FALL 2014: On This Side of Yesterday and Tomorrow
TROY, NY — In a talk on October 15th entitled Speaking So to Speak, EMPAC director Johannes Goebel talks of art and language. “Art, any kind of art, was only possible once we had language and were wondering about the meaning of life… Art can let us experience that there is something beyond language, beyond right and wrong, on this side of yesterday and tomorrow.” Art reflects a new way of doing or thinking about something; it is to embrace the treachery of failure as a challenge, and the results of the experiment as worthy no matter their affect.
So it can be seen in pioneering avant-garde filmmaker Ken Jacobs’ Blankets for Indians, the first event to kick off the fall season at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Thursday, August 28 at 7:30pm. While in the process of shooting the New York City Hall fountain in 2012, Jacobs serendipitously turned his camera toward a large protest marching to Zuccotti Park in support of Occupy Wall Street. The unexpected connection gives the film new life, seamlessly moving between sensual observation and political commentary, reflection, and abstraction.
“Advanced art even questions the eyes and how they work to conduct reality to our minds,” according to Jacobs. The film uses freeze-frames, text, and 3D manipulation to examine the contemporary conditions of socio-political struggle, its relation to aesthetics, and the labor necessary to produce both.
Time Squared, part of Ken Jacobs’ Nervous Magic Lantern series of performances, uses projected light, the most basic ingredient of cinema, to create hallucinatory optical effects. Colored slides, a lens, and a spinning shutter are hand manipulated by the artist to animate the patterns reflected onto the screen, creating stereoscopic effects without celluloid or video. Jacobs will perform Time Squared, assisted by Florence Jacobs, in the Concert Hall at EMPAC on Friday, August 29 at 8PM.
New film series Surface Tension begins with a screening of Joseph H. Lewis’ The Big Combo onThursday, September 4 at 7:30PM, a classic film noir credited with ushering in a new era of cinematic violence in which the villain is often more interesting than the hero.
Surface Tension is comprised of films in which the surface of the images trumps the narrative as the vehicle for meaning. Special effects, intense lighting, extreme image resolution, and hyper-real sound heighten the subject of the film through the tension between surface-level sensuality and the narrative. This creates experiences where the intuition of the senses has more interpretive power than what words can hold. The series continues on Friday, October 10 at 7PM with Godfrey Reggio’s Visitors and a panel discussion with the director immediately following, and a screening of Leviathan on Thursday, November 13 at 7PM with a panel discussion between filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Véréna Paravel and Ernst Karel.
Steve Goodman—also known as electronic musician Kode9 —is a Lecturer in Music Culture at the School of Sciences, Media, and Cultural Studies at the University of East London and will present a talk on Tuesday, September 9 at 6PM entitled Sonic Warfare, based on his book of the same name. Topics range from "psychoacoustic correction" aimed at Panama strongman Manuel Noriega by the U.S. Army, to sonic booms (or "sound bombs") over the Gaza Strip, to high-frequency rat repellents used against teenagers in malls. Kode9 will then give a rare US performance as part of the Hyperdub record label 10th anniversary tour (Tuesday, September 9 at 9PM).
From one sonic boom to the next comes electronic musician Laurel Halo, performing new work on Friday, September 12 at 8PM. Halo’s brand of electronic music fuses techno and dance-driven sounds with a heavy dose of synths and samples. Built around a slightly off-kilter sense of time and forward-looking production techniques, her music connects themes of physical process and virtual violence.
On Saturday, October 4, EMPAC will present a day of contemporary art spanning disciplines. At 4PM, Temporary Distortion begins a six-hour performance of My Voice Has An Echo In It, combining live music, text, and video in a fully enclosed 24′ x 6′ capsule made of two-way mirrors. All performers are completely confined within this freestanding, soundproof box; the audience watches and listens from outside.
At 4:30 and 7:30PM, artist Anthony Marcellini performs Obsolescere: The Thing is Falling. Drawn from the Latin obsolescere—“falling into disuse,” the idea that an object falls out of use over the course of time reveals that obsolescence is not a fixed point, but an active and fluctuating state. Over the course of 25 minutes, a house cat, a Ford Taurus, seven fluorescent light bulbs, a goldfish, several cornstalks, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and a rusted portrait bust will speak about their conditions, narrating perspectives on utility, breakdown, and contradiction. This series of conversations addresses the condition of all objects, humans included, when they outlive their usefulness.
At 6:30 and 8PM, audience members will board a bus to experience an immersive and participatory performance riding through the post-industrial landscape surrounding Troy. Created by Aaron Landsman in collaboration with visual artist and filmmaker Brent Green and performed by Jim Findlay, Empathy School combines theater, travel, and audio in a confined space where listening to a stranger’s story is the only possible act of togetherness.
Finally, at 9PM Mick Barr presents a solo performance of his electric guitar works. A guitarist of the highest technical caliber, Barr makes music that exists somewhere between progressive black metal, hardcore, and avant-jazz. Alternating between witheringly complex and gutturally primal, Barr is at the center of the extreme sound scene with works of unrivaled experimental improvisation.
The program intensifies from there:
Eureka, a lighthouse play (Thursday, October 23 at 8PM), an EMPAC commission by multimedia artist Ellie Ga, is a narrative performance recounting an artist’s efforts to reassemble the fragmentary history of the Great Lighthouse of Alexandria, which sank after an earthquake in the Middle Ages.
The following evening (Friday, October 24 at 8PM) Ga will present The Fortunetellers, a narrative performance inspired by her six-month residency on a research boat adrift in the ice floes near the North Pole, composed with a mix of recorded sound, still image, and film.
The Material Performance series of talks—commencing Tuesday, October 28 at 7PM with Karen Barad’s Histories of Now: Time Diffractions, Virtuality, and Material Imagings—focuses on how material and passing time can be seen as reciprocal conditions for each other’s qualities. The talks will bring together material scientists, biochemists, philosophers, curators, and media theorists—among them biophysicist Luca Turin, artist and media theorist Thomas Zummer, and philosopher Riccardo Manzotti — to unravel the relationship of time and materiality within each discipline.
A related Detail View talk will take place on Tuesday, November 18 at 12:00pm with Rensselaer professor Vincent Meunier. Entitled Physics in Reduced Dimensions: Nano-science for Mega-Impact, Professor Meunier will discuss his current research on the use of nanoscale physics to build macroscopic devices.
27 Across / 25 Down (Thursday, October 30 at 7:30pm) is an EMPAC-commissioned multimedia artwork by Canadian artist Isabelle Pauwels. Layering sculpture, light, audio, and video, the performance guides the audience through the story of two entwined characters: a dying rust-belt town unable to let go of nostalgia for the “old days”, and a small-time actress struggling against the indignities of the film industry while making ends meet as a part-time dominatrix.
On Saturday, November 1 at 8pm EMPAC will host a boundary-pushing presentation of the best works from the annual AKOUSMA festival in Montréal, Quebec, celebrating acousmatic music’s “cinema for the ear” with a performance that spans the performing arts center’s lobby and public hallways.
Greek composer Stavros Gasparatos will bring the audience inside a piano on Friday, November 7 at 8pm with his EMPAC-commissioned concert and installation Expanded Piano. Grounded in the idea of “prepared piano,” a tradition where screws, rubbers, bolts, etc., are attached to the strings inside a piano, altering the sound, Gasparatos builds on the many famous mechanically prepared piano compositions from John Cage to Aphex Twin, transforming the idea into a uniquely electronic form.
On November 12 at 6:30pm, Distinguished Artist-in-Residence Laurie Anderson will lead a four-hour exploration of how tai chi and meditation can shape the music and art we make. Building on her celebrated career as a performer, artist, and musician, Anderson will share her insights into the complementary practices of disciplined physical movement and creative expression in all its forms.
A weekend of experimental music starts with a work-in-progress by sound artist Jacqueline Kiyomi Gordon on Friday, November 14 at 7PM, followed by a performance at 8pm by Mivos Quartet, one of the most sought-after string quartets in the international new music scene. On Saturday, November 15 at 8PM explosive new music ensemble Yarn/Wire brings a brand new performance to EMPAC. Centered around two pianists and percussionists, Yarn/Wire uses a combination of thundering rhythms, unconventional sounds, and precision execution in pieces composed by David Brynjar Franzson, Thomas Meadowcroft, Ann Cleare, and Chiyoko Szlavnics.
Turkish-born, Berlin-based choreographer and researcher Begüm Erciyas’ interactive performance work this piece is still to come—in which the audience changes the actions of past groups, creating a new record for future audiences—sees its twelfth recording/ showing but first US presentation on Friday, November 21 at 8PM.
The Vision Machine, a collaborative creation between Dutch artist Melvin Moti and Rensselaer undergraduate physics and engineering students, is a kinetic light sculpture that produces a 20-minute film based on the behavior of light in prisms. Drawing on optics and material science, this optical box harnesses the same physical principles that give rise to everyday atmospheric effects such as rainbows and sundogs by shining light through a series of rotating prisms and focusing it back onto a wall with a lens.
Pharmakon, the death industrial music project of New York City artist Margaret Chardiet, will give an intensely intimate and confrontational performance on Friday, December 5 at 8pm. “Sometimes the most intense or poignant reactions that I’ve gotten are from people that have never heard noise music before. They have this very guttural human response to it," Chardiet explains. She describes her drive to make noise music as a kind of exorcism, making it possible to express her “deep-seated need/ drive/ urge/ possession to reach other people and make them feel something [specifically] in uncomfortable/ confrontational ways.”
Two original time-based performance works commissioned by EMPAC premiere on Saturday, December 6. At 7pm, A Possibility of an Abstraction marks Germaine Kruip’s renewed engagement with theatrical technology and dramaturgy. Recalling pre-cinematic traditions of shadow play, and what Ken Jacobs termed paracinema (denoting experimental film practice from the 1960s in which films lacked material or mechanical elements), Kruip creates an atmospheric film-like effect without actually using film, accomplished by manipulating light across the proscenium stage that serves as a stand-in for the screen. Shifting between the cinematic, the theatrical, and the sculptural, A Possibility of an Abstraction creates a meditative space at the edges of our perception with optical illusions and the passage of time.
At 9PM, artists Michael Bell-Smith, Sara Magenheimer, and Ben Vida perform Bloopers #1, the newest iteration of the trio’s performance-driven collaboration—a distraction-laced dance party built around the idea of ‘breakdowns,’ or comedic outtakes from broadcast media.
The season culminates on Friday, December 12 at 7:30PM with a screening of Laurie Anderson’s new film, which she describes as a personal essay. This film is being made for the French-German Arte TV, and was produced in part during Anderson’s residency at EMPAC. The screening will be accompanied by a discussion about Anderson’s artistic process, how making film soundtracks differs from making music, and what it’s like making something that gradually begins to turn into another thing altogether.
EMPAC 2014-2015 presentations, residencies, and commissions are supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and The MAP Fund, a program of Creative Capital, primarily supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; additional funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Community Connections Fund of the MetLife Foundation, the Boeing Company Charitable Trust, and the New York State Council for the Arts. Special thanks extended to the Jaffe Fund for Experimental Media and Performing Arts for continued support of artist commissions.