Wednesday, August 29, 2012


The J-Pop Summit Festival, celebrating Japanese Popular Culture in all its manifestations, is one of the oddest annual events in San Francisco. Much of the amusement seems to involve dressing up in "criminally cute" clothing, according to Axel Feldheim, as can be seen by the waif above in the New People store across from Japantown.

On Saturday night, I joined my adventurous friend Kimo Crossman who had an extra ticket to the Vocalekt Visions Vocaloid Concert, which involved green glow sticks handed out at the door, a first act with live dancers dressed as favorite anime characters, and a second act 3D holographic projected concert of various skinny animated female characters such as Hatsune Miku above singing their hits. Though Kimo is no spring chicken himself, I was positively ancient compared to everyone else in the small New People basement screening room, which was okay. I spent most of the time watching a cute blonde boy sitting next to us who knew all the Japanese lyrics to the songs by heart, and followed his glow stick swaying lead. It was very amusing, though the music itself sounded like Alvin and the Chipmunks Go to a Rave.

Sunday afternoon a Japanese Reality TV show host above was trying to keep up a bilingual patter in Peace Plaza, but it was easy to see that he was more comfortable with Japanese. In fact, he admitted that it was just about impossible for him to pronounce "Reality TV" in English, and he was right.

I didn't linger, because a new job was starting in the Financial District on Monday, so it was on to a rich people's thrift store for some Business Casual costumes on Upper Fillmore Street. The afternoon couldn't have been lovelier.

Monday, August 27, 2012


The Van Ness Muni bus going south Sunday afternoon at about 3PM slowed to a standstill, so we jumped off and walked. At the corner of Eddy Street, we saw the problem.

It often feels like we are living in the middle of the J.G. Ballard novel / David Cronenberg movie, Crash.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Electric Works Plugs In at New Location

Rent was hiked on Electric Works, a fine arts print shop and gallery in a beautiful old industrial building on 8th and Mission, so the owners were recently forced to move. This leaves an abandoned building in the neighborhood that is already receiving public notices from the city about graffiti, which has sprouted on empty walls and windows.

The new location is a couple of blocks away on 1360 Mission Street between 9th and 10th Streets, with a spooky, beautiful Katherine Westerhout print in the front window, Grossingers Pool, Catskills I.

On Saturday evening, there was a Housewarming Group Show that featured a couple of great prints/paintings from 2001 by Enrique Chagoya, including Dream above and Jim Star of the Border Patrol below.

If there were an extra $12,000 lying around, I know what pieces would be hanging on my wall.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Shamanism at the Asian

The extremely gifted Korean dancer-percussionist-singer Dohee Lee joined with a few friends for a shamanistic ritual at the Asian Art Museum on Thursday evening.

The scheduled piece, Mago, was performed in the second floor Samsung Hall at 8PM, but Lee started earlier in the evening in the North Lobby with a silent dance that complemented the black masking tape installation by Sun K. Kwak.

Later, at the other end of the lobby, she was joined by two musician friends, Adria Otte (center) and Suki O'Kane (right), and the trio played along with the mechanical ghost army created by Indonesian artist Jompot.

Also in the lobby was another friend of Lee's, the artist Sohyung Choi above, who was encouraging patrons to select postcard photos and to glue them on posterboard to create an instant mask for the evening's interactive ritual.

I was with a cranky partner who wanted to go home and watch the San Francisco Giants game, so we didn't stay for the main event in the Samsung room though I did make an amusing mask with Choi's assistance. It's probably for the best that we didn't stay since we probably would have invoked malevolent demons, but according to a friend's account, I missed an extraordinary performance. Her account is below.

"I'm not usually a fan of performance art because it always seems so self-aggrandizing, but last night I think I finally saw something absolutely brilliant. Dohee Lee invoked the traditional movements of Korean dance and drumming, infusing it with electronic music and western cymbals to create a full sensory experience that transported me and the audience into another dimension. Her dance movements channeled the power of Korean shamans, sometimes seeming otherworldly, and her voice was reminiscent of the Sufi singer Nusrat, one of the greatest vocalists of all time. (Photo above is by Pak Han and the photo below is by Jennifer Yin.)

Lee performed continuously for an hour, playing instruments, dancing, singing, and beckoning the audience to join her. The juxtaposition of thunderous drumming with quieter, spirited singing created a range of emotions so vast that it seemed I saw my entire life pass before my eyes. Maybe it was death. Maybe I did go to the other side for a moment."

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Merola Grand Finale 2012

The Merola Opera Program's summer training of young professionals came to an end on Saturday evening with their annual Grand Finale, which involves standing, singing and sometimes acting out various Arias and Scenes from operas that have nothing to do with each other. This summer's crop of singers was unusually strong overall, with a couple of star standouts in soprano Jennifer Cherest and tenor Chuanyue Wang. (All photos in this post are by Kristen Loken.)

In fact, all the tenors in this year's program were very good, including Andrew Stenson, Theo Lebow, AJ Glueckert, Yi Li, Casey Candebat, and Joshua Baum (above left, with Seth Mease Carico and Gordon Bintner in an amusingly staged trio from Rossini's L'Italiana in Algeri.)

The conducting by the Philharmonia Baroque's Nicholas McGegan of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra was all over the place, sometimes superb and occasionally running off the tracks. The same can be said for the stage direction by apprentice stage director Jennifer Williams. Most of the acting was great, such as the lascivious duet between Rose Sawvel as Eurydice and Joseph Lattanzi as Jupiter, above, in a scene from Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld. Other scenes, like a chunk from Britten's The Rape of Lucretia, didn't fare as well.

If there was any serious criticism to be made of the evening, it was the physical production itself. They used a huge wall backdrop with handholds on it from the upcoming Moby Dick production this fall, which served as an acoustically friendly backdrop for the singers. The problem was that the lighting was godawful, with the singers wandering in and out of visibility all evening.

There was also a single, piercingly annoying ghost light in the middle of the stage all evening (it's being hugged above by tenor Andrew Stenson during an aria from The Merry Widow). The only other props were some overturned chairs and an overturned divan. This is the third Merola production in the last year where I have seen overturned furniture as part of the concept, and I still don't get it. When an upstage chair was picked up and sat on properly by one of the singers an hour into the evening, a gentleman behind me muttered, "It's about time."

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Carmina Burana at Davies Hall

The San Francisco Choral Society, a large amateur chorus that sings with professional orchestras and soloists, performed a couple of nearly sold-out performances at Davies Hall this weekend of Carl Orff's crowd-pleasing "dramatic cantata" Carmina Burana.

The orchestra was a 50-plus-member ensemble called the California Chamber Symphony, and though there were a few rocky patches during Friday evening's performance, it didn't matter. They gave a lively, better than average performance that supported all the singers nicely.

The first half of the evening started with a dull snoozefest commissioned by the Choral Society in 2005 called Songs for the Earth by the 84-year-old Santa Barbara composer Emma Lou Diemer. The thirty-minute piece used six poems by everyone from Emily Dickinson to the composer's own sister Dorothy. Five of the very conservatively scored songs were for full chorus, while the poem from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam was sung by soloists Eugene Bronceanvanu and soprano Marnie Breckinridge above. Though the duet was dull, it was heartening to hear that both singers were in great voice.

Carl Orff's Carmina Burana is an odd duck, a 1937 dramatic cantata taken from poems and drinking songs written in bastardized Latin and Low German from the 11th to 13th centuries that were discovered in a Benedictine monastery in 1803. Orff put together a collection of 25 of these pieces, starting with the famous O Fortuna chorus that has been quoted, sampled, copied and overused in hundreds of movie, TV and videogame soundtracks. Partly because of its ubiquity, Carmina Burana is greatly beloved by audiences while scorned by many musicians and snobbish listeners. (Photo below is of Robert Geary, conductor and Artistic Director of SFCC.)

You can put me into the snob group since Carmina Burana was one of the first LPs I bought as a tween decades ago, along with Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade and Rodrigo's guitar concertos on the suggestion of a record store clerk who was trying to be kind to a classical music newbie. The only problem was that on my own I discovered a set of Bruno Walter's complete Brahms symphonies (the mono version) and Bernstein's complete Mahler symphonies, and both Carmina Burana and Scheherezade soon sounded dull and hackneyed in comparison. (The Rodrigo guitar concertos, oddly enough, still delight me.)

So after having managed to go to a lifetime of live classical music concerts without seeing Carmina Burana, it finally seemed the right time to attend a performance, in part because I was curious how Ensemble Parallele's Brian Staufenbiel, above, would be staging the piece in Davies Hall while also performing the single, grotesque tenor solo about a swan who is being roasted in preparation for a meal (shades of early PETA). Staufenbiel carried the solo off just fine in a series of progressively darker outfits, and his direction of the pantomime on what looked to be a bare bones budget was sweet and effective.

The chorus wore their black formal wear during the first half and returned looking a bit like a Bible epic in their variously coloured scarves, which was charming. They also sang very well, including some of the softest pianissimos imaginable for such a large group, interspersed with the loud, percussive chanting style for which the piece is famous.

Between the Wheels of Fortune opening and close, Carmina Burana is broken up into three sections, starting with a pastorale, In The Meadow, which is when the seven-woman Perceptions Contemporary Dance Company above danced in front of the stage and up the orchestra section aisles. They occasionally gave each other lifts, Mark Morris gender-neutral style, and at other points looked like they were trying to channel Isadora Duncan. There were moments of silliness, but it worked well with the music.

Soloists Eugene Brancoveanu and Marnie Breckenridge (above right) acted their various roles convincingly in a series of costumes illustrating The Tavern and Courtly Love, and both of them sounded great, easily filling up Davies, which is not easy in that large hall. With contributions by the Contra Costa Children's Chorus led by Martin Benvenuto (above left next to Staufenbiel), the entire evening felt both grand and homespun.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Indecency, Bad Faith, and Wrong Action

If it was not so dispiriting, the Ethics Commission deliberations on Thursday afternoon would have been grotesquely funny in their constant absurdity. The five-member commission was deciding, after a series of inflammatory hearings dating back to April, whether Sheriff-Elect Ross Mirkarimi should be booted out of office for bruising his wife's arm during an argument on New Year's Eve, and whether that fell below the standards of "decency, good faith, and right action" required of a public official.

The only problem was that nobody really knew what "official misconduct" meant, or whether "relating to the duties of the office" applied to misbehavior that occured before Mirkarimi started his Sheriff's job. To add to the complications, Mayor Ed Lee and City Attorney Dennis Herrera had cooked up a whole bowl of charges to throw at the wall to see what might stick, so the Commission had to address "dissuasion of witnesses" and whether it was misconduct to turn in guns to the Sheriff's Department rather than the Police Department, and so on and so forth. Chairman Benedict Hur above did his best to bring some sanity into the proceedings, but it was a losing effort.

It was difficult to look at anything but Jamienne Studley's monster shell necklace during all her close-ups, as she clucked her tongue at Mirkarimi's bad behavior, and lectured him on why didn't he just behave this way instead of that way? There were theological arguments about misconduct as opposed to official misconduct, and Studley offered various analogies, each more idiotic than the last. The analogy attempts were topped by Commissioner Paul Renne's contribution: "Joe Paterno didn't do anything illegal in that Penn State case, but you would have to call it official misconduct," demonstrating his dubious lack of expertise in criminal law after decades of representing PG&E for his downtown firm.

Renne joined Commissioners Studley, Deborah Liu and Beverly Hayon (above, looking like she was going to an Austin Powers Theme Party) in dismissing virtually all of the Mayor's charges against Mirkarimi, but somehow managed to "sustain the charges" by making up a new one of their own, "this section of #4, and a bit of #1, or is it #5, and are we discussing Option 1 or Option 2 here?" It was cluelessness squared that ended in complete chaos, rather like the Act One finale of a Rossini comic opera where all the characters separately sing, "I don't know what to think, I'm in such confusion." It was such a mess that the Commission will have to meet again to try and hammer out some kind of coherent report for the Board of Supervisors, who are next in line at this public inquisition.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Scenes from the Mirkarimi Hearing

The last day of the Ethics Commission circus around ousted Sheriff-elect Ross Mirkarimi started this morning. There were final arguments by Mayor Lee's attorneys, who are paid for by San Francisco taxpayers whether you agree with them or not, and Mirkarimi's lawyers, who are working pro bono to ward off a perceived injustice.

Then it was time for three-hours plus of two-minute public comments, which just finished at 2:22. The first public commenter was Mirkarimi's mother above, who had arrived from the East Coast and spent the hearing sitting next to Mirkarimi's wife, Eliana.

The commenters were mostly supporters of Mirkarimi, though their reasons were all over the map. Emil Lawrence, above, who wrote The Night Cabbie column for the San Francisco Examiner from 1996 to 2004, saw the malevolent hand of "Hearst's Houdini," Phil Bronstein, all over the story.

There was also a self-identified ex-girlfriend of Mirkarimi above who recounted what a horrible, abusive person he was, and how he would kick her out of bed, calling her "psycho bitch." She still goes to the same gym as Mirkarimi, she testified, "and I don't feel safe." (Update: The woman turned out to be a complete fraud.)

A consortium from "the Domestic Violence Community," which seems to employ a huge army of women in San Francisco, showed up at noon in front of City Hall for a demonstration demanding that Mirkarimi be ousted from his job. The fact that their programs' individual funding is determined by Mayor Lee's office probably had nothing to do with this.

Afterwards, they queued up at the end of the line for the Ethics Commission hearing, which was being held in a small, second-floor hearing room.

Krissy Keefer, above left, a lesbian feminist choreographer in the Mission District who has been creating work since the 1970s, has been appalled by how the "Domestic Violence Community" has been co-opted by the Mayor's Office, and it was amusing to see her suddenly surrounded by that same community. Keefer ushered all of them to stand in front of her in line. "I think I want to have the last word here," she explained, and when she did finally give her two-minute public comment, she started with an analogy to Arthur Miller's play, The Crucible, with their hysterical girls at the Salem Witch Trial seeing an imaginary bird in the rafters.

Outside, the Domestic Violence demonstrators had been supplanted by Ross Mirkarimi supporters who were marching around in a circle on the sidewalk. At the present moment, everyone has gone to lunch and the Commission will deliberate this afternoon and evening on what they are going to be sending to the Board of Supervisors, who will have the final say in this circus, unless an appeals court throws out that decision.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Naoya Hatakeyama at SFMOMA

The first one-man exhibit in the U.S. by the 54-year-old Japanese photographer Naoya Hatakeyama has just been installed at SFMOMA on the floor above the Cindy Sherman gargoyle retrospective.

Hatakeyama's photos are about the encroachment of the human world into the "natural" world, a subject which invites preachy cliches (think of the movie Koyaaniqatsi, for instance) that the photographer successfully evades.

Whether the subjects are industrial Belgium landscapes, old German factories being demolished, underground quarries in Paris, or tourism in the Alps (above, Matterhorn, 2005), the photos are beautifully composed, mysterious, and vibrating with life.

The only room where the "natural" world violently intrudes into the human world is a series of smaller than usual photos of his hometown after it was destroyed by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

The exhibit ends with a video installation called Twenty-Four Blasts which is a wall-size, stop-motion slideshow of just what the title says it is. "That was the Michael Bay room," Patrick Vaz said, while it reminded me of the SCTV Farm Film Report where the highest praise was that something "blowed up real good."

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mckayla Maroney Is Not Impressed with SF Rec and Park

Saturday afternoon a large video screen had been constructed in Civic Center Plaza for a San Francisco Recreation and Park Olympic Viewing Party "featuring Olympic skills games, gourmet food options, kids arts and crafts, and plenty of family fun!"

The only real item of interest was local Olympian Eddie Hart above, who was part of another infamous disaster at the 1972 Munich Olympics when his coach, Stan Wright, failed to deliver Eddie and Stan Robinson to a quarterfinal heat for the 100 meter race because of an outdated schedule. The two runners who had just set world records in their Olympic trials were disqualified, though Eddie did manage to anchor the 4 x 100m relay and win a gold medal. It was this same medal which he was allowing people such as the British tourist above to wear and pose for photos with him in Civic Center. Mr. Hart couldn't have been more gracious and charming, which helped mitigate the circus sideshow feel.

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department has historically been one of the top dysfunctional organizations in San Francisco city government, a traditional dumping ground for the dimmest of nephews who need a job through family connections. The "Olympic Viewing Party" on the big screen was the same crappy NBC coverage everybody has been watching at home, and it was even more grotesque being blared out on huge speakers and on a big screen. To say that the Viewing Party attracted nobody is an exaggeration, but not far from the truth. It was a very sad event, and an expensive looking one to boot.

On adjoining lawns there were forlorn, empty tents offering Arts and Crafts to invisible souls. Mckayla Maroney was not impressed.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Get Inside Outside Lands

The Outside Lands Music Festival in Golden Gate Park is being put on by Another Planet Entertainment, whose San Francisco headquarters are at Bill Graham Auditorium. On Friday, a whole fleet of buses arrived for the weekend to transport passengers from the Civic Center site out to the music festival four miles away.

Muni has been a predictable disaster for public transport to the large music festival since it started (click here for last year's mess) so the producers came up with their own public bus transport this year from a nearby BART station. When I asked at the Bill Graham ticket window if the bus ride came with the price of a ticket or was extra, they replied "it's an extra charge, and it's sold out."

Muni did send a whole fleet of shuttle buses up McAllister Street this afternoon, by the way, but they sent them at the wrong time, at about 3PM, when everyone had already made it to the Golden Gate Park site, and so the special Shuttle Buses were running completely empty. Muni management sometimes seems to work at being so stupid.

In an unintentional series of ironies, Civic Center just across from the bus staging ground at Bill Graham was littered with hobos sleeping in the park across from buses proclaiming, "get inside outside lands." Their bodies gave the signage a whole different meaning.