Today we look back at my performance with Tania Chen at Spectrum in New York, a little over a week ago.
[Photo by BC]
Our duo is built around a mixture of experimental improvisation with electronic instruments and other elements, and songs with lyrics, melodies and chords, often segueing seamlessly from one to the other. Spectrum has a wonderful Steinway grand piano, which allowed to Tania to exercise her piano skills while I focused on chords and rhythm with a Nord Electro keyboard and DSI Prophet 12 and Moog Mother-32 synthesizers. At times the sound was dark and droning, others very sparse, and many times quite humorous – after all, we did sing a “Cheezy Love Song.” The songs themselves were quite structured, but there as well as the improvisations in between we were able to play off one another to create patterns and textures.
[Photos by BC]
I particularly like the sections combining the acoustic piano with the Prophet 12, and our dueling Casio keyboards. And yes, we had a lot of fun. You can see our full performance in this video below.
Overall we had a great time performing and it was quite well received by the audience. It wasn’t actually our first show together in New York. That was at the Brick Theater in Brooklyn and will be discussed in a separate article.
Our performance was in the middle of the bill. The evening began with a set by Hey Exit, a solo project by Brooklyn-based Brandan Landis.
Using guitar, electronics and video, Landis created a dark soundscape, sometimes noisy and drawing from his backgrounds in punk and noise, but at other times quite haunting and ethereal. The room was particularly dark, with light only from the video screen and a nearby candle.
Hey Exit was followed by a solo set by Jeff Surak featuring sundry electronic and acoustic sound sources.
Much of the set featured long drones with rich timbres, but also details such as beating patterns and occasional breaks in the sound. The timbres could be tense at moments, but overall tt was a very meditative performance; and a perfect sonic segue into our very different set.
We were immediately followed by Jarvis Jun Earnshaw performing with guitar, voice and electronics.
His sound at times was reminiscent of cafe folk singers, but his voice was anxious and abstract. The entire performance mostly followed the pattern of combining these elements with high-feedback delay and other effects.
The final set Jenn Grossman, another Brooklyn-based musician and sound artist.
[Photo by BC]
Her electronic set featured vocal experimentation with electronics, including rhythmic and ambient elements. Although also making use of drones, it was very different from Jeff Surak’s sound, more harmonic and thicker, more like a dreamy movie scene versus a tense dark space. There were percussive hits and noisy bits as well, which gave the music a defined texture.
It was overall a great experience being back at Spectrum and performing along with all the other acts. And we had a sizable and appreciative audience, despite the space being a little hot that evening. Thanks as always to Robert Pepper (Alrealon Musique) and Glenn Cornet for hosting us, and hopefully I will play there again soon.
The South Bronx still gets a bad rap. And I do remember what it was in the late 1970s and 1980s. But for us at CatSynth, it has become a place of great curiosity and surprising forms of beauty. A few years ago, I noticed some changes along the southern stretch of the Bronx River in Google Maps. In particular, there was a brand new park.
Concrete Plant Park is literally that, a park built around the ruins of an old concrete plant along the river’s edge. I had to see this for myself. And since 2013, I have gone to see it several times.
To get there via subway from Riverdale is a bit of a challenge. There have never been east-west subway lines traversing the borough, only north-south to and from Manhattan. So a subway trip from the western end of the Bronx to the southeast requires a trip into Manhattan and a few transfers (there is no crosstown subway in Harlem, either). Finally, one reaches the 6 IRT, which heads north into the south and east Bronx. It’s a long ride underground eventually emerging onto an elevated structure over Westchester Avenue, one of the main thoroughfares through the South Bronx. I alight at the Whitlock Avenue stop.
Between the station and the park is the Sheridan Expressway (I-895). This is a strange little highway that hugs the western edge of the Bronx River from the Bruckner Expressway (I-278) north to East Tremont Avenue with connections to the Cross Bronx Expressway (I-95) and the Bronx River Parkway.
It is sort of a connector from the Bronx Zoo to the Triborough Bridge, though one that isn’t really needed given the other larger freeways in the vicinity. It only has one exit between its termini: Westchester Avenue near the Whitlock station and Concrete Plant Park. One can see the entry ramps leading down to the highway while walking towards the park.
Another ramp leads down from the street level to the park itself. It’s a flat piece of land with grass concrete paths dotted by the refurbished structures from the former concrete plant.
Although it seems to be a trend to incorporate reclaimed industrial elements into public spaces, the structures are still fairly unique for an urban park, and quite photogenic. Here are just a few of the photos I have taken.
The Bronx River itself is an important element of the park’s identity and landscape. The section south of Bronx Park has long been more industrial, and the river and its banks still bear the visuals of that past. A major effort to clean up and restore the river has been underway for a while. And it is much cleaner than it was in the 1980s, though one can still see a lot of detritus collecting along the berms.
Looking north alongs the river towards the 6 Elevated and Westchester Avenue is quite beautiful with filtered lighting.
Although I visit this park for its visuals and geographical placement, it is a local park enjoyed by the local community. On a summertime visit, I saw a lot of families and individuals there, playing sports, relaxing along the river, and even barbecuing. It seems that this park is a successful one, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I visit again.
For today’s photo, we went into the archives. Usually, one of the pictures will speak to me that today is its day. This was that photo. It features a scene from Concrete Plant Park in the Bronx.
At the end of my trip to NAMM, I always try to leave time for a museum visit in Los Angeles, more often than not to LACMA. This is a somewhat belated review of this year’s visit.
Since seeing the film on the Levitated Mass, it was an absolute priority to experience the giant sculpture by Michael Heizner in person. For those unfamiliar, it is a 340-ton boulder mounted above a concrete trench. The space underneath is open and thus viewers can walk under the boulder.
It is an impressive feat of engineering (as documented in minute detail in the film), and a visually interesting conceptual piece. It is definitely one has to experience in person to understand.
One of the main special exhibitions at LACMA in January was a retrospective on the work of Frank Gehry. While none of his actual buildings were on display (though it would have been appropriate in the context of Levitated Mass), there were many drawings and models, group into conceptual and chronological phases of his career.
Many of his most famous pieces, such as Disney Hall and Guggenheim Bilbao, were on display. But also large lesser-known buildings an smaller designs, some of which were never built. In the photo above, we see a building that combines the undulating organic structures for which Gehry is famous with a more traditionally modernist linear outer structure. The model in front is quite different, and more geometric and colorful that one sees in his iconic works.
It is also fun to see the small structures and private homes. I am envious of those who could have a Gehry-designed home like this one.
By sheer coincidence, Frank Gehry was present that afternoon to give a talk and Q&A session. I managed to get into the overflow audience to catch part of it.
The wide-ranging discussion including a bit of his personal history, his interest in biology and particularly in fish, and his disdain for computer modeling – he agreed that it was an amazing tool, but not for visually understanding a piece of architecture. On the topic of fish, they reviewed a few purely sculptural pieces of his that were meant to represent the swimming motion of a single fish or an entire school. Though he perhaps his voice sounded a bit gruff – something which bothers me not at all – he was very much engaged with the questioners and supportive.
In the modern pavilion, it did stop to see a few familiar large installations. I enjoy walking inside of this large-scale Richard Serra sculpture and find it quite meditative. It was also interesting to contemplate its curving structure in terms of what I had just seen and heard from Frank Gehry.
From the curving structure I then moved on to straight lines. This familiar light installation reflects onto the window facing Wilshire Blvd and makes for great self-portraits.
I also had a bit of fun with self portraiture in the retrospective exhibition for Diana Thater, which featured several room-sized pieces with multiple projections of moving images.
Though that was fun, the piece itself was dead serious, looking at the aftermath of war through ruined buildings.
There were some pieces in the exhibition that were less dark, as in Butterflies that features both lights and video bathed in red ambient lighting.
[Diana Thater, Untitled Videowall (Butterflies), 2008. Six video monitors, player, one fluorescent light fixture, and Lee filters . Installation Photograph, Diana Thater: The Sympathetic Imagination, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. © Diana Thater]
One doesn’t always know what to expect on a on-afternoon trip whose date is not timed to a particular exhibit, but I am never disappointed with what I encounter at LACMA, and that was true again this year.