Toward the end of 2019, I spent time in Los Angeles on the occasion of the city’s public art triennial. The theme that year was “food.” I was to observe and write about the activities of my friend Max La Rivière-Hedrick and his frequent collaborator, Julio César Morales, who had been invited to participate with a series of events. I’d worked with them previously for a show at the art gallery Frey Norris in San Francisco about the art of Leonora Carrington, for which I also did some writing. I had a great time — and then the pandemic hit, and plans shifted. Originally due for publication elsewhere, here is the short essay I wrote about the final night of Max and Julio’s New Shores: The Future Dialogue Between Two Homelands, their five-week series of meals-as-art, held in different public parks around the city. I attended the final evening. (Thanks to Max for the photos.)
To get to the hilltop, you must walk a gauntlet of high-end speakers, tuned to the task of transitioning your ears and, in correlation, your other senses to the evening’s activities.
Or you might come up a side entrance to the public park, and be confused by the patchwork of people and blankets covering the lawn.
Either way, you will arrive here at Hollyhock House, high above the city of Los Angeles, a bit bewildered, which is another word, in the right circumstances, for entranced.
These are the right circumstances, in part because the sunset is serene, and in part because the scenario has been calibrated. This is the final night of Julio César Morales and Max La Rivière-Hedrick’s New Shores, a series of five consecutive Sunday dinners. These are secular services exploring the potential of culinary art as social practice. Over the course of the previous four weeks, Julio and Max have teamed with poets and other community members to craft a menu that connects with one or another focal immigrant group down there, in East Hollywood, below Hollyhock. The consistent through-line, the backdrop, to all this activity has, however, not been edible but audible: the work of sound artist Jacqueline Kiyomi Gork (at the time she was Jacqueline Kiyomi Gordon, and has since changed to her father’s family’s original surname) and composer Jonny Mandabach, both Los Angeles natives.
Julio and Max’s events these five weeks take their title and their fascination with cultural hybrids from “The Two Shores,” a novella by Carlos Fuentes. Just two sentences into “The Two Shores,” Fuentes sets the scene: “The fall of the great Aztec city in the moan of the conch shells.” At Hollyhock, arrivals each evening hear sounds sourced from Mexico on a recent trip by Mandabach, tweaked and transformed by Gork. What seems to be a branch suffering, moaning, under torque is, Mandabach explains, a coconut being cut open, its percussive content extracted like so much milk. There is a pair of speakers every few steps. Whether you pause to experience the mini-suite of musique concrète, or let the sounds wash past as you take strides, you have been put on alert, told to keep your hearing keen. Your ears have been served an amuse-bouche.
The lawn at Hollyhock these five nights is at the center of a spectral array, instantiated by a second set of distributed speakers. Gork sits to the side, under a concrete awning, hidden by a computer screen. She serves as spatial DJ: Throughout the evening, she moves sounds around, shifting and filtering with care. The most prominent sounds are samples of cello played by Okkyung Lee and recorded by Mandabach, heard as whispered fragments. If the instrument seems familiar, the way it moves through the trees is determinedly not. Gork likens the approach to acousmatic mavericks from the 20th century, Pierre Boulez and Iannis Xenakis, but clarifies that while they were composers, she is a performer: she determines what works by ear, in the moment. “Intuitively” is the word she employs.
And the audience must keep its ears keen, because Gork pitches the ever-evolving soundtrack low. True to Brian Eno’s definition of ambient music, while this is music that rewards close listening, it is designed to function in the background. Gork describes “the relationship between ambient sound and intentional listening, and how it’s nice to occupy that space between.” Her sounds move subtly through space, not just from the speakers to our ears, but around space, from speaker to speaker. This motion reflects a deeper transition: All these sounds came from one place – Mexico and a cello’s cavity, among others – and now serve an unforeseen purpose. Gork’s computer’s is where they now reside. Her hard drive is their new shore.
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Related Links: Event: currentla.org. Kiyomi: jacquelinekiyomigork.com. Julio: instagram.com/jcm_3000.