Saturday, February 05, 2005

Burn the stages OR Turn the musicians into the audience

Thanks to my girlfriend Robin, I got to see PS1 in Queens- a wonderful museum (under the umbrella of MOMA) that still has the set-up of a school, with the classrooms and everything. What's most impressive about this space are the enormous rooms which give works a lot of space to be seen and appreciated, especially Czech photographer Katharina Sieverding's huge prints and Hans-Peter Feldmann's 100 Years project (photos of 100 subjects from 8 months to 100 years old) occupying one room for itself.

What struck me about the exhibits wasn't just the imaginativeness of the works themselves but how the space was being used so well and the fact that the space itself existed. Back in Manhattan, the uptown Guggenheim is the only major museum that doesn't have the usual stale, one smallish room leading to another (though the re-opened MOMA does have some nicely expansive areas). Obviously, a major part of this is rent- thanks to the cozy relationship between the Mayor's office and developers for the last two decades, it's harder and harder to open a new space and maintain it. Many galleries are flocking to Chelsea now but once they start opening Duane Reade's in the area, the artists are going to have to run away to another, cheaper area. Eventually, NYC is going to run out of these areas for them to run off to and then where do all the artists and galleries go? NJ? Long Island? Connecticut? If NYC is going to be turned into a huge strip mall, what's the allure of this place going to be anymore?

But enough ranting about gentrification... what I'm also really concerned about are how music is presented to the public. The large spaces of PS1 which made many Manhattan museums look inadequate made me wonder about music performance spaces in the city also. You know the routine- box office in front, then maybe a coat check, then maybe a bar, then the floor to mill about with the stage at the front. It's a nice model that's worked for decades now but with the rest of the music industry in flux why do we have to keep using this same old boring model?

Where else could the band be? Where else could the audience be? What should be their spatial relationship to each other? Should it be direct? Could the musicians become the audience and vice versa? Think of PIL's riot show at the Ritz? Not something that clubs would want to repeat but it did demand questions about how music is presented. Also think of some of La Monte Young's museum performances- he would show up at an un-announced time during the day and perform for an unspecified time. Again, because of rents being what they are, these questions can't be asked except in theoretical terms. There once was the Anchorage, which was an adventurous space within the Brooklyn Bridge but that was closed after 9-11 because of security concerns. Then there are some multi-room art spaces like the Cave in Williamsburg where different multi-media performances happen in difference areas, sometimes simoultaneously. What you see too often instead are small, overstuffed spaces with triple bills where the opening act doesn't go on until after 11PM, even on a weeknight. That's not even mentioning the 50% mark-up that fans have to endure from Ticketmaster.

City Hall comes into play again here because of the hostile stance that they've taken about clubs with both Gulianni and Bloomberg- all the fines they hand out from old Cabaret laws they dust off the books and their 'quality of life' mission, which again seeks to turn the area into a tourist-friendly mall. Unless you think this is unique to NYC, Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribute did a brilliant article last year about the same problems happening there: Clubs and the City.

So again, I'm left wondering if we can still maintain clubs, is there any creative way to present live music? With clubs struggling for their livelihood now, they might unfortunately not even have the time to consider such a question. That's a shame because just as the I-Pod makes us rethink our relationship to recorded music, these clubs can also make us rethink our relationship to live music.


Blogger Michael said...

The comparison of (PS1 is to SoHo art gallery) as (dowtown rock club is to to be formed rock venue) is apt from a real estate perspective. The problem is that too many of the clubs stick to the old formula of being located downtown. This was great when downtown was marginal real estate. That no longer being the case, venues are too small (oh I hate the knitting factory) and have to charge too much for shows. The economics of true indie rock require cheap rent. It is time for venues to take shape in more off the beaten path locales. And just like for PS1, Long Island City would be a great location. One stop out of Manhattan on the 7. Lots of underutilized large spaces. There are countless other similar places in the near boroughs. I understand your point that such places are being pushed further and further out, but we are currently in a real estate bubble that will correct itself as interest rates rise. Venues just have to look outside the downtown paradigm. As for headliners not going on until 11 on school nights, I am afraid you are just showing your age on that one.

8:05 PM  

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