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Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 9: Surrender to the Situation, Part 2

September 16, 2015 | by

Photo: Ivan Weiss

Photo: Ivan Weiss

 

When I was going to school for classical music … I had about a month to get … my reading together. But I still learn by ear a lot faster. I can feel what I need to do. You can’t write out all those subtleties. I have to hear it, and then take it inside. I have to have the sound in my head, and then go for that.

Chapter nine of “Big, Bent Ears” considers what it means when the most reliable part of a musical performance isn’t the instruments or the score or even the musicians themselves, but their intuition. I don’t mean aptitude or talent; I mean that unknowable knowledge, that abstract certitude that the path you’re headed down is right. Our case study is the three-person percussion ensemble of  Tyondai Braxton’s HIVE project. Braxton’s minimal instructions—“Be still. Don’t look around. Just play.”—leave ample space for his percussionists to be shaped and guided by sound.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.

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Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 8: Surrender to the Situation, Part 1

September 9, 2015 | by

HIVE-BBE_Image-12

Photo: Ivan Weiss

Oren Ambarchi and Tyondai Braxton lead parallel lives in the world of experimental music. Ambarchi, an avid collaborator and one-third of the noise trio Nazoranai, played at Big Ears in 2014. Braxton, who has composed both avant-rock and classical music, played at Big Ears 2015. Ambarchi performs solo on guitar amid a nest of synths. Braxton’s latest project is an installation called HIVE, in which five percussionists and musicians playing modular synths sits atop honeycombed pods. Ambarchi and Braxton both play music that is durational and unpredictable, that depends upon instruments and sonic forms that are, as Ambarchi says, “inherently out of control.” Braxton calls it “impossible, beautiful music.”

Good documentary work is a form of barely controlled chaos, too. Opportunities can’t be forced or planned; once the work begins, scripts and proposals mean very little. Documentary process is one of experimentation—determined listening and watching and patience allow strange symmetries and unlikely affinities to emerge. There’s a reason we’re calling “Big, Bent Ears” a “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty.” In the last three chapters of the series—beginning here, in chapter eight—Ivan Weiss and Sam Stephenson do as Ambarchi and Braxton do: they surrender to the situation.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.

Long Story Short: In the Studio with Aidan Koch

August 20, 2015 | by

Photo: Amanda Hakan

Photo: Amanda Hakan

On Aidan Koch’s cover for our Summer issue, six panels depict a woman lounging and reading and ruminating at the shore. Each panel exists both as a discrete event—here, she looks at her book; here, she shades her eyes—and as one sentence in a paragraph about the woman’s day at the beach. The issue also features Koch’s comic “Heavenly Seas,” the story of a woman who travels to a tropical location with a man she doesn’t love. It is twenty-eight pages long and contains just over a hundred words of dialogue and no narration. The difference between “Heavenly Seas” and the cover sequence is like the difference between Lydia Davis’s long short stories and her very short ones.

Koch, a native of Olympia, Washington, is the author of three book-length comics—The Whale, The Blonde Woman, and, most recently, Impressions. She also makes sculptures, ceramics, and textiles that reinterpret the classical motifs that appear in many of her comics. Her narratives are elliptical, fragmentary, and open-ended; it seemed appropriate to include “Heavenly Seas” in an issue that is largely about translation. Last month, I met Koch at her studio, in the basement of a tatty mansion she shares with eight other artists and a corn snake named Cleopatra, in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Where did the story for “Heavenly Seas” come from?

I’d been trying to think about how to utilize the idea of traveling. I’d read a couple of Paul Bowles books, and I liked how well he captured the mindset of how foreign places can seem to the traveler and how that’s seductive but also scary. He also thought about people’s attitudes in different countries and in confronting different cultures. That’s something I’d been considering, since it’s a big part of my life. I’ve been traveling constantly for the last three or four years. I left Portland in 2011 to travel and just didn’t stop. I went to Spain and Turkey, then I was in Scandinavia and around Europe. My book Field Studies documented 2012, when I lived in a different room in a different city every month, just because I didn’t know what to do with myself. I thought maybe I’d figure it out along the way. Read More »

Big, Bent Ears, Chapter 7: Anatomy of a Sequence

July 22, 2015 | by

Tape markings on the stage of the Tennessee Theater indicating equipment placement for tUnEyArDs's set at the Big Ears Music Festival in 2015. Photo: Kate Joyce

Tape markings on the stage of the Tennessee Theatre indicating equipment placement for tUnE-yArDs’s set at the Big Ears Music Festival in 2015. Photo: Kate Joyce

What do crushed tulips, baseball, and Jonny Greenwood have in common?

It’s the kind of question that would only be asked in “Big, Bent Ears,” Sam Stephenson and Ivan Weiss’s “Serial in Documentary Uncertainty.” The series’s seventh chapter examines the process and work of photographer Kate Joyce (the answer to the riddle above), a member of their documentary team and an erstwhile child detective. Regular readers will remember Joyce’s work from our “Bull City Summer” series, where her typologies of ball markings on the outfield wall, bubblegum-wrapper lawn darts, and abandoned cups of melted drinks offered an accounting of the game’s periphery. For “Big, Bent Ears,” Joyce takes a similarly sideways view of the action, and her need to look beyond a subject (sometimes literally) in order to see it more clearly defined is on view in her filming of an interview with Greenwood earlier this year:

I was looking for a way to bring the outside in, to invite the street into the room. The way we framed that shot was to have Greenwood sit nearly in front of a window and focus the camera lens through the window on the exterior. I had spent so much time walking around Knoxville, photographing scenes around town. I wanted to see if there was a way to combine the street with the interview. I remember when the interview was over being disappointed that more things didn’t happen outside the window.

Read the latest chapter here, and catch up on the rest of the series:

Nicole Rudick is managing editor of The Paris Review.

Cy Twombly, the JACK, and the Morgan Library

July 2, 2015 | by

JACK Quartet

On November 24, 2014, the JACK Quartet performed Matthias Pintscher’s Studies for Treatise on the Veil in a gallery at the Morgan Library, in New York, before a thirty-three-foot-long painting by Cy Twombly called Treatise on the Veil (Second Version). Pintscher’s score was written in response to Twombly’s painting; Twombly’s painting was composed in response to music, that of French composer Pierre Henry, a pioneer of musique concrète. Members of the JACK were, in turn, influenced that evening by their very proximity to Twombly’s painting: “The music requires so much concentration,” said violist and director John Pickford Richards, “and I felt that the painting was giving me concentration while we were playing.”

Chapter six of our series “Big, Bent Ears” details this curious network of connections, which Richards calls a “daisy chain of beautiful responses.”

Here’s another one: Before the Morgan exhibition, Twombly’s painting hadn’t hung in New York since 1985, and Pintscher’s composition had never been performed alongside the painting. And no one had ever filmed a concert at the Morgan Library. Rock Fish Stew’s video of that evening, which is part of chapter six, is witness to this extraordinary confluence and is itself an element of it. Twombly called his Treatise on the Veil (Second Version) “a time line without time,” which is rather like a story without a beginning, middle, and end. Or, as the “Big, Bent Ears” team likes to think of it, serializing uncertainty and reveling in digressions.

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Only the Dreamer: An Interview with Victor Moscoso

March 30, 2015 | by

Photo: Greg Preston

Photo: Greg Preston

Victor Moscoso has, as he says, always ridden two, if not three, horses at a time. As an art student, he made fine-art paintings and did “art jobs,” such as hand-painting grocery signs. Later, he made paintings and posters, and then paintings, posters, and comics. He was one of the “big five” of design in the sixties—with Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Wes Wilson, and Rick Griffin—and has been one of the Zap Seven since 1968. Yet Moscoso is every bit his own man.

Born in Galicia, Spain, in 1936, he emigrated with his family to Brooklyn when he was three. From there, he went on to study art at the Cooper Union, Yale University, and the San Francisco Art Institute. In San Francisco, he began making psychedelic posters for the burgeoning music scene—for groups such as the Who and Big Brother and the Holding Company and for venues such as the Shrine Auditorium, the Matrix, and the Fillmore. He borrowed from Art Nouveau, Vienna Secession, LSD trips, and contemporary commercial packaging and rendered his elaborate, frequently abstruse compositions in hot, vibrating colors. These designs helped define the psychedelic era.

In 1968, Moscoso, Griffin, and S. Clay Wilson joined Robert Crumb on the third issue of Zap Comix. When Crumb founded the magazine, there was nothing else like it, and its seven contributors produced stories so bawdy and rowdy and inventive that comics would never be the same. Moscoso’s work for Zap is formally innovative as well; many stories are told by way of nonlinear, surrealist dreamscapes in which the imagery morphs and folds back onto itself. Moscoso made three wraparound covers for the magazine, the most famous of which appeared issue no. 4: an eye-bending, joyously vulgar transformation of a dancing Mr. Peanut into a dancing phallus. It is a masterpiece of graphic art that, as Gary Panter has put it, “will represent the twentieth-century imagination for centuries.”

Last year, Fantagraphics gave Zap Comix the deluxe treatment, reissuing the magazine’s four-decade run in a six-volume box set. And this month, a show of Moscoso’s drawings from 1967 to 1982, including his preparatory work for Zap comics and covers, opened at Andrew Edlin Gallery, in New York. Moscoso spoke with me over the phone last month from his studio in Marin County, California, about learning to make art and then having to unlearn it all.

Are you on a cell?

I am.

They’re very convenient. Especially the ones with cameras on them, man. That is dynamite. I don’t have one, but my wife does. It’s a marvel. This may be before your time, but there was this comic strip called Dick Tracy, and he had this wrist radio with a little picture on it and a wire running up his arm.

Where did the wire go?

Underneath his garments, so that when he was getting dressed, he’d get the wire on. And he could talk to headquarters at any time.

I remember the wristwatch, but I didn’t know he had a wire running up his arm.

That was a detail kids like me were really interested in. And here we are. Jesus Christ, I’m living in a comic strip. Except everybody’s got ’em. Not just the cops. In fact, the cops gotta watch out.

Did you read Dick Tracy for the story or the art?

Mainly the art, because that was before I could read. Comics was one of the places where I learned to read, because the pictures interested me.

I remember at the age of three and half watching Hoppity Goes to Town, which I saw in Spain. I was blown away, as a little child, with the fact that drawings—I could tell the difference between drawings and live action—were moving. I saw that drawings were coming to life. I think that is when I decided, without realizing it, that that was what I wanted to do. Later on I saw comics, in particular Walt Disney comics. There is one artist in there whose name is Carl Barks—he was on design at Walt Disney, and he was an excellent storyteller. I used to wait every month for the new issue of that comic book to come out.

Eventually I went through all the comic books at the time, and I came upon the EC comics, and in particular, Mad. Read More »

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