warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Pacific Standard Time Festival Presents A Motel Of Experimental Music

Tricia Tongco |
January 30, 2012 | 1:23 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

Pyramid Heads (Tricia Tongco).
Pyramid Heads (Tricia Tongco).

Inconspicuous two-story motels like Eagle Rock’s Welcome Inn usually carry the odd combination of mystery and mediocrity.

But on Sunday evening, the plain building was opened up to the public for an event that was quite out of the ordinary. The Welcome Inn Time Machine transformed the otherwise banal setting into a venue for micro concerts of experimental music made in Southern California from 1949-1977.
Upon entering the parking lot, a large crowd of people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, were watching a quartet of violinists playing an indecipherable song  called “here but not there; there but not here” on the second floor balcony as a Coke machine hummed beneath them on the ground level.

Eight rooms held different performances to varying levels of success, with only a few being truly stimulating.
The most humorous experience I had was in Room 9 where I used the room’s phone to call another room to hear a performance by Robert Wilhite.

When I called, he said, “Silent harp,” then the line went quiet. Each person who called got a different experience. One friend heard Wilhite play a single string on a guitar repeatedly, and another heard him say “Spinner” then make an accompanying spinning noise.
 “Bob Wilhite in Concert” best utilized the anatomy of the hotel room in a way that none of the other performances did. The other rooms felt awkward and crowded with the artists, their instruments and their equipment, making it easy to forget that you were in a hotel room. But this plain room just had an old beige phone sitting on a bed with a note of brief instructions, making the experience more surreal than just a musical performance in an alternative space.
“Pyramid Headphones” by The Los Angeles Free Music Society was popular because of its interactivity but also the collective aspect of it. People would place a black pyramid made out of cardboard, masking tape and speakers over their heads and listened to the same electronic blips and beeps. I found the visual aspect of rows of people sitting with matching black pyramids on their heads more interesting than the music itself.
Another highlight of the evening was Bruce Nauman’s “Violin Tuned D.E.A.D.” performed by Melinda Rice. The violinist stood with her back to the door and heavily dragged her bow against four strings tuned to the notes D,E,A,D for almost an hour. The repetition did not illicit boredom but intense focus and atmospheric tension that was unexpected.
The scheduled performances, including Nauman’s piece, required more reverence and attention from the audience than the ongoing interactive performances. The most fully engaging experience of the night was the last performance of James Tenney's work “Maximusic” by Nick Terry. He had set up a percussion station with a large gong, a cymbal, cowbells, two huge chimes and rectangular metal sheets.  Starting off with light playing on the cymbal, he erupted into a barrage of organized chaos that did not slip into mere noise, but showed the hand of a skilled musician.
One of the less successful performances was John Cage’s “Variations IV.”  Tables held different tools for making sound rested on the beds while a man fiddling with a laptop computer failed to facilitate or encourage people to participate in the piece.
I held up a small drill that had been laying on a sheet of metal and asked the organizer what I should do with it.
He replied gruffly, “Whatever you want.”  I am pretty sure I could not drill a hole into the television even if I wanted to, so his apathetic attitude was off-putting. The event would have been better served if the performers consistently exhibited a desire to educate and facilitate a stimulating experience.
Disorganization and a lack of engagement with visitors stifled audience participation in many of the interactive performances. There were moments when a group of people would be timidly waiting outside of a room, while the organizers said they were not sure if anyone could enter yet. The concept sounded more exciting and liberating than the result, but I still walked away with at least a couple of memorable moments.

Reach reporter Tricia Tongco here and follow her on Twitter.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.