by the deep expanses of modular synthesis.
His use of signal processing, custom crossfade looping, and algorithmic mixing fuels a synergy of man and machine in his live performances, while intercepted signal feeds from collaborators, wild sources of MIDI-controlled feedback, modular synthesizers, circuit-bent toys, or ambient microphones on the streets, become integrated as sound sources within his system of live interactive electronics, effortlessly moving from electroacoustic and noise to glitch, dark ambient, improv and drone.
In his work as a sound designer, Thomas has worked with synthesizer and processor manufacturers such as Kurzweil, Lexicon, and OSC to create custom presets and sample libraries, and he has collaborated with Fred Frith, Tom Cora, and ROVA Saxophone Quartet to create sound libraries for Rarefaction and Big Fish Audio. Thomas also continues to play a key role in the development of Avid’s industry standard Pro Tools HD recording and mixing system, as he has for the past 20 years.
As a collaborator, Thomas works with numerous artists and ensembles such as Dimmer (with Joseph Hammer), Chris Cutler, Fred Frith, Dan Burke/Illusion of Safety, Nick Didkovsky, ISIS, Negativland, Arcane Device (David Lee Myers), Matmos, Wobbly (Jon Leidecker), Poptastic, 5uu’s, Tom Cora, Mickey Hart, Paul Haslinger, Arte Saxophone Quartett, Due Process, and Voice Of Eye.
As a mastering engineer, Thomas has worked with independent artists and labels through his own Gench Studios since the early 1990’s. Among his clients are Matmos,Negativland, ISIS, AMM, Captain Ahab, Doctor Nerve, Psychic TV3, Xiu Xiu, Devin Hoff, GG Allin, KK Null (Kazuyuki Kishino / 岸野 一之), Joey P, Fred Frith, Scott Amendola, and many others.
Thomas Dimuzio’s recordings have been released internationally by ReR Megacorp, Asphodel, RRRecords, No Fun, Sonoris, Drone, Record Label Records, Odd Size, and other independent labels.
◉ 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’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 Museq, PiL, The Contortions, Alterations, Eugene Chadbourne), Tom eschewed 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.
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.
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 (林品晶), “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.
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 (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.
◉ 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 (黃天欣), and Tom Djll, releasing the CD Open In Total Darkness.
◉ Suki O’Kane (percussion)
Suki O’Kane is a classically trained mallet percussionist, a composer and an instigator working with artists from a wide array of of music, movement & public art genres. One of the founding members of the lo-fi sampling ensemble The Noodles (w Michael Zelner), Suki plays percussion with Moe! Staiano’s Moe!kestra!, Dan Plonsey’s Daniel Popsicle, Big City Orchestra and is an ensemble member of Thingamajigs, performing new works by Edward Schocker, Dylan Bolles and Zachary James Watkins.
She works in partnership with House of Zoka, a live recording project that has documented over 13 years of creative new music in the Bay Area, & since 2003 has been curating performances of live music and film, such as The Illuminated Corridor, a nomadic public art project that creates streetscapes of live experimental music and performative projection and Music by the Eyeful, the indoor performance series exploring the work of intermedia artists.
◉ For Examiner.com preview of this show: here
Travel to worlds on the other side of the mirror as your consciousness streams to surrealist music — come flicker with us at PianoFight, “SF’s Next Landmark Entertainment Venue”.