‘Tis the Season – for Winter Sounds in West Hollywood

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The season has arrived – for holidays, the winter solstice, gift-buying frenzies, but best of all, for Winter Sounds, the city of West Hollywood’s free indoor concert series.

This year, three Saturday evening concerts are on tap, beginning this weekend, on December 2nd, with the smooth sounds of Jennifer Leitham and her holiday jazz show.  A world-renowned jazz bassist, composer, and vocalist, Leitham has played on upwards of 140 albums, including ten of her own. She’s performed with Mel Torme, Doc Severinsen, Peggy Lee, and k.d. lang, among others, and is the subject of  the award-winning film I Stand Corrected, a documentary about her public gender transition from John to Jennifer. At Winter Sounds, she’ll perform both warm holiday classics and standards.

Come January, when the holiday rush has settled down, listeners will have something to “hear” forward to – Paris Chansons French and Russian classics, on January 20th.  Los Angeles’ premiere French and international band, Paris Chansons offers original renditions of favorites from Aznavour, Brel, Dassin, Piaf and Montand, as well as songs by contemporary artists including Zax.  Their exhilarating performances feature four multilingual singers and keyboard, violin, bass, guitar, and drums . Along with international classics, traditional jazz standards will be on tap as Paris Chansons leads listeners on a global journey that may make you want to get up and dance. 

And February 17th, enjoy the American jazz standards of the Peter Kavanaugh Quartet.  A guitarist, bandleader and composer, Kavanaugh interprets jazz standards and popular American songs with a smoothly sophisticated take that’s infused with West Coast jazz. His upbeat sound features electric guitar and vibraphone as he transports listeners to the leisurely swing of post-war, mid-century-modern Southern California, and adds in unexpected thrills like Bossa Nova, blues, bop, and gypsy jazz.

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The concerts each begin at 5 p.m., offering an hour and fifteen minutes of scintillating sounds. All concerts are held at the West Hollywood Park Public Meeting Room/City Council Chambers at the West Hollywood Library; seating is first come, first served. 

The Library is located at 625 N. San Vicente Blvd. Free validated parking is available for the multi-story parking structure adjacent to the library.

Winter Sounds is sponsored by the City of West Hollywood’s WeHo Arts program.  Click here for an online listing of the 2017-2018 Winter Sounds concerts.

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A New Kind of “Drive-In” Movie: Site-Specific Billboard Installations on Sunset Strip

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Driving down the Sunset Strip, the billboards have always been eye-catching, featuring product advertisements, premiering Hollywood films, even the iconic self-homage of Angelyne. But the City of West Hollywood has taken Sunset Strip billboards to a new level with their site-specific digital billboard project, part of a continuing partnership with curator Jessica Rich and their “Art on the Outside” program.

Through the program, which provides an ongoing initiative to present original and experimental visual content, viewers will find two fiveting films, Alison O’Daniel’s “The Tuba Thieves (Variations)” and Basma Alsharif’s take on “Democracy.”

These outdoor showings are made possible through an agreement between the City of West Hollywood and the owners of the screens. Featuring 13 minutes of artistic content each hour, both sites are curated with Jessica Rich through the IF Innovation Foundation Los Angeles, a new non-profit arts organization helmed by IFLA founder Lauri Firstenberg.

Both films screen through December 31st, and IFLA plans to continue an artistic vision for both locations after that date, seeking to place “remarkable time-based work in the cityscape…to support experimental interventions that respond to the complexities of urban space.” IFLA founder Lauri Firstenberg strongly believes that artists have the ability to occupy, contest, and play with the boundaries and use of public space, challenging preconceived ideas about what art is and where it belongs. “By placing provocative work along the most traveled thoroughfare in Los Angeles, there is a far-reaching impact on viewers across the city.”

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Alison O’Daniel’s “The Tuba Thieves (Variations) is viewed on tandem, 2-channel digital billboard screens at 9039 Sunset Blvd., on the facade of the 1OAK nightclub. O’Daniel is a visual artist and filmmaker who works across sound, narrative, sculpture, installation, and performance platforms.

Here, her work is made up of a series of eight separate 64-second videos commissioned by IFLA for this Art on the Outside project. The films play on both screens simultaneously, in tandem, and in various combinations.

The works are excerpts from O’Daniel’s riveting feature film project, “The Tuba Thieves,” which was created following a series of tuba robberies in Los Angeles schools. The film connects the story of a deaf drummer with that of the students, band directors, and larger school communities who are forced to accept missing sound following the tuba thefts. O’Daniel is herself hearing-impaired, and she believes that because of this, her own mind fills in hearing gaps when they occur. While she has experienced frustrations, she’s also discovered a supreme sensitivity to sound. Her original film plays on a conceptual audio score, and converges her private experiences and performed sequences into one narrative.

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The film (still, above) is composed of portraits of music and silence in Los Angeles and beyond, interrupted by fictionalized re-enactments of two historic concerts: the 1952 premiere of John Cage’s 4’33” at the Maverick Concert Hall in Woodstock, N.Y., and a 1979 punk concert hosted by Bruce Conner at The Deaf Club in San Francisco. O’Daniel commissioned musical scores by three composers and used these to create a narrative structure through the process of deep listening.

The filmmaker is excited about the City of West Hollywood billboard project, this new reconceptualization of her story, and its piecemeal presentation. “I love the way this non-linear experience of a linear narrative explodes normal viewing patterns,” she says.

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The Los Angeles-based artist, above, is a part of the performance series “In Real Life” at the Hammer Museum, and recently presented her “Centennial Marching Band Forwards, Backwards, Pause, Silent,” a collaborative performance with the Compton-based Centennial High School Marching Band at Art Los Angeles Contemporary.

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A few blocks away at 8410 Sunset Blvd., viewers can take in “Democracy” by Basma Alsharif on the 2-channel digital billboard screens. This work is made up of two HD digital motion videos that are each three minutes long.

Alsharif’s work centers on the human condition, shifting geopolitical landscapes, natural environments, and history – “Democracy” is no exception, according to curator Rich. “Like landing on the moon – democracy – a word coined in 5th century Athens – is an icon,” she states. “This piece is a gesture towards undoing icons linked to ideas we have held onto for too long… at a moment when sea changes are impending. In this fraught political climate, universal truths transcend geography and ideology.” Alsharif’s work raises age-old questions about freedom and its modern manifestation, according to Rich. “Her fearless world view is unwavering.”

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Like O’Daniel, Alsharif,  above, is based in Los Angeles. As a visual artist she uses moving and still images, sound, and language to explore the anonymous individual in relation to political history and collective memory. Born in Kuwait, she recently received a jury prize at the Sharjah Biennial 9; the Marion MacMahon award at Images; and was awarded the Marcelino Botin Visual Arts grant. Her work transcends the boundaries between political and experimental filmmaking, delving deeply into the rifts between perception, reality, and representation in her work.

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These stunningly affecting installations – and their dynamic outdoor presentation – creates an entirely new type of “drive-in movie.” The films are a part of a curatorial collaboration which began in 2015 for the City of West Hollywood. Since that time, public art projects created with Jessica Rich and IFLA have included works by artists Jillian Mayer, John Knuth and Andy Featherston, Cole Sternberg, Amy Jorgenson, Adam Mars, Martine Syms, and Jen Liu. Upcoming installations for 2017 will be announced soon.

For more information, visit http://www.weho.org/residents/arts-and-culture/visual-arts/art-on-the-outside/electronic-billboards-on-sunset-blvd.

  • Genie Davis; Photos: City of West Hollywood

The Cube: Manuel Lima

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Above, a look at an evening performance by Manuel Lima, photo by Jon Viscott. Note: Sunset Strip’s resident “Jesus” adds his own element to the performance space.

Watching Brazillian-born artist Manuel Lima perform his piano score “The Sunset Cube” inside a translucent cube in a West Hollywood parking lot is a transcendental experience.

Lima calls his piano composition and performance a “composition of a life for ten days,” but the music and the experience goes beyond that. The performance artist is perched inside a translucent cube, in which he has lived for ten days, performing essentially around the clock in the Sunset Strip parking lot at 8775 Sunset Boulevard, and inviting the listener/viewer to merge his experience with their own.

In a copy of his score, Lima attests “I want to reach a point where work, life and art are all the same. I want to be present. I want to be away from my phone and social media and have my heart on one thing at a time.”

Watching his shadowy form through the cube, and at night, the red lights synchronized to his music, the listener/viewer is transported to somewhere almost unworldly. It is a landscape within a landscape, sound within sound. While traffic rushes by on Sunset Boulevard, the music throbs with intensity one minute and flows with serene intent the next. The hazy vision inside the cube itself is like a glimpse into another dimension, one in which the external landscape sifts like sand through an hourglass.

Lima notes that “art is process and life is process. This piece is just to remind you we are all going crazy. If I can have my life back again I will call it art.” At first considering being locked in his cube 24 hours a day for the ten day performance period, Lima instead realized he could more healthily encompass a morning run when he wakes up in the cube, going out for a coffee, dining on a budget, and sharing tea with his viewers. Stepping outside his contained space also enriches his composition with creative interactions.

The artist describes his time in the cube as beginning with initially driving to the cube and entering it; “I will be like a worker on a 9 to 5 job by day. During the evening I will be a Bohemian.”

Lima’s schedule follows a set routine day and night, Bohemian or not. From 7 to 9 a.m. he wakes, runs, showers, and breakfasts. From 9 to noon, he performs his “Sunset Boulevard” composition moving from left to right on the FM dial for inspiration, improvising five-minute piano segments that riff on the music and sounds he hears.

Lima says that he works essentially as “transducer” of radio waves during this time period, defining a transducer as a “device that converts one form of energy to another.”  He has designed this piece to be naturally progressive, adding new piano loops and performing those done before.

He takes a lunch break from noon to one. Working with a severely limited budget for food, Lima thanks every restaurant that helps him to eat with a sign in front of the cube and a heartfelt thank you for sustenance.

He then returns to perform this composition from 1 p.m. until 5, when he offers a public tea just outside the cube space until 7 p.m. This provides a unique opportunity for the community to speak with the artist. His interactions are so genuine and warm that he becomes no longer a performer of life but a participant in life.

A dinner break lasts from 7 to 8 p.m., after which the artist performs a different composition, his “Red Light Piano.”

We enjoyed hearing and seeing this piece, which combines both light and sound in sixty different music cycles lasting between one and five minutes in length, with variations increasing in length each day. It can last around five hours, but respectful of his neighbors, Lima primarily stops around 10 p.m. so as not to disturb area residents. And then, close to midnight, Lima sleeps, or attempts to do so.

Is the experience private or public? It varies. Lima’s cube floats like a cloud above the tumult of Sunset Boulevard, removed from the world yet uniquely of it, whether Lima is living and performing inside his sparely-furnished 10-foot-square cube or interacting with viewers outside it. It is a meditation of music, performance, sound, light, and spirit, a glimpse into a private and powerful creative world, but also a public event in which watchers gather throughout the day and night to interact whether in conversation or by listening to Lima’s music.

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Above, Lima by day, performing. Photo by Jon Viscott.

Lima plays his musical compositions blindfolded, creating an insular world within a world that allows him to focus entirely on the music and not on who is watching or participating in the experience. He explains the decision to blindfold himself as one to prevent nervousness and distraction, but his blindfold also creates a space between himself and his audience and the aural experience of the boulevard itself, and filters external references.

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Above, a look inside Lima’s live/work space, as sunset finds Sunset Boulevard. Photo by Jon Viscott.

Lima received a full scholarship from the Brazilian government to attend grad school in the U.S., and recently earned his Doctor of Musical Arts degree from CalArts in Valencia. He performed in his cube initially in the hills outside Valencia; his transition to the current West Hollywood landscape has created a shift in his performance that encompasses the urban environment and his interactions with viewers/listeners.

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Above, “Jesus” watches Lima, his cube ablaze in a light show that highlights his music. Photo by Jon Viscott. 

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Above, following an evening performance, Lima steps from his cube for a late night break. Photo by Jack Burke.

Lima discusses the experience of his evening performance with us. “Every night that I play I have structures that develop little by little. The composition gets more developed. My work was commissioned by the City of West Hollywood and highlights a process more than a product. It’s about finding art in life, both inside and leaving the cube,” he says. “Art and life are not separate. In the score you can get a feel for the experience. It’s meditation, the Red Light Piano.”

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Above, Lima’s red lights begin to glow. Photo by Genie Davis. 

Asked what it is like being so exposed yet so contained in his cube, Lima says “It’s noisy. People are always walking past you, even as you are getting ready for bed.”

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Above, Lima with author Genie Davis. Photo by Jack Burke.

“It’s been a privilege to be here. It’s amazing, like being in a very surreal artistic residency,” Lima relates. “Between public and private interactions I get a lot of time to create, but I am in the middle of regular life, which informs the art.”

Lima’s incredibly unique and stirring performance ends tomorrow, August 21st at 10 p.m. Stop by for a listen, a look, or a conversation.  Lima is performing his closing on the same night the Olympic closing ceremonies take place in Brazil.

Lima’s cube is perched in the city parking lot at 8775 Sunset Boulevard; parking is plentiful and hourly.

  • Genie Davis; Photos and video by Jon Viscott, Genie Davis, Jack Burke