The work of Los Angeles-based artist j.frede has run the gamut from sound art and performance to installation, sculpture, and photography. His work has been presented at the MCA Denver, Machine Project in Los Angeles, and Ausland in Berlin. He is a contributing writer to The Citrus Report, and he has published a book based on this Glass Music performance.
Glass Music at BAM/PFA
On May 6, 2011 I presented my Glass Music performance at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive in the vast interior that is the museum’s main hall. Fourteen performers were placed on five different levels of the museum, each performer with two water-filled wine glasses and visual sheet music created from the lines of the museum’s interior architecture. The mysterious angelic sound of the wine glasses singing moved through the space forward, backward, and above the audience. The clean crisp tones made their way around the space and seemed to breathe and flow in a nondirectional manner, creating a thick aural cloud that dissipated and grew, seemingly by its own will. The museum’s normally difficult acoustics aided the performance, allowing the sound to reverberate softly and amplifying the natural sounds of the singing glasses.
The night of my Glass Music performance at Machine Project in Los Angeles, director Mark Allen asked me if I would be interested in doing the performance as part of a series he was curating at BAM/PFA and showed me a photo of the interior space of the museum. I instantly knew I had to address and incorporate the dominant features of BAM/PFA’s interior architecture, and before the conversation was over I had already determined that I would photograph the space and create visual sheet music from the abundance of lines created by BAM/PFA’s architecture and the museum’s concrete walls.
In early discussions during the planning phase, we had talked about how the museum’s acoustics were very reverberant and presented challenges for many forms of live music. This acoustic obstacle actually worked in my favor for Glass Music, as the nature of the performance is very quiet with all the sounds being acoustic.
About a month before the performance, I made a trip up to the Bay Area and photographed the museum’s interior space. I focused on abstract compositions of the lines of the building, the gray walls, the light pouring in from above, and various elements of the museum’s infrastructure. The lines race around the museum—crossing, colliding, connecting, and looming in the space above the visitors’ heads—which gave me a seemingly endless supply of the visual content I was hoping for. From the initial two hundred photos that I took, I edited down to ninety. From these I narrowed it even further to a selection of fifty photographs that ended up being the visual sheet music. On each photograph I painted a bright orange line over the lines that were prominent, or those that I felt lent themselves to the flow of piece.
From these fifty originals, the fourteen performers chose two each. It was interesting to watch each person thumb through the photos, carefully choosing the two that resonated with him or her. It was nice to have twice as many as were needed, giving the performers options to find the photographs that most appealed to them visually.
The images are abstract and the lines simple, leaving the interpretation up to each performer. The only form of guidance I gave them was to consider each line as a musical element: possibly the duration of the performance, maybe as a direction for each time they touch the glass, or even as a visual clue to the sound they should attempt to achieve. While this process is left entirely up to the interpretation of the individual performers and is abstract in direction as well as visually, the limitations of two wine glasses and two photographs creates a cohesion among the fourteen performers.
The end result was a beautiful interruption of the museum’s architecture, manifested as an organic soundtrack that filled the space with acoustic sounds, heard simultaneously as heavenly and eerie, ebbing and flowing in three-dimensional space.
It was an honor for me to produce this work for a space with such striking visual dominance and even more so considering the building is set to expire at some point, and will only remain in photographic documents and the memories of its visitors.
Performers: Charles Belleville, Matt Bonal, Jen Boyd, Amy Duran, j.frede, shea m gauer, Robert Hewitt, Cynthia Vela-Hewitt, Chris Kallmyer, Kadet Kuhne, Lucas Murgida, Malissa Ortiz, Hilary Reed, Andrea Williams. Special Thanks to: Mark Allen, Sean Carson, Chris Kallmyer, Michele Yu and all of the Performers.
j.frede - 2011
Photos/ video: Michele Yu