The Los Angeles–based experimental music duo Guthrie & Streb (composed of cellist April Guthrie and violist Cassia Streb) engaged in a unique collaboration with filmmaker Madison Brookshire and composer Michael Pisaro during their Hammer residency. In residence from November 2008 to April 2009, the group researched and recorded sounds and images of Los Angeles, molding a poetic work of music and video that culminated in a site-specific performance in the Hammer’s Billy Wilder Theater.
A multilayered “portrait of Los Angeles,” the Hammer presentation combined field recordings, live and prerecorded music, and layers of video in an attempt to analyze “the complex relationships between reality and recording, presence and absence, lived experience and re-presented time.” These layers of sound, video, and music were isolated in a series of site-specific field recordings throughout the Hammer residency, beginning with Pisaro’s recording of the Billy Wilder Theater. Pisaro noted that the theater had a B flat resonance (typical of American buildings) and layered the ambient sound over itself many times to create an audible hum. This “pink noise” introduced the Transparent Cities performance, gradually building in volume so as to underscore the complexities of our perceptions of real and recorded sound.
The larger work was built on similar processes, centered on two “field performances” by Guthrie and Streb. Both performed their respective instruments in their neighborhoods while Pisaro and Brookshire recorded the changes in sound and light from sunrise to sunset. Streb riffed improvisationally on her viola along with the sounds of Highland Park, while Guthrie played cello on a bluff overlooking the Santa Clarita Valley. These site-specific recordings were then remixed and replayed for the performance in the Wilder, with the two musicians performing live alongside. Madison’s real-time shots of Los Angeles provided a meditative complement to the layers of sound and music, with ghostly forms of cars and people inscribed on the immovable landscape like so many palimpsests.
To realize this technically complicated and subtle work, the group of collaborators worked closely with the Hammer audiovisual staff over a series of intense rehearsals in the Wilder Theater. Brookshire, Guthrie, Pisaro, and Streb also conducted a workshop at the Hammer on the processes of improvisation and collaboration for students and postgraduates, discussing how they blended their unique but varied skills into a fully realized and holistic work.
The Hammer Museum’s Artist Residency Program was initiated with funding from the Nimoy Foundation and is supported through a significant grant from the James Irvine Foundation.