Monday, July 30, 2007


For me, living the art life meant a dedication to painting--a complete dedication to it, making everything else secondary. [It] is the only way you're going to get in deep and discover things. So anything that distracts from that path of discovery is not part of the art life ... It seems, I think, a hair means that you need time.

You don't just start painting. You have to sit for a while and get some kind of mental idea in order to go and make the right moves. And you need a whole bunch of materials at the ready. For example, you need to build framework stretchers for the canvas. It can take a long time just to prepare something to paint on. And then you go to work. The idea just needs to be enough to get you started ... then it's a matter of sitting back and studying it and studying it and studying it; and suddenly, you find you're leaping up out of your chair and going in and doing the next thing. That's action and reaction.

But if you know that you've got to be somewhere in half an hour, there's no way you can achieve that. So the art life means a freedom to have time for the good things to happen. There's not always a lot of time for other things.


The idea comes to you, you can see it, but to accomplish it you need what I call a "setup." For example, you may need a working shop or a working painting studio. You may need a working music studio. Or a computer room where you can write something. It's crucial to have a setup, so that, at any given moment, when you get an idea, you have the place and the tools to make it happen.

If you don't have a setup, there are many times when you get the inspiration, the idea, but you have no tools, no place to put it together. And the idea just sits there and festers. Over time, it will go away. You didn't fulfill it--and that's just a heartache.

--David Lynch, Catching the Big Fish
with italics by Heather

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Friday, July 27, 2007

A Shiny Thing

Sidecar is on YouTube! How about that? Twenty seconds in: that's Anne with the radio and me with the accordion! I feel like such a star! A shiny star!

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Fighting Bulls

What?! I've been fighting bulls for a living. You think I had time for this meme?

bullfight_posterI am an expert bullfighter. Perhaps I became interested in bullfighting because the creature is so damn beautiful. Glossy, ink-black coat. A body so well-balanced between mass, steel and yielding joints. The best bulls are a study in this paradox. They are so sexy and glamorous and dangerous. The beast could kill me, though I have learned, over the years, the delicate attributes of its physique, the locations of its Achilles' heels. The learning developed through necessity and experience. The bullfighter is always surprised; every bull is unique.

You arrive in the ring, and here is a bull: broken and worn down, missing teeth, not able to walk a straight line because one horn is shorter than the other. But you've a show to present. An old bull may have more soul than you'd imagine. You tease that out of it. Other times, here is a bull: all shiny bells and whistles and 24 karat nose rings. So fast and new. (sigh...) It's too much bull for you. It may be too much bull for the ring! I deal with the latter situation frequently--as a bullfighter you are rarely given an ideal bull in an ideal ring. No. A variable is almost always wrong, whether the size of the venue, your technique that day, the flexibility of the bull's muscles, or even the size of the audience. Having no one to cheer you on? And you're in front of a thousand pound monster? You feel foolish...sometimes.

It is a serious dance, once you begin to (and of course you must) consider the audience. It can not--ever--just be you and the bull. Bullfighting is a play, a seduction, a polite, esoteric exchange of, "you, no you; you first, no I insist, you go first." But the courtship is a public one. You seem at odds with each other--you and the bull--yet you're working together for the entertainment of others. Every situation is different. Perhaps that is what attracted me to the very first bull I ever met. (r.i.p) I realized a relationship with this creature would be ever-changing. As intimate as the relationship needed to be--imagine the lonely hours in the practice arena, in the tack room, maintaining physique and technique, making phone calls to the doctors and specialists, visiting master bullfighters, etc.--the two of us would one day provoke public dialogue or command appreciative nods or cause a few heartattacks.bullfight

Not everyone can fight bulls. You must be so strong. You must comprehend and process so many variables at once but maintain grace and composure. Your audience must never know that you are scared of the bull, that the bull is a hopeless case, that it is a hard fight or an easy fight. As bullfighter, you create thrills, yet you do not want to create panic. Again, it is an equally delicate and weighty matter.

I am a passionate, committed, and expert bullfighter, but even I am no master. That is the final thing one must understand about the art, and also why not everyone can learn to fight bulls. There is no end to the relationship--to the project--of bullfighting. You will never say, "aha! I've mastered the bull ... and so, moving on..." Even as an expert, you must accept the shifting nature of the beast and work with that in both traditional and innovative ways. The relationship is, in its way, infinite.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

In Ponytails

Sidecar performs a very "techie" version of The Children's Hour tonight at 21Grand. I think it just may be quite beautiful. Here is what I learned this week while putting it all together with Miss A--

1. Hodge podge is a sand trap in the game of collage. One must assemble carefully and cleverly. Visual collage usually blots out all blank space, at least that's what I remember from fourth grade when the teacher told us to go at the stack of decades-old National Geographic magazines. With musical mixing and layering, I reach a point where I need space, I need the breathing room, I need a palate cleanser! Certain music (or video) moments are just so saturated with intent that a good dose of ambient "silence" seems so necessary.

2. If tech fails, be ok with laughing it off. I'm totally prepared for this one.

3. The idyllic can suddenly turn ominous. And what is fascinating to one may be gruesome to another. That's what makes art interesting!

4. Musicians, perhaps much more so than visual artists, are content to present a version that differs time and time again, that is new and unique with each performance. (I love this about my work with Anne! Every show can be different, even as we work around the same theme! Visual artists, before offering their work to the public, are more likely to--or do they have to--say, "this is done." I admire that decisiveness...and want to find ways to similarly determine various pieces of something as time-based as The Children's Hour. Can time's arrow be fixed? Even illusionally?)

5. Butterflies will have a mind of their own. Sigh...

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Sidecar Performs The Children's Hour

THIS Saturday July 21 9pm
416 25th St., Oakland
(no piano. lots of video & electronics. pray that projectors do not fall asleep.)

Thursday August 9 8pm
Opening for the fabulous Jen Baker!
1510 8th St Performance Space
1510 8th St., Oakland
(a piano! a synthesis of classical and experimental.)

Monday August 20 and 27 8pm
Monday Night Marsh Series
1062 Valencia St., San Francisco
(short excerpts of the program. Aug 20 multimedia-ish. Aug 27 somewhat more classical.)

Friday August 24 8pm
Giorgi Gallery
2911 Claremont Ave., Berkeley
(the most classical concert. piano. lovely (though loud) room.)

Thursday August 30 8:30pm
The Jennifer Justice Show
San Francisco Comedy Club
50 Mason St., San Francisco
(short excerpt. video focus for me, with performance by Anne. artist interview segment. !)

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Saturday, July 07, 2007

Sounds of Love

Scenes of Love come readily to mind. Stars flicker overhead. There is Champagne and sparklers, or chocolates and flowers and a killer bottle of Italian red wine. Feet wear fuzzy sox. The fireplace chews on a good blaze. Hmm... these props and scenarios are too pat, eh? They suggest love but so superficially...which is perhaps precisely why they are also so easily rendered in visual terms, from classical dance and sappy television commercials to a photograph or piece of poster art. Quirky me entertains visions, too, and sometimes they're as predictable as what I've listed above, and sometimes they're a bit more peculiar:

[Scene 1]
At my favorite bar cafe, the bartender will set a dish of olives in front of you as he asks, "what are you drinking tonight?" The olives are a mix, Arbequeñas and Picholines as well the ones I call Scaries (they are enormous bronze-green orbs) and your basic Kalamatas, and these olives spark conversations. Everyone has a favorite. The nutty Arbequeñas are delicious and charming, but I have, on more than one occasion, professed a predilection for Picholines, so my "love scenario," if you will, goes like this. Having been intentionally composed (behind the scenes and entirely without my knowledge, of course), the little dish appears and is 100% Picholines. 100% just for me. Someone Loves Me.

Now, I do not even really like olives all that much. But the scenario still says to me, however absurdly, Love. The strength of the scene lies in the visual impact of that dish of pale green olives. The image, so pow! potent in my mind, like some bit of Warhol iconography, trumps the intention that was necessary to create it. That is an interesting conundrum to me, whether speaking of love or... Hmm?

It's easy to visualize the scenarios of love, isn't it? They are so filmic. But what of the soundtrack? What of the complex co-mingling of audio and visual, ear and eye? What if you turn off the eye? Could audio provide something that the visual cannot? Maybe the soundtrack can assert--subtly, sneakily, pointedly--something else about love. Maybe the aural can focus [!] our attention on what is not usually (so obviously and visually) perceived as love. But what is the sound of love, of the intention of love? I am a musician for crying out loud! And I'm asking, what are the sounds of love?

The question caused my rather audible intake of breath a week or so ago when I met with my dear choreographer. Randee is putting together her graduate thesis program, and she has asked me to provide-design-create "sound." [Yippee!] Her general theme is Love, and she is bouncing around enough ideas for ten programs. [!] We discussed all the usual suspects: Romeo & Juliet, Tristan & Isolde, Orpheus & Eurydice, Plato's "lover" and "beloved." But then our discussion led to messy philosophizing. What do we "put on" for love? Randee asked. What do we "put on" the ones we love? This made me think of costumes and disguise and playing "dress-up," but I think Randee intends to investigate slightly less winsome ideas. She spoke so animatedly about visions, and of how she may choreograph or realize them in movement or staging, that I realized how we cling to visual representations of love. We refuse to give them up.

Randee's brainstorms, however, had not forgotten about love letters, about the writing down of sentiment, about our awkward scratching of a pencil or pen on paper and its forming these intimate loops and arcs and curves. Choreographic elements aside, talking about letters and writing led to the query: what is the grammar of love? I began to wonder if I could realize grammar in sound, and what of this very specific grammar...the grammar of love...what might its rhythms and cadences sound like? We contended, of course, with the contemporary analogy: email and [groan] online dating and the clicking of computer keys, all, equivalently, our modern professions of love. [sigh] As I contemplated writing/written love, including its context, grammar and (mis)comprehensions, I felt myself getting somewhat closer to the sound of it. Why was I so hung up on image? Why had I never really stopped to consider the sounds (idealized or realistic) of love? Again, what on earth are those sounds? I can paint you a hundred scenarios, but can I score love?

One could conjure up all the same clichés: Poets' rhymes trigger tears and laughter. Bossa nova beats consume the hips and feet. Steaks sizzle on the grill and wine corks pop when released from their (deathkiss!) necks. Pen nibs scratch on paper as fingers cause computer keys to clickety-clack. Cell phones ring and the bells of the ice cream truck--signaled from blocks and blocks and blocks away, just to intercept your beloved's path--chime merrily. Lovers breathe and coo and murmur, mimicking something in between birds' gossip and the bellows of a tuneless accordion, all with the intensity of an old car accelerating just a bit too rapidly. Leaves or gravel or plain old pavement is amplified underfoot when lovers' conversations fall into satisfying, Cageian silence. This all sort of sounds like love to me! There are more sounds, of course. But these might do, cliché or not.

Morricone sounds like love to me. He is luscious and sentimental, and then in an instant twangy and rough and unshaven. A harmonica, some bizarre bird call, an unharmonized soprano melody. Those sound like love. Wagner? Prokofiev? Mahler? The infamous opening to Tristan does indeed sound like love! (The other two I do not, at the moment, wish to touch.) But Chopin does not sound like love. Brahms does not. Beethoven does not. (It is no wonder people raise eyebrows when I say I am a pianist.) So who else, what else sounds like love?

[cue audio: Schönberg, second piece from Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke, Op.25]

I call this the "happy and irate car horns" piece; I hear a traffic jam with not one iota of road rage. (The intensity of musical design, while persistent, is not furious; and because of the piece's overall brevity, the persistence becomes something almost precious...something at which to giggle and not care who hears you.) The piece obsesses over its little motive, the major-sometimes-minor third, relentlessly, yet it is not an overdone sentiment. It is 100% focused, 100% intention. Paradoxically, it is as efficient as it is committed. You may remark, as I did about the olives, that you do not even like Schönberg all that much. But he can write Love music. He can!

Contemplating sounds and music, I am struck by how Love has been perhaps too long represented through vision/sight/looking, whether in a classical ballet or fanciful photo or some low-grade porno. Sure, we can identify gestures and physical manifestations of "love," but can we identify love by listening? Without any visual cues at all? Can we hear its grammar? Hmm. I'll think about it while working on this project. And you can come to the performances next February and contemplate my results!

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