In conjunction with her one-person exhibition, Concrete Sound, at Norte Maar Gallery (shown below), Wolowiec worked with Hou to create a publication that is an extension of her installation. The limited-edition artist book, also called Concrete Sound, is based on a series of email exchanges of images and text between Wolowiec and Hou over the course of a month.
The result is a beautiful, handmade book that explores the idea of call and response, as well as other sound-related themes, such as deep listening and interpersonal communication. The hand-stitched volume uses collage and vellum to great effect. The transparent pages create not only layers of text, but also layers of meaning.
“Do we want concrete?” Hou writes in the unconventional introduction, printed on a single folded page, “As if uncertainty looms unconventionally like a black skirt in the corner. Sound waves its left hand amongst tremors. The women in search of an echo may unhook themselves from the mirror…Can personal history be detached from the body?”
The limited-edition artist book, Concrete Sound, is based on a series of email exchanges of images and text between Wolowiec and Hou over the course of a month and is an extension of Wolowiec’s installation by the same name. (Photo courtesy Audra Wolowiec)
Based on acoustic foam used in anechoic chambers, Audra Wolowiec’s installation, Concrete Sound, is etymologically linked to language as explored through concrete poetry and the role it played in early communication devices. On the coasts of England, large cement domes called ‘acoustic mirrors’ once used to detect sounds from oncoming troops, now lay dormant as reminders of the tactile nature of analog technology. (Photo courtesy Norte Maar Gallery)
Christine Shan Shan Hou reading from Concrete Sound at Norte Maar Gallery in 2011. (Photo courtesy the Norte Maar Gallery blog)
The last 10 copies of Concrete Sound are available for purchase from the authors. (Photo courtesy Audra Wolowiec)
To better showcase Concrete Sound, I’ve made a special page on the Gwarlingo website with full-screen scans from the book. This will allow you to read the poems and view the pages in more detail.
Audra and Christine have also created a video that will give Gwarlingo readers a better sense of the project and it’s unusual features, like its vellum pages, photographs, and collages.
You’ll notice that certain text and poems appear lighter than others as a result of being viewed beneath the transparent vellum. Such subtleties don’t translate digitally, but 10 lucky Gwarlingo readers can purchase the last copies of this limited-edition book directly from the artists for $20 + $2 shipping and handling. (Note: The first edition of Concrete Sound has sold out, but Christine and Audra have just issued a second edition of the book, now available for purchase!)
Christine Shan Shan Hou is a poet, critic, and artist living in Brooklyn, New York. Publications include Accumulations (Publication Studio, 2010) and Concrete Sound (2011), a collaborative artists’ book with Audra Wolowiec. Additional poems appear in Weekday, EOAGH, Critical Correspondence,Bone Bouquet, and Belladonna #148. Her awards include The Flow Chart Foundation/The Academy for American Poets and the Zora Neale Hurston Scholarship. Her criticism has been published in The BrooklynRail, The Performance Club, Hyperallergic Weekend, IDIOM, and Fake Pretty. For more information about Christine and her work, please visit her website.
About Audra Wolowiec
Audra Wolowiec (Photo by Katarina Hybenova)
Audra Wolowiec is an interdisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, New York, whose work oscillates between sculpture, sound, text and performance. She received an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design and has shown work at Norte Maar, Magnan-Metz, and Art in General. Her work has been featured in The Brooklyn Rail, textsound, and Thresholds (MIT Dept of Architecture). She currently teaches at Parsons in the Art, Media and Technology Department. For more information about Audra and her work, please visit her website.
This drawing may look like a maze or an artist’s sketch, but it’s actually a musical score created by Emmy-award-winning composer Steve Heitzeg.
A few years ago pianist Teresa McCollough received a surprise gift in the mail from Heitzeg: 192 scores titled World Piece. Each score was named for one of the 192 countries in the United Nations at that time and made a political or environmental statement through one chord, or a few notes beautifully expressed through Steve’s evocative drawings.
“World Piece arrived during a very difficult time in my life,” Teresa told me via phone this week. “I couldn’t believe that he had kept the project a secret for so many months. I cried when I opened the package.”
From the very beginning, Heitzeg conceived of the project as a thank you to McCollough. Heitzeg describes the evolution of the idea:
In 2000 Teresa McCollough had a call for scores for her new CD of music for solo piano by living American composers listed in the American Composers Forum newsletter. I submitted my Sandhill Crane (Migration Variations) and fortunately, I was one of the composers selected for her CD New American Piano Music that was released on the Innova label in 2001. Since the release of that CD she has performed my Sandhill Crane numerous times internationally–from China to Canada. She would always send me programs from the performances, too. So, I wanted to send her a thank you for her kindness.
I had been ruminating about composing a piece about world peace. Then, one day while walking through the Barnes and Noble in Minneapolis, I came upon Lonely Planet’s The Travel Book: A Journey Through Every Country in the World. I thought I could honor each country in the world with a brief chord or gesture. The UN works tirelessly for peace and most of the countries in the world are member states, that is why I chose the UN.
I use a single chord or small musical fragments to symbolize the notion that the smallest acts of kindness can change the world in a positive way.
“When I was in school, the only people who were doing improv were jazz players, and the jazz world and the classical worlds never met.” (Photo: Pianist Teresa McCollough. Image courtesy the artist)
My own discovery of Heitzeg’s World Piece project occurred last year when I saw Teresa perform selections of the work at Roulette in Brooklyn during a concert featuring compositions by Alvin Singleton, Alex Shapiro, and the Wet Ink Ensemble. Seeing each score projected behind the piano as Teresa performed was a memorable experience, and I was particularly struck by how much creative freedom Heitzeg had given to McCollough. (Not every composer is so trusting of performers, and not every performer is up to the task of improvisation). As I talked to Teresa about the evolution of the piece after her Roulette performance, I knew immediately that I wanted to share World Piece with Gwarlingo readers on October 24th: United Nations Day.
Throughout this highly-improvisatory work, McCollough is called upon to play all parts of the piano (the keys, the strings inside the piano, the wood), to whistle, to make animal sounds, whisper and sing into the piano. In the Bhutan movement, she plays a high cluster of chords in honor of “the roof of the world” and the Canadian movement is a tender “song for seal pups.” In a light-hearted moment, McCollough tosses Euros into the piano for the Monaco movement; as a protest to war, she is directed to scream into the piano for the Vietnam movement, which is represented with a black hole in the score.
(NOTE: If you are reading this post in an email and can’t see the below videos, click here to watch the videos on the Gwarlingo website).
Why compose a piece of music for the United Nations? “I’ve always believed in the United Nations,” says Steve. “I was raised by two liberal and democratic parents. My dad still lives on the dairy farm I grew up on. My mom died last year. She was an incredibly positive and hopeful person. She always saw the best in everyone and reminded my sister and me to be kind to and help others and those in need. It was in my junior year in high school that I was able to go on a Know Your Government seminar for one week to Washington, D.C. and New York City. It was my first trip to NYC and I was hooked! We toured the UN and that changed my life.”
“I started the piece on Valentine’s Day 2006 (as sort of a love letter to the world),” Heitzeg explains. “My routine would be to compose a movement for one country each day, consecutively through August, and then research the next country (I went in alphabetical order) that same evening. My wife Gwen is the Director of Public Relations at the Minnesota Orchestra. Our daughter Zadie was born in the summer of 2005, so while Gwen as at work I usually composed these movements during Zadie’s naps right after lunch at noon. Sometimes I would compose the movements in the evening when Gwen was home with Zadie.”
Heitzeg says he was influenced by composer Lou Harrison’s Peace Piece (Nos. 1-3), John Cage’s Litany for the Whale, and nature photographer Jim Brandenburg’s project where he challenged himself to take only one photograph per day between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice.
Steve’s musical score for the Afghanistan movement of World Piece
“I use a single chord or small musical fragments to symbolize the notion that the smallest acts of kindness can change the world in a positive way.” (Photo: Steve Heitzeg by John Noltner courtesy the artist)
Steve’s musical score for the Madagascar movement of World Piece
I asked Steve if the various movements were based on research or more intuitive in nature. “In most cases I researched the country either through The Travel Book, the internet or with books I previously owned. Some movements arose from sheer intuition as you say. I wanted to vary it a bit, so, yes, some are an attempt to draw upon musical styles and sounds of that particular country, while others are more about an imaginative or visual mixed with sonic representation.”
The invitations, event notices, emails, and review copies are pouring in. The fall arts season has officially arrived. If only I could clone myself, then perhaps, I’d have a chance of catching even a handful of these concerts, openings, and shows.
I wish I could attend everything listed here, but since I can’t, I hope you’ll venture out in the coming weeks and report back on what you loved (and what you didn’t).
Here is my completely biased Don’t-Miss List for the coming month (in no particular order).
If I’ve overlooked an event you think Gwarlingo readers would enjoy, feel free to add your event to the Comments section below or to the Gwarlingo Facebook page.
Slinkachu in London and New York
British street artist Slinkachu (a favorite here at Gwarlingo) is celebrating the launch of his new book with two solo shows in London and New York. Global Model Village opens to the public September 27th at Andipa Gallery in London and runs until October 27th. There will also be a pop-up show in New York City from October 3rd through the 7th. Both shows will feature new work shot in different cities around the world.
Also be sure to check out Slinkachu‘s new book Global Model Village: The International Street Art of Slinkachu, which collects together images of installations the street artist has left in cities around the world, including New York, Moscow, Cape Town, Beijing, Berlin, Hong Kong and, of course, his hometown of London. The books is available in UK, US, and German editions. There will also be a Japanese version released in the new year by Sogensha (図書出版 創元社), along with a Japanese version of Slinkachu’s original book. 驚くべき.
John Kelly in 1993 as Cocteau in Light Shall Lift Them (Photo by Rick Gillette courtesy John Kelly)
John Kelly at Joe’s Pub in New York City
When performance artist-actor-writer-video artist-singer-dancer John Kelly is scheduled to perform, count me in. Kelly has the reputation as an artist’s artist. Over the years, he has worked with everyone from Nan Goldin to Antony and the Johnsons and James Franco. His work is so daring and original it can be difficult to boil down to a bite-sized blurb. He has received numerous awards, including Obies, Bessies, and The Rome Prize (a testament to how diverse his work is). If you don’t know Kelly’s work yet, keep him on your radar. I’m building an entire New York trip around his upcoming cabaret performances at Joe’s Pub. Seeing Kelly perform is always revelatory.
John Kelly (Photo by Billy Erb courtesy John Kelly)
John Kelly makes his solo Joe’s Pubdebut performing songs by Kurt Weill, Charles Aznavour, Holcombe Waller, Richard Einhorn, The Incredible String Band and Richard Thompson, among others. Tickets are $20. Performances are October 14th, October 28th, and November 4th. Visit the Joe’s Pub website for more information or to purchase tickets. You can also read more about the show on John Kelly’s Facebook event page.
OPERAtion Brooklyn 2012. Back Row: Zach Redler, Sidney Marquez Boquiren, Daniel Neer, Kayleigh Butcher, Daniel Felsenfeld. Front Row: Sara Cooper, Noah Himmelstein. (Photo by Meghan Hickey courtesy of American Opera Projects)
OPERAtion Brooklyn Brings Opera to The BEAT Festival
American Opera Projects and Opera on Tap’s acclaimed series returns for a new showcase of operatic works from and inspired by Brooklyn.
Composer Daniel Felsenfeld will premiere A Genuine Willingness to Help (Book I),the first installment in the composer’s “Author Project,” which features music and multi-media performance based on texts by living writers and songwriters, such as Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, Stephen Elliott, and Fiona Maazel. Felsenfeld’s Raw Footage: Composer’s Cut, based on Robert Coover’s novel The Adventures of Lucky Pierre: Director’s Cut, is also on the program, along with Stop and Frisk by composer Sidney Marquez Boquiren and librettist Daniel Neer and Male Identity by composer Zach Redler and librettist Sara Cooper.
Topping off the program are four songs drawn from One Ring Zero’s album As Smart As We Are (The Author Project). Viggo Mortensen (yes, that Viggo Mortensen) calls these “mysterious pop songs,” arranged for piano and chamber ensemble by Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp, “…a well-orchestrated booby trap for music lovers everywhere…“ The works feature texts by Margaret Atwood, Neil Gaiman, Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and David Wondrich.
OPERAtion Brooklyn is part of the first annual BEAT Festival. BEAT creates a platform to celebrate Brooklyn’s finest performing artists, ”extraordinary world-class performers who stand as the greatest innovators of the performing arts,” says festival artistic director Stephen Shelley. From September 12-23, artists will perform in venues throughout the borough. For complete information and festival passes visit www.beatbrooklyn.com.
Wednesday, Sept. 19 – 7:30 PM Brooklyn Conservatory of Music
58 7th Avenue, Park Slope
Saturday, Sept. 22 – 7:30 PM The Irondale Center
85 S. Oxford Street, Ft Greene
Andrew Ohanesian’s The House Party under construction at Pierogi’s The Boiler (Photo by Will Femia courtesy ny.curbed.com)
Andrew Ohanesian’s The House Party at Pierogi’s The Boiler in Williamsburg
Artist Andrew Ohanesian is fascinated with art that imitates reality. He’s built a confessional-booth-sized bar for one (with beer on tap),a row house and a fully stocked, walk-in, refrigerated cooler (installed at English Kills Art Gallery). For his latest work, The House Party, Ohanesian has constructed a full-sized suburban home inside Pierogi’s satellite gallery, The Boiler, a former factory boiler room with 40 foot ceilings located at 191 N. 14th St. in Willisamburg.
Ohanesian’s house will be opened up to the public for a house party on September 14th, the opening night of the exhibition. In this at once creative and destructive act, the artist enlists the audience to provide the final element of the work itself, giving each viewer the unique opportunity to physically leave his or her own scar on the House, by partying within it throughout the evening. You can see an animation of the house in this video:
As Stephen Truax reported on Hyperallergic, “depending on New York Fire Department’s ruling on the certificate of occupancy, visitors may or may not have to sign a waiver to enter the space. However, if you do get in, you will enjoy a functional bathroom and kitchen with plumbing (as well as, thankfully, ventilation), a working stove (including an oven hood), dishwasher, fridge (complete with water dispenser), garbage disposal, 94,000 BTUs of AC cooling power, dish cable, and wifi.”
There will be a lot of openings to choose from the night of the 14th, but be sure to put this one on the must-see list.
Andrew Ohanesian’s The House Party is on view at Pierogi’s The Boiler at 191 North 14th Street in Brooklyn September 14th-November 18th.
Fred Hersch Trio at the Village Vanguard and On Tour
Composer and pianist Fred Hersch’s return to jazz after several months in an AIDS-related coma was nothing short of miraculous. (You can hear Hersch discuss his illness and recovery with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross here). Hersch is back with a new tour, a new album, and is better than ever.
The Grammy-nominated performer is currently performing at the Village Vanguard with his trio, John Hébert on bass and Eric McPherson on drums, to celebrate the release of his new two-disk CD, Alive at the Vanguard. Recorded in February 2012, the new album contains seven new Hersch compositions, as well as music by Coleman, Kern, Porter and Monk.
I’ve seen Hersch perform over seven times now, and he never disappoints. If you can’t catch The Fred Hersch Trio for their six-night performance at the Village Vanguard in New York, you can also see them on tour this September in Boston, Chicago, D.C., Baltimore, and Cincinnati. Tour dates and venues are listed below. You can listen to tracks off the new album right here:
You can purchase a copy of the Fred Hersch Trio’s new album Alive at the Vanguard from Amazon or iTunes. (A portion of your purchase will benefit Gwarlingo).
Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus in New York City
Thanks to the Public Art Fund, Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi has created a different kind of “house party” at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. Discovering Columbus places the 13-foot-tall statue of Columbus in the center of an American living room six stories above the city streets, temporarily transforming it into a contemporary artwork. According to the Public Art Fund website, the room will feature many of the trappings of a domestic living room—lamps, a couch, a coffee table, a television, and more—as well as custom wallpaper by the artist. Through large, loft-style windows, visitors will have dramatic views of Central Park and Midtown Manhattan that will be seen from Columbus’s perspective for the first time.
Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus (Photo courtesy of the artist and the Public Art Fund, NY)
In a stroke of genius, the Public Art Fund is simultaneously overseeing the conservation of the 1892 Columbus Monument in cooperation with the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. The scaffolding supporting Nishi’s living room is allowing conservators to access the column and figure at its top. The restoration is expected to be completed by January of 2013. (Why can’t all government bureaucracies be this creative with their resources?)
Over 100,000 people are expected to visit the installation, which is on view from September 20th through November 18th.
Tickets to climb six stories to this home-away-from-home are free, but must be booked in advance. (Elevator access is available for those who require special assistance.) Register for free tickets at the Public Art website.
Norman Mooney, Series 4 No. 1, 2007. Carbon on aluminum panel, 72 x 144 inches. (Photo courtesy the artist and Causey Contemporary)
Norman Mooney’s Close Your Eyes at Causey Contemporary in Williamsburg
If you’re in Williamsburg Friday night to catch the opening of Andrew Ohanesian’s The House Party, stop by Causey Contemporary for Norman Mooney’s solo show of monumental carbon smoke drawings, Close Your Eyes. The Irish artist’s carbon drawings are created with layers of billowing smoke preserved on aluminum panel and have both a physical and metaphysical presence.
Causey Contemporary is located at 92 Wythe Avenue in Brooklyn. The gallery will be participating in the Williamsburg Gallery Association‘s Every Second Friday on September 14, 2012 from 6-10 p.m. along with Art101, Figureworks, Front Room, Gitana Rosa, Parker’s Box, Pierogi, P339, Skink Ink Editions, T.A.P.S. Gallery, The Boiler, Ventana 244 and Williamsburg Art and Historical Society. Galleries will be open late and the wine and cheese will be in heavy supply. More information is available at the Causey Contemporary website.
Stills from The Clock by Christian Marclay (Photo courtesy arkitipintel.com)
(NOTE: This review is from the summer of 2012. Marclay’s The Clock is on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City through January 21, 2013, with a special 24-hour screening on New Year’s Eve. For more information, visit MoMA’s website.)
Last week I made the four-and-a-half-hour drive to New York City and stood in line for an hour in the rain to see a rare screening of Christian Marclay’s The Clock, currently on view at The Lincoln Center Festival. Before I arrived, playwright Wallace Shawn had been spotted in the queue. The Twitter feed for the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center has also reported sightings of Angelica Huston, Marlo Thomas, and Dr. Ruth. Wait times for screenings have burgeoned to two hours at some points and can be longest around midnight, when the ultimate climax of this 24-hour art installation occurs.
So is The Clock really worth of all this trouble? I’m happy to report that it is.
The Clock is the brainchild of Swiss sound and video artist Christan Marclay, the same artist who created the brilliant video works Telephone (1995) and Video Quartet (2002). (Note: You can watch Marclay’s Telephone at the end of this article).
But while Video Quartet was only fourteen minutes long, and Telephone a mere seven, The Clock is Marclay’s magnum opus, a mesmerizing 24-hour montage of thousands of time-related movie clips that have been masterfully edited and synchronized to show the actual time. The time is conveyed through dialogue, clocks, watches, and other timepieces. One moment Patrick Macnee is looking at his pocket watch in The Avengers; the next, Tobey Maguire is racing to deliver pizzas in Spiderman. The Clock has no beginning and no end, but endlessly loops, just as a real clock does.
As the clocks tick and we see snippets of shootouts, bank heists, chase scenes, romances, comedies, and detective dramas all appropriated from the rich history of cinema, patterns begin to emerge—travelers rushing to catch trains, men with hangovers smashing alarm clocks. The top of the hour is a popular time for cinema’s most dramatic moments—hangings, bombings, shootouts, trains leaving the station. But life is less outlandish when the hour hand passes the 12. This is the time when people wait, comb their hair, smoke, call a friend on the phone, commute to work, or cook dinner. In other words, its more like real life. In The Clock time passes not only in minutes, but also in years, as we glimpse actors like Joan Crawford, Catherine Deneuve, and Jack Nicholson in youth and in old age.
It took Marclay three years to make The Clock with the help of six assistants.
It took Marclay three years to make The Clock with the help of six assistants. The assistants’ job was to watch movies all day long and to bring Marclay any time-related clips they could find. For the first year, Marclay wasn’t even sure the project would be possible. Were there enough time-related clips in film history to create a 24-hour artwork?
For three years Marclay sat at his computer editing. “It was a gruesome three years,” Marclay told David Zlaewski in The New Yorker:
“But I became addicted to finding those little solutions. It gives you a bit of a high. You put two things together, and you get, like, ‘Oh my God, this works!’…The worst was when I worked really hard on figuring out some nice transition at 10:46 a.m. and someone would bring another 10:46, which was better footage or worked better with the narrative. There was constant remodeling.”
The Clock is a film about film, but also a film about our own mortality and obsession with time. (Photo courtesy galleristny.com)
The Clock finally debuted at the end of 2010 at London’s White Cube Gallery and was first shown in New York at the Paula Cooper Gallery. Both galleries gave Marclay financial support to cover the budget of creating the piece, which cost more than $100,000.
One cost that didn‘t factor into Marclay’s budget was copyright payments. As Zalewski details in his New Yorker profile, no one has ever objected to the artist’s appropriation of sounds and images in the past, so using thousands of film and music clips in The Clock didn’t give Marclay pause. “If you make something good and interesting and not ridiculing someone or being offensive, the creators of the original material will like it,” Marclay told Zalweski. At the 2011 Venice Biennale, Marclay won the Golden Lion for best artist in the exhibit. Accepting the Golden Lion, the artist humorously invoked Andy Warhol, thanking the jury “for giving The Clock its fifteen minutes.”
No description of this 24-hour installation can possibly convey its genius. Marclay’s collage is nothing less than a masterpiece, and one that must be experienced in person to be appreciated.
First, there is the event of it all, of gathering together with fellow film-goers to have a common and unique experience. Even the wait in line adds to the anticipation. The ability to watch any film or television show on demand in the privacy of our homes whenever we feel like it makes the rarity of The Clock screenings quite exceptional. The Clock is a live event, meant to be seen in real time. The audience is an integral part of the piece. The experience begins the moment we enter the space and ends the second we leave it.
It’s Marclay’s brilliance as an editor, his uncanny ability to stitch the right scenes and sounds together, that is the secret of The Clock‘s power as a work of art. (Photo courtesy Time Out New York)
The fact that only six copies of The Clock exist has turned these live screenings into a kind of competitive sport. Five copies of The Clock have been acquired by museums (or collectors who intend to donate the piece to a museum), including MoMA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. One copy has been purchased jointly by the National Gallery of Canada and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and in February of this year, the Tate, Israel Museum, and Centre Pompidou collaboratively purchased one of the last remaining copies. The sixth copy was sold to Steven A. Cohen, a Connecticut hedge-fund manager. These institutions were right to act quickly, for I have no doubt that Marclay’s piece is destined to become a seminal piece of 21st century art.
When I learned that Lincoln Center was offering a rare chance to see The Clock for free as part of The Lincoln Center Festival in New York City, I immediately made plans to visit. After waiting in line for an hour outside the David Rubenstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, I was ushered into a darkened room and directed to one of the carefully arranged IKEA couches. I had forgotten my cell phone during the screening, but conveniently, keeping track of time wasn’t an issue.
With the hard work of getting there behind me, I settled into my front row seat and put myself into Marclay’s hands.
The artist doesn’t disappoint. Marclay is a gifted editor, particularly when it comes to sound. He has had a long-standing interest in fusing fine art and audio culture. Earlier in his career, he was known for creating sound collages out of broken records, which he would cut up and then rejoin. Playing these assemblages produced a mix of music, as well as strange pops and hisses each time the turntable needle hit a seam. The artist began working with turntables in the late 1970s independently, but also parallel to hip hop’s use of the instrument.
What surprised me most about The Clock was its emotional pulse. There are moments of poignancy, humor, and surprise: a sudden car wreck, humorous, well-timed cameo appearances from Woody Allen, clock-watching lovers who have been left waiting a bit too long. (Photo: The Clock by Christian Marclay)
Country music legend Kitty Wells died Monday at her home in Madison, Tennessee, after suffering complications from a stroke. She was 92.
The music of Kitty Wells and other country artists played frequently on the turntable in our Georgia house. My grandmother, who grew up on a farm in the North Georgia mountains as one of twelve children, was raised on the sounds of Mother Maybelle and The Carter Family. Music was an integral part of the church services she attended, and my grandmother (who is still living) always loved to belt out hymns on Sunday mornings in an off-key whine reminiscent of both Mother Maybelle and Wells. When I hear the gospel-tinged moan of Kitty Wells today, it still feels like home to me.
Without Wells, it’s possible that a young Loretta Webb born into poverty in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, and married at the ripe age of 15, never would have found the courage to teach herself to play a $17 Harmony Guitar or to write songs like “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “The Pill,” “One’s on the Way,” or “Rated X.” (Photo courtesy the Associated Press)
From where we sit today, it’s easy to forget how important Wells was to country music. Before Mother Maybelle and Kitty Wells, country music was very much a man’s world. Singers like Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Hank Thompson, and Ernest Tubb emerged from a conservative, working class life obsessed with both sin and salvation. There was poverty, drinking, hard living, followed by the usual Sunday morning repentance. The female characters who inhabit these country music songs were often portrayed as either “angels” or “whores.”
Take Hank Thompson’s number one hit “The Wild Side of Life” (see video below), which tells the story of a woman shirking her domestic duties in pursuit of a wild, night life. “Wild Side” co-writer William Warren based the song on a young woman he once met — a honky tonk angel, as it were — who “found the glitter of the gay night life too hard to resist.” In his book The Grand Ole Opry History of Country Music Paul Kingsbury writes that the song appealed to people who “thought the world was going to hell and that faithless women deserved a good deal of the blame.”
Until Mother Maybelle and Kitty Wells, the female perspective was notably absent from commercial country music. One has to look to Appalachian, Scotch-Irish, and New England folk tunes to find female singers and writers “telling it like it is.” (One of my favorite examples is this Vermont folk tune “Single Again,” which was collected and recorded by legendary song catcher Margaret MacArthur and recently re-recorded by Margaret MacArthur’s granddaughter Robin and her husband Tyler Gibbons.)
Kitty Wells’ “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” was the perfect comeback song to Hank Thompson’s “Wild Side.” It should be noted that the tune wasn’t written by Wells herself, but by J.D. “Jay” Miller, but it was Wells who made it a success. It became the first number one Billboard country hit for a solo female artist, which was in and of itself, a major breakthrough. Here is Bill Friskics-Warren writing in The New York Times:
Ms. Wells was an unlikely and unassuming pioneer. When she recorded “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” she was a 33-year-old wife and mother intending to retire from the business to devote herself to her family full time. The only reason she made the record, she told the weekly newspaper Nashville Scene in 1999, was to collect the union-scale wage ($125) that the session would bring.
“I wasn’t expecting it to make a hit,” she said. “I just thought it was another song.”
But Ms. Wells’s record proved to be much more than just “another song.” It was a rejoinder to Hank Thompson’s No. 1 hit “Wild Side of Life,” a brooding lament in which the singer blames a woman he picks up in a bar for breaking up his marriage, and it became her signature song.
“Honky Tonk Angels” resonated with women who had been outraged by Mr. Thompson’s record, which called into question their morals and their increasing social and sexual freedom. At a time when divorce rates were rising and sexual mores changing in postwar America, the song, with lyrics by J. D. Miller, resounded like a protofeminist anthem.
“As I sit here tonight, the jukebox playin’/The tune about the wild side of life,” Ms. Wells sings, she reflects on married men pretending to be single and causing “many a good girl to go wrong.” She continues:
It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women
It’s not true that only you men feel the same
From the start most every heart that’s ever broken
Was because there always was a man to blame.
The NBC radio network banned Ms. Wells’s record, deeming it “suggestive,” and officials at the Grand Ole Opry would not at first let her perform it on their show. The Opry eventually relented, in part because of the song’s popularity and Ms. Wells’s nonthreatening image.
It was the remarkable Kitty Wells who paved the way for singers like Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, and Tammy Wynette, whose popular songs defied the typical stereotype of being submissive to men and putting up with their philandering ways.
Without Wells, it’s possible that a young Loretta Webb, born into poverty in Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, and married at the ripe age of 15, never would have found the courage to teach herself to play a $17 Harmony Guitar or to write songs like “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “The Pill,” “One’s on the Way,” or “Rated X.” Like Wells, the conservative country music community was slow to embrace Loretta Lynn’s frank songs about sexuality, and often refused to play them on the radio, but both Lynn and Wells found widespread commercial success — a testament to the fact that their voices were appreciated by listeners, if not by the male dominated music business.
Here’s Kitty Wells performing her #1 hit at the Grand Ole Opry. I love this video for the way it captures commercial country music at this moment in history. Everything about the set, band, and television production plays it safe — it’s conservative, white, and non-threatening. The real innovation here is Kitty Wells herself, the woman who voiced an alternative point of view and made it possible for the groundbreaking female voices that followed in her footsteps. Continue Reading…
Peer Gynt is the incidental music to Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 play of the same name, written by the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg in 1875. It premiered along with the play on February 24th, 1876 in Norway. Grieg later extracted eight movements to make two four-movement suites. As Erica Jeal explains in the Guardian, Grieg always wanted to write a truly Norwegian opera; he never did, but the incidental music he wrote for Ibsen’s play is the nearest he came. Grieg’s dream of seeing this piece performed out the theater and in the concert hall was never fulfilled in his lifetime.
The below video features the movement “Morning Mood,” which depicts the rising of the sun during Act IV, Scene 4 of Ibsen’s play. In this scene the play’s hero finds himself stranded in the Moroccan desert after his companions have taken his yacht and abandoned him there while he slept.
I love the juxtaposition of this quiet, peaceful piece with the moving metro train and bustling, preoccupied commuters. It’s also poignant to watch the expressions on the passengers faces as they transform from suspicion and discomfort into delight.
It just goes to prove that classical music doesn’t have to contained in concert halls or only enjoyed by an elite few.
Jazz lovers might also be interested in Duke Ellington’s interpretation of Peer Gynt, which was recorded in 1960 on his Swinging Suites by Edward E. and Edward G. album. In 1990 the album was rereleased on CD as Three Suites along with Ellington’s reworking of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. Earlier this year a remastered version of Ellington’s Peer Gynt was released along with Strayhorn’s Suite Thursday.
(Note: This article is one of the first posts I wrote for Gwarlingo. I thought Sibylle Baier deserved more attention than she was getting, so I’m resurrecting this post from depths of the archive with the hope that you’ll check out this entrancing album. Colour Green is the perfect music for a Saturday in February. Enjoy!)
One of my favorite discoveries this winter was the German singer Sibylle Baier. The story of how her wonderful record, Colour Green, came to be is as interesting as the music itself.
She grew up in Germany in the 50s and 60s. During a particularly low period in her early life, a friend tried to cheer up Baier with a road trip to Strasbourg and the Alps in Genoa. The excursion had a lasting impact. When she returned home, she wrote her first song, “Remember the Day,” in response to her travels with her friend Claudine.
Baier continued to write music for herself and her family. Between 1970 and 1973 she recorded a number of songs on a reel-to-reel tape recorder at her home in Germany. Although her music was featured in the film Umarmungen und andere Sachen, and she played a role in Wim Wenders’ 1973 movie Alice in the Cities.Baier chose not to pursue an acting or music career in the end. Instead, she moved to America and focused on raising her family.
These songs might never has seen the light of day if it weren’t for Sibylle’s son Robby. Some 30 years after Baier made these intimate recordings Robby compiled a CD of his mother’s early music to give to family members as gifts. He also gave a copy to J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr., who passed the disc along to
Orange Twin, a record label in Athens, Georgia. In 2006 Baier’s music rightfully earned a loyal following when Orange Twin released the songs as the collection Color Green.
Sibylle Baier and her son Robby
The fourteen original songs on the album feature Baier singing and playing acoustic guitar. There are no background vocals or session musicians; the recordings are just as she made them in the early 70s. It was a wise decision to let these lovely home recordings stand on their own–overdubbing only would have muddied her clear, pure vocals. Everything about Colour Green is memorable, most especially Baier’s unique, haunting voice and the intimate lyrics that tell simple stories about daily life.
Baier has a wonderful eye for small, everyday details. One minute, she sings about buttered bread, apple pie, and feeding the dog and cat, and the next, she is quoting the poet T.S. Elliott. And she shares these intimate details with none of the sentimentality or false nostalgia that mars so much acoustic folk music. Baier gently evokes the experience of riding in a car, coming home from work, or visiting the zoo with her daughter and son.
One of the albums I’m most anticipating this spring is Boys and Girls, the first full-length record from the garage-soul band the Alabama Shakes.
Brittany Howard’s soulful, sandpaper voice channels the likes of Janis Joplin, Otis Redding, and Aretha Franklin, with a touch of Billie Holiday thrown in. It’s true I have a soft spot for soulful Southern singers from my own neck of the woods, but I can’t think of a more memorable voice to emerge on the music scene in ages. There is so much passion, ache, and groove in Howard’s voice, that she makes the microphone bleed. The range of emotion she imparts is nothing less than remarkable. She can be ferocious, but also incredibly tender.
Howard started writing songs at age four with her older sister, who died of a brain tumor in 1998. “After she passed away, I didn’t have anybody to do that with,” she told Rolling Stone, “But I found her guitar, started playing and never really stopped.”
Only six months ago, the Alabama Shakes’ lead singer was working as a postal worker. But after the band debuted these four jaw-dropping tracks on an EP last fall, Howard and her band mates Heath Fogg, Zac Cockrell, Brittany Howard and Steve Johnson, suddenly found themselves thrust into the limelight.
The band’s live show has been receiving rave reviews. After their debut performance at the Bowery Ballroom, Jon Pareles in The New York Times described their set as “a thunderbolt dressed in bluejeans.” David Byrne, Adele, and Booker T. Jones are all fans of the Alabama Shakes. Three upcoming concerts in London are sold out, and the band is already the talk of of South by Southwest, and they haven’t even performed yet.
“When I get to play with Zac, Heath and Steve, I feel invincible,” Howard recently explained to The South Rail. “I love them as musicians and I love them as people. It’s like, I get to sing into this microphone about whatever I want and I got a 42 decibel rock ‘n roll band that’s gonna give me courage and back me up on it. I feel free and easy. I don’t care what someone is thinking, I forget if I’m hurting, I’m not worrying about bad news, and I don’t care for that little while about those bills I have to pay back at home. I’m just reveling in my own world.”
I can’t wait for summer to come around so I can play these songs with the window rolled down. Keep an eye on the Alabama Shakes. This new band is going places.
December 2, 2011 in
News, Sounds with
Jessica Miller-Rauch, Erica Moon, and Michael Krzankowski perform a scene from Peter Wyer's new opera in progress, "Numinous City" (Photo by Michael Palma courtesy of The Rubin Museum)
“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.”
This line from Victor Hugo came to mind the first time I heard the incredible story of Tibetan nun Ngawang Sangdrol.
At age 14 Sangdrol was jailed at the notorious Draphchi Prison for peacefully protesting against China’s invasion of Tibet. The prison has an estimated population of 1000 of which some 600 are thought to be political prisoners ranging in age from 18 to 85, many of which are captured monks and nuns.
While in captivity, Sangdrol was beaten with iron rods and rubber pipes, subjected to electric cattle prods on the tongue and six months in complete darkness in solitary confinement. She was also forced to spin and knit until her fingers were raw and blistered.
Ngawang Sangdrol (Photo courtesy American Opera Projects)
She told the BBC that the mental torture was even worse than the physical torture. ”We had to denounce his Holiness the Dalai Lama and were not allowed to engage in religious practice.”
In 1993, while inside Drapchi prison, Sangdrol and 13 other nuns clandestinely recorded songs in tribute to their homeland and the Dalai Lama using a smuggled cassette player. This courageous group of women, who became known as the “singing nuns” of Drapchi, suffered extended prison sentences and harsh treatment as a result of their actions.
Fortunately, the nuns’ recording made it out of Tibet and the fame of these protest songs ultimately led to intercession by the government and to Sangdrol’s release. While her early release was officially on grounds of good behavior, her liberation was politically well-timed, happening only a few days before then-Chinese President Jiang Zemin visited George Bush’s Texas ranch. Sangdrol ultimately served 11 years of her full 23-year sentence.
“We recorded the songs because we wanted our families to know that we were still alive,” said Sangdrol, “and we wanted Tibetan people to know about our situation and our love for our country. We hoped it would reach our families, but we didn’t know for sure. I had no idea until I arrived in America that people all over the world heard those songs while we were still in prison. Now, it makes me feel so sad to listen to the recording, because I remember our friends in prison who died.”
The Tibetan Shrine Room from the Alice Kandell Collection was one of the places we visited at The Rubin Museum during our tour with Ngawang Sangdrol (Photo courtesy The Rubin Museum of Art)
“The Chinese have taken Tibet, our home,” read the lyrics to one song. “Tibetans are locked away in prison/Oh, fellow Tibetans, please come here/Buddhism’s holy land will be free soon.”
Despite years of inhumane treatment, torture and “patriotic education,” Sangdrol’s spirit remained strong.”Even when I first went to prison I knew this sort of torture was taking place,” she told the BBC, but “I was even angrier that an invader would come to our country and persecute our people.”
I had a rare chance to meet Ngawang Sangdrol at The Rubin Museum in New York City two weeks ago. During a tour of the collection, Sangdrol explained the cultural significance of some of the pieces in the museum, including the Tibetan Shrine Room and The Lukhang Murals.
Richard Gere at the performance of Peter Wyer's "Numinous City." Because of his pro-Tibet activities, Gere is permanently banned from entering China. (Photo by Michael Palma Courtesy The Rubin Museum)
Actor Richard Gere, who is an active supporter of the Tibetan Independence Movement and the Dalai Lama, also joined us for the tour and shared some of his own knowledge of Tibet. Gere is the co-founder of Tibet House, Chairman of the Board for the International Campaign for Tibet, and creator of The Gere Foundation, which awards grants to groups dedicated to the cultural preservation of Tibet and the Tibetan people. Because of his pro-Tibet activities, Gere is permanently banned from entering China.
While Sangdrol’s public appearance was an event not to be missed, it was the showcase performance of Peter Wyer’s new opera, Numinous City, inspired by the former nun’s story, that was the impetus for Sangdrol, Gere, myself, and a large crowd of enthusiastic music lovers to gather at the Rubin that evening.
Ngawang Sangdrol and Composer Peter Wyer at The Rubin Museum (Photo by Michelle Aldredge)
Wyer says that the title of his opera, Numinous City, reflects how our lives are constantly shaped by unseen political, spiritual, and emotional forces. It is a reference to what becomes of us after trauma, when the ghosts of the past do not so easily depart.
Although the opera is still a work in progress, Wyer’s score and libretto are off to a stunning start. The narrative moves between the main character’s earlier experiences in prison and her current life working as a nanny for a couple in Brooklyn. (Sangdrol, like the opera’s main character, Tsering, also worked as a nanny in Brooklyn when she first moved to America).
Wyer’s comedic touches were a pleasant surprise in an opera about faith, trauma, and political oppression. The comic story line of the Brooklyn couple, marvelously sung by Jessica Miller-Rauch and Michael Krzankowski, offered some relief from the emotional intensity of the Tibetan scenes, which movingly dramatize Tsering’s walk to Lhasa in order to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet and her subsequent imprisonment and torture.
During one comic scene, John, who has hired Tsering to work as a nanny is his household, performs a lengthy rant about the state of American politics. (Photo by Michael Palma Courtesy The Rubin Museum)
The most comic scene is set in Brooklyn on election night in November of 2004. John and Leila, the couple Tsering works for, are holding a party. When the television announces the re-election of George W. Bush, John belts out the longest, loudest F-bomb in opera history–a brilliant, extended F note that sets the scene for John’s political rant.
References to Guantanamo and Abu Graib add a layer of complexity to the narrative. We see that Tsering is living in America and is free from her prison cell, and yet she is still haunted by the torture she endured in prison, just as America is haunted by its own violent actions.
Wyer has interwoven Tibetan mantras brilliantly into his score, and some of the most exciting moments musically occur during the choruses. His inventive mixture of Western music with traditional Tibetan sounds and techniques result in compelling textures.
Composer Peter Wyer during his recent visit to Kathmandu, Nepal
Gwarlingo highlights some of the most inventive work being made today in visual art, music, writing, film, performance, design, and more. It's also a place where creative people can connect, explore, and share ideas. Gwarlingo has been featured on Andrew Sullivan's The Dish, NHPR, and more. And the name? Gwarlingo is a Welsh word for the rushing sound a grandfather clock makes before it strikes.
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My name is Michelle Aldredge. I’m a writer, photographer, and the creator of Gwarlingo. At Gwarlingo, I share in-depth conversations with artists, as well as some of my own exciting finds in contemporary art. I've done radio appearances on NHPR and consulted on arts projects big and small. From 1999-2012 I worked at The MacDowell Colony, the nation's oldest artist retreat, but I've also done time at an arts magazine, a library, an art museum, and a raptor rehabilitation center. You can read more about me and my work here. Thanks for visiting. Come back. Come often.
A Chain Link Fence Transformed: On my recent visit to the deCordova Museum, one of the artworks I found most compelling was “Capturing Resonance” by sculptor Soo Sunny Park and composer Spencer Topel, which is made out of chain link fencing. Read more about the piece here.
Sol LeWitt's Advice to Eva Hesse: DO! In 1965, when Eva Hesse found herself in a difficult creative place, artist Sol LeWitt wrote his friend a long letter of encouragement: “Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping,…Stop it and just DO!...If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety.” I’ve never had so many overwhelming, positive responses to a piece. Read LeWitt's entire letter here.
The Sunday Poem: Gwarlingo subscribers receive The Sunday Poem in their inbox each week for free. The Sunday poets include Matthew Zapruder, Ravi Shankar (shown above), Meghan O'Rourke, Donald Hall, Kevin Young, Matthew Dickman, Seamus Heaney, Cristián Flores García, D. Nurkse, Jane Hirshfield, Stephen Dunn, Anzhelina Polonskaya, Eduardo Corral, Jean Valentine, Maureen McLane, and more. Explore the entire series here.
The Complete Creative Series: In 13 years working for an artist residency program, I've seen it all. I understand both the psychological and practical barriers to creating your best work. Fear, doubt, financial worries, procrastination, the distraction of technology, presenting yourself online and on applications, creating an engaged community: these are just a few of the challenges you face in any creative field. The Complete Creative is an in-depth series that examines some of the topics that most concern you and your creative life. Read the series here.
Envisioning the Future with Yo La Tengo, R. Buckminster Fuller, & Sam Green: Recently, I had a chance to hang out with Sam Green and Yo La Tengo at the ICA in Boston. Their "live documentary," The Love Song of R. Buckminster Fuller, was like no other film screening I’ve been to and is a must see. Read more here.
The Life & Legacy of Horace Pippin: One of my favorite discoveries at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia was African-American artist Horace Pippin. Here's a look at Pippin's life, art, and legacy, including 34 works by the Depression-era painter. These paintings blow me away.
Everything is Art. Everything is Politics: I didn’t expect a publication that has been touted as one of the “Best Art Books of 2012″ to stand just six inches tall and contain only two photographs. But as Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s new book of quotes, Weiwei-isms, proves, small can be powerful. Read my review here.
The Day in the Life of a Homeless Piano in NYC: Anthony Sherin's quiet, poignant short film has haunted me since I first saw it. Surely you have five minutes? I promise it's worth it. Click here to watch the film.
The Debut of Mary Ruefle's Erasure Melody: Mary Ruefle is one of today’s most admired practitioners of erasure poetry. A new erasure by Ruefle is a rare event, and the publication of one online or in print even rarer. Gwarlingo is the only place where you can see this one-of-a-kind piece. Read Melody in its entirety and learn more about erasure poetry here.
Little People in the City: While the public goes mad for Banksy, a more polished street artist named Slinkachu has been producing brilliant, evocative artwork that has largely escaped the attention of an American audience. Slinkachu is everything Banksy is not–-subtle, poignant, empathic, contemplative. Gwarlingo readers loved Slinkachu's photographs. Check out 33 of his images here.
The Art of Focus - 5 Ways to Free Yourself from Digital Dependency: Our day begins with good intentions. We resolve that today will be different from yesterday, because today, we we’ll stay on task. But then we turn on our computers and smart-phones, and before we know it, we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. How do we make the most of technology without frittering our lives away? How do we create time and space for deep thinking, creation, and real connection within the chaos of digital life?
13 Years, 3500 Artists, 7 Memorable Lessons: After thirteen remarkable years of working at The MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, I decided to leave the Colony in May of 2012. Letting go of a 9-5 job (with a regular paycheck and benefits) in order to expand an arts website is a risky thing to do, but I've loved every minute of the Gwarlingo adventure. Did I learn something from working with over 3500 artists in those 13 years? Hell yeah. Read more here.
52 Pieces by British Street Artist Banksy: Banksy is a walking, breathing oxymoron. Depending on who you ask, he is either a genius or an overhyped vandal, a talented documentary filmmaker or a brilliant faker. He is both a lefty and a critic of liberal piety. He flips off the art world establishment, and yet courts the very art world he claims to detest. He is a street artist who sells his work for high sums in galleries and auction houses, and “an anarchist environmentalist who travels by chauffeured S.U.V. Is Banksy an arch prankster or an art genius? Read more here. (Above: Cardinal Sin by Banksy)
The Illusionist: At first glance, the work of Swiss artist Felice Varini looks like interesting, abstract art superimposed on an architectural space. But these are actually brilliantly composed installations--real paintings in real spaces that hover eerily in front of it. See more of Varini's work here.
The Spectacular Snow Drawings of Simon Beck: Beck creates these incredible designs by simply walking in the snow. These massive installations take two days to complete. See more photos here.
Creativity is the Power to Act: Ai Weiwei's interviews and blog posts are a thought-provoking read. “Creativity is the power to act," Ai says. "It’s the power “to reject the past, to change the status quo, and to seek new potential.” Ai is an architect, sculptor, curator, poet, critic, publisher, and photographer--an artist who created installations out of 1,200 bicycles and 100 million handmade porcelain sunflower seeds. Read more about Ai's writing, political activism, and art work here.
How to Feel Miserable as an Artist: This marvelous list, which is relevant to artists of all disciplines, was created by illustrator Keri Smith and is part of The Artist’s Survival Kit, which Keri wrote and designed. I like Keri’s list because it emphasizes the ways in which we tend to stay in our safe zones as artists. Read the full list here.
Hugo Author Brian Selznick Shares 20 Favorite Books: Martin Scorsese's film adaptation of Brian Selznick's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret has won over critics and fans alike. In this popular Gwarlingo exclusive, Selznick shares his own favorite books for children. There are some wonderful discoveries on the list for readers of all ages. View all 20 titles and see illustrations from Selznick's newest book, Wonderstruck here.
95 Rare Color Photographs: The second most popular post in Gwarlingo's short history has been this feature on the rare color photographs taken by FSA photographers like Jack Delano, Russell Lee, and Marion Post Wolcott. The overwhelming response to this piece leads me to believe that I'm not the only one who finds these early Kodachrome photos from the 30s and 40s a fascinating discovery.
Grace Paley on Writing: "If you want to write, keep a low overhead...The best training is to read and write, no matter what. Don’t live with a lover or roommate who doesn’t respect your work. Don’t lie, buy time, borrow to buy time. Write what will stop your breath if you don’t write." Read more here.
On Money, Fear, & the Artist: Being an artist is so hard because we’re operating in a parallel universe from the larger culture–one that values imagination, creativity, and ideas more than money or status. Read more about art and fear and explore Mark Wagner's amazing currency collages here.
Tour the Tate Modern: The Tate Modern in London, a former power plant, is the most visited modern art gallery in the world. I share some of the highlights from my own visit in this special tour.
The Journey to Freedom: Peter Wyer's Numinous City is inspired by the extraordinary true story of Ngawang Sangdrol, a Tibetan nun, imprisoned in Lhasa, Tibet at age 14. Sangdrol and other nuns managed to record songs on a smuggled cassette player while in prison, the fame of which ultimately led to her release. I spoke to Sangdrol and Wyer (pictured above) at a sneak preview of the opera at the Rubin Museum in New York City. Read more about this incredible story here.
Visit Kim Uchiyama's Tribeca Studio: "I think it's important for us to understand that we live in a society that doesn't value mystery. We want everything to be absolutely clear and unambiguous because this makes us feel more comfortable. We're often afraid of what is foreign or unfamiliar."
Red Heart the Ticker: A legendary songcatcher inspires two musicians on a Vermont farm. Listen to new music from Red Heart the Ticker and take a tour of their farm and studios in this special expanded edition of Gwarlingo's Creative Spaces series.
Browse a handpicked selection of books and other items of interest to artists, writers, teachers, librarians, art lovers, designers, and other creative individuals. A percentage of your purchase supports Gwarlingo.
A Line Made By Flooding: In 2007 Eve Mosher created High Water Line, a public art project in Manhattan and Brooklyn that brought the topic of climate change directly to the city’s residents. “I never wanted this to be a reality,” Mosher said the week Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York and New Jersey. Read more here.
Before and After Dinner: Most people know André Gregory through his critically acclaimed film My Dinner with André, but Cindy Kleine's new documentary reveals so much more about the respected theatre director and raconteur. Read my full review of the film here.
Film & Fatherhood:How do you learn to be a father, particularly when there are no fathers around to be an example? This is the question at the heart of Samein Priester’s documentary 1st&4ever. The dilemma of fatherhood has taken on new significance for Samein since the tragic loss of his partner, artist Denyse Thomasos. Read more and watch the film in its entirety here.
Transforming New York City's Water Towers: Artists like Tom Fruin and Rachel Whiteread are creating memorable public sculptures out of the humble New York City water tower. In the Spring of 2013, 300 rooftop tanks will be transformed into works of art by established and emerging figures in art, music, science as well as public school students. Read more about water-tower art here.
Lessons from the Writing Life: Poet Matthew Zapruder and fiction writer Amy Hempel read and discuss new work at the Juniper Summer Writing Institute in Amherst, Massachusetts.Read more here.
My Review of Christian Marclay's The Clock: The Clock is artist Christian Marclay’s magnum opus, a mesmerizing 24-hour montage of thousands of time-related movie clips that have been masterfully edited and synchronized to show the actual time. Does it live up to the hype? Find out here.
Tales of Captivity and Freedom: In I Am an Executioner, Rajesh Parameswaran introduces us to a cast of heroes—and antiheroes: from the lovesick tiger who narrates the unforgettable opener, to the ex-CompUSA employee who masquerades as a doctor; from a railroad manager in a turn-of-the-century Indian village, to an elephant writing her autobiography; from a woman whose Thanksgiving preparations put her husband to eternal rest, to the newlywed executioner of the title, these characters inhabit a marvelous region between desire and death, playfulness and violence. Read an interview with Rajesh Parameswaran here.
Lewis Hyde on Art and Ownership: Lawsuits over image appropriation, music remixes, file sharing, and copyright infringement are on the rise and emerging as the central debate of the digital era. The Grey Album, a 2004 mash-up by Danger Mouse, is a prime example of the type of copyright dispute Lewis Hyde discusses in his most recent book, Common as Air. You can read a full interview with Hyde here.
Whistler, Fireworks, and a New Way of Seeing: James McNeill Whistler’s loose, impressionistic depiction of fireworks at night was not to everyone’s liking when the painting made its public debut in 1877. Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket sparked an infamous feud between the artist and the Victorian critic John Ruskin. During the libel trial that followed, Ruskin's lawyer asked Whistler, "The labour of two days is that for which you ask two hundred guineas?" The artist replied, “No, I ask it for the knowledge I have gained in the work of a lifetime.” Read more here.
Peter Hutton’s films of rivers, oceans, cargo ships, and landscapes are everything commercial movies are not—subtle, completely silent, thoughtful, and devoid of narrative. "Cinema tends to be this additive thing, it gets more complicated technologically," says Hutton. "I wanted to do it alone, keep it personal and private...It’s not about the pyrotechnics, it’s about something else---being inventive with limitations." Read an interview with Hutton and watch a video of his recent exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum here.
The Lines Between the Arts are Insignificant: Hiroshi Teshigahara's Antonio Gaudi is like no other film I can think of. This 72-minute visual poem on the Spanish Art-Nouveau architect avoids conventional narrative and instead, lets Gaudi’s buildings do the talking. "Gaudi worked beyond the borders of various arts,” Teshigahara once said, “and made me feel that the world in which I was living still left a great many possibilities.” Read more about Gaudi and Teshigahara here.
Doris Salcedo on the Perspective of the Defeated: This photograph of 1,550 wooden chairs piled between two buildings in Istanbul stopped me in my virtual tracks when I first saw it. Born in Colombia, Salcedo’s installations are meditations on the silenced lives of the marginalized--the gap between the powerful and the powerless. Read more about Salcedo's installations here.
The DIY Punk Philosophy of Jem Cohen: Artist Jem Cohen uses film as a solo medium to create cinematic collages and haunting meditations on memory and place. Cohen’s films are works of art–soulful, provocative, anti-commercial, mysterious, unconventional, and beautifully imperfect. The filmmaker has worked with an array of musicians through the years–Patti Smith, R.E.M., The Ex, Gil Shaham, Elliott Smith, Cat Power, and the late Vic Chesnutt. Read more about Jem's work here.
Roger King Explores Love & Fatigue in America: “What does it mean to live in between?” writes novelist Andrea Barrett of Roger King’s latest book. “Not only between geographical locations, but between health and illness, commitment and freedom, love and loss?” In this in-depth interview with British novelist Roger King, we discuss writing, King's fight with chronic fatigue syndrome, his aid work in Africa and Asia, American healthcare, and more.
Artist Matthew Northridge: Matthew Northridge uses paper like no other artist I know. Matt gave me a tour of his solo show at Kansas Gallery during a recent visit to New York City. Explore more of his work here.
The Most Memorable Experiences in the Arts: I asked an array of artists to tell me about their most memorable experiences in the arts during 2011. Singer Rosanne Cash (pictured above), Moosewood cookbook author Mollie Katzen, journalists William Powers and Jeff Sharlet, British composer Tarik O'Regan and others share their surprising picks here.
Exhuming the Forgotten: Filmmaker Errol Morris said that Bill Morrison's Decasia might be ”the greatest movie ever made.” Assembled entirely from decaying, highly flammable, early nitrate footage, this masterpiece belongs in the tradition of Stan Brakhage’s films and Michael Lessy’s memorable book Wisconsin Death Trip; it is simultaneously poetic, haunting, and compelling. The entire piece is a meditation on ruin and the temporal nature not only of film, but of life itself. Learn more about Decasia and Bill Morrison's other films here.
The World of E.B. White: In 1951 the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals accused writer E.B. White of not paying his dog tax and “harboring” an unlicensed dog. White wrote this hilarious letter in response to the ASPCA. Read the letter and an overview of White's work here.
The Sound of Four Hands Clapping: In 1971 composer Steve Reich embarked on a five-week trip to study music and drumming in Ghana. Shortly after his return, he wrote “Clapping Music.” In this 1972 video Reich performs this classic piece with percussionist Russell Hartenberger.
The Evolution of Photographer Bill Jacobson: “There has always been a poetic stance in my work,” says photographer Bill Jacobson. “Whether in focus or out, it’s never been about a single narrative, but rather something beneath the surface of what’s being photographed." Explore Jacobson's work here.
An Accidental Classic: Sibylle Baier’s critically-acclaimed Colour Green was published 30 years after it was first recorded on a reel-to-reel tape recorder. Baier starred in Wim Wender's films and wrote her own songs, but abandoned her career to move to America and raise her family. Read more about how this classic finally found an audience here.
Errol Morris on Photography: What makes an “honest” photograph? Is the medium of photography more factual and authentic than other art forms? Can a photo be objective or does it always have a point of view? When does a photograph document reality? When is it propaganda? When is it art? Filmmaker Errol Morris addresses all of these questions and more in his new book Believing is Seeing.
Ira Glass on the Creative Process: Ira Glass, the host of NPR’s This American Life, gives some useful advice about the art of story telling. Remember the method you learned in college–opening paragraph, thesis sentence, supporting material? Glass says to throw that tired technique out the window!
Essay: On Crows Openness is a state of mind that the nature lover and the artist share. Art, like bird watching, is about seeing, hearing, and understanding. It requires stillness. It demands that we remain open to the unexpected. Read the entire essay here.
Nairobi-London Sound Clash: I discovered the Owiny Sigoma Band during a 2011 trip to London. This highly original, Nairobi-London sound clash, which blends traditional Kenyan Luo styles with contemporary western influences, is like nothing else I’ve heard before. Their debut album, which pulses with mellow grooves, lyre riffs, and hypnotic drums, is organic, quirky and rough around the edges, but in a good way. Listen to the record here.
The Urban Frenzy of Olive Ayhens: Olive Ayhens' neo-expressionist pen and ink and watercolor drawings are a knock-out: textured, original, and deliberately unruly. Working on location, Ayhens draws the lively center of New York City, personifying its skyscrapers in a style that is vigorous and playful, as well as idiosyncratic.
Occupy Writers: Who could have guessed that one of the sanest pieces of writing about the Occupy movement would come from children's book author Lemony Snicket? Read “13 Observations Made by Lemony Snicket while Watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance" here.
P.J. Harvey's "Let England Shake": "I only sing the songs that I can still believe," says singer P.J. Harvey. The emotionally charged "Let England Shake" is one of the strongest records of her career. Listen to samples and watch videos of Harvey's collaboration with filmmaker Seamus Murphy here.
A Secret Garden in the City:These gardens on the roof of Rockefeller Center are one of the best-kept secrets in New York City.
The Discomfort Zone: V.S. Naipaul believes that female writers are inferior and sentimental. Jonathan Franzen observes that "you can't deconstruct and undress at the same time." Has writing about love without hipster irony become a radical act for male novelists today? Read the full story here.
Ten Rules for Writing Fiction: Writers like Zadie Smith, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, and Richard Ford offer guidance on the art of fiction writing. A sampling of their advice: "Have children." "Don't have children." "Get an accountant." "No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write." Damn. What am I going to do with all of those black turtlenecks?
Music by Goldfish: How aware are we of sound as we move through the course of our day? Which sounds do we register and which do we ignore? Do we even give the subject much thought? “Quintetto” by the Italian artist collective Quiet Ensemble is an intriguing blend of music, sound and installation art.
Doubt is Your Revelation: Jeff Sharlet's most recent book, Sweet Heaven When I Die, is a collection of 13 essays about belief, skepticism, and spirituality. Sharlet writes about Brad Will, an anarchist journalist who filmed his own murder by police; BattleCry, an evangelical youth movement devoted to spreading its particular brand of the Christian message; a new-age healer named Sondra Shaye; and renowned intellectual Cornel West.
George Bernard Shaw Exposed: Not many people realize that George Bernard Shaw was a passionate amateur photographer, as well as a prolific writer. When Shaw died at the age of 94, he left behind over 10,000 photographic prints and over 10,000 negatives in his home in Ayot St Lawrence.
Olafur Eliasson, the Danish artist who brought the sun to Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall and created man-made waterfalls in New York City, has a new project--Din blinde passager (Your blind passenger), a 295-foot-long tunnel filled with dense fog.
Breathbox by Antti Paalanen: Watch a mesmerizing piece of music by Finnish accordion master Antti Paalanen. "Mesmerizing accordion music?" you ask. Yes. Really.
The Fear of Failure: Even if you don't know his name, you know his work. Legendary designer Milton Glaser discusses the myth of creative genius and gives advice on how artists can move past the fear of failure. “Find out what you’re capable of doing or not capable of doing,” says Glaser. “Admit what is.” “Embrace the failure.” Watch Glaser's talk here.
Documenting a Revolution: Two filmmakers, who risked their lives to document the looting of archeological sites during the Iraq war, now find themselves in the heart of the Egyptian Revolution.