Monday, September 21, 2015
Thursday, January 01, 2015
Recently, I connected with a gentleman named Tony Youngblood, a writer who working on a piece about the history of the experiemental art scene in Nashville. Here are my answers to some questions he asked for apiece he is doing about Mind's Eye:
1. In your own words, can you tell me about the Mind's Eye Group? How did it get started?
I've always been drawn to the synergy between music and image. To that I end I was always working towards making my band performances more and more theatrical. Learning about the work of Laurie Anderson, and seeing Twyla Tharp's The Catherine Wheel, with David Byrne's music, clinched it for me. This was to be my new direction. Around that time, I saw a call put out by The John Galt Theater for independent directors to create new works for their upcoming season. I approached them with an idea for an evening of performance art and they said sure. I had no idea what I would do, but I had a date, and a place to do it.
One idea that I had been thinking about was a dance/theater piece which came to be called "In the Country of the Blind, the One-Eyed Man is King". It dealt with a person obsessed with TV, and how was was sucked into an alternate TV universe. This piece would serve as the centerpiece. I did was approached the Tennessee Dance Theater, for whom I had done a score for a children's dance. They were on board. I also approached Jason Litchford to be the central character. Jason was a mime/magician I had worked with several years before. I had seen him perform a few times and thought he would be the ideal person for this piece. As it happened, he had just moved back to Atlanta after spending time studying mime in Colorado and doing street theater in San Francisco. My surreal little performance art piece intrigued him, so we connected and started pulling everything together.
As we started working, we soon found a unique chemistry, and the seeds for Mind's Eye were sown. The John Galt shows, including Country of the Blind.. and a number of other jointly conceived experiments, came together quite well. While looking back, I'm almost appalled at my own cringe-worthy naivety and unprofessionalism, but two packed house gave us standing ovations and we knew we were on to something.
Don Evans was in the audience that night, and approached afterward offering his resources to help us do our work. This proved a godsend. Not only did we have access to tools and techniques we wouldn't have otherwise, we were also deeply inspired by Don's work. Soon after, we were working regularly at his studio at Vanderbilt's Cohen Art Building, and we even produced a series of works in the Cohen Bldg, working with some of Don's students.
Mind's Eye's work was essentially image-theater. We would explore various technologies and techniques, discovering what sorts of images and ideas that could be conveyed with these technologies and techniques. Sometimes the resulting images were purely aesthetic experiments, while other times they were used to convey a narrative or other conceptual theme. The name we coined for our eventual touring show was "Realizations for Movement, Music, and Media" - which rather concisely summed up our work. Each of those three components - movement - in the form of dance or pantomime, music - in the form of my own original compositions, and media - in the form of film, slides, video, stage effects, lighting, etc. - were equally and inextricably melded into a common aesthetic.
2. What were some of your favorite moments in Mind's Eye? Are there any techniques, ideas, or innovations that you can point to that Mind's Eye introduced?
My favorite moments were the touring. Though at first, I would perform the music live (and call all of the lighting and projection cues over headset), it soon ended up that the music was prerecorded and I was running the lighting and projections myself, often from in the house. I got to witness each of our shows from the audience's viewpoint, and experiencing their reactions from that perspective was a real treat. It also helped us really tighten the timing and pacing of the shows.
Since much of what we were trying to do had no real precedent (at least that we were aware of), we often had to make it up as we go. Some of the unorthodox tricks we developed were things like a pressurized system to pump fluorescent paint through a costume, so the performer would change colors under blacklight. We devised all sorts of tricks with slides - things like small circles of light that would spotlight Jason's face, or geometric patterns that would interact with costume elements. We explored other uses for fluorescent materials such as attaching them to dancer's costume, and having her perform in a pitch-black environment, or painting the entire backdrop of a stage with fluorescent paint so it would "capture" a dancer's shadows in a flash of light.
We spend a lot of time a resources exploring techniques for the performer to directly create music from their choregraphy. This series of experiments, called "Body Language" ranged from simple triggers attached to Jason's body that would interface with a computer to generate musical tones or sound effects, to an invisible grid of infrared sensors that would control or create musical passages as a performer (or audience member) moved through them.
3. What was the Nashville experimental scenes like in the late 80s and early 90s?
Other than what Don Evan's was doing with his Little Marrowbone crew, there really wasn't much of one! Tony Gerber was active with his Space for Music concepts, which focused mostly on music, but often included some performative elements. I did come across some theater people who were interested in pushing boundaries. Some of these people went on to start the Darkhorse Theater (which is still around I think). In fact, one of Mind's Eye's last performances as in fact the first public performance IN the Darkhorse space, at that time still rough and raw (we put the first coat of black paint on those walls!)
4. Can you tell me about some of your other projects, both then in Nashville and now in Atlanta?
After Mind's Eye ran its course, I moved to Atlanta and started working with some of the people I had met during our hopping around the region. There were in fact a couple of Atlanta-based people who had been a part of our touring team. One in particular, dancer L.E. Udaykee (now Elle Trapkin) and I had a particular affinty. We started producing work under the name Gnosis - most of it with much more of a dance focus than Mind's Eye. We did some limited touring, and would include certain selections from the Mind's Eye repertoire, recast with different performers. Gnosis produced a wide range of work from 1993 thru 2004, when Elle retired from the stage. Our final event was a particularly grueling aerial dance piece, The Crossing, that convinced Elle that she had gone about as far as she could go in dance, given her age and her unwillingness to give anything less than 110% onstage. Today she is concentrating on film and television acting (in fact, you can see her in the upcoming pilot for the supernatural drama series "Outcast"). A Gnosis archival website is currently under development.
After Gnosis, I shifted my focus primarily to music. I've played, or am playing, in a range of ensembles, from free-improv electronic music, to prog rock, to David Bowie cover songs. In 2005, I joined the board of an Atlanta arts venue, Eyedrum, where I presented, or helped present, well over 100 experimental music and performance events from local and national artists. My tenure at Eyedrum is well beyond the scope of this interview, but suffice to say it was one of the most rewarding things I have had the honor of being involved with. Last year I moved out of active board status with Eyedrum and I have my eye on some exciting new collaborations - but nothing I'm ready to go public with at the moment.
5. Who are some of the up and comers in the Nashville and/or Atlanta experimental art scenes that you admire?
I really don't know much about Nashville's scene these days, but Atlanta has a whole slew of aspiring young artists doing amazing things. I really can't single anyone out because there are so many. Some names to watch for (dance/music/theater/etc): Dance Track, Lucky Penny, Faun and a Pan Flute, Shitty Bedford, Wade Tilton, Molly Harvey, Ex Somnium, Timothy Hand, Crossover, many more. Or just check the calendars of venues such as Eyedrum, The Goat Farm, The Mammal Gallery. Atlanta's experimental art scene is thriving - perhaps stronger than ever.
6. Do you have anything else you'd like to add?
Only that I've recently come to the revelation that if I'd known then what I know now, Minds Eye likely would not have happened. When Jason and I started doing our work, we had no rules, no expectations, and the only limits were our available resources. Today, there would be too many inner voices saying "you can't do that!" or "that will never work!". I've learned a lot, and experienced a lot, which is a good thing - but there is something to be said for inexperience and naivety, especially in art.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Lots of evolution in AWG-land. In my last post, I had just gotten canned from big-corpo-agency, and was (somewhat unrealistically as it turned out) optimistic about my prospects. I did a couple of short freelance stints (and one rather extended 5-month stint) at a few random businesses up until the summer of 2013 when it all came to grinding halt. So I drew unemployment, did whatever pick-up projects I could find, and settled in for what turned out to be a year-and-a-half long all-out job search.
Should I pursue Sisyphus again (and the jury's still out), it would be a very different process. I had an inspiration awhile back while watching "deleted scenes" from Pixar movies. These scenes had never actually been fully animated, so they used the hand-drawn storyboards as the visual elements. These images were semi-animated - by panning, zooming, etc. on the still images. So my idea is to find a visual artist to help create a graphic novel-style treatment to the story, then "pan & zoom" animate the images onscreen with a live soundtrack. The Jerome Newton rhythm section is down for it, so once JN finally moves into to "maintenance mode", it will be time to start working on the music - and recording it all. If I decide to pursue it, that is.
Monday, November 12, 2012
Saturday, August 14, 2010
Just so you know - this blog is more like an online diary. I write updates about my professional and artistic life, mostly for my own edification. I don't write for a particular audience, and therefore much of the writing is pretty self-indulgent. That being said, I don't write anything in here that I don't mind being public...
ROOTS mission:Alternate ROOTS is an organization based in the Southern USA whose mission is to support the creation and presentation of original art, in all its forms, which is rooted in a particular community of place, tradition or spirit. As a coalition of cultural workers we strive to be allies in the elimination of all forms of oppression. ROOTS is committed to social and economic justice and the protection of the natural world and addresses these concerns through its programs and services.
Monday, July 05, 2010
Context - I'm sitting here at the Shell station at Exit 350 on I-75. On my way back from Burning Banjos. The Turk stalled out and wouldn't restart and (praise the deities) I was able to coast down the ramp, make a tight turn into the parking lot, and coast into a parking spot - all with virtually no steering and no brakes at all save for the emergency brake. I'm waiting for Jenny to get here from Atlanta. Avery's watching a DVD in the portable player and I'm composing this note, to be uploaded later. I am a very unhappy camper as I contemplate the prospect of tracking down a trusty mechanic by phone tomorrow, and my mind reels at the potential expense and hassle awaiting me over the next few days.
But Burning Banjos? Ah - 'twas a fine experience. I got to see and hang with so many people from my Nashville days - Jason Litchford, Beat Zenerino, Danny Sulkin, Seth Ritter, Tony Gerber, LeeAnne Allen Carmack, and of course Don Evans. I can't help but feel reflective on the "old days" and perhaps a bit nostalgic.
It was around '85 or so when I made the decision to break up my band, Suburban Baroque, and dive into performance art. I had been experimenting with projections & video (with help from Seth Ritter), props, conceptual sorts of things with Suburban Baroque, and I came to the realization that I was more interested in exploring performative elements than in continuing a band-thing. There were too many inherent compromises and I felt decidedly limited. We were four distinct personalities, with four distinct agendas - not all of which were in sync with my current aspirations.
I also was feeling that we had pretty much taken Suburban Baroque as far as it would go. We were actually at the peak of our game, so maybe from a music-biz standpoint it was foolish to split us up. But I clearly felt that the project had run its course and it was time to move on. (I did, however, take with me some of my more conceptual SB compositions and "repurpose" them into a performance piece a year or so later.)
The catalyst for moving on came in the form of a brief little news item I saw in the arts section of the paper. A local theater, The John Galt West End Theater (the significance of whose name was unknown to be at the time) had issued an open call for independent directors who might want to use their space. So in an act of naive optimism, I contacted them and told them about a nebulous idea I had for an evening of performance art (side note - I had been listening to, and reading about Laurie Anderson's magnum opus, United States 1-4 at the time - and her sheer ambition inspired the hell out of me!).
Well, The Galt found a weekend on their calendar for me 9 months out - and the seeds of "Fringe Dances" were planted. In the ensuing months, I cultivated connections and enlisted collaborators. THe first was the Tennessee Dance Theater - the only professional dance company in Nashville (save for the Ballet) at the time. That relationship proved rewarding. I did music for some of their pieces, and they contributed dancers and choreography for my grand scheme. I enlisted Tony Gerber as a music collaborator, and Curtis McGuirt (C Ra) as a performer. But the most significant collaboration that resulted from Fringe Dances was Jason Litchford...
Rewind a few years - just out of high school I was washing dishes at this goofy concept restaurant - Sailmaker. The wait staff were all costumed as various characters. Jason was a waiter there - dressed as a wizard. I learned later that he was an accomplished magician and his schtick at Sailmaker was doing close up magic for the customers. Anyway, he and I chatted it up in the kitchen and found a bit of a kindred connection. A year or so later I ended up doing some impromptu music for a magic/mime show that he and his friend Steven were doing at Vanderbilt with my brand new Micromoog, and I saw him perform a stunning mime routine as the Buddha, in a fascinating musical theater production of Siddhartha, directed by visionary director Kent Cathcart.
Back to Fringe Dances - as the ideas were coming together, I came up with a concept for a movement theater/video piece, "In the Country of the Blind, the One Eyed Man is King" that dealt with a central character, "The Man", who was so caught up in the TV world, that he was eventually drawn into the TV world himself. The TDT dancers populated the TV world, but as I thought about the role of The Man, I kept seeing Jason, so I called around trying to track him down. Coincidentally he had just moved back to Nashville after a few years doing street theater in San Francisco & Boulder, and studying mime at Samuel Avital's Le Centre du SIlence in Colorado. We talked a bit, and soon he was on board as the primary collaborator for Fringe Dances. He brought his full repertoire of mime, theater, and stage magic into the mix, and though I cringe when I think back on the sheer naiveté of much of the work, Fringe Dances was a success. And in the wake of that success, Jason & I decided to keep it going, and the Mind's Eye Performance Group was on its way.
We had the honor of working with many talented and amazing people with Mind's Eye. Beat Zenerino worked with us on videos and software, Danny Sulkin worked with us on video, also, and for a time was our on-the-road tech director. LeeAnne Allen was one of our first dancers.
But perhaps the one person who catalyzed me artistically in those days was Don Evans. Don was an art professor at Vanderbilt, and would do eclectic and quirky art projects under the auspices of Little Marrowbone Repair Corporation ("a bunch of friends that get together and do stuff"). I knew of Don by reputation, but had never really met him until Fringe Dances. He was in the audience, and afterwards came up and shook mine & Jason's hands with such energy and genuine effusiveness that we knew we had obviously made a connection. Don invited us to come visit him at the university, and offered up his resources to help us develop our work. One of our subsequent productions took place in the beautiful marbled lobby of the art building at Vanderbilt. Don taught us about slides, video, darkroom techniques, performance art history. We "did stuff" at Little Marrowbone happenings out at his farm just outside of Nashville. He loaned us projection equipment until we could get our own. Most of all he just simply provided inspiration and support. And, not inconsequentially, he introduced us (me) to Alternate ROOTS - a connection that has had major ramifications on all aspects of my life to this day.
He's a quirky, gentle and eclectic soul and I'm a bigger person for having known him, and when I heard about his "Burning Banjos" event (the first Little Marrowbone event in almost ten years!), well I simply had to make a pilgrimage and pay homage to those that got me where I am today. And pay homage I did - making glorious improvised noise to accompany a range of pyrotechnics and dance (thanks to LeeAnne's Blue Moves dance company). I hope this isn't the last time I get to "do stuff" with Don & Little Marrowbone.