Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Museum Uncaged

The Flaneur recently attended an evening in the Berkeley Art Museum's series called "L@TE: FRIDAY NIGHTS for an event entitled "John Cage Celebration: Pico." It actually began really early and the Cage connection was somewhat difficult to make, but it was not without moments of genuine amusement.

Although the event began as early as five or five thirty my guest ticket would only arrive with a friend at six thirty, so I had time to pleasantly spend. I rested on the benches amid the knobby trees on the Sather Tower plaza. Aside from the tightrope walkers the student scene was not that different than TV's The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis-- studies mixed with tentative boy girl socializing. Now the cast consists of the new square Asian students.
I had brought a lunch with me--a banana sandwich on whole wheat walnut bread and an apple. As I finished it the gigantic clock hands approached the straight up and down position of six. I elevated with a wee whiff of my herbal medicine just in time for a carillon recital. The dulcet but slightly eerie tones drifted down around me like huge flower petals. The lowering sun overwhelmed the view of the bay and the Golden Gate. I turned for a last adieu before proceeding on laterally to the museum.

The front doors had entirely been painted over in graffiti style--some irrelevant word, a bullshit semiotic that I have since forgotten. Lo, there on the apron, gasping tobacco smoke, stood my old friend and collaborator Don Joyce. Don is the mix-master of negativland and of the radio program on which I occasionally appear known as Over the Edge. 

He was here with his "band" mate Mark Hosler to mix the evening's audio. We shook frontal extremities and then headed inside where the scenesters were already underway. It was a young demographic indeed, one which I had anticipated and for which I had dressed accordingly as sort of a John Cage manque, highlighting the age difference. I wore a tie, dress shirt and vest sweater: real grandpa drag. I had by chance just watched a video of a Cage performance from 1966 entitled E.A.T. Cage and five others in white shirts and ties had done a entirely live electronic musical performance creating an audio mushroom cloud of oscillating noise. They were walking around tables as light threw huge shadows of them on the walls behind. It was more or less the origin of every music act in which the performers essentially sat and twiddled knobs including everything from negativland to the Chemical Brothers etc.

A brisk tour of all the upper galleries was next on my agendum. While I climbed and perused a poet read on monotonously on the main floor--his name escaped me.  The gathering crowd dutifully sat on the hard stone floor of the main lower gallery--there were no seats for attendees anywhere in sight. At the lowest sub-gallery, where Kurt Schwitters' Merzbau was reconstructed last year, someone was spray-painting on a large wall size mural, how ho-hum. Mental note do not approach close enough to this to smell the paint. I scanned the profuse Barry McGee exhibit. He seems to be an obsessive type who draws similar, very-involved cartoon faces quite a lot. Spawned I believe in a Graffiti art and zine scene genesis. The exhibit seems to have not only emptied out his portfolio but also his various scrapbooks and printed matter storage to include every single artifact he'd pack-ratted away. One is not put off by this though and it does seem to be after all part of a more democratic vista.

The top gallery had a lot of queer art and seemed just a tad cruisy in its tea-room sparseness. The next gallery descending from this had a jewel-toned array of religious art by ye olde masters. A Last Supper predella looked as if it was comprised of mug shots of the apostles. It gave me a mystical frisson--a split second out of time..

Around down to the lobby again I joined Don at a mixing desk above the lowest galleries where the main performances happen. Then we are joined by the David Lynchian figure of Mark Hosler, tall wearing tails, and with swept-back, newly gray hair. It had been more than a dozen years since we performed together in San Francisco and that long since I've seen him last.

Minutes later Don had taken his position in the lower gallery where he would mix sounds from an audio archive together with live performance on piano by Sarah Cahill on the balcony several floors above and a rather ostentatious cellist all situated at considerable distance from the the others.
As the music began the dancers arrived in a procession---many festooned in LED lights or with glow sticks, all carrying empty picture frames with which they mimed as museum tableaux. A dozen or so danced completely in the nude.

Prior to the commencement of festivities I'd attempted to sit on a free-standing set of stairs on the main gallery floor but was soon asked to push off. I observed at the point of the dancers onslaught that the stairs were part of the act. As if not prominent enough in their youthful birthdays suits and shaped pubis, the nude dancers repeatedly mounted the stairs for better exhibition.

Don was down there among them mixing by himself. He had donned his zebra-patterned cowboy hat over his black leather jacket atop his forever young Beatle haircut now as white as Christmas snow. "Look, Don's getting a lap dance," I quipped to various amusement that didn't appear to include Mark's. Mark was a Montessori teacher years ago and a certain prudishness not to say repressiveness still obtains. After all, the MC had just invited us to misbehave.

The cellist was gimmick-heavy playing an instrument made up of screens at one point. A sort of promotional film of her ran on a screen behind her satellite stage. I checked out of it when I read the statement, "Life doesn't have a rewind button." I wished I could rewind and erase that bit from my memory.

The dancers, more specifically, the nude dancers had live cameras held on them and their somewhat abstracted images also appeared on screens. Where we were was a prime vantage spot and I felt the warmth of a small crowd pressing up behind us. Without turning to look and assuming it was comprised of students who had reached majority age, I remarked, "The nude ones are forming a huddle...funny how that always happens." I looked over my shoulder and realized it was a flock of thirteen-year-olds craning for the peep show. One young man replied in sort of sexy-knickers tone of voice, "Yeah, funny how that always happens." I thought I could detect a wistful boner in his voice. This I can't verify as he seemed to take a sheepish step back from pressing in on me when I turned around and spoke.

I was getting sleepy myself with the hypnotic onslaught of sound and vision. I asked if there were to be different "acts" or if it was to be more of a continuum. I was told to expect the latter. Mark, who was required to maintain the illusion of this being cool and expressive, seemed to have his fill of me. He said something about not talking if I wished to remain sitting beside him where I was. But I was incurious, I didn't really want to see where this all was going and so I made my excuses before heading onward.

Outside a frenzied buzz scene was taking place as the September-mad students learned the gig was now sold-out. I over-heard one enthusiastic girl telling friends that she was unable to gain entry but was certainly returning for next weeks' event (it was to feature Devendra Banheart). I understood her fervor--I was a freshman once too.

"Would you like a ticket, my dear?"
I gave her mine and she in her sweetness returned to me a hug.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Skateboards of the Apocalypse

This column means not to imply that the Flaneur approves of this sort of thing.

A roaring crescendo Friday morning at approximately ten:twenty in the morning.
It sounded like a skateboard approaching behind you in raw existential threat.
It was coming through the floor the walls the air the subsonic viscera.

To the window I went unprepared.
There over central Berkeley at what seemed a meager altitude,
flew the leviathan of a 747 with the space shuttle strapped on its back.
A slender black jet flew just behind it in the wispy-clouded sky.

Others who knew in advance gathered on hilltops and piers.
Yet none of these were startled in delight more than I
caught as I was unprepared.

Five seconds and it was outside my field of vision.
I thought I could see dollar signs raining down as it went
and global warming waving in its wake.

My mind accepted this outlandish sight on a conditional level,
the way one accommodates watching special effects films
that create similar spectacles in similarly familiar skies.
That is, one watches "actuality" with a certain suspension of doubt.

Had I expected it I might have been on my roof to see it go by.
But then I would have lost the exhilaration of an all too rare intrusion of surprise.

All the day long leaves of diaphanous cloud prevailed above.
These were intersected by the vapor trails of conspiracy.
A new looking jumbo jet flew over us with curious lucidity.
"Something's going on today," said a black lady with a dachshund in a park.

It was in fact the first of Fall, subtle colors in the trees,
with an autumnal shiver of the inevitability of challenge and change.