Christian Marclay at the Whitney

For those of you who are fans of Christian Marclay, there is a great festival going on right now at the Whitney Museum until September 26th. The fourth floor is dedicated to the ground-breaking work of this great visual and sound artist with a listening lounge for his tracks, a display of his graphic scores and vinyl records that he cut and pasted as a revolutionary turntablist. There is also a piece that is constantly “in progress” on a gigantic chalkboard on the wall that invites visitors to contribute to the score. The best part of this whole festival are the numerous performances going on–usually one or two every day–featuring other musicians/improvisors that worked with Marclay through the years.  I was lucky enough to catch a show of Christian performing on Saturday with Terry Hirsch on voice. It was an improvised show using  photographs of sonic words immersed in everyday life as the “score” for Terry to improvise to.

I am definitely planning on going to several more performances–there were two works in particular that caught my interest. One piece is an improvisation with his collection of one-of-a-kind handbells that are currently on display at the Whitney. The second piece will be performed on a guitar with a bunch of music boxes mounted inside the instrument. All you see on display is a guitar with a bunch of pegs sticking out of it for the music boxes. Not being able to see the mechanism  certainly adds a mystery to the music. There are more pieces of his to be performed until September 26th, so check the Whitney site for more details.

On the other side of the rainbow

Dear readers– I apologize for the long delay in my blogging! I just spent several weeks “off the grid” and went to Bloomington Indiana to study for my music theory minor field exam. As much as that may sound like the worst thing to do over the summer, I actually ended up appreciating the long hours in the quiet library followed by evening swims and fresh organic foods. In this period of time, I hardly touched any keyboard and spent 6-7 hours a day looking at scores and analyzing them. Thanks to my friend (and tutor) Tim Best, I was able to see some great things in the practice of analyzing music…something that seems generally very distant from me while performing  and on the road.

I’d say the worst part was certainly the four hours of examination. Now that I am on this side of the rainbow, I am able to return to some of my more genuine interests and begin playing the keyboard again. My plans for the rest of the summer include learning new music for next season and finish recording my second CD!

More to come soon.

Concert at Doug Fir at Portland

I ended my 2009-2010 season with a beautiful trip to Portland, Oregon on June 3rd. I was invited to play a mostly toy piano recital at a really great new venue called Doug Fir Lounge. The place reminded me of Le Poisson Rouge in NYC but with a much more indie-rock sort of feeling. Apparently, the designers  of the venue picked out the sound equipment first and then built the  space for the equipment. The walls have a log cabin look to them that add a laid-back feeling to the venue.

I was brought to Portland by the Portland Piano International. As a 30-year organization, Portland Piano has been one of the few non-profits with the unique mission of supporting fine pianists for the purpose of enriching and educating the community. I found out that I was their first ever  off-the-beaten-path keyboard player to be presented in an alternative venue.

It was interesting to see the audience members trickle in. The regular Portland Piano concert-goers showed up an hour early and were able to claim seats. The younger crowd and Doug Fir Lounge-goers seem to show up much later in the evening. Even though everyone was 21+, it was still one of the most diverse audiences I have played for. They were extremely friendly and wildly open to the toy piano. Many times during performance, I heard small choruses of laughter. I really love the fact that some aspects of my toy piano concerts are humorous and can actually induce laughter. It’s refreshing to have that direct contact and rapport with the audience.

There was a woman that came up to me after my concert and wanted me to write “PPC” on the palm of her hand with a bald-point pen. I asked her what it stood for and she said “Pre-disposed Pop Cans.” Later, she explained to me that she is a writer and she couldn’t believe the tickets to the show were only $15. She apparently paid for a ticket to see the show by recycling $15 worth of soda cans! She felt inspired to make a story out of it called “PPC.”

That was certainly the first time I had such a reaction to one of my shows!

In the booth for Theatre For One

I just got back from the official opening of Theatre For One. Before I write about my experience performing in the booth, I want to state how amazing Christine Jones has been through this entire process. Not only is she an amazing designer but she has been such a great spirit to be around and incredibly generous throughout the process. As the artistic director and creator of Theatre For One, Christine made a unique performance space for one performer and one audience member with music road cases and plush red velvet on the inside. It’s hard not to be reminded of the Time Square peep show culture when seeing the booth. Several years ago, Christine had this idea  and decided to collaborate with NY architects LOT-EK. Theatre For One has really been a beautiful partnership between these artists’ visions.

I played for about 30 people on Saturday night in a 2-hour shift. Each time the door opened,there was someone else there that felt entirely different. Since I have been performing music , I often prepare for shows by focusing my energies internally toward myself. The other thing about piano recitals is that there is never any eye contact that is made. Since I do not use my voice to sing, most of the focus of attention is really in this intimate space between my arms in front of my belly between myself and the piano. In the T41 booth,  I felt that I could direct my playing towards a specific person.This really changed the way that I listened to myself and opened up a lot more vulnerable space. To be honest, I’m not use to being  in touch with a specific single person as I am playing, especially someone that is a stranger. I felt that this really affected my playing and general feeling each time.

T41 has been extended! Be sure to catch i Memorial Day weekend May 29-31st in the afternoon and evenings.

Reflections on “performance”

Yesterday, I met up with an old friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) for an early happy hour drink.  I was surprised to hear that he had taken up the interest of writing jokes. The more I spoke to him about his pursuit in being a comic, the more I found it similar to my world in performance, particularly on the toy piano.

The artistry of being a good comic is obviously one that involves more than just good jokes, but also good performance. I asked him if he would ever consider printing these jokes in a book form ( perhaps something like David Sedaris) or writing for an actor, for example. He said that part of it was about getting up on stage and doing it yourself: You have nothing to hide behind and there is not another person/actor that will bear the pain of embarrassment if the jokes fail. It is the truest form, I suppose, of “putting yourself out there.”

The other thing about jokes ( so I’m told) is that the bottom-line goal is laughter–How a comic is doing on stage should be audible by the sounds of the audience. This particular aspect made me think a lot about music performances. I sometimes feel a connection to the audience that feels very alive, but am unsure how it is actually being received. I have played many concerts where the feedback I get afterwards seems completely surprising and nothing like what I thought I experienced. It has taught me that people hear what they want to hear, regardless of what I am doing. Most of the time, our reactions to performances depend solely on what we have experienced in our life that serves as a point of reference. I sometimes wonder, how open are we really to listening to one another?

I have often felt that my music , in some sense, is just a big “inside joke.” It makes sense to the people who know me that have already accepted me into their hearts for one reason or another. Just as some of the best jokes are the ones that are shared among friends, I feel some of the best concerts are also the ones performed by people  that I already have a relationship/point of reference.

All of this reminds me of a quote by John Cage when he was writing the prepared piano piece, Perilous Night. He said, “I had poured a great deal of emotion writing this piece, and obviously I wasn’t communicating this at all. Or else, I thought, if I were communicating, then all artists must be speaking a different language, and thus only speaking for themselves. The whole musical situation struck me more and more as a Tower of Babel.”