Sunday, October 29, 2006

Seismosis...(shakin' my world)

On Friday a gift of art arrived in my mailbox. Seismosis is the artistic collaboration, "a text-art dialogue" between Cave Canem Fellows Christopher Stackhouse (who is also a visual artist) and John Keene (did I not tell you they--CC Fellows--were everywhere?).

I am savoring the experience of randomly opening and reading the work, perusing the collection's design, and feeling the deceptively light weight of the book, as it sits atop the outstretched palms of two my hands (it's just so pretty in a substantive way). So I'm not yet ready to write anything about the work. In the meantime, check out the link to Seismosis details from publisher 1913, and possibly the first online review by poet Zack Barocas, who gives the multi-medium conversation between Keene and Stackhouse an acute and thoughtful read.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Cauleen Smith + A. Van Jordan @ testsite: Opening Reception 11.5.2006

Film artist Cauleen Smith is collaborating with award winning writer and fellow University of Texas at Austin professor, A. Van Jordan on testsite 06.5: I want to see my skirt. Do go to the website. There is a striking production still that folks who have seen the various permutations of Smith's The Green Dress art project will recognize. It would seem this collaboration harkens to some of the visual themes and/or is a further incarnation of the earlier project which also dealt with questions of aesthetics, identity, and stylized representations.

I want to see my skirt

a collaboration between

Cauleen Smith and A. Van Jordan

Opening Reception: Sunday, November 5 from 6-8 pm
Poetry Reading with A. Van Jordan at 6:30 pm

On view though December 14
open Thursdays (except Thanksgiving Day, November 23), 5:30-8 pm,
Tuesday, November 21, 5:30-8 pm and by appointment

testsite | 502 West 33rd Street | Austin, Texas 78704

I Want to See My Skirt, Cauleen Smith and A. Van Jordan’s
collaboration at testsite, takes its title and inspiration from the photographs of Malick Sidibé (Mali, 1935- ). A new suite of poems by
Jordan and a film installation by Smith consider the construction of identity through style and images while probing beyond the surface of
the cloth to examine interpersonal relationships fashioned between Sidibé’s most iconic subjects.
(Pictured above, a casting call postcard for the project)

* * *
Some additional background on Jordan, who wrote the acclaimed poetry collection M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A (2004) based on the life of MacNolia Cox, an Akron Ohio girl who became the first African American finalist in national spelling bee competition in Washington, D.C. when she competed in 1936. To hear A. Van Jordon reading from M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A on NPR go here. An interview with Jordan published in Callaloo, by journal founder and editor Charles Henry Rowell, which requires subscriber access.

* * *
Update 11.02.2006: It looks like the production stills from the actual film for I want to see my skirt are up on testsite. I hope folks will check them out as they are also beautiful, Smith and her poetic way with color, light, texture, film stock, and black folks skin tones are in real effect. Yet you'll see a markedly different aesthetic than with the earlier The Green Dress. (image at left from CodeZ's coverage of the exhibit)

Part II: Cornel West, Alice Coltrane Quartet, and perplexity(aka living and dying by degrees)

So it's obvious from my last entry that my experience of the West lectures was in some way impressionistic. It isn't that West wasn't clear, even when he repeatedly invoked Anton Chekov he was clear. Admittedly though I did experience the first lecture as more methodically and linearly laid out than the second, which had a more circular approach.

I suppose it was just a function of listening and savoring and absorbing simultaneous with notetaking. Fortunately, the Toni Morrison Lectures are a collaboration with the new Center for African American Studies at Princeton and Princeton University Press. Each lecture will be published and made available subsequent to the event starting with West's inaugural lectures.

Below, more random notes from the second night of Cornel West's Toni Morrison Lecture:

Fourth Gift: Maturity. As I get older I have a greater appreciation for this gift. You don't have to become more mature as you get age, but it's pretty fantastic when it works out that way. To be clear, West wasn't talking a matronly or staid demeanor: after all this is the man who got older and started putting working in hip hop and appearing in major blackbuster films and really has one of the most sincerely gleeful smiles you've ever seen. So maturity refers to the ways in which the majority of African Americans in the U.S. have handled themselves for with respect to living with centuries of terrorism. Love and justice do not equal niavete, just because African Americans have responded with maturity does not signal a lack of comprehension of the fragility of their lives under terrorism. "Really something deeper going on: resiliance and resistance." Another way of framing this is asking: "Now that we all have been terrorized, can we learn something from black victoms of terrorism?"

"The kind of democratic paidea that produces maturity was enacted by Emmett Till's mother, Mamie Till Mobley, and Martin Luther King, Jr. " (I think we could include Mrs. Coretta Scott King in this as well, and Ella Baker, no?)

"...talking about love in the way James Baldwin did: the dangerous kind that you can't hide behind..."

"...For truth telling go to the artist..." He noted that scholars also have the truth at their disposal but whether or not they are brave enough to let loose with it is another matter.

"...gangsterism is always phenotypically promiscuous...which is to say they come in all colors..."

"...don't confuse perplexity with confusion..." Really I think this was my favorite quote of the evening. West defined perplexity as "searching for coherence" while I understood curiosity as lacking a clear sense of purpose and calling. I left his talk a bit perplexed because it made me think about some things in close proximity, that I needed to consider in light of democratic paidea.

Alice Coltrane and the lost art of dialogue
West posited that Alice Coltrane (pictured above right) and her son Ravi were going to engage in a meaningful dialogue, musically. The situation here is that Ravi Coltrane basically begged his mother to come out of retirement so that they could fulfill a dream of playing together. Alice Coltrane, who is also known as Swamini Turiyasangitananda (or Turiya), had basically retreated out of public life, after founding the Sai Anantam Ashram, in Agoura Hills, California, becoming a devotee of Satya Sai Baba and being involved in creating what Essence Magazine Editor-in-Chief Susan L. Taylor, "the New World that our children are waiting for us to wake up and create for them." The black woman NJPAC representative who introduced Taylor, also spoke of the power of the place that many there call "the Land" apparently several years ago she and a friend went to visit out of curiousity and the friend never left (perhaps she was curious, and her friend was actually perplexed?). The first half of the concert was pretty much just the Quartet with a bassist named Drew, whose last name I couldn't hear, subbing for Charlie Haden. Occassionally it became a quintet with bassist Reggie Workman doubling the lower registers. Coltrane started with her early favorite "Sita Ram" featuring her organ work and her great rhythmic ability--she moved in front of, behind and on the beat fluidly--and moved on from there with A. Coltrane playing organ, piano and electric keyboards. Can she play, oh yes! The fact that she hasn't been playing out consistently for 26 years hasn't kept her from composing, playing and recording sacred music as part of her spiritual practice--and apparently she's been highly creative in the improvisational aspects of composing new forms of sacred music so the new commercially released work is the result of considerable prior engagement on her part.

The second half of the concert was devoted to music that has only been heard at the ashram ("the Ashram Goes Public" we were jokingly told), with with a large orchestral ensemble (4 cellos, 3 contrabasses, etc...) with conductor, and a chorus from the Ashram gracing opposite sides of the stage with Workman and Drew_____ and Jack DeJohnette centrally located and Ravi Coltrane and his mother out front, stage left and right respectively. It was quite amazing. Future scientist Dr. J.J. Hurtak, founder of The Academy for Future Science , is working with Alice Coltrane on creating a sacred language in avant garde music, a combination of modern jazz, futuristic music, and complex eastern music structures, which is meant to further the understanding of planetary humanity (Washington Post writer Teresa Wiltz hearing Cotrane play at the Ashram coined the term, "Hindu gospel".) Hurtak noted the composition work by Coltrane that evokes the many sacred names of God. Dr. Hurtak used to teach at CalArts with Ravi Shankar and now is at the United Nations. He talked about Alice Coltrane's compositional work as "music for emergent spirituality of the 21st century." Further Hurtak referred to them as "beloved Alice's contributions to the music of ascension." One of the songs in this set included this video accompaniment. Including video with music is always tricky, a conversation that I had been having with M+K that weekend in part referencing something I'm currently working on that they were kind enough to give me feedback on (but that's another story). Some of the video accompaniment focused the call for transformation that was evident in the prayer-referencing musical idioms in the composition, but much became a distraction for me from the power of the sonic. It was like having been told that you were going to hear this great transformative work, and then being interrupted with cue cards to make sure you understood what was really being referenced. Also, I can't speak for anyone else, I was in California on 9/11 in 2001, but showing those images repeatedly in the same piece, particularly a piece that operates as something of a visual catalogue of man's inhumanity to man, is still too much for me. The video did move on to images of renewal with the feeding of hungry people and educating of dislocated children, healthcare for those impacted by civil war or with limited access to medical services. Then back to images of the interstellar system which is where it had began. When I focused on the music what I was aware of (despite some serious problems with the house sound system's handling of the bass registers, there was a low rumble throughout much of the second half), was how in the moment everyone was, the relatively inexperienced chorus and presumably conservatory trained classical musicians and the seasoned jazz players, all these different folks from different frameworks coming together to realize this project much like at the Ashram (called "the Land" by many) where apparently people of different cultures come together and live and work together to make the world a better place (they also go to their regular 9-5 jobs). Throughout I was struck by the gracious energy of Coltrane, she was luminous and so appreciative of the audience's warm reception of her work. She continues to be an amazing player, and I look forward to hearing more about her work: I mean if Hurtak is right, somebody needs to sneak a looped recording in a CD-player under the Shrub's pillow at night (mini-amps behind the bedposts? inside the pillow's down fill?), and with a quickness!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Part I: Cornel West, Alice Coltrane Quartet, and perplexity(aka living and dying by degrees)

Lately I've become highly suggestable, musically speaking. A friend recommended a few slide guitarists for me to listen to, and the next thing I know I'm listening to slide non-stop , and doing my own research digging through Son House (pictured left), Fred McDowell (my current fav, pictured below right, along with Sonny Landreth's live version of his own "Broken Hearted Road"), and Robert Johnson, etc. Next Mendi mentions Ornette Coleman, right before I'm reading about him for my studies and bam, I'm listening to him over and over trying to understand his changes--moves through different tonics--challenging. Next I go see Cornel West at the inaugural Toni Morrison Lectures at Princeton University. In his second talk he speaks on the lost art of dialogue, and touches on how this happens in jazz improvisation and that he's going to see Alice Coltrane play with her son Ravi Coltrane and listen to them dialogue, neither of them completely knowing what will occur but dialoging with each other. I found out that thusfar Alice Coltrane only had three scheduled appearances in the US, the two other members of her quartet were Jack De Johnette (drums) and Charlie Haden (bass), and I was only an hour away from this one and I could do work on the train (part Daphne Brooks' excellent performance studies text Bodies in Dissent, part European experimental and improvisational composers). Plus I could get a student discount...OK, I'm there!

But wait, gotta say something about West whose talk was titled, "The Gifts of Black Folk in the Age of Terrorism." Being back in the NE has made me a bit cynical and I wondered, what he could possibly be talking about. This was West so it wasn't going to be some essentialist tale about how much stronger black folks are and thus better outfitted to survive this new age. OK then what was this gift that I should be prepared to receive, or had received and was capable of sharing? It was profound and yet obvious: once the the planes went down on September most white U.S. citizens experienced a siesmic shift in the way they viewed themselves vis-a-vis the rest of the world. They became aware that they were disliked, nay, hated, became aware that others might mean them harm, and lived in terror of that harm being randomly and brutally enacted. West at this point made the analogy that African Americans had been living as victims of domestic terrorism for several hundred years, living under the yoke of racism and in fear and in the aftermath of bodily, emotional and economic brutality. Yet there hadn't been a black Al Queda or a black Timothy McVeigh. (And despite some apparently rich years of black hires by Bell Labs there hasn't been a cell of black telecommunications experts hijacking communications systems and robbing white citizens of their civil liberties.) Why not?

West then took the audience through a multi-part answer of this question, four gifts which illuminated and exemplified the Greek principle of paideia, "the process of educating man [human beings] into his [his/her/hir] true form, the real and genuine human nature"-at least according to Wikipedia. According to West, quoting Socrates in quoted in Plato: "the unexamined life is not livable for a human being." And Malcolm X: "The examined life is painful", but nonetheless is essential. The title of the talk is a reference to W.E.B. DuBois less often cited text, The Gift of Black Folks, (written in 1924, twenty-one years after The Souls of Black Folks) which celebrates African American artistry and its offerings to US culture. West's intention is to discuss the philosophical gifts of black folks.

First Gift of Black Folks: Courage. Courage in the face of death which is the ultimate humility (letting go) or final human state. A few key quotes: West quoting poet William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878): "Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again" from "The Battle-Field"; West himself on post-9/11 European American experience: "Am I witnessing the niggarization of the nation?...Subject to random and arbitrary violence and thoroughly hated for who they are..." West here talked about recognizing the Socratic as a grappling with life and death.

West identified a major point in this section as the example of Mamie Till Mobley, the mother of Emmett Till, a fourteen year old black boy brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman (reports variously conjecture that Till was whistling to help him interrupt a stutter--on his mother's advice--something he regularly did with success, and alternately that he saw a bad checkerboard move and he was whistling in dismay at the player's choice). His mother stood over the his hideously deformed body, held in an open casket at her request ("let people see what they have done" she reportedly said) and declared: "I don't have a minute to hate; I'll pursue justice for the rest of my life." She did just that until her death at age 81, in 2003. Mobley outlived both of her son's self-confessed murderers.

Second Gift of Black Folks: Prophetic Witness in the name of love and justice. To go back to the example of Mrs. Mobley, Mamie Till Mobley said that in death her son Emmett told her to "continue to tell the story until men's consciousnesses will be aroused and justice will soon prevail. And I have been telling this story since 1955..." Here West also forwarded the notion of holding onto the democratic ideal. I think he also talked about faith at this point ('cause we need faith to keep holding to the democratic ideal).

Third Gift of Black Folks: That which shatters machines...The Blues. Some quotes: "...that folks have made dissonance a way of life"; "Life is dissonant all the way down. Learn how to live in a minor key"; "...blues sensibility, but it's tragic-comic to the core..." e.g. "Nobody Loves Me But My Mother, And She Might Be Jivin' Too". That's some comic hurt for real.

And on love: "Black people have been willing to speak publically about love" e.g. Martin Luther King, Jr., Marvin Gaye, James Baldwin, of course Toni Morrison, [etc.] (pictured right, Toni Morrison and Cornel West in discussion on race and politics in the US, presented by The Nation Institute at the New York Society for Ethical Culture March 24, 2004)

More on the Fourth Gift and the Alice Coltrane Quartet in Part II

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Benny Andrews

I just got the sad news today from a former colleague who is working on an exhibition of the artist's work that Benny Andrews is ill with inoperable cancer. I find myself stunned into a furious stillness. Benny Andrews was one of my favorite artists as a child, I was in a funk for months because I saw a piece of his in a black-owned gallery and knew there was no way my family could afford to purchase it. That piece was speaking to me, and I've held an image of it in my head for decades now with the fantasy that I would track it down. The piece was a highly textured portrait of two nude women from the waist up, waiting behind a minimal structure representing a barbed wire fence.

At one point I imagined doing an homage to it with actually wire woven through canvas and bullets, but I ended up doing sound art not visual. Recently I have been working on pieces dealing with waiting. An unconscious homage I imagine.

In this entry some images from his prolific 30+ years of painting. Andrews was a key member of the black visual arts movement in the 60s and 70s and has worked figuratively for most of his career. (above right: North Bound (Langston Hughes Series) 1996; above left: Southern Pasture, 1963; middle left: The Blacksmith, 1988; middle right: War Mementos, 1966; below left: Morning Song (Musical Interlude) 1999; below right: Dream Variations (Langston Hughes Series) 2005)

The family has asked that people not call, but letters are welcome.
Benny Andrews
P.O. Box 1222
Litchfield, CT

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Cave Canem Celebrates 10 YEARS! Oct 12 -14, 2006 NYC

When folks come together and birth a vision, nurture it and in so doing nurture an intergenerational group of poets of African descent, you gotta put a hand in the air and say "Aché" or "Amen" or "Right On" or "Cool dat" or "baby, that's sayin' somethin' "! Or make up some improvised praise-song riff. You can do all that and more during the Cave Canem celebrations this week. As I've noted in various post I know or have performed with and love the work of a number of Cave Canem fellows. A diverse group of multi-talented folks, they are everywhere--you might know one and not even know it!

Here's the schedule. I am so blue that I won't be able to hear Mendi + Keith Obadike and others do their thing on New Media and Poetry (I have a group performance commitment at the Ear to the Earth Festival). Just the description of this panel had me wondering what exactly was this genre, is it a "new" genre, a hybrid...Something that's been there all along that just got named?

Ain't that the way of the world...

If you want the pretty form of the info below go to the Cave Canem website, and get ticket info as well well, just go there anyway cause everybody should know what Cave Canem is and what they do. Here's the anniversary celebration schedule:

October 12-14, 2006 — New York City

• Thursday, October 12 •

Location: CUNY Graduate Center, Proshansky Auditorium, 365 Fifth Avenue (34th Street)
7:00 pm — Cave Canem Prize Winners Reading

Hosted by Sonia Sanchez, featuring Constance Quarterman Bridges, Kyle Dargan, Major Jackson, Tracy K. Smith, Amber Flora Thomas and Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon

• Friday, October 13 •
Location: CUNY Graduate Center, Proshansky Auditorium, 365 Fifth Avenue (34th Street)
1:00 - 4:30 pm — Panels
1:00 - 2:30 The Master's Tools: Aesthetics and Poetry of the African Diaspora — Moderated by Farah Griffin, with Elizabeth Alexander, James DeJongh, Yusef Komunyakaa, Greg Tate
1:00 - 2:30 S/HE/IT: The Poetics of Gender — Moderated by Nagueyalti Warren, with Jan Clausen, Nikky Finney, Tyehimba Jess
3:00 - 4:30 Blackness and the Sounds of Other Colors: New Media and African American Poetics — Moderated by Evie Shockley, with Tonya Foster, Duriel Harris, Mendi + Keith Obadike
3:00 - 4:30 The Politics of Poetry — Moderated by Tracie Morris, with Miguel Algarin, Nuar Alsadir, Elena Georgiou, and Erica Hunt
5:00 pm — Founders Day Gala Reception & Silent Auction
Join Cave Canem faculty, fellows and Poetry Prize winners for food, wine and jazz, plus a rare opportunity to bid on treasures donated by Honorary Committee members and friends including Bill T. Jones, Tony Kushner, Sharon Olds and Cornel West.
6:45 pm — Keynote Address by Walter Mosley
7:00 pm — Cave Canem Faculty Reading

With Elizabeth Alexander, Cyrus Cassells, Lucille Clifton, Kwame Dawes, Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, Nikky Finney, Erica Hunt, Harryette Mullen, Marilyn Nelson, Yusef Komunyakaa, Sonia Sanchez, Tim Seibles, Afaa Weaver, and Al Young

• Saturday, October 14 •
Fellows Reunion (Cave Canem Fellows Only)
Location: The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, 131 East 10th Street (Second Avenue)
11:00 am - 1:00 pm — Brunch (Cave Canem Fellows Only)
1:00 pm - 4:30 pm — Panels (Cave Canem Fellows Only)
• 1:00 pm Inner Workings — Moderated by Phebus Etienne, with Gloria Burgess, Ross Gay, Jacqueline Johnson, Dante Micheaux, and Ronaldo V. Wilson
•1:00 pm Outer Workings — Moderated by John Keene, with Douglas Kearney, Cherryl Floyd-Miller, Greg Pardlo, giovanni singleton, and Yolanda Wisher

7:00 pm — Cave Canem Fellows Reading (Open to the Public)
Location: LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street (Seventh Avenue)
$10 at the door, open bar 6-7pm

• Sunday, October 15 •
1:00 pm — Cave Canem Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Queer-identified Faculty and Fellows Reading (Open to the Public)
Location: Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, 515 Malcolm X Boulevard. Free

Ticket information and pricing

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pamela Z in Los Angeles: WUNDERKABINET

Pamela Z is one of my sonic heroes, and she's working with the fabulous photographer and sound artist in her own right, Christina McPhee.

With Alex Kelly and Christina McPhee | Los Angeles premiere
REDCAT, Los Angeles, October 12-15, 8:30pm

"The most gifted and enterprising vocalist/composer/audio artist in the United States since the heyday of Joan La Barbara and Meredith Monk." The Wire

REDCAT presents the latest opus from Pamela Z: Wunderkabinet, a multimedia opera inspired by and based on the exhibits of the Museum of Jurassic Technology. Differences between reality and fiction are questioned as Wunderkabinet's central character "Alice May Williams" makes her way from New Zealand to the Los Angeles area in search of the scientists of the Mount Wilson Observatory. There she finds herself in a strange cabinet of curiosities where she eventually becomes a docent.

The music of Wunderkabinet is performed by Pamela Z (voice and live electronic
processing) and Alex Kelly (cello & electronics). The piece is performed in a multi-layered set (designed by Pamela Z) which constantly shifts and changes as it is bathed in Christina McPhee's projected images – evoking the dark yet radiant focus of the museum's dioramas. The score (composed by Z and Matthew Brubeck) utilizes bowed and plucked strings, sampled found objects, and a wide range of vocal work ranging from operatic bel canto to experimental extended vocal techniques and spoken text. The libretto is derived from passages of actual descriptive texts from the Museum of Jurassic Technology's exhibitions and stories inspired by them.

Information about Pamela Z
Information about the Museum of Jurassic Technology

REDCAT(the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater), CalArts' downtown center for
innovative visual, performing and media arts, is located at the corner of W. 2nd St. and S. Hope St., inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex. Evening performances arescheduled for October 12 through 14 at 8:30 p.m. with a matinee performance on October 15 at 3:00 p.m. Ticket prices range from $20-$16, with discounts available. Seating is general admission. Tickets may be purchased at the REDCAT box office—located at the corner of 2nd and Hope Streets, by calling 213.237.2800, or online. Please plan on arriving at least 30 minutes before curtain time. Seating at REDCAT is unreserved, and late seating is not guaranteed. Parking is available in the Walt Disney Concert Hall parking garage. Enter from 2nd St. and proceed to level P3 for direct access to REDCAT. The evening event rate is $8 after 5 p.m. Before 5 p.m., the maximum daytime rate is $17.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Ornette Coleman, say what?

Mendi over at SWEAT just hipped us all to an Ornette Coleman clip from Saturday Night Live, after she and a companion walked past Coleman (pictured at left) in the park and upon recognizing him, doubled back to introduce themselves.

I was saying to someone recently that I just could never get with Coleman, that I loved him for nurturing Charlie Haden, whose work I love, but could never connect with Coleman's work (and yeah Prime Time bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, who appears in this clip, is pretty amazing as well). But I had forgotten this number, it whips past so fast you have to listen again, a few times at least, to hear much of what's happening. And as I listened I realized how much I liked it, how much I liked watching them listen to each other and play with each other, Sometimes you just need to hear a piece again...from the new "now" you happen to be in. But this is also an excuse for me to think about jazz and improvisation, which I need to do this week...