Gongs Galore and Red Baraat’s “100+ BPM” at Make Music New York, 2014
New York City has a wonderful Summer Solstice tradition in Make Music New York, when thousands of coordinated free public concerts happen all over town. I have sketched it before on my own (here’s my 2012 sketches), but this year, I dragged the New York City Urban Sketchers Chapter along with me. (It was helpful that the Solstice fell on a Saturday this year!)
I picked events for us that I though would have maximum visual appeal. We started in Madison Square for Mass Appeal: Gongs, in which a dozen or so gong players performed. Here’s my sketch:
We then headed up to midtown to sketch the massed harpists, but they were not nearly as compelling and also we had some important business to talk over, so I didn’t get a sketch of them.
Then off to the Central Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library! I did sketch on the subway over, but I just remembered that now as I’m posting and the subway sketches aren’t scanned. Oh well. They look like any other subway sketches.
We arrived at the library in time to snag a good vantage point for Red Baraat’s “100+ BPM”, a piece composed by Sunny Jain for massed marching bands. The bands had set out hours earlier, in various corners of Brooklyn, and made their way to Grand Army Plaza for the gathering. Some 350 musicians eventually lined up. They ran through the piece twice, and then kept on playing, because how often does something this glorious happen? It was great. Here’s my sketch:
It’s a grand, immersive work. The musicians were arrayed everywhere around the plaza: on the elevated lawn, in the reflecting pool, surrounding and amongst the audience, wherever. Unfortunately, they didn’t put anyone atop the Henry Moore sculpture.
The audience was encouraged to move around during the performance, to experience varying vantage points. But, as with many such things in New York City, it was far too crowded for anyone to do that. Luckily, I had a good spot in the trees right behind the string players, who were generally the quieter instruments (compared to percussion, brass, woodwinds, and singers with megaphones).
(I also sketched Adams’s “Inuksuit” in Morningside Park a few years ago—maybe I’ll get around to sharing those sketches someday—and that really required the audience to move around, as it took place in a much larger area; and it was on a Tuesday in a “marginal” neighborhood.)
Here’s a few pages of sketches I made, including a bit of the composer’s very informal post-concert talk as he greeted well-wishers.
Afterwards, I wandered over to Damrosch Park where Eighth Blackbird was performing and did a quick sketch of them. I didn’t have to move as fast as the band though; some of them had performed in “Sila” and then had to hustle to their own performance immediately following. Real troupers! I especially enjoyed their juxtaposition of Tom Johnson’s Counting Duets and György Ligeti’s Études.
Thanks Lincoln Center Out of Doors for putting on so much great free programming every summer!
Then next up was Trio X, made up of Dominic Duval, Jay Rosen, and Joe McPhee. They were more stately, and also up on stage rather than on the floor, playing what I swear sounded like a set-long deconstruction of “My Funny Valentine”:
I had a blast. And Pioneer Works is a super cool venue, with a wonderful garden and vast, antique interior spaces. They even have Art and Science Residencies program. I recommend going there on the slightest pretense just to enjoy the place!
I was lucky to snag a choice corner from which to sketch Darren Hayman performing on Saturday night. It was a wonderful set from someone I wasn’t sure I’d ever have a chance to see in person. This was his first US show in 15 years. I’m a big fan of Darren’s old band, Hefner, and I’ve recently started checking out all the music he’s released post-Hefner (which hasn’t been released in the US). It’s great stuff! There aren’t many songwriters who achieve the balance he does, between passion and jadedness, humor and pain, nostalgia and novelty. And he managed to get a very un-New-York-like singalong happening for the coda of “The Greedy Ugly People”, especially after he (fairly) admonished us to “stop singing like fucking indie kids.”
Cake Shop was an ideal venue; it seems to be the only rock club in Manhattan where anything worthwhile happens anymore. I had a nice chat with Darren after the show, and showed him this sketch, though it probably looks better here than it did under the dim barroom lights. I’d discovered via Twitter that Darren is an urban sketcher, too! His watercolor postcards are great.
The opening reception will be 6pm-9pm on Wednesday, July 30. It’s part of BRIC’s Summer Art Social, which includes a performance by Thessia Machado, open studios with ruby onyinyechi amanze and Miryana Todorova, and Laura Anderson Barbata giving a tour of the amazing Transcommunality stilt puppets. It should be a very fun evening! I really like BRIC and the work they do for the arts in Brooklyn; it’s an honor to have my work shown there.
Some of these paintings have been shown before, but there’ll be a bunch of newer work, also.
BRIC presents the work of artist Jason Das as part of a spotlight on members of BRIC’s online Contemporary Artist Registry. Das’s work will be on view in the hallway across from the Ballroom at BRIC House.
Jason Das is an interdisciplinary artist, organizer, instigator, and concerned neighbor, based in Crown Heights. He serves as President of the global nonprofit Urban Sketchers, dedicated to raising the artistic, storytelling and educational value of location drawing. As Das notes, “The paintings exhibited at BRIC House are an effort to magnify observational urban sketchbook work to wall-sized, while preserving the energy and spontaneity. Creating these large sketches on location can also act as a mild artistic intervention, enabling conversation and demonstration sessions with passers-by in neighborhoods that don’t see a lot of plein air painters. There are compelling compositions everywhere in the city, not just in conventionally picturesque settings. While “authenticity” can be a distractingly loaded concept in Brooklyn today, there’s no doubt that our vast borough (and the whole metro area) has plenty of under-documented corners.”
Here’s some photos from the “Drawing the Line: Artists Drawing in Transit” digital exhibit I was part of earlier this year in Toronto, Edmonton and Calgary, Canada. I didn’t have a chance to visit in person, so it’s great to see these!
I’ll try to do a post soon featuring the original images that were included in the show, a sort of “best of” my transit sketches over a few years.
As part of Moleskine’s new City Stories partnership with Urban Sketchers, I’ll be at the Columbus Circle Moleskine Store from 10am-6pm on Saturday, May 17, demoing, answering questions, and encouraging people to sketch. I’ll also lead a “learning session” at 4pm.
Come by to sketch, or just to say hi! (There’s some instructions to follow on their site if you want a free sketchbook.)
It really enjoyed it! I think I’d go to a lot more operas if they were all as compact and engaging as these were. (Probably a lot of them are and I just need to try harder.)
In the sketches below, you’ll see soprano Mellissa Hughes, the four male singers of New York Polyphony, and about half of the onstage orchestra. (Most of the other half was made up of the JACK quartet, who I sketched elsewhere recently.) The visible instrumentalists are: Doug Balliett (bass), Tara O’Connor (flute), Pascal Archer (clarinet), Christopher Rountree (conductor/music director), and David Cossin (percussion).
And the words are all from Dan O’Brien’s libretto.
Christopher Dylan Herbert’s “Winterize” at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden
A few weeks ago, on the day of the Winter Solstice, Make Music Winter made a bunch of very special musical events happen around New York City. Luckily for me, some of them were very close to home.
Christopher Dylan Herbert performed his “Winterize” in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It’s a staging of Schubert’s “Winterreise” cycle which moves around the garden, Herbert singing to prerecorded accompaniment played back on small radios, while translations of the lyrics are held up on large cue cards. It was a wonderful performance, and a fun experience, very reverent to the music while being rather irreverent to the trappings that traditionally go along with “the classics”. There were some significant technical difficulties with the radios, but perhaps that was cosmic justice for the weather being so unseasonably balmy? There needs to be some struggle.
In any case, while cold weather would have been more appropriate, the warm weather certainly made sketching easier. I think I did this one just before he took his coat off.
Later that day I participated in another Make Music Winter event, Merche Blasco’s “Blink”, which involved cyclists ringing our bells in response to light cues. It was more successful as a happening than as music, but it was fun, and the concept has a lot of potential. (And I’m right in the middle of this New York Times photo of it; that’s got to be good for something.)
The incredible Claire Chase was up first, performing (if I remember right) Steve Reich’s “Vermont Counterpoint” and Mario Diaz de Léon’s “Luciform”. If you harbor any prejudices about flute music, she’s the one to destroy them.
Next, Ken Thomson and JACK Quartet performed Ken’s “Perpetual” for bass clarinet and string quartet. Ken then left the quartet to fend for themselves through “THAW”. Both are wonderful compositions: visceral, humorous, and exciting. It’s always a pleasure hearing Ken play. And his writing for string quartet manages to use a huge range of the configuration’s possibilities while remaining totally coherent, and building up mammoth charges of energy along the way.
I hadn’t been to SubCulture before. It’s a real nice room, somewhere between a concert hall and a club, with excellent sound. I hope to catch more shows there.
I went to the kickoff concert for the 2013 UnCaged Toy Piano Festival and sketched the performers. It was a really nice event, with a diverse and inventive program. Just seeing the stage set up with all of the instruments might have been the price of admission. The concert was held at the rock club Pianos, which was an unusual place for most of this music, but worked out great for those of us not too bothered by the music blasting in from the front bar.
Next, Phyllis Chen (who also organizes the festival) gave the world premiere of a new work for toy piano and sampler written Lukas Ligeti:
Then, singer-songwriter Alexa Dexa did a few tunes. She makes amazing use of toy instruments, including a trombone kazoo that I am sorry I didn’t sketch:
Tristan McKay played and Christina Oorebeek's Three Sketches and Peter Koeszeghy's “Moon Veil” from behind a thicket of tines and spokes. The former involved the toy-piano guts and the unicycle, and the latter required playing a melodica and toy piano simultaneously (sorry I didn't sketch that for you):
Then, Ken Butler played his light-up one-string hurdy gurdy and a dental dam transformed into a jazz horn (yes really). It was dark, so I couldn’t sketch much on this one:
Then, Phyllis Chen and Tristan McKay returned, joined by Cory Smythe, to play Tristan Perich's “Qsqsqsqsqqqqqqqq”, which I suppose we can never discuss aloud by name:
Finally, Matthew Evans did a few pieces for us which involved various audience participation—rustling plastic bags, giving him pennies to add to his jar, jangling our keys—in support of his toy pianoisms:
There’s two more days to the festival. Even if you aren’t familiar with the performers or the repertoire, if you like interesting music and artistic inventiveness, you’ll have a good time.
Cargo Cult Nonet Using Tic-Tac-Toe Yin Yang Sonification Notation
I attended the Automatic Music Hackathon on December 7, and composed a game piece for improvising musicians that for now is known by the sturdy and workmanlike title “Cargo Cult Nonet using Tic-Tac-Toe Yin Yang Sonification Notation”.
While most projects at the hackathon used computer programs as the key implementation of their automation, I used a board game, Ultimate Tic Tac Toe. The automation occurs because, as the score says, “the game players are obligated only to the goal of winning the game, and must not act with intention to influence the music. The musicians must have a clear view of the gameboard, as it is their score and conductor.”
The piece was performed in the evening. It was an honor and a thrill to have nine musicians (Hunter, Linda, Nick, David, Travis, and 4 members of the Sensorium Saxophone Orchestra) and two game players (Cassie and Brady) ready and eager to give it a run-through, fresh out of the oven. Later on, I’ll share further documentation, including sound, video, and hopefully more comprehensive personnel credits.
For now, you can read score, reproduced below. I have some ideas for refining and extending it for future use, but even this initial draft should be pretty serviceable. It was a good day’s work!
Cargo Cult Nonet using Yin Yang Tic-Tac-Toe Sonification Notation
The composition uses Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe as a score/parameter generator for improvising musicians. Each move/turn in the game generates specific musical instructions. There are two game players and nine musical players. The game players are obligated only to the goal of winning the game, and must not act with intention to influence the music. The musicians must have a clear view of the gameboard, as it is their score and conductor.
In Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe, the game board consists of nine smaller boards arranged into one larger board. Each smaller board can be won by a player or end in a draw. When three boards in a row are won by a player, that player wins and the game is over. (Complete game playing instructions are not included here, as they are not entirely necessary to the musicians.)
A blank game board:
Each small board within the larger game acts as a score for one of nine musicians. Assignment of musicians to squares may be determined by chance, consensus, or executive order.
A hypothetical assignment of musicians:
Key, Melody, Rhythmic Pattern, and Tempo are not determined by the game and may be freely negotiated by the musicians.
The game may begin in any square (and thus the piece may begin with any musician).
Each small board has 2 axes, and 2 possible values for each square (X, O).
As each turn is played, a single musician is activated or reoriented. Each musician continues to follow their most recent direction until they receive a new one. (Or until their square ends in a draw or the game ends.)
The vertical axis determines Harmonic Range: bottom = Low, top = High.
The horizontal axis determines Complexity: left = Simple, right = Ornate
The game player’s symbol, X or O, determines dynamics and timbre. O is Yin and X is Yang.
Yin (O): “slow, soft, yielding, diffuse, cold, wet, passive; associated with water, earth, the moon, femininity, nighttime”
Yang (X): “fast, hard, solid, focused, hot, dry, aggressive; associated with fire, sky, the sun, masculinity, daytime”
When a square is won, the musician plays continues playing the winning subsquare until the end of the game.
When a square ends in a draw/tie, the musician stops playing completely, and is out of the piece.
When the game is won, all musicians stop playing, and the piece is over.
There’s a giant sound collage, zoomable photos of our never-to-be-recreated wall-mounted assemblages, several videos, never-before-seen pictures of sleep-deprived artists hard at work, and much more. Go see.
Also, Hart Island itself has been getting a bit of media attention recently (NYT, Gizmodo) so more people are learning much more about the place itself, which is great.
Thirteen of my paintings have just been published in a book Praying With our Feet: Faith-based Activism to Stop Shootings and Killings in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and Beyond. The book was produced by the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center who do amazing work against gun violence in (and beyond!) my neighborhood. It’s a very small-run book, but you can order or browse a copy on Blurb.
There will be a book launch event on Tuesday, November 12, from 6pm-8pm at the Mediation Center at 256 Kingston Avenue. My thirteen paintings from the book are on the walls there for the event. (They may also be viewable before or after by appointment; let me know, or get in touch with the Mediation Center, if you would like to try to see them another time.)
I made seventeen paintings in all for the project. The four extras are two buildings that ended up not being part of the final draft, one abortive attempt at a cover painting (at the top of this post), and a rained-out attempt which I preserved (rather than painting over) because I kind of like it. That particular rainstorm also made one of the best rainbows I’ve ever seen.
My contribution was paintings of the places (mostly churches) where the members of the Save Our Streets Clergy Action Network are based. They are distributed throughout Crown Heights, Bed Stuy, East Flatbush, Brownsville, and Park Slope. Here’s a map:
I made all the paintings on location, with very slight touch-ups afterwards. Working on location in these areas was a great experience. Most of these blocks don’t see many plein air painters! Any passersby who were artists (of any type and style) were ready to chat, and a lot of kids were also really into watching me paint and haging out to chat. The book’s layout demanded a vertical format, and obviously each painting needed to feature a given building. This is different from many of the urban landscape paintings I’ve done in the past; which tend to be horizontal and focus more on a scene or juxtaposition of buildings. As illustrations, I am happy enough with them all. As paintings taken on their own merits, some are more successful than others. Here they are:
Just like I did on the first day of the 2013 Creative Time Summit, I sketched all the presenters on the second day as well. To find out more about who these people are, what they do, and why they are important, the Summit website. It looks like they’ve also posted video of all the presentations, too.
Raúl Cárdenas Osuna:
Ana María Míllan:
Elizabeth K. Sorensen:
Khaled Hourani & Sally Tallant:
Darrell Cannon, Reginald “Akkeem” Berry, Sr., Brenda Townsend, Laurie Jo Reynolds, and John Forte:
Pedro Reyes & Antanas Mockus Šivickas:
Chen Shaoxiong: (and his uncredited translator)
Invincible: (not sure who the vioinlist was; she was good)
I’m attending the Creative Time Summitthis year. The theme is “Art, Place, and Dislocation in the 21st Century” and it’s chock full of material I’m very interested in. For an event that mostly consists of sitting in an auditorium and watching lots of people give quick presentations, I really can’t imagine better. (And the end of the day is beer, conversation, and copious Legos, which is pretty perfect.)
There are many, many really remarkable artists, thinkers, and activists in the line-up. It’s educational and inspiring, and much cheaper and faster than graduate school. I’ll be back for Saturday. I sketched all the presenters on Friday, because I was dumb smart enough to start sketching without thinking through what I was committing to. I would have liked to have written a bit about each presenter, or at least provide links, but instead I am going to get some sleep tonight and you’ll have to do your own research. (The Summit schedule may help.) And, oh, the three musicians—playing kora, hammered dulcimer, and saw—acted as the time keepers, keeping the speakers strictly to schedule.
A couple of months ago, Tom Motley led a panel sequence workshop as part of the NY Comics & Picture Story Symposium. We discussed the potential application of cinematic techniques to comics, and then took 40 minutes or so to each make a comic using some of those techniques. MIne used panning and zooming. It’s the longest comic I’ve made in quite a few years.
Painting at the Kingston Avenue Festival, May 18, 2013
I did a large (about 3’ by 6’) urban sketch acrylic painting on location during the the Kingston Avenue Festival in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on May 18, 2013. I was situated near the corner of Bergen St and Kingston Ave, looking north on Kingston. (Here’s a Google StreetView of what I was looking at, roughly.)
I don’t have a great shot of the the finished piece, so enjoy the time-lapse for now.
The painting will be viewable at the Arts to End Violence show at Ron Taylor Gallery, 1160 St. Johns Place (between Kingston and Albany). Arts to End Violence is an annual art contest and festival in Crown Heights run by the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center. It’s mostly work by children and teens, but they let a few of us grown-ups in, too. The opening is on Thursday May 23, from 6:30-9 p.m. (I will not be able to attend, unfortunately.) Additional viewing hours still TBA, but I believe the show will be open daily for a couple of weeks.
Big thanks to Lizzie DeWan, Ariana Siegel, Pete Martin, Amy Ellenbogen, and everyone else at CHCMC who helped coordinate me painting as part of the Festival!
Working at this scale during a festival is about much more than the final result. While being made, the painting also becomes a performance, a conversation starter, and a backdrop. And, because it is documentary, painted from direct observation, it becomes interactive. Children pose for the painting, or passersby suggest details that ought to be included. The buildings, trees, clouds, and people are all real. The timeframe is all day, so noon and 6pm exist simultaneously in different parts of the painting.
I usually ignore the Armory show. It’s expensive and pretentious and a big part of the art-might-as-well-be-the-stock-market side of things. They publish stuff like this with a straight face in their little daily newspaper:
But inspired by a few press reviews and Ranjit Bhatnagar’s Instagram coverage, I decided to go this year. There is a lot of good art! Much more than you’re likely to encounter in a day wandering the galleries.
I only had time for Pier 94 (“Contemporary”), so I missed whatever treasures were on Pier 92 (“Modern”, meaning old). If you go, you probably need 4-5 hours if you really like to look at stuff. I did not have that long, but I missed a lot.
2. James Capper was hanging around his wonderful destruction machines and I pressured him into giving a demo even though he was clearly exhausted from lifting the heavy things. I took a video:
3. Hiroshige Fukuhara was there drawing on the wall next to his framed pieces. It was really nice to see this in person!
Here’s a giant list of all the artists whose work I liked. It’s surely a fickle list—dependent on my mood, how much of a hurry I was in, what I noticed and failed to notice, etc. There was work there from artists I otherwise like, but if I didn’t like anything I saw of theirs at the Armory, they’re not here. Likewise, I might hate everything else by someone I do list, but I enjoyed seeing their work at this show. And many of these folks had multiple pieces in the show and I may not have liked them all. Or maybe I did! And some of these people are so famous it’s silly to list them at all (does anyone not like Alice Neel or Gordon Parks?). Is this list better than nothing at all?
Artists are listed in the order they ended up out in my text doc. I often resumed note-taking at random points in the middle of the list, so these are unlikely to be in any helpful order.
They all link to a Google image search of the name plus “armory 2013”; kind of a crapshoot as to how that works out.
I just got home from a presentation by artist and data-visualization-famous-person Jer Thorp. It was called “Algorithms, Art and Authorship" and was hosted by the NYC chapter of Hacks/Hackers. I liked it. I made this sketch of Jer doing his talk:
I met up with the NYC Urban Sketchers crew for Worldwide SketchCrawl 38 on Saturday. On my way, I sketched these folks:
I caught up with the group at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. This is one of the least appealing public spaces in town, though it was mercifully rather empty on this weekend afternoon.
I did get scolded by a policeman for sitting on the floor, but thankfully he did not enforce the “no drawing” rule:
We then camped out on the steps of the New Victory Theater for a bit. Here’s the view down and to the East (view larger, if you like):
A few quick sketches of people in Times Square:
And finally, a very persistant prosthelytizer, who was very big on about original sin and wanted me to take his little pamphlet. It wasn’t one of the fun comic book style ones, so I declined. While he was lecturing in my face, it was an excellent opportunity to do his portrait:
If the fates will me to use pencil, I guess I'll use pencil!
It took a year or so, and a lot frustration, but I’ve come to accept that I don’t know how to sketch with a pen anymore, at least not to my satisfaction. Pretty much anything decent I’ve done in recent memory has been with a pencil (and/or paint). I have no idea why this is so, but that’s just the way it is for now, and I’ll stop trying to make pens work for me. For now.