SASSAS: Welcome Inn Time Machine
Sunday January 29, 2012 for Pacific Standard Time
In conjunction with Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945-80, and more specifically its Performance and Public Art Festival, the Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound (SASSAS), founded by artist Cindy Bernard, transformed the Welcome Inn on Colorado St. in the east-side LA neighborhood of Eagle Rock into a vaudevillian visual and sonic buffet of experimental happenings. From a bird’s eye view, the scene could have resembled a diorama of My Fair Lady, possibly redramatized by Eugene Ionesco. The beautiful absurdity and dislocation of the unexpected venue proved to be a gathering receptive of all ages and attitudes, uniting them under an umbrella of festivity.
The Time Machine event was a pinnacle congregation of musical art originating in Southern California from 1945-77, including interpretations of works by such seminal composers/ thinkers as John Cage, James Tenney, Pauline Oliveros, and Arnold Schoenberg. In an act of assemblage, sounds, vibrations, murmurs and movements emanating from the open rooms of the Welcome Inn offered a mall-like framework for the audience to engage in an experiential dance of musical commerce. Derived from the 1963 six hour-long premiere performance of John Cage’s Variations IV at UCLA, the durational model for the night designated each artist or group a room for presenting continuous pieces or surveys of works in alternating performances. The balcony and stairwell were intermittently activated with performances as well, opening with music by Ornette Coleman, which included two of the original band members from the 1958 LA recording, Kamau Daaood (vocals/spoken word) and David Ornette Cherry (piano), and later converting to the Calder Quartet’s re-imagination of Arnold Schoenberg’s Entwürfe zu einem Streichquartett (Draft of a String Quartet).
Far from any norm of convention, even as far as experimental music is concerned, engaging in performance while gathered around night stands, seated on full-size beds, or peering in through windows, allowed for a whimsical portal into a musical aesthetic founded on a freedom that did not seek to necessitate invitation -- free-rane traveling from room to room, guests caught scenes of changing states. In one room a violinist plays Bruce Nauman’s D.E.A.D (1969) (tuning the instrument to those four musical notes), a meditation on exhaustion, boredom and the unexpected beauty that might result. In another room a packed crowd concentrates on one of James Tenney’s Postal Pieces (1965-’71), Swell Piece No. 2, in which five instruments play a rise and decay of tonal arcs within and without one another. In a rendition of Cage’s Variations IV, among seven other objects precisely located according to chance operations, Room 25 finds a wired-up cactus resting on a recliner, a laptop on a bed, and a child playing singing greeting cards in front of a microphone -- while out the window Anita Pace is seen dancing an inspiration of Merce Cunningham’s Field Dances (1963). Four performers sit cross-legged on a bed in Room 17 as they instruct while performing the delicate yet profound Sonic Meditations (1971) by Pauline Oliveros, eliciting a youthful naïveté of unquestionable commitment to simple tasks, and to pure surrender, in the participating audience.
The most visually satisfying image of the evening was Pyramid Headphones (1976) by the Los Angeles Free Music Society (LAFMS), featuring approximately 15 large headsets with stereo speakers transmitting a panning audio collage, nonchalantly transforming men, women, and children into cyborgs. If this spectacle is yet not enough, a phone call to a number listed on the program earned you a private 30-second performance of Bob Wilhite in Concert, a re-staging of his 1975 monochord sculpture’s ephemeral voice.
In keeping with a mission statement of bringing together artists within a specific space, combining them with unconventional performance environments, and yielding interesting tension, SASSAS achieved its goal. The event was highly inviting and accessible. One could only argue that these pieces were taken out of context, and reduced to a spectacle, a loft or lofty scene stepping down to the busy lobby of a motel. Perhaps this resultant permutation as a curatorial aesthetic is precisely what triumphed. For an art whose essential freedom lies in its indeterminacy, choice, and liberation of form, this can prove to be either its virtue, or its vice. In accordance with an era of irreverence, maybe removing individual focus from each composer and essentially merging them into the same mental space of a singular performance-based idea allowed for a light-hearted experience, one that left guests feeling inebriated on experimental music -- and jollier than conceptual art often delivers.