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Toward a More Contemplative Rave

Suji Lee, Brien Rullman/ Museum Trip

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Toward a More Contemplative Rave

"In the past few years I've started to spend more time at clubs, raves, and after-hours parties than in museums and galleries," says video artist Suji Lee. "I've really been inspired by house, techno, and drum 'n' bass."

In spring 1997 Lee met a fellow video artist, 31-year-old Brien Rullman, who had similar ideas about the artistic merits of underground dance music. Several months later the two collaborated on a piece called Insomnia in 3--A Concerto at Gary Marks Gallery, during which the interaction of a DJ's beats and the motion and color of their experimental video projections mimicked the structure of a three-movement classical music piece. And for eight hours during the Museum of Contemporary Art's annual 24-hour summer solstice festival this year, the pair transformed the museum's cafe and outdoor terrace into a nightclub called Brite Spot. A profusion of local dance DJs and experimental video artists strutted their stuff simultaneously, though for the most part the audio and video were unrelated.

In the last few years the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco and the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London have held similar events--the latter even hosts a regular DJ night with noted electronic-music artist Scanner. But Lee and Rullman want their venture next weekend at the MCA, called Trans23, to be less about turning the museum into a club than about presenting the work that often takes place in clubs in a more contemplative setting.

Lee says the multitiered structure of Trans23 is borrowed from raves, where a whole range of activities is usually planned to keep MTV-generation audiences engaged. In the MCA's theater, there'll be a program of experimental and computer-animation shorts by video artists like David Foss of Force!Extreme Animation, Jim Fetterly of Animal Charm, and Ben Stokes of H-Gun, plus live performances by: the self-described antiambient group Lilith; Luna Sol, a new project of David Christopher from the popular Miami techno outfit Rabbit in the Moon; Designer (the nom de turntable of recording engineer and Tortoise soundman Casey Rice) with jazz cornetist Rob Mazurek; and Detroit techno legend Carl Craig's rarely heard Innerzone Orchestra, which is supposed to include a pair of live drummers, a theremin player, a DJ, and Craig himself on keyboards. Some of these sets also involve visuals.

Meanwhile, in a separate room furnished with pillows and futons, DJ U-Gene (aka Tortoise and Isotope 217 percussionist John Herndon) and members of the ambient DJ collective Atmospheric Audio Chair will spin records, and in the museum lobby M.W. Burns will create a site-specific installation piece by manipulating feeds from the evening's other performances. The whole event will be "Webcast" live at www.mcachicago.org.

"Despite the fact that all the artists come from disparate backgrounds," Lee says, "they're all using technology as a creative tool to expand the way we experience, hear, and see music, and that really is the common spine of all these different voices and visions. Bringing them into a space like the museum recontextualizes their work. Hearing Casey [Rice] do his thing at the Double Door would be different than hearing it at the MCA, where there are less distractions."

Peter Taub, the onetime director of Randolph Street Gallery who was hired in 1996 to revive the museum's performance programming, has worked closely with Lee and Rullman on both their MCA projects. "Trans23 is a chance for us to do [what was done at Brite Spot] in a more deliberate situation," he adds. "We can bring a lot more focus to the blending of the different sensibilities being represented in the same program."

Of course, at a time when the cultural behemoths are desperately trying to pull in future patrons with glorified cocktail parties like the MCA's own First Fridays, an event that draws on rave culture is also a chance to introduce a new demographic to the museum--something Taub readily admits: "There was a completely different kind of audience present during Brite Spot," he says. "It was younger and there were people who were drawn there by the DJs and the videos." (But the MCA doesn't want 'em too young--Trans23 attendees must be 21 or older.)

"We want people from the art world and the club world to mingle both socially and artistically," Taub says diplomatically.

Trans23 will be presented in two parts--one at 7 PM and one at 10 PM--next Saturday, January 23, at the MCA, 220 E. Chicago. Admission costs $9 per segment for members and $12 per segment for nonmembers; tickets that cover both segments cost $14 and $18. For specifics on which acts perform when, see the listing in this section or call the MCA box office at 312-397-4010.

Postscripts

In the 1998 readers' poll of the New York-based jazz magazine Cadence, Chicagoan Ken Vandermark was named best musician of the year and the Vandermark 5's Target or Flag (Atavistic) was named best new album.

Sound Opinions, the rock talk show Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis used to host with former Reader critic Bill Wyman on Q101, can now be heard on WXRT every Tuesday from 10 PM to midnight. The Tribune's Greg Kot replaces Wyman, and 'XRT overnight jock Marty Lennartz makes it a three-way.

On Thursday, January 21, as part of the Hideout's "Honky-Tonk Living Room" series, a raft of local alt-country types will bring cartoonist Heather McAdams's sixth annual country calendar to life. Among the guaranteed highlights are Jon Langford and Kelly Hogan making like George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Anna Fermin crooning Don Gibson, and Robbie Fulks covering Bill Carlisle, plus FitzGerald's booking agent Anastasia Davies doing her best Dolly Parton.

The recently announced lineup for the 1999 Empty Bottle Festival of Jazz and Improvised Music, to be held May 14-16, includes Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Nathan Mandell.

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