I never gave up on the LP (that’s “vinyl” to you young hipsters) and have amassed a pretty sizeable collection as a result of my reputation as the person one could give his/her records to when doing a digital mutiny. While many of these records are classics of various genres, some are just mysteries to me. The worst part is that I’ve never listened to them all. This disconnect between wanting to hold onto something and never using it (aparigraha in sanskrit ;-) seems like a fruitful matrix for artful play. SO, I’m going to listen to and make something in response to each record, one per day until I’ve listened to them all.

Here’s the link to the set. You can also get it daily from the right sidebar.

what i want to do 11.11

theatre of the eighth day. i’m planning to go see an historic polish theater group this week in a recreation of one of their classic communist era pieces, Wormwood. Banned in 1985, it’s a look at life under marshall law. I wrote previously about the group here, or check out the Polish Cultural Institute’s promo here.

‡ Also, bending the rules to include my own project in what I want to do this week: I’m launching a new art project called, record-a-day. I never gave up on the LP (that’s “vinyl” to you young hipsters) and have amassed a pretty sizeable collection as a result of my reputation as the person one could give his/her records to when doing a digital mutiny. While many of these records are classics of various genres, some are just mysteries to me. The worst part is that I’ve never listened to them all. This disconnect between wanting to hold onto something and never using it (aparigraha in sanskrit ;-) seems like a fruitful matrix for artful play. SO, I’m going to listen to and write something in response to each record, one per day until I’ve listened to them all. We’ll see what emerges. The record for the day will show up in the right column of and I’ll post my daily reports here as well.

shawn colvin 11.2.09

Shawn Colvin at City Winery
Shawn Colvin at City Winery

I’ve always thought about the place in art making and art experiencing that parallels my pursuit of what might traditionally be called the “spiritual,” a place where the practice of art moves us to transcend the everyday and lets us tap into a greater experience of who we are and what is.

I’ve always been involved with spiritual practices and have even seen yoga become a major part of what I do with my life. It’s trickier to figure out where the line of the spiritual is in art. Kandinsky and Blake approached the topic directly, but to me, what’s interesting are those occurrences when the sheer act of creating or feeling work is the spiritual event. I’ve been exploring the topic with two photo series called “Does Love Show?” and more to the point, “Does Bliss Show?”

Which is all to preface my feelings about last night’s concert by Shawn Colvin and her longtime collaborator, John Leventhal at New York’s new venue, City Winery. Everything else I’ll say is technical information. The important piece of my review is simply this: Shawn Colvin’s voice makes me cry. Just thinking about writing that line got me a little choked up. And I can’t figure out what it is. It’s like a tantric tool in which the universe congealed to put a link between my ears and bliss and it’s Shawn Colvin’s voice. Thank god the room was dark last night; it would have been embarrassing.

The show was incredibly intimate, just two guitars and one voice. The venue’s acoustic are very good and the guitars sounded like you had your ear at the sound hole (or amp, in the case of Leventhal’s processed acoustic); Colvin’s voice was in its classic effortless form. The set began with a Donovan cover (Catch the Wind) and swiftly moved to a good long, chatty, informal show. I felt as though we’d dropped in on Colvin and Leventhal’s rehearsal, or a party they met at after a while apart. They replayed an intro when Colvin noticed he had started a fancier arrangement over her more standard version, they argued about playing a jazz classic that drew cheers from the audience and made her say, Okay, I guess I’ll be like Rod Stewart and … make a torch album,” they ad libbed the Jackson Five’s “I’ll be there” and a Minnie Mouse version of “Stop the Love You Save …” in some stratospheric key. In short, this was just about having fun. And the audience could not get enough.

Part of what drew me to Colvin’s music is that it adds a beautiful complication to the classic folk chord progressions, dabbling in the redneck jazz territory Nashville musicians love. But the New York in the girl makes for really tough-yet-poignant lyrics and a wry sense of humor that you could worry borders on depression if she weren’t so quick to smile and joke (“my sister and I were in the suburbs with her kids and my kid and we were watching tennis on TV and looking at the hot guys on the court and realizing we weren’t hot any more — that’s pretty much where this song came from”). Plus her taste in covers is just awesome. Her album “Cover Girl” contains the coolest version of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place,” I can imagine, and a deceptively dark version of Steve Earle’s “This Town.” Last night she covered what she called her favorite Tom Waits song (“Hold On” — it’s hard to dance when it’s cold outside and there’s no music), the aforementioned Jackson’s (Levinthal drew a line in the fun when Michael’s name came up, but recapitulated when she started a Jackson Five song) and one alt-rock song that escapes me right now that was such a surprise choice that she stopped at the reaction from the crowd and said, “Oh, you just didn’t expect that,” and picked it up again.

I felt a kind of bittersweet loss when another of my favorite songwriters, Aimee Mann, went from under-appreciated to ubiquitous. I’d actually be glad to see more people listening to Shawn Colvin. I’d miss feeling like part of an in-crowd, but I’d like to see if more people experience the crying thing. I’m guessing they would. I took a good friend to hear a concert in DC a decade ago. She had never heard Colvin before, and after the first song, turned to me and said, “if I sang like that, I could die happy.”

what i want to do this week: 10.21.09

Up to my ears in boxes, but there’s one thing I’m going to fit into the move schedule. As promised, for Oct. 24, I’m headed to Dance New Amsterdam for the 25th Anniversary Gala Concert featuring Monica Bill Barnes & Company, Laura Peterson Choreography, Shannon Gillen, Tami Stronach, Christopher Williams and more. Here are all the details:

And if you like to dance, you can get free classes all day and see why most contemporary dancers in the City speak so highly of DNA classes. See you there!

khoomei-taiko ensemble

Picture 16I heard a fascinating fusion this week from American and international musicians:

from Japan,

  • Koto and taiko drums

from Mongolia,

  • khoomei throat singing, urtiin duu long song singing and morin khuur horse-head fiddle.

The natural question in a fusion is why? What brought the disparate musicians together? And what does a listener expect? I bumped into a friend there who had come for the long song style. I imagine people came into the mix for all kinds of reasons. The World Music Institute and Asia Society presented the concert — that support seems appropos. But it was interesting that the onstage leader of the group, the Khoomei-Taiko Ensemble, Kaoru Watanabe, both a taiko drummer and a flutist, had the same question: ‘why are we doing this?’ His answer: we’re looking for that answer.

The answer lies with a venture dear to my heart: cultural exchange. Without recounting the entire history, which you find on the Ensemble’s web site, this group is the result of the work of Teddy Yoshikami and Aziz Rahman, both of whom produce cross-cultural programs. Funded by exchange proponents like the Trust for Mutual Understanding and the Asian Cultural Council, the work of these producers and their six superlative musicians (the Mongolians are all recognized by their country as national treasures) makes the world a bit more closely knit and finds the points of conversation between peoples who would otherwise see each other as simply “other.” Mr. Watanabe is finding that the conversation is revolving around their various traditions’ focus on the importance of the natural world.

None of this would matter beyond diplomacy if the resulting music were not interesting. In fact, this was a superb concert that served as a two-set introduction to the various musical traditions involved and a jazz-like exploration of the potential interactions between the sounds and personalitites of these masters of their artforms. The concert included a solo or duet piece showcasing the sounds and traditions of each of these unique voices and instruments. Several ensemble pieces meshed the powerful Taiko drumming with dexterous and sonorous improvisation on the koto, flute, fiddle and voices.

I almost began this review with a rant about how great these musical traditions are compared to what we fill our airwaves with. I was going to juxtapose the introductory “rapped” magtall praise song by Tserendorj Tseyen

The Khoomii Taiko Ensemble is introducing delightfully
With heavelnly colored blue ribbon raised upon in the highest
Spirited is this traditional praise gifed by our great ancestors
Originated from Great Mongol Empire of Lord Chingis Khan

May all the people on the world live peacefully
May this blessed praise grant us eternal tranquility

May worldwide people reserve our mother nature
May all the nations unite in full convenant
By Olympic games, cultures and future developments
Oh, may all the countries neighbor in peace and gain full achievements …

with something from some prominent rapper, maybe Snoop Dogg. But when I went looking for something in the Dogg style, I remembered why I like Snoop; he’s literate, intricate and sometimes very similar to what’s written above (see A Word Witcha), so I’ll leave it at this: the Khoomei Taiko Ensemble have their hearts in the right place and manage to bring respect for nature, culture and each others’ musical forms into a powerful, accessible, exciting, uplifting show. If this is how they sound having only met in September, I look forward to how this group evolves.

to abstract or not to abstract, that is again the q

Martha Schwendener in the Voice gives a nice roundup of photography shows going in the City and posits a question that I ponder in both directions:

Why, for instance, are contemporary photographers—or, if you like, artists working with photography—obsessed with abstraction, materiality, and process?

After years of doing that, I’m trying to respond to politics, thank you very much, but I still have several series of abstraction going. Here’s Ms. Schwendener’s analysis (it’s anti-analysis):

What Words Without Pictures demonstrates most, perhaps, is that photography—or art, in general—needs a new discourse that doesn’t rely on the straitjacket demands of “criticality.” Beshty, in his essay, quotes Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello from The New Spirit of Capitalism (2006): “Artistic critique is currently paralysed by what, depending on one’s viewpoint, may be regarded as its success or its failure.”

Thank you for saying that. I don’t know too many artists who consider trends or criticism when making work, though. I think rather, we look for the conjunction of uber-subjective almost subconscious notions of “beautiful,” “cool,” “sexy,” “important,” “new,” “me,” and other self-actualizing motives. Throw in a dose of the accidental, and you have the work. Sometimes those motives find expression in abstraction and other times in, umm, everything that’s not abstraction. The gallery and museum system, though, has directors and curators with those same motives, but who also look for some measure of “what the public will like” aka what is important, per theorists.

One could propose that the content of art (photography and otherwise) has exceeded all bounds of critical structure. In a society with as much luxury as we have, it’s possible to indulge any creative thought in any field of endeavor. The art world has opened its arms to it all (a very creative stance), so I am afraid that if we un-straightjacket criticality, what we’ll find is everything. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps photography reviews in journals of sociology or cooking magazines would be just the ticket to break through the crit-speak of the contemporary age. But I think we will still have abstractions and not. It is in our nature.

what i want to do this week: 10.11.09

i’m keeping my sights on the achievable this week as i’m packing up the apt to move to brooklyn. i just heard this band on wnyc’s spinning on air and I hope to catch them tomorrow at joe’s pub:

‡ Electric Junkyard Gamelan. The group, from an idea created by Terry Dame when she was at Cal Arts in the mid-90’s uses found objects and household items to construct a gamelan orchestra with a mix of traditional balinese gamelan rhythms and western harmony and melody. Some video here, from NY1.

IMG_0645UPDATE: got to hear them live at Joe’s Pub last night. Very cool show. Much more minimal than I expected, the instrumentation is just a handful of recycled junk. Very creative instrument making and a very funky take on the balinese and brooklyn fusion. Get on the mailing list!

what i did this week

I know I’m breaking my format (and it’s too soon to call it artistic license), but I’ve been too busy to do any of my last what i want to do list, and i still want to do all of that! I probably should have back-dated a post about what i actually got to, but whatever…

Raw Material at Dance New Amsterdam. This show was impressive. A collection of 10-minute works from emerging choreographers that left me wanting more minutes. Highlights were my sometimes colleagues cakeface, whose Amanda Szeglowski and crew created a smart multimedia commentary on business-speak melded with tasty dancing (and a fluffer-nutter sandwich). Kudos to Mandy Ringer for another gorgeous light design. I also want to see more from GoGoVertigoat Dance. Their Sell Out Demos, choreographed by Lindsey Drury, took on the commodification of identity in the digital age with a wisdom that transcends sarcasm. Creating photocopy after photocopy of body parts by lowering co-director eunkyunkim onto the machine’s glass (who knew that glass was so strong!?) made for a great low-tech/high tech symbol of digitizing one’s self and the fear of being unknown in the facebook universe.

Big Dance Theater’s “Comme Toujours Here I Stand” at the Kitchen was a great cross between visual art, dance and theater. I think Roslyn Sulcas nailed it in her Times review, so I’ll leave you to that.

Picture 15Les films. Finally, I interrupted our endless Netflix queue of Battlestar Galactica disks with some European classics, two of which I haven’t seen before. Le Samurai, by Jean-Pierre Melville with Alain and Nathalie Delon, is beautiful, and manages to be both fast-moving crime fiction and gorgeous endless shots, both fixed and tracks. While I didn’t see mention of it in the reviews I just looked up of Ghost Dog, it’s evident to me that Jarmusch is a fan of this one. The second flick that somehow slipped past me all these years was L’Avventura by Michelangelo Antonioni. It helped to prep us that when we looked up the title in my Italian dictionary I noticed the secondary meaning of “adventure” in Italian: “amorous affair.” This movie had us falling into amore with its star Monica Vitti, who has more emotion in her upper lip than most actresses have in their entire repertoires. And speaking of amore, I went one more time around Rome with La Dolce Vita and found it my most satisfying trip ever. All the elements of Fellini’s vocabulary, but somehow held in the realm just below the surreal… the source of the word papparrazzi… plus I never tire of Anita Ekberg’s classic line: “there are three things I like the most: love, love, and love.”

how fragile is the practice

I’ve had a trying run of the overwhelmed lately. It’s drawn from too much of the good things, touch wood, but the effect on the art practice is noticeable. Hopefully, I’ll find the energy to use the little spaces in between everything else to execute the ideas that are thankfully still flowing. Because I know, there’s never more time…

philanthropy vs. society

I think philanthropists rock.

that said, i am really unhappy with the situation in the u.s. of a. that puts philanthropists in the drivers seat of social policy in said a. consider two stories this week:

Peering at the Future,” by Bob Herbert, in which this statement appears:

The Gateses are co-chairs of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest philanthropic organization. They are investing billions of dollars and much of their considerable energy in an effort to spark not just change but a transformation in the way American youngsters are educated.

compare to this quote from the Times today:

President Barack Obama announced a plan on Wednesday to spend $5 billion on medical and scientific research, medical supplies and upgrading laboratory capacity, which he said would create tens of thousands of new jobs.

Bill and Melinda spend the same amount on directing research and programs as the elected government representing the people of the country. There’s an art project in there, but it might make me sick to do it. I think it has something to do with getting some of the Gates funding into the hands of the society that makes them so powerful, I don’t know…