SOUNDWALK FIFTH ANNIVERSARY TONIGHT

Download: Author and Punisher ’40 To 1′

Actually right now, if everything is on schedule. During the last five years, experimental media collective FLOOD has grown Long Beach’s SoundWalk from a promising curiosity to an internationally reputable sound-art event—as far as I know, there is nothing else in the world that allows sound artists to commandeer an entire living urban neighborhood and pack it out with surprise installations—and in another five years I wouldn’t be surprised to run into Brian Eno outside the Americana. (Or Laurie Anderson, who I believe was on the FLOOD wishlist.) The East Village is about bristling with smacked-together speaker/bleeper units and nervous contraptionaries were just now still stringing fresh cable over the sidewalks. And every so often I hear a tuba blat out in the street. SoundWalk then-and-now plus MP3 links below.


First: FLOOD’s (and open‘s) shea M gauer collected samples from the 2006 (and 2005 and 2004!) event online—it’s a field-recording-found-sound mixtape that captures the dreamy unpredictability of a SoundWalk wander.

SoundWalk MP3 Library

Next: I did the first SoundWalk piece for OCW in 2004. It’s kind of adorable how tiny it used to be:

The specifics of the 30-ish (not counting unscheduled guerrilla installations, if any) pieces scattered through four square blocks are deliberately murky right now, though there was talk of several FM transmitters hiding somewhere, and the California National Bank was progressive enough to lend its already-striking architecture to some sort of sonic sculpture. But the artists involved—from 10-year vets Spastic Colon, performing that night at Koo’s, to KXLU DJs and students from UC Irvine, Cal State Long Beach, Otis and Cal Arts to members of Long Beach band the Grand Elegance—picked out their spots almost two months ago during a group walk through the neighborhood that had artists cocking ears into alleys and tapping tentatively on dumpsters.

By the fourth one last year, they had people all over the world involved, even if they had to mail their installations all the way to Long Beach because they couldn’t make it themselves. From DISTRICT:

This year’s SoundWalk will be the fourth in an annual series—the most robust and ambitious yet, towing an international profile (one Italian artist who had to ship his piece to Long Beach told FLOOD he wished he had something like SoundWalk locally) that might (in the future) position it as one of the city’s signature events. Chicago artist John Kannenberg, who has participated in every SoundWalk so far, says he finds himself scanning the SoundWalk roster to see who’s doing what—that’s the kind of state-of-the-artform reaction that signals an event is about to become indispensable. But it wasn’t until he made the plane trip himself that he learned exactly what he’d become part of: “Compared to just about anything else,” he says now, “it’s probably the most exciting sound exhibition I’ve ever been involved in.”

Here’s the background from a cheerful poolside interview I did last year:

Somewhere in Long Beach, on a quiet street where a toy gun floats in a puddled gutter, the current members of FLOOD—Kamran Assadi, Shea M Gauer, Frauke von der Horst, Shelley RuggThorp and Marco Schindelmann—are meeting in a dark and boxy little patio next to a swimming pool that saps the summer heat. Where the inaugural 2004 SoundWalk found artists picking out acoustically promising locations around the alley dumpsters of the East Village Arts District, the FLOOD event up for discussion now involves an installation piece on the front steps of the Carpenter Center—the diligent recreation of Kamran’s living room, where many FLOOD meetings mapped out SoundWalk (except for tonight, which is particularly stifling). Should they bring the living room stereo? FLOOD is wondering. What should they play?

“KJAZZ,” says Frauke.

And the coffeemaker?

“Like ideas percolating,” says Marco, smiling. “Espresso… expression.”

“We are trying,” says Kamran mock-seriously, “to make the process of creating art as boring as possible.”

FLOOD has a sharp sense of humor; the organization’s very first action put a faked-up art exhibit in the then-denuded East Village Arts District. “The way I saw it, we were in an arts district with very little art,” says Kamran, remembering 2002, so FLOOD installed “Reception-Perception-Deception” in the first floor of the Lafayette apartments, where Gauer’s store {open} would later move in. That project announced a certain aspect of the FLOOD personality—a satirical show that was all hype but no actual art. Gauer connected with the group as a partner with Kamran in 2003’s “Cartet,” which parked four identical rental cars with doors thrown open and stereos synched to a preset piece at the corner of First and Elm—daring, original, and a little loud, which are arguable other aspects of FLOOD. Between personality and technical set-up was something of the genesis of the SoundWalk idea. At first, it was just a play on words—the East Village then and now known for its ArtWalks—but the idea moved with only a little push.

Sound was a versatile medium, says Kamran. “If you put on a painting show, you have to rent a gallery. To find space for sound, you can use alleys or trashcans—the medium offers a lot of flexibility. And it’s really cheap to produce it.” And sound was an under-used medium, says Shea, with exhibit opportunities for artists uneasily separated into infrequent gallery shows or sometimes-esoteric live performances: “It’s still kind of a fresh thing,” he says. And sound was a wild medium, says Marco: “Even though sound art was birthed at the same time as abstract art, society as a whole hasn’t really adapted to that aesthetic. You can walk into any home design place and see kitschy abstract art, but they don’t have sound art—even though the first sound piece was by Duchamp at approximately the same time. Marinetti said that sound art really comes from the idea of noise—that music is the art of sound, and sound art comes from the idea of noise, and noise came from technology. And up until that point, there was only silence.”

And when they brought SoundWalk to the city in early 2004, there was at first a little confusion—Kamran remembers being asked what sort of music they would be playing? But then SoundWalk trampled all attendance expectations, sending visitors both deliberate and accidental (Frauke remembers one barber shop patron stumbling into SoundWalk and rushing happily off to get a map of the event) on a Village-wide prowl after dozens of installations—some (like a giant industrial spring prickling with contact mics) obvious and some hidden (like the speaker birds in the trees) and some too hidden (like the installation in the community garden that had curious SoundWalkers somewhat indelicately pushing through the plants).

The kind of thing the Situationists had talked about, Shea said—an audio derive ‘Magical’ is too cheap a word but the SoundWalk was certainly unusual—unlike the ArtWalks, which just sort of attach themselves to the environment, the SoundWalk became the new environment, and an aimless walk through the East Village’s streets and alleys became suddenly (if temporarily) unfamiliar. SoundWalk had the excitement of performance, the ambition of a worthy gallery show, and the sheer ridiculous fun of visiting a place for the first time. Even the city responded, formalizing grants to make sure SoundWalk could come back each year: “When we first supported the event,” says Downtown Long Beach Associates President and CEO Kraig Kojian, “we didn’t really know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised.”

And here’s what it was actually like, if you’d like to think you’ll know what to expect. Tristan Shone is great, by the way. Southern Lord should do a record with him. The Author and Punisher MP3 above is his band, but the drone machines he played here make much more concentrated heaviness.

Two monks with bells and horns glided out of the East Village Art Park, and said, “Follow us!” And so I did, as stragglers from the Bicycle Bell Ensemble pedaled past to practice, and the monks (later greeted as members of the hop-frog kollektiv) honked amiably down the sidewalk through the most sophisticated, ambitious and engaging SoundWalk so far. Presenters FLOOD have it all figured out—a winning mix of performances and installations and free-roaming wild weirdness. Koo’s held standouts like the Touch Music kids, motionless on stage with flutes and violins; poke or shake them and they’d wiggle out appropriate musical response, though almost everyone was too shy to make contact. Eventually they started playing themselves—charming and cute. Later they made Nap Music and curled up in a cuddly pile. Tristan Shone’s adjacent Drone Machines—custom-built industrial monsters he’d dragged up from San Diego—won heavy response; Shone built resistance into his machines and was visibly struggling with chains and levers during a short and less-loud-than-it-wanted set of Sunn O)))-style improv doom. Midnight Gardeners (with members of Coaxial) were soaking zoned-out tones and drones into the Lafayette’s under-used Dome Room, and in the kitchen next door, Daniel Corral had two beautiful mass music boxes—each with 100 cranks attached to a different tiny tune, and each with a cluster of curious people twisting and bending in to listen. Next was Robert Strong’s eerie solo drum—a floor tom striking itself with a mallet and a cloud of quiet digital noise from an amp beside, and in the old {open} was a flock of pinging tin cans on the floor (by Lewis Keller) and a wire-frame laser cannon (by Philip Stearns) beeping at too-close public examination. Cement Records had warhorse turntables and purposely glued-over records—the Disney records come out good, advised artist David Kendall, and so an orchestral score dissolved under a half-blacked out LP. Way in the dark back room was one of the most striking pieces—Leslie Markle and Eric Strauss’ “Digital Ouija” session in search of Signal Hill’s Kid Mexico, with a humming Tesloid coil keeping an eye on creepy proceedings. And that was just one street on one block—then the Bicycle Bell Ensemble (conducted by Patrick Miller) went jingling over the crosswalk on the way to the next, trailing more people who knew to follow a good thing when they found it.

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