Saturday, February 27, 2010

Guess who turned 10 this week!

and steadfastly refused to assemble for a group photo...

our loving sisters...

leaving hairballs around the house for a decade...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sing for me

In the last piece, I collected wedding songs. Reinhardswald it is called, named after the forest here in Germany that inspired many of the Brothers' Grimm fairy tales, and late in the piece Ryan came and asked me to find him some beautiful love songs.

Then Ben brought me a chainsaw and I went into the audience with a dictaphone to try to get people to sing for me.

After I'd collected 2 songs, I'd head back onstage and play them for Ryan, who'd hate the first and love the second. Then I'd dance around a bit with the chainsaw before chopping open the back wall to reveal a woods.

If this all sounds really weird, it's because it is. But scratch the surface and there's a logic in there. Ryan played the anti-hero of his own private fairy tale, searching for completion, answers, a happy ending. My character was sympathetic, willing to do something destructive in order to get something positive. As for the audience, just like in any fairy tale, they were essential. In order to get to the reinhardswald - the woods of imagination - we needed to finish the story. And to finish the story we needed love.

Practically speaking, it was hella hard. First of all, have you ever turned on a chainsaw? I had a lesson out in the theater yard with the prop guys one day, and yet I still always ended up with bruises on my thigh from the kick-back. And the songs? No one wanted to sing for me. It was an act of coercion each time.

Luckily, I often found people I knew in the audience, and over the course of 10 performances saved many of their songs. After the last show, we dancers added some of our own, and here they are. The video clip is from a rehearsal of the last section of the piece before we went on stage...

...and if you watch till the end you'll catch a sneak preview of catcher, our new piece premiering March 5th in the opera house.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

the hand you're dealt

When I was in college in the early 1990s, I spent my summer vacations trying to stay out of trouble with my friend Brownie, who lived in the same town and who shares a lust for digging up strains of strange/corny/brilliant music without borders. One regular haunt on hundred-degree days was a crummy used bookstore on the south side of town with rows upon rows of cardboard moving boxes abutting brown paper grocery bags full of Harlequin Romances. Strictly amateur level. It was here we learned the code of the dollar bin. Low-risk / High-reward. Whatever we found was valuable, on some level, even if it was simply to become a casualty of a pause-tape mix - Brownie dragging a needle across something that should never have been recorded in the first place, flipping it into gold. Children's records, unlistenable country and western, schlock-pop, power pop, power ballads, old peoples' music, music with no discernible audience whatsoever, and, if we were lucky, real quality finds (Do the Twist with Ray Charles. Sam Rivers Streams. THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO - I pushed Brownie out of the way and mugged an old lady to get to that one).

I have a lot of people to thank (or blame) for getting into records. Like my uncle Howard, whose Frank Zappa collection was exhaustive, and who bought me my first records, took me to my first record store - Rolling Stones Records in Chicago, in what must have been 1981. I have a memory of him, in the mid-1980s, taking me to a record store in Tampa and being livid that they closed at 6:00 p.m. "How can a record store close at six on a Friday night?" he groused as we slumped back to our car. Truer words have never been spoken.

I spent fifteen record-spoiled years in Chicago, the Twin Cities, and Brooklyn. In none of these cities was there a shortage of records. One could walk down the street and records would jump out and cling to one's person. I'm not talking any old records. I'm talking RECORDS. Heat. Fire. Dangerous goodness in whatever sphere of music you decided to pursue. Like fishing at the hatchery.

At one point dear Karl opened a record shop in Brooklyn - He had my credit card number and a standing order for bi-monthly shipments to St. Paul. I spent bank. I got records.

I dropped a couple mixes for one of the great independent labels of our time. Pablito borrowed a gang of salsa records for his book. I even talked to other people about their records.

There are always records.

For example, Brian and I spent the better part of a prairie winter in the byzantine backroom of a northern Wisconsin dive bar which had warehoused the contents of a shuttered Duluth record store, our hands numbing, piling through hundreds of thousands of 45s, disoriented and slap-happy after eight hours in deep freeze, pulling stacks of great tunes, driving home sorting and trading our finds, wishing we'd had more time, more money, more knowledge of what we were looking at.

In a way, moving to Kassel was a relief - I had no job, no money, and there was no temptation because surely there couldn't be any records here, right? Besides, I had "gone to the desert" before - winning a bet with lily back in the 1990s that I could go a year without buying any records - pulling an 11th-hour miracle when, in the same lousy hometown bookstore, while checking out with what would be my last two records for a year, the cashier mentioned in passing that they'd just gotten in a really nice collection of classical recordings from a doctor and he didn't want to carry them up the stairs, and he'd give them to me for a song... This became my mother's wedding present to us, and cushioned the blow of a digging-free year.

After a solid year and a half without giving in to the temptation to dig records at any of Kassel's handful of used record shops, I broke down (wised up?) and started to dip a toe or two into the waters. First only at the thrift stores. Then in the cheap-y bins of the stores. Then into the regular stock. I still haven't bought any "wall records" - the kind of records that are so flossy the owner hangs them on the wall. I think my wall days may be over, in part because I've had such a good time in the dollar bins and thrift stores, mostly finding copies of things I've passed on earlier in life, or liked but never bought, or never had in a dollar bin in the states, like 1970s German rock and synthesizer music. The cheaper the record, the easier it became to justify it to myself as a little bit of recreation, a meditation, a way to stay sharp, to keep feeding the beast.

Yesterday I took Matt around to the shops. Matt's a music producer who's in town to work on the new dance piece at the theater. While out digging around, I found a few fun things, including one of Matt's own albums (it was in the clearance bin... Strictly (non) Commercial). On my daily jog, I thought about a life collecting and finding great joy in music. I thought about how when I started digging, there was no internet, and how I was a product of this relatively limited access... what was available to you was what was in front of you. You played the hand you were dealt.

With that in mind, here's a download link to a mix I cobbled together last night from records I've picked up in Kassel (and a few joints from Berlin): "I'll be your (man in the) Mirror" (click here to download or stream below) .

It's 90 minutes (so it takes a bit of time to download), in a nod to the old pause-tapes we used to trade. The mix opens with a beautiful Japanese flute record I picked up while visiting Lily in April 2007, (now known as: The First Record Bought in Kassel). It includes a record mailed to me by Karl last year (technically, my mailbox is in Kassel). The only non-German pick is from that record I mugged the old lady to get my hands on.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

In the studio

We're 3 weeks from premiering 'catcher,' the new piece with live music in the opera house. The set is simple - a giant light, like the light on a scanner, will move sideways and up and down over the stage. The instruments of the live percussionist who's performing with us fill the back of the stage. Other than that, it's all room to move.

There's the drum kit, a mini forest of cymbals, heavy metal pieces, spinning rings, music boxes, crackling paper, a soft-skinned drum, and maybe an accordion at some point.

While the musicians figure out what it's going to sound like, we dance...a lot. Duets, big group phrases, tricky precision sections, lots of running around, lots of jumping and sliding and opposing forces. We had our first few run-throughs last week Thursday and Friday, and it was ...umm, painful.

Of course, there was pleasure too, mainly from dancing to the music at full volume for the first time. I couldn't help but think of something I read once in an interview with a German club owner: "To fly around the room with the best music playing at the highest volume is a highly-religious act."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Art Opening

Madeline Stillwell Solo Exhibition
Wilde Gallery, Berlin
6 February 2010

more footage, photos, and info here:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Monday, February 8, 2010

Berlin Again

This time, for Madeline's first solo show. In the work she's doing now, she builds installations with collected found materials and uses them as a set for live performance. The documentation of these performances - photos, videos, books - are exhibited and shown.

The performance on Saturday, which was named one of the top 10 Berlin shows to catch by Saatchi Gallery, was one-night-only. The gallery was packed and she performed for 30 minutes in silence for a rapt audience.

Berlin itself was coated with 6 inches of ice. Seems they haven't heard about the old ice pick + salt combo. O sure, you betcha, that'll do the trick (thick Minnesota accent). So we stayed put at the cafe and got decadent. Coffee followed by wine. Chocolate and cigarettes. English and German and Spanish.

On the late side, we headed out to hear some of Berlin's best DJs on their night off. Once a month, Oye Record Store throws a party in a small club in Prenzlauer Berg.

It feels like a living room, complete with East Germanish light fixtures, and the vibes are totally Berlin. Everyone smokes like crazy and no one tries too hard and half the people look slightly familiar. There's no stress, no one to impress, and no end in sight. The DJs will keep throwing down records for as long as you wanna dance.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Translating Wish


Ich möchte von den Dingen die ich sehe
wie von dem Blitz
gespalten werden
Ich will nicht das sie vorüberziehen
farblos bunte
sie schwimmen auf meiner Netzhaut
sie treiben vorbei
in die dunkle Stelle
am Ende der Erinnerung

- Hilde Domin, from Ich Will Dich


I would like to be split
from the things that I see
as if by lightning
I don't want them to stretch across
colorless colored
they swim on my retina
they drift past
in the dark places
at the end of memory

Monday, February 1, 2010

Award Ceremony

Snowy Sunday morning at the PSV team headquarters.

Polizei Sport Verein Kassel...Fred's a member.

The inside of the Police Sport Club looks like this:

And along with these guys, he was getting an award

For winning the Hessen Half-Marathon Championship.

Then we all ate soup.

And I had wallpaper envy.