Movers + Shakers

 

I had the great fortune to check out Movers + Shakers last night.  It’s part of the Thesis Works Winter Season at UCSD at the Mandell Weiss Forum Theatre, at the La Jolla Playhouse complex of theaters. The play was a great romp of modern politics that left viewers smiling and with a great message.  The music was excellent, the scene design was compelling and the story was extremely well fleshed out by an outstanding ensemble of actors.

The performance consisted of only six actors, but they all played two characters in a way that was humorous, believable and often compelling.  Set in a hotel lobby (with a fantastic set designed by Charlie Jica) in Wisconsin, the story centered around an upcoming politician who had arrived to announce an environmental initiative. The problem for him was his new mistress, that he had romanced over Facebook.  His problem elaborated with TMZ and a recently surfaced “dick pic”.

The lack of character transformation was forgiven in part due to the strength of the actors and comedic scenes.  It was more a romp than an evening of in-depth thematic introspection.  The performances, situations and the story were powerful enough to live on the surface, and overcome the lack of complexity in character development.

The story centered on iPhones and modern societies fascination with celebrity and sex over humanism and deeper meaning in life. The scenes were funny, especially a Saturday night love moment where Sean McIntyre’s two characters had a sex scene with, well himself…though it was supposed to be between the two characters he played.  The crowd loved this scene.

Another highlight of the play was the live band that performed in the lobby that sometimes interacted with the action onstage.  Powered by some excellent guitar work by Boaz Roberts, the band was the glue the ensemble buzzed around.  The four piece added another layer of sonic strength to the overall production.

One song stood out especially as it held the strongest emotional pull of all the songs; performed by Caroline Siewart, the politician’s wife, and thoughtfully reprised at the end of the second act by Zora Howard.  The chorus of this near alt-country pop hit was, “Too young when I met you, but too old to change.”

The message cut through modern society’s surface fixations of open relationships, sex, iPhones, texting, chatting, and news cycles with a message about humans residing below these meaningless mantras. While the tawdry pull of skin and dick pics swivel heads and fill gossiping mouths, the underlying emotional vacuum that these things create requires hours of shoveling work. Ultimately the message of the play was reinforced by Zora’s final speech.

In a way the story reminded me of Night of the Iguana where the main character heads off somewhere to have an emotional breakdown. And while the piece never gets as serious as Tennessee Williams’ emotional breakdowns, it touches a similar nerve and left this viewer thoroughly satisfied.

David Sedaris at the Balboa Theatre

 

Yesterday at the David Sedaris show, a rather large and inebrieated woman sat on the other side of my wife. I’d guess her blood alcohol level was over 0.08% and she obviously wished to be more of a participant than an audience member. She was with a couple of men who were constantly checking their phones, and the three were engaged in lively conversation. As the lights dimmed and David come onstage, it became apparent, through her whoops of bravo and snorting laughter along with the flashing lights of the men’s phones and constant conversation, I would first have to overcome the distractions to my left before I could enjoy the show.

At one point, an older woman, part of a nicely dressed couple, turned around and gave her that look, like “can you mind your manners?”, to which the large woman smiled. And when the lady in front turned back around to enjoy the show, our loud friend shot her the dancing, middle finger, snickering with her male accomplices.

As a coping mechanism, I started counting her claps, each was accompanied by some utterance of approval, like we were at a southern church and Sedaris was the preacher. She would lean forward with her arms in the air and create thunderous booms with her hands shouting, “Yes, bravo! That’s right!” and accompany it with a deep chested choke of a laugh.

As the arc of her inebriation peaked, her claps became less frequent, she slumped a little and it slowly became time for the audience to focus on Mr. Sedaris. Her friends became more and more distracted by their phones and finally left, one after the other, in the middle of the show. Once the alcohol fatigue sank in, I was finally able to shift my attention from my left to front. It was about then that David was telling a story of a young man who had impeccable manners sitting next to a loud talking ninny on the plane and I couldn’t but help hope the woman sitting next to my wife was seeing the parallels. Was I that polite young man in the story?

Damn, David is funny and crass. He’s so accessible to the masses that he commands the stage at the larger Balboa Theatre even when tickets are priced from $40 and up. I’m very fortunate to have been able to see him. A night of laughter is priceless really, so what’s $50 buck? He read from his gigantic catalogue for much of the evening. HIs stories focused on themes of homosexuality, culture, the south and his interactions with the service world as a touring artist. Always politically correct, he still liked to dance around the edges of crudeness and race in a way that could make the old, white people laugh, (there were a lot of old, white people at the show, in fact the show was mostly older, white people)…disclaimer, I border on this demographic.

There weren’t many people of color in the audience, there weren’t many students and the culture espoused by the star was one of privilege, NPR ideology and it was definitely snarky. No doubt David is funny and an extremely talented writer. No doubt there is a huge audience for a show such as this. The ArtPower director in his introductions said this was one of the featured events of the whole year’s programs. As David said while reading his edited journal entries, “This is the edited me”. It would interesting to hear the unedited parts.

The riskiest parts of the evening were some bawdy jokes and some voices he did for African American characters from the South. His one liners from his diaries were a big hit and had people rolling in the aisles. His longer stories were less successful as they tried too hard to be a package and felt flat or formulated. David likes to cap on people and their eccentricities and their lack of interest. But sometimes we all fall flat in those situations.

He liked to say very often that he would say something to another person he had just met, just to make it weird and that’s how his show felt sometimes. Many times it worked and very often it seemed canned. Oh well, you do this every night for 45 nights in 47 days and I’m sure it difficult to be fresh, new and inventive. Don’t get me wrong, the people loved it and I laughed my ass off. I’m sure it was a successful night for ArtPower and David, though it just left a slightly off-putting after taste in my mouth. Sort of like the story of his fatty tumor that he wanted to feed to a turtle near his house might have tasted.

The lady next to me was the every lady in David’s stories. I could definitely relate to his edginess relative to other people and overall she just confirmed David’s theme for the whole night. So, if I were paranoid, I’d have to say she seemed like some kind of plant. But, in reality, she’s just another one of those characters from David’s pieces that were somehow inhuman and real at the same time.

Cherry Blossom Festival

 
The Cherry Blossom Festival, originally scheduled for Saturday, has been postponed to March 8.
Celebrate with Japanese style with spring and the blooming of Cherry Trees with cultural performances, Japanese street food, unique local vendors, children’s corner and hang out in the beer and tea gardens! Guests may partake in Hanami, the traditional custom of picnicking under the cherry trees.

High Mountain Tempel – Gnosis

 
High Mountain Tempel - Gnosis
High Mountain Tempel – Gnosis

It’s been a long gestation on the quivering meat wheel of creation. In the dust and stones of a dry riverbed seeds cracked, opening themselves to any deluge. When the flood waters finally came everything became the Mud of Chaos. Now swollen with water the seed burst forth with roots and tendrils seeking both Earth and Sun. High Mountain Tempel Rising! “

Gnosis” is the fifth release from these seekers of sonic dissolve and drift. Tapping into their deep love of the Pacific, the Sierras, the Sacred Freeway Off-Ramps and the Emerald Tablets of California Mythology they have carved out new roads and new paths leaving Golden Ashes to light the way.

Tempel Monks Eric Nielsen and Keith Boyd welcomed many honored pilgrims for this voyage in sound and time. Kawabata Makota and Hiroshi Higashi from the impeccable Acid Mothers Temple joined in providing bowed guitars and swirling, hymnal synth lines. Alpha-Crone and Source Family Dragon Lady Isis Aquarian beamed in from Hawaii to breathe the Father Yod Family lineage into our hearts and minds. Charles Curtis blessed us with spacious and gigantic piano tones. Bruce Mckenzie, the Sage from high atop Mount Washington was as always the Koan Master and Alchemist gleaming gold amidst the ruins and molding clay into Golems. Leila Dear brought her artistic mastery, informed by the esoteric and geometric to Square the Circle for the cover art.

It was a wonderful collaboration spanning time, distance and space. This distillation we offer up with the hope of pleasing and challenging the listener. Listen deeply. Go FURTHUR.

Traveling Monks Bruce McKenzie – Sings on Track 1 and plays Recorder on Track 4 Charles Curtis – Plays Piano on track 3 Isis Aquarian – Alpha Crone Incantations on Track 3 Makoto Kawabata – Bows Guitar on Track 4 Hiroshi Higashi – Plays Synth on Track 5

Mixed by Bruce McKenzie, Artwork by Leila Dear, Photo and Layout By Krista Nielsen, Mastered by Kenseth Thibideau Recorded in the Upper Chamber of The High Mountain Tempel Oceanic Lodge and the Leper Colonies of Arrakis Dedicated to The Ancestors, Pacific Ocean Mineral Spirits, The Offspring of the Sun, the Waders of the Slipstream, All Blessed Journeymen, John Muir riding the lightning, high above the world and in memory of Hetch Hetchy.

Maquiladora – The Passion of Becky Royal

 

The sessions for The Passion of Becky Royal began in a haze in San Diego with a trashed electric 12-string, a Magnatone Melodier amp and a portable pump organ. They continued sporadically over three and a half years, riding waves of tape delay, depression, heartbreak, elation, crisis, dormancy, exploration, conflict, inspiration and friendship between Mt. Washington and Ocean Beach. Songs took shape organically, were broken, unlearned and played again. Words were both improvised and deliberated. Forgotten before singing, lived while sung.

Maquiladora

Old and new friends were invited to help shape and stretch the music: First was Becky Poole. Bruce met Becky, a Chicago-based saw player of rare instinct and nuance in a chance encounter in Kentucky. She was recorded in an apartment in Louisville. Next, Morgan Doctor, a drummer and percussionist living in Toronto, was invited to add her distressingly inventive rhythms to the tracks. She was recorded at High Mountain Tempel’s Oceanic Lodge in San Diego. She had played on early Maquiladora albums and her return after a long absence felt perfect. There was a lot of smiling.

Adeline Jasso of OptimalGainOverDrive, L’Aura Moirè, and Cat Power’s touring band added invaluable vocals to two tracks at the end of the process. The record could not make sense without these precious contributions. This is a record to swim in. This record will tell you things. It is shimmer and blur and reed and wire. It will sound different depending on the position of the sun. It will look you in the eye-heart and hold your gaze.

1 It Is
2 The Revenge Of Becky Royal (New Piano)
3 Elijah’s Bird Song
4 Water Memory (For S.B.)
5 Sleeping In The Dream House
6 Dans Un Reve De La Mer (For S.A.)
7 The Life Of A Dream Of A Pulse (Lost Owl Sutra Pt 1)
8 Untitled 16 (Fluxus Pump)))))Edit
9 Lost Owl Svtra
10 Capitol Hill Blues #7 (A Subjective History)

Malcolm McClain: Visual Textual

 

High from a Harley ride, I opened the doors at Ronis Fine Art to find a secret treasure. Dave Hampton’s curated show of McClain’s works sparkled as they bathed in the morning sun through the storefront windows. Selected notebook works from the 40’s through the 70’s highlighted pieces emphasizing and incorporating text. In the text about the show, Dave states, “we are reminded that writing and drawing are fundamentally the same.” The words in the art remind me of Cage’s use of words to express and score music. These pieces struck me as authentic elements of an American canon, loved by so many.

The show also included the premier of a sound piece by Charles Curtis. This holistic addition of sound added immensely to the overall experience. The text for the sounds was the exact text represented in the McClain pieces. Five tape decks, spinning endlessly, emitted the voices of Curtis and others who knew the artist. The decks were placed in various parts of the room and greatly enhanced the ethereal spirit of the gallery. As the visual art incorporated text, so did the music, as spoken word. We are reminded that speaking and singing are fundamentally the same.

The intertwining of the visual and the aural incorporated the small room into a charged atmosphere, becoming the art. The intimacy of the small notebook pieces combined with the loving hand of Mr. Hampton’s delicate touch insured an experience truly worthy of the morning.

Kota Yamazaki Fluid Hug-Hug Dance Company

 

As the Japanese people are infatuated by all things American, the Americans are fascinated by all things Japanese. And rightfully so. OQ (okyu is the phonetic reading of the Japanese word for “palace”) made for a fantastic evening of peaceful bliss. Meditative and sonically compelling, the show was a blending of Eastern and Western cultures. The dance styles were modern and ancient, spastic and still, mesmerizing and peaceful. A certain stillness entered the audience that allowed for a deep and spiritual connection at Mandeville Hall.

The piece was in two acts and they were a sort of Taoist Yang and Yin. The first half of the show was spastic and full of electric energy. Five dancers filled the stage with exciting and very different styles. Each of the three men and two women had their own distinct takes on a similar tone, though Mina Nishimura stole the show. You’ve probably seen her on Saturday Night Live in her fantastic performance with Sia. I was so excited by that performance! She was so amazing to watch onstage that she could have carried the piece alone. She trained under Kota Yamakazi and together the two of them were stunning to watch. She has also been involved in projects based on the works of two of my favorite artists of all time, Harry Partch and Haruki Murakami.

They carried the power of Japan and the butoh influences that gave the piece a potent life force. The somewhat disturbing body movements were mediated by the amazing score of Masahiro Sugaya and the set design of SO-IL. The second act of the show was completely driven by the piano sounds. They were fantastic and reminiscent of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. The movements were so slow that it was really like a theater piece as much as a dance show. It felt like a break in time for a deep and thoughtful reorganization of life’s foundational paradigms. Perfect art.

Once again, we have the formidable ArtPower organization to thank for bringing this amazing and soulful presentation. I wish more people were able to understand the depth and breadth that ArtPower is bringing to San Diego. San Diego needs to get in their cars and head up to La Jolla to support their ground breaking shows. Nowhere in this town do we have such a complex and rich offering of beauty.

Convergence

 

The Convergence show at Cabrillo National Monument was a huge success. It was fabulously put on by Ship in the Woods. It was spiritual and mystical. It was full of great people and objects. It breathed with the ocean and the cliffs. It melted into the serene and transformative power of the location. It was site specific art at its best and if you missed it, you missed the night of the year. I couldn’t even see all of it and I couldn’t stay for the music. I really wanted to see Perry Vazquez and Pall Jenkins play in front of glass walls that looked out onto the ocean, the bay, downtown and Tijuana. But, I didn’t even need to see all the art or hear all the music to feel the presence of the ocean, the stars and night time sky serving as the backdrop to the creationist visions of local artists.

I’ve lived on the peninsula for 25 years and have never set foot on the property after dark like this. This land is our land. And all I could think, as I gingerly explored this night time sacred power spot, was how have they kept us out for so many year? This is ours! This setting must be utilized more often at night. The high cliffs, the crescent moon, the stars, the channel into the bay, the native landscape all opened itself like petals for the seeker. Around every corner, out of the dark, emerged a sacred little dream. The setting, the art, the people, all came together for a night unprecedented in my time in the city.

The highlight of the art was Neil Kendrick’s projected piece on the lighthouse itself. Accompanied by underwater sounds and beautiful blue and white abstracts, the piece made you feel like you were underwater. Or, at the lighthouse, in a storm, in the old days, when it took a day to travel there from the city by horse and buggy. The pictures and movies can’t do it justice, but you can check out this youtube for a taste.

Thanks to A Ship in the Woods for revealing this night time gem locale (the best spot in the city to park and kiss your girl). Do it again. Please, do it again.


Music for Airports at the San Diego Airport (ArtPower)

 

Bang on a Can All-Stars played Brian Eno’s Music for Airports last night at the San Diego aiport, in Terminal 2. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Music for Airports is one of my favorite albums of all time and I was excited to hear this interpretation of the album, though at the same time I couldn’t bear it if it were off balanced, or if too much liberty was taken.

The setting was very cool, nuetral, upstairs at the very most west end of the new building accompanied by some awesome, distrubing and appropriate ambient sounds of the airport. The last ticketing terminal was taken over by ArtPower (UCSD’s impecable curator of world class talent, and host of this evening’s performance). There was a small raised generic stag, low key lighting and folding chairs for maybe 200 people (they were all filled). Of course the normal airport travelers were there, enjoying a random piece of ambience shining from the terminal building.

I knew from the first piano notes of 1/1 that I would not be disappointed. There is no other sound so distinguishable as the first notes of Eno’s Music for Airports and Bang on a Can treated it authentically and with great taste. Chills filled my body from the top of my crown chakra all the way down my spine, as only the best of sounds can do, and the room sat rapt in attention of those notes that form the mantra of the ambient genre. The sounds of the godfather were rising from the halls of the San Diego airport. Thank god and the father! The treatment and compositions were a delight to the fans in attendance.

If you don’t know this 1978 album, you are missing out. If this was your first exposure to these godly sounds, you had a great introduction. This was true art and we all got to be there. The setting and pacing of the concert was true to the integrity of the original and the crowd hovered in joyous celebration of the music we have grown up with, meditated to, made love while it played, did yoga with and had acupuncture treatments to. These were the sounds we have used for decades to calm and slow down life. Bang on a Can honored the intention of Eno. I’m sure when he saw it premiered outside of London, he felt the same way.

It was the setting that set the natural boundries. Everyone was rushing around with their bags, trying to make it through security. The public announcements going off every five minutes created the juxtaposition intended by this piece of music. The crowd sat quiet and contemplative with hints of Mona Lisa smiles curling up the edge of their faces. The audience was completely satisfied with this authentic rendition and showed it with their warm, standing ovation.

The organic instruments were played in such a way as to barely register the difference between the electronic original and the live version. The organics made it slightly more human and emotional than the original and for a live concert it seemed appropriate. The bowed and bent sounds on the strings and the slight upswells, all played into the audience’s deep connective reaction to this performance. Listening to this album over and over for years and years, it was nice to get a swell going that was more than the record. We couldn’t help but transport to all those memories, that this album has been the foundation for, across all of our years.

In combination with the airport, ArtPower did a great thing by bringing this performance to our town. It was as close to going to church as it gets, though in the airport. The airport that screams ambient noise down to me in Ocean Beach every day. It was a small gesture from the folks at the airport against the heaviness of the metal flying above me constantly. But, it did much to engender my feeling towards Terminal 2.

Music, Art and Lifestyles