Pitta of the Mind at Lost Church, San Francisco

Today we look back at Pitta of the Mind’s set at Word Performances, which took place at the Lost Church in San Francisco. It was, in our opinion, one of our best performances. You can see and hear for yourself in this video.


[Video by Todd Siegel]

It was a short performance, but very tight, mixing the poems with piano, theremin and acoustic elements. I like using the percussion instruments along with the electronics, as it adds to the timbre and theatrics. We will definitely do more of that.

The evening featured readings and dance in addition to music. Our host Cybele Zufolo read some of her writings while dancing flamenco with Damien Alvarez.

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Colleen McKee read another of Cybele Zufolo’s pieces about her adventures as a show girl in Japan, in addition to some of her own writing. She even featured some singing in the set.

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Daniel Berkman performed a solo set on kora a visually and sonically beautiful instrument.

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Every set featured performative elements. For her reading, Zarina Zabrisky appeared as a super villain.

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Overall it was a fun night, and we had an overflowing crowd. Many thanks to Cybele Zufolo and Todd Siegel for hosting us and all their work putting these shows together, and to the Lost Church for providing such a unique space in San Francisco.

Vacuum Tree Head and More at All Tomorrow’s After Parties 2016

No sooner was I back from New York than I found myself preparing for another series of performances, this time in various groups for NextNow Present’s All Tomorrows After Parties 2016 at Berkeley Arts in the town of the same name. The three-day long festival was both a musical showcase for the community and a benefit for homeless action and support in the Bay Area. This article focuses on the first evening which featured a performance by Vacuum Tree Head.

Vacuum Tree Head
[Photo by Polly Moller]

The band is ever evolving, with a changing cast of musicians joining Jason Berry and Mike de la Cuesta. On this night the band included Amanda Chaudhary on keyboards, Justin Markovits on drums, Richard Corny on guitar, Galen Stagner on bass, and Jason Bellenkes and Joshua Marshall on horns. From just the images alone, one can tell this is a new incarnation of the band, with a well-dressed frontline coincidentally featuring “Nord red”; and a funkier, jazzier sound anchored by a tight rhythm section. You can hear our entire set in this video.

While the funky finale EMS Deluxe might be the most memorable of the set, each song was played well and had something unique to offer. This was my favorite rendition of Nubdug to date. The “Mystic Chord” and Gnostic Charms medley was our most abstract, featuring synth, a Waterphone and complex tones evolving into a driving rhythmic finish. And Hegemony Cricket opened things up with a bang. The set was well received by the audience; and I think everyone in the band that night was very happy with the performance. We hope to play together again as a unit in the not-too-distant future, so please look for updates here on CatSynth and elsewhere.

Vacuum Tree Head closed out an evening that was primary focused on music with words, although like us the first set was entirely instrumental. Joshua Allen and Rob Pumpelly combined forces in a frenetic duo.

Pumpelly / Allen Duo

Joshua Allen brought his virtuosic saxophone techniques to the performance; and between the two of them the energy never let up for the entire duration of the set. Their set reminded me a bit of the Coltrane album Interstellar Space.

Next up was Cartoon Justice, a noise-jazz project featuring Mika Pontecorvo on guitar, flute, and electronics, Kersti Abrams on winds, Mark Pino on Drums, and Elijah Pontecorvo on bass. They were joined by Meg Pontecorvo who read some of her science fiction writings.

Cartoon Justice

The music moved though a variety of sounds, but had a “space” vibe that complemented that texts. The concept brings to mind Sun Ra, though the sound was more reminiscent of Musica Elettronica Viva, a 1970s Italian improvising group that sometimes featured the likes of Steve Lacy and Frederic Rzewski. Of course, their sound is their own, particularly with Mark Pino’s unique drum style, Eli Pontecorvo’s bass bringing a bit of a rock/metal sound to the mix, Mika Pontecorvo’s electronic manipulations, and Meg Pontecorvo’s words.

Cartoon Justice was followed by Poetics of Narrative, a trio with guitar, electronics, and voice. I spied experimental writer Andrew Joron on theremin.

Poetics of Narrative

This group was fun and I liked there sound. It ranged from more noisy moments to playful songs with complex lyrics and melancholy melodies. In addition to the theremin, the performance featured accordion and other instruments among the ever-present small electronics. The combination of elements was reminiscent of the Tone Dogs and other avant-prog groups of that era. And the costuming and theatrics were a welcome addition.

Poetics of Narrative

I regret not being able to see the set by Oa, the duo of my friends Matt Davignon and Hugh Behm-Steinberg. But I know that their unique mix of electronic processing and poetry fit into the evening’s theme while taking the concept of music and words in a very different direction from the previous sets.

Overall, it was a wonderful evening of music, and in some ways I am still glowing from our Vacuum Tree Head set. We had a good and appreciative audience, and raised some good funds for the causes. We are grateful to have participated, and in particular would like to thank Mika Pontecorvo, Eli Pontecorvo and Mark Pino for all their help with both our set and the entire event.

Failure in Concrete (writing from 2003)

(Failure in Concrete)
September 10, 2003

In my failure at something complex I have failed at something simple.

The sound of a trumpet pours out of a blue on blue on gray.
It scales the concrete wall and curves ninety degrees back to the original side, Meandering between the sound of two freeways that were never built
Their traffic filling the space between the mist.

From cracks in the wall grow weeds
Resplendent in their perfect arrangements of red and green
A single tree rises above from the other side of the wall
Casting its shadow in the shadow under the shadow

North of the tree
Towards the park
A woman in red not red but red slightly pink
I know that she is British
Yet I have no way of knowing that from just an image
I think this is odd
Incongruous
And then she is gone
(Another victim of the tireless work of the censor)

Two blocks south of the wall
Away from the park
Is another wall
It is not concrete
It cannot be seen
But it cannot be crossed
I can see through it

The houses on the other side are the same as the houses on this side
The cars a similar mix of late 1990’s models
Parked halfway on the curb as is the custom of this land

I see what I must do on the other side
But I cannot go through the wall
I do not have the energy to walk around it
It must stretch from highway to the ocean

They play what I write
Not what I hear
Sometimes I hear nothing

© 2003 Amar Chaudhary

Broadside Attractions | Vanquished Terrains at Intersection for the Arts

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.

Intermezzo on Water

Intermezzo on Water

The words and sentences float losing their coherence as the visions and narratives of seaside communities decay into dreams of filtered sunlight and free verse and fog and failed concentration and ambiguous affections and terraced layers of improbable houses and the percussion and the solitude and concrete ruins washing into the ocean.

From the dissolving darkness a faint buzzing punctuated by clicks spirals outward along silent waves. In its wake sparks radiate and melt into the meandering trail of a melancholy story.

[Originally written September 15, 2003]

Overpass (August 17, 2003)

Although I had driven this particular stretch of freeway through Las Gatos countless times, I did not recall seeing this particular overpass before. It was exceptionally tall, far taller than the other overpasses that I did remember; they were generally about fifteen feet above the freeway. It was a perfect black against the imperfect black of the night sky.

Car Doors (April 17, 2003)

I heard a car door slam shut, and then another and then another. It seems to me too many car doors to be shutting at the moment, but I suppose eight o’clock in the evening is a good time to close a car door. Some cars, of course, have more than one door that may need to be closed, particularly if they have more than one occupant, or just a lone person retrieving an item from the other side of the car, as I often do. Still, it seems like a lot of car doors being shut.

There are supposedly one hundred and fifty million cars in use in the United States at this time. There are approximately thirty-one million seconds in a year. If each car had only one of its doors shut once every year, that would be about five doors being shut per second. A quintuplet at sixty beats per minute. Cars generally have between two and six doors, which subdivides and complicates the rhythm, perhaps a theka that does not land evenly on a quarter-note-based meter. Of course, the number of times each door on each car is shut has such enormous variance that all we are left with is noise. But noise has its own rhythm, a soft steady continuum that swells and ebbs, forming a multitude of short pulses in between stronger beats, waves whose strongest crests occur at mid morning and mid evening. Pulse, beat, meter and form arising from millions of independent actions, happening without their actors aware of one another but nonetheless connected.

I heard a car door slam shut becoming water and the water became music.

Untitled

In a medium that is designed only for speaking or broadcasting, how does one indicate listening? The time I spend listening, and viewing, and reflecting is generally lost.

Tonight I find myself thinking about one instruction set computing, the organic and geometric reflections of dim lights on metal objects, how I should really do a fun-with-highways-post and the old fashioned art of romantic letter writing, while Luna keeps a patient and quiet watch within arms reach.

And that should really be enough.