Coordinates: The Second Act, SF, 1727 Haight St, SF (between Shrader & Cole – map), 8pm, Sat 02 Apr.
☞ Advance tickets available at a $5 discount: here
It will be a great pleasure to play again at The Second Act, the terrific performing arts space and restaurant zone that Jack & Betsy Rix, members of the original Red Vic collective, have now created in the Red Vic’s former site — and what better site than this pioneering art film house in San Francisco’s cultural history for silent film + music!
The “Third Wednesday” series run there by James Decker, proprietor/perpetrator of Resipiscent Records, has created a powerful electronic music dipole traversing Haight St., resonating with the Lower Haight’s mutant sound scene @ ROBOTSPEAk.
The throbbing avant energy unleashed at The Second Act has not only attracted a large and actively engaged audience, but has recently erupted into the visual dimension as well, starting a new film + music series last August with Ben Tinker’s film + music project That Hideous Strength.
I’m excited to again add to this wayang sinema series with new ensemble Fushigi Kenkyūkai (不思議研究会) and some of the freshest, most exciting films ever made.
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.
Steve Adams (elctronics)
Bryan Day (invented instruments)
Tom Djll (surrealist prepared trumpet)
Joe Lasqo (keyboards | laptop | objects)
John McCowen (dada prepared clarinet + drum resonator)
David Michalak (skatchbox | lap steel guitar | film curator)
Part 1: Cubist Culottes / Surrealist Shorts (33 min, with show break following)
Fernand Léger: Ballet mécanique
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.
◉ 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 keyholes at the «Hôtel de Folies Dramatiques», culminating in his suicide, resurrection, and return through the mirror…
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 whom 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 him, 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 would later be called PTSD, and she was after the war investigated on suspicion of being a Soviet spy by Britain’s MI5.
◉ Ballet électromécanique, by Fernand Léger — with new electronic score
Ballet mécanique marks a turning point in both film and music history.
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.
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.”
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 pellets 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 pursue 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.
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, but retains a 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 environments, the protagonist encounters various doubles, mirrors, and situations reflected between 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:
◉ Steve Adams (electronics)
ROVA-ite Steve Adams needs little introduction to lovers of jazz and new music, having been a long-standing key player in various East & West Coast scenes. His work on various saxes, flutes, electronics and as a composer combines probing originality, playful improv structures and swing with a very specific angular momentum.
Steve is best known as a member of ROVA Saxophone Quartet, whom he’s been with for more than 20 years. Steve is also a member of the Bill Horvitz Band, various Matt Small ensembles, and the Vinny Golia Large Ensemble, as well as leading his own projects.
Steve lived in Boston in the ’70s and ’80s, where he was a member of Your Neighborhood Sax Quartet, Birdsongs Of The Mesozoic, and Composers In Red Sneakers among others. A remarkable collaboration with avant jazz bassist Ken Filiano, which we in the Bay Area have the pleasure of hearing on Ken’s swings to the West Coast, was formed in this period.
◉ 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.
◉ 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 started a new residency at San Francisco’s PianoFight. He’s appeared recently with Bruce Ackley and Steve Adams of ROVA Saxophone Quartet, Aaron Bennett’s Electro-Magnetic Trans-Personal Orchestra, the London Improvisers 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), saxophonists Adrian Northover & Sue Lynch (London), and many others.
◉ John McCowen (dada prepared clarinet + drum resonator)
John McCowen’s musical path is rooted in the DIY culture of American hardcore music. John was a vocalist in hardcore music until he heard the music of Albert Ayler. At that point, he began channeling his energy through the saxophone, and was further influenced by the music of Eric Dolphy and John Coltrane.
After a few years as a touring musician and independent study, he entered academia at Southern Illinois U. and studied clarinet with Eric P. Mandat, who opened his eyes to microtonality and extended techniques. John remains a member of the Chicago musical community while now living in Oakland, and plays in Wei Zhongle (衛仲樂／卫仲乐), Vibrating Skull Trio, and John McCowen Clarinet Quartet.
John is currently studying with Roscoe Mitchell and others at Mills College, and has been astonishing a steadily increasing circle of Bay Area listeners by seemingly discovering entire new unexplored continents of extended clarinet technique.
Those who have heard his brilliant solo shows at the Luggage Store Gallery and elsewhere already know the virtuosic, pioneering, and thoroughly original sound universe he’s created — the rest of you will be dumbfounded at the new sonic horizons he opens up.
◉ 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.
Experience travel between 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”.