The Walker Art Center had a group out from Los Angeles for the past two weeks called Machine Project, which hails from a storefront performance space in the Echo Park neighborhood and is, as they describe themselves, “a loose group of artist/performer collaborators, who do projects together when invited by other people and institutions, usually museums.” That seems like a pretty good gig. Take over a museum for a week, get a little crazy, go home.
Last night, as an example, they had sheep on the lawn of the Walker. The sheep weren’t doing anything especially lunatic — sheep are not given to doing much more than chewing grass and eyeing you suspiciously. But these sheep had their own sound guy, who followed them around with a boom microphone and broadcast their chewing and occasional incredulous bleating across the lawn. This was part of a longer show in which volunteers with push lawn mowers did a synchronized mower ballet across the lawn, all wearing bells, as audiences stood inside protective squares made out of string and applauded appreciative, and the sheep looked on without comprehension. So there, just then, Machine Project had already demonstrated their value, as the Walker got their lawn mowed. Next week, one guesses, at some other museum, the group will conceive of some project that involves washing windows, or cleaning out the basement.
There was quite a lot going on besides this. There was all sorts of pickling going on over the course of the day, and there was a movie playing in the Walker’s FlatPak prefab house, and people were attaching little speakers to watermelons, for whatever reason. I was there to see a band from Los Angeles called Fol Chen, or, at least, two members from the group. Samuel Bing and Sinosa Loa, I think, although they maintain strict privacy, and those are pseudonyms. That’s them in the photo below, and, as you can see, they hid their faces for the picture. They were doing a project called The Fol Chen Verbal Algorithm Composer-Free Song Generator, in which they created a unique song for every single person who participated. They had a little survey you filled out based on a piece of art that had struck you, and the survey included questions like “Is it hung from a wall” and “Is it older than you?” Each answer you gave was represented by a loop of music, sort of, which the two bandmembers assembled on laptop computers. The looped samples themselves were taken from ambient noises around the Walker, such as the sound of the elevator, which the band had then edited and played back as a sort of dance rhythm.
I like this idea. I have been mucking around with some new songs lately on my iPad, and have discovered that if you just twiddle some virtual nobs and punch some virtual buttons, the device starts making whatever noise it wants to. So I have been trying to create music out of whatever the hell the iPad wants to play, because what could be more modern than collaborating to make a pop song with a computer? But here the band seems to have bested me — they create music in collaboration with modern art, and in collaboration with the museum that houses it. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that Fol Chen’s music was recently featured on an episode of “CSI,” played by a young woman on an iPad who is quickly murdered. Fol Chen has never actually created music on an iPad, whereas, of course, I put out the first album made with GarageBand on the iPad, so I could cry about this, but I won’t. Fair is fair. They actually make music that sounds like it should come from an iPad, whereas I mostly just screamed a lot.
Speaking of screaming, I have to recommend a show that’s playing this Saturday night at Bryant-Lake Bowl at 10 p.m. The venue is offering something called the Women in Crisis Film Series, and they are featuring a film by modernity’s greatest woman in crisis, Meredith Baxter (formerly Baxter-Birney), who many of us first saw as the mother on “Family Ties.” Baxter went on to be something of a regular on really trashy television movies — in fact, during the sitcom, she also starred in “Kate’s Secret,” a film about bulimia nervosa, which treated the disease as a sort of “Peyton Place”-style shameful secret.
Perhaps the nadir — or, depending or your tastes, the zenith — of her career was the film that the BLB will be showcasing, “A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story,” which actually got her an Emmy nod. The case was a tabloid favorite, about an American socialite who responded pretty badly to her divorce and her ex-husband’s remarriage, breaking into his house and shooting both him and his new wife. (His last words reportedly were “Okay, you shot me. I’m dead.”) The case itself wasn’t especially notable — after all, people kill each other all the time — but the tabloids were fascinated that it had happened to an upper-class family. She was, in her own way, sort of the first Paris Hilton, in that she was a socialite gone bad. Back in 1991, you had to actually kill somebody to get this sort of attention. When Hilton came along a few years later, all she had to do was dance on tables.
Meredith Baxter’s film about the event has become, to at least a small group of cultists, a camp favorite, which can be said about almost her entire teevee movie oeuvre. Best still, the screening of this film will feature Minneapolis’ own woman in crisis, Mrs. Smith, who is herself an aged socialite with a penchant for criminally antisocial behavior, so one expects that she will have a few insights into this film.