Friday, July 1st
If the outside corresponded to the inner life in people, we couldn’t have “bodies” as we do. The inner life is too complex, too various, too fluid. Our bodies incarnate only a fraction of our inner lives. Given that they would still have inner lives of the energy and complexity that they have now, the bodies of people would have to be more like gas–something gaseous yet tangible-looking like clouds. Then our bodies could metamorphose rapidly, expand, contract–a part could break off, we could fragment, fuse, collide, accumulate, vanish, rematerialize, swell up, thin out, thicken, etc. etc… (233)
Today’s rainstorm met me for the second time as I resurfaced from the L at Grand Street, filling the streets, muscular drops bouncing off the stairway to the upper world. I stood at the base for a while. Fellow commuters formed a growing cluster, waiting out the most torrential part of the storm, standing mutual witness to each other’s lives for the sake of a brief moment out of the rain. A dark-haired mother, late for a birthday party, calls her daughter; a tall, blond, angular man with a bike, watching my legs tenaciously as the wind whips my skirt higher and higher. Weston appeared at the top of the stairs, his pink shirt soaked through, his bag of books clutched protectively in his arms. I ran up to meet him, giggling reflexively at the cold draft of rain. We ducked into a bodega to buy umbrellas before walking across Bushwick Avenue–the wide, wet street that meanders through East Williamsburg like a lazy river–and down Grand Street.
The entrance to IDIO Gallery is a vibrant, playful wall of graffiti, one of the many colorful spreads that brighten the sides of the low-lying industrial brick buildings along Grand. Around the corner at the gallery itself, a small neon sign reads “IDIOT”; the “T” is unlit. The doors were thrown open, yellow light pouring from the small one-room gallery, plants tumbling from the windows. A few hip gallery denizens were milling about in the gravel parking lot, but Weston and I arrived 15 minutes early for a showtime that has been pushed back another half hour due to the storm. With three-quarters of an hour to fill, we circled the upper gallery a few times, flipped through the book collection and the current exhibition–fleshy, melting portraits, a terrifying cross between Donald Trump’s face and a plate of mashed potatoes at the center–and played with the grumpy gallery cat and sleepy gallery dog, Suede.
As the rain died down and passed, I stood in the parking lot to watch the heavy, receding clouds. Lightning flickered inside them, illuminating their tumescent bellies, as frequent and gentle as breath. Where the clouds parted, I saw the sunset slowly unfolding behind them as the evening wore on.
At 9 PM, we were going to hear a show I knew next-to-nothing about. All I knew is that it is sound art, a few performers, mostly women, probably electronic. I did not do my homework; I did not look up the gallery or the program or the people. This is unlike me. Today is an unusual day.
I do not know what to expect, so I am watching the storm.
The downstairs gallery is dark and nearly unmarked, only a few smaller sculptural pieces clustered along the walls and load-bearing pillars. A hand-lettered sign advertised $5 drinks in front of a messy bar area cluttered with 2-liter bottles of soda. It reminded me a little of a very casual house party, if the party were calm and full of blinking monitors, speakers, laptops, and wiring; if the partygoers were carefully-dressed artists with cool hair, persistent tattoos, and tentative, fragile conversations that verged on silence.
We found ourselves sitting on the cement floor almost as one. The house lights were turned off; there are no windows. The only light came from Asha Tamirisa‘s video projection on the wall. Her sounds are lush, inviting, sophisticated bands of warm noise. They loop and layer conscientiously, their pitched content expanding slowly, no surprises here. The video projection renders her elegant, comprehensible sounds biological: what could be a steady barrage of slides on a silent, overstimulated slide projector–perhaps from an electron microscope, unfolding in ever-intensifying bursts of color and direction–visually inscribes blood and disease and the complexity of life at the cellular level. Each band of Tamirisa’s sound develops, opens to its fullest, and suggests its successor. At the developmental apex, the smallest hint of noise–a grain of a record-scratch–incises the smooth spread and rewrites the material until its end. Here, the rotating slides shift: light flickering through trees, through plant fibers, the sun through the leaves. She ends as she began, coloring the room, smoothing edges, fading.
We rotated to face Bridget Feral’s setup–a clean presentation, laptop-oriented. She is calm, gazing steadily into her lit screen on a high table above us. Her music is jittery, its dance broken by its own evolving beats, glitched into oblivion. She does not seem to be thinking intervallically, formally, progressively: only thick clusters of complex material from which altered electronic voices emerge, wailing to be recognized as human as they drown in vivid spatters of noise. She shifts erratically, rhythms misaligning, her focus playing wildly across a canvas I cannot see. Her treatment of the formal dimensions grates at my expectations, irritates my musical instincts beyond measure, but I am wholly enraptured by what it does. I hear the cries of her machine, hear the voices’ attempts to sing, and I cannot help but think of Barthes’ essay, “The Grain of the Voice,” in Image-Music-Text. Feral wields her material at the messy digital border between humanity and the inhumane: the inscribed bodies–the pulsating humanity–the myth of respiration.
For the final set before intermission, we rotate once more, fully facing the back of the room to see the most thrillingly evocative setup yet. Akiko Hatakeyama sits low to the ground, tucked slightly behind large speakers, a row of votive candles unlit before her. She is the spider in the center of a web of receptor cables that spill out over the ground in front of her, waiting to be triggered by the light of a small flame. She strikes the first match, leans it into a candle in a glass votive, reaches to place it before her on the cement floor: her first light shudders through the room, a heavy layer of mid-30 Hz pulsing up through the floor. The artists in the room are electrified; they shift and stand to get a better view of her performance. Each candle she lays lights up a new shimmering pitch, a vibrating difference tone, a vividly simultaneous cochlear and visual percept. She holds the candles like fingers over her floor-bound instrument, placing each light into the sensory range reverently, shifting them slowly, performing her absorption in the center of the sound with bowed head and resolute focus. The smell of wax fills the room. I am once again reminded of the magical ritualism of electronic music: here, I am not worshiping at the high altar, but at a sacramental shrine to some ancient sensory goddess, discovered again. As Hatakeyama lays all the candles and lets them interact to their fullest, she begins to sing into a microphone: simple cadences, straight-tone, wordless, almost palindromic, something like an octave in range. She loops her voice over the layers of candle song, improvises gently along with it, only the slightest touch of reverb. As her song ends, she continues to push the atmosphere until it pulses in the room, edging the candles around the sensors to set difference tones vibrating through the floor and walls and us in interactive spirals. Then she draws a small metal candle-snuffer from behind her and slowly, contemplatively extinguishes each candle in turn. The last one barely relinquishes its song.
79. For just because one loves blue does not mean that one wants to spend one’s life in a world made of it. “Life is a train of moods like a string of beads, and as we pass through them they prove to be many-colored lenses which paint the world their own hue, and each shows only what lies in its focus,” wrote Emerson. To find oneself trapped in any one bead, no matter what its hue, can be deadly.
Still soaked through from the rain, we went home early and missed the last two sets. The next day, I read about OPENSIGNAL Collective, their members, their mission, the public and political face of their connections with one another. It is another world over from me: tangential to mine, living community values with which I resonate and which I privately find quite similar to my own, operating with a musical skill set that I feel deep attraction to. And I knew no one but my partner: in a city that feels smaller and warmer after just a year of making music and attending concerts, I felt my own anonymity in the crowded basement of IDIO Gallery that night. I felt a musical world I do not know but that I could perhaps come to love. I felt newness, potential.