A Stellar Night With the Petit Avant-Garde
“You have to be with other people, he thought. In order to live at all. I mean before they came here I could stand it… But now it has changed. You can’t go back, he thought. You can’t go from people to nonpeople.” — J.R. Isidore”
Philip K. Dick — Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
After having returned from a week in NY City in January and having seen the Michelangelo exhibit at the Met, Vancouver more than ever feels provincial (in the old meaning of the world).
I am not attracted to local art/photography shows. They seem mediocre and banal with too much of that (to me) nasty concept of conceptual.
But then I am rewarded by Turning Point Ensemble concerts, Early Music Vancouver concerts and Sunday Series dance performances courtesy of that gem that is the Arts Umbrella Dance Company.
But rarely am I really impressed to the point of saying to myself, “In Vancouver, only? Pity!”
Since I arrived in this city I 1975 I have noticed a cultural underground that I have labeled the Petit Avant-Garde. In the 80s by word of mouth there would be Art Bergmann concerts in houses or locations in West Hastings that I knew about simply by word of mouth. These one-of events happened only for one night. They were never advertised in standard media. Perhaps it had to do with serving booze without a license or simply making a lot of noise.
I attendes such such an event last night in an unmarked location in East Vancouver not far from the former sweets refinery.
I went with my friend and music connoisseur, graphic designer, Graham Walker. We braved walking many blocks in a constant rain reminiscent of what we were going to experience when the show finally began at 10pm.
We were seated in a comfortable leather sofa. In front of us there was a jumble of electronic equipment and assorted musical instruments. On the wall there was a rumpled white sheet.
Walker and I were there to witness a performance that would be laudable anywhere else in the world. The musicians were skilled. One of them, Stefan Smulovitz, had done this sort of thing hundreds of times before. But there was an enthusiasm in his face that almost seemed fanatical.
The lights went out and Ridley Scott’s 1962 Blade Runner was projected on the sheet with subtitles. There was no film sound. There was no Vangelis soundtrack. What we had was music improvised by two musicians who had never played together before.
Stefan Smulovitz — laptop, violin, Kenaxis, various sound makers
Jeff Younger — guitar, electronics, found sounds
Smulovitz’s original career instrument has always been the viola. He originally wanted to play the trombone but his mother insisted that since his grandmother had played the streets of Stochholm with a violin that he should play a string instrument, too. The night’s performance was on that very violin.
At first I noticed the music. It was very good, not pleasant, edgy, but just right and matching the striking scenes of a film I had almost forgotten I had ever seen. After a while the improvised music was not emanating from the musicians in front of me but somehow from the film. Walker whispered in my ear, “This is really a silent film performance.”
I used to say that my proof for the nonexistence of a higher being was that Art Bergmann never became a world-famous millionaire.
Last night listening and watching an event with no parallel, all I could think was that a higher being was asleep at the wheel.
Originally published at blog.alexwaterhousehayward.com.