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The Zone of Indistinguishability: Maneries by Luis Garay

When I was young, I imagined the inside of my brain looked like a library. Rows upon rows of tall bookshelves extended farther than the eye could see; where my memories, vocabulary, learned math equations, and everything else I knew were filed away. In this library, little workers ran around like mad to pull up […]

Photo: Dudu Quintanilha

Photo: Dudu Quintanilha

When I was young, I imagined the inside of my brain looked like a library. Rows upon rows of tall bookshelves extended farther than the eye could see; where my memories, vocabulary, learned math equations, and everything else I knew were filed away. In this library, little workers ran around like mad to pull up the string of words I wanted to say, they sprinted to the shelf where my history class knowledge was, and they put away the things I learned that day in the correct location. When a word was on the tip of my tongue, I imagined it as misfiled and unavailable until the little workers located it and put it where it was readily accessible.

It saves us a lot of time to be able to file our knowledge into categories, and we construct language and rules to adopt this knowledge quickly and effectively. We develop ways of trusting things we are familiar with, ways of recognizing potential threats, ways of sharing what we know with others so we don’t all have to experience everything all the time to know it. To group our knowledge and identify our experiences is part of being human.

Yet sometimes assumptions are made that everyone will have the same definition or relationship to something, and these expectations reveal how our definitions can acutely limit our understanding. Even ‘universal’ emotions (love, hate, fear, sadness) are experienced in myriad ways, and by acknowledging someone else’s experience of said emotion we expand our own ideas of what is possible.

What if we explored an exercise in un-defining? Is it possible to strip away the associations, the cultural connotations, the assigned meaning to a certain object, action, or symbol? Can the relationship between what we experience and how we come to understand that experience be altered? What if the flexing of a muscle didn’t necessarily denote the expression of physical strength or if a smile didn’t signify happiness? Can we re-imagine our understanding of the world from a place of utmost possibility, or does doing so limit our ability to understand and communicate with one another?

Questions of this sort are the seeds from which artist Luis Garay cultivated his intellectually stirring and physically captivating work, Maneries. The title references a term from Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s 1993 book, The Coming Community. Interpreting Agamben’s theory, to Garay, “maneries” refers “to a sort of fountain from where all possible forms (tangible and imaginable) come from. Maneries is not the plural of ‘form,’ on the contrary, it is [one] place, and it refers to ‘an example.’ In one example, the universal and the particular are included… so maneries is a series of examples.” Garay also says that his “works try to ‘reduce’ or ‘elevate’ the body to its mere biological functions” – an attempt to unlearn those cultural and significations we have adopted. Using the body as source material in this way grounds it in the tangible and releases the imagination into pure potentiality.

With dancer Florencia Vecino, Garay created a pool of gestures, pictures, poses, and sculptures from which Vecino live mixes, like a DJ. The result is an ever-shifting and culturally evocative progression of movement and meaning. Archaic sculptural poses precede contemporary street dance moves, which are followed by indescribable yet specific movements reminiscent of something, somewhere, but Vecino moves through so quickly and with such confidence that this whirlpool of cultural connotations are scrambled. From this place of disassembled association, our knowledge waits, like a puzzle without a picture on the box, to be put together in an intentional way.

It is an impossible task, of course, since we ultimately cannot divorce what we know from the context in which we know it. However, we can engage in activities that reconfigure our relationship to certain objects, subjects, and information and that shed light on our own mental processes. The potential and the actual merge in Garay’s work as he utilizes tactics to elevate the state of the body, such as physical effort and meditation, and Vecino embodies these activities simultaneously. In a recent interview with FringeArts, Garay talks about the importance of Vecino’s energetic state for the performance.

We talked about it a lot, because this ‘state’ is very complex, it requires that she is very attentive, at the same time inside the piece and observing herself from the outside…. She has many rules to administrate at the same time. Many archives to execute. We talk about warriors all the time and what that could mean: she is a warrior of language.

Vecino serves as a sort of surrogate–representing and manifesting iconic symbols and ideas throughout history.

The vocabulary utilized in Maneries is at once extremely specific and intentionally ambiguous. Using movement as the medium of communication renders more possible ways of understanding the content being proposed. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, a movement in Maneries undermines words, excavating the very process by which we would have assigned meaning and definition onto it. The gestures, movements, photos, and energetic states that Vecino virtuosically crafts and executes are a real-time manifestation of the hypothetical. Maneries asks us–and allows us–to take the time to investigate everything, reconstruct our relationship to our own understanding, and it reveals the powerful impacts of such a process.

“The political task of humanity is to expose the innate potential in this zone of indistinguishability.” –Giorgio Agamben

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Maneries  by Luis Garay continues tonight, Saturday, April 23, 2016 at 8 pm in the Walker’s McGuire Theater. 

Luis Garay will also participate in a public panel, Dance Now: Perception and Influence, at the Bryant Lake Bowl on Sunday the 24th at 12pm. Garay will be joined by BodyCartography Project (Olive Bieringa & Otto Ramstad) and Kenna Camara-Cottman, on a panel moderated by Justin Jones. Admission is free; reservations are not required.

Feel Like This: Sam Johnson on Luis Garay’s Maneries

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, performance-based artist Sam Johnson shares his perspective on Maneries by Luis Garay in the […]

Photo: Dudu Quintanilha

Photo: Dudu Quintanilha

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, performance-based artist Sam Johnson shares his perspective on Maneries by Luis Garay in the McGuire Theater last night. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

When I enter the theater I am admittedly tired from a very long day. I woke up at six am to teach high school students modern dance, whatever that is. I agreed to write this overnight observation relatively last minute, just a couple of hours before the show, and sitting down I can already feel my nerves, can already feel the way thinking about writing about my experience is altering my own perceptions, is making me more analytical, is heightening my perceptions.

But what is happening on stage? There is nothing on most of the stage. It is dramatically, if blankly lit. Far on stage right there are two figures, one standing and shifting occasionally, the other sitting at a macbook, cords extending on the floor offstage.

I understand these conventions, the performers on stage performing casual, the exposing of the wires and lights of the theater. In my notes I scribble: “the theatricality of no theatricality.” That isn’t quite right, what I really mean is that these feel like signals of what the show will be, the lineage that it will draw from: “it will be about the body, it will be about the present moment, it will be in conversation with contemporary (read: western?) performance.” After the lights go out and the performance proper begins I realize I could read this as an overture, as both a small encapsulation of the entire performance and as a signal of how to view, and where to place, this work.

But before that Philip Bither comes on stage and tells the audience that because of Prince’s death there will be no artist meet and greet after the show. I jot down: “shadowed by the communal experience of loss.”

The show is a solo dance. One performer moving through various forms, starting in almost darkness and almost stillness (I think there are some spinal undulations going on? But this could just be my eyes adjusting to the low light?), and working through symmetrical gestures, athletic walking and running patterns, sculptural poses, and repeating gestural patterns that accelerate. The dancing is precise, rigorous, and controlled. It is impressive and full. I can get down with the amount of work it must have taken to so specifically embody this material. I can exult in how amazing bodies are, how amazing dancers are.

But as much as the control and precision of the dancing rings my embodied performer bells it also butts up against questions I have about the piece. As I mentioned earlier there is a person sitting towards the perimeter of the stage, which is also often the perimeter of the lit space, on a computer, playing the music. I read this performer as male, and the primary dancer as female. I read the choreographer as male. Throughout the piece the music and the lights frame my viewing experience. The music is either insistently atmospheric or relentlessly rhythmic. It is loud enough that I don’t feel like I can escape it (even when I try to plug my ears, its presence is still there). The lights are crisp and specific. They begin with a low spotlight on the dancer that gradually builds, and then when the dancer shifts to an upstage/downstage walking pattern there is the rectangle of light to frame her (contain her?), and then the movement shifts to take in the whole stage, and before we can register that change there are the lights flashing on and exposing the landscape for the dancer. I can’t help but tie both the music and the lights to maleness. To a male framing of a female body. There was literally a man sitting on stage watching a woman dance the entire time. And this is where the monumental control of the dancing failed me in the dramaturgy of the entire piece. I kept feeling like I was seeing a man seeing a woman. The athletic jogger; the naked, reclining, sculptural nude; the dancing muse. This incessant theatrical framing mediated my response to the performer, to the body on stage. I kept waiting for the moment when I would feel my spine moving in my seat, to feel my neurons firing in response to this beautiful dancing body, but that moment didn’t arrive for me. I kept waiting, too, for the performer to break out of the framing devices. To feel defiant, or messy, or obstinate, or cynical, or broken, or flippant. In retrospect it felt like I was watching the warm up and start of a marathon, but only through mile ten or so. That time when the runners are starting to get tired but are still going strong. I think I craved seeing the end, when the nipples start to bleed and shit is running down legs and the body breaks down in the middle of the road out of exhaustion and joy and pride. I want to know what is after this beautifully constructed dance for this beautifully proficient dancer with these technically immaculate lights and sounds.

As I left the theater I had and overheard casual conversations with several people. I heard at least three people say some variation of: “don’t you want to go the gym after that?” I did want to go to the gym, but I’m not sure if it was because I wanted to feel that way or be seen that way.

Maneries continues in the Walker’s McGuire Theater tonight (Friday, April 22) and tomorrow night (Saturday, April 23) at 8 pm.

Alternate Senses of Tone and Pulse: An Interview with C. Spencer Yeh

For Sound Horizon, our series of free in-gallery music performances, we’ve invited critic and Tiny Mix Tapes editor Marvin Lin to share his perspective on each installment of this three-part program. While his first two pieces were informed responses to work by musicians Mary Halvorson and Vicky Chow / Tristan Perich, he concludes with an in-person […]

C. Spencer Yeh performs at the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw in September 2014. Photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

C. Spencer Yeh performs at the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw in March 2014. Photo: Bartosz Stawiarski

For Sound Horizon, our series of free in-gallery music performances, we’ve invited critic and Tiny Mix Tapes editor Marvin Lin to share his perspective on each installment of this three-part program. While his first two pieces were informed responses to work by musicians Mary Halvorson and Vicky Chow / Tristan Perich, he concludes with an in-person interview with Sound Horizon 2016’s final artist, C. Spencer Yeh, who performs three sets on April 28.

C. Spencer Yeh is one of my favorite artists, but I’ve always had difficulty recommending his music to newcomers. Not because I don’t think they’d like it, but because his reach is so broad, his skill set so expansive, his conceptual inquiries so varied that plucking just one or even a few examples from such a rich body of work is inherently incomplete. In fact, the work I’d feel compelled to recommend most would actually be a fleeting live set at the End Times Festival (curated in 2006 by Minneapolis hero Matthew St-Germain), at which the very heart of the world erupted impossibly out of Yeh’s mouth through a simple setup of microphone and electronics, opening my eyes to the seemingly infinite possibilities of the voice while reducing me to a complete sobbing mess.

I first came across C. Spencer Yeh in the early 2000s. At that time, Yeh was still making a name as Burning Star Core, a constantly-shifting, ever-evolving project that quickly amassed a daunting heap of albums, CD-Rs, cassettes, and more. But while the project was often heard in the context of the then-burgeoning neo-noise scene, Burning Star Core’s fearless adventures into musique concrète, drone, and psychedelia, coupled with Yeh’s frantic, idiosyncratic use of violin—the instrument that has largely articulated his modus operandi—made the whole project feel much more than just an anomaly within an oftentimes suffocating, reified framework.

In fact, Yeh has spent a lot of the last decade proving as much. While Burning Star Core is currently in hibernation, the Taiwan-born, New York-residing artist has since become a key solo artist and ensemble player in a variety of compositional and improvisational settings, collaborating with everyone from Paul Flaherty, Weasel Walter, and Nate Wooley to Okkyung Lee, Colin Stetson, and Tony Conrad (RIP). But it’s his solo works and performances that have best captured what he’s all about (as much as he can be “about” something), which include such ideas as sound as gesture, genre as compositional opportunity, and amplification as instrument, with physical and conceptual investigations into texture, narrative, and disassociation. Whether it’s through crafted albums like Solo Violin (Tone Filth, 2007), pop experiments like Transitions (De Stijl, 2012), or incredible vocal workouts like Solo Voice I-X (Primary Information, 2015), Yeh has expanded not only the sonic and performative possibilities of voice, violin, and electronics, but also what kind of feelings they can evoke, what kind of sensualities they can take on, what kind of provocations they can incite.

Covers for C. Spencer Yeh's In the Blink of an Eye / Condo Stress (De Stijl Records, 2011), Transitions (De Stijl, 2012), and Solo Voice I-X (Primary Information, 2015)

Covers for Burning Star Core’s Challenger (Plastic Records, 2008), C. Spencer Yeh’s Transitions (De Stijl, 2012) and Solo Voice I-X (Primary Information, 2015)

Ahead of his April 28 performance to cap off this year’s Sound Horizon series, Yeh takes time out of his busy schedule to talk music, art, and film, the latter of which he studied at Chicago’s Northwestern University and has explored through installations and video work. His answers are as thoughtful and stimulating as his art, with grace, humor, and so little ego that it’s no surprise that one of his conceptual inquiries involves his own physical disappearance.

Marvin Lin: You’ve talked about horizontal composition versus vertical composition in the past. Can you speak about how these modes play out in your art?

Spencer Yeh: In sound and music, I often think about these modes in terms of improvisation and the idea of avoiding the usual arcs or peaks or ways in which these things play out. Thinking about the idea of walking into a situation that’s already in progress and however long you may wish to engage with it, and being able to walk away without a resolution or ending (climax, stop, applause) to commemorate or validate the experience. This isn’t to say one way is better than another, because certainly something more horizontal, like A to B, presents its own frame and challenges to have fun with. However, it’s interesting to enter into an improvised music situation thinking that you’d already begun performing and that when you end, the music and sound will go on without you.

In the case of an installation, the reader may spend only a few seconds to a few hours with a work, so maybe the idea is to create a sort of vibe where the idea or experience is communicated relatively instantly. One can get deeper into the experience, spending more time with it—if the work is “good,” of course. But, putting that aside, one could consider the open-ended ability of a reader within an “art” context to be as constricting as a horizontal presentation (concert, screening)—I don’t consider it compromising, but rather having to think about engagement differently. I think about this in my personal attempts over the years to engage with narrative film in this nonlinear way, which I’ve had difficulty with—the idea that someone would want to just crack a beer and watch their “favorite scene” in Goodfellas or something, and have that experience be that. Though that gets into the idea of a complete work becoming these smaller units and therefore new shorter works with their own trajectory (thinking again about how “favorite movie scenes” get propagated far beyond their original context and become the more popularly known iteration of the original).

Still from C. Spencer Yeh's Travelogue: Cairo Egypt

Still from C. Spencer Yeh’s Travelogue: Cairo Egypt, 2015

So, this recent video work of mine Travelogue: Cairo Egypt had been screened a few times in its current form, a 30-minute video in four parts, A to B to C to D. However, the way those parts were set up and realized could easily become vertical—and effective, I think. Likewise, with the Solo Voice I-X record, ideas from that have been presented in installation environments recently and [that format] perhaps better realizes the ideas behind them. I’m thinking mostly the A-side, where you have these demonstrations of the ideas that are ideally free from duration because I’ve talked about removing the “brackets” around a phrase or voice. The modulations and variations within each vocal mode are part of realizing the idea effectively and aim to keep things from being too boring and looped: the installation may take 10 minutes before it loops, but you can get the gist within a minute or so. If you wanted to drive yourself crazy, you can hang around longer.

Lin: In your music, you’ve played with disassociation, and in your film work, you’ve played with the repurposing of cultural references. What interests you about disassociation and appropriation?

Yeh: I’ve spoken before about my disinterest in the act of appropriation as a political act instantly in-and-of-itself, but I should clarify that I wouldn’t consider myself, or my work, apolitical. It’s just that that isn’t the exclusive driving force behind working with existing or found material. I’m definitely interested in how works are put together, how visual and audio language are constructed, what expectations are fulfilled from the audience’s side—tropes, genres, narrative, what’s considered “abstract”—all that. But, I don’t think my work is about those concerns exclusively. I’m curious what the next step is in accepting appropriation as just another strategy to be folded into whatever we consider “original” strategies. I’d like to think that inquiry is just another lane of dialogue to play within, another element to consider. I think it’s funny when a politician appropriates some rock jam for their rally, and it just feels so off. I think it’s funny that for your kid’s birthday party you can take a snippet from The Revenant or whatever spectacle that cost millions to create and throw it into your budget iMovie video. I wish there was a word other than “funny” to best describe the feeling of something that elicits many emotions, oftentimes conflicting.

In the case of my Spectacle Theater movie trailers, it’s actually more interesting for me to think about the mode of being “within” the cultural references, to attempt to work within our own guidelines as well as the tradition of movie trailers, which has always been sensational and disruptive, and taking liberties with the original material and the promotional mission at hand. I hesitate to declare them all “improvements,” because of course they’re created under circumstances designed to encourage rough and weird results; it’s a particular texture and cadence for an intended audience, but the movie trailer form is accessible to most.

C. Spencer Yeh's trailer for the Spectacle Theater screening of American Hunter

C. Spencer Yeh’s trailer for the Spectacle Theater screening of American Hunter (1988)

Lin: Since you started making music, the predominant conception of the ever-nebulous term “avant-garde” has changed, as it always does. Do you feel any particular affinity with or antagonism toward narratives like these? Is there a narrative or lineage that you feel a part of or at home within?

Yeh: I guess I understand the function of these terms in various conversations, but at the same time find them to be difficulties that you can bend some thoughts on. I suppose I’ve been wrestling with this “sound art” term for a while, and it can get antagonistic on my end, but perhaps that’s because it’s also fun and thought-provoking to push against these things. Like, you could say “freak folk” to someone, and while they may cover their ears and run, they’ll know generally what you mean. I don’t think “avant-garde” immediately connects me to others who say those things any more than “mouthfeel” connects oatmeal to bacon. Maybe that isn’t a decent metaphor. Rather, maybe it’s a certain enthusiasm or belief in whatever it means to proclaim yourself a particular thing or part of a particular idea. I do think I’m within a lineage and/or narrative, but I’m not sure exactly what that is any more than perhaps those who helped define and expand that zone. I fucking hate the term “foodie,” for instance, but I’m also curious why I hate it so much. I’m not in denial that I enjoy a good meal. Maybe it’s something to do with the idea that if you appreciate food, then you certainly must believe in or practice certain things—like having a table at Noma being just the ultimate goal. I think it would be annoying if I were asked what I did by someone maybe not in the dialogue, and me [in response] being all squirrelly and weird about terms instead of just coming out and saying “experimental.” At the same time, your “experimental” is not my “experimental,” but I understand what it is about having to organize the world, at times. Maybe it’s just a sense of worth and currency, of privilege that is expected when someone proudly declares their work “avant-garde” that I can find troubling.

Lin: Much of your music is partly defined, if not in opposition to, then at least in the absence of conventional melody and rhythms. Even the reception for the uncharacteristically pop-driven Transitions was partly defined by this relationship. Do you feel like melody and rhythm still inform what you do and how you approach your music? When there’s no audience in front of you, what role do they play in your life?

Yeh: In the past, when there was no audience in front of me, I felt freer to play around with these elements, despite whatever was going on in the scene, which is how some Burning Star Core works got developed, and maybe why at first they were snuck out in limited runs (thinking about Wildcats or Amelia). I would say my music isn’t in opposition to conventional melody and rhythm so much as it is trying to achieve alternate senses of tone and pulse—these alternate senses are perhaps niche popularly, but they can be just as fulfilling and sensual and meaningful as it is for some people to hear an Aerosmithian jam. Things get weak when conventional melody and rhythm becomes like mayonnaise, and Mom panics that whatever “weird” non-conventional dish she’s making may not be pleasing to the guests and throws mayonnaise on top of everything. You know what I mean? A really spicy Thai papaya salad isn’t being made solely to give the finger to a Caesar salad, with or without grilled chicken on top.

Burning Star Core live

Burning Star Core performs live at New York’s Club Rehab, January 2008. Photo: Nikki Sneakers

The Transitions record—speaking of appropriation earlier—was partly a function of being curious how the music works and thinking about how I could construct something similar. However, that’s being done on an expert level by people fully working within the pop world and industry, and sometimes to dazzling results. For me, a lot about the project was also seeing what would happen if I put myself in a situation where I had the means to record a pop or songs record, just to see what would come out—a situation not dissimilar to the creation of vanity or private press records I felt inspired by. So on one hand, it was a bit of a detached exercise in looking at a process of creating songs and albums, but on the other hand, it was an engaged, almost psychoanalytic exercise. Like, what personal event am I writing cryptic lyrics about? I felt fully invested in those aspects, as well as trying to write something that I thought fun to listen to.

I’ve been thinking lately about what the model is for what ties together all these efforts, in sound, music, video, etc., and one thing I came up with was that I was creating in this backwards sense. Like, I came up a consumer, writing my own logical and emotional connections and systems from whatever I devoured—imagining, say, I encountered these formative works in some kind of future where our current histories and methods aren’t available. So I would go about figuring out how to achieve these results when all the available information was on the same level—like not having a sense of what the priority would be (most would instruct first that you should learn your instrument, right?).

Lin: A lot of what you do nowadays has continuity with your early work, but mythology and mystery seem to have receded into the background. Do you feel like they still factor into what you do these days? Why might that have changed?

Yeh: Basically, I started seeing terms like “personal mythology” popping up more frequently in many descriptions and text, and so I began to feel numb towards using such terms myself. The next step was then wondering what the heck I meant by using that term in the past—and I didn’t really have a good answer. I knew what it was supposed to do, which was hint towards this whole other system of thought and symbols and stories that I wasn’t willing to tell. No one I knew really seemed to be reading into and making connections about the bits of “personal mythology” that were scattered through recordings, track titles, etc., and it became clear to me that I didn’t really know what I was doing with all that in the end. But you run into that a lot—this intentionally obscuring thought that somehow that was exciting and alluring for an audience. You can wait around in the rain outside of a clubhouse for only so long before you wise up. It felt like some smoke and mirrors shit, and I had become increasingly bored or irritated with myself and this idea of not having to explain anything or to be able to talk about the work I was trying to do. Instead of keeping things mysterious and exciting, it felt unfocused and noncommittal, but I could get away with it by just waving “personal mythology” in the air. So I became more interested in trying to find connections between what I was trying to do musically and sonically, and also with other mediums, and in the process I found it led to more interesting narratives, which in turn led to even more stimulating thoughts that achieved what the past “myth and mystery” thing was attempting. All this being said, I do think there were some solid ideas at work in the past, and I don’t think that there was any better way to get on with whatever I’m doing now.

C. Spencer Yeh, 7, 2013

C. Spencer Yeh, 7, 2013

Lin: As sensual as it is, your work seems to spring from philosophical or theoretical frameworks, an investigation of sorts. How do you approach these investigations? Is there anything you’d like to explore that you haven’t yet?

Yeh: Well, one thing a few years ago I decided was to figure out how to basically “not be there” when presenting work. So, some of that goes into video or visual work, some of that goes into composition; it’s for some practical reasons, such as not being able to tour all the time, but it’s also where I find the work heading. Of course, I realize I had done a lot prior by mainly working on studio albums, which arguably is composition. I had tried performing as still as possible, performing obscured from the audience, being a slobbering maniac in front of an audience, etc. But I suppose the difference is that I’d like to go back and try all those again, but with more of an ability to know what I was trying to accomplish and why. To be secure in those decisions. I’m not ready to turn to what may be conventional methods of approach—I’m more interested in taking what may have been intuitively-developed working methods and then thinking about how they could grow or develop relative to themselves. A big part of that was to just accept that I was or wasn’t able to do certain things and finally move on from there. I suppose, though, that the investigation still seems very basic and similar to when I first set out doing stuff, which was creating stuff that I wanted to see and hear, to be a part of a conversation and see what I had to add to it.

In terms of things to explore, hmm, I’d have to break that into specific things. For example, this idea of “drone disco,” a term I’ve used forever; it would be interesting to actually try to fulfill that in this current climate of music. It would be a challenge to try to do another Burning Star Core record, to see what that would be like. I’ve been working to see what would happen with a committed investigation into other mediums, to see if there really is any reason for me to be there. Again, maybe these are bases which seemed like I’ve touched, but in the replay you see that maybe I only put a toe or two on.

Still from C. Spencer Yeh's video Baby Birds (2009)

Still from C. Spencer Yeh’s video Baby Birds (2009)

Lin: I’ve seen you play shows big and small, most often with collaborators, and the performances are often wildly different from each other. But in a solo context, you have much more control. Given your range as a performer, how much is your live show determined by the venue or context and how much is guided by your predominant interests at that specific time? What can we expect from your performance at the Walker?

Yeh: For the Walker, as I described to Doug Benidt there, I wanted to imagine that these shifts would be the times I would be allowed to occupy the space, that I have opportunity for any activity from whatever o’clock to whenever o’clock. I would be present and on view, of course, as attempting to obscure that would complicate things in a way I’m not desiring. But this framing helps me think about the verticality we discussed earlier and also pushes me to present performance in a way I usually don’t have the chance to. Thinking that I would start and immediately exist there as one would walking into the gallery in mid-performance. I feel a weight of “performance” expectation, the idea of doing A to C three times, and we’ll see where that goes in terms of how the audience (occupying the space as well) informs the decisions made. For example, if most people are just passing through, then that frees me up to do something less “linear,” something less about having to show all this shit I do within each shift. Maybe the only thing that would be cool would be an ability to just appear and disappear instantly, or to somehow start before any audience walks in. For now, though, I guess I’m aiming for maximum verticality and immersion—which currently would be organized by shift in varying approaches to the voice/violin/electronics formula—and if people would like to listen to the whole thing, they can, and maybe it would be an opportunity to hear the same saw sing differently. Or maybe it would be a passerby getting the impression that my life’s work is to imitate a popcorn maker and a bong.

C. Spencer Yeh performs in the Walker galleries at 6, 7, and 8 pm on Thursday, April 28, 2016.

Talk Dance: Luis Garay on Maneries

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Luis Garay, whose work Maneries will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater April 21-23, 2016.  You can listen to the full podcast on the Walker Channel.   […]

Photo: Courtesy the artist

Florencia Vecino performing Luis Garay’s Maneries.  Photo: courtesy the artist

Talk Dance is a podcast series devoted to in-depth conversations with dance artists produced and hosted by local dancer, educator, and commentator Justin Jones. In this installment, Jones speaks with Luis Garay, whose work Maneries will be performed in the Walker’s McGuire Theater April 21-23, 2016.  You can listen to the full podcast on the Walker Channel 

The title of Luis Garay’s 2009 solo dance, Maneries, is taken from the name of a chapter in philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s 1990 book, The Oncoming Community. “Maneries” is a concept that reconciles, as summarized eloquently by Garay in our conversation, “the universal and the particular, which is a big philosophical problem. The solution for [Agamben] is in the examples. For instance, this telephone. When I say ‘for instance,’ we are talking about this telephone in particular and at the same time when I mention an example of this telephone, I am referring to all possible telephones that existed and will exist. So an example is at the same time universal and particular.”

After our interview I went to Agamben’s text and found this passage which I think speaks to Florencia Vecino’s breathtaking performance of Garay’s solo:

…a manner of rising forth; not a being that is in this or that mode, but a being that is its mode of being, and thus, while remaining singular and not indifferent, is multiple and valid for all.

Watching a shaky documentation of the solo, I sense Florencia resisting the performance of recognizable states of being, and effort-fully inhabiting each second of each movement, in each moment. The movement at once hints to a furiously changing inner life, and is yet devoid of personality of affect. She achieves a performance that, like Agamben states, is singular in its stark presentation of a body in extreme exertion, and yet, like a cartoon face without distinct features, allows for projection and connection. Particular and Universal.

The performance is generated anew each time through a complex series of rules followed by Florencia. Garay gave some examples:

For instance, when you’re getting close to the meaning of one form, you should avoid it… We work with the body as a writing machine. So, when that writing is getting, is making sense, she has to avoid that and turn another way for instance.  But that, its a complex system. ‘Complex’ means that there are many rules at the same time. For instance, at the same time… she has to write information in the space with [her] upper body… [and write] different information with her legs… Another rule could be that she has to contradict herself, whatever that means… So, I think all the building of these rules are just trying to put her in a state in which she’s creating her own problems.

Beyond that, we talked about his love of David Lynch films (“strange, dark, mysterious energy”), his connection to the visual artists in his home city of Buenos Aires, how he started dancing (an inability to read and sing in Finnish), and about the value of Art. It was a fascinating conversation.

Maneries has had a long life for a dance work. It premiered in 2009 and has toured on and off again for seven years. Garay mentioned that he looks back to this piece like an “oracle… a resource to understand my own work.” He went on to say that, “the piece is speaking to me about the things that I wanted to do in other pieces and in the future… I always go back to it to understand the other pieces that I’ve done.” I look forward to visiting the oracle, Maneries, to peer into the future of Garay’s fascinating work.

Upcoming Opportunities for Choreographers

Momentum: New Dance Works 2017 Proposals are now being accepted for Momentum: New Dance Works 2017. This long-standing annual dance series provides innovative emerging choreographers support for artistic development and a professional presentation of a new evening-length work. Since 2001, Momentum has highlighted Minnesota’s groundbreaking contemporary dance artists–many of whom are now nationally and internationally recognized–and […]

Momentum 2015. Photo: Alice Gebura

Broken by Luke Olson-Elm, Momentum 2015. Photo: Alice Gebura

Momentum: New Dance Works 2017

Proposals are now being accepted for Momentum: New Dance Works 2017. This long-standing annual dance series provides innovative emerging choreographers support for artistic development and a professional presentation of a new evening-length work. Since 2001, Momentum has highlighted Minnesota’s groundbreaking contemporary dance artists–many of whom are now nationally and internationally recognized–and marks artists in the Twin Cities as some of the nation’s most vibrant cultural producers. Momentum seeks applications from choreographers working in all styles, aesthetics, and approaches who represent contemporary dance in the world today. Performances are July 13-15 & July 20-22, 2017.

Proposals are due Monday, May 2, 2016 by 5:00 pm. There is a Public Information Session on Monday, April 25 at 3:30 pm (during the Monday Night Grant Circle meeting) in the Cowles Center’s Target Education Studio, 2nd floor. Click here for more information and eligibility requirements.

Momentum: New Dance Works is presented by the Cowles Center for Dance & The Performing Arts in partnership with the Walker Art Center and the Southern Theater, with support from the Jerome Foundation.

pa2015ce_Fire Drill Performing Arts; Performances; Dance. Choreographers Evening, November 28, 2015, McGuire Theater. Curated by Justin Jones, local dancer/choreographer/sound designer/teacher and all-around innovator. Featured choreographers are DaNCEBUMS, Vie Boheme, Ea Eckwall, Fire Drill, Kathie Goodale, jestural, Pedro Pablo Lander, Angelique Lele & Cary Bittinger, Tom Lloyd & Craig VanTrees, Dolo McComb, and Jeffrey Wells. From established dancemakers forging new ideas to the scene’s youngest and brightest, Choreographers’ Evening has, over the course of 40-plus years, become an honored rite of passage in Minnesota dance circles. Photo by Alice Gebura for Walker Art Center, Minneapolis

Novelty Shots: A Political Fantasy (excerpt) by Fire Drill, Choreographer’s Evening 2015. Photo: Alice Gebura

Choreographers’ Evening 2016

The revered conglomeration of Minnesota dance artists will be back this year for its 44th installment. Choreographers’ Evening 2016 will be presented at the Walker Art Center on Saturday, November 26. The call for submissions is extended to all Minnesota-based choreographers and choreographic collaborations. Curated each year by a leader in the local dance scene, Choreographers’ Evening exposes the unique yet vast approaches to dance and performance by a plethora of artists. Be on the lookout for the announcement of this year’s curator and audition dates!

Transcending Language: Chris Strouth on Kid Koala’s Nufonia Must Fall

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer, producer, writer, and filmmaker Chris Strouth shares his perspective on Kid Koala’s […]

Kid Koala and the Cecelia String Quartet performing Nufonia Must Fall in the McGuire Theater, April 2, 2016. Photo: Jayme Halbritter Photography

Kid Koala and the Cecelia String Quartet performing Nufonia Must Fall in the McGuire Theater on April 2, 2016. Photo: Jayme Halbritter Photography

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, composer, producer, writer, and filmmaker Chris Strouth shares his perspective on Kid Koala’s Nufonia Must Fall at the Walker Art Center last weekend, a performance copresented by the SPCO’s Liquid Music series. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

There are things that can’t really be described, in part because we don’t have a language that can accurately explain what it is that we have witnessed. Nufonia Must Fall is one of those things.  The simple explanation is to say it is “a motion comic animated in real time with a live soundtrack.” I fear that is about as descriptive as calling War and Peace an adventure story.

It might be easy to pigeonhole Kid Koala (Eric San). Musically he was an architect of the new alternative hip-hop/turntablist movement of the late ’90s, with a discography that is chock full of some of the high water marks of the cove where pop, rock, art, and hip-hop meet. He’s worked with Gorillaz, Peeping Tom, and Handsome Boy Modeling School and has his own bands like Deltron 3030 and Loveage. But then there is Kid Koala the author/illustrator of two graphic novels; this show, Nufonia Must Fall, is based on his 2003 book of the same name.

The live version of Nufonia Must Fall is hard to put neatly into one category: is it a film, a concert, a play, a dance? Or is it secretly a Charlie Chaplin silent film reimagined for the post-nuclear age? The story is as deceptively simple as it is ancient, though with a decidedly modern twist: robot meets girl, robot gets girl, robot loses girl, robot goes on vacation with girl. But it’s done in a way that if it doesn’t pull on your heart strings a little, you might be the one who is the robot.

The stage is set with Kid Koala upstage right with enough musical hardware to make Kraftwerk feel a little insecure. He is joined upstage left by the Cecilia String Quartet. The rest of the stage is filled with a number of small sets, four cameras, and a small army of puppeteers, cameramen, and the like, with the results of their action shown on a large screen at the back of the stage. But this basic description doesn’t come close to describing the joy of seeing magic as it’s performed and the magician’s perspective at the same time. It’s a process that serves as a metaphor for the piece itself: extraordinarily complicated but made to seem easy, almost effortless. That is one of Kid Koala’s gifts.

Puppeteers in Kid Koala's Nufonia Must Fall in the McGuire Theater, April 2, 2016. Photo: Jayme Halbritter Photography

Nufonia Must Fall puppeteers during the performance. Photo: Jayme Halbritter Photography

What makes Nufonia Must Fall really connect is that it never feels precious or dainty. It’s accessible but not cloying, smart but not pretentious. It’s the craftsmanship of an old master handled with the informality of a neighborhood shopkeeper.  It’s an attitude that takes the big invisible wall that lives between the first row of the audience and the stage and tears it down, Berlin-style.

One could argue Kid Koala is a postmodern Charlie Chaplin. More than just a performer, he becomes the architect of the experience, an auteur in the truest sense of the word. Only his version of Chaplin’s Little Tramp is a tape machine robot, always recording but not always experiencing: a piece of out of date technology we can all identify with deep down inside, a robot that is the most human.

This might be kindled from one man’s imagination, but it feels like the full group collaboration that it is. The direction by K. K. Barrett is imaginative and fun and gives real fulfillment to the idea of the motion comic. It’s handled with such subtlety and skill that it makes the whole production feel as though it’s unfolding for the first time.

Like Chaplin’s best work, Nufonia is a story that transcends language. Simple and direct, the work does not have to be seen as a metaphor, despite working as one. And that is one of its points of genius: it can be savored just as an experience, or as something more profound. The viewer simply takes from it what they would like.

In spite of Kid Koala being a musician, this isn’t a piece about the music, per se. The work is more of a digital foley: musical sounds make the soundtrack for his city, the melodic heavy lifting provided by the Cecilia String Quartet.  Never are more notes used then needed; this simplicity reinforces the sheer overall charm of the piece.

It would be so easy for this story to fall into the trap of being filled with an overblown sense of self-importance or preciousness, given the puppets and animation. Instead, the honesty of Nufonia washes away any and all pretense, and connects to our inner kid. It allows us something so rare in art today: to have a sense of wonder and delight, while at the same time pushing boundaries of stagecraft and form, all in an environment that encourages the audience to let go of intellectualism and just enjoy it. I for one had started to forget that art could be delightful… Thank you for the reminder.

Rock the Garden 2016 Lineup: The Flaming Lips, Chance the Rapper, Poliça, and more

On Tuesday, April 5, the Walker and 89.3 The Current announced the lineup of Rock the Garden 2016. Due to construction at the Walker, this year’s concert will be held on Saturday, June 18, 2016 at Boom Island Park in near Northeast Minneapolis, and will feature two alternating performance stages for our eight amazing bands. We liveblogged the announcement […]

RTG16 cover photo text

On Tuesday, April 5, the Walker and 89.3 The Current announced the lineup of Rock the Garden 2016. Due to construction at the Walker, this year’s concert will be held on Saturday, June 18, 2016 at Boom Island Park in near Northeast Minneapolis, and will feature two alternating performance stages for our eight amazing bands. We liveblogged the announcement all morning, and you can see the entire list of bands below, along with a few fun facts about them.

BUY TICKETS HERE.

For more updates, follow the action on Twitter at @walkerartcenter@RockTheGarden, and @TheCurrent, and make sure to RSVP on Facebook.

The Flaming Lips, Oklahoma City

The Flaming Lips. Photo: George Salisbury

The Flaming Lips. Photo: George Salisbury

Chance the Rapper, Chicago

Chance the Rapper. Photo: Zoe Rain

Chance the Rapper. Photo: Zoe Rain

  • Chancelor Bennett has become one of hip-hop’s biggest successes at only 22. He recorded some of his first raps on an outdated laptop used by the 2008 Obama campaign, and he released his breakout 2012 mixtape 10 Day during a ten-day school suspension in his senior year.
  • Chance rode the wave of false-alarms drama surrounding Kanye’s newest record, The Life of Pablo, initially snubbed, then blamed for the record’s tardiness, and finally dropping a triumphant verse on epic opener “Ultra Light Beam.”
  • If The Current ever entered the realm of reality TV, we’d have the perfect pitch: Chance shares an LA residence with electronic artist (and collaborator) James Blake.

Poliça, Minneapolis

Poliça. Photo courtesy the artists

Poliça. Photo courtesy the artists

  • Locals may recognize the name of the group’s most recent LP, United Crushers, from the graffiti on the side of a grain elevator east of the University of Minnesota campus, but it’s an appropriate title to be shared by the album’s eerie, defiant, and politically aware style.
  • Singer Channy Leaneagh and her partner Ryan Olson have another big project in the works: parenthood! Their son Schwa was born in October and is already living the life of a baby rock star, as evidenced by the group’s Instagram.
  • Parenthood and political action collide in the group’s fascinating video for “Wedding,” set in an alternate Sesame Street where adorable puppets talk to children about the realities of discrimination and police brutality.

M. Ward, Portland

M. Ward. Photo: Sarah Cass

M. Ward. Photo: Sarah Cass

  • If the mid-June weather turns less than ideal, it might not phase this artist, whose recent eighth album is called More Rain. The Line of Best Fit called it “a therapeutic record, one where you can see through the darker moments to when the clouds begin to clear.”
  • Ward’s vintage sound comes with his devotion to analog recording. He told Time that every song begins as a demo on the same 4-track recorder he’s been using since his teens.
  • Many may be more familiar with Ward as half of She & Him, alongside sitcom sweetheart Zooey Deschanel. The actress cast Ward as a coffee-shop curmudgeon (or maybe just himself?) in a colorful video she directed for the duo, but unfortunately, a role for him on New Girl has yet to follow.

Hippo Campus, Minneapolis

Hippo Campus. Photo: Sarah Hess

Hippo Campus. Photo: Sarah Hess

  • Minneapolis’s most recent breakout band have already toured extensively, appeared at festivals like Reading and Lollapalooza, and sold out a headlining show at First Ave. The group’s median age? Around 21.
  • A set at last year’s SXSW caught the eye of a Conan music supervisor, who invited the band to play on O’Brien’s TBS late-night program only days later.
  • Despite the success, the group’s Wikipedia page remains humble: the article makes a point to list the quartet’s “street names” of Turntan, Stitches, Espo, and Beans.

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, Hermann, Mo.

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Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. Photo: Brantley Gutierrez

  • Nathaniel Rateliff and his band have been launched into the spotlight after a Late Night performance of their single “SOB,” a barnstorming country-soul anthem that’s actually a tongue-in-cheek recounting of the singer’s experience with alcohol withdrawal.
  • Among the single’s fans are Britney Spears, who posted a video of her dancing to the video to Instagram. Rateliff responded in kind.
  • Rateliff’s career began upon his move to Denver, but he spent his childhood in Hermann, the “sausage-making capitol of Missouri.”

GRRRL PRTY, Minneapolis

Grrrl Prty. Photo: Kyle Kotajarvi

Grrrl Prty. Photo: Kyle Kotajarvi

Plague Vendor, Whittier, Calif.

Plague Vendor

Plague Vendor. Photo courtesy the artists

  • This LA-area punk quartet just released their sophomore album, BLOODSWEAT, a little over a week ago. It was recorded with engineer Stuart Sikes, who also manned the board for another raucous, gritty garage knockout: the White Stripes’s White Blood Cells.
  • While the group’s name invokes images of pestilence and death, lead singer Brandon Blaine actually attributes it to misreading a Mexican folk tale entitled “Plaque Vendor.” Of course, many can attest that dental plaque can sometimes be just as bad as biblical wrath.
  • When asked what genre the band would classify themselves as, they choose the label “Graveyard Groove.”

BUY TICKETS

Tickets are on sale to Walker and Current members starting today, Tuesday, April 5 at 10 am. Any remaining tickets go on sale to the general public on Wednesday, April 6, at 10 am.

Mark your calendar and make sure that your Walker membership is up to date. Walker/MPR membership ID numbers will be required for all pre-sale purchases.

Walker membership: 612.375.7655 or membership.walkerart.org.

MPR membership: 1.800.228.7123 or mpr.org/support.

Treble—Bright—Daylight Savings: Michael Gallope on Tristan Perich and Vicky Chow

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, musician and assistant professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the […]

Photo: Jayme Halbritter Photography

Photo: Jayme Halbritter Photography

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, musician and assistant professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Minnesota Michael Gallope shares his perspective on the performance by Vicky Chow and Tristan Perich at the Walker Art Center last Thursday, in a concert copresented by the SPCO’s Liquid Music series. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Daylight Savings Time boosts consumerism in the spring and summer months. It provides an extra hour of activity—shopping, eating out, driving, and the like—as opposed to an hour spent sitting at home, where one is economically less productive. This, of course, is the critical view; one can avail oneself of nostalgias and affirmations of all sorts that celebrate the metaphysics of backyards, the grand passage of the seasons, the poetry of long walks and dinner with sunlight, the slowed appreciation of a great cosmic rhythm.

Tristan Perich’s music made this extra hour resonate. In 1953, philosopher Susanne Langer wrote: “music spreads out time for our direct and complete apprehension, by letting our hearing monopolize it—organize, fill, and shape it, all alone.” On March 24, 2016, at 7 p.m. in the Cargill Lounge at the Walker, Perich’s Surface Image filled—spread out—the extra hour of the eleventh day of Daylight Savings Time with a downpour of hypnotic patterns. The composition is scored for pianist Vicky Chow who performed a duet with 40 channels of synthesizer playback. Chow’s piano and Perich’s synths projected a bright, high beam of minimal counterpoint in boundless arrays and combinations. It was big and affirmative, immersive; most of it is at the highest register—treble to the maximum. After twenty minutes or so, it accustomed the ear to highness, saturating one’s body with a hallucinatory flux of metallic, impersonal forms.

Perich will live only at the apex. His sounds seem to resist us like the sun resists us, as it beams in with all its power. Plato’s Socrates saw the sun as a metaphor for the truth of being qua being, though communion with its absolute heights was painful and disorienting. Nietzsche’s Zarathustra came down from a mountain and wondered: What would the sun do without us? As we heard an extra hour of sunlight as music between 7:00 p.m. and 8:10 p.m., the blazing longevity of the sun’s flames were both for us, and not for us. And like the sun, Perich’s Surface Image is not music that can be consumed and apprehended as an object. It was a vast column of patterns cast down all around us—a solar torrent, where one’s stamina becomes central to the aesthetic experience.

Photo: Michael Gallope

Do we matter amidst the towering architecture of Surface Image? Can we keep up? The actual sunset occurred halfway through the piece, at 7:31 p.m. The light through the massive gallery windows shifted to blue. Twilight set in at its conclusion. An encompassing solar cycle, made vivid by an extra hour of idle surplus, drew music toward us, even as its bright substance remained inhuman and mechanical. Surface Image was a twisted and dialectical event, a fabric of sound that connected an extra hour of economically productive consumption and pleasure to the enduring rhythmic beams of the sun. But there was no hidden significance or secret to its operations; it was empty, open, ecstatic.

Technical details and the metaphysics of numbers are recurrent themes in Perich’s ideas about music. Though instead of the age-old harmonics of Pythagoras, Perich prefers modern research by Alan Turing and Kurt Gödel in the field of theoretical computation. He is an accomplished practitioner of “1-bit” music that is exemplified by polished, homemade circuitry. Notwithstanding what may appear to be an art clothed largely in technical detail, listeners to Perich’s music discover in short order that his formalism is first and foremost exuberant. It sounds something like a child’s toy Casio with its tempo knob dialed to the maximum. It has a big impact, but in the long arc of its form, it conveys what appear to be expressive gestures, woven harmonies, counterpoint.

In the 1960s, the early minimalism pioneered by Philip Glass and his ensemble created an immersive spectacle, its audience occasionally splayed out on the floor. A gallery performance of Perich’s hypnotic Farfisa-like downpour of laser sound has a similar vibe (I sat on a cushion on the floor). Toward the center of the space, the lone live performer of Surface Image—pianist Vicky Chow—expertly performed his score to a DIY-custom-fabricated digital clock that read out passing measure numbers. In synchronicity with the electronics, Chow played minimalist modal patterns—quite stunning in their harmonic palette—with a rhythm that was incessant, remarkably synchronized, variously fluttering and hammering.

In a gallery upstairs, piano destruction was the subject of a video installation by German artist, Andrea Büttner (a brilliant mash-up of Fluxus destructions of pianos into four channels of video) that comments upon a larger shift in cultural tastes away from this once-ubiquitous musical machine of the nineteenth century. Yet Surface Image revalues the piano for a post-Fluxus age. Chow played the Walker’s polished Steinway with a painterly sensitivity. In fact, elements of the composition could feel at home in the nineteenth century. At 7:25 p.m., six minutes before sundown, Chow broke into an etude-like solo, an athletic chain of notes that required olympic stoicism. The circulating melodies, woven between two-hands, sounded both childlike and expressive, and contained shaded detail. Every line was made to sing, even if the sounds were more like rectangles and dots, not voices. At its core, it was a virtuoso’s shred session, a reconstruction and a sampling of the tradition of Liszt, Alkan, and Sorabji, and earned her an old-fashioned standing ovation. But its meaning was post-human and architectural in the soundscape of 1-bit polyphony. She was the heroic messenger of the ceremony, and gave the torrents a sense of ethical focus.

Photo: Michael Gallope

Photo: Michael Gallope

The last third of the piece plunged in register a few times, in rhythm with the setting sun. Around 7:48 p.m., a low drone emerged like a laser. It sounded like a bassoon played on an electric organ, with bright overtones. The sky turned a deep electric blue and the golden gallery lights along the walls delicately lit up. The piano became increasingly expressive. By 8:00 p.m., at twilight, Chow played a nocturne from the piano—impressionistic sonorities—while the synthesizers whirled quiet alarm clock patterns. The expressivity of Perich’s formalism has surprised some critics. Is all this formalism for the sake of returning to, what Glass once called “another look at harmony?” Of being able to lull oneself in a gorgeous sequence of chords? Millennials don’t understand the death of tonality in the same way. Perhaps there are just forgotten or latent potentials beneath the minimal experiments of the 1960s and 70s. Surface Image is a minimalism revisited, perfected, or put on hyper-drive in a way that aims to supersede its forbears.

There were over a hundred people packed into the Cargill Lounge. Some, predictably, trickle out as exhaustion sets in and the loose gallery space lets everyone meander. During gaps of loud volume in Surface Image, the crowd noise of the galleries would rush in unexpectedly from behind the seated audience. We realized, by point of contrast, the immense din that these towers of sound set in motion—these patterns were everywhere. Surface Image placed a cloak over our ears, and for a moment the humans came back in an echo, as an impersonal crowd with a dull roar. Perich and Chow de-familiarized the space of the gallery.

Sound Horizon 2016 continues with three in-gallery performances by C. Spencer Yeh on Thursday, April 28.

Eerie and Sinister Worlds: RONiiA on Their New, Walker-Inspired EP

The Minneapolis-based trio RONiiA—Fletcher Barnhill (Joint Custody, FUGITIVE), Nona Marie Invie (Dark Dark Dark, Fugitive), and Mark McGee (Father You See Queen, Marijuana Deathsquads)—will release a new EP, Sisters, this Friday, March 25. Filled with richly atmospheric music, it derives its hypnotic power through its intricate dance between subtle intimation and emotional verve. On tracks […]

RONiiA

The Minneapolis-based trio RONiiA—Fletcher Barnhill (Joint Custody, FUGITIVE), Nona Marie Invie (Dark Dark Dark, Fugitive), and Mark McGee (Father You See Queen, Marijuana Deathsquads)—will release a new EP, Sisters, this Friday, March 25. Filled with richly atmospheric music, it derives its hypnotic power through its intricate dance between subtle intimation and emotional verve. On tracks like “Hell,” lead singer Invie’s hazy vocals seem to float, disembodied, over the noirish synthscapes created by her bandmates. In a word, this music is cinematic, which should come as no surprise to anyone who witnessed the members of RONiiA perform their Walker-commissioned original score to the silent film classic The Adventures of Prince Achmed last summer.

The band’s experience with that project has informed their latest music in ways both direct and indirect. I asked the members of RONiiA about their new EP and its relationship to their 2015 Summer Music and Movies score.

Mark Mahoney: Mark, the last time I spoke with you, you were preparing to debut your film score to the silent film The Adventures of Prince Achmed, a project also featuring Nona and Fletcher Barnhill of RONiiA. What kind of impact has that project had on your work together since then?

Mark McGee: Most of the songs were heavily influenced by the score I wrote for the Walker. The song “Hell” developed purely from the score, adding lyrics to it later. “Sisters” was another song that I used most of the drum sounds and synths from the score, and we developed a more structured song out of it. Working on soundtracks is something we are all super interested in, and this project allowed us a break from the heavy tour schedule we had earlier that year. There’s no doubt the project helped us to explore new sounds and textures that we probably never would have used if we had just written an album without that experience.

Mahoney: Your band name was inspired by another fantasy film: Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter. There seems to be an element of (sometimes dark) fantasy running through your music. Do you see parallels between these films and your music?

Fletcher Barnhill: No doubt. We based our project off the character from the Astrid Lindgren novel. In the book, Ronia embodies a wild spirit who makes her own way through the world and we try to celebrate that theme in the music.

Mahoney: The three of you each come from different corners of the Twin Cities creative music scene. How do you reconcile the wide array of influences you all bring to the table? Is the strategy to find common ground, constructive difference, or to go somewhere else entirely?

Barnhill: As lovers of all types of musics, it is really a blessing to be able to work with artists who aren’t exactly on the same trip as you. Our styles balance each other out, and we each bring different strengths to the table. That being said, we found out from the start that we have a real chemistry together when it comes to writing. The outcome is really a blend of our experience and our excitement about crafting songs.

Mahoney: When you’re writing and working out the music, do you tend to start with smaller ideas and build on them, or do you start from a more formal conception of the piece?

Barnhill: We have different approaches on a song-to-song basis, but one that works well for us is writing a song and then testing it out a bunch on tour before recording the final version. The song “run” came together that way and we have some new new material right now that is going through the same process. Be on the lookout for RONiiA Mixtape Vol. III.

RONiiA (Fletcher Barnhill, Nona Marie Invie, and Mark McGee). Photo: Serene Supreme

RONiiA (Fletcher Barnhill, Nona Marie Invie, and Mark McGee). Photo: Serene Supreme

Mahoney: What can we expect from the new album? How do you see it in relation to your previous (self-titled debut) album?

McGee: This album has a more direct and raw sound. The vocals are not affected as much and the rhythms are up front and bigger, but the sound of RONiiA is still there. The songs are shorter and more to the point than the previous album.

Mahoney: Were there extra-musical influences or sources of inspiration for the new album? More generally, who outside the world of music has influenced or inspired the band the most?

McGee: I was living in Venice Beach when we made the album. Venice Beach and the canals was a definite influence, at least for me, when writing it. The poverty and super rich all existing together provided an eerie and sinister world for the album to breathe. Nona and Fletcher were dealing with the harsh reality of the Minnesota winter, but really, our environments typically seep through during the writing process.

RONiiA’s Sisters will be released Friday, March 25, following a March 24 release show at Icehouse (Minneapolis). Listen to the full EP here

 

Laurie Anderson at the Fitzgerald Theater: Danny Sigelman on The Language of the Future

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, artist, DJ, musician, and writer Danny Sigelman shares his perspective on Laurie […]

© Laurie Anderson

Photo: © Laurie Anderson

To spark discussion, the Walker invites Twin Cities artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, artist, DJ, musician, and writer Danny Sigelman shares his perspective on Laurie Anderson’s The Language of the Future. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Laurie Anderson has had a long history of performing in the Twin Cities, dating back to 1978 when she first performed at the Walker Art Center.

Having seen her last two performances, Happiness in 2002, and Dirtday! in 2012, it was a welcome chance to hop across the river for Anderson’s always warm and calm ways of storytelling. Her ever-evolving The Language of the Future at the Fitzgerald Theater on Saturday night was another grand opportunity to witness her enlightened masterstrokes of firsthand narrative. Amidst a pulsating resonance of sound that envelops the atmosphere, Anderson places you within a womb of sorts. Allowing your mind to settle, it’s always emotionally moving, simultaneously thought-provoking and humorous.

The audience was welcomed into the Fitz by the faint sounds of birds. Unassuming electronic chirps emanated about, priming the canvas for her stories to unfold for the evening.

In dim light, Anderson approached her station of electronic devices. Pulling out her violin, she conjured up a wash of low, sweeping phrases, further developing space and mood. Subtle fog seemed to fill the air, complementing the visuals of a cityscape behind her.

Anderson eased into what would become a recurring theme of The Language of the Future: her experience as a teenager writing letters to John F. Kennedy about his presidential campaign. Looking for advice from the then-Senator for her campaign for class president, she would begin a correspondence with him that resulted in Kennedy sending Anderson a dozen roses upon her own victory.

Commenting on elections and the process, Anderson pulled the curtain away, concluding with how we inevitably vote for whomever’s story we like best. It was a fitting introduction for the audience who were immediately brought to a personal place from the artist.

Transitioning, Anderson mixed together more synth keyboards and effect washes creating loops of sound. With a heavy echoing violin she plucked staccato patterns, rounding out more electronic blips.

She stayed with her childhood for another story about a failed attempt at flipping into a pool and landing on her back on the concrete and consequently into a children’s hospital. Allowing for reflections on death among her descriptions of the other patients she remembered, she effectively dug into the emotional core of the performance. She eventually reached a comforting resolution for the audience to “always hold onto your story.”

A winter scene of slowly falling snow was soundtracked by desolate sounds with Anderson accompanying her own playing on the violin, creating sparse and deliberate harmonics. Next began a fluctuating series of strummed atmosphere that greeted images of the moon landing and Anderson’s impressions on the ideas of competition in society, the Cuban missile crisis, and and past societal obsessions with the possibility of World War 3.

A story about meeting the Prince of Bali and watching his father’s cremation ceremony on video fed further incantations about death and the afterlife. Woven beautifully together with images of trees and flight, Anderson provided comfort for the listeners, viewing from the position of a bird as she connected the theme of reincarnation.

Advancing to the present, she seemed to be improvising a piece about modern advancements in communication. Describing Google Glass and some software she created to turn her words into other words, the audience was taken on a brain-melting ride as seemingly random words danced across the screen. Observations on the complex day-to-day multitasking of smartphones and ordering basic items on the internet, Anderson brought laughs on how adults and children’s communication devolves into that “like cavemen”.

Returning to the idea of correspondence with a presidential candidate, her low, modulated voice spoke to current affairs: “Dear Donald Trump, this time of misunderstanding and for profit government […]” She continued with parallels to her past advice from Kennedy and attached his concept of “figuring out what they want and promising it” to sobering effect.

Throughout the performance I couldn’t help but marvel at the flowing of words and the way Anderson creates a stew of sounds with the various devices she employs. Though mostly obscured, her fingers gleefully dance about her keyboard, tablet computer, and laptop all the while reaching for more organic sounds from her electric violin.

Dotting the sonic palette with so many words and stories in various auditorial styles, it’s the time with Laurie Anderson that always strengthens the personal bond you feel with her work after listening to her, entranced in a dream-like state. She creates the deep connection with all these machines and her own mind, taking you for a ride within your own heart and mind.

And then before you know it, the lights and her machines go dark and she’s gone.

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