Tag Archives: music

Ruminations on L.A. by Gabriel Kahane

As Gabriel Kahane prepares to bring his sonic treatise The Ambassador home to Los Angeles, he shared some thoughts on the city that inspired an album, a theatrical stage show, and a state of mind. 

GK4PhotoCreditJoshGoleman

If you turn onto Vernon Avenue just east of Lincoln Road, you’ll find neat rows of modest bungalows which once announced themselves cheerfully with paint jobs in vivid reds and greens and blues, but which after decades of neglect and exposure to sun have been left mottled and fading. And so it is that these houses have been passed over in the otherwise inexorable spread of gentrification in the Venice area. I am complicit, if only as a window shopper, in this fancification that has largely replaced the seedy character of Free Love-era Venice Beach with a wealth typified by bespoke shops doling out luxury coffee, four-figure caparisons, and faux-Dutch bikes, to a newly transplanted demographic that can handily afford them.

This observation is intended without any kind of territorial griping; my claims on the neighborhood are thin at best. I was born, in 1981, in one of those bungalows, either at 648 Vernon Ave. or maybe 652, but we moved East in 1983. Of those first two years, I have only a pair of (interrelated) memories: first, that the walls may have been a pale yellow; and second, that I had a fever at some point and in its subtropical grip I looked out through the white slats of my crib with burning eyes and beheld those yellow walls, and that’s what I remember.

Though on its surface The Ambassador is a piece about Los Angeles through the lens of film, fiction, and architecture, I think it’s actually a piece about memory, and how memory dances infinitely with physical space. From what I can surmise, Los Angeles started to have a sense of its own history, of collective memory, in the early aughts, around the time of the preservation battle over the Ambassador Hotel, a three-way affair that pitted the LA Unified School District and the Kennedy Family against the L.A. Conservancy. Though the campaign to preserve the hotel failed, and in its place an architecturally vacuous complex of schools (admittedly serving a community much in need) built— about which Christopher Hawthorne has written incisively and eloquently—the process of trying to save the hotel nevertheless reified in many Angelenos a sense of pride in history.

But long before Diane Keaton spoke at the wake for the Ambassador Hotel, there was a trove of cultural artifacts that served, consciously or not, as a historical record of the city. I’m thinking now of the novels of Joan Didion and Nathanael West and James M. Cain, the films of Howard Hawks and Michael Mann and William Friedkin, the criticism of Esther McCoy and Reyner Banham and Mike Davis, and the houses—oh the houses— of Rudolph Schindler and John Lautner and Lloyd Wright. It’s this archive that was my way into making The Ambassador, which as a body of work is more a reflection of what interested me instinctively than an attempt to be comprehensive vis a vis Los Angeles. For how can one map an unmappable city? To paraphrase Christopher Hawthorne, L.A. is not great at sitting still for portraits.

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There is one portrait of Los Angeles that became familiar to me as I worked on The Ambassador, much of which was written in a postage-stamp of a studio apartment perched at the southern end of Griffith Park, an apartment whose original function was as the servant’s quarters of the connected house that Rudolph Schindler remodeled in the early 1920’s. There’s a door on the eastern side of the studio that opens onto a small wooden roof deck, canted nails jutting up and out threateningly. (During one visit, I ended up sitting in the pharmacy at the creepy Walgreen’s at Sunset and Western, waiting to get a tetanus shot before driving home rattled in that singular way one does under the combined influence of foreign chemicals and native adrenaline, one of the nails having had its way with the heel of my left foot.) Stepping outside, if I turn to face south on this little parallelogram of decklet high above the city, it’s all hypnotic views of the L.A. basin. Nights: coyotes skirling just beyond the window, their cries sharp and dry and anechoic, an uneasy counterpoint to the silent play of hundreds of thousands of lights throbbing in the basin below. Mornings: steam rising off of coffee to meet the fog; the ritual of assessing air quality by visibility— can you see Palos Verdes?

Thom Andersen, in his film Los Angeles Plays Itself, says early on that L.A., as a city, is not photogenic, that its edges are blurry, smudged, imprecise. (Another way of articulating Hawthorne’s quip about Los Angeles not taking to portraiture.) That may well be the case, but through human eyes—or at least through my eyes— to behold the city at dawn before the fog has burned off, and to read it as a quick pastel sketch of a metropolis on the brink of bustling activity, commands great emotional precision, even if the image isn’t in focus. And that emotional precision was the thing I wanted to capture in The Ambassador. For as I began to visit Los Angeles more often in my late twenties and early thirties, there was an accretion to the emotional weight of the city. Driving through East Hollywood, Inglewood, Westchester, Marina Del Rey. Walking Vermont Ave. in Koreatown, chatting up the proprietor of a piano shop that seems as uncomfortable in its skin as its owner; she’s still rattled twenty-some-odd years later. The pilgrimage to the San Gabriel Valley for soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung and the reluctant camaraderie that accompanies the lines that stand between you and xiao long bao. Or this: standing under a gunmetal grey sky and gaping at the modest majesty of the Watts Towers and the improbable fact of one man’s vision and persistence.

I wanted to know why the city made me feel so much.

Bringing The Ambassador back to Los Angeles is terrifying. I want to do right by the city that I abandoned so soon after it bore me. I want those who might be prone to reflexive defense of their city to know that if there’s tough love in the piece, it is the object and not the modifier that’s key. But ultimately, I cannot and should not offer preemptive defenses— all I have is to invite you to join me at the Freud Playhouse on February 27 and 28, and to have a look for yourself.

Sussan Deyhim: THE HOUSE IS BLACK–Royce Hall Jan. 23, 2015

(Unsigned editorial from the performance program notes).

It has been a profound privilege and honor to collaborate with and support Sussan Deyhim since the very early stages of this incredible work. Sussan was in residence at CAP UCLA with The House is Black last year and tonight’s world premiere is a culmination of energy, creative spirit and integrity of purpose.

The making of a work like this has been in the hands of many believers–the people and organizations and fellow artists who believe in the importance of the story Sussan is so committed to sharing with us all, who believe in shining a light on the infl uence of a great writer and artist who came before and whose voice has been all-too-silent in the contemporary arts world.

For three years now, we at the Center have been asking the question “Who is the Poet in Your Life?” The answers are as varied as the people who supply them, and our work and lives have been enriched through this exploration. Thanks to Sussan, Forough Farrokhzad herself has become an answer to that question for us. We welcome you here tonight to celebrate her contributions to the world of art, and to celebrate the tenacity, intention and great talent of Sussan Deyhim, who will continue to bring the work of Forough to so many. We hope you leave here with a poem from our live Poetry Bureau in the West Lobby where we will attempt to capture the great power of language through a few thoughtfully typed verses.

And we hope you leave here tonight able to more deftly ponder and answer the question: Who is the Poet in Your Life?

Tonight we all become part of a living, breathing, ongoing exhibition. Our memories and experiences here tonight are what creates a permanent collection of this ephemeral art form. We become the keepers of this moment in time and this tribute to two powerful boundary-defying artists.

An Evening with Gregory Porter– Royce Hall Jan. 17, 2015

(Unsigned editorial from the evening’s program notes).

Tonight is about soul and passion. The soul and passion of one artist as he transmits it to those of us here to bear witness; the soul and passion inherent in the blues, soul and jazz forms he so deftly inhabits; and the soul and passion that we as listeners, seekers and music lovers simultaneously bring to and extract from this space that has held so much of it over the decades.

We believe music is an essential part of the human experience.

Music perpetuates one of the most accessible rabbit holes in the art of performance. Throughout our lives, we will discover a sound or a song or a voice that resonates with us and dive deeper into it, uncover the influences behind the artist who created it, revel in other artists and forms and vibrations that emanate from it and evolve with it. And through all this we are expanding and enhancing our own experience.

Music is, indeed, essential.

Gregory Porter, over the last several years, has become an essential figure in the art of jazz performance. His third album, Liquid Skin, which you can read more about in the interview/bio enclosed in the program notes, earned him a Grammy, after being nominated for his first two albums. He was quickly recognized by his peers as a force to be reckoned with in jazz and is increasingly beloved by audiences worldwide. He is an imposing figure both literally and metaphorically, with a soul and passion to match his commanding stage presence.

As the New York Times put it in a recent review of a live performance in Porter’s home city: “Working from outer form to inner heart, Mr. Porter’s music is jazz via Oscar Brown Jr. and Nat King Cole; R&B via Ray Charles; thinky and poetic mid-’70s R&B, via
Marvin Gaye and Gil Scott-Heron; and then gospel, not as theology but as emotional policy, as devotion safeguarding against chaos.”

We are extremely proud to present this exceptional performer in Royce Hall.

Thank you for being with us.

From the Center: An Evening with Gregory Porter-Royce Hall Jan. 17

Unsigned editorial from the evening’s program notes. 

Tonight is about soul and passion. The soul and passion of one artist as he transmits it to those of us here to bear witness; the soul and passion inherent in the blues, soul and jazz forms he so deftly inhabits; and the soul and passion that we as listeners, seekers and music lovers simultaneously bring to and extract from this space that has held so much of it over the decades.

We believe music is an essential part of the human experience.

Music perpetuates one of the most accessible rabbit holes in the art of performance. Throughout our lives, we will discover a sound or a song or a voice that resonates with us and dive deeper into it, uncover the influences behind the artist who created it, revel in other artists and forms and vibrations that emanate from it and evolve with it. And through all this we are expanding and enhancing our own experience. Music is, indeed, essential.

Gregory Porter, over the last several years, has become an essential figure in the art of jazz performance. His third album, Liquid Skin, which you can read more about in the interview/bio enclosed in the program notes, earned him a Grammy, after being nominated
for his first two albums. He was quickly recognized by his peers as a force to be reckoned with in jazz and is increasingly beloved by audiences worldwide. He is an imposing figure both literally and metaphorically, with a soul and passion to match his commanding stage presence.

As the New York Times put it in a recent review of a live performance in Porter’s home city: “Working from outer form to inner heart, Mr. Porter’s music is jazz via Oscar Brown Jr. and Nat King Cole; R&B via Ray Charles; thinky and poetic mid-’70s R&B, via Marvin Gaye and Gil Scott-Heron; and then gospel,
not as theology but as emotional policy, as devotion safeguarding against chaos.”

We are extremely proud to present this exceptional performer in Royce Hall.

Thank you for being with us.

Vijay Iyer- ‘Music of Transformation’ ‘RADHE RADHE: Rites of Holi’ and ‘Mutations I-X’ Dec. 5, 2014

The unsigned editorial from the performance program notes.

Art is inherently transformative.  The work of artists and the results of the ideas and forms in which they invest their curiosity, their creativity and their talents is imbued with the ability to change the shape of things we thought we once knew, or to wholly create something anew that allows us to reshape, reframe and rethink our own shapes in this world.

Vijay Iyer and Prashant Bhargava, two uniquely transformative artists, have collaborated to bring us a vivid rendering of an entire city embracing a transformative sentiment with RADHE RADHE: Rites of Holi.

Or, as Vijay explains it so eloquently in the notes that follow: “The result is a ballet of sorts: a performative encounter between live music and film, between lived experience and myth, the self and the transformed self, winter and spring.”

The art of contemporary performance revolves around this powerful concept of lived experience, both the experience of the moment, the life and performance experience of the artists on the stage, and the experiences and perceptions we the audience bring into this space as we lean forward to receive the great artistic gifts being offered.

It is a privilege and a gift to do the good work that creates the opportunity for that shared experience to exist. To hold a space and intention for the artists of our time who are committed to shaping and re-shaping our perceptions of art and culture and music.

This is Vijay Iyer’s second appearance at Royce Hall and the second time we have worked closely with him to craft an expansive inquiry into the deep wells of artistry he inhabits. Last time, Vijay performed in several different jazz ensemble configurations, showing his skill as a versatile and intelligent band leader.

We return him to this stage to further showcase the versatility that is making him one of the most important artists in modern music, and one least inclined to sit inside any preconceived notions of genre boundary.

We are incredibly fortunate to be music lovers in a world that Vijay Iyer is dominating. His transformative explorations into the raw potential that lives inside all music continues to take shape, evolve and transform.

We welcome the transformation. And we welcome you to share it with us.

Marc Ribot ‘Silent Movies’ and Los Cubanos Postizos Nov. 21, 2014

The unsigned editorial from the performance program notes. 

We are extremely fortunate here at the Center to regularly present, collaborate with and support artists who defy simple categorization, who often cannot be confined to a single presentation format.

Guitarist/composer Marc Ribot is one of those artists and we are very proud to present him here tonight in Royce Hall in a special showcase event that highlights his profound versatility and scope of artistic vision. Marc will take us on ruminative solo journey for the first half of the program, with his poignant and complex Silent Movies. Later, joined by his fellow members of New York City party band Los Cubanos Positzos (a.k.a The Prosthetic Cubans).

For nearly four decades, Marc Ribot has been a solo artist, a bandleader, an in-demand studio and touring  musician who has worked with everyone from Tom Waits and fellow New York experimentalist John Zorn to Elvis Costello, Sam Phillips, Robert Plant, and Marianne Faithful.

It is exceedingly appropriate that Marc step into the spotlight of Royce Hall and take his place among the long list of great instrumental talents whose work has filled this space before.

Tonight’s appearance of Los Cubanos Positzos will raise the roof in honor of   Arsenio Rodríguez—innovator of the son montuno in the 1940s and 1950s, the sound that set the template for modern-day salsa and an artist who greatly influenced Marc Ribot.

This group is meant to be experienced live. Their shows are fearsome and fulsome.  If you start feeling the urge to dance, you’re doing it right.

Thank you for being here with us tonight as we celebrate a true music great. Thank you for helping us welcome the one-and-only Marc Ribot to the program.

Enjoy the performance.

‘Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films’ Royce Hall Friday October 25, 2014

The unsigned editorial from the evening’s program notes. 

“There’s so many different angles you can come at Warhol,” Eleanor Friedberger recently said in a Billboard Magazine interview about Exposed. “He never really goes out of style.”

Indeed, he does not. You’d be hard-pressed to find an artist, or pop culture enthusiast, or possibly any living human who doesn’t harbor some kind of frame of reference or relationship to the life and work of Andy Warhol. His fame has extended well beyond his prescient and oft-quoted “15 minutes” observation.

Part of the impetus around the creation of tonight’s program is a celebration of the institution that has done so much to keep Andy Warhol’s iconic legacy at the forefront of the artistic and pop culture world. This year The Andy Warhol Museum marks its 20th anniversary. We were incredibly proud to partner with them and with BAM on the commissioning of “Exposed.”

Tonight is one of just three live-performances scheduled for this exceptional program, a marriage of sound and celluloid, brought together to create a wholly new installation that we, as the audience will become the permanent caretakers of.

And tonight yeilds another moment in which we can sustain our own relationship to Andy Warhol’s work, aided by five innovative composer-performers hand-picked by guest music curator Dean Wareham.

Dean is no stranger to working with Warhol visuals, having created, along with his artistic and life partner Britta Phillips, the score to “13 Most Beautiful,” a song cycle composed and performed to a selection of Warhol’s famous screen tests.

The films you will see tonight were discovered in a Pennsylvania warehouse just as Wareham was plotting with the Museum on a potential follow up to “13 Most Beautiful. “They are more personal and less stylized than Warhol’s screen tests, more like home movies, describes Ben Harrison, curator of performing arts at the Warhol Museum.

We think that’s part of the great appeal. Warhol has captured a unique series of moments in time, and we have the good fortune to be able to come together to view and experience them in yet another ephemeral moment in the art of performance.

That never really goes out of style either.

Thanks for being here.

Behind “Exposed”

Tonight we play host to a truly unique moment in the art of performance.”Exposed: Songs for Unseen Warhol Films” is a marriage of sound and celluloid that has been a long time in the making, and its arrival to the Royce stage tomorrow marks one of those especially gratifying moments as a curator, when the dreaming of a few coalesces into an extraordinary experience for many.

A couple of years ago I was approached by a great colleague, Ben Harrison, at the Andy Warhol Museum about co-commissioning this project (then untitled, and then just a concept). They had located a number of Warhol’s short films in their collection that were related to the “Screen Tests” he filmed quite regularly, but were of a somewhat different nature. More like a cinema portrait in a way than a “screen test” – but that is a nuance I have likely invented as a way to officially organize it in my own mind. (As one does.)

Ben had been involved in the development of the precursor to “Exposed,” which was called “13 Most Beautiful” – the cinema screen tests shot by Andy, which had Dean & Britta performing live in a concert setting. Dean Wareham and Britta composed the music and if I recall (this was 2006 I think),  were part of the creative force that conceived the idea to begin with. It toured extensively, and I saw it in Sydney years ago.

Wareham, this time around, wanted to broaden out the music collaborators, so for this project, he is both the curator/music director and also a composer/performer. I guess that is four roles rather than two!

What I loved hearing about, behind the scenes as the project started to take shape, was the restoration process of the films themselves from the conservators at the Warhol museum, and their insights about the pieces of cinema along with the film curator.

Of course getting updates on which musicians were then engaged and what they were working on and how it was taking shape was also pretty exciting.

So, here we are, two years later – restored Warhol films, a massive amount of music and artistry that has come together for a three – city engagement after so much detailing and creative time has been spent behind the scenes.  I am sure the project will go on after it is performed in the ‘homes’ of the three organizations that committed early on to support the development time it needed, which include the Center, The Andy Warhol Museum and BAM.

As with anything connected to Warhol – everyone seems to have a story about “Andy” and along the way of this, I have heard many…..real and imagined….people are compelled to tell you about “the time when…..”

I swear, Andy Warhol has had dinner and drinks with people that were not even born during the Factory years – and that will probably be the case for decades to come.

Indeed, part of the impetus behind this work is to celebrate the 20-year history of The Andy Warhol Museum, which has done much to ensure that Andy’s memory and influence continues to loom large.

My story about Andy is tied to this moment in time, to  the preservation and presentation of these incredible lost films, the talented and varied music artists who are helping bring them to life for us.

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Art Speigelman and Phillip Johnston: WORDLESS! Oct. 15 2014

The unsigned editorial from the evening’s program notes

Very few humans are just one thing. We’re all a multi-hyphenate jumble of ideas, experiences, expectations, possibilities and curiosity. And that’s a beautiful thing.

Most artists exist in that hyphenate space…the place that simultaneously creates a pause and builds a bridge. Or, as Art Spiegelman himself might put it, using a hyphen to de-familiarize us with a pair of words, allowing us to see each one with fresh eyes.

That de-familiarization and re-familiarization is a constant underlying presence in the art of performance, giving us moments that inspire us to look at the world from a different perspective alongside moments that instigate deep and poignant memory of what we know (or thought we knew).

Tonight marks the first in a series of performances on our 2014-2015 season that straddle the medium of visual art, performance art and live music.

We’re very happy you’re here with us to welcome Art Spiegelman and Phillip Johnston, the live embodiment of a hyphenate creative experience, a co-mingling of ideas, experiences, expectations, possibilities and curiosity.

Part of WORDLESS! includes a new work from Art, a piece entitled “Shaping Thought.”

How do thoughts take shape?  What kind of shape do they take? How do we shape the thoughts of those around us? How have artists of the past shaped the thoughts and works of the artists of today? How do we connect to the shape of each other’s thoughts? Where and how do we build our own hyphens?

We are curious beings around here. We like these questions. We hope you like them too.  Feel free to ask them of us, of each other, often.

In the meantime, welcome to WORDLESS!

BASETRACK Live! Friday Oct. 10, 2014

The unsigned editorial from the evening’s program notes

How do you serve?
A hero is…
When do you feel protected?
What’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done?
What does peace look like?

As we prepared to bring to the stage the innovative work of theater you will experience tonight, these and many other questions, thoughts and themes permeated our consciousness.

And in the week leading up to this performance we asked the UCLA community to share their thoughts and answers to these questions, by interacting with our Peace & Quiet station just outside Royce Hall.

There is a powerful overarching sense of purpose that runs through Basetrack Live–one that instigates query, provokes thoughtfulness and inspires advocacy. Being a part of an institution of research, inquiry and progress, it was important to us to set in motion the opportunity to extend the concept and conversation, to provide a physical place for such dialogue to occur. A space that would do its part to serve the impetus and deep thought that went into the creation of an exceptional blending of music, media and narrative performance.

Like many moments in the art of performance, the literal coming together of creators and audiences inherently sets the stage for a dialogue. For some works of art this is even  more integral, more natural, and this piece is a thoughtful example of that.
The stories you will witness on this stage  tonight are based on true moments in the lives of men and women who serve, who witness heroism, who protect others, who exhibit bravery and who wonder what peace looks like. Part of being here to bear witness to their stories is allowing ourselves to enter into a dialogue about conflict, and the human toll of conflict. This is not always an easy thing to do. But it is a worthwhile thing to do, we believe, and it is an idea that is well served when viewed through an artistic lens.

We welcome you to linger after the performance and hear more
about its creation from the artists in a Q&A session here in the hall. We invite you to interact with them and us and to visit the temporary installation outside. Share your thoughts, share an answer to one of the questions above, write a letter to a member of active military, share a conversation with someone you’ve never met or even share a moment of silence and remembrance.

Make the most of this moment in time as we all take pause to consider the questions and stories brought to life by tonight’s
performers and creators.

Thank you for being with us.