Witches: September Gallery

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September Gallery via their Facebook page

Sometimes living in hipsterville has its benefits: September Gallery is definitely one of them. They only opened last year but they’ve already won a fan in me with this show. Witches brings together a variety of powerful works by women. Marjorie Cameron‘s name drew me in, but there were other pleasures to enjoy. It was wonderful to see her drawings up close and marvel at her fine lines and free compositions. Stunning and powerful.

Her work was surrounded by contemporary artists animated by the same questing spirit. Laurel Sparks describes her work a kind of sigil magic, overlaying a dizzying array of colours, textures and materials in her Magic Square series. They sparked some ideas in me. Rosy Keyser’s work likewise mixes materials and colour but in a more abstract way. I loved her Terrestial Mime which hangs materials on a wooden grid with wild layers of paint. It feels like the work behind a painting made visible, a sort of swirl of anarchic energy summoned.

Marianne Vitale’s Very Fine Gander has a whimsical charm, like toys made giant — but charred, too. So there’s also a feeling of something horrible gone wrong. There’s a great description of it in the exhibit essay by Susan Aberth (who wrote that fabulous book on Leonora Carrington — but argh! ‘The Burning Times’ and the Middle Ages are not synonymous. The height of the witch hunts was the 16th-17th centuries: the Early MODERN era).

I was absolutely bowled over by Anna Betbeze’s untitled sculpture of burnt objects on a rug. It felt like an artefact from the past, like a fire that consumed the witch who summoned it or what was left of the village after a curse. Like her piece Howl the literalisation of burning anger feels great.

“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” ― Maya Angelou 

Best of all, the show culminated in a performance night last Saturday. I arrived to find the place in darkness as it had already begun (so much for being fashionably late). Melinda Kiefer led the audience in an opening ritual “to create [a] sacred yet wacky” atmosphere. Then the fabulous Pam Grossman (who probably alerted me to this show via her blog Phantasmaphile) gave a short version of her talk on the image of the witch in art. She was the organising genius behind the Occult Humanities Conference and exhibit last year that’s still resonating loudly in my head. I was glad we had a chance to chat afterward.

Shanekia McIntosh gave a wonderful performance with amazing code switching in a story about her family and the power of premonitions. There was an interesting Sonic Sigil piece, an invocation and prayer to Hecate by Sarah Falkner, Rebecca Wolff and Jonathan Osofsky (I liked the use of flags). The band Dust Bowl Faeries performed and wow! I was sharing pictures from their show with the Folk Horror Revival group because I knew people would dig it:

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They’re playing Helsinki Hudson on the 7th of May. Be there!

Laurel Sparks wrapped up the evening with a performance that had us back in the dark while she paced a circle around us, reading from huge slabs and then painting herself in dayglo colours with a kind of ritual precision that managed to be both humorous and compelling without ever giving in to the over-seriousness that performance pieces can fall prey to. All in all a fantastic evening.

British Library: Punk + Bard

My last full day in London I headed over to the British Library to catch the Punk exhibit. On the way, I nodded to Saint Jerome‘s holy place:

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It was quite gratifying to see PUNK emblazoned across that bastion of quiet intellectual historicism, though it reminded me of the line from that much-treasured film which I think was called What is Creativity? that we saw in 6th and 7th grade and then I have not been able to locate even though it has John Astin in it.

In the sequence that shows the history of art, there’s an exchange between two snakes (or maybe worms?) that goes something like:

Snake 1: Do you realise that radical ideas that threaten institutions eventually become institutionalised and in turn reject radical ideas?

Snake 2: No.

Snake 1: Oh, for a minute there,  I thought I had something.

This film has stuck with me. That idea, too, has stuck with me.

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It was kind of glorious to see this in the lobby gallery of the venerable British Library. On the other hand, there was nothing much interesting that you hadn’t seen a millions times (well, I hadn’t anyway) and yes, the overarching impression was that punk was white and male. Here’s the ‘chicks’ corner:

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I want to see that documentary on the women in punk. The snippets were tantalising. But the rest, meh. The shop — well, there was nothing there you’d want to buy. It was kind of embarrassing really. I was so glad to hear that Viv Albertine took it upon herself to make some corrections. Rahr!

So feeling dispirited — even the Beowulf manuscript was not on display! — and it being too early to head to my next destination, I decided to go to the ‘Shakespeare in Ten Acts’ exhibit in the main gallery. And I’m SO very glad I did — how energising!

This display focused on the performance history of Shakespeare’s works. Coming from the lit side of things, there is so much I don’t know about the practicalities of performance. I remain grateful for sitting in on the course at the Globe back in ’99 because I learned so much (besides, the Globe remains the only theatre where I have trod the boards). It starts with the Globe and Greene’s famous sneer, then moves to Blackfriars. I am sooo longing to see a show at the restored indoor theatre. And it was a real epiphany to realise that The Tempest was at Blackfriars, not The Globe as I’d always pictured it, which in many ways makes it more amazing.

Even more now, I wish I could be there for one night (in case the Doctor reads this).

It’s exciting to see how the plays rippled out across the world: Hamlet on an East India Company ship anchored off the coast of Sierra Leone in 1607, in India, in Russia. The first woman to play a woman’s role (Desdemona in Othello) in 1660 broke one barrier: the first black actor, Ira Aldridge, played Romeo briefly in NY in 1822, then sailed to London in 1825 to debut as Othello. He was just 17.

The exhibit details the bard’s censors, forgers, actors and visionaries, including a room that recreates in small part Sally Jacob’s astonishing design for Peter Brook’s 1970 intoxicating incarnation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It really is inspiring.

Go if you can: it runs through September. You can get yourself an Elizabethan ruff necklace.

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Downtown Boys, Dangbats and More

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The weekend was a little too Edna, but I had a grand time running off to Connecticut to see the Fabulous QoE (and chill at the Jezebel Lounge), Marko (and distract him during his radio show), fellow SpeakEasy dame Lys Guillorn as half of the Dangbats and the amazing Downtown Boys. See some awesome photos from this amazing show by Roxanne Pandolfi. History, babies — you gotta be part of it.

Out Now: Open the Window

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For the third year in a row, Richard Sanderson has put together a FREE compilation of recordings from people around the world. Isn’t it wonderful he’s willing to go to all that trouble? This year’s proposal:

This compilation will be both more focused conceptually and yet freer. I would like you to open the window of your home (or your workplace etc) and record two minutes of what you hear. You can choose, if you wish, to use your open window sound as a backdrop to something else – music, song, words, other domestic sounds, but the window must be open and something of the outside world must be audible.

I joined in by opening my window to the midday traffic on State Route 23B and then singing a jazzy little song ‘Intoxicate Me’ with some hand percussion. I’m using my stage name, Victoria Squid, because I enjoy pretending to be someone else (and why not?). Clever folk will know where I got that name.

So check out all the fabulous recordings from Linear Obsessional Recordings because they are all interesting and widely various in styles from the experimental to the popular. You can listen to them all before ordering them, too. Here are my previous efforts:

Loreena McKennit, The Egg, 16 Oct 2015

LMUSTrioWebSizedThe Egg is a lovely performance space: unfortunately it’s smack in the middle of the Empire State Plaza, a structure designed and built in the infernal realms (there’s a plaque that says so, I swear it). Between the normal Byzantine route required to actually enter the plaza and then hope to find parking and the various constructions closing roads, I literally sat down in my seat as the lights went down.

Fortunately, as soon as the music started all the irritation slipped away. McKennitt’s golden voice and harp flow like water over you, rippling. The crowd remained enthusiastic throughout. The intimacy of the trio was a change from the bigger bands she has used for recent projects. Brian Hughes played guitar (sometimes just as a drone), mandolin and bazouki. The utterly amazing Caroline Lavelle played cello, concertina and recorder. The woman from Cornwall found quite a few new fans that night: you can see why.

McKennitt told some amusing stories as well as singing beautifully. She’s working on putting together a one-woman show about the lives of the Irish who emigrated to Canada during the famine years. She read from journals and historic documents, telling the story of the terrible effects of that time. Very moving.

The sold-out audience made their sentiments known and she came back for two encores. People would have been happy to have her stay all night and play all the hits. I was happy she played my favourite song; my short story collection Unquiet Dreams got its name from the same Yeats poem.

More Music Not to Miss

What am I listening to today? Here’s a couple of things. I’ve known Alan Savage for a while — probably a friend of Mr B‘s. He has a new collection out that captures the feel of summers gone by and even has some William Blake. It’s got me almost believing in the sun again:

I know I learned about Lys Guillorn from Julie Beman, who’s a fine musician in her own right. We’re going to hear Lys play this weekend at a Connecticut Swan Day event. How to describe this album? Lazy days, sort of country, werewolves, ghosts and vampires show up, mellow — and more summery, too. Maybe it will get warm again.

Oh, and must not forget: Downtown Boys! Stephanie and Marko have seen them play at Willimantic Records. Check out their 7″ and new single Monstro. Kick ass punk music!

Scottish Night at Albany Symphony

Colin Currie, David Allen Miller & Julia Wolfe

Colin Currie, David Alan Miller & Julia Wolfe

As I idle along in my way, seemingly random and directionless at times, I nonetheless manage to be in the right place at the right time more often than one might reasonably expect. Friday night that was true, as I went with the delightful Mary Browne to see the ‘Scottish Night” with the Albany Symphony at the Palace Theatre, thanks to the kindness of Ruthy Baines, a woman of indefatigable spirit. 2015-01-17 18.23.50The evening started with an artist talk with percussionist Colin Currie and composer Julia Wolfe, led with great energy by music director Miller. I joked with Mary later that I imagined him springing out of bed each morning, shouting “Oh boy, a new day!” You know how I love percussion, so it was great to hear how Wolfe (whom I knew from Bang on a Can) came to write this piece for Currie which combines her love of history with her knowledge of folk and urban music within a classical setting. Not since Evelyn Glennie (what is it with Scots and percussion, eh?) have I seen a percussionist with such bravura. They collaborated closely on riSE and fLY, a body concerto, because so much of it is played on Colin’s body. The concert began with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies‘ evocation of a wedding taking place in his chosen home, Orkney. ‘An Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise’ was simply mesmerising and captured the narrative beautifully, from the opening bad weather, the gathering of the guests, the band tuning up, playing while the night got wilder and the guests and band drunker — then everybody making their way home in the wee hours and finally, sunrise. It was just magic. Not as austere as you might think of Davies in general; the final touch of the lone piper, David Weeda, really capped off the performance perfectly. I was so excited about the Wolfe piece and it was just as thrilling as expected. If you’re addicted the musicality of sound it’s always wonderful to hear unusual aural collisions. Julia Wolfe has created a piece that sounds like a walk through New York City on a warm day with the theme of body percussion. Colin Currie was rubbing his hands together, slapping his chest and arms, snapping his fingers, clapping his hands, sometimes augmented by the orchestra, sometimes not. There’s a huge solo at the end of the first part that’s just him. There was a moment in the solo that was meant to be a space of silence and outside the theatre a siren wailed in the distance — it was perfect! The second half Currie moved to a drum set made of buckets and trash cans. They had joked about it at the pre-concert talk, talking about how guest musicians demanded specific instruments and Currie had not been happy with the bass ‘drum’ and ended up replacing it with one of the Palace’s own bins. Like all the drummers down in the subway with their bucket assortments, it had that familiar sound, raw against the sweep of the orchestra who had to practice stomping along with the percussionist. It was simply exhilarating. I loved it. So is it any wonder that poor Mendelssohn felt a little shopworn at the end? I’m sure there were some symphony fans who didn’t like the newer pieces as much as this old favourite and to be sure, the orchestra played it with as much energy and delight as could be. This ensemble has a brightness in its style that shines through. But the Davies piece was so evocative and the Wolfe one just so exciting, it wasn’t possible to compete. We left on a high that the icy blast of the arctic wind outside could not dispel. I’ve neglected the Albany Symphony to my dismay. I will have to amend that, especially if they include such dynamic programming. And it’s always a delight to immerse yourself in the Baroque splendors of the Palace. 2015-01-17 19.12.36