Category Archives: Music

Interview with Artist Spotlight: Michael C. Hsiung

Michael C. Hsiung is an artist based in Los Angeles, Ca. His simple line illustrations are narrative with mythological subjects and a hint of humor within it.

4782_95536208516_4290469_n “So far, so good, so what!” from Megadeth album. One of my favorite quotes which I’ve been trying to incorporate in my life since I was like 15.

Rae: Now let’s begin with the interview. Thanks for being with us today Michael.

Michael: No problem Rae. Thanks for having me.

Rae: So, I’ve been seeing your artwork for some time now. It is interesting to me that your artwork is influenced by comics, mythology, cryptozoology, and tied to simple humorous moments?

Michael: Totally! I’ve been interested in all those things since I was a child, and when I first started making work….I found myself gravitating towards things like unicorns, centaurs, and stuff like that. My style probably is some what reminiscent of comics, which I collected as a kid, mixed in with my weird spasmy personality.

Hsiung---mermanbattle copy

Rae: I really like and appreciate the patterns and line work in your pieces. What is your favorite medium that you like to work with? Why?

Michael: My favorite medium is ink, though I’ve only started recently to really try and utilize the ink and brush combo. It’s my favorite medium in pen form, but that’s mainly because I’m more comfortable controlling it like a pencil. Also, it allows me to lean on the paper and draw endlessly. I originally started with Micron pens which were something given to me by my sister’s boyfriend Scott. I wasn’t really familiar with art materials when I started, and he recommended to me a blue pencil, micron pens, and stuff like that.

RampRocker

Rae: Has expectations with your art changed over the years? If so, how?

Michael: Definitely, I try to use more color, focus more on composition, and incorporate patterning in my works than I did before. I also have worked on my characters and narrative a bit more, hopefully making them more interesting and humorous.

Finally, I think too that I’ve also learned to relax a bit more when making stuff and allowing more room for error. When I was first making art, lots of my stuff was pretty raw, crooked and more narrative. I’m just trying to tighten up those parts of it and draw less crooked obese people with 3 fingers.

Hsiung---FirstSkateboarders copy

Rae: What do you like most about being an artist based in Los Angeles?

Michael: I think the thing I like the most about being an artist based in Los Angeles is that the culture and folks out here really appreciate art because they themselves are doing something creative, albeit music or film.

It seems like art is tied to every event out here too. There’s also so many galleries and great museums here that you’ll never get bored as an artist.

Hsiung--riot copy

Rae: Describe your process for creating your artworks?

Michael: Depending if I already have an idea of what it is I want to draw, I usually start by sketching various shapes until something forms- bodies, bears, and stuff like that. After sketching, I will usually start to figure out the details like outfits and accessories. Then I’ll use a pen or brush to start outlining and filling in. Then at the end, I might add a bit of red here and there.

7. HSIUNG_JETTY_SHIRT copyRae: What inspires you to continue making art?

Michael: What really inspires me to continue making art is the people who enjoy it, the works of other artists, the friendships that making art brings, and the satisfaction that expression brings me.

Rae: You are also in the “Human Pyramids Artist Collective.” What is unique about this art collective?

Michael: The Human Pyramids Artist Collective is unique in the sense that it involves international artists/friendships. the collective began as a way for lots of these artists who live in Spain, Ireland, or France to get their stuff out there with folks in the United States.

Rae: How do you feel about collaboration in relation to other artists?

Michael: I enjoy collaborations between artists, though I think there’s something to be said about finding the right match. Some collaborations work really well; while others don’t quite work or come out how I’d imagine. Plus, whenever I get works from other artists to collaborate on I’m really nervous about messing them up.

While I know the nature of collaboration is messing up, you’ve gotta see some of these beauties folks send to me!

Rae: Any artists you would like to collaborate with in the future? Who?

Michael: Gosh so many I can think of….honestly! I’ve been meaning to collaborate with artist Eric McHenry for some time, but everything he sends me is just too nice for me to add too, and I end up keeping them.

PRINT

Rae: What advice can you give others who want to pursue art?

Michael: My best advice is to make art, have fun, and stick with it. Just because you’re not getting shows or known, if you keep working on it, it’ll happen.

Everything doesn’t have to be perfect. If you mess up an eye, then put an eye patch on it!

Rae: Which cities have you lived in? Traveled to?

Michael: I’ve lived in San Jose, Ca for quite a few years. I attended SJSU and got an English degree but remained there several years after. I’ve traveled to Taiwan, Italy, Spain, England, Scotland, Prague, France, Morocco, and various states in the US like New York, Kansas, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Rae: Any amazing favorite gallery you love in Los Angeles?

Michael: I have to say that I really like Thinkspace Gallery in Culver City and THIS,LA in Highland Park, both for different reasons. Both galleries put on great shows and have great folks running them.

Rae: How do you recharge when your creativity hits the wall?

Michael: I usually try and spend time with friends and my wife, Rachel. I read, watch movies, and pretty much do anything else than draw.

Doesn’t always help, but I find that stepping away till the point you start freaking out having not made something usually helps. Museums are great too, I just need to go to them more often.

Rae: Any inspiring book at the moment for you?

Michael: I’ve been finishing a trilogy by Bernard Cornwell based on the Arthurian legends which I find really inspiring. Filled with great details on battle, pagan rituals, and stuff like that.

Rae: What has been your most exciting moment as an artist?

Michael: Hmmm….I’m so easily excited, so I have to say some of my most exciting moments as an artist have been just seeing my stuff in books and etc. Most recently one of my prints donned the background of that film For A Good Time Call, which was pretty cool!

Hsiung---Spaclub2010

Rae: Music is a huge influence in art making sometimes, any music you have been listening to lately?

Michael: I’ve been listening to a mix of rock and heavier stuff, but I think YES is always on the turntable not to mention stuff like Om and Thrones.

Rae: Any new upcoming projects that you are working on currently?

Michael: Well, I’m really excited to participate in the upcoming Supersonic Electronic Invitational 2 in SF this January as well as 2013 summer group show called Tonight We Fight, curated by Luke Pelletier at New Image Art.

Rae: Thanks for the interview Michael. Look forward to seeing more in the future. Keep it going!

24.HSIUNG_MOMENTUM copy

Check Michael out at:

My Twitter

My Flickr

My Facebook

My Tumblr

Instagram@michaelchsiung

My Website

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Artist Focus: Interview with John Felix Arnold III

Portrait by Eric Palozzolo from Past From the Blast @ Kitsch Gallery

“Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” – Charles Mingus

Interview with artist John Felix Arnold III

Rae: Now let’s begin with the interview, nice to have you with us today….Tell me about your work? What does it symbolize for you personally?

John Felix: Man, that’s a very complex question. My work keeps me alive on a lot of levels, that’s the root of it.

Without creating things I would probably spontaneously combust or wither away into nothingness so therefore it represents life to me. It keeps me moving forward and allows me the opportunity to bring something I deem to be positive to the world.

Art has always come naturally to me. Speaking and asking questions through visualization is something that happens through me. I find joy in its creation and those that search to be around art. When I am really involved, it’s almost as if I am not the sole energy making it, but I am more of a conduit for something much larger than myself aiding me in making a contribution to the future. I could go on and on about my influences, inspiration, conceptual framework, technique, evolution, and what not.

But what I am explaining here, while it may come off as sounding vague, is the spiritual essence of why I do this. It represents a spiritual connectivity.

To me what I make represents my personal dialogue with the world. It demonstrates gratitude for the life I have through pain and pleasure, through the mundane and the monumental. On a basic level, I am creating exhibitions that aim to make the viewer feel as though they are walking into a life size graphic novel set in a post-apocalyptic future world. This being said, anyone who has ever read, Blade of the Immortal, Akira, Sandman, Elektra Assassin, or any graphic novel knows that works in print like these are created out of a need to understand our place in the bigger picture.

Capriquarius 5'x4' Mixed Media on Wood Panel

Rae: Looks like you are an artist of all trades…what is your most favorite medium at the moment right now?

John Felix: The medium I am having the most fun with right now, aside from the conceptual nature is basically mixing all of the disciplines I enjoy into one explosive element. It is definitely the construction of the large panels I am using for my paintings as of late.

My favorite part right now of the process is taking all of the found wood and then organizing it and setting it piece by piece into these beautiful, rectangular, debris, and tapestries. They are like these amazing organic real life 3-D design pieces that hold years of stories and experiences in every single piece of found material. Creating these as a vehicle to begin painting with, is really an awesome experience.

Event Elation 4'x8' Mixed Media on Wood Panel

Rae: What role would you say an artist has in society?

John Felix: That’s a great question, one which I don’t think enough people really give a lot of thought to, I mean people call Drake an artist right? (laughter) To me an artist’s role in society is to inspire dialogue, pose questions, and be fearless in developing their voice as a part of, and as an observer of society.

                                                                                                                

An artist’s role is to be an intense and integral member of society while at the same time having the ability to look at it from outside and comment on it so as to inspire dialogue within it, that hopefully aims to advance it in a positive light.

Artists are like chefs, we stir a bunch of things up and then serve it to the people to give them something to sustain a part of themselves, to think about, and evoke emotions and reactions.

Rae: I certainly agree with that! How has your practice changed over time?

John Felix: I recently found drawings I did as an infant, before I had any concept of survival in the face of societies expectations, fitting in, before I had any idea that so much of our world is run off of fear, status, image, and the cult of personality. The drawings were fun, fearless, and beautiful. For years I concentrated so hard on technique and developing an acceptable style and coping with a world that I felt alienated from, that I felt like I lost pieces of myself and wasn’t really living.

Now my practice really lies in reaching back into this childhood fearlessness within concepts that I confront as an adult armed with an arsenal of techniques, discipline, and design knowledge that informs a very organic style that is now evolving all on its own accord. After a very crazy life thus far, I get to appreciate years of really rigorous technical practice (that kept me focused in some dark moments) which have become a perfect companion for the free flowing energy that I now get to experience when I’m making art.

Lady of the Lake 5'x4' Mixed Media on Wood Panel

Rae: What themes do you pursue within your artwork?

John Felix: The main theme I am pursuing at present is exploring an idea of what people and certain archetypes will be and do in the face of an inevitable reset of human society.

I guess it really boils down to examining the rate at which we as a society are consuming limited resources around us. Creating multitudes of things which we really do not need, which in turn consume us spiritually, physically, emotionally, pretty much across the board, to perpetuate a system which turns the great majority its members into “self-sacrificing parasites.” 

Christopher Burch, whom I am showing with in New York in March, gets the credit for that term. It happens to fit the work I am doing as well as his and many others at the moment. Other themes examined in my work as well are: lose of control, creating things which consume us, spirituality or lack there of within society, love, what it means to be strong, how to move forward into the future, shelter, how things that are deemed “necessary for survival” will change once the world as we know it now ceases to be, you know light hearted stuff (laughter again).

Rae: Any books that inspire you at the moment, if any?

John Felix: Actually yes. Mirrors, by Eduardo Galeano, is really inspiring at the moment. It is a large companion of short paragraph pieces dealing with historical figures and questions throughout the history of civilization, which have shaped the world as we know it, and aims to get the viewer to really question their own intentions so as to gain some sort of insight into a positive way to move ahead.

Rae: Wow, I’ve got to look into that book, sounds fascinating! What do you love most about being an artist based in the bay area?

John Felix: People in the bay area simply love art, enjoy art, and support art in a variety of ways. The Bay Area is currently a great pool of creativity and freedom of expression for obvious historical reasons and thanks to an amazing history of forerunners. Where else can you run into Emory Douglas, Barry McGee, and Monica Canilao all in the same day.

The Bay is one of the most diverse parts of the world in terms of race, culture, spiritual practice, sexuality, academia, philosophy, technology, politics, and of course the arts.

It is the home of two of the oldest and most important art institutions I know of, SFAI and CCA. It has been called the birthplace of lowbrow art, has an amazing graffiti history, lots of pride behind its local art makers and movements. There are wildly different art movements happening right here right now in the Mission, the Tenderloin, and the greater Oakland area. I love the art community here and the commitment that so many artists have to continually challenge themselves and those around them.

Rae: Having studied at two different art schools in your lifetime? What attracted you most about the programs?

John Felix:Pratt is an oasis of imagination, incredible technical instruction, historical accomplishments in the arts, rigorous training, and amazing professors in one of the most amazing and craziest fucking parts of the world.

It is a home to a variety of disciplines. Something about having alot of disciplines, enabled us to engage one another on a daily basis. We dealt with professors that hold no punches and are not afraid to rip you a new one, if you don’t demonstrate that which is necessary to make it, this creates a great atmosphere.

The program I was in was just designed extremely well, and I benefited more than I could have asked for from it. It prepared me for things to come. We had a pretty epic class, in my department while I was there. Also they gave me more money than any other NYC school to make my home there.

SFAI’s prestige in the arts community, the fact that I won a pretty large scholarship, their history and print making facilities were pretty attractive. SF seemed like a great choice, and working w/ Tim Berry in the Print Making Department was a big pull! After a year though I really didn’t feel that it was the right place for me to be at, so I dropped out and saved myself from going pretty deeply into debt. I might move back to Brooklyn someday, we’ll see.

Rae: Any upcoming projects you’ve been working on at the moment? Could you talk about what you are trying to achieve with them?

John Felix: I have “The Love of All Above” Saturday February 4th at Queens Nails Projects in San Francisco. It is a continuation of my series of installation environmental pieces that act as an altar and a place to give praise as well as a stage and a vehicle for performers to engage the audience.

A Conversation with Charles Mingus About the Inevitable End of the World 8'x3' Mixed Media on Wood Panel Assemblage

A Conversation with Coltrane About the State of Spirituality 8'x3' Mixed Media on Wood Panel Assemblage

I am working musical performers Cassettes Won’t Listen, Bisco Smith, Grimace and Turnbull Green all from the Daylight Curfew Crew. Also performing will be Kool Kid Kreyola and a husband and wife duo called Him Downstairs. I am trying to create an installation environment that exist in the world of “Unstoppable Tomorrow”.

I want people to feel like they are part of a night of rituals and ceremony through art and music inside of this post apocalyptic setting that hopefully takes them out of their normal daily humdrum.

I want to create an environment where I can not only exhibit my new installation and painting work within the installation setting, but also engage performers to work within it, and collaborate with the environment.This I hope, will make the audience feel more part of the piece and the imaginary of all these concepts, disciplines, and personalities.

Then Christopher Burch and I are off to Brooklyn, NY for our March 1rst opening at an amazing space called Littlefield NYC, which will consist of drawings exploring this idea of societies “self sacrificing parasites”. Ninjasonik and Ken South Rock will also be performing at the opening of that show. Then it’s a solo show at Old Crow in Oakland in July. I am incredibly excited about this due to the fact that I get the whole space to explore by myself! Then back to Japan, to go on tour and do live painting with the band Ken South Rock. Pretty busy.

Rae: Any other artists you would love to collaborate with in the future?

John Felix: David Ellis, Tomokazu Matsuyama, Katsuhiro Otomo, and I wish I could go back in time and work with Hokusai and Yoshitoshi!

Rae: Any amazing galleries you love in the bay area?

John Felix: I was part of the Luggage Store’s “In the Moment” group exhibition this past November. I love and have loved the Luggage Store since I first found out about it when I moved here in 2006. There are a lot of amazing galleries here, they all seem to have their own distinctive voice and place and there are a handful I would like to work with for specific projects. I definitely have to say that my favorite gallery to work with thus far, who has also really been a pleasure to build with and evolve with is Old Crow in Oakland.

Rae: Music or bands inspiring you right now. Go.

John Felix: These cats Main Atrakionz out of Oakland are sick. I know everyone is saying Odd Future these days. Dipset all day. I just found the J Dilla Rough Drafts cd at Amoeba for like 10 bucks, that is a really sick one. The Ghost in the Shell soundtrack, Stand Alone Complex. The Akira Soundtrack. Japanther and Ninjasonik no doubt. Daylight Curfew, Kool Kid Kreyola, been listening to some Indonesian Rhythmic Recordings lately. Japanese Koto Drums all day. Always have my early nineties Hip Hop that I grew up with on speed dial. Rediscovered some At the Drive In recently. Been listening to Charles Mingus and Coltrane a lot.

Rae: More inspiration… more! What was your most inspiring moment as an artist so far?

John Felix: Definitely having “Past from the Blast” at Kitsch in the Mission last March (2011) with Japanther finally happened. In the middle of the show I looked out into the crowd and the world went into slow motion for me as I saw over 200 kids going absolutely ape shit inside of my art installation while Japanther rocked out on an altar platform/stage that was the focal point of the installation I built for the show. That was rad! They were rocking the universe inside of my artwork man.

Rae: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

John Felix:

Don’t overdo it man. You don’t have to feel like you have to carry the world on your shoulders. Do what you can because that shit will kill you and you won’t be any good to anybody.

Rae: Thank you John Felix Arnold III! Your future art shows are a must-check- out!!!!

Shouts TWNY, 57, IPD, 138, Dirty Durham, Old Crow, Big Sheikh Deluxe, Faetm, Brooklyn, The Elite

Links to check out this artist: artist website, wordpress blog, tumblr site, facebook, Daylight Curfew Creative Collection, Art Now SF

Artist Feature: Erlin Geffrard aka Kool Kid Kreyola

“My name is Erlin Geffrard aka Kreyola Kid and bitch I paint!” – Erlin

Rae: Let’s begin, do you have an alias?

Erlin: In a way yes, I have a project named “kool kid kreyola” which is an art persona that I create work under

Rae: Tell us about your artwork? Do you challenge the world’s thinking with the art that you make?

Erlin: umm wtf….that is a lot of pressure…the world could suck it man, I am creating work for fun!

Rae: How many hours a day do you create?

Erlin: Depends on the day. I stay painting, I don’t focus on the time, I just paint.

Rae: What is your most favorite medium at the moment right now?

Erlin: Booty? I paint on butts….it’s fun!

Rae: Is there anything you consistently draw inspiration from?

Erlin: I love ancient art all over the world: Egyptians, Nubians, Mayas

Rae: Any books you’ve been reading at the moment that has been inspiring towards your artworks?

Erlin: Hero With A Thousand Faces, and The Alchemist

Rae: How do you recharge when your creativity hits the wall?

Erlin: I hit the crack pipe jk. I just relax the mental and go back to the basics!

Rae: Describe the process within yourself when you are creating a new piece?

Erlin: Shit, I just keep it nasty like I get it wet, then I put it in, ya feel me!

Rae: Yeah, I understand how that process is. Any upcoming new projects, shows, or travels?

Erlin: I got a show coming up at the Luggage Store Art Gallery! Feb 9, 2012.

Rae: Nice! Looking forward to that! What percentage of your work is collaboration vs. say, interactive? Or are the terms in your work interchangeable?

Erlin: Awww man like 50%- me, 50% colab i think more community art projects are the future. Less ego art world b.s., more rainbow togetherness…I worked with Spencer Keeton, Rye Purvis, Moe, Triple Mike the Shooter, D-nice, Quin Arnason, Quinn Arneson, Camus revel, the list goes on dude

Rae: Studying at SFAI, what have you learned most about there?

Erlin: no comment

Rae: Which cities have you lived in?

Erlin: I grew up in West Palm Beach, Florida and then moved to sf, dats all!

Rae: Any artists you would love to collaborate with in the near future?

Erlin: R. Kelly, and John Baldessari

Rae: What do you like most about the art in San Francisco?

Erlin: The growing interest in new artists. I feel like their eyes are on us now.

Rae: Favorite place traveled? Why?

Erlin: my dreams cuz I travel nonstop

Rae: Has your art style changed at all during the years?

Erlin: kinda

Rae: Working on any new series of work?

Erlin: yeah um urban hieroglyphs

Rae: If you were to stop making art, what would you replace it with?

Erlin: pimping

Rae: Any artists that you admire, that influences your work?

Erlin: Spencer Keeton

Rae: What type of music or bands are you listening to right now?

Erlin: Whale Cries

Rae: Finally, What has been your most exciting moment as an artist?

Erlin: smoking out with Carlos Villa

Rae: Thanks for the interview Erlin, looking forward to seeing more of your works in the upcoming future.

Check out Kool Kid Kreyola’s website: http://bitchipaint.com/

Improvisation: It’s not all about jazz

I recently went to Thee Parkside to see Judgment Day with a group of friends; we were all stoked because we had each seen them a handful of times before and knew we were in for a great show. We always know what to expect when they play tracks from “Peacocks/Pink Monsters” or “Dark Opus,” but this time was different.

Judgement Day. Left to right: Anton Patzner, Jon Bush, and Lewis Patzner. Photo by Riki Feldmann (http://www.flickr.com/photos/brokenobelisk)

At the end of their set, Anton and Lewis Patzner initiated an improvised violin vs. cello battle. My friends and I exchanged glance, shrugs, and smiles as if to say, “What is this?! I’m not sure… but I like it… a lot.” When their set ended, we burst out laughing, shared an obligatory exchange high fives, and repeated variations on “That. Was. Amazing.” There was something so exhilarating about having your expectations demolished and collectively experiencing an anomalous moment with your friends and fellow audience members.

This got me thinking: As a Bay Area native who has attended local shows for going on ten years, I’ve seen a lot of my favorite bands more than once. Well versed with their studio albums and live performances, I come to a show more-or-less knowing what to expect. I know when to sing along and nod my head to the beat, I know when to anticipate a potential mosh pit, I can feel when there is going to be one of those pregnant pauses where people who don’t know better will think a song is over… but it isn’t.

However, improvisation changes all of that. This particular Judgment Day show couldn’t have been the only time I had ever attended a partially improvised performance—where has my head been?

I investigated this further by asking Lewis more about this show in particular. He explained that in his experience, improvisation is something that the audience innately picks up on regardless of whether or not they’re familiar with the a band’s discography. Lewis mentioned that from both the musician and audience’s point-of-view, when it’s done well it “seems right…[successful] improvisation make something unpredictable seem inevitable.” It’s nearly seamless, and if, as an audience member, you aren’t present with this progression in the performance, perhaps you could miss it. However, the energy exuded by a performer at the moment of conception of something knew is “hard to fake.”

Robin Landy and Eric Kuhn of Silian Rail

Silian Rail, a Bay Area-based band and long-time favorite of mine, recently posted an improvised piece on their Facebook page. I asked Eric Kuhn, Silian’s drummer, to share some of his experience with improvisation with me. Much to my surprise, Eric’s insights on the subject were compatible with my own initial thoughts. Without wandering too far the realm of cheesy kumbaya talk about feelings, I would be remiss not mentioning the essence of the matter: Art and music in particular are mediums by which we can express ourselves and our emotions, often times from an unconscious place. Improvisation is as much a feeling as it is an action, for both the performer and the audience. In regard to live improvisation, Eric articulated some of the finer points of the overall experience:

I would say improvisation in a live setting can be particularly powerful because it acknowledges that that one context for the sharing of music is completely unique– the physical setting, the particular place and time, the particular group of people there to witness it and the energy they bring, the equipment being used– all of these things, which you can multiply out to infinity, are variables which shape the music in to the one distinct thing that it will be in that moment and no other moment. So, improvisation is a nice acknowledgment and celebration of that fact, and it also gives the artist a chance to create something which is intentionally born of that unique moment, rather than taking something pre-existing and fitting it in to that context.

In the handful of conversations I had with diverse groups of people on this subject, they repeatedly returned to the idea that improvisation operates within a conventional context, then goes on to break away from our expectations and rational thought.

Perhaps needless to say at this point, but these conversations got me really stoked. So much so, that I had to explore how other people, specifically non-musicians, integrate improvisation in to their work.

Lauren Baines

Lauren Baines.

Lauren Baines, a contemporary dancer based in the South Bay, expanded on the implications of improvisation on modern dance. I have to admit, I had never thought of dance in those terms. Before speaking with Lauren, my knowledge of modern dance was laughable and my personal experience with dance non-existent. Lauren explained that modern dance, like modern visual art, is about “setting yourself free from tradition, expectations, and structure and instead allowing the personal voice of the choreographer and the dancers to have free reign.”

Lauren recently performed with ahdanco (Abigail Hosein Dance Company) in Ernest Jolly’s installation at the SF Arts Commission’s window front gallery space.

A trio of dancers

San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery Ernest Jolly - Natural Reaction. ahdanco performance

performed a partially improvisational dance. The structural foundation was a “follow the leader” format where Abgail would do a movement and the other two would copy her. None of the dancers knew what movements Abigail would do, it was completely spontaneous. The other catch? They were all facing different directions in the space.  This added layer of complexity challenged them as dancers to try and see what movement she did, then repeat in our own space. Did I mention they were also in several inches of water? This is another instance where I can’t speak to what the audience’s expectations were going in to this performance, or if they could tell it was improvised, however, Lauren images “there was a certain spontaneity to that section…to see the movement echo through the dancers in slightly different forms… as if the three dancers were all going through similar thoughts and emotions, but not connecting with one another.”

Brian Chu, editor and director with The Werehaus, had encountered improvisational elements in film making. A lot of time and thought goes into pre-production and planning what type of shots and lightening to use, but Brian said it really all comes down to the subject (and as we all know, people are unpredictable). With Brian’s documentary film making, “unplanned shoots have come out feeling so natural and real…more so that I could ever imagine.” As a visual medium, films with a documentary point-of-view purposefully capture genuine unscripted moments and present them to an audience with the expectation of sincerity and authenticity without leaving too much on the proverbial cutting room floor. It’s a delicate balancing act between improvising when the subject of a film takes the conversation or action in an unexpected direction, and responding by crafting the narrative around a moment of spontaneous inspiration.

What are the implications of all of these ideas to us? Here is my charge to you: Put yourself out there, attend a performance that you are interested in but know little about, and go without holding tightly to your expectations. I think you may surprise yourself when you tune in, listen and watch carefully. It wasn’t until after I finished writing this blog that I realize how Artlarking-centric this idea truly is; I first thing I always tell people about Artlarking is that the heart of the mission and vision revolves around collaboration. Improvisation is a quintessential form of collaboration on a number of levels, but keep a sharp eye, otherwise you may miss it.

Featured Musician: Seabright

Seabright is a one-man musical project that seamlessly fuses electronic with live instrumentation. Lots of reverb, near-unintelligible vocals, and layers upon layers of majestic pop hooks form the basis of Seabright’s sound. Its creator, Justin Morales of the South Bay Area, was gracious enough to accept both an invitation to perform at Neon Nature and to provide the answers for this very interview. Let’s get to know him a bit better, shall we?

Artlarking: When I googled the word “seabright,” my first results were a brewery, an insurance company, and a city in New Jersey. How, exactly, did you come to settle upon the moniker?

JM: Seabright is the name of a beach that I used to go to a few years back. At the time, I was just getting back into making music and I needed a name. I’ve always been pretty much obsessed with the beach. So Seabright just made sense and I went with it.

Artlarking: Your newest release, Dark City, is listed as an EP on various websites, and yet there are 11 songs on it. What gives?

JM: Haha, yes. When I started working on Dark City (October 2010), I didn’t know what it was going to be. I was just making songs, and I guessed it would be an EP. But then it really got crazy and I started finishing tons of songs. I decided to finish as many as I could up until January 1st, 2011. It’s an EP only in name, but I didn’t want to change it.

Artlarking: What led you to form Seabright as a solo venture? Also, there only appears to be one other musician on Dark City – who is Sunyoung Kim, exactly?

JM: When I first started Seabright, it was while I was finishing grad school (2005). All my old friends that I used to make music with were either in different cities or not making music anymore. So I just decided to utilize all the new recording software and do it all myself. Sunyoung Kim is my girlfriend and also a really good singer and piano player, so sometimes I convince her to make music with me. 🙂

Artlarking: I understand that you’re a schoolteacher by trade. How do you balance your daily obligations with your artistic pursuits?

JM: Yeah, teaching takes a lot of time and effort, so during the semester, I can really only make little beats and try little ideas. Then, during my breaks, I will record and do all the big work. As far as shows, I usually just play locally, so it’s not too big of a problem. I was able to do a little mini-tour to LA this spring during my spring break though.

Artlarking: What do you think about sites such as Twitter, Tumblr, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, etc.? Have they helped independent musicians to thrive or are they simply cluttering the internet?

JM: I love all of them. I was really devastated when Myspace fell off because that was my main site, but now I realize that it was a blessing. Soundcloud and Bandcamp in particular are really essential and exciting developments that let independent music reach the masses. I’ve found some amazing stuff on Bandcamp just as a listener. I’m still warming up to Twitter, but it is obviously essential too. I’m curious about what new websites will pop up next. Hopefully I’ll be able to figure them out too.

Artlarking: Which older “classic rock” acts do you model yourself after? Or alternately, which newer, more recently emerging acts do you model yourself after?

JM: My ‘classic’ rock influences are definitely the Beach Boys, Kraftwerk, the Velvet Underground and Neu! Then I’m really influenced by 80’s new wave and synth pop, then 90’s indie rock, ambient and trip hop, and finally by lots of other bedroom/laptop musicians like myself. It’s great to be part of a scene and to see other musicians who have been able to take so many styles from the past and put them together, almost DJ style, and create something new and fun.

Artlarking: I understand that you have an active fascination with the sports world. Will the Giants repeat as world champions for the second year in a row? Who do you predict will win the NBA Finals, the Dallas Mavericks or the Miami Heat?

JM: Hahaha. Yes, I love sports! I would love for the Giants to repeat, but I’m a little worried about our injuries (get well soon, Buster*!). For the NBA Finals, GO MAVS! It would be great to see a team like the Mavs, with so many awesome old players, win a ring.

(*Buster Posey, the Giants’ starting catcher, broke his ankle on May 25th of this year, effectively sidelining him for the remainder of the season – ed.)

Artlarking: You reside in the East Bay. Which San Francisco venue has been your favorite to play thus far?

JM: Actually I’m from the South Bay, but I would say that the Elbo Room and the Knockout were my faves, along with Epicenter Café!

Artlarking: Good answer, and sorry for the geographical flub! Which 5 *South* Bay acts would you most like to promote? Most of our readers live within the city limits, so it’d be nice to know some good up-and-comers to look out for.

JM: I really like Ugly Winner, Sour Patch, Guests, Doctor Nurse, and from Santa Cruz, Atlantic at Pacific.

Seabright plays early in the evening at this Saturday’s “Neon Nature and the New Currency” event; make sure and be there no later than 6 PM in order to catch the entire set. Also, big thanks to Justin Morales for his insightful answers and timely response!
AME

“Neon Nature and the New Currency,” a free event hosted by Artlarking.com and MAPP, will be held at the Box Factory at 865 Florida at 21st in San Francisco, CA. It begins at 5 PM and ends at 11 PM. Other performers and artists include Uncle Rebel, Cartoon Justice, Anna Ash, Shantell Martin, Kristin Farr and Richard Parker.

tUnE-yArDs ‘Bizness’ Shoot: the Merging of Creative Powers

In honor of the tUnE-yArD’s  playing at Great American Music Hall tonight (with Buke and Gass and Man/Miracle), I thought I’d share some of my photos and words of my experience PA’ing on the set of the ‘Bizness’ video a few months ago here in San Francisco.

(For those of you who haven’t seen it:)

I first heard tUnE-yArDs at Rickshaw Stop last May during SF Popfest.  My friend, the talented Mimi Cave (who would later direct the Bizness video), was onstage as a backup dancer and I stopped by after work to see her.  I was excited to check out a collaboration of modern dance and pop music, first and foremost. But  I remember being truly blown away by the entrancing and tribal sounds Merrill Garbus created with African-inspired drum riddims and looping tenor ukulele and vocals. Not to mention the power of the large brass section she had backing her that night.

I immediately became a fan, addicted to the twangy beat and gravelly yodeling of  Hatari. I later found myself in LA when tUnE-yArDs opened Hollywood Bowl for Buena Vista Social Club and Goldfrapp, having no previous idea how she had and would  continue to blow up the music world.  When Mimi put out a call for help on the set of the artists’ first ‘official’ music video earlier this year, I jumped at the opportunity.

Music videos, and ‘Bizness’ in particular, are epitomes of collaborative work. The cast and crew on the neon-forested set included choreographers, filmmakers, dancers, art directors, makeup artists, hair artists, costume designers, directors, set builders, videographers, producers, ‘kid wranglers’… and of course, musicians.   Each person worked hard and fast toward a larger vision.  Videos like this one are a true testament to the success of creative collaboration, utilizing almost all of the art-forms that we at Artlarking are into.

Merrill Garbus getting diva'd up by Kat Steinmetz

I attended the first meeting where all parties involved in the video met and brainstormed- passionate creatives like choreographer Sonia Reiter, hair artist Lorenzo Diaz, makeup designer Kat Steinmetz, art directors Miriam Lakes and Adrian Elliot, director of photography Devin Whetstone, and many more.  Everyone came together with ideas before Garbus showed up. It was great to see specialized professionals give feedback to various areas of the production.

When Garbus did show up to that first meetup, she was most likely one of the most down to earth people there- she told me she was having a hard time getting used to the photoshoots and planning while her mind was occupied with world events and local injustices. (From an interview with the Guardian UK: “I do feel like I should be doing social justice work sometimes, but I also retain the right to say that this – my music – this is doing enough for the world.”)  She talked about what she envisioned with her video premiere. She didn’t want to lip sync, as it felt too ‘diva’/pop/fake, for example. But she amiably let the creative specialists run with their ideas.

Merrill and dancers rehearse at Autofuss

I spent the next couple of weekends at production studio, Autofuss, in Potrero Hill; and at an Chabot Elementary in Oakland helping build colorful cardboard rocks and trees, painting yellow triangles on kids’ faces, and chalking schizophrenic geometry onto cold concrete studio floors:

Art Director Miriam Lakes amongst the cardboard forest

One of my favorite kids on snack-break from a long day of filming in Oakland

What struck me about being a small part of the process of the video was the respect each person involved had for each others art form and how everyone stepped up to create a finished product that is much bigger than the sum of its parts.

Director Mimi Cave and DP Devin Whetstone

Director Mimi Cave and DP Devin Whetstone with dancers

In between filming at Chabot Elementary

The workflow on site was also an fascinating aspect: days on sets started at 7am and there was a lot of waiting around, but when it came time to get moving on a scene, all of the components and people – hair, makeup, costume, choreography, etc- came together super smoothly (thanks in large part to the serious organizational production skills of Mimi Cave).  This was especially impressive when the cast included dozens of restless 9 year-olds who had to sit still at their desks on a Saturday, and about 20 modern dancers posed in awkward positions on freezing, chalky concrete floors:

Filming in the Classroom

Chalky dancers during the stop-motion segment

Congratulations to everyone who worked on the video (that has now gone viral, indicated by its showing up on a ridiculously wide range of my friends’ Facebook walls/Twitterfeeds from across the globe soon after its release).  From that preliminary amorphous meeting to the final stop-motion editing by Ashley Rodholm (great job!), I feel lucky to have participated in what can happen when great creative minds merge on a solid project.

So looking forward to seeing the sold out show live- see you at Great American tonight, if you’re lucky enough to have gotten tickets!

-AMD

P.S. For more photos of the shoot, check out my flickr sets here and here.

Radio Killaz: the Collaborative Nature of Popular R&B

Popular R&B is arguably one of the most collaborative genres of music, and yet, much of the population doesn’t seem to consider it so much as a contender.

Because of the way it’s portrayed on television, in websites and magazines, and on the radio, the general public tends to think of R&B as a genre of music that focuses on individual performers. Take, for example, the Billboard’s current* “Top 10 Hip-Hop and R&B Singles” list. All ten tracks appear not on a GROUP but on a single artist’s record:

1 – Chris Brown – “Look At Me Now (Feat. Lil’ Wayne & Busta Rhymes)”
2 – Kanye West – “All Of The Lights”
3 – Nick Minaj – “Did It On’em”
4 – Nicki Minaj – “Moment 4 Life (Feat. Drake)”
5 – Lil’ Wayne – “6 Foot 7 Foot (Feat. Cory Gunz)”
6 – Trey Songz – “Love Faces”
7 – Wiz Khalifa – “Roll Up”
8 – Marsha Ambrosius – “Far Away”
9 – Miguel – “Sure Thing”
10 – Jennifer Hudson – “Where You At”

Now, look a little closer. Three of these Top 10 feature one or more “guest artists,” and one of the remaining seven – Kanye West’s “All of the Lights” – is such a collaborative clusterfuck that none of the other artists on the track (Rihanna, Kid Cudi, Elton John, and M.I.A., just to name a few) are even credited.

And this is just barely scratching the surface. For the past ten years, producers such as the The-Dream and Christopher “Tricky” Stewart have quietly been crafting pop perfection for artists other than themselves. These guys work almost 100% behind the scenes (The-Dream has pursued a modest solo career, but hasn’t reached anywhere near the level of success that he’s had writing for other artists). And yet, both of them have made more money in the past 100 radio spins than you or I will see in an entire lifetime.

Why is this, exactly? Well, The-Dream and Stewart have together been responsible for dozens of smash hits, including Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It),” Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” and Rihanna’s career-defining “Umbrella.” In between they have written and produced records for artists such as Usher, Mariah Carey, and Britney Spears. Let’s face it, these dudes are practically bajillionaires – and neither of them is even over the age of 40.

Funny enough, The-Dream’s solo material is far and above his best work (check out 2009′s Love vs. Money for a stellar introduction). But in all likelihood he will probably always remain something of a cult hero in the R&B world, and will be best recognized for his collaborations with other more well-known artists.

And since we’re on the topic of R&B, one of 2011′s great records so far has surely been the House of Balloons mixtape from Toronto-based The Weeknd. While The Weeknd’s spacious, haunting approach doesn’t quite gel with the crossover hits previously mentioned in this article, House of Balloons is still a very, very good mixtape, worth checking out if not for the Beach House-sampling “The Party/The After Party” and “Loft Music” alone.

So, do it. Even if you’ve never considered it before, go out and listen to some R&B – and then think about the collaborative efforts that have resulted in what you’re hearing. It might just be worth your while.
AME

*One could almost certainly apply the same rule of thumb to the Billboard Top 10 Hip-Hop and R&B Singles list from any given week – at least 40% of the week’s songs are bound to feature one or more guest artists. Try it, I dare you: http://bit.ly/16N5wR