Marcus Fischer

Now Hear This: September edition

Rock lifers and PDX Pop, vintage country and moody drones, urgent hip-hop and more

By ROBERT HAM

Now Hear This is a monthly column that scours the pages of music distributor Bandcamp, looking for new work from local artists that would make fine additions to your digital library. This time around, that includes some new tunes from rock lifers, a pair of diverse and dynamic compilations, and urgent hip-hop–just in time for Bandcamp’s next Fee Free First Friday.

Pete Krebs, All My Friends Are Ghosts

Singer-songwriter Pete Krebs is one of Portland’s most beloved musical sons, carving out a unique niche that has allowed him to explore everything from gypsy jazz to vintage country. On his latest album, he leans toward the latter with a lived-in collection of tunes exploring life’s ephemerality, the joy found in nature, and other simple pleasures. For someone who hasn’t released an album under his own name in nearly two decades, Krebs sounds like he hasn’t lost a step.

Various Artists, PDX Pop Now! Vol. 17

In a better world, Portland’s music lovers would have capped off the summer with PDX Pop Now!–the free, all ages festival that has been a fixture of the city’s concert calendar since 2004. The event couldn’t take place this year, but the team behind it has still graced our ears with a new double-CD compilation of fine local music. As ever, the latest installment runs the gamut from hip-hop (Eastern Sunz, The Dutchess), future pop (Jan Julius, Courtney Noe), heavy rock (Mane of the Cur, Mare), and a ton of indie rock. For a quick temperature check on the state of Portland music ca. 2020, you can do no better than this. 

Death Parade, lost in her eyes

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Safe Distance Sounds, Part 2: Chamber terroir

Recent recordings by Oregon composers offer sonic solace in troubled times

With live performances temporarily out of the picture, I’ve been fulfilling my jones for homegrown sounds by listening to recent releases from Oregon-based or -born musicians that caught my ear. Many listed below offer atmospheric, even ambient sounds that offer a kind of sonic solace in a turbulent  time. With so many spring and summer concerts and festivals canceled or postponed, this roundup offers a chance to continue exploring Oregon sounds remotely. Most of this music is available to sample in whole or in part online; click the links. 

It’s also a chance to sustain Oregon musicians. Time was when recordings were the end, and touring the means to sell them. This century’s shift to online content has reversed that formula, as most musicians use recordings (usually found free or cheap online) to entice fans to pay for tickets to their live performances. And with the latter now suspended, that puts musicians in a pickle, and shifts the focus back to their recorded artifacts. 

We’re looking here primarily at music available on CD or through paid downloads, though you can often listen to many of those listed here for free at least once. If you like what you hear, buy the music from the artists themselves or their record companies, which right now is even more important to sustaining their music making ability. On the first Fridays of June, and July, in fact, the streaming platform Bandcamp, home of several of the recordings below, is again waiving its fee, meaning that the Oregon artists whose music you buy there on those days will receive every penny of your purchase price.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Look before you leap day

A weekend of concerts and a Portland Weird undectet

Fry Day

As usual, we’d like to start by bringing you last minute news of a few shows happening tonight, tonight, tonight. As you read this, Mike Dillon and Band are packing up their road bags, leaving Eugene (where they played at Whirled Pies last night), and trekking up I-5 to Portland, where they’ll head straight down to the Jack London Revue subterraenan social club for an evening of what we can only call “gonzo punk jazz.”

See, from a technique perspective these dudes are all basically just avant-garde jazz musicians (bandleader Dillon is in wide demand as a vibraphonist and all-around killer percussionist), but–like so many others over this last half-century of escalating strangeness–they’ve found the grittiest, truest expression of both “avant-garde” and “jazz” not in the relatively staid traditional world of characters like Henry Threadgill and Branford Marsalis (who are, of course, total badasses and not to be trifled with except for purposes of this strained comparison), but instead have seen the true face of “jazz” and “avant-garde” in the wooly realm of punk, metal, and other folk musicks of the rough and ragged variety. If that’s your bag, dear reader, get on it!

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VizArts Monthly: Antidotes for anxiety

Martha Daghlian's round-up of shows to see this November

According to some scientific research, viewing art can help alleviate anxiety and stress. With the news of various scandals, catastrophes, and political gridlock rolling in daily, who couldn’t use a bit of stress relief? But November’s art offerings are more than just a pretty escape. These shows contain visions of a more peaceful world, radical calls for action, reclamations of discarded materials, and sensitive reconsiderations of collective and personal histories. Some are subtle and meditative while others embrace dissonance and forcefulness. A few galleries will also present artist talks or performances on opening nights, which are great ways to soak up some positive art-community vibes. Seeing some (or all) of these shows could make it easier to brave the craziness of our times, and may result in feelings of profound inspiration and motivation. 

Intricate ink drawing of women dressed in patterned gowns with masks and crowns, walking around trees and houses, in black and white with pale blue and gold accents.
Erika Rier, Pageant (photo courtesy Wolff Gallery)

Erika Rier: Pageant
November 1 -December 22
Wolff Gallery
2804 SE Ankeny Ave

Wolff Gallery is closing out the year, and sadly closing for good, with a show from “folk surrealist” Erika Rier. These charming ink drawings feature intricate patterns and baroque compositions whose central subjects, “an army of womxn,” march together in Medieval and Renaissance inspired ceremonies. Rier was a writer before she shifted her focus to visual art, a fact that her illustrative style makes apparent. Wolff Gallery has been showing the work of emerging Portland artists since 2015 and their focus on women artists and underrepresented groups has been a valuable addition to the arts scene. Don’t miss this chance to visit the gallery one last time before it’s gone. 

Impressionistic oil painting of mustard yellow factory building with red train cars in front and green water tower in background, with bright blue sky and trees.
Bill Sharp, Centennial Mills with Train (photo courtesy Waterstone Gallery)

Bill Sharp: Sacred Spaces
November 5 – December 1
Waterstone Gallery
124 NW 9th Ave

Waterstone Gallery debuts work by their newest member, Bill Sharp, this November in a show of contemplative cityscapes in oils. Sharp’s fractured brushwork and saturated colors bring unexpected drama to otherwise quotidian scenes, and reflect his interest in the writings of Beat poet Alan Ginsberg as well as his own search for existential validation in the beauty of the everyday.

Sections of white cloth firehose with black ends, layered and gathered in a bow-shaped formation, mounted on gallery wall.
Brenda Mallory, Firehose Experiment #3 (photo courtesy Upfor Gallery)

Brenda Mallory: Gather Back
November 6 – December 21
Upfor Gallery
929 NW Flanders St

Brenda Mallory (Cherokee Nation) presents works created during residencies at Bullseye Glass and Sitka Center for the Arts in her first solo show at Upfor. Mallory’s low-relief compositions could be viewed as either paintings or sculptures, and recall the work of Postminimalists like Eva Hesse. But Mallory goes beyond the purely formal, using found and reclaimed materials in complex processes of destruction, recreation, and repetition to invoke larger patterns of natural and social order and upheaval. The results blur the boundary between organic and synthetic, coaxing rich textures and delicate patterns from unexpected elements. 

Painting in orange and black gouache on off-white paper of newspaper-print sweater design, rendered in tiny dots in a large grid; design reads "newspaper" and "stop war", and contains images of broken bombs adorned with peace signs.
Ellen Lesperance, Stop War 1st Priority, (photo courtesy Adams and Ollman)

Ellen Lesperance: Flowers Wrapped in Newspaper
November 7 – December 21
Adams and Ollman
418 NW 9th Ave

Adams and Ollman’s second exhibition at its new location on the North Park Blocks is a solo show of new paintings and sculpture by Ellen Lesperance. Lesperance is a local artist who has gained international acclaim over the past few years for her gouache-on-paper representations of sweaters worn by second-wave feminist activists. Here she expands upon her repertoire with a number of paintings that depict a unique garment worn by a participant in the Berkshire, England Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp (1981-1999). The original sweater played with the format of newspaper headlines to convey a radical message in yarn, complete with columns of knitted “text” and photos in an imitation of a broadsheet’s front-page layout. Lesperance’s versions translate the stitches of handmade garments into gridded maps of their construction with each dot of color standing in for a knit or purl. The symbolic clash between the traditionally gendered realms of public speech and domestic life encapsulated within the sweater’s design becomes iconic in the artist’s reverent documentations. 

Can of FOCO brand soursop juice with a lit pink tallow candle emerging from the top, on a gallery shelf.
manuel arturo abreu, Herramienta (image courtesy the artist and AA|LA Gallery)

Not Total
November 8 – December 14
Paragon Arts Gallery at PCC Cascade
815 N Killingsworth St

The three artists featured in Not Total are truly radical in their practices – not only do they offer uncompromising analyses of historical narratives and singular visions of future existence, but their work often takes forms that defy easy description within the existing contexts of contemporary art. Rindon Johnson is a multidisciplinary artist who has made videos, VR experiences, and sculptures from cowhide, Vaseline, and mold among other unconventional materials. Jonathan Gonzalez’s improvisational and collaborative choreography aims to bridge the distances between disciplines. manuel arturo abreu tackles the causes and symptoms of systemic injustice using found objects in their sculptures and contemporary art pedagogy in their art-education program called home school. All this may sound like a recipe for a densely intellectual exhibition, and it most likely will be, but judging by the artists’ previous work, it will also be beautiful and deeply poetic. Not Total continues Paragon Arts’ run of fantastic shows by some of Portland’s most exciting emerging artists and curators and should not be missed.

Close-up photograph of scruffy dog's face in profile, looking up as if at trainer.
Sari Carel, Iris (image courtesy Melanie Flood Projects)

Sari Carel: The Coyote Afterschool Program
November 15 – December 21
Melanie Flood Projects
420 SW Washington, #301

This month Melanie Flood presents Israel-born, Brooklyn-based artist Sari Carel’s welcome rethinking of Joseph Beuys’ infamous 1974 work, I Like America and America Likes Me, in which Beuys spent several days locked in a New York gallery with a wild coyote, protected by little more than a blanket and a stick. Carel combines a feminist lens with her own experience as a force-free dog trainer in her video with canine collaborator Iris. The artist will also discuss the project in a talk at c3:initiative on November 14. The pair proceed through a series of actions linked to the lines of a poem, their partnership a counterpoint to the “masculine” mastery over “feminine” nature implied by the original performance. The conceptual underpinnings of the Coyote Afterschool Program seem especially poignant in light of what we now know about the consequences of anthropocentrism.

Photograph of artist performing in gallery, sitting on floor, emerging from cushioned fabric sculpture made of light and dark purple fabrics and yarn that match the artist's dress.
Amanda Triplett performing (photo courtesy Gallery 1122)

Amanda Triplett: Body Is
November 15 – through December
1122 Gallery
1122 SE 88th Ave

Portland artist Amanda Triplett stitches, folds, and twists fabric into fleshy sculptural objects that resonate in their simultaneous resemblances to what makes up our insides and what we put on our outsides. Her installation and performance works have taken that uncanniness further, as she “molts” her own wearable textile creations in front of her audience. Triplett brings her biologically-inspired fiber art to Montavilla’s 1122 Gallery this November in her second solo exhibition in Portland. 

Photo of artist during performance, looking at viewer from behind wood decorated with  scrap of silver metallic netting and pink yarn, with turquoise squares projected over all.
Performance by curator Vinh Pham (photo courtesy Erickson Gallery)

Curio
November 8 – December 20
Erickson Gallery
9 NW 2nd Ave

This multimedia group show features six artists from the local group blacksheepcollective, with works in video, performance, installation, and various other media. The exhibition was curated by Safiyah Maurice and Vinh Pham, members of the Portland State University Artists of Color Collective, and although there are few details as of yet regarding the works on display, it is likely they will be experimental, possibly challenging, and definitely worth seeing. Make sure to catch performances by Olivia Pace and Christian Orellana Bauer at the opening reception, Friday November 8 from 6-8pm. 

Four photographs of parts of a sound art installation: small speakers placed on gallery floor with seedpods inside them, speakers and cassette tape loops hanging on gallery wall, half circles of gray patterned material, a small speaker on a plinth with seed pods inside and a glass cover on top.
Marcus Fischer (photo courtesy Sou’Wester Arts)

Marcus Fischer: Shore/Lines
November 8 – January 12
Sou’Wester Art Trailer Gallery
3728 J Place
Seaview, WA

Although Marcus Fischer’s Shore/Lines isn’t strictly visual art, nor is it technically in Oregon, it still merits a spot on this list thanks to the Sou’Wester Lodge’s intimate connections and valuable contributions to the Portland art scene. Just over the state line from Astoria, Seaview is a sleepy beach town that has become a haven for artists from all over the Pacific Northwest, but Portlanders in particular have been a large factor in building the hip resort’s reputation as a creative retreat. The lodge established a nonprofit organization, dubbed Sou’Wester Arts, in 2017 and now operates a tiny gallery housed in a vintage trailer. This winter’s exhibit features Portland installation artist Marcus Fischer, whose work has been shown around the country (including at the 2019 Whitney Biennial and at Portland’s own Variform Gallery). Fisher creates haunting sound environments from cassette tape loops and unconventional musical sources.  But his work is sculptural as much as it is sonic, and watching the delicate filaments of magnetic tape traverse their elaborate course throughout the room can be a hypnotic experience. 

TBA report: aggressive whimsey, meditative chaos, kinetic violin

Martha Daghlian reviews performances by Laura Ortman, Takashi Makino, and Asher Hartman and Gawdafful National Theater

PICA’s Time Based Art Festival (TBA) was held at locations around Portland from September 5th through 15th. The festival brings together a diverse roster of artists and performances. Martha Daghlian reviews three notable offerings.

by MARTHA DAGHLIAN

Laura Ortman (with Marcus Fischer and Raven Chacon)
Lincoln Hall
1620 SW Park Ave
September 6 & 7

Brooklyn-based violinist Laura Ortman (White Mountain Apache) brought her intense experimental style to Lincoln Hall in two performances for the 2019 TBA festival. Ortman was accompanied by Portland artist Marcus Fischer and by her frequent collaborator Raven Chacon (Diné) of New Mexico. A prominent figure in experimental and Native music scenes, Ortman has been developing her unique sound for decades but has recently garnered international acclaim for her video “My Soul Remainer” which was included in this year’s Whitney Biennial (In fact, all three performers were featured artists in the Biennial; Ortman and Fischer as solo artists and Chacon as part of the arts collective Postcommodity.)

Laura Ortman. Courtesy of PICA.

Saturday night’s set began with the dim stage backlit by blazing red light and the slowly building buzz and rumble of looped and distorted guitar and synthesizer. Ortman commenced the evening by uttering a few garbled proclamations into a loudspeaker that sounded like the muffled, staticky voices of a radio station just out of range. 

From then on, Ortman danced around the stage tirelessly, accenting her playing with dramatic lunges and sidesteps. She moved almost frantically at times but maintained a sense of deep focus even in her freneticism. She scribbled away at her instrument as though trying to set it on fire by friction and at one point carried this sentiment to an extreme when she scraped an alternate violin against a mic’d-up panel of wood covered in sandpaper. The sound was nearly unbearable. Then, finally, she picked up the board and knocked it on the stage to release a small pile of sawdust. She tapped and thumped her instrument like a bizarre drum and used a wooden whistle to evoke the tones of a train, a bird, or an idle human. Her playing veered from screeching to cinematic to sweetly melodic, driven by her insistent kinetic energy. 

Accompanying Ortman’s forceful performance were Fischer and Chacon’s heavy (and heavily distorted) guitar/synth/tape loop combo, which, though compelling in their own right, at times threatened to completely obscure the headlining artist’s efforts. In contrast to much of Ortman’s recorded music, which allows the listener to hear every affecting nuance and note she plays, the show at Lincoln Hall was dominated by the monolithic dronescape that continued almost unbroken for the full 90 minutes. Ortman’s violin was like a small bird flying through a hurricane, variously engulfed by clouds and shoved to and fro by the wind. Whether this was a conscious decision within the three performers’ collaborative process or the result of the way the venue’s sound was mixed, it was hard to dismiss the possibility that listeners might be missing out on a certain level of sonic detail. The wall-of-noise effect became slightly monotonous after a certain point, making the moments when Ortman took over feel all the more exquisite.


Memento Stella, Takashi Makino
OMSI
1945 SE Water Ave
September 14 & 15

Memento Stella, according to Japanese filmmaker Takashi Makino, means “remember we are stars.” It is also the title of his most recent work which TBA screened at OMSI’s Empirical Theater over the weekend. Makino’s work is decidedly abstract and has evolved from Stan Brakhage-style direct film manipulation in his early career to his current mode of intricately layered digital footage and lens effects that create wildly flickering hypnotic textures on the screen. Memento Stella is his longest film to date with a run time of 60 minutes. For the Sunday evening showing I attended, the artist was present to perform a live soundtrack on synthesizer. The piece was composed by Reinier van Houdt, who also performed at Saturday’s screening. 

Takashi Makino
Takashi Makino. Courtesy of PICA.

The audience was warned at the outset that although we might recognize specific images, the idea was to relax into the visual chaos and let our minds drift free from representation or narrative. The film began with tiny twinkling shards of light on a black background that resembled a more lively version of television static or perhaps stars moving at warp speed or a cloud of agitated dust particles viewed in raking light. We weren’t supposed to worry about making visual associations but I couldn’t help myself. It took some time to fully settle in and stop trying to make sense of what we were seeing (was that water? It had to be water!) but eventually the vast field of vibrating, swirling forms and particles began to feel absorbing and meditative. Tiny patterns and broad motions clashed and harmonized in turn. The experience was akin to the start of a psychedelic trip or the moment you fall asleep, only to be suddenly startled awake. Makino’s live performance of van Houdt’s soundtrack was also ambient, but its composition contained subtle peaks and valleys that prevented the sonic fatigue that can accompany noise music. 

At certain moments the total immersion became nearly overwhelming and a sort of existential dread crept in to the point that I actually felt afraid for a moment. After the show, other audience members reported having similar feelings of anxiety or foreboding and we all agreed that we felt a bit altered. It was as though we had all had a strange dream together. Maybe the experience wasn’t always relaxing, but it was powerful and unique, and isn’t that what art is supposed to be?


The Dope Elf (Asher Hartman and the Gawdafful National Theater)
Yale Union
800 SE 10th Ave
Additional Performances: September 20, 21 & 22; October 11, 12 & 13; October 18, 19 & 20
Doors open 7:30 PM / Showtime 8:00 PM

The Dope Elf, the latest production of Los Angeles artist Asher Hartman’s excellent Gawdafful National Theater Company, kicked off its month-long run at Yale Union during TBA’s second weekend. It stands out as one of the weirder and more exciting works featured in this year’s festival. Hartman and his crew have transformed Yale Union into a fey sort of “trailer park” in which handmade, treehouse-like structures and repurposed garbage/sculpture hybrids are scattered throughout the cavernous gallery. The company are artists-in-residence in the literal sense – they have been living on set since the production began and will continue to do so through the final performance on October 20. The Dope Elf is a three-part show that unfolds over three consecutive evenings each weekend of the run; I saw what was described as a modified version of Play 1 in a media preview performance. (A 24-hour live stream can be found on the gallery’s website.) Before the show started, Hartman addressed the audience. He explained that the players would be moving around the gallery throughout the evening, and that he would lead us to the next location after each scene. This roving action resulted in a rather fluid barrier between performer and viewer that was fun and kept everyone alert as we tried to avoid inadvertently stumbling into the spotlight.

The Dope Elf publicity image
The Dope Elf publicity image. Courtesy of PICA.

The show began when Michael Bonnabel jumped onto a platform surrounded by faux arcade game consoles made from cardboard boxes (including “Street Frighter” and “Donkey Dong”) and tore into an acidic monologue about a pretentious fellow referred to as “the actor.” Slowly it became apparent that the actor in question was Bonnabel himself – or the character he was playing – which was our first indication of the multiple layers of meaning and identity contained within this rowdy performance. 

The next scene found Bonnabel sitting in one half of a two-bedroom shanty, engaged in a petty domestic squabble with John (played by Philip Littell). From there, the energetic cast transformed themselves into trolls, wolves, aunties, actors, depressed trailer-park residents, concerned family members, and death itself. Zut Lors gave a brief but standout performance as Gingy, a trailer-park troll. Lors is a gifted physical comedian whose facial expressions and excellent timing were genuinely funny, which can be hard to come by in contemporary performance art. She reappeared later as one half of a couple (or siblings? roommates?) opposite Joe Seely and was compelling even in that more subdued role, relaxed in her lines and her movements. 

Although there was a superficial gloss of wacky humor throughout (particularly in the instance of Gingy’s deranged stand-up routine), the underlying tone was one of deep metaphysical disturbances. The wretchedness reached a nadir in a scene in which Bonnabel (perhaps playing Michael, the actor) holds another man (played by Paul Outlaw) hostage in his bedroom, commanding him to remove and replace articles of clothing, psychotically singing love songs to him while mimicking sexual acts, and threatening to tape his mouth shut before the scene fades out. From my vantage point, I was able to see Bonnabel discreetly remove a length of rope and a set of kitchen knives from a duffle bag at the start of the scene (not everyone would have seen this, I just happened to be standing directly behind the actor), and as a result I spent the entire scene worried that we were about to witness a gruesome fictional murder. To my relief, the action never devolved into that sort of spectacle, but that doesn’t mean the audience was spared any discomfort. 

And then there was the titular Dope Elf, played with aggressive whimsy by Jacqueline Wright. The Elf described itself as “a system” whose DNA test results read zero and who seemed to veer from victim to monster to average-joe within the space of a few wild run-on sentences. Within Hartman’s creation, the Dope Elf’s particular brand of “magic” represents the systems and disguises of white supremacy that delude and torture the rest of the characters in the play. The Elf’s confounding lack of identity evokes the supposedly neutral status of whiteness both in racial terms and in the rarefied space of contemporary art, where the white cube of the gallery bestows institutional legitimacy upon its contents. 

Jacqueline Wright as the Dope Elf. Courtesy of PICA.

The Elf made several bizarre appearances throughout the performance, but her final monologue was truly memorable. In a tirade of convoluted and vulgar poetic logic, the Dope Elf managed to communicate the theoretical gist of the work – that living within systems of violence and power leaves people with what Yale Union curator Dena Beard describes as “strangled desire, residual fear, and rage.” The split personalities of the show’s actors were suddenly revealed as reflections of unstable identities locked in a struggle for power, whether magical or political. With that, the spell was lifted and the members of the Gawdafful National Theater Company stepped onto the stage and took a bow. 

Martha Daghlian is a Portland-based visual artist and arts writer. She is the creator of the Grapefruit Juice Artist Resource Guide, a Portland arts directory. More information and work can be found at marthadaghlian.com