Fun with Highways: The Port of Oakland

I found this photo on Facebook yesterday while following events at the General Strike in Oakland.

More people protesting a little later….the freeway is full on their way to the Port of Oakland during the #GeneralStrike. People can’t drive….10,000 people are marching.

In actuality, it is not a freeway. But it does appear to be the point in West Oakland where Adeline Street crosses over the train tracks and becomes Middle Harbor Road, which would be en route to the port where demonstrators successfully and peacefully shut down operations for the remainder of the night. That is quite an impressive feat.

I unfortunately was not able to join in the events in Oakland yesterday because of health reasons, but I am planning to be out again with a group in San Francisco on Saturday. In the meantime, here is a first-hand account from fellow Bay Area new musician Myles Boisen. He plays a mean blues guitar.

Shut Down! – Occupy Oakland 11/03/11 Vol. 7

Vol. 7 in a series by Myles Boisen

Port of Oakland SHUT DOWN
Wells Fargo SHUT DOWN
Bank of America SHUT DOWN
Comerica Bank SHUT DOWN
Chase Bank SHUT DOWN
Union Bank SHUT DOWN
Bank of the West SHUT DOWN
Burger King SHUT DOWN
Walgreen’s SHUT DOWN

Highlights of the Oakland general strike:

10 a.m. As I start reading news feeds I see Angela Davis is addressing the early morning crowd at 14th and Broadway. Unconfirmed rumors come and go that the Port of Oakland is already closed, with possible wildcat strike action and trucks unable to get through.

12 p.m. I arrive at Oscar Grant Plaza. On the way over radio coverage on KPFA-FM says that Wells Fargo bank is already shut down. People are streaming continuously toward downtown on foot and on bicycles. The crowd at 14th and Broadway is estimated at 5,000 or more. With friends I tour the area, photographing banks and corporate businesses that have shut their doors due to the strike. The crowd is made up of elders, working people, union representatives, teachers, religious leaders, and schoolchildren present with their parents.

By the BART station we meet Ethel, a senior citizen who is gathering signatures on a petition to end the death penalty in California. One member of our party – Phil, a well-read anarcho-syndicalist – has recently moved to Alameda County, and Ethel suggests that he can go to City Hall to get the requisite voter registration papers. Could City Hall possibly be open today? We go on a mission to find out.

After finding a side door that is open, we are ushered into an eerie calm of City Hall by a private security guard. There is practically no one inside. Entering the Office of the City Clerk, there is once again no one around, though there is a small hotel bell at the counter. After ringing the bell for a few minutes, this Kafkaesque scenario is resolved when a woman emerges and directs Phil to the proper documents. I ask her “How’s it going today?” She gives me “the look” and replies “ask me after 5.”

1:30 p.m. Our group wanders about, taking in dance performances, rappers, signage, the bustling kitchen, the music stage, and more. We run into two stilt walkers that I am acquainted with, as well as my friend Victor Lewis who is immediately recognized by someone as being the guy from the film The Color of Fear. Victor gets that a lot.

2:30 p.m. I return to my car to find a parking ticket – my first one of the year. Damn! A bite of lunch, and I fall in with a group of musicians associated with Mills College. From there it’s off to move my car and survey downtown on my own, again taking photos of shuttered banks. There are broken windows at the Chase Bank downtown, with reports of additional vandalism at the Whole Foods grocery by Lake Merritt.

5:00 p.m. I return to Oscar Grant Plaza to try and meet a friend when I notice the march to the port is moving out. People walk briskly, excitedly, and despite my best efforts I can’t catch up to the beginning of the procession stretching many blocks in front of and behind me. We wind through industrial West Oakland with minimal police presence.

6:00 p.m. The final approach to the Port of Oakland (the fifth-largest port in the US) is by way of an overpass that sweeps gracefully over once-bustling trainyards. The top of this overpass affords a stunning vista with the iconic cranes to the west, a maze of train tracks to the north, and Oakland’s office buildings to the east. Sunset yields a golden light with its own rich photo ops. Then darkness finds most of the crowd on the move again, back to Oscar Grant Plaza, BART, or homes and family. After a final visit to OGP I see broken windows and anarchist graffiti at the Wells Fargo Bank, then return home to write and work on photos. Arriving home I read that a frustrated driver ran into two marchers in downtown Oakland, sending both to the hospital and then being allowed to go home himself after filing a report with the OPD.

2:07 a.m. As I am finishing up this post I get a call from Cherie. Police have moved into downtown and tear gas is being used at 16th and Telegraph. My heart sinks into my stomach, and yet somehow I find the energy to drive back downtown to see what is going on. Many streets are blocked off by lines of police. At 16th and Telegraph there are three dumpsters turned over in the middle of the intersection, contents spilled and a burnt trash smell. I hear that the camp is surrounded, with no one getting in or out. Walking seven blocks around the perimeter of the police-occupied area I find this is not true.

14th street is open, and there is lots of graffiti with anarchy A’s that was not there this afternoon. Windows are broken, including the Tully’s coffeeshop at 14th and Broadway which overlooks Oscar Grant Plaza. A double line of police spans the broad intersection of 15th and Broadway. Asking around, I learn from an eyewitness that “anarchist kids” had set the dumpster fires using M-80s or road flares, and that a fire was also set around an abandoned building that had been occupied. One young man named Chris had been tear gassed earlier, and was concerned about his friend who had been missing since then. I gave him the NLG hotline number, wished him luck, and returned home to write.

5 a.m. Bedtime for citizen journalists.

The presence of violence and a destructive element in our midst is deeply troubling. And I am really saddened that such a powerful, peaceful and successful strike involving so many has been stained by the anger of a few. These actions present a new challenge for a movement which is committed to non-violence. Just yesterday I wrote this: When the police turn violent, the Occupation thrives. But if Occupy turns violent (or is perceived as being violent) that will be the one thing that will bring it down. The vandalism is not widespread – just broken glass and spray paint as far as I know now – and it should be cleaned up in a couple of days. But it will now be a long struggle for the movement to effectively distance itself from a violent minority, and somehow deal with similar incidents in the future.

The phrase on everyone’s lips after the strike is “what next?” Well, what do YOU want to happen next? Get down to the Oakland GA (7 p.m. every night in Oscar Grant Plaza) and make a proposal. I can’t be at the GA on Thursday, but I know there will be a lot to talk about.

On Thursday Nov. 3 5:30 P.M. (today!) a City Council special meeting will address the police actions of 10/25/11. Council chambers of Oakland city hall.

September Photography Show at The Parts Room, Oakland

As I prepare for tonight’s opening at Art Explosion Open Studios in San Francisco, I look back at the opening just two weeks ago at The Parts Room in Oakland.

The Parts Room is located in Classic Cars West in Oakland, a venue that, as the name implies, primarily deals in classic cars. Many of these cars are themselves works of art.

In the above picture, we see two of the cars in display with large-scale artworks by GETBIZI. I thought his pieces would particularly well in conjunction with the cars, sharing the brought colors, clean lines, and including California-style landscape that is synonymous with car culture. I also found the pieces by Optimist, which featured a combination of industrial elements such as shipping contains with modern Asian signage and imagery, fit well with the environment and with my own work.

The overall show in the main gallery was titled “Mechanic Arts”, with many of the artist relating to the “mechanical” or “industrial” theme in different ways. Mark Schroeder’s sculptures combined new and old technologies with wood, metal and light generators were sprinkled throughout the main room, sometimes on top of old barrels. Similarly, Nicole Bommarito’s constructions with Polaroid emulsions combine various vintage technologies. John Paul Marcelo and MoE were also featured with painting and large installations, respectively. The work of these artists shared a weathered look of older industrial products and processes, which fit well with the space but were in sharp contrast to clean and streamlined quality of the cars, and of the large panels from GETBIZI.

The Parts Room itself is a long and narrow space, which made for great opportunities to display both the large pieces as well as some of my iPhone Hipstamatic prints.

[click images to enlarge]

We actually spent quite a bit of time meticulously lining everything up to make use of the space. In addition to just getting everything straight, I wanted to emphasize the lines, geometry and industrial elements on the pieces, as well as the prominence in one color in several of the pieces.

[click images to enlarge]

Overall, the response to the show was quite positive, and it was great to see so many people come through and show an interest, particularly on the Oakland Art Murmur night.

Overall, this was undoubtedly my best visual art show to date. It was well attended, and I received lots of positive feedback. It was great to have such support from Rebecca Kerlin to make this show happen, and to have the time and space to put in the effort to make it come out well. I also learned a lot about how to be precise in hanging and presenting work – something which I plan to bring forward with me in future shows.

It was sad to have to dismantle the show after only a couple of weeks, but I needed many of them for Open Studios. I did try and re-create the triptych of the red, blue and yellow pieces, although with less space. We will see how it goes.

Report from the Outsound Music Summit Benefit Dinner and Concert

With a little over a week to go before the Outsound Music Summit, we look back at our benefit dinner and performance.

The benefit took place at the Numi Tea Garden in Oakland, a beautiful space that blends into the industrial architecture of its surroundings. You can see this photo which I posted on a recent Wordless Wednesday. An interesting bit of trivia for music-tech geeks that I learned is that the space now occupied by Numi used to be home of Zeta Music Systems, the makers of the Zeta electronic violin.

The dinner, by chef Miles Ake was itself a piece of performance and conceptual art. It was based on the ingredients of a classic Gazpacho recipe, listed in mirroring order at the beginning and end of the menu. The description and the presentation of the food itself unfolded like a multi-movement musical composition. From Ake’s statement:

The root of the word Gazpacho is derived from a Mozarab word caspa, meaning “residue” or “fragments,” which refers to the small pieces of bread and vegetables in a Gazpacho soup. throughout the meal the gazpacho as an entity wil go through a series of fractured movements. This fracturing is not a means to disconnect, but rather as a process of extraction, distillation and isolation of distinct parts. The structure of the menu is an anagrammatical game or a rewinding (moving backwards in time to replay a track) while simultaneously moving forward without redundancy in form/texture/taste using to compositional terms (verse, refrain, notes, scale, etc….) to build a lexicon of culinary elements.

The dinner opened with an interpretation of the soup itself, which set the tone and direction:

The panzanella and ricotta/pepper dishes were perhaps my favorites palette-wise and reflect the colors from the base ingredients:

The “bloody margaret” with gin and olive gelée served in an old-fashioned glass and the raw fluke were the most unique. The desert was an experience as well, with “three textures of olive oil”, including a very creamy foam-like texture that I have never had before.

The music for the evening featured a performance by Vorticella, a quartet of Krys Bobrowski, Erin Espeland, Brenda Hutchinson and Karen Stackpole. Their improvised performances feature a wide variety of instruments, ranging from standard cello and horn, to Karen Stackpole’s array of gongs and blocks, to unique custom instruments like Bobrowski’s gliss glass:

[Click image to enlarge.]

Vorticella derive their name from the single-cell creatures. The bell-shape features prominently in the instruments, such as the gliss glass, horn, and other wind instruments. The themes of a single-cell organism functioning as a compact unit, but then breaking off new copies at any given time, permeate the direction and texture of the group’s improvised performances.

I have heard Vorticella before at the Garden of Memory events and the Flower Moon Concert in 2009. This was however an exceptional performance. Although the instrumentation is diverse and music improvised, it had a very coherent texture and direction and was well crafted. Like the single-cell organism, they seemed to function as one, with music that could have come from a master synthesizer soloist or from countless hours of careful sound design in a studio, but it was all unfolding organically in front of us. The wind and metal elements set the overall timbral environment in which the details unfold. Think of wind blowing through giant metal pipes, and then tapping on the side of the pipe or bowing it – these could be seen as basic ingredients, in a way similar to Ake’s use of the gazpacho ingredients to produce the entire meal. I found myself alternating between the rich overall timbre of the ensemble and focusing on individual details, whether Bobrowski’s visual presentation on the gliss glass, Stackpole’s constant shifting among different pieces of percussion, or Espeland’s playing the cello with two bows simultaneously. There was a good mix of long drone-like sounds and punctuated percussive elements – appropriate space was left for the latter.

So with the benefit dinner behind us, we are on to the actual summit, which begins next Sunday July 17 with the annual “Touch the Gear” night and continues with concerts the following week. You can find out more info, including tickets and passes to the concerts here. Those on Facebook are also encouraged to visit Outsound Presents’ page which features more photographs of the dinner and music.

Preparing for tonight’s performance

I will be performing tonight in Oakland at Rooz Cafe (1918 Park Blvd, Oakland, CA) at 7PM tonight. Details below:

A rescheduling of a an old date, remade in Rooz-y glory:

-Zeina Nasr
Emphatic, ethereal vocalisms

-Amar Chaudhary
Complex, articulate solo work with an electronic aesthetic

-Karl Evangelista/Shaun Lowecki/Sean Peterson Trio
-Animated, explosive inside/outside music

I have been busily preparing today with a small setup, similar to one I had planned for January 17:

Once again, I will have the monome controlling the MacBook, primarily for live sampling and looping today. I will be using the dotara, an Indian folk string instrument, as one of the live sample sources. I will also bring a bell and the prayer bowl as live sources. The iPad will be running Curtis, which gets more an more advanced with each upgrade and is becoming a true musical instrument. I will also be using TouchOSC to control Open Sound World, including a brand new implementation of my piece Charmer:Firmament for iPad, replacing the retired Wacom graphics tablet. This is a dry run for the big concert next Friday (March 4), so we’ll see out it goes.

I had been hoping a new contact mic would arrive today – I am considering that for March 4 as well – but of course FedEx showed up just while I was out at an important art-related meeting, so I missed it and they are the one courier that won’t leave things. So I will be using an ordinary mic once again for the live sampling/looping – maybe it’s for the best.

Update: Just as I finished posting this article, a package arrived.  Not the contact microphone, but it was an exciting new toy, the Wicks Looper.

You see previous CatSynth pics and videos with this and related devices via this link (the cat in most of these is also named Luna). I have been considering getting one these for a while, and the current run of performances provided the impetus.  Although I have not yet played it, I am seriously tempted to try it out for tonight’s set.  After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Preparing for tonight’s performance

I am busily getting ready for my next solo performance tonight.

Light A Fire: Amar Chaudhary, Zeina Nasr, Evangelista/Lowecki/Stuart
Monday, January 17 · 7:00pm – 10:00pm
Mama Buzz Cafe
2318 Telegraph Avenue
Oakland, CA

Please join us for creative music in three acts (incidentally the third Monday of the month)–featuring:

-Zeina Nasr
Emphatic, ethereal vocalisms

-Amar Chaudhary
Complex, articulate solo work with an electronic aesthetic

-Karl Evangelista/Shaun Lowecki/Doug Stuart Trio
-Animated, explosive inside/outside music

Hope to see you!
-Friendly Neighborhood Light A Fire Committee

I am once again using a relatively minimal setup (or as minimal as I can make it for a solo show).  There is the iPad (and the iPhone), the MacBook with a monome, and the Evolver.  I also have a couple of percussion instruments, and the dotara, an Indian string instrument.

For the iPad, I will be using the Curtis for iPad (shown in the photo below), along with the from Smule, the 古筝 (Guzheng) app, and the KORG iMS-20, among others.

Based on feedback from my last performance at the Omega Sound Fix, I am going to try and use fewer elements, particularly in the live sampling/looping section. I will start with the dotara, and layer the Magic Fiddle and guzheng model on top of it. I will be reusing some of the other elements that I have been having fun with, such as the Count Basie Big Band Remote from the Blue Note in Chicago controlled via the monome.

Luna wants to help out with preparations, too: