LOS ANGELES — A new day, a new daylong program of Hammer Museum’s performance concert. The liveblog continues.
9:54pm: Holley is a beautiful conclusion to this performance marathon. Emotional and accessible, his music feels both familiar and folksy. He’s singing about the blood red moon. Love it. Thank you everyone for watching and listening. This has been fun.
9:45pm: Lonnie Holley dedicates a song to “all those who snuck across the border.” Love that.
9:31pm: My interview with Tarek Atoui (I will say he was a very articulate person but because I am interviewing him at the sound event there are small parts in my recording — particularly in relation to names — that are hard to decipher on the recording. Apologies.):
Hrag Vartanian: My question is how has the last two days been for you? What have your observations been?
Tarek Atoui: They’ve been a very, like I was saying, a very natural flow of things that aesthetically do not look like each other or come from the same source. They were very nicely connected through the space and the energy that this collaboration … hold it or contained it, actually. Also, I find that the curatorial approach on it is quite clever and very well thought out in the sense that it is letting the works be what they are, and not having them abide to a conceptual approach or a statement about sound and art, or like the boundaries between these. Each act is bringing his own way of dealing with it. Creating the space is also a gesture I find beautiful.
HV: You’re one of the rare contemporary artists, who use sound as your main medium.
HV: Has that presented any challenges as an artist?
TA: It still presents many challenges.
HV: What are those?
TA: Well, for me, the challenges like are real … This navigation between the world of music and the world of art, and being in between this way … It’s an odd subject.
HV: Have there been institutions or galleries less open to sound, or has that changed?
TA: Yes. This is, of course, changing. The interest and the approach to sound itself is transforming. I would say the challenges … like both together and not letting the logic of the art world contaminate the work, and also … preserving the work for what it is, and have it develop from inside.
For me, the main rigor, or the thing I always stay close to, and this is why I only work with sound, is to let things and decisions in my art work come from sound, because I am initially a musician. The challenge is claiming back a historical position also, for me. Like the one where contemporary composition in the 50s and 60s was about blowing formats and duration and orchestration and space. Dealing with all these interesting ideas. That kind of got classed in a way or another for multiple reasons in today’s world. The art world is something … there was a connection that got lost. It’s about finding it back, or reestablishing it.
HV: Where was the connection that got lost?
TA: In the history of contemporary music and electroacoustic music, the ideas that were shared by Schaeffer, or [indecipherable name] started, or by [Pierre] Boulez. Before [various composers hard to decipher on the recording] … [Karlheinz] Stockhausen were all connected to experimental cinema, to sculpture, to video, to a form of interactive arts, and thoughts of the kind. Then things got institutionalized, or led to schools, in a way. This created a fragmentation of what the act of composition is. It’s in that sense that things close down.
Now, reopening them is a challenge because it’s not just taking them out from the world of music, but also embedding them in the world of art and claiming them really as art approaches. Contemporary composition re-challenged our way of understanding space and is the grandfather of sound art.
HV: What changed that now people are open to it in a way that they weren’t?
TA: I think that there are multiple reasons. Like, of course, there are economic reasons. We see like experimental music forms or like the economy of the experimental music world cannot compete with the one of the mainstream or pop music … [including] the idea of musicians touring and releasing records. Abiding by the logic of pop market has proved its limits, you see. Many artists I’ve seen lately have shifted from working in the studio and doing records to performing and really basing it on live events. That’s one side. Then, on the other side, I think there is a re-connection that is happening between conceptual art and sound.
The art work [had changed] … since the last 2 decades … or the last decade, I would say. This has materialized by the revival of the works of certain composers, but also a whole tradition of graphic score. Like, of a way of how can we activate and conserve performance and connect performance. The ideas of materiality or going beyond the object in the art world led to a re-discovery of sound, in a way.
9:22pm: Lonnie Holley is up. Known as a outsider artist — and referred to as the “Sand Man” — he hails from Birmingham, Alabama, and the New York Times called him the “insider’s outsider.” The article explains:
He says he grew up the seventh of 27 children in Jim Crow-era Alabama, where his schooling stopped around seventh grade. In his own, possibly unreliable telling, he says the woman who informally adopted him as an infant eventually traded him to another family for a pint of whiskey when he was 4. Holley also says he dug graves, picked trash at a drive-in, drank too much gin, was run over by a car and pronounced brain-dead, picked cotton, became a father at 15 (Holley now has 15 children), worked as a short-order cook at Disney World and did time at a notoriously brutal juvenile facility, the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children in Mount Meigs.
He’s clearly comfortable in the blues and soul traditions of American music.
9:10pm: Hassan Khan’s performance was so true to the original music but drawn out to prolong the hypnotic effect. He is a trained classical Arabic musician so he clearly understands the content, but his use of contemporary instruments makes it particularly important since it appears to evolve the tradition into a new realm. I enjoyed every minute of it, and a friend who is an ethnomusicologist at UCLA told me she loved it from start to finish.
8:22pm: Love that Hassan Khan is explaining how he makes music and the relationship between the music and the feedback mixer, which is important. He has also provided translations of the traditional Arabic lyrics so that the audience can understand the context. Now I’m going to go watch.
8:10pm: I got to interview Tarek Atoui about the connection between sound and contemporary art (transcript shortly) but now The God in Hackney is performing:
Random aside: Brent Burket (aka @heartasarena) thinks the drummer of the band looks like NY gallerist Zach Feuer. #LOL
7:35pm: I returned back about 30 minutes ago but I was so mesmerized by Tashweesh‘s performance that I decided to simply observe. It was a piece connected to their installation at this year’s Sharjah Biennial but appeared to incorporate material not there (though I can’t verify that). Created by artists Basel Abbas, Ruanne Abou-Rahme, and boikutt, the performance was deeply visual (the most ocular of all the performances) but maintained a trance-like sound throughout.
Palestine plays a big role in the work, and the notion of place and memory. At one point the video (which is a mix of images, sometimes inset into other images, and words, in both English and Arabic) ponders about the parameters of amnesia and how it might create new dangers. Images are appropriated from television, the artists appear in frame, geography blurs, but the sense of being far from your unknown destination is palpable. Exile as system of alienation but also road map.
5:50pm: Taking a liveblog break for dinner.
5:15pm: The crowd listening to Rodney Graham:
Rodney Graham said he’s singing about someone who killed himself @ music fest b/c of reception his song received. Dark. #alltheinstruments
— Hrag (@hragv) September 28, 2015
Honestly, when a musician tells you he’s singing about someone who didn’t like how his audience reacted. How are we supposed to react?
— Hrag (@hragv) September 28, 2015
In case you were wondering, I applauded, because he was really really good. Solid set.
4:43pm: The Bushes are like a quirky Beastie Boys. They are dressed in green, because they are … well, bushes?
4:20pm: I took a break and decided to lay on a bench in the corner of the courtyard to take in the sounds of Isambard Kingston Brunel. They were atmospheric, and after a day and a half it’s hard to process so many types of music back to back. I’m curious how this feeling comes across to those watching the livestream.
3:19pm: Penis is performing and the band is made up artists Sophia Cleary and Samara Davis. They are performing (for the first time) a song they’d written. Here is a snippet from earlier in the set:
3:06pm: Here is my short interview with artists/performer Rodney Graham:
Hrag Vartanian: I just wanted to ask you a little bit about how you see sound within your bigger body of work and your practice.
Rodney Graham: It’s kind of problematic for me because I haven’t really managed to integrate it into my practice, the music. I was more active as a musician when I was younger. Then when my art career started developing, I kind of dropped it, dropped the music hobby or the interest in music for quite a while. Then I got interested, I guess, in the 90s again and actually performing. I used sound, or one of my own songs, in two works actually at that time, a piece called “The Phonokinetoscope,” where I used a recording of kind of a psych rock song that I composed as a soundtrack for a 16mm film.
HV: What was it called?
RG: It was called The Phonokinetoscope. It was actually based on — I think it was Edison’s idea — but the earliest attempts to link sound with motion pictures was actually with a turntable linked up to a projection device. This piece was a recording of mine that you drop the needle on the song and begin the song and that activated the projector. The projector started going once the turntable started going. It was a film loop. Sometimes you’d start the song, and the film would be already in the middle or towards the end or whatever. It was kind of asynchronous in other words. It was kind of a bit rifting on the idea of what makes a music video effective, and is it possible that any kind of, the music in general just works with an image if your … is a kind of fluid pop song.
Anyway, I did that piece. Then I used it for a piece called Rambling Man where I sing a western song that was kind of like a cowboy film, again on kind of a loop where I ride out of the sunset and then into the sunset. Then in the middle of the film, I just get off my horse and sing this song called “How I Became a Rambling Man.”
Those were two instances where I managed to integrate my music, but other than that, I haven’t really been successful. Mostly it’s a separate kind of activity, like I just sing. The singer/songwriter thing is a bit of a hobby.
HV: What stopped it?
RG: Well, I haven’t just found that many occasions to actually use it in my film work, which is largely kind of terminated now. I’m not doing films. They’re mostly silent, and there just was no place for music in them really. I’ve always wanted to integrate it because it’s something that I enjoy doing as much as making art, sometimes in a way more. I would say my practice is, in terms of the integration, the music is quite different than say somebody like Martin Creed, whose performance is integral to this. He’s managed to find a way of doing that. I haven’t really … In a way, I suppose, it’s since my work has involved and the photographic work has involved personas.
In a way, I suppose, this would be another one, but I was just discussing it with a friend … and it’s not really a persona when I perform. I find that’s too difficult to do, to have that ironic position in terms of music, especially if you’re singing. There’s actually a demand for a certain kind of authenticity whether you like it or not. When I’m writing lyrics, that’s the part I find the most difficult. Music I don’t find that hard to do, but writing lyrics is very, very difficult if you have to sing it yourself. If you were writing it for somebody else, it may be another story, but you have to be able to sing it with some conviction. Otherwise I can’t even pronounce the words, I find, unless I feel that there’s something … authentic emotion behind it.
HV: Did you find any resistance to using sound in your pieces? Were people confused by them? Was there any of that? Was contemporary art not ready for sound?
RG: No, I don’t think it was that. I think it’s just my personal, the way that I, the kind of music that I make relative to the kind of art that I make. But I’m going to do … I just worked on a new album project. I’m going to make a more or less straight ahead music video for it as a different … It’s kind of a challenge, too, because the genre is so established, and at the same time it’s so varied, so open ended, that it is kind of a challenge. I was just going to do something just as a strictly promotional music video that’s not an art work.
HV: In the last like five years it seems like people are much more interested in sound.
RG: Yeah, that’s true.
HV: Why is that do you think?
RG: Actually, I don’t really know. I’ve always been interested in sound and particularly in popular music. Actually, I’m sorry. I really can’t answer that … I don’t know why, but I’m kind of happy that that’s the case because it’s interesting to me.
HV: How does your visual art inform your sound, if at all?
RG: … my art per se doesn’t really, but maybe my art training has had [an impact]. My art experience or my experience of other art. I think I probably approach the work somewhat as an artist. I guess working within personas in my photographic work has maybe freed me up to explore that in musical context, too. At the same time, like I said, it’s evolved, or a different demand was made once I entered into it.
It freed me up also having a day job that provided me some money. It was different, too — was good, too — because for a long time when I was struggling, I couldn’t really afford to have much musical equipment. I find the challenge now is … convening a band. That’s the hard part because everybody as they get older, they have other things to do as well and other bands to play with and tour with or whatever. That’s the real challenge now. Originally we were going to have the whole band, my whole band here, but the only person that could really make it was Paul, my lead guitarist, so we’re doing it as a duo.
2:35pm: There have been a couple of spoken word performances today, including Tobias Spichtig and Paolo Thorsen-Nagel, who are performing now:
2:21pm: In my quest to figure out who is attending #AlltheInstruments, I introduced myself to Rachel, a documentary filmmaker who lives in Atwater Village. She says she likes art, music, and has friends performing so she decided to attend on a chill Sunday and listen. She liked the idea of the intersection of art and music, and she says she tends to go to more art events than music. She admits she doesn’t go to the Hammer a lot because it’s on the Westside — the great east/west divide of LA rears its ugly head.
2:14pm: Then this happened:
Overheard at #AlltheInstruments: “When you’re not at MARFA, where are you?”
— Hrag (@hragv) September 27, 2015
2:01pm: Got to interview Rodney Graham for a few minutes and, of course, he was really great and nice. Then I realized he’s Canadian (I had forgotten) and thought, “of course, he’s awesome.”
Now, Brendan Fowler, who is better known for the photo-based work is performing a predominantly spoken word piece.
It was concise, funny, thoughtful, and there was a shout out to Barry McGee, Margaret Kilgallen, and Mark Bradford because of the “collaboration” piece by Bradford in the lobby of the Hammer, which a fantastic piece about AIDS in the US and memory. Highly recommended. Bradford sanded away the surfaces of the wall until he got down to the very first mural, which was by McGee:
1:39pm: I asked the curator, Aram Moshayedi, how he conceptualized the program and this is what he said:
The idea came about from studio visits where the conversation shifted away from art. Many artists have side projects or other abilities that are hardly ever emphasized because there is such a preoccupation with the making of things and objects. So I wanted to bring this idea of something that’s peripheral into the center, without turning it merely into entertainment or as an accompaniment to an exhibition.
1:32pm: Active Pass may be one of the favorite in the program. I’m digging the poetic ennui accompanied by the music that sounds like it is being slowly unraveled.
1:24pm: Funny line by lead singer of Active Pass as he changes his accessories: “I’m going to go from a wizard to a bad boy who might be a good girl.”
1:16pm: Active Pass (I think this is a link for them but I’m not sure) is up and the backup singers with their white fans obstructing their faces is a good touch.
12:50pm: A young Christian man interrupted the performance with his Bible and proceeded to read from it. I couldn’t make out the passage but I’m going on a limb and assume we’re all sinners.
Here’s a small video of the curator approaching him:
And I got a pic of him being escorted out by security:
12:47pm PST: I arrived a little late and missed Cruzvillegas/RIVOAH since I took a detour to the Getty Museum to see the Hellenistic bronzes exhibition. It was worth the trip but … more on that later.