Make no mistake. This release, a long time in coming, is an essential document of the work of two Bay Area artists whose contributions (frequently behind the scenes) receives some richly deserved attention.
The dyad here consists of Carol Law and Charles Amirkhanian, partners in both life and art, collaborators in sound and image now release this collection of their collaborative works from 1973 to 1985 entitled, “Hypothetical Moments: Collaborative Works (1975-1985)”. This lovingly produced DVD brings together a series of performance art pieces demonstrating an intimate set of collaborations between these two Bay Area artists. Law is a photographer and visual artist whose art works have been displayed internationally in several galleries. Her designs can also be found in some of the striking wearable art she made as promotional/souvenir collectible items sold at concerts and online from the OM store. Amirkhanian is a composer and sound artist as well as a broadcaster and producer who has curated concerts and produced radio programs promoting new and innovative music in the bay area (and beyond) since about 1969.
Their respective artistic outputs include both individual and collaborative works but, until now, the only chance to experience their collaborative efforts has been in the rare occasions in which these works were performed live. The booklet accompanying this DVD gives a partial list of live performances the most recent of which was in 2018 when OM 23 “The Wages of Syntax” presented a 6 day series of concerts which was an international survey of linguistic sonic arts. Visual analogues and deconstructions of vocal sounds as practiced by artists inspired by language and the expansion of the very definition of art, music, and performance.
My tardiness in completing this review afforded me a unanticipated perspective on Amirkhanian’s art. The performance of his new composition, “Ratchet Attach It” (2021) at OM 26, pictured here integrates his roots as a percussionist with his penchant for spoken word and sound sampling.
The collaborations here have roots going back at least to the early twentieth century with the experimental visual innovations of Vassily Kandinsky, Picasso, Miro, and the photographic experiments of Man Ray, etc. Their sonic antecedents include the work of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, Antonin Artaud, Luigi Russolo, and a panoply of sound artists that Law and Amirkhanian visited in the late 1960s.
In addition to these early experiments one must understand that these creative meldings of sonic and visual art were flourishing in the Bay Area, most obviously in San Francisco where Allan Kaprow’s “happenings”, Bill Graham’s rock concert productions, and similar sound/light shows dominated the fare at performance venues like the Fillmore and similar spaces where innovation in pop/rock music mixed with innovation in visual light shows combined with bands performing for audiences immersing them in mind manifesting artistic assaults that drew crowds frequently also experimenting with not yet illegal psychedelic drugs (the word “psychedelic” is a neologism which means “mind manifesting”). The emblematic event here was the so called “Trips Festival“, a three day event held in 1966 at the Longshoreman’s Hall. I have elsewhere referred to Mr. Amirkhanian as the “Bill Graham of new music”, a comparison which still seems valid.
speaking is speaking (by Bay Area poet Richard Brautigan)
what we speak
and then we are
speaking again and that
speaking is speaking.
June sometime, 1976
Well, drugs are not the issue here but mind expansion is. What is documented here is the multimedia collaboration of two essential Bay Area artists who, via their individual and collective efforts effectively expanded the possibilities of both visual and sonic media. These are innovative on many levels. Amirkhanian’s unique take on sound poetry (his anthology “10 + 2: 12 American Text Sound Pieces”) is an essential survey of that genre released on vinyl (now available on OM records ). And Law’s photographs, design, deconstruction and collage methods are integrated into her own unique style of visual art. The performances on this DVD constitute another uniquely San Francisco Bay Area chapter in multimedia, collaborative performance art now made available to a larger audience.
This defining anthology of Law and Amirkhanian’s explorations of sound poetry (first released on vinyl in 1975 on the now defunct 1750 Arch Records) has defined the genre for many (this writer included). Aram Saroyan, Clark Coolidge and Beth Anderson would later appear live at Other Minds 23 in 2018 which outdid the aforementioned “Trips Festival” in a week long festival of sound poetry from an international roster of poets and sound artists.
Now keep in mind that the original presentations of these works from the early 80s utilized the technology of its era, analog recording, magnetic tape, and slide projectors (remember those?). So this 21st century rendition takes this work into contemporary technology and makes available for the first time since their premieres the original marriage of sound and image as intended by the artists. Without getting into McLuhan-esque analyses of the differences and subsequent meanings of the original media versus those on this DVD one need only celebrate the fact that listeners/viewers can now see these works with their originally intended melding of sound and image.
There are 12 tracks:
- History of Collage (1981) (original audio release on Mental Radio CRI, 1985)
- Audience (1978)
- Tremolo Bank (1982)
- Dog of Stravinsky (1982) (original audio release on Mental Radio CRI, 1985)
- Maroa (1981) (original audio release on Mental Radio CRI, 1985)
- The Real Perpetuum Mobile (1984)
- Mahogany Ballpark (1976) (original audio release on “Lexical Music” 1750 Arch, 1975)
- Hypothetical Moments (in the intellectual life of southern California) (1981) (original audio release on Mental Radio CRI, 1985)
- Awe (1973)
- Andas (1982)
- Dreams Freud Dreamed (1979)
- Too True (1982)
The first nine tracks are the digital adaptation of sound and image accomplished by Dave Taylor. These are the pieces originally performed live in an era using equipment as distant from current technology as MP 3 files are now from magnetic tape. The last three bonus tracks are actual live performance videos (restored by Jim Petrillo) of three 1985 performances which give some of the flavor of the original experience of these works.
Several of these pieces have been released as audio only tracks on Amirkhanian’s CD releases (as noted) and, while they certainly work as audio only experiences, the images add a welcome dimension. The equally striking design by OM resident design master Mark Abramson add a deserving touch of class to the videos and the accompanying booklet which features informative texts on the works as well as a nostalgic collection of photographs featuring the dyadic duo.
I am honored to have a quote reprinted there from my blog review of OM 23 where I and a sizable audience were treated to a fabulous week long live experience of sound poetry featuring this duo’s work alongside that of exhilarating selections of other similar minds’ work. Of course nothing can take the place of the live experience but this production comes close.
This is a must have collectible document for anyone interested in sound poetry and Bay Area artists.