In: music

On March 3, 2017, Turner Prize-winning photographer (and since 2013, Royal Academician) Wolfgang Tillmans live-premiered his sound, light and musical composition, “Fragile: Wolfgang Tillmans, Tim Knapp, and Jay Pluck,” in the South Tank gallery at London’s Tate Modern. Though this performance was billed online by the Tate as an “open-form music installation” that is “part rehearsal, part performance,” this reviewer experienced the event as more of a hybrid, twenty-first-century happening/sound installation composed of: light, sound, slide projection, video, spectator participation, spoken word, poetry, and original music –all of which were interlaced with political and social commentary relating to current global issues. “Fragile” —a reference to Tillmans’ alter ego— was as an immersive, full-body, and multi-sensory aesthetic and political experience that complemented, and extended, Tillmans’ parallel exhibition of photographs, video, musical, and other works, now also on view (until June 11, 2017) in the Boiler House at the Tate Modern.

Photo: Anke Schulz.

“Fragile” comprises a diverse variety of audio-visual media, including originally-composed, pre-recorded dance club music (perhaps a nod to the Berghain club in Berlin), audio field recordings (e.g., the voice of a Sainsbury’s self-checkout counter, and sounds of a Berlin subway train), a lightshow, dance videos, and photography projected onto the walls of the large, cylindrical space of the South Tank. Just prior to the artists’ appearance on stage, a rainbow-coloured light sculpture appeared in the near-dark space, the individual lights of which began to rotate and bathe the audience, and interior walls of the usually grey, concrete walls of the South Tank, in jewel-tones of light. The rainbow light sculpture seemed to symbolise both the identity of the artist, and that of the LGBTQ community, and Tillmans effectively used it to define the exhibition space as a queer, safe place for collective reflection, political consciousness-raising, and action.

Photo: Anke Schulz.

The full performance of “Fragile” (lasting 100 minutes) featured alternately-played, live and pre-recorded multi-media segments, ranging in length from approximately thirty seconds to ten minutes. Many of the live pieces were performed by Tillmans himself, who —in a departure from his still photography in which he rarely depicts his own image— began to tentatively, and intermittently, occupy center stage. Tillmans’ pieces mixed poetry and song to express his concerns about human rights and other global political, social, and environmental crises.

During the performance, Tillmans was accompanied by deep bass, techno, and house-inspired music played by his bandmates, Tim Knapp and Jay Pluck, as he sang texts, such as:

“Come out, speak out, for your life and for your rights!”

“Because it happened before, it can’t happen again.”

“Twenty-five years ago, I could never have thought that this could have happened.”

“His son had recently been angered by seeing two men kissing.”

Photo: Anke Schulz.

For this reviewer, “Fragile” seemed to articulate several themes of crucial importance to the artist. One of these was the concept of community, which Tillmans created through his all-welcome, free-of-charge admissions policy, and his use of the round, inclusive gallery space of the Tate Modern’s South Tank. A second important theme was LGBTQ and human rights, which Tillmans rightly interprets as subject to massive attack in our contemporary society. Lastly, the performance appeared to have an aesthetic purpose as well, namely to “blur the border between still and motion pictures” —a feat Tillmans successfully accomplished in both his live performance of “Fragile,” and his parallel exhibition at Tate Modern.

Wolfgang Tillmans: 2017 is on view at Tate Modern until 11 June 2017.

It is no secret that music is often a selling point for art exhibitions. From the Museum of Modern Art’s 2015 blockbuster Björk retrospective to the recently closed ‘Stuart Davis: In Full Swing’ show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, which focused on the artist’s Jazz-like techniques; music and art just go together. It’s no wonder then that so many great musicians are also talented artists.

David Bowie

David Bowie’s 1976 painting “Portrait of J.O.”. ©David Bowie.

David Bowie’s 1976 painting “Portrait of J.O.”. © David Bowie.

The late, great, thin white duke was known for for being a jack of all trades; musician, actor, publisher, avid art collector, and, of course, artist. Besides his impressive collection of Modern British art, which was unveiled during the massive three-part ‘Bowie/Collector’ auction recently held by Sotheby’s, Bowie was himself a gifted painter. Studying art and design since his days Bromley Technical High School, the South London native’s work reveals heavy influences from German Expressionism, from his use of primitivistic and esoteric symbols to his haunting self-portraits.

Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono and John Lennon at John Sinclair Freedom Rally, 1971. By Unidentified (Michiganensian is the University of Michigan yearbook published by University of Michigan) (1972 Michiganensian, p. 203) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Yoko Ono and John Lennon at John Sinclair Freedom Rally, 1971. By Unidentified (Michiganensian is the University of Michigan yearbook published by University of Michigan) (1972 Michiganensian, p. 203) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Another subject of a MoMA retrospective, Yoko Ono’s impact on art and music, regardless of your opinions on her, are undeniable (but seriously, she didn’t break up The Beatles). From her influence on her late husband, John Lennon, and the importance of their experimental albums’ for New Wave music, to her ongoing peace activism and solo music career, Yoko has deservedly left a mark on contemporary culture. Collaborating with Fluxus artists from the 1960s, the conceptual multimedia artist has done everything from text-driven instructions -such as her famous Painting to Be Stepped On (1960/61), which invites the audience to step on a piece of canvas on the floor-, to provocative performance art, acting as a pioneer for the medium. Check out an excerpt from Yoko’s iconic Cut Piece (1965) below.


Grimes

Grimes’ Original Album Art for “Visions” 2012. Source: Arbutus Records.

Grimes’ Original Album Art for “Visions” 2012. © The artist. Source: Arbutus Records.

Drawing inspiration from Japanese anime, manga, and comic artists, Claire Boucher, better known by her stage name Grimes, creates strikingly graphic paintings and drawings. Although the 28-year-old synth-pop singer is known for her experimental music -which channels influences from Marilyn Manson and Panda Bear to Yayoi Kusama and The Legend of Zelda-, she also creates all of her album art. In 2012, during the promotion her album Visions, a collection of Grimes’ drawings were featured in an exhibition at the Audio Visual Arts Gallery in Manhattan, where they were auctioned in support of “Sisters In Spirit,” an organization which raises awareness of violence against Aboriginal women.

A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s is currently on view at the Grey Art Gallery, New York University’s fine art museum. The exhibit was drawn from the Charlotte Moorman Archive housed at Northwestern University’s Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections. With more than 300 items on view, ranging from film clips, performance props, musical scores, photographs, audio recordings, and vintage posters, this marks the first major exhibition devoted to a groundbreaking, yet under-recognized figure in the post-war avant-garde.

View of the exhibition "A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s", Grey Art Gallery, New York. Photo: Nicholas Papananias.

View of the exhibition “A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s–1980s”, Grey Art Gallery, New York. Photo: Nicholas Papananias.

Along with works by Moorman, the exhibition includes pieces by some of her frequent collaborators, including Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, John Cage, Takehisa Kosugi, Jim McWilliams, Joseph Beuys, and Giuseppe Chiari, many of whom created works for Moorman to perform. While she is often remembered as Paik’s muse, Moorman -or the “topless cellist,” as she was known- was dedicated to both performing and promoting the innovative work she and her colleagues would create. Moorman later remarked: “With all of my formal training at Juilliard, I feel I know the rules. That’s something that is very important if you are going to break them.”

Vin Grabill, Charlotte Moorman performs Num June Paik’s TV Bra for Living Sculpture on the roof of her loft, 62 Pearl Street, New York, July 30, 1982. ©Vin Grabill.

Vin Grabill, Charlotte Moorman performs Num June Paik’s TV Bra for Living Sculpture on the roof of her loft, 62 Pearl Street, New York, July 30, 1982. ©Vin Grabill.

Born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1933, Moorman began her career as a classically trained musician. After earning an MA in music from the University of Texas at Austin, she moved to New York to study at the Juilliard School of Music while building a career as a freelance classical musician. After attending a concert by fellow Juilliard student Kenji Kobayashi in spring 1961, in which Kobayashi played Cage’s 26’1.1499″ for a String Player a “non-musical” score with sounds of the performer’s choosing-, Moorman began to shift focus. Kobayashi introduced Moorman to the downtown avant-garde arts scene, where composer La Monte Young, artist Yoko Ono, choreographer Simone Forti, and others were experimenting with new interdisciplinary art forms.

Charlotte Moorman performing Jim McWilliams’s Sky Kiss, Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia, April 11, 1976. Unidentified photographer, reproduced courtesy Kaldor Public Art Projects.

Charlotte Moorman performing Jim McWilliams’s Sky Kiss, Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia, April 11, 1976. Unidentified photographer, reproduced courtesy Kaldor Public Art Projects.

Moorman went on to organize fifteen avant-garde festivals from 1963 to 1980 (which are also documented in the show), where she was able to cultivate a strong community of hundreds of artists, filmmakers, dancers, poets, musicians, and festival goers who wanted freedom from the constraints of concert halls, galleries, and museums. Over the years, these festivals migrated from traditional performance venues to public spaces, setting a precedent for future large scale multimedia festivals of this kind.

Charlotte Moorman, Bomb Cello,1965 (left) Bomb Cello, c. 1990 (right) Paint and mixed media on metal, 48 x 10 x 10 in. each Courtesy Sammlung Hoffmann, Berlin.

Charlotte Moorman, Bomb Cello,1965 (left) Bomb Cello, c. 1990 (right) Paint and mixed media on metal, 48 x 10 x 10 in. each Courtesy Sammlung Hoffmann, Berlin.

A typical performance could include playing a cello made from a practice bomb (i.e. non-explosive), frying an egg or mushrooms, drinking Coke, letting air out of a balloon, breaking glass, or reading passages ranging from a newspaper article on the Watergate scandal to instructions on a box of tampons. Combining classical training with pop culture, Moorman once pointed out: “I don’t feel that I’m destroying any tradition. I feel that I’m creating something new.”

As an artist, Charlotte Moorman subverted traditional notions of beauty and society’s obsession with the female form by referencing the very sources from which these notions began. It is nearly impossible to look at images of Moorman performing and not be reminded of classical paintings of inexplicably nude women lying in repose in scenic landscapes.

One of the many highlights of the show is a video of Moorman performing Yoko Ono’s iconic “Cut Piece” in 1982. The artist sits before a large crowd gathered at the roof of her Manhattan loft. The guest, good-spirited and a little drunk, really give the party life. But the occasion is marked by a solemn tone. It takes place only a few days before she was to have a lump in her breast biopsied, three years after having a mastectomy to remove the other breast.

Kenneth Werner, Charlotte Moorman performing Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece with Nam June Paik, Galerie Aachen, Aachen, West Germany, 1966. Chromogenic color print, Charlotte Moorman Archive, Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Libraries.

Kenneth Werner, Charlotte Moorman performing Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece with Nam June Paik, Galerie Aachen, Aachen, West Germany, 1966. Chromogenic color print, Charlotte Moorman Archive, Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University Libraries.

As each guest approaches to cut a piece from her gown, Moorman exhibits her characteristic stoic sensibility and poise, traits that distinguish her as a master of her craft. Barbara Moore, an art historian and friend of Moorman’s, noted that the artist kept all the remaining scraps of clothing from her numerous performances of this work “packed into heaps of shopping bags, the ultimate dossier,” epitomizing her endless dedication to her work. “Don’t throw anything out” were Moorman’s dying words as she succumbed to her illness in 1991 at the age of 57. The result, the Charlotte Moorman Archive, allows us to trace the prolific career of one of the most provocative artists of the 20th century.


A Feast of Astonishments will be on view at the Grey Art Gallery until December 10.

Also on view: Don’t Throw Anything Out: Charlotte Moorman’s Archive, at The Fales Library, Tracey/Barry Gallery, Elmer Holmes Bobst Library, 70 Washington Square South, Third Floor.

Nan Goldin’s The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, arguably her magnum opus, is currently on view at The Museum of Modern Art. The slideshow of nearly 700 images is set to a wide-ranging soundtrack of pop, classical opera, and rock & roll music. The images are of the artist, her circle of friends, lovers, and acquaintances that Goldin affectionately refers to as her ‘tribe’ from the 1970s and 1980s.

Her images are so immediate that you feel as if you are there, in the dive bars and bedrooms of her gritty, real world. By creating The Ballad, Goldin documents the events of her own life and the lives of her friends through images that tell deeply personal stories. Her photographs capture unnerving episodes of addiction, drug abuse, domestic violence, and illness, while simultaneously embodying moments of joy, comedy, youth, ecstasy, and beauty.  Goldin wrote that “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is the diary I let people read. The diary is my form of control over my life. It allows me to obsessively record every detail. It enables me to remember.”

"David and Butch Crying at Tin Pan Alley, New York City" 1981. Silver dye bleach print, printed 2009. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Copyright 2016 Nan Goldin.

“David and Butch Crying at Tin Pan Alley, New York City” 1981. Silver dye bleach print, printed 2009. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Copyright 2016 Nan Goldin.

There are three rooms dedicated to the display of her photographs. The first includes an installation of materials from Goldin’s archive, early promotional objects for the first iterations of the work, and a mock-up of the book The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. The slideshow has been shown on many occasions since Goldin first created it in 1980. Originally, she changed the slides by hand for an audience comprised of mainly her subjects.

"Rise and Monty Kissing, New York City" 1980. Silver dye bleach print, printed 2008. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Copyright 2016 Nan Goldin.

“Rise and Monty Kissing, New York City” 1980. Silver dye bleach print, printed 2008. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Copyright 2016 Nan Goldin.

In the second room there is a selection of prints from the MoMA’s collection that constitute some of Goldin’s most evocative images from the film. They show the artist and her subjects grappling with the realities of physical and emotional abuse, while simultaneously indulging in moments of lust and tenderness. Some standouts include “David and Butch Crying at Tin Pan Alley, New York City,” “Rise and Monty Kissing, New York City,” and “Nan and Bryan in Bed, New York City.” Each of these images feels fiercely candid and intimate, as if the viewer was intruding on an intensely personal moment.

"C.Z. and Max on the Beach, Truro, Massachusetts" 1976 silver dye bleach print, printed 2006. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Copyright 2016 Nan Goldin.

“C.Z. and Max on the Beach, Truro, Massachusetts” 1976 silver dye bleach print, printed 2006. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Copyright 2016 Nan Goldin.

The third room is the slideshow itself, which runs for about 45 minutes with a short intermission. The images are grouped loosely around visual themes, like people in front of a mirror getting ready to go out, uninhibited sex, New York bar culture, drag queens and performers, the weddings of young friends, parenthood and young children, drug addiction and, ultimately, death. The film is scored to an array of musical genres including an aria performed by Maria Callas, the Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” and James Brown’s “It’s A Man’s World.”

"Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City" 1983. Silver dye bleach print, printed 2006. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Copyright 2016 Nan Goldin.

“Nan and Brian in Bed, New York City” 1983. Silver dye bleach print, printed 2006. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Copyright 2016 Nan Goldin.

In the age of social media and advertising, where you can be bombarded by images that are photoshopped, filtered, and staged, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency presents the raw, unedited truth of what Nan Goldin and her subjects experienced in the New York of the 1980s.

The Ballad of Sexual Dependency is on view at the Museum of Modern Art on the 2nd floor Contemporary Art Galleries through February 12th, 2017.

In the decades after the death of George Balanchine (1904-1983), the most prominent and influential choreographer in America during the 20th-century, many in the ballet world did not think that any new choreographers would live up to his creative legacy. Nevertheless, in the new millennia many young choreographers have created new, ground-breaking ballets. The five listed below are a few examples of choreographers who seamlessly integrate the classical language of ballet with modernist aesthetics, while creating fresh and exciting performances for audiences to enjoy. Also, these choreographers often take inspiration from the visual art world, making ballet a much more dynamic art form.

Justin Peck

Justin Peck. Image courtesy of Ballet 422/New York City Ballet.

Justin Peck. Image courtesy of Ballet 422/New York City Ballet.

Justin Peck, a soloist with the New York City Ballet, has become one of the most sought after choreographers in the ballet world. After being appointed resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet back in 2014, he has produced work for the Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Paris Opera Ballet, and the Miami City Ballet. He has also been featured in the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process program. His ballets are positively explosive. The dancers move faster than one might expect, and his work is very musically driven, meaning that almost every musical phrase of the score has a movement accompanying it. He is quite a collaborative choreographer who reaches outside the bubble of the dance world for inspiration. His most recent ballet, In the Countenance of Kings, is set to music composed by Sufjan Stevens, and the set for his piece Heatscape was designed by street artist Shepard Fairey, with the promotional material shot at Miami’s Wynwood Walls. He was the subject of the documentary Ballet 422, which revolves around the creation of his third ballet for the New York City Ballet, from its inception to the opening night.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Photograph by Matthew Karas for Dance Magazine.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Photograph by Matthew Karas for Dance Magazine.

Half-Colombian and half-Belgian, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa trained at the Royal Ballet Academy in Antwerp, Belgium, and performed with a wide variety of European ballet and modern dance companies before working as a choreographer. She has been praised as “the rising star of the Dutch dance scene” by the Dutch press. Her pieces integrate the energy of modern dance in the classical vocabulary of ballet. They can be quite languid, with moments that move between stillness and quick, animated movement. Some of her most recent work has been very athletic, challenging dancers with complicated lifts and floor-work, like in her piece Before After. She has also created works for the musical theatre, for opera productions, and for fashion events. In the United States, her ballet Mammatus premiered at the Joffrey Ballet in 2015, and she is presenting a piece at the New York City Ballet this fall.

Alexei Ratmansky

Alexei Ratmansky. © Andrea Mohin, New York Times.

Alexei Ratmansky. © Andrea Mohin, New York Times.

As the former artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet and current resident choreographer at the American Ballet Theatre, Alexei Ratmansky‘s name has become synonymous for innovation. He has staged his own versions of classic 19th-century story ballets like Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Don QuixoteThe Firebird, and Swan Lake, updating them to make them even more appealing to a contemporary audience. Simultaneously, he is creating entirely new ballets like his Shostakovich Trilogy for the American Ballet Theatre, and has taken inspiration from Wassily Kandinsky’s paintings for the set and costumes of his most recent piece for the New York City Ballet, Pictures at an Exhibition. Ratmansky’s new ballets are usually set to complex pieces of music, which match the intensity and dramatic movement that is so characteristic of his work.

David Dawson

'A Million Kisses to My Skin'. © Costin Radu.

‘A Million Kisses to My Skin’. © Costin Radu.

British choreographer David Dawson trained at the Royal Ballet School and danced professionally with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet. His piece A Million Kisses to My Skin, set to Bach’s Concerto No. 1 in D Minor, is an exuberant ballet with swooping asymmetrical, expansive movements. The Nature of Daylight is a powerfully captivating work about seeking and missing true love, which he conveys through a rapturous pas de deux and a dramatic score by Max Richter. Though the two ballets have very different moods, they are equally athletic, with complicated lift sequences that transition into extensive synchronized passages.

Christopher Wheeldon

'After the Rain'. © New York City Ballet.

‘After the Rain’. © New York City Ballet.

No discussion of contemporary ballet would be complete without mentioning Christopher Wheeldon. The artistic director of the New York City Ballet appointed Wheeldon as the company’s inaugural choreographer in residence in 2001. Wheeldon had trained at the Royal Ballet School in London and performed with the Royal Ballet before moving to New York to be a soloist. Once there, with former principal dancer Wendy Whelan as his muse, he created the ballets Polyphonia, Within the Golden Hour, and After the Rain. Working once again with the Royal Ballet, he produced two full-length ballets –Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Winter’s Tale- and the one-act piece Strapless, based on the story behind John Singer Sargent’s painting Madam X. He has been credited with bringing ballet into the mainstream with his Tony Award-winning choreography of the Broadway musical An American in Paris.

When you ask Americans what’s the first association that pops into their heads when they think about Austria, the “Sound of Music”, with its singing nuns and melancholic captains, probably comes up first. At least every American I ever talked to got pretty excited by the sheer thought of Maria and the children and the bikes and the curtains. The movie was shot on location in Salzburg, Austria, and ever since then, casts it’s shadow over the romantic little town. Buses loaded with hundreds of tourists are guided around the city each day to visit the original shooting locations – Sing Alongs included. Well, who wouldn’t love the opportunity to dance in the gazebo like Liesl and Kurt or ride a bike through the gardens of Schloss Mirabell?

Salzburg’s tourism, however, has profited immensely from the popularity of the movie. But the picturesque, and sometimes – with its clean roads and neatly renovated houses – even fake looking little town, has more to offer. Especially in the summer. Once you’ve seen and heard enough of Mozart and the “hills, that are alive”, you can experience top-notch quality – if you’ve got the “small change”.

Salsburg FestivalThe Salzburg Festival, one of the biggest festivals for classical music, opera and theatre in the world, takes place July and August every year. It gives the culture vultures out there the chance to experience the highest form of culture (and the highest ticket prices) – whereas I got the chance to work there this year. It was an overall exciting time, meeting great artists, actors, directors and a whole crazy bunch of energetic culture freaks. What does one get to see there? Opera (lot’s of it), classical concerts (just as much) and theatre productions. This year, 14 locations around the city were used to stage 188 performances for 262.893 visitors from around the world. But that’s enough with the numbers. What you actually get to experience are plays directed by the most renowned directors of our time like Deborah Warner or Peter Stein, opera stars such as Anna Netrebko or Placido Domingo and musical highlights with solo concerts by the likes of Yo-Yo Ma. Quite impressive stuff. But, as you might imagine reading those big names, the festival is clearly not for everybody. The tickets cost on average 130€, the highest prices ranging around 430€ per ticket. These prices mirror the audience that pays them.

Each night, but especially on premiere nights, luxurious limousines drive up in front of the festival hall and sometimes ravishingly, sometimes not so ravishingly dressed people make their way to the entrance gate. Pictures are being taken and hands shaken. These people are usually quite wealthy and make sure everybody sees that. Whereas many locals have never even attended the festival, also because they can’t afford to. Just as most Austrians haven’t seen “The Sound of Music”, by the way (sorry to disappoint you).

Getting the chance to catch an overall glimpse by working in the production drama office, the summerly happenings in Salzburg reminded me of a circus of the rich and beautiful. But this, nevertheless, should not distract from the fine artistic quality and the cultural delights that are being offered. This year, it was for example Mozart’s opera “Le nozze di Figaro”, Shakespeare’s “Comedy of errors” or Wolfgang Rhim’s modern opera “Die Eroberung von Mexiko” – which was a hit with the critics as well as the audience.

Another great highlight is the annual performance of “Jedermann”, an everyman-play by Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who, together with director Max Reinhardt and composer Richard Strauss, founded the festival in 1920. Since then, the play was performed every year (with a few exceptions, i.g. between 1938-45) on the Dome square, an open-air stage of its own kind. The atmosphere, when the sun begins to sink and dawn sets in, is magical. That’s what theatre is there for, those special moments.

Every day on my way to work, I could hear opera singers practicing behind open windows, trying to reach the highest note possible, saw actors all dressed up for “Mackie Messer”, an experimental version of Brecht’s “Threepenny Opera”, linger around in the sun during their rehearsal breaks, and listened to theatre talk in every restaurant I ate in (especially the Triangel, the place to be for celebrity-sightings). All of this makes this festival truly special and one gets the feeling, that Salzburg, the provincial town in the Alps with its narrow streets, large squares, abbeys and churches, becomes the cultural centre of Europe, or maybe even the world, for those six weeks.

And as cliché as it might sound, the hills then really seem to be alive with the sound of music…

Recently, visiting the Five Myles gallery located on St Johns Place, just off of Franklin Ave, I witnessed a group of young musicians and visual artists converge on a singular opportunity to occupy a space, inviting the viewer to slip into an immersive audio-visual experience. At Five Myles, the group of artists behind the aptly named, “Ashcan Orchestra,” opened up the show; on the main-stage would be what the composer Jonah Rosenberg labeled as an “electro-acoustic chamber opera,” under the title of “Ode to Jackeen.”

Ode to Jackeen, Opera Singer

Ode to Jackeen, Opera Singer

The chamber opera, consisting of four musicians on various instruments, including percussion, flute, acoustic guitar and violin, combines the Ensemble Sans Maître, with the composer’s vision for a performance based on counter-cultural, beat author Kenneth Patchen’s “The Journal of Albion Moonlight.” But, you may ask, a bit facetiously, where does the opera come in? Well, accompanying this tribe of art school experimentalists is a singular feminine figure, tall, lithe and hauntingly evanescent; from this figure, the operatic tremolo issues, charging the entire piece with a shocking Gothic flare of tradition, in the service of a neo-expressionist cacophony. More on this later, but first to give a little more detail on the opening performance and the inspired Five Myles program that makes events like this possible.

Five Myles gallery, as they express in their mission statement online, works with the local community in midtown Brooklyn where they are situated. Local artists and musicians during the summer season are allowed to invade the gallery space with absolutely no charge, putting on unique, experimental performances, exhibits and concerts for anyone who shows up. This is something that they call the “Space Program,” and it was this program that brought this extraordinary group of young artists together.

Ashcan orchestra

Ashcan orchestra.

Now to go into further detail on the opening performance, the Ashcan Orchestra,” takes this traditional label at its very root, to orchestrate, what they achieve is a simultaneous orchestration of sound, light, rhythm and movement. In this performance one first encounters the totemic like structure that they’ve crafted for the show: a cubic piece, rising to around four feet constructed with wood, lights and wire. Around this structure the artists group themselves with a collection of bells, xylophones, toys and objects, and so the sound begins and the lights fire off on the totem like some monstrous traffic light given consciousness. Producing a panoply of dissonant chords, vibrations and notes they build the sound to moments of discomfort, shocking the listener as if to shatter an innocent moment of childhood nostalgia. The entire performance ripples with dreamlike incongruity and creates strange audio-visual combinations that both stimulate and unnerve the viewer, an experience that I highly recommend.

Following the Ashcan performance, there comes the next re-evaluation and subtle deconstruction of traditional highbrow elitist cultural music formats, this was witnessed in the “Ode to Jackeen.” The performance began and it was immediately clear that this was not going to be a smooth harmonic display, a display of virtuosity by the musicians, yes, but in dissonant chords and jarring climaxes where the instruments seemed to almost shriek and jabber in unison with the persona of Joe Bobo. Images were projected onto a screen doubling as backdrop and stage set, as the ensemble played around the poetry inspired by the composer channeling wild beat lyricism. But aside from this, constant bits of narrative interlude would fall into place between operatic bursts and the convulsive notes of the ensemble.

This is where my interest was piqued, for on the whole there was an abstract and almost universalizing quality to the piece that rendered impressions of inner psychic torment, the surreal torpor of unconscious dreamscapes. However, this use of a narrative overlay pulled the piece together and gave it a substantive ground and context. Then it came to me, before me was a necessary continuance of Dada Theater, the amalgam of Dada’s symbolist poetics and anarchic style, overlaid into the beat generation’s project, driven by a wild denunciation of bourgeois morals and restrictive normative codes. Originally, this anarchic theater that took confusion, irrationality and the de-hierarchizing of fine art, feeding directly into an epistemological crisis over what art could be and who was authorized to produce it, was born of post-war tension and trauma. Here, we see that war has continued by any other means, for now it is the war of the self against the socialized norms encoded within, psychic trauma writ large.

Ultimately, this particular muse from the beat generation emerges from Burroughs’ dark corridors of the movement, that prose which attempted to capture the raw reality of mid-twentieth American subjectivity, a subjectivity constantly put upon by an ever more institutionalized and bureaucratized social-landscape. Joe Bobo our hapless character within the narrative skit is a Kerouacian “dharma bum,” a “desolation angel” simply trying to get a meal, get some kicks and explore the American roadways, but he is beset upon by sinister and sterile medical personnel representing the terror of the juridico-medical discourse that labels and apprehends all those that do not conform to a call for ceaseless productivity and middle-class norms. In this way, the sublime crescendos of the ensemble become Bobo’s psychological discontent, his strange medicated visions, and distorted hysteric hallucinations made manifest. This is an authentic channeling of the beat project and a worthwhile experience, if the ensemble reunites make sure to be in the crowd.