the swinging reflective
shannon of stars like fleas told me about an event they were playing that instantly made my "must go" list, which has been pretty short lately. the sheer quality, diversity, and number of artists involed in BAPlab 2006 made it more than just another live show, cool A/V night, or gallery opening. it was all of those things and more. it had to be to get me to go out to bushwick when i knew the L train wasn't running. a promised BAP shuttle bus never materialized, but the B60 took us close enough to walk.
once inside the massive warehouse space that is 3rd ward, my first stop was a clever piece by doug henderson, which i was interested to see because he mastered a CD for me. only inaubdible sub-bass frequencies play through the painted (and presumably water-sealed) speakers above, making the water move in interesting and unpredictable ways. doug said people would sometimes lean over trying to hear the sounds only to be surprised by a splash on their cheeks.
nemo hoffman's nearby video sculpture consisted of six small monitors, each showing a slightly different view of some secret underground pipes and machinery in motion. all the monitors were connected to a wooden speaker emitting somewhat muted sounds.
not far away in the photo lab, the first performace i saw was miya masaoka, who had set up a series of lasers which, when they sense something in their path, each triggered a different sound sample. her careful dance simultaneously created an industrial soundscape of crunching metal mixed with softer, more melodic snippets.
there was so much art that even the hallways were filled. looking down at a visual akin to a virtual saturday night fever flashback, i realized something that may not be apparent from the above photo: the ceiling-projected blocks of color were being knocked aside by anyone stepping into the area, after which they would resume their ordered positions.
immediately across the foyer from this discovery was the input end of jamie burkart's time is long. a camcorder captured the scene at the building entrance, showing the image on a tv and recording it onto a VCR. the door and videotape hung open, the recorded videotape stretched down the hall to a duplicate setup which plays back the tape at a much later time. it was hard to tell whether it was still working properly since i took my time getting to the other end, but the tape also formed an interesting divison of space along the wall in between.
the next room i stopped into had jake klotz operating his piece robot. the centerpiece of the installation resembled one of the leftover R2 units in star wars, except it talked more than C3P0 while it painted (it's appparently a rush fan) and rolled around the room.
free103point9, whose brooklyn shows i used to go to, had set up a room of three different artists' transmission works. prayer antenna is the most immediately impressive and obviously interactive; the radio antennae beaming in answers from on high can actually be heard in speakers inside the padded helmet.
it didn't occur to me to sit down at the table and wear the headphones in the immaculately staged wanderlost. i found out later that had i done that, i would have been drawn into a mysterious pulp radio mystery brought to life by darwing comparisons to all-too-current issues of privacy.
chop 10 is a tower of 10 identical radios, each one tuned to a top-10 radio station. each radio lights up and spits out signal in sequence, underlining their near-total homogeneity.
in the next room, the true meaning of “interactive” came into play. sadly, my picture shows little of this piece‘s true nature, which is created by each participant. a camera is trained on the chair, whose output is on the screen in front of it. when you step into the area of the frame, you see on the screen that it is divided into equal blocks, some of which show the action in real-time, some others a few seconds delay, and others delayed even further, and so on. it’s very disorienting seeing pieces of you arriving and departing at different times, especially as you can compare your actual cohesive appearance in the mirror to your right.
the hallway leading away from the next intersection was lined with planters with speakers imbedded in them, each one playing a different loop of bird sounds. pieces like grow are interesting because they force us to notice sound happening from multiple locations instead of a pair or speakers or headphones. the planters seem like a subtle hint that such musical sounds are all around us, in life.
ernesto klar’s piece above follows dust particle movement and turns it into light and sound.
the alphabet machine clicked and clacked as letters typed themselves. at first i thought it was typing the input for the nearby freudster projection, but that was by a different artist.
inside a vast industrial woodshop, i was assaulted by noise from various installations and performances. most interesting was the loud objects, in which three people (artists? participants? both?) soldered and connected microchips over a backlight while they were already hooked up to an amplifier. their work was projected on a screen behind them while humming, buzzing, and frying circuitry blared gloriously through the speakers.
not far away, people were amused by zipper orchestra (above), where 9 zippers control the motions of each of the people in a split video screen.
video works by ernesto rios played in a loop as the caretaker of the free103point9 room took a break from the oppressive heat in there.
road kills & other tragedies lit up a raw space in an alcove somehow reminiscent of a diorama at the museum of natural history.
across the room, the disturbing and disorienting combination of images and sounds from the wizard of oz and apocalypse now played out on giant shards of a film screen.
once i made my way upstairs, i was confronted with two rooms that seemed to be both functional and snidely artistic, albeit a bit disgusting. these were basically no-frills bathrooms - no doors, no seats, crumbling white plaster walls - with red spotlights on the business areas. black marker grafitti cheerfully beamed, "don't be shy!" i didn't oblige, as the stench made it hard to stay long enough to even snap the picture.
the warm light from her free clinic beckoned me into a room that also had artists selling handmade wares. but the space was dominated by the translucent screens in cross formation, hiding mysterious female figures sitting cross-legged and speaking in hushed tones. outside, artist suneet sethi played the part of the free clinician (a title intentionally loaded with multiple entendres), offering her services to onlookers.
in the next room was the largest performance space. video artists projected onto multi-faceted surfaces while a band artfully mixed laptop electronica with live brass. after watching for a little while, i turned to leave and saw some girls in a dark corner knitting thick white yarn into something unrecognizable.
i stepped out into the hallway and snapped this long shot of the video installation white noise, a piece expressing the artist’s feelings on media saturation and overload. as i was shooting however, i was drawn down the hallway to some familiar sounds i couldn't place initiallty.
living up to their name more than ever were vortex, one of my favorite improv groups in the city. as usual they were accompanied with live video by adam kendall. this was possibly the most dark and intense i have heard them playing, and the murky duotone images that swirled queasily on the screen matched perfectly.
after i made my way back through the main room to the upstairs bar area, i was confronted by aaron canton’s hanging globes. each of them slowly rotated to reveal the kind of imperative commands we face every day.
out the window, i noticed a series of pictures being projected on the building across the street. recognizing some of the people from earlier that evening, i later found out this was the first bushwick yearbook project by rafael fuchs. based loosely on the yearbook-style photo (complete with ugly seamless backdrop), each of the subjects starts out posing as they would for a DMV picture but after a series of shots they become more animated and individual.
once again i got as far as the hallway between the rooms when i was assaulted by an ominous sound, this time from pounding electronic drums coming from the darkest room in the place. handshake should have been called roomshake. the incredibly loud music wasn’t quite danceable, although you could try since it was a fairly regular beat. but it was constantly being subdivided by odd polyrhythms akin to amplified knives scraping on plastic. the result, besides a lot of head-nodding and irregular body-jerking, was that every kick drum brought several pieces of concrete and plaster down on my head.
i went downstairs for awhile and talked to greg shakar (who certain people may remember from the early days of backworld) about his installation, the analog color field computer. an incredibly minimal interactive piece, it’s simply a computer whose screen displays only one pixel and makes one pure tone. but with that you can choose the hue, brightness, saturation, pulse frequency and pitch of what comes out of it. multiply that by 5, each with a person or two tweaking knobs, and you have a near-infinite combination of never-ending, audience-made colors and sounds. sadly, it was too dark to snap a photo of, but greg said the piece may be shown elsewhere.
heading back upstairs, i ran into someone i know who does work for develop don’t destroy brooklyn. i mention this in the context of this blog because the kind of raw warehouse space this event took place is is getting increasingly difficult to find. development is a tricky subject (see my rant on the topic). it can be a good thing up to a point, but there are times when greedy and big-headed people overstep their bounds. that’s all i’ll say for now, except to go check out their website and read about what they’re trying to do.
on my way back out of the main space, i noticed the girls who had been knitting in the dark had set up a blacklight and were stringing up their work.
nearby, another screen showed a series of cartoonish short films on a loop. i'm guessing this was part of the night video series showing works by multiple artists.
when i stepped into the hallway, bass-heavy sounds of the apocalypse beckoned from the same room vortex had been in. again it turned out to be a familiar face: charles cohen (at right, who i’ve seen at the c.o.m.a. benefit as well as [r]ake's january show), making frightening noise with two other electronic musicians. i’m not sure who they were, because cohen was scheduled to play the downstairs room much earlier, while this space and time was supposedly another group, but they were excellent regardless. the man on the left controlled his samples with what appeared to be a virtual reality glove. different sweeps of his hand and finger motions triggered and warped several aspects of samples at once. try to imagine the sound of a car crash, amplified louder than if you were actually standing in front of it. then take that and repeat it at will, turning the glass shards into melting squiggles and forcing the metal through a giant blender. that still doesn’t quite capture how destructive the sounds were.
when i went back next door rj valeo was in the midst of a banging techno set in the same dark room handshake had been in (by then too dark for pictures). even with the heat sapping our energy, he had people moving, myself included. david last followed immediately with a killer extended version of his song “animal hybrids”, which blew away what i heard online. in fact the PA itself was literally blown away, twice. it was probably the heat, or a circuit breaker, but the music was really that powerful. people left after the first power outage, but he filled the room up all over again as the track mutated and kept on going. despite how hot it was, i danced with vigor until it got close to time for stars like fleas to go on.
heading towards the stairs, i noted a huge crowd in the hallway. functionality had won out over art, making the red-lit open toilets the most popular installations of the evening, even beating out the bank of 9 box fans outside the woodshop. participants and onlookers turned it into the ultimate interactive performance piece, proving that even amongst all the electronics, sometimes the call of nature is just too hard to resist.
stars like fleas initially seemed like an odd choice for this event, as they normally keep their electronics off to the side. even when shannon used to bring his full-size computer tower, monitor screen, mini speakers, and various outboard effects, the setup was only to add bits of field recordings and process various live instruments. he pared down to a laptop this time but used it more extensively with his acoustic guitar. pianist ryan smith (also of a million billion, grand mal, mason dixon, the silent league, and two more i’m forgetting) also brings a laptop for additonal processing. vocalist montgomery (better known to some as the mastermind of monkeytown) has been adding live effects to his voice, and cellist tianna kennedy (nyc projects coordinator for free103point9) sometimes favors a pedal or two on her instrument. multi-instrumentalist jon natchez (another fellow silent leaguer along with shannon) has also taken to playing a small bass synthesizer during one song.
the overall effect, particularly this evening, is of a battle between incredibly naturalistic and human acoustically-produced music, and very digital-sounding clicks, cuts, and mangling. the electronics mostly came out during chaotic noise pieces, crashing waves of computerized squelches that would recede into an extended intro to a more melodic number. humanity won out over machine-kind, not just musically but in the presence of a packed-out room of sweaty people who were willing to wait until 1:30 in the morning to sit in an airless space too small to contain this band and their growing fans.
even as much as i saw and heard, i still missed a lot. there were more installations than i could adequately photograph. lusine, ryan elliot, tim xavier, and ezekiel honig were all artists i planned to see, but SLF felt like the capper to the evening. i hope this becomes a recurring event, as i'm already looking forward to next year.
the title of this post comes from a CD collection of collaborations between various artists and experimental music masters nurse with wound .