Sunday, June 3, 2012

From the Vaults: A Place to Bury Strangers @ Death by Audio

Death by Audio, in Williamsburg, is Oliver Ackermann’s baby: his living space (so I hear); his effects pedal company by the same name, and the site where those babies are designed and constructed by hand; a recording studio; and also a performing arts space, with a makeshift bar. So, on any given day, Ackermann and a collective of artists and musicians are toiling away at custom pedals in their upstairs “factory,” then recording bands that practice in their warehouse (for Death By Audio Records), and finally hanging out downstairs, where all of the public shows take place. Not a bad venue to wander into fashionably late!

Squeezing into the jam-packed room, once again admiring the paintings of tigers and a retro Mickey Mouse on the walls, and astonished that the suspended ceiling tiles weren’t falling onto anyone’s head (some are looking pretty hazardous!), I entered during Weekend’s set, having completely missed No Joy. Not to be confused with a band from Baltimore called Weekends (also worth checking out), San Francisco based Weekend was perfectly complimentary to A Place to Bury Strangers’ sound and their fans’ musical tastes. Like APTBS, The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine inspire Weekend, and their music maintains just the right balance between melodic/riff-y and wall-of-noise, with gorgeously languid vocals smothered in distortion on “Youth Haunts,” and some really sexy, walloping build-ups of amplified sound that finally give way to drum beats you can hang onto.

While chatting with Benjamin Curtis of School of Seven Bells, whom I interviewed earlier this summer, and who’s been friends with APTBS for years, I got wedged between bodies in the 200-ish-person room just as the band went onstage. Unfortunately for me, at 5’1’” and never one to wear heels, I couldn’t exactly see them. But, I recalled watching them play in their former practice safe when I interviewed them for BRM back in 2007, and also being up front and center when they performed at SxSW in 2008, so I didn’t quite mind the non-view. As palpable as ever, their blend of 1980s post-punk, dark psychedelic, experimental, avant-garde, noise rock, and shoegaze blasted from the speakers, and I mean blasted! With the use of those handmade pedals, they’ve always been recognized for their volume.  

A few songs in, a technical difficulty with the amps, or speakers, or wires arose, which left Jay Space playing the drums alone. But after things got sorted out, the band dove back into their set with even more fervor and passion, as if that were possible. Completely unpretentious, they grace the stage not to banter back and forth, cover songs of their idols, or try to swindle the crowd; they’re simply there to play potent music, gliding in and out of songs with added loops and digressions, in the performing style of Sonic Youth.

For me, there was something magical about my immersion in that crowd. As usual, APTBS projected abstract images and swirling designs as they played, and I watched floating dots on the ceiling and large shadows on the tiger-wall. The room filled first with cigarette smoke and then with smoke from a fog machine. Songs like “I Know I’ll See You” and “Ego Death” saturated everyone’s bones to the point of frenzy; shoes flew, and guys and girls crowd-surfed for as long as their bodies could be held. Soon, things got even more intense. The smoke machine obscured the band to the point of complete invisibility. It was as if the stage had opened up and swallowed them whole, their music lingering on the event horizon. Heavy distortion fell over the crowd like a cloud of dust, and everyone was covered; the music as impermanent and elusive as the smoke. With the band “gone,” a strobe light pulsed, arms lifted, a girl was carried towards me, her body arched at the ceiling...and all while the song “Ocean” swelled, revolved, and gushed.

Former bassist Jono Mofo once explained how this last part of their shows tends to verge on performance art. “There’s no real music left,” he told me during our interview, “it’s just noises and lights, I’m not even on stage, I’m like standing next to it while it’s happening…my bass is feeding back, Oliver is ripping his strings out.” And true to form, the band emerged from the smoke and abandoned the stage, walking right through the crowd, accepting pats of approval, and heading to the back, while the music looped and echoed, more deafening by the second. Even though the guys were no longer on stage, the crowd stood transfixed, not sure whether to move or to stay, absorbing the last remaining waves of “Ocean” until they regained their senses. Many headed to the adjoining“bar” room, maybe to talk to the band, maybe to exit the backdoor and hang out on Kent, where I too ended up. As I exited via the short hallway to the front door, the music finally stopped. It was all over, but somehow, it was still ringing out.

Fun fact: A Place to Bury Strangers is also the title of an Aleister Crowley poem, as well as a Biblical reference to the thirty pieces of silver Judas received for selling out Jesus, which was then used to buy a field for burying strangers.

[second photo by A. Dupcak, taken at SxSW 2008]

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Oh My Rockness gives some Tips!

On this rainy, migraine-y day, I am pretty amused by a sassy and sarcastic Concert Etiquette list by none other than Oh My Rockness. How do you think it compares to my list?

Show Etiquette Tips from Oh My Rockness
1.) When a band says from the stage, "How's everyone doing tonight?" - tell them. "Actually, not so great, Thurston. I'm a little distracted by how much I just spent on this domestic beer in a plastic cup. Annnnnnd, the hemorrhoids are back. But we all sorta saw that one coming, am I right?"

2.) If you're a really tall individual and are standing right up front; congratulations! You are statistically more likely to be a "CEO type" than people of average or below average height. Heck, we could even be staring at the back of the next President of the gosh darn USA! How neat would that be?!
3.) Between sets, it's polite to pitch in and help the next band with their set-up. If you don't know where to plug something in, just find the nearest hole. Also, all those levels on all those gadgets they have? Two words: ADJUST THEM.
4.) On the guest list? It's only respectful to notify the venue at least 48 hours in advance of the show so they can print out a giant banner in your honor and string it up behind the drums (i.e. "the skins"). And don't you worry; they won't forget the ice cream cake.
5.) When you hear good music with a good beat, do you like to move your big hair rhythmically? It's common courtesy to first remove your shoes, go to the bar, fill them both with rum, then give one of each to the neighbors directly in front of you and behind.
6.) Your cell phone sure is a fun gadget, isn't it? Seriously, who even thought of all that neat stuff?! And it takes pictures too?! Amazing! Just remember though; indoor shows can get pretty darn dark. If you want to take great looking pics with your cell phone at a show, you may want to consider bringing along an extra set of lights and their respective riggings. Ask the venue for a few ladders to borrow too. Also, don't over think things like what you choose to "shoot." Take pics constantly throughout the entire evening and you'll fix it "in post" later.
7.) When in doubt - sit down

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Interview Series #12: Charlotte Gudmundsson

Charlotte Gudmundsson is as unique as they come...even though she's an identical twin! Half Icelandic and half Swedish, Charlotte and her family have lived all over the world, settling in places as far flung as Thailand, South Korea, Syria, and Sri Lanka. With such an unconventional upbringing, it's no wonder Charlotte has taken the path less traveled in her adult years. On her own, she chose to study art at Parsons in Paris, which landed her, two years later, at Parsons in New York City.

Charlotte pursued a degree in illustration because, as she says, it tells a story in a visual way. Her art has been shown in various galleries, including Greenpoint Gallery in Brooklyn and The Bottle Shop in Paris. Currently, her work is available for purchase on Le Baz'art, a site that connects emerging artists with art-lovers, and acts as a place where "novice and seasoned collectors alike [can] purchase quality, progressive young, talented artists." She was also interviewed (yes, they beat me!) on the great pumpkin by way of collaborating with the vegetarian supper club, Brooklyn Fork and Spoon. And though she's only twenty-five, Charlotte has already embarked on an artistic career as a designer for Astor Wines & Spirits in downtown Manhattan. An all around delightful person with a passion for food, wine, travel, and fantasy, I was truly excited to uncover all that contributes to Charlotte's creative --- and contagious --- energy.
Quick Look
Birthday: March 1, 1987
Living in: Brooklyn, New York
Born in: Mountainview,  California

No-Alternative: Growing up, you lived in nine different countries on three continents. How has this upbringing affected your personal relationship with art, and how has it inspired you? Do you have a favorite place, city, or country in terms of artistic inspiration?

Charlotte Gudmundsson: Growing up in nine different countries has definitely shaped my relationship with art. As I moved around so much, it was difficult at times to adjust to a new school, new groups of friends, and a new city. I always had a crazy imagination when I was little, and it would provide a hiding place, a source of comfort that I could enter and feel familiar. I would create whole stories and characters and make them real by putting them on paper. What I do now is pretty much the same thing: making tangible fantastical ideas, so that others can be a part of them as well. 

As for a favorite place, I would probably say the spooky pine forests around my family's house in Småland, southern Sweden. There's just something very, very old about them, where many things have happened unnoticed, and where living things are hidden by the shadows of the pine trees and layers of moss and lichen. It makes me curious and makes me want to explore. 

There's something childlike and sometimes darkly sweet about your illustrations, but then there's the Explosions series, which is far more sexual. How would you describe your general aesthetic and your biggest influences? And is there one particular drawing or set that you feel encapsulates you as a person/artist?

There are two things that have greatly inspired me and my work. One is the art that came out of Germany and Austria at the turn of the century, from around 1900-1930. The other is nature and all the bizarre animals that populate it. 

Die Brücke and the Wiener Werkstätte, two very disparate groups that formed in Berlin and Vienna respectively, both shared similar views that I find incredibly interesting. Die Brücke, which was founded by the expressionist painter Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and his friends in Dresden in 1905, believed that through the revival of old, traditional media such as woodcuts, combined with a rejection of academically approved subjects, they could create a 'bridge' between the past and the future. The Wiener Werkstätte, a production company of visual artists in Vienna founded in 1903, didn't form as casually, but they had the same anti-establishment sentiments when they formed. Their mission was to design art that was accessible to everyone, using traditional media and paying close attention to craftsmanship. I especially love how the artists of the Wiener Werkstätte didn't limit themselves to one field; Koloman Moser, who was an incredible painter and illustrator, also worked in glass, woodworking and furniture design. Their approach that art should be useful and enjoyed by everyone is something I really take to heart. 

The natural world, on the other hand, is where I find the most fascinating forms and characters. Some of the bizarre creatures that exist are just so fascinating to me because they are so alien --- like the 5-foot long Giant Salamander of China, the largest amphibian in the world. What a monster! It doesn't take much more than thinking about such a strange thing for me to get ideas about stories and characters --- I imagine this is how fairy tales and legends start. 

Concerning my 'Explosive' series, it was a bit outside of my usual style of drawing. I was given an assignment in a class to explore the theme 'sexuality'. At the time I was playing around with different watercolor and india ink techniques. The idea I had, that sexuality, if contained or repressed, will still manifest itself, but then in more violent, uncontrolled means. It's best if you embrace it and have fun with it. I thought it would work out very well with the splashy watercolor effects I was playing around with at the time, and I think it came together really well. Even though it does look different from my other work, I think I was enjoying the technicalities of painting just as much as I would creating a screen print.

If I was to choose one drawing that would define my work, I think it would have to be the little 'dreaming' hair monster. He's turning his dreams into a beautiful, valuable and tangible object, with a bit of cranking.

What's your ideal drawing environment in terms of light, sound, vibe, locale, etc?

I am not too particular about my setting when I work. Ideally, it should be fairly distraction-free, but I don't worry too much about a specific light/time of day or something like that. I do love blasting the Knife or Fever Ray when I'm working --- Karin and Olof Dreijer are my absolute favorite musicians in the world. Their music provides the perfect mix of energy, kookiness and creepy humor which I hope to imbue my work with.

You've painted two murals in Brooklyn --- how do you decide what to paint when the canvas is so public and highly viewed? And is there a certain way you go about brainstorming for a mural and then putting it all together? 

When deciding on what to paint for the two (fairly) recent murals I did, I definitely took into account WHO I was painting it for. The first one, which was completely public, was for Jane's Closet, a clothing store  on Grand Street by Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn. The owners of Jane's Closet are inviting artists to paint a mural on the wall adjacent to their store, which stay up for a few months before changing. Because of the temporal nature of this project, I never felt like it was going to be too "precious". The owner of the store is a big animal friend just like me, and she has an adorable cocker spaniel named Ginger. So, I decided to include Ginger in a mural, along with a menagerie to keep her company! I wasn't too concerned with matching the identity of the store too closely, but I made sure to include them as credit. 

The other mural I painted was for Amplify, an initiative organized by the New School's DESIS Lab (Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability). This wasn't exactly "public" --- it was in the courtyard of the St. Nick's Alliance building in Williamsburg. For this I took an equally playful approach; I wanted to paint a city landscape that was colorful and whimsical, which reflects how I see NYC. The city is really a playground, not an urban wasteland --- there are opportunities everywhere for improvement. 

As a full-time designer for Astor Wines & Spirits, which have been your favorite, or most gratifying, projects so far?

The best thing I got to do when working at Astor Wines was designing three wine labels for Astor's private label "Erdenlied". It came in three varietals, two white and one red: a Gruner Veltliner, a Riesling and a Zweigelt. Not only did this allow me to tap into my obsession with the Wiener Werkstatte design style, it would also result in a tangible product that thousands of people would purchase and enjoy. The manager of Astor's private labels came up with the name "Erdenlied," which means "Song of the Earth," based on a symphony by Gustav Mahler, a composer who hung out with all the Wiener Werkstatte guys in the first decade of the 1900's --- in other words a fantastically evocative name. After a number of rounds of designs, I ended up creating a decorative floral illustration that I hoped would reflect the flavors of the wine.  
Art is literally your livelihood --- from your job at Astor to commissioned work --- but I'm wondering how art-as-work might change its personal value. How do you feel about getting paid for art? And do you still have time and/or the desire to do art for art's sake?

Working as a full-time graphic designer/ merchandiser at Astor has really been a wonderful experience. I unfortunately have hardly any spare time to work on my own projects, projects I initiate not out of financial interest but out of a need to not let the ball stop rolling --- I don't want to let myself stall too much on my own projects. Of course, getting paid for your work is immensely gratifying. Creating work for a client and on your free time isn't too different...the only difference is having a shorter deadline when you're creating something for a client. 

Along a similar train of thought, you studied art formally at The New School, in both New York and Paris. Were you ever worried about your decision to pursue art as a major and, ultimately, as a career? And do you think it's necessary for aspiring or budding artists to study art in a classroom setting?

based on a visit to a fortune teller
Personally I never worried about choosing to pursue art as a career. It was a decision I very single-mindedly made when I was still in high school, and I didn't give a second thought to the difficulties I would have to face with such a path. I just KNEW I wanted to make art and draw for a living, and really didn't think anything beyond that mattered. As long as I was trying to do this I'd be happy. I realize that this sounds fairly simple, but it was also a decision I made based on a lot of self-analysis, and considering what my personal strengths, weaknesses and inclinations were, and what I thought I would do well in. In some part I think I wanted to stand out from among my siblings too --- they all pursued "sensible" fields, either political science or engineering.  

I definitely didn't get my best grades in Art in High School; in fact, I did much better in English. Going to school for Illustration was definitely a good idea too. Art school was a great experience, but I did find value in different places than I thought I would. It wasn't so much about the techniques and skills I learned there (although I loved all the printmaking classes I took and wish I had the same access to their amazing facilities now),  but more about the people I met there and the close friends I made. I also have stayed in touch with many of my professors, which has been a great help for me in trying to stand on my own feet after graduation.

I often wonder how an artist measures his/her success. How do you feel you've personally grown --- as an artist or otherwise --- in the past few years? 

The biggest realization I've come to make in the past few years is that you can really only rely on yourself to make things happen. In order to get anywhere or for anything to happen, you have to initiate it yourself, and not just sit and wait for things to come for you. This definitely applies to me personally as well as for my work, and it is something I struggle with everyday. I don't want to be complacent or comfortable, I want to go out and take chances and seize opportunities. As for measuring my own success, the only yardstick I have for that is myself. As long as I make things that I myself am happy and proud of, then I feel like I've been successful in that venture. You can never please everyone, but you can please yourself!

Your boyfriend, with whom you live, is also an artist/illustrator/animator. What's it like for two artists to date?  

My boyfriend, Garrett, studied traditional animation, and we actually worked together on a project, an animated short film, before we were going out. He was the animation director and I was inking pencil sketches --- he was actually the best boss I've had so far. I don't think it's too different from any other two people who date. We may do things a little differently in certain situations: e.g. if we're both sitting in a restaurant together with a paper tablecloth, both of us are guaranteed to start doodling all over the table. We also might make each other little hand-drawn cards for special occasions. 

One of the sets you showcased on your blog is "a series of illustrations inspired by songs [you] obsessively listen to." Tell us more!

Charlotte in Sweden
This is a serialized project I started as a motivation to keep making work regularly. The idea is just to take one of my favorite songs, or a song I've been listening to on repeat recently, and make a drawing of it. I see it as a little mental exercise. The first (and only one) was of "Kino" by The Knife, which is a very playful electronic song that makes me think of a Chinese video game with strange creatures. I drew it on lots of tiny paint chips from the hardware store to reflect the rhythmic, fragmented nature of the song. 

Last but not least... say I wanted to buy a bottle of wine tonight (from Astor Wine & Spirits, of course). What do you recommend? 

One of my favorite wines I've tried  is a white wine from Burgundy called "La Boheme." It's a natural wine, meaning the grapes were grown organically and the wine was made with minimal intervention: no sulfites, extra sugar or anything else added. It's so delicious slightly chilled, perfect for a beautiful May evening. As a plus, it's also got a funny label, and a good price, for around $12.

(all artwork by Charlotte Gudmundsson)

Monday, April 30, 2012

No.Alt Recommends, April

Norwegian cinema means snowy fields, authentic characters, and a decidedly un-Hollywood experience, though this one may be a little more Hollywood inspired than I expected. Trollhunter (2010) is like Blair Witch Project meets Buffy The Vampire Slayer meets Cloverfield, but somehow still original. And while the handheld shaky camera might make you a little dizzy and the late-night troll-hunting can get a tad repetitive, the film's impressive CGI, gorgeous landscapes, high-tension scenes, interesting mythology, and completely realistic 'documentary' feel will absolutely reel you in. And hey, at least it's not about vampires!

Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
Though it's actually her third studio album, it's the first one to enchant my eardrums. Her velvety voice is packed with emotional prowess, but also delicately executed. Though the record certainly lands in female-singer-songwriter category, Tramp doesn't fall prey to some of those stereotypes. Quite simply, it's poetry.

Picture're at home watching a kickass movie (like Trollhunter) and you're itching for a little snack, but it's raining or really late or you're just too engrossed (lazy?) to move, let alone bake. What's a girl or boy to do? Go online, pick out which cookies you want, order them and have them delivered up until some ungodly hour of the night. It's cheap, it's easy, sometimes it's quick (depends on the studying season!), and it's not only for students! You can even order milk.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Magic in the Silo

In February of 2007, a good friend from college, Blake, returned to New York to work on an independent film. I hadn't seen him since we graduated in May of the previous year, and I was so excited to help him with his latest project, even if it was just for a couple of days. I always considered Blake to be that friend who would someday be famous, whether it be for his poetry, playwriting, filmmaking, acting, or any one of his immense talents. 

I remember ringing the bell of an apartment near mine, only this one proved to be quadruple the size. In fact, it took up the entire floor above a bar on the corner of LaGuardia. When I walked in with my friend Beth, I saw not only Blake but his partner-in-crime: a gorgeous, skinny girl in skinny jeans, with pixie-cut hair. Her name was Evann. The two had been friends since attending high school together in LA, and like Blake, Evann was also involved in the film industry. Evann assigned me the role of "production assistant," and I was truly pumped.

Ben S., Ben R., and Blake
That day, our two friends --- both named Ben --- showed up to act. Evann adorned the Bens with fake blood for their small roles in that day's shoot, and we all took the subway to midtown. Blake's script involved a 9/11-ish terrorist attack on New York (the film was a stark, fictional documentary), and in addition to Ben and Ben talking to the camera, the lot of us ended up running madly through the streets and pointing at the sky.

I remember perfecting my fake fall on the sidewalk and doing it over and over again until it actually hurt like hell. I also remember accidentally tripping Evann --- who was running alongside me --- and causing the LCD screen of her camera to break once she hit the pavement. I felt absolutely terrible, but she was really nice about it, and decided that the footage on that camera would look really cool. On the subway heading back downtown, Evann and I had a nice chat, and it was great for me to encounter a girl my age who seemed to be so in control of her life, her vision, her passions, her future, and her current decisions. She seemed older than me, yet completely on my level.

The next day, my sore self met Blake, Evann, and Bronwen (the sole actress for that day's shoot and another SLC alum) at 7:15. The morning was cold and rainy, and there was still some snow on the ground from a few days prior. The four of us carried loads of stuff along the street until we finally hailed a cab. We piled in and sailed off to Gowanus, Brooklyn, where we drove up to an old silo literally on the Canal.

We walked up to a large black gate and, as soon as were let into the old oil building, it was like leaving New York City behind (a common, mutual feeling). That year, a writer for The New York Times wrote this about the incredible location: 
Perhaps the biggest wow factor lately comes from seeing a show at a former oil silo... Occupied for the last two years by ISSUE Project Room, an experimental arts organization, the silo is hidden behind an imposing metal gate with a small sign just off the Carroll Street bridge. Between the lapping (if occasionally stinky) water, the courtyard filled with poplar trees and the warm glow emanating from the two-story performance space — the top floor is reached by an exterior metal ladder — it’s as far from mainstream clubland as you can get. 
ISSUE Project Room is the brainchild of Suzanne Fiol; founded in February of 2003, her project offered an art and performance space first on East 6th Street, and then in the abandoned silo. According to ArtForum, “Fiol wanted to make a space for music, performance, and readings in a spirit of love and commitment and created one of the warmest and best-sounding venues in New York.” For almost ten years, ISSUE has been an "important showcase for experimental culture" and has provided "artists and musicians with a dynamic environment in which to create innovative and challenging work."

It was Suzanne herself, all long hair and large eyes, who greeted us that hazy day. Blake had reserved the round performance space for its ambiance and acoustics, and Suzanne led us up there. Blake had also hired a lighting professional, and I helped him carry all of his things up the aforementioned "metal ladder." Soon, Evann sent me out to get some food. I remember that I slipped on the ice and fell (for real this time) while holding bags of snacks. Back inside, I set up a poor-man's craft service table for the "cast and crew," but luckily Suzanne was already making soup for us downstairs. She generously made us feel like her kitchen was ours too, and her soup was the perfect remedy for the chilly day.

While Evann was doing Bronwen's makeup and Blake was getting her into character, I sat at the table and talked with Suzanne. She was warm and passionate, and she told me that ISSUE Project Room was going to be relocating soon and that the silo might be torn down to make condos, which made me very sad. She also mentioned that each month's performances at ISSUE were themed, and that the upcoming month's theme was "synesthesia."

I was flabbergasted; I had just conceived my first column (called "Crash Course") for the next print issue of Beyond Race Magazine, and I was going to dive into writing about synesthesia! Since I had already decided that I would debut "Crash Course" with synesthesia (for which I was going to interview two synesthetes), I told Suzanne that I would be back for the performance, and even considered asking if I could intern for her. Suzanne, who was in her forties, inadvertently taught me that one really could live a life of art and music and wonder; one really could become successful in a creative realm, and defy societal expectation. At newly 23, that's all I could envision for my own future.

After filming wrapped that day, I felt truly inspired by my adventurous two-day experiences "on set" in my beloved city, with amazingly talented people. When I returned to the silo, alone, less than a month later, I sat in on a synesthesia performance in the round room, and then used it in one section of my article:
On some level, everyone can occasionally tap into a synesthetic experience, either through dreams, memory, or common sensory associations (such as lower musical notes evoking dark shades and higher notes evoking lighter ones), and non-synesthetes can certainly enjoy synesthetic art, from Fantasia to Stan Brakhage to the vibrant paintings of Michael Fratangelo. Brooklyn’s ISSUE Project Room dedicated all March exhibits to synesthesia. The opening of “Sensorium” featured color-intense paintings, moving images, multimedia art pieces and a performance by Laure Drogoul, where blindfolded audience members described the emotions and memories different scents conjured up. To identify the same weed (concealed in envelopes), responses ranged from bubblegum, to lemongrass, to cider, and England.
 In October of 2009, Suzanne Fiol died after a long battle with cancer.

In April of 2012 (just a few days ago), Evann Marie died as well.

For just one day in time, I existed in the same space with both of these magical women...a magical space that I never knew existed before one of them took me, and one of them welcomed me.