Terry Riley

Bruce Conner Loves Sound (Part Four)

A still from “Crossroads” (1976)

Go for the films! Notice his use of Rock and Roll of all kinds. “Three Screens Ray” (2006) is a film triptych which pulses with love, death, desire, silliness and light. A live version of Ray Charles’ “What I Say” accompanies the film and echos through the exhibition by the comings and goings of slightly embarrassed museum goers. It is the most overtly sexual film in the retrospective. After watching, the music “bleeding into” the gallery is a constant, musical reminder of the big ideas in Conner’s head.

“Looking for Mushrooms” had many iterations, but the one shown here is from 1996. Again, the music is by Terry Riley. The footage is in color and was shot mostly in Mexico by Conner. One of the versions of the film included a song by the Beatles “Tomorrow Never Knows”. I think you can see the affinity between the images and music in both versions. The gallery notes mention a cameo by psychedelic guru Timothy Leary. It is a beautiful film to experience. Even with the galleries outside crowded with Sunday morning museum visitors, I shared the experience with only one other viewer.

It’s hard to believe the seven minute musical portrait of the beautiful Toni Basil “Breakaway” (1966) was made in the 60’s and not a few weeks ago at the House of Yes in Bushwick.  To accompany the movie, he plays her song Breakaway forward, completely, and then backwards, completely. The transition is a light touch after a fade out. The beat -unlessened- goes on, and the intensity of the images grows for this film portrait.

Personal energy is the subject of “Breakaway” and an equally powerful energy is the subject of “Crossroads”(1976).

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The flickering film shows the same 1946 Pacific ocean nuclear test over and over filmed from many different positions by military planes and warships. As if Conner had chosen the location himself, the test was performed with a wink over the shoulder in the Bikini Atoll. The film has music by Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley, but it is the sound which caught my attention. The rumble of destruction sometimes begins with the image of the explosion. Sometimes the sound continues as the explosion begins again.

Again and again, Bruce says:

Behold what we have done.

Behold the power,

the cacophony,

and the fury.

The navy ships

that won the great war

bob

like driftwood

In a timid circle.

We –

great and small.

 

Behold the image on the screen

as the film rat-a-tats through the machine.

Isn’t it awful!

Isn’t it amazing!

Our nature-

best and worst.

 

This is the final post of many about this exhibition. Please go! At MoMA until October 2nd.

Bruce Conner Loves Sound (Part III)

A  stolen frame from “Looking for Mushrooms” by Bruce Conner

Conner photographed the San Francisco punk scene of the late seventies- a micro scene really- and the resulting photographs and collages hang out in the gallery just outside of the showing of his film “Crossroads”. He went to hear the not-yet-famous Devo at the Mabuhay Gardens club at the suggestion of Toni Basil (whose energy and person is the subject of “Breakaway”). For a few years, that place became his bar, the bands and crowds his people while punk sparked and smoked. Oddly quiet is this noisy scene.  He probably saw his younger self in these young musicians. His early melting sculptures and collages are as punk as any baby-pinned cheek or torn nylons.  He never seems to slip into the punk aural aesthetic entirely, but he did make a music video of Devo’s Mongoloid (1978) during this period.

About twenty years later, using some of these pictures in collage, he eulogises the same men whose angry, destructive lives brought them to early deaths.

Always in the thick of things, Conner continued making music videos in the early 1980’s. As much a collaborator as collage maker, he made collage videos with the art-rock dream duo of Brian Eno and David Byrne. He pairs the pairs’ sound collage songs with images that flicker and dot with retro found funkiness. The videos don’t add to the music or detract from it, either. The sound is the hum of the box and the video is the embellishment on screen. Three black boxes wait the museum-goer on the first floor in front of the elevators which rise to the main exhibition hall. Give them a listen. Mongoloid is there. I liked Mea Culpa which is in the middle.

 

“Easter Morning” (1966/2008) is a meditation on love and resurrection. Placed at the end of the show, it clangs with the music of fellow bay-area legend Terry Riley. The music used is Riley’s “In C” which plays with a simple chord and leaves the when and where up to the individual musicians. The changing sameness of the strange soundtrack is emphasized by the use of traditional Chinese instruments instead of western instruments. The color film begins with flowers, crosses and spots of light and leads to a naked woman sitting demurely on the floor bathed in Van Eyck sunlight.

This is the third post of many about this exhibition. Please go! At MoMA until October 2nd.