now that i'm two weeks gone from beijing, i've had time to fully reflect. the few days i spent in china on "tourism" were largely devoted to consuming the art underground. first up was the 798, which features galleries in converted warehouse spaces. i made it to the exquisite space of a porcelain artist, who fuses new colors and imagery with traditional techniques. there is always a sense of continuum at the 798, from materials to form.
on our last night, we made it to XP, a place owned by michael, an american ex-pat who runs the independent label maybe mars. we saw a few short sets by a couple of different bands, and michael told me that the beijing bands the label represents - beginning with the carsick cars - have a permanent nyc home at baby's all right. i credit florent ghys, who played his set "television" at firehouse space recently, for telling me about the DIY space. it's incredible what can operate under the radar in a country like china, and how quickly such projects have to adapt under the firewalls.
there's a certain zen perception of musicians: hours alone in a room, reflecting on the same passages, working through the repertoire. i met a geologist at a whiskey bar during the "blizzard" this year who walked me through the monte carlo experiment, which involved hundreds of female mathematicians running equations thousands of times to extrapolate the behavior of the manhattan experiment. why, the geologist posited, couldn't the same simulation be run with different interpretations of one piece of contemporary music? a composer's dream: extrapolating the "right" interpretation from dozens of interpreters. for me, as someone who reveled in data systems in problem sets in thermo and quantum mechanics class, notation is an open set. when i was a kid, i taught myself to read music based on the sounds i knew and the notation i saw.
Entre bastidores: Sp. backstage. This past week, I started working for an established music series in the city. On Friday, we had a young Chinese pianist, a recent protégé of Solomon Mikowsky, playing light Cuban dances; next week we will have Musica Ficta, an early music vocal group from Spain. Front of house, set up and tear down -- all things that you don't even think twice about when you play a gig at a place like le poisson rouge (or, for that matter, Carnegie Hall). Membership, donorship, patronage: all things that institutions like ours thrive on. It's a different lens on the artistic world.
The curatorial process is a curious one, and I think it differs significantly from venue to venue, institution to institution. I recently attended a voice and piano recital at The Firehouse Space in Williamsburg, where Iktus Percussion curates once a month; it's living room-salon-recital hall hybrid - one that sets both audience and performer instantly at ease. Sandra, the artistic director, frequently hosts improv jams there, which is something that entices me, like a moth to a flame.
At my friend's recital, I "stage managed" (think: pull scores off of stands and try not to look awkward), but really it brought me right inside of the work. (More after the jump!)
New Orleans, 8 years after Katrina. I spent a few days there after Christmas this year, which turned out to be a fitting respite from the hustle of New York City. We stayed on the top floor of an old hotel, in a room with high, dark ceilings, just outside the French Quarter, across Canal Street, which at first blush reminded me of Broadway around Herald Square - big hotels, lots of signage for little tourist shops. The vibe there is down tempo and prideful. On our last night we waited in line for the traditional Dixieland jazz haunt Preservation Hall, while my dad sipped on a Hurricane in a plastic cup from Pat O'Brien's. The legacy of jazz there hasn't been lost. A friend, then a student, lost his home in the hurricane and soon after relocated to New York, where he now teaches and improvises. His hustle back then was klezmer, 4 nights a week, in 45 minutes on-15 minutes off shifts. Musicians, including the dueling pianists at Pat O'Brien's, work hard.
I hate being told what to think. So, when Hofesh Shechter came over the intercom to give us a sense of the ending of his latest work at BAM, that "everything turns out ok," I thought: meh? But really, this work is magical. A little didactic and self-aware, but something about peasant-Goya-commedia del arte-clad dancers in socks with the ability to mime and dance small movements in utter unison was transfixing. The soundtrack didn't 100% work for me, but oh, I suffered through the maxed out volume for the downstage duet in the half-light: an intimacy that I didn't know I was craving.
Picture: a singer in a red dress takes the stage for Aperghis's complete Recitations. What journey is she taking? How has she prepared for this moment? Christie Finn, as part of this year's Resonant Bodies Festival, took this work by the balls and ran with it (so to speak). I think my mouth may have been agape for the duration.
© 2017 Martha Cargo