Posts Tagged ‘hugh behm-steinberg’

Matt Davignon/Hugh Behm-Steinberg duo and Bill Walker, Luggage Store Gallery

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Today we review the February 8 concert at the Luggage Store Gallery, featuring poetry, music and virtuosic guitar. The evening opened with the music-and-poetry duo of Matt Davignon and Hugh Behm-Steinberg.


[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

I had seen them perform together before, and it was interesting to see how the collaboration has evolved since then. The structure has become more abstract, moving from a poetry reading accompanied by live electronics to an electronic-music duo using Behm-Steinberg’s words and voice as the sound source. Snippets of poetry were transformed through the many pedals, wires and other bits of electronics into percussive loops, slowly undulating sustained sounds, and other elements.

There still were places where the words and phrases remained intelligible amidst the electronic sounds, particularly at the beginnings of pieces. I thought it was good to have this in order to stay connected to the idea that there was poetry involved and that it wasn’t just an electronic improvisation duo. Having just performed there the week before in a poetry-and-music duo, it is quite tempting to compare our respective performances. Pitta of the Mind took a more traditional approach to the use of words, preserving the structure of the poetry and practice of reading alongside a variety of electronic sounds and stage performance, while the Davignon/Behm-Steinberg duo took a more abstract approach blending words and music into a single soundscape.

The next set featured a solo performance by Bill Walker on guitars and electronics. He brought a variety of electric and lap-steel guitars and array of electronics for looping and other effects.


[Photo: PeterBKaars.com.]

His guitar-playing was itself virtuosic, easily moving between different styles and playing and textures ranging from long drones to fast-moving percussive sounds. His use of looping allowed him to build up more complex layers with different textures. The lap-steel guitar sections, which included a visually interesting custom-built instrument, were haunting without resorting to some of the instrument’s cliches. It was an impressive display of both instrument technique and coordination of electronics, and was quite a beautiful performance overall.

During his performance, Walker played compositions in tribute to his father, as well as to Kim Flint, who was very active in the looping and electronic-music communities, and the founder of Loopers Delight. There were also moments of humor in his set, such as a piece based on samples of Mr. T.

Overall, this was another strong performance in the Thursday-night series at the Luggage Store Gallery, and I was glad I braved a downpour to go see it.

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Broadside Attractions | Vanquished Terrains at Intersection for the Arts

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Today we look at the show Broadside Attractions | Vanquished Terrains which is currently on display at Intersection for the Arts.


[Photo by Scott Chernis. Courtesy of Intersection for the Arts.]

This large and ambitious show, curated by Maw Shein Win and Megan Wilson with Kevin Chen of Intersection for the Arts, brings together twelve pairs of visual artists and writers to produce collaborative work centered around the historical broadside medium. A broadside is generally defined as a large sheet of paper printed on one side and designed to be plastered onto walls in public areas. They were historically used to announce events, proclamations or news in a very concise and public manner before the advent of the internet, broadcasting, or even printed newspapers. Like many media that have outlived their original practical purpose, the broadside continues on in more rarified form for artistic exploration, this show being one such example. For this exhibition, the teams followed a very specific process. First, each visual artist provided his or her collaborating writer with three data points based on the theme of “vanquished terrains”: a piece of music, a movie and a location. The writer then created a short piece that was then given back to the artist to create a small visual work in response to the writing. These were combined to form the historic broadsides, which consisted of the visual piece as a black-and-white printed graphic, followed by the text of written piece.


[Photo by Scott Chernis. Courtesy of Intersection for the Arts.]

Finally, each artist-and-writer pair created another piece that embodied the same ideas and concepts as the historic broadside but using any form or media. The final pieces were quite varied, united only by the connections to their respective broadsides and the process of collaboration. Some were very direct reinterpretations, while others were quite distant from a recognizable broadside. The majority were somewhere in between, with flat media of either physical and or digital varieties.


[Photo by Scott Chernis. Courtesy of Intersection for the Arts.]

The above piece, a collaboration of artist Matthew Rogers and writer Maw Shein Win, is typical of the experimentations with media to augment the traditional broadside concept. The piece is primarily a flat panel of mixed media on paper, with a segment of the space presenting a video, in this case an animation by Rogers with music and bits of a reading of the written piece. The overall feel of the both the visual piece and the poem had a very bleak quality. The prompt location was the Inland Empire, with its combination of stark desert landscape and overdevelopment. The latter is apparent in the poem, while the desert is more present in the visual media, with the video bridging the two with rather dystopian imagery.

Some pieces derived more directly from the original broadside concept. Indeed, one of the media that most captures the original intent in our particular time and place is the protest sign. In their collaborative piece, Megan Wilson interprets the central figure of Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s poem Ruby-Crowned Kinglets as part of a crowd of protest signs.


[Photo by Scott Chernis. Courtesy of Intersection for the Arts.]

The bright solid colors and simple text and graphics makes this piece stand out, even when just wandering by. At the same time, the image of the cartoon bird crying “Help!” has a fun quality to it. It was interesting way to bridge the contrast between protest art and more personal and descriptive nature of Behm-Steinberg’s poem. During the opening, visitors were invited to take one of the textual protest signs on the floor (but not to take any of the birds).

Video was a frequently used element to bring the broadside concept into the contemporary sphere. One of the most creative uses was by Eliza Barrios with writer Myron Michael. Several asynchronous video streams were projected onto a corner window, transforming the rectangular images into more angular shapes that were aligned perfectly to create the illusion that they were coming out of the window. In the center, a changing set of single words were projected. In watching this piece, I was trying to figure out how the words may relate to the images on either side.


[Installation view with Inaoko/Cortez second to left and Barrios/Michael on the right. Photo by Scott Chernis. Courtesy of Intersection for the Arts.]

Other interesting video pieces included artist Misako Inaoko with writer Jaime Cortez. Their stop-motion animation piece, which included text along with what appeared be live photographic images taken with an app like Instagram or Hipstamatic, created a low-fidelity loop of activity. The piece by Keiko Ishihara and Chaim Bertman revealed the frenetic pace of activity in Tokyo’s complex transit system. It seemed a world away from the location prompt of the South Pole, but quite related to the musical prompt, Brian Eno’s Music for Airports.

At the other end of the spectrum, there were several fully three-dimensional installations. The largest and most dramatic was a two-story installation by artist Karrie Hovey and writer Elise Ficarra that covered the spiral staircase of the gallery in felt representations of deer with stylized antlers and legs. Ascending the staircase to the upper level reveals a dark painted sky with floating text and butterflies. Deer may at first seem an odd choice for a piece whose text and imagery is about the plight of human intervention in nature – having grown up north of New York City, I can attest that deer are doing quite well for themselves – but the message in this piece relates specifically to the controversial killings of deer in Point Reyes national seashore.


[Photo by Scott Chernis. Courtesy of Intersection for the Arts.]

As a bonus, this piece also featured sound art via the work of composer Evelyn Ficarra. The generated sounds were diffused via numerous speakers embedded throughout the installation. The was the only piece to use sound design as an independent element (i.e., not part of a video), and of course I had to try and figure out more about it. The sounds appeared to be manipulated and processed from natural sources which was consistent with the theme. I think they were also multiple streams for the different speakers.

Another interesting large installation was the piece by artist Nathaniel Parsons and writer Ly Nguyen. I have seen several of Parson’s installations before, and this one had a similar home-made construction feel to it. But it was a bit more subtle, with a small hole in the side of the coarse wooden surface to reveal a “piece within a piece” inside.


[Photo by Scott Chernis. Courtesy of Intersection for the Arts.]

So how do pieces like these related at all to the original broadsides? They are still in very concise language “shouting” their point like a Tweet in their own varied proportions and media. And in this sense they retain the “broadside” spirit.

Perhaps the most conceptual take on the theme was Tea + Dialogues presented by writer Jenny Bitner and artist Liz Worthy. They constructed a “tea room” where visitors could sit down, enjoy a cup of tea and participate in dialogues with other visitors. The tea was served in custom ceramics created for the installation, and the walls were decorated with text.


[Photo by Scott Chernis. Courtesy of Intersection for the Arts.]

Visitors choose dialogues from a preselected list, many of which were quite humorous and at least one referenced the installation itself. In additional, visitors were offered a fortune cookie that contained a “miniature broadside.” The dialogues, fortune cookies, and embedded text on the walls all related back to the historic broadside but brought it into a more ubiquitous and interactive realm.

I did participate in a dialogue with another visitor whom I had not previously. It was fun to read, and had the minimalist awkward quality of mid-century experimental theater piece.

In addition to the printed broadside and installation, each piece included links to the source prompts, with QR codes that allowed visitors to access the source music and movies via their mobile devices while exploring the exhibition.

As one can tell from this review, the visual art and installations tended to overpower the written work, especially for those like me who tend to be more visually oriented. To help balance this out, the show included to readings where the writers were front and center, presenting their work in the show as well as related readings of their choice. As with the installations, there was a great variety of work, from short song-like poems to surreal fiction to personal recollections.

The show will remain at Intersection for Arts in San Francisco through May 26.

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SoundSpeak, Luggage Store Gallery, and Cornelius Cardew Choir

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Today we look back at a busy Thursday back in November. In the early evening, after spending the afternoon with the folks at Smule busking around San Francisco with the newly released Magic Fiddle, I met up with members of the Cornelius Cardew Choir at the Powell BART station to perform several pieces for voice, motion and interaction with the environment.

We performed two pieces by Bob Marsh and Tom Bickley, respectively, in the sunken plaza next to the station. Both pieces were very meditative, even as one moved about the plaza, and the relatively soft and sparse nature allowed one to also listen to sounds of the city as the evening commute tapered off. A few onlookers stopped to see what we were doing and listen in, but mostly we were on our own. We then began a piece by Rachel Wood-Rome that combined live voice with prerecorded material. However, as we were bat to start, a rather enthusiastic individual came over and asked to sing with us and forthwith began his rendition of “The Love I Lost”, a minor disco hit by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. As if on cue, at the end of his song a young man on a skateboard wiped out at the base of the staircase. I wish I had captured this moment on film. We then continued with our performance, in which four participants listened to pre-recorded material on iPods and headphones and then sang their parts for the others to follow.


Later on, several of us made our way to the Luggage Store Gallery for Outsound’s Soundspeak Series, a “series presenting pairings of sound and voice artists.”

The first set featured Hugh Behm-Steinberg with Matt Davignon. Rather than just a recitation of poetry with music, the performance featured both live voice and pre-recorded readings that we played back in combination with live electronic sounds. The first piece, “Sea Monster”, featured electronic sounds by Davignon that sounded very aquatic, like wind and waves. Behm-Steinberg’s pre-recorded spoken lines were separated with large spaces in which to hear the other material. Various loud metallic sounds emerged as the words become more fragmented. Eventually, the words seemed to disintegrate completely and were obscured by harsh resonances from the electronics. Overall, however, the piece maintained an undulating motion. A couple of lines from the text that stuck with me were “to be a girl in her 50s shoes” and “Don’t pay attention to modern literature.”


[Hugh Behm-Steinberg and Matt Davignon.]

The next piece began with metallic sounds that were almost FM-like in timbre, and the texture of the music was more choppy with individual events. The words started out more fragmented as well, and were rendered with a variety of voice qualities. Not only differences in tone, but differences in spatial perception as sometimes the voice seemed more distant. The electronic sounds became more liquidy sounds came in against percussive sounds, and gradually became more “gargly”. The voice began to shift pitches, up and down, against bits of liquidy bells. More glitch noises emerged, and words spread further out to the point of a single word per timbral event. I remember something about “fish bodies”.

The final piece, “Teeth”, was more of a monologue and quite humorous. It began with the line “Suppose you see a tooth” set against very percussive music reminiscent of tablas and other South Asian drums, played more in clusters than continuous rhythmic patterns. The imagery of the text was quite vivid, describing “infinite amounts of teeth” as the drums became more electronic. The text moved on to other topics, but then came back to teeth. As the piece continued on, more layers of electronic percussion emerged, however, the rhythm remained focused on clusters.


The second set featured Rent Romus on saxophone and electronics with CJ Borosque reciting poems from her new blog The Cloud Journals. One piece, “Love is a needle in the ass” was quite memorable both for some of the lines in the poem such as “white is the color of death and evil” and “the drum circle was fun, though” and its combination with Romus’ lively saxophone improvisation and live cassette-player performance.

The next piece “American Hunger”…or “Staving off Hunger (an American Diatribe)” dealt with issues around both hunger and consumption and how one can be both consuming massive amounts of food and other resources while still being “hungry” in some way. The line “where’s my beer” in the middle of the diatribe particularly stuck out for me, perhaps how it was set against the music. Sonically, the music featured warbling tones and chirping, glitches and loops, and effects from a Line 6 variable delay.

The piece “roads and wishes” featured the particularly memorable line “season to season, jam session to jam session” which resonated with me as a musician and as someone who has been quite busy with a great many things in these past few seasons. The poem was set against a variety of string tones: pedaled strings, bending blue tones, and others, and then gave way to more flute tones. The final piece “what if the world ended” featured more saxophone performance and string tones. And while these were not the final lines of the poem, they did once again connect to music and to being at the performance: Music is your muse, I am your butterfly, And your dragonfly, And your sword.

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