Thursday, January 27, 2011

Arthur Jarvinen's Birthday

Art Jarvinen's birthday was January 27. He would have been 55 this year. I once mentioned to him that he shared his birthday with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a fact which impressed me more than it did him.  More interestingly, he shared his birthday with his wife, Lynn Angebranndt.

This is a three part post.  Each part is Jarvinen-related. The first is about a concert of Art's music given recently by students at Cal Arts. The second is about a radio show featuring Art's music. You can listen to that online. Finally, I have news of an upcoming live concert performance of While You Were Art, the infamous synthesizer track Frank Zappa named after Art Jarvinen.

Arthur taught composition at Cal Arts for many years.  He was also an alumnus.  So it makes sense that Cal Arts would present one of the first concerts of his music after his death.  Last Sunday, January 23,  an ensemble of students lead by Amy Knoles performed a dozen works by Art Jarvinen.  They named their concert The Art of Art.

They framed the event with instrumental chamber music - opening with Egyptian Two-Step (which features antiphonal spray cans as part of the rhythm section) and ending with White Lights Lead to Red.   Solo pieces included The Door That Doesn't Open (for marimba and amplified heartbeat) and Carbon (for solo bass clarinet).

There was a tango setting of a poem by Charles Bukowski (Art wrote a number of tangos) plus selections from Arthur's album Edible Black Ink for guitar and bass.  And there were several of his performance pieces which Art called "physical poetry".  One of them was Pop Tarts in which the performer fires a dart gun at an airborne strawberry pop tart as it is expelled from a toaster. 

The enthusiasm and talent of the ensemble was impressive.  Some of the music is fiendishly difficult.  The less technical pieces made me reflect on how Art's own persona contributed to his music.  He was direct, focused and unwaveringly intent as a performer.  Time and again I can remember him performing his musical rituals, riveted to the task.  And, for a few moments, he could share this mental concentration with his audience.  New performers of his music have the task of finding that same concentration in future performances.

(You can read a remembrance of Art by Zona Hostetler, the mother of a colleague of Art's, Randy Hostetler, who passed away at a very young age here.  She describes a performance of Pop Tarts by Arthur himself.)

Jack Vees was a close friend of Art. They met as students at CalArts.  Last December Jack visited radio station WRIU at the University of Rhode Island and played several hours of Arthur's music on a show called Music For Internets.  Better yet, the show is archived online if you want to listen.  Here's a direct link to the audio file.  (The show begins at about three and a half minutes.)

Throughout the show Jack paints a portrait of Arthur through his personal reminiscences and by choosing two different kinds of Art's music. 

On one hand he picks chamber music - Murphy NightsThe Vulture's Garden and  Goldbeaters Skin. He also plays selections from Art's string quartet 100 Cadences which was written in memory of Art's teacher Lucky Mosko.  There are also excerpts of keyboard works including Queen of Spain (based on music by Domenico Scarlatti) and Serious Immobilities (yes, it's a 24 hour solo piano piece based on Vexations by Erik Satie).

On the other hand there are pieces by several of Art's more (or less) popular music-influenced groups.  Two hysterical tunes by The Mope (“Five Ugly Guys With No Record Interest”)  are Agent Jerry (a spy surf tune like Art's Invisible Guy series) and Drunk Poets Die Young.  Another group, Some Over History is represented Erase the Fake and Cheap Suit Tango.  And there's a cut from Art's Beatles parody: Sgt. Pekker.

Jack also throws in two cuts by Captain Beefheart whose music was a strong influence on Art.  Of course Art had far more influences than you can grasp from just a few minutes of Beefheart.  All together, the show makes a fine introduction to the music of Arthur Jarvinen.

("Blue" Gene Tyranny's review of the album Erase the Fake by Art's group Some Over History can be found here.)

Another oft-mentioned influence on Arthur Jarvinen was Frank Zappa.  Art was employed by Frank for a few years doing work similar to that which I did.  The best known moment of Art's time with Frank was the infamous While You Were Art "performance". 

That was when the California EAR Unit, including Art on marimba, pantomimed to a recorded synthesizer performance of a transcription of a live Zappa guitar solo called While You Were Out.  It was renamed While You Were Art for that occasion. The Unit did this at the "prestigious" Monday Evening Concerts and no one in the audience noticed that they hadn't actually played the piece.  An awful lot of bad feelings were generated afterwards.  Art himself, after investing much hard work to get Zappa to write a piece for the EAR Unit, keenly regretted the results.

You can read my own telling of what happened and why it was important to me personally in the While You Were Art section of Bill Lantz's monumental David Ocker Internet Interview.  Be sure to click on the white buttons marked Art's Comment! to read the amendations which Arthur added later.  Since Art didn't like talking about this episode during his lifetime, these comments are all the more valuable now.

This coming February 5th (that's a Saturday), at Pomona College there will be a live performance of While You Were Out/Art.  The electric guitarist will be Pomona music professor Joti Rockwell who will play the original guitar transcription (While You Were Out) to the accompaniment of Zappa's later commercial release of the synthesizer tracks (While You Were Art).  The version of the piece played at the Monday Evening event was later suppressed by Zappa.

Here's information about the concert.  It's part of a yearly concert series of electronic music called the Ussachevsky Memorial Festival organized by yet another Pomona prof. Tom Flaherty.  There's a flyer to download here.  (In the 1960s the ersatz college student Frank Zappa briefly studied composition with music professor Karl Kohn at Pomona College.  Kohn is still professor emeritus there.)

Joti Rockwell kindly shared his notes for the concert with me.  He discusses why this piece and the event associated with it is important for academic study.  Here's an exerpt:
By musically comparing the two versions at the historical edges (1981 and 1986), one cannot help but imagine what might have resulted had the collaboration for the 1984 concert gone more smoothly.  Reflection and examination of this sort was the hope of Art Jarvinen, the piece’s namesake, and it will perhaps lead to a better understanding of Frank Zappa, electronic music, the history of music in Los Angeles, and the meanings of contemporary music.

Art's Music Tags: . . . . . . . . .

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