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This Old Sonic House

An unusual concert series is set at a historic Schindler building. The goal: Get audiences to think about the interplay of space and sound.

July 22, 2001|JOSEF WOODARD | Josef Woodard is a frequent contributor to Calendar

Residents in West Hollywood near the Schindler House no doubt have an attitude of peaceful co-existence with the famous structure, built by noted Modernist architect Rudolph M. Schindler in 1922. It now houses the generally unobtrusive MAK Center for Art and Architecture (an offshoot of Austria's Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, which in German yields the acronym MAK).

But a few weeks ago, the neighborhood experienced a peculiar sonic rumble: the gong crescendos, drum-kit flailing, booms, taps and rattles of percussionist William Winant, realizing the scores of new-music composer James Tenney. Suddenly sound was emanating from the property--and from the curatorial mission of the center.

Speaking to the lawn-party-like gathering of listeners before the performance, Tenney encouraged them to circulate during the music, to interact with the house, to try to escape from "what my son calls the concert jail." Being polite creatures of habit, they didn't budge, but then Tenney pushed the point, turning the microphones and a digital delay loop back on the listeners, making them part of the program.

It was a particularly apt move. The Tenney/Winant concert kicked off the second season of a series called the Schindler House. According to Cindy Bernard, who created and curates the series, one of its goals corresponds to Tenney's impulse: to get an audience thinking outside of the box.

"The house has an audience that is art-related and architecture-related," she says. "[They] come to hear some of this music they would never hear otherwise. And there are people, including almost all the musicians, who would have never gone to the house without the opportunity to perform, and they're bringing in their audience as well."

Still to come on Bernard's series is Kingston, N.Y., composer Pauline Oliveros, who will play accordion Saturday with Philip Gelb on shakuhachi , a Japanese bamboo flute. Los Angeles Conceptional artist and sometime-musician Stephen Prina will present the third concert, "Sonic Dan," in August. Then, in September, New York City-based composer Glenn Branca will perform guitar solos and duets with Reg Bloor, in a program called "Harmonics Guitars (Loud Music for Unusual Electric Guitars)."

These concerts will be complemented by a handful of other MAK Center aural projects. As part of the exhibition "In Between: Art and Architecture," which runs through Sept. 2, Steve Roden will be interpreting the house through abstract soundscapes that he will create in various locations. In mid-August, the center has organized a musical event at a satellite location, the Yates residence in Silver Lake. Starting in the 1940s, that Schindler-designed house was the venue for a music series that continues 60 years later as Monday Evening Concerts at LACMA. The MAK-sponsored performances will re-create the spirit of those early events.

And finally on Sept. 8, the center will present performances, workshops and tours as part of a day dubbed "Site and Sound."

The sonic boom at the Schindler House began with Bernard and her series, which had its first outing there in 2000.

A multimedia artist, with a master's degree in fine art from Cal Arts and pieces in the collections of MOCA and LACMA, Bernard began hosting "sound art" events in San Pedro in 1998.

"Musicians' names were put into a hat," she recalls of the first event, involving various improvisers, some of whom "were musician musicians and some of them were artist musicians." Bernard drew names to create sonic liaisons. The idea, she says, was to build "a stronger network between these diverse groups. They weren't mingling enough and I was trying to get them to mingle some more. I also invited some artists to make works in the landscape surrounding the old Army barracks where this thing was held."

She went on to present a more-or-less monthly series of sound-and music-related shows at Sacred Grounds coffeehouse in San Pedro, from January 1999 through April 2000 but was growing frustrated by the casual--and noisy--nature of the venue. When Bernard had an exhibition of her own at the MAK Center early last year, she incorporated sound elements, "trying to emphasize the architecture of the house through this relationship of the sound being produced in different parts of the house."

In the course of that project, she recognized the performance potential of the space. The MAK Center sponsored her series last summer, after which, Bernard says, "it was pretty clear that it worked well. The attendance was great and there was a lot of enthusiasm on the part of the people playing. So we decided to continue."

Bernard explains that the 2000 series "was based on local, mostly improvisational work. I decided that if we were going to continue the second summer, it might be nice to work with people whoweren't necessarily local. There's a strategy to that, of course, which is to build [the series]."

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