Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Short Films of Kevin Kunze

Still from Metropolis (Burning Man)

In the Koret Auditorium, on Sunday, May 29, 2011 from 2-4 p.m., local independent filmmaker Kevin Kunze will present a selection of his short films and an excerpt from Id, his first feature-length film, set in San Francisco. Also of interest to San Franciscans, Kunze has created short documentaries about Muni, the closure of KUSF, and on the Garden Project. The event will include a Q&A with Kunze and with his special guest, filmmaker Kevin Epps (Straight Outta Hunters Point, 2003).

The following short films will be shown:

SAVE KUSF - a documentary about hundreds protesting the sale of the radio station KUSF

DISCONNECT (15 min.) - a documentary about cell phones & health effects made in collaboration with 07 Nobel Prize winner, Devra Davis

METROPOLIS 6 min.) - an experimental film made at Burning Man 2010

HANDS IN THE DIRT (5 min.) - a film about local gardening and land usage

MUNI MADNESS (15 min.) - a documentary about the Muni bus system

ID (10 min.) - a 10 minute excerpt from Kunze's first feature film about four friends living in an underground bunkers after society has collapsed

VORTEX CUCKOON (4 min.) - a music video set in Golden Gate Park

ELECTRIC SLEEP (2 min.) - an experimental film about dreams and death

THE BRIDGE (10 min.) - a dramatic film about old age and murder

Still from Vortex Cuckoon

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Lives of Abstract Expressionists

Beginning on Sunday, May the 29nd from 2-4 p.m. The Free University of San Francisco's School of Art will begin a new series of classes in the Latino/Hispanic Meeting Room. Instructor Alan Kaufman will teach The Lives of the Abstract Expressionists: A Historical and Critical Exploration, offering an in-depth look at the lives, loves and struggles of the pioneers of this major American art movement. The Across three sessions (May 29th, June 5th and June 12th) Kaufman will discuss Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman and Hans Hofmann.

Below is a short reading lists of books from the San Francisco Public about Abstract Expressionism and its artist.

Abstract Expressionism by David Anfam (Thames and Hudson, 1990).

Barnett Newman by Thomas B. Hess (Museum of Modern Art., 1971).

Elaine and Bill, Portrait of a Marriage: The Lives of Willem and Elaine de Kooning by Lee Hall (HarperCollins, 1993).

Hans Hofmann by Cynthia Goodman (Abbeville Press, 1986).

Jackson Pollock: A Biography by Deborah Solomon (Simon and Schuster, 1987).

Mark Rothko: A Biography by James E. B. Breslin (University of Chicago Press, 1993).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Toy Instruments

Toy Instruments: Design, Nostalgia, Music by Eric Schneider is a pictorial tribute to the mass-produced musical instruments created as play objects for children. As noted in its subtitle, nostalgia is an important element of this book achieved through the combination of current photographs of the instruments and vintage advertisements that show gleeful children playing with the instruments.

These toy instruments are marvels of industrial design -- stylized products of colored plastic, transistors and microchips. Almost all are made by toy companies instead of musical instrument manufacturers. The majority are variations on the organ or synthesizer, but there are also a variety of microphones, drums, and even guitar and violin-like objects. Many instruments are associated with cartoon characters, or television show. Some were only manufactured for foreign markets like Japan and the Soviet Union.

The oldest instrument in the book is the Eltronovox manufactured by Nucelonic -- a miniaturized two octave organ manufactured in 1954. The cut-off date for the most recent instruments shown is 1986. One of the earlier instruments that achieved a level of popularity was General Electric's "Tote-A-Tune" from 1971, shown in the following video.

Toy Instruments is primarily a visual resource. Although the author does provide the name of the product, its manufacturer and its year of manufacture, otherwise there is very little text.

While design and nostalgia are well covered by this book, there is very little discussion of music. For instance Casio's VL-Tone VL-10 from 1981 (given a four page spread in Toy Instruments) has been used by many professional musicians.

"Become an instant musician, no experience need."
source: Advertisement in Popular Science, June 1981

The letters VL in the instrument's name refers to the VLSI (or very large scale integration) technology it used. VLSI was originally developed for video games and became the basis of sound sampling. According to the Digital Sound Processing For Music and Multimedia, it “allowed companies to customize their own fast circuit designs on to a single digital chip.”

Perhaps the most notorious use of the VL-Tone was the song "Da Da Da" by Trio, with its incessant use of the instrument's pre-programmed rhythm.

Another toy instrument illustrated in Schneider's book that made its way into popular music history was Mattel's Bee Gees Rhythm Machine of 1978.

Source: Synthwise

It's featured below by Kraftwerk in a live performance of their 1981 song "Pocket Calculator."

Handmade Electronic Music by Nicholas Collins provides another avenue for musicians interested in exploring the music possibilities of toy instruments. This book provides a primer on "hardware hacking" or "circuit bending" -- the customization of the circuits and components of these simple gadgets.

In a chapter with the subheading “finding the clock circuit in toys,” Collins explains that the “majority of electronic toys manufactured since the late-1980s are essentially simple computers.” He details ways of creatively hacking into the mass produced objects to create novel and unintended sounds.

A circuit bent "Megcos Music Toy" with LFO controlling Pitch modulation and or note triggering. Source: Youtube

Reading list:

Any Sound You Can Imagine: Making Music / Consuming Technology by Paul Théberge (Wesleyan University Press; University Press of New England, 1997).

Digital Sound Processing for Music and Multimedia by Ross Kirk and Andy Hunt (Focal Press, 1999).

Handmade Electronic Music: The Art of Hardware Hacking
by Nicolas Collins (Routledge, 2009).

Strange Sounds: Offbeat Instruments and Sonic Experiments in Pop by Mark Brend (Backbeat Books, 2005).

Toy instruments: Design, Nostalgia, Music by Eric Schneider (New York : Mark Batty, 2010).

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Can a Caterpillar Be More Than Just A Caterpillar?

"Hairy Caterpillar", from the Etching and Engraving Picture File, folder: Insects, Caterpillars (original source: Cassell's Popular Natural History)

In the Art, Music & Recreation Center we have many books that explain the cultural meaning and symbolism of all things inanimate, living or imagined.

Consider the caterpillar. Perhaps the most direct and helpful source is Merriam-Webster's Visual Dictionary which both illustrates and defines the creature (a “butterfly larva having a long body and 10 feet”). It also labels and explains about the parts of the caterpillar (simple eye, head, mandible, thorax, walking let, proleg, abdominal segment, and anal clasper).

According to the Dictionary of Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Traditional Images, Icons, and Emblems, the caterpillar is said to represent the “lowly” and the “unformed.” This work correlates the caterpillar both with the Hindu belief in the transmigration of souls and with a Native American view of the creature as a “metaphor for sexual awakening.”

Symbols; Our Universal Language describes the caterpillar as symbolic of life, as “one stage of the development of a butterfly.” The Bestiary of Christ cites a 5th century pope who compared Christ with a worm because he was resurrected (“Vermis quia resurrexit”), his “broken body” transformed into a “glorious body” (the butterfly), thus the caterpillar came to represent the body of Christ and the Christian. This belief is further illustrated by a Merovingian gold ring from the 6th or 7th century with caterpillars on two sides and a fish in the center.
Source: Mémoires, Volume 4 by the Société archéologique de Montpellier

The Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art similarly notes the progression from caterpillar and chrysalis to butterfly, connecting it to allegorical Vanitas still-life paintings. In an earlier book, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art, Hall writes that these paintings “signify not merely the insect life-cycle but the stages of man’s earthly life, death and resurrection.

Detail from "Vase of Flowers" [Bloemstuk met slaapbol en peulen] Jan Davidsz de Heem, source: Webmuseum (photograph by Carol Gerten-Jackson)

The discussion of "Vase of Flowers" by de Heem from the National Gallery of Art's website highlights with "the white poppy at the top, a caterpillar and butterfly evoke the idea of rebirth from a cocoon or tomb." (The small black caterpillar is visible on the stem just below the white blossom).

The meaning of the caterpillar is also considered in The Tattoo Encyclopedia: A Guide to Choosing Your Tattoo. The author also places the caterpillar within the framework of the life cycle, noting that while “crawling creatures are sometimes feared … the caterpillar offers something both visually and symbolically attractive in terms of life change.” This encyclopedia also has an entry for a “caterpillar with a hookah” -- a reference to Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland that for the author symbolizes a relaxed experience, and the possibility of a hallucinatory narcotic.

Illustration by John Tenniel from Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland Site

The silkworm is perhaps the most exalted caterpillar. Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs describes the silkworm as “an emblem of industry.” The Way of the Brush; Painting Techniques of China and Japan similarly notes the diligence of this creature. Finally the Chinese artist Zhang Shuqi in Painting in the Chinese Manner compares the silkworm with the Chinese painters. As “the silkworm feeds upon mulberry leaves, and after due process of digestion changes this material into silk; in similar fashion, the artist calls from memory material absorbed through keen study of the world about him.”

From Symbols: Signs and Their Meaning and Uses in Design we learn about the Caterpillar Club - an informal organization comprising those who have escaped from a crashing airplane by parachute. The groups name is an homage to the silkworm that spun the silk that made the parachute.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps it is in a Tin Pan Alley era song where we can finally come to know the caterpillar. Dixie Willson's lyrics imagine the caterpillar as one who dreams dreams “that magic’ly come true” - “A caterpillar dreams himself / Right out of all his fuzz / And into lovely fairy wings” ("The Caterpillar," music by Victor Young.


Bestiary of Christ by Louis Charbonneau-Lassay (Parabola Books, 1991).

"The Caterpillar, or, Winged Dreams," words by Dixie Willson ; music by Victor Young (Hinds, Hayden & Eldredge, 1924).

Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs: An Alphabetical Compendium of Antique Legends and Beliefs, As Reflected in the Manners and Customs of the Chinese by C.A.S. Williams (C.E. Tuttle Co., 1988).

Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art by James Hall (Harper & Row, 1974).

Dictionary of Symbols: An Illustrated Guide to Traditional Images, Icons, and Emblems by Jack Tresidder (Chronicle Books, 1998).

Illustrated Dictionary of Symbols in Eastern and Western Art by James Hall (IconEditions, 1994).

Jan Davidsz de Heem en Zijn Kring by Sam Segal (SDU, 1991).

Merriam-Webster's Visual Dictionary by Jean-Claude Corbeil and Ariane Archambault (Merriam-Webster, 2006).

Painting in the Chinese Manner by Zhang Shuqi (Viking Press, 1960).

Symbols; Our Univeral Language by Eva C. Hangen (McCormick-Armstrong, 1962).

Symbols: Signs and their Meaning and Uses in Design by Arnold Whittick, 2nd edition (1971).

The Tattoo Encyclopedia: A Guide to Choosing Your Tattoo by Terisa Green (Simon & Schuster, 2003).

The Way of the Brush; Painting Techniques of China and Japan by Fritz van Briessen (C.E. Tuttle Co., 1962)