janis_LABarchiveLong fun weird afternoon spent in the Louise Arner Boyd archives with Janis this week –  at the Marin History Museum’s storage facility in a very nondescript corporate park in Novato.

We found a lot of great photos Boyd took on her expeditions to Greenland and the Arctic. The photos in her books about Greenland are pretty stunning landscapes in ice and snow-covered mountain and sea that look like these arty, Rorschach Test-like, sculptural abstract universes.  And most fascinatingly, we found files and files filled with her meticulous receipts to Abercrombie & Fitch (she was s serious customer, ordering all kinds of custom gear) and long long lists of food provisions and gear.  boyd-food

It was like I was doing my own taxes, only she spent a whole lot more! I definitely got a whole new image of this woman – extremely thorough, detail-oriented, and in charge. She managed every single detail of these trips (with a staff of course), and paid for it all out of pocket. And she was used to getting what she wanted – down to the exact brand of jam she wanted for her toast (on a ship in the Arctic Circle)!?! Madame Boyd was not roughing it.

And she took her hooch seriously, too:boyd-hooch “1000 bottles Pilsner beer”

Boyd  was also very assiduous about documenting her scientific discoveries, we saw field notebooks filled with drawings of new plant species she observed, and a lot of correspondence with major botanical societies confirming her discoveries, what was new, what was already known. And these fantastic lists of new plant species, typed out on rice paper. All in their Latin names, really gorgeous.

We will see what comes of all of this, but a great day snooping around in someone’s legacy, for sure.


tumblr_mme7khCdIH1rychmko1_1280The de Young Museum will host some work-in-progress events with Glorious Ravage musicians this summer as part of its hugely popular Friday Nights at the de Young series. On Friday, August 7, we will play some site-specific improvisations in Wilsey Court, and create new structures for improvisation based on paintings in the museum’s J.M.W. Turner exhibition. On Friday, August 21, we will perform in the museum’s James Turrell skyspace, Three Gems.

Clip #26

The First Rehearsal of any new project is always something to be dreaded and feared, the moment when all your seemingly-thrilling ideas, incubated for months and months, need to finally be brought down to earth, as notes on a page that musicians can actually play. You never feel like you have enough time to prepare, you never believe you have enough music solved and ready, you wonder for the entire week before whether you should just cancel it already, postpone it, to make it worth everyone’s trouble to come over and play it. OK, I say “you” as if this is some general phenomenon, it’s really “I” – probably not everyone suffers like this when they are working on a new piece.

Clip #12And then, when you are as lucky as I am, they all show up, the atmosphere is one of total collaboration and support, experimentation and openness and patience. Darren, Kyle, Cory, Jordan, John and Tim came out to the Headlands as the “core” of the Glorious Ravage band, and they really brought all my rough, preliminary ideas to a whole new level.

The thing about working with these incredible improvisers is they ALWAYS make your music sound better than you expect – without even thinking consciously of it, they are trained to problem solve as they move through a piece, make connections where none exist explicitly in the score, and make all these coherent, compositional choices in the moment that make the music come together as a whole from moment to moment. And they are into trying crazy stuff thaClip #22t might not work, they will just throw themselves into some new direction or idea that is destined to fail horribly! At least the first 20 times.

With just seven of us, the sound was already pretty full – what will I do with 15 of us?!?


Artist-in-Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts for the past two weeks, what an incredible place to get some work done. I laugh when I think of the extraordinary hardships someone like Mary Kingsley suffered in the wilds of the forests, scaling some uncharted West African mountain in the pouring rain, or wading through crocodile-infested swamps. Here, I feel more like Snow White … on the walk to my studio every morning I am greeting by adorable critters, popping out from behind some coyote bush or a rock, or a hole in a tree….. hummingbirds, flickers, butterflies, woodpeckers, a wrentit, a fairy ring of mushrooms, and more just this morning. And at night, it’s coyotes and deer and frogs and owls singing to each other. There’s a turkey that visits me daily and hangs out pecking at stuff under my studio window, he’s either a very fickle muse, or maybe my therapeutic comfort turkey, here to provide emotional support as I try to get this first batch of music figured out.

This short period here has mostly been about trying to figure out some ways that all the ideas, disparate material, different voices who are part of this work can come together to become one coherent (and compelling?) piece. It’s interesting, some of my collaborators prefer to keep things open and work within a sense of possibility with few constraints. Others seem to need more structure, and a sense of the whole, to imagine what form their component will take. I can relate to both experiences, and am trying to maintain a sense of both things simultaneously, at least for now. Planning is great and structure is important at this stage, but also we need to be able to stay flexible enough that we can surprise each other, and adjust course to latch onto some great new idea if one emerges as we are all working.

P1020045I am super inspired and amazed at how different everyone’s process is thus far … from Kathleen, I am getting these fantastic text storyboards, framing the scenes in her animations…. “ a gloved hand holding a lantern comes into the frame (flame flickers)…more animals go by (high altitude ones: goats?)…” … because with hand-cut animation, there are no preview clips to send me – she preps all her materials for weeks, and then shoots the animation sequences, meticulously, over many many hours, like a long, laborious performance – it happens just once.  Alfonso has been sending me these gorgeous studies of layered, manipulated footage that he has shot – one of a filmed “reading” of the text of Ida Pfeiffer’s “A Lady’s Second Journey Round the World,” and now some studies in motion on bicycles inspired by Annie Londonderry’s crazy bike ride around the world at the turn of 20th century. Janis has been working with the National Archives to get some digitized footage of Louise Arner Boyd’s Arctic trips.. Boyd was a meticulous documenter of her travels in film and photographs. And Janis is combining this archival film with her own footage of the Arctic circle that she shot while on a trip to Norway some years ago….which is kind of amazing.

P1020041The other thing that’s great about being up here, is I’m having to get better at talking about this beast of a project. Pretty much every night, there’s some new (super intelligent, informed, creative) person at the communal dinner table asking you, “so what are you working on?”  If you answer that a dozen times in a couple of weeks, you are bound to get better at the answer…it’s a good process for me, since this thing just sprawls and sprawls in my mind the deeper I get into it, and that’s just not possible for someone who is not me, to grab a hold of. It’s a funny thing needing to work on these really specific things like, writing out a harmony for a section with four wind players, or notating a complicated percussion part, and then needing to zoom back out to 10,000 feet to check in on the whole shape, the duration of one thing compared to another, the flow from one section to the next.

Glorious Ravage will be developed over the course of 2015 during a series of residencies at the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito, CA.  Stay tuned for public programs, work-in-progress salons, open rehearsals and interactive workshops throughout the year, involving dozens of Bay Area musicians, filmmakers and media artists.