June 29, 2006 § Leave a Comment
Artist Mark Mulherrin has used a legend about Greek philosopher/mathematician Pythagoras and “the music of the spheres” as inspiration in his exploration of America’s obsession with the guitar — as well as his own. Mulherrin, a resident of Williamstown, has devoted a large body of work to the guitar — its history, its appearance, its use and its value — employing a number of styles, from painting to sculpture to actually building his own guitars.
“I’m very proud of this show,” said Mulherrin of his current exhibit at Gallery 51. “It’s the culmination of a lot of strains of work that I’ve been doing over a lot of years and has gelled in a way that is unexpected.”
Mulherrin became interested in guitars during a period of boredom with painting — he wanted to direct his attention and energy into learning something new. He began buying and restoring vintage guitars and was soon teaching himself how to build his own.
“The guitars themselves started to come back to the artwork, so it came full circle,” said Mulherrin, “and then it became more about how instruments and people who play instruments are depicted in art, art history, our culture. The more you look into it, it’s a huge human activity and it’s documented, there are vast quantities of imagery related to music, playing specifically string guitar.”
Mulherrin began to employ a number of different styles to convey what he was learning about the instrument. Previously, he had been known to mix styles within a painting, but the concept he arrived at to document guitars allowed him to stretch his wings over a body of work.
“It was an idea with context that allowed me to indulge in this eclecticism to the maximum,” said Mulherrin, “where I could have an actual one man group show, and I love that idea. It’s the way that I think, the way that I work, I like a lot of different things and I get very antsy if I have to paint the same way.”
The result is something less than a traditional art show and more like a representation of the massive flow of information that shot through his head during the process.
“You go in someplace in Vermont, a big barn full of stuff, that’s cool,” said Mulherrin. “Visually, I like that experience, so this is going to be more like that experience. If you walk in the room and try to look at it like an art show, you’re going to blow your circuits.” « Read the rest of this entry »
June 22, 2006 § Leave a Comment
For Bronx-born Iranian singer/songwriter Haale, the two simultaneous roads on her musical journey — Persian and American — have become successfully merged. The melding of the two styles has been years in the making, but the slow work of perfecting the vision has begun to pay off for the performer.
“We’re in a deep period of exploration,” said Haale. “The last show we did, I said ‘We got it! We finally got it!’ It was two percussionists who were really rocking it and two string players and an electric guitar with a lot of ambient electronica sounds and then a laptop, so we had all the elements. It was kind of Bedouin desert psychedelic rocking with a thread of electronica jam and that’s what I wanted to do.”
Haale’s sound has changed since she began to pursue music seriously, going through all kinds of mutations in order to get the mix of influences just right.
“For awhile, I was just doing the traditional drum kit, electric bass, electric guitar thing,” said Haale, “but then I thought ‘Why am I imposing this standard rock quartet thing on this music?’ It didn’t make any sense.”
Haale decided to accentuate what was unique about the sound, which meant going full on with the percussive quality of the music. It was a far cry from how she started out, with Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell as her main influences.
“I started totally in folk music, singing in English,” said Haale, “then I went all the way to the other side and was just doing Persian and got a sitar and learned how to play and then I started bringing in a little English. It’s taken awhile to find my place in the spectrum between the two. I like it 50/50.”
This approach mirrors her childhood experience of growing up in America, yet having strong cultural ties to her parents’ native country of Iran. Her parents were both doctors who came to the United States in 1974, before the revolution, and Haale spent her childhood moving around the East Coast, but the culture of Persia was always traveling with the household.
“Iranians are really involved in poetry, even little kids,” said Haale. “If you go to Iran now, they can recite poems — long poems — it’s really just part of daily life in a lot of families, in my family it was. They hold monthly poetry readings with their friends. I was always hearing the music and the poetry.”
As Haale explains it, these were the sounds coming in one ear, while the other was hearing Jimi Hendrix. It all came together one night in a sixth-grade production of “Cats.”
“I was very excited, I sang ‘Memories,’” said Haale, “and everyone was shocked because I was so tiny and it was like ‘Where is this big voice coming from?’ I was certain at that moment that I wanted to be a singer, there was no question in my mind, but first-generation immigrant parents, they don’t usually want their kids to be singers.”
It wasn’t until college that Haale began to pursue her dream — the birthday gift of a guitar got her started. Initially singing in English, Haale began to incorporate the culture she had grown up in more and more — and as she did, the audiences responded. Finding the common ground between Hendrix and Persian sounds became her central musical goal.
“I like being influenced by these different forms of music that meet in the same realm of intensity,” said Haale, “or their intersection is in their level of fire. I love rock and blues and psychedelic and I think they have so much in common with the Persian tradition of chanting endless trance music, there’s so much there that intersects.”
Haale began to incorporate Persian poetry into her music, particularly that of Rumi, and also found a kindred creative spirit in percussionist Dougie Bowne. Bowne got his start playing for Iggy Pop and was a member of the Lounge Lizards. Together, he and Haale are constantly recording, playing, and perfecting and the audience has taken note, as an encounter at a recent show proves to Haale.
“This woman said ‘Honey, you really aroused us,’” said Haale. “She just wanted to get up and dance and jump around. It was just that feeling of release, catharsis, all this drumming and the trance aspect of the music. It definitely has a positive impact on people and gives people a sense of beauty of that part of the world, of culture in that part of the world.”
June 1, 2006 § Leave a Comment
The scenario itself is so stupid you can hardly believe it: One group of people spends about 12 hours a day and is paid 10 cents an hour to manufacture goods that another group of people tosses drunkenly at each other as they flash their private parts during a big, outdoor celebration. The items end up tossed in the garbage after the party. Sure, it sounds silly, but that’s what happens every Mardi Gras. David Redmon’s “Mardi Gras: Made in China” is a bold piece of documentary filmmaking, with Redmon tracing Mardi Gras beads from the naked chests of drunken coeds to a factory line in China comprised of teenage girls, and managing to maintain humor and a sense of fairness amidst the obvious immediacy and potential for grim subject matter.
Redmon takes his camera to both the Chinese factory that produces the beads and the streets of New Orleans during Mardi Gras, where they are put to use. Even when juxtaposed to the degradation of a Chinese factory worker, the scenes from Mardi Gras stand out as much more alien and disturbing. Still, Redmon manages the near impossible feat of tapping into the humanity of the drunken revelers on occasion — for every soused lout who ignores the question of “Do you know where the beads come from?” by bellowing something about a party, there is another person who shows some sign of remorse, not only because deep down they already know the answer, but also quickly own up to the fact that the beads are disposable garbage.
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June 1, 2006 § Leave a Comment
In his new novel, author Paul Park has brought his home and job in Williamstown into the realm of fantasy. Park’s young adult novel “A Princess of Roumania” takes place at Williams College and tells the story of 15-year-old Miranda, who is whisked away to an alternate Earth filled with monsters and magic — and revelations about her station in life. Released in summer 2005, this month will see the paperback version of the book, as well as the hardcover release of its sequel, “The Tourmaline.” There will be four books total in the series, with one released every summer.
Park pulled from his own childhood fascinations for the backdrop of Miranda’s adventure.
“I have always been interested in Roumania ever since I was little, I don’t know why,” said Park, “and it’s probably not because I had a very clear idea of what the real place was, I’ve never been there, but for some reason it conjured up this rich sort of mythology in me.”
Park’s novels pull from the traditional fantasy story in which young people discover the world is not what they thought after being whisked away somewhere far from home — whether kidnapped by pirates or blown away by a cyclone or whatever — a territory more recently explored by authors like J.K. Rowling and Philip Pullman.
“You go to some analog of the real world and often there’s a connection,” said Park, “there are figures in the real world that show up as symbolic analogs in the fantasy world and then you come back at the end. On some level, this is about the anxieties of coming of age. A lot of the things that happen in the fantasy world are connected to those anxieties in some ways.”
These are the themes that authors like Park work with as they walk a literary tightrope that involves pulling from a tradition of familiar tales to comfort the reader, while recasting these in a totally original and exciting environment.
“Ideally, you want to have some sort of combination of that,” said Park, “so that there is something comforting about the books because it seems to connect with other texts or other emotions and feelings and also something that’s remarkable or astonishing or unique about them.”
Park notes that there are many ways that an author can use the archetypes while still fashion something new, for instance create a strange landscape for a more familiar plot to unfold upon. An author can also play with the relationships between characters and deliver something unexpected — for instance, avoiding the romantic relationships between characters that have become so conventional or presenting the idea that “good” characters don’t always do “good” things or that adventures don’t always end safe at home.
“It’s like chess games,” said Park. “So many chess games, the first 10 or 12 moves are identical and then all of a sudden it takes this turn and it’s in some completely new place.”
Young adult fantasy books can sometimes play it safe because of adult expectations of what is appropriate for younger readers. This is something Park works against, especially since the genre is as popular with adults as with the target age groups. Park feels that these books should reflect the experience of his younger readers — by approaching it with such honesty, the older readers will follow.
“Even more so than adults, young readers’ experiences are full of broken hearts and feelings of inadequacy,” said Park. “It’s so hard to grow up with a sense of your own power, your own good qualities, so I think it’s a natural thing for young readers to be drawn to different kinds of stories than the ones their parents think are necessarily appropriate for them, with strong moral role models.”
Park points out that the archetype of young people in a strange land exists in fantasy for a reason — it’s a message that resonates whether you are a 15-year-old in 1906 or 2006. Certainly, it’s one that George Lucas recognized, that such stories document a proving ground for kids, where they present themselves as individuals.
“The reassuring part is that the world you’re in is mysterious and your place in it is mysterious,” said Park, “but there’s this other dimension where it’s clearer, the role you’re supposed to play and what is expected of you and the criteria for success would be and that will clarify your role when you go back to the world that you come from. You’re looking for reassurance that your life has some kind of significance and your choices have some kind of significance and that’s something that’s not obvious as you’re growing up.”
Park is now winding down the series, currently halfway through the fourth book. Once that book is published, it will mark the end of a decadelong process that, much like the characters who populate the genre he is traversing, allowed Park to explore new worlds, as well as himself.
“More so than other things I’ve written, these are more a part of a genre of established books,” said Park, “either as a counterpoint or, on some level, inside a tradition, so they have to deal with that tradition and be aware of that tradition in one way or another, whether it’s subverting the traditions or conventions or whether it’s echoing them in some way.”
June 1, 2006 § Leave a Comment
Two artists at the Contemporary Artists Center are using the act of bartering to transform space, economy and community. Daniel Pineda’s “Trading Post” and Carolina Caycedo’s “Daytoday” projects have joined forces in order to jump-start the idea over the next month.
“I’m interested in making a resourceful place for exchanging,” said Pineda, “and for engaging people in a different way of swapping objects, without money, where you have to figure out the value of the object.”
Pineda’s space in the Beaver Mill resembles a makeshift thrift shop filled with, among other items, a pasta maker, a happy Buddha, an old tin sales display for nuts, an outdated Palm Pilot, two giant Hulk fists, a velvet painting of Clint Eastwood, a spinning tin parachute drop toy, various bits of art, an odd bikini, and a stylish old intercom system, all waiting for a good trade.
“A lot of trading posts have the same things as the next place, they’re not really unique objects,” said Pineda, “but then there are the stores where you find weird objects and there is more of a history there. A lot of the stuff has a little story behind it.” « Read the rest of this entry »