Monday, September 6, 2010

Art / Music

Went to the Whitney Museum of American Art this afternoon to catch some of the Christian Marclay Festival. Electronicist Andrea Parkins and trumpeter Peter Evans performed a Marclay composition entitled "Ephemera" from graphic scores. People were free to meander in and out or sit in rapt attention. The piece moved from one musical texture to another and went well with the visual works situated in the various adjoining rooms. I've heard Peter play a number of times yet we've not yet played together. He seems emblematic of a type of up and coming improvisor that I'm noticing more and more these days. Fluent in a wide range of sonic and musical terrain he seemed to pretty much cover it all, from old to new. What's nice about improvisors who can do that is not so much the fact that they can "do that" but the fact that having a starting point inclusive of that much music allows for broad musical statements that sound as if they can only have been made today. Hearing Peter together with Andrea seemed to heighten both of their approaches. Andrea's singular voice speaks through whatever sounds she is conjuring up from her instruments, a quality I value greatly from my own experience of making music with her for the last sixteen or so years.

And so I got to thinking about the environment and context for this music. Christian's Festival seemed to speak to an issue that I've been wondering about for years. Given that I'm as much (or perhaps more) likely to hang out in a gallery as in a music club I've often been a little jealous of the fact that visual artists who can present at these institutions have their work seen by so many more people than populate the music clubs, clubs that are presenting what I feel to be the musical artistic equivalent of much of what is presented in the galleries and museums. In addition, the audience for visual art seems much more generalized than the audience that comes to the clubs. People will flock to the Whitney or to MOMA to be exposed to the work of current day artists even if they don't know much of anything about the artists or the work. I realize some of the reasons for this. These are long-time institutions that have support mechanisms in place to allow them to exist in the first place. With visual works the viewer is physically mobile, often moving from one work to another in less than a minute's time. I do wonder about the depth of experience people afford themselves but on balance spending an hour or two in that environment does provide something of an antidote to the kind of disassociated stimuli we experience every day through our ever growing media culture. Audiences for contemporary music seem to be smaller and more specialized. One has to know something about what one is getting into and make more of a determined effort to follow through. Most of this music takes place late at night and you are more or less committed to sitting in one place for an hour or so looking at one thing. It's a more concentrated experience, which of course has it's own rewards. Yet beyond any of this I do sense that most people are more accepting of challenging or provocative visual work than they are of challenging or provocative music. At least they can look away and move on if they don't like what they see. Listening to a piece of music requires extending one's attention over longer stretches of time.

So what if we had more situations in which this music were available during waking hours and made easier for the public to encounter? I gotta think it would be nothing if not completely positive. Sure, not everyone will like everything they hear. But there are few more deeply rewarding experiences for listeners and musicians alike as when someone is emotionally moved by music that they might otherwise never have even imagined. Just the act of attentive listening in and of itself seems almost a subversive act in our culture. If these types of situations are made more regular the increased exposure can only heighten public awareness of new music and enhance people's ability to make some sense out of what they are hearing. In a way, it's much like my response to the visual works I saw today. I'm not sure I have the words to talk about much of what I encountered but then it's not a verbal experience. It's an intuitive and emotional experience. The intellectualization and analyzation can come afterwards if need be. Reminds me that I often encounter this strange idea that one has to understand jazz or improvised music in order to "get it". I really, really disagree with that.

One other important consideration is that a presentation of music provides an opportunity to create a social event. For example, some years ago I did a concert with drummer Joey Baron and trombonist Josh Roseman ("Baron Down" as we were called) as part of the JVC Jazz Festival here in NYC. It was an outdoor afternoon concert at Bryant Park. The theme was drummers and we had the honor to play on the same bill as Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes. As this was a free concert people filled the park. Families, tourists, fans, commuters in transit, passers by, you name it. I'm sure that a large portion of the people there would not likely have make their way down to the Blue Note or the Village Vanguard. The social nature of the event greatly enhanced the musical experience for everyone involved. I also recall the early days of the Summer Stage series in Central Park being like this as well (a challenging program of music and dance, free to the public). Needless to say, I'd love to see more of this kind of thing. The Christian Marclay Festival provided one answer to the issue. Of course his music and visual art are intertwined. But who's to say that music and art should not come together more often?

Lee Friedlander
Also at the Whitney is a show by one of my very favorite photographic artists, Lee Friedlander. Lee is the father of NYC cellist Erik Friedlander, who's music I highly recommend. And as it happens, Erik is on a couple of my recordings (Ramifications from 1999 and Vanishing Point from 2000). I had seen Lee Friedlander's MOMA retrospective in 2005. At that time I was already familiar with some of his work (he also took LP cover photos for some classic jazz recordings back in the day) yet seeing decades worth of his materials all presented together was a transformative experience. His ability to see things in the fabric of everyday life that most of us miss and create visual compositions out of them is inspirational. This show is called "America by Car". Every photo (about two hundred) was taken from inside his car during a series of road trips from the last ten or fifteen years. (The photo above is from the exhibition). They all look as if they were taken quickly but the compositions are so strong and the details too perfect for that to be the case. At least that's my assumption. Makes me wonder how many shots were taken to have arrived at these. So many times I looked at a particular photograph and thought to myself, I wish I had done that!

Also on display were a couple of early Bruce Nauman videos. He's another of my favorites. This clip is called Bouncing in the Corner, No. 1 and dates from 1968...


  1. It would be fine to have music & art together more often.

    But these days there are ways where it is easier to encounter music than visual art. For $5/month I can stream anything in Mog's large database, and find related music through the taste of individual fans ( or track listings or algorithms.

    Visual art takes more effort than that, and only the very wealthy can experience visual art variety in their home. I suspect there are ways to further democratize access to visual art, analogous to access to music.

    Of course recorded music isn't live, but browsing recorded music creates demand for live performance.

    p.s. the low $5 streaming fee doesn't replace album purchases, but purchases play a different role - compensating the artist. A donate button would work as well.

  2. Adina,
    I'm talking about a live presentation of music that contributes to a social experience that brings new people to jazz and improvised music.

    Personally I value recordings at least as much as I value live music. As far as recorded music creating demand for live performance, in theory yes, but there are limits. There is more recorded music available (to anyone with a computer) than ever before. But in general I'm not seeing a corresponding increase in concerts or concert attendance. As to your other point, there seems to be no shortage of visual art on line so I'm not sure that's any different than the proliferation of music on line.

    But again, I'm speaking about the communal, social experience of listening to live music and/or seeing artworks in person, a type of experience that strengthens the role of art and music in our lives. It's a fundamentally different way of experiencing music and art than the computer can ever provide. The computer is a repository. Extremely useful for many things including music and art. But experientially it's too easily fragmented. Our attention on any one thing is diminished thereby easily diminishing the power of the very music or art we are listening to or looking at. Of course this is within our power to control. But then so are cell phones...