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Bringing In 'Da Noises

Collage of Sounds Will Become Music in Huntington Beach Debut


One fine day in 1982, Anna Homler was driving through Topanga Canyon when she suddenly began to sing in what she calls "a language that came from nowhere." Pretty soon, she found herself singing this nonsense vocabulary every time she drove, every time she did the dishes.

"It seemed so natural that I didn't think, 'Oh, this is weird,' " Homler recalled recently in the resonant oval dining room of her vintage home in the Fairfax district of Los Angeles.

She began to record these throaty, mysterious song fragments and eventually teamed up with experimental composers and musicians in the U.S. and Europe for performances and recordings.

"No Live World This Side of the Sky," her collaboration with L.A. musician Guy Bennett, will have its world premiere at the Huntington Beach Art Center on Saturday.

The atmospheric, 45-minute piece incorporates prerecorded sounds, live singing and noises generated by a group of unlikely objects--some as familiar as the crunch of plastic packing tape pulled off the roll, others as surprising as the Asian-inflected harmony made by plucking the strings of a cheese slicer.

Grinning broadly, Homler assembled a bunch of the objects she uses in performance on her dining room table. There was a tinkling cylinder that once served as the "heart" of a doll, a stone that scrapes on a piece of slate, a Darth Vader sound sampler, a wooden doll that makes a clicking noise and a food mill that produces a metallic tumbling sound.

"And this is my best friend, the Voice Changer," Homler joked, blunting her normally dulcet voice by speaking into the device, which has three settings: Normal, Kid and Robot.

Although she lacks formal music training, Homler has been interested in world music since her college days as an anthropology student at UCLA.

"I never cared about knowing what the [singers] were saying," she said. "I always liked the sounds--the tonality, the warmth in someone's voice."

Once she began singing, she paid special attention to women's tribal music from places such as Yemen and India. "Not to copy them," she said, "but to find a context for myself."

A fellow musician once remarked that her work wouldn't seem so odd if she came from Borneo. "Someone from West L.A. singing in tongues was a little too much," she said. "I was like an anthropologist and a tribe at the same time."

Bennett, who had dropped by for a rehearsal, said he first heard Homler perform at the Alligator Lounge a few years ago.

A bass player since the mid-1970s, Bennett, 37, played in punk bands as well as a medieval ensemble and a symphonic band. In the early '80s, the former UCLA music major began a partnership with saxophonist Lynn Johnston that resulted in a jazz band, Cool Frederick.

Thanks to the "matchmaking" of a mutual friend, Homler and Bennett began working together about a year ago, with appearances in Los Angeles at the Armand Hammer Museum, the downtown public library and such clubs as Lumpy Gravy, the Impala Cafe and the Alligator Lounge.

"We tend to work in the area of sound collage," Homler said. "So there'll be moments where melody will emerge and then there'll be layers and layers of prerecorded sound and noise.

"The tape is like any of the various other [instruments] we might be using," Bennett explained. "It's not premixed. We have four tracks [to choose from], which adds to the collage aspect."

"We know the atmosphere, but we don't know what will happen," Homler said. "It's an evocative process, creating a sound world that people can inhabit and inviting the imagination of the listener."

A piece of music "doesn't necessarily have to be a straightforward musical arrangement," Bennett added. "It doesn't just have to be loud electronic noise. There can be a cohabitation of those two different [genres]."

The center booked "No Live World" to complement an ongoing exhibition, "Are We Touched: Identities From Outer Space," which Homler finds entirely appropriate.

Homler, who claims to have seen UFOs, has incorporated several of her own out-of-body experiences into narrative passages in the piece.

"I met a physicist once from Yugoslavia who is in contact with beings from outer space," she said. "I actually sat on the Charles River with him looking for UFOs and I saw one. . . . Later, I took a class--this was in the '80s, before channeling became a common word--in which a fellow was supposedly having contacts with space ships.

"I actually didn't see anything, but when I listened to a tape of a class I missed, my walls started to melt. They started to get golden and multidimensional, and I got so scared."

In a more basic sense, Homler said, "There are many times we have experiences with nonordinary reality. . . . I don't know if the walls really were melting; I just had the feeling they were. It was my experience, and because I have the E-ticket of being a performance artist, I can say that this really happened. I have that permission."

Bennett's contribution to the outer-space aspect of the piece will be excerpts from a series of letters to the scientists at Mt. Wilson Observatory, written by an Australian woman who also believed she was in contact with other worlds.

Homler says the duo's working methods also are related to the theme: "We like the spaces between things. We like almost-music. We like constructing language. We're not quite one thing or another. We're in that mysterious zone."

Flashing her huge smile, she tossed in the tongue-in-cheek clincher: "We're weirdos!"

* "No Live World This Side of the Sky," Huntington Beach Art Center, 538 Main St., Huntington Beach. Performance: 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets: $10 general, $8 seniors and students. (714) 374-1659.

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