‘guns & consequences’ cancelled by bomb threat at NIU campus last night

Guns And Consequences was a spoken word event I organized in conjunction with the exhibition UNLOADED, which is on view at Northern Illinois University’s Art Gallery through October 24. Sponsored by the Center for Black Studies, the event was scheduled for October 8, 2015. It was cancelled by an all-campus bomb threat.

Yesterday I travelled from Milwaukee to Chicago and from Chicago to DeKalb. Josephine Burke, the musuem director who had programmed the show, picked me up at the Elburn Metra station. Elburn’s like a big taxi stand with adjacent parking lot, in the middle of cornfields.

Jo apologized for being late, she’d gotten caught behind a harvester on her drive to the station, its bits and pieces of corn and hay or whatever scattering across the road. I asked how the show UNLOADED had been received. She talked about how some people had seen the show, some of the talks had been very well attended, and how some of the campus who live with PTSD from the 2008 shooting incident could not walk into the show yet.

She mentioned offhand how she designed the installation, how she pulled walls from the gallery so visitors could find the exit if they had a panic attack. Then she realized that “a person could walk in and strafe the whole show.”

There it is, that fear that comes up, again. While designing fliers to support my own appearances – the artist talk for ungun, the flier announcing the performance-basd installation where I listen to visitors tell me their stories about guns – the tension slick with fear. Make sure the send and receive flier is deeply inclusive. I want to hear their experiences. All of their experiences. I am not collecting stories to make an argument. This is art, not argument.

Later I was setting up cameras to document spoken word performances by Nikki Patin , Tara Betts, Reginald Eldridge, Billy Tuggle, Mojdeh Stoakley. A three-camera shoot, for once! With good tripods. Art people know what I mean, the luxury of time to set up documentation, to pick your shots. I was goofing with Reggie, who was going to use this amazing AV setup to do something with images and words together. The trustee’s boardroom includes a remote like a garage door opener that lifts a screen out of the furniture . . . And the security guard came in and asked us to leave, all the buildings are being evacuated.

Nikki arrived at the room as the security guard mentioned “bomb threat”. Really? Really? Later when we’re all huddled under a little cement hutch-thing we joked about how a group that’s majority brown people go to a mostly-white college campus to talk about gun violence and there’s a bomb threat.

Stephen, the gallery manager, snapped photos with his iPhone, risking water damage – the sky had opened up as well with a pounding rain. And as we puzzled it out, as we thought about Jo’s statement that NIU closed some smaller campuses over the summer and it’s probably someone who lost a job – the threat was directed at all the buildings on the NIU campus, it’s not about us – I thought about the white guy who called in bomb threats almost once a week to my high school. This was fall of my Senior Year. Is it bad that I remember his name? Or compassionate? He had so much hatred. He would smile and fake his niceness but the poison was there, controlling 1,000 high school kids from a distance, with his phone.

Eventually the bus bringing Billy Tuggle and one audience member from the Metra mades it. And Mojdeh drove in. She talked about the strangeness of driving to a place every car was fleeing from.

I had to get back into the building to collect my suitcase; Jo needed to lock up the camera equipment. I did the fastest teardown I could. Jo inadvertently alerted security to us being in the building by pulling down a shade in the window.

We were asked to leave again, this time by a gentle Hispanic security guard who said “We chose not to hit the alarms. That would be too much.” Instead they walked through every floor of every building. This is what you do when you have a bomb threat on a college campus that survived a thing.

I thanked him for that, profusely; the evacuation was triggering enough. He said, “I’m just glad I found you in there before the dogs came through. They wouldn’t have liked finding you.” He had a long night ahead. Bomb-sniffing dogs had to visit every building on campus.

scott blake’s chuck close ted talk

In July of 2012 I wrote the blog post, In Which I Explain How Chuck Close is a Painter.

Scott walks us through his experience dealing with Mr. Close, how he made the artwork, and more, in his Ted talk. Great example of artist-on-artist ‘dialogue’ (or its lack) . . .

 

 

On the whole, I find Chuck Close’s response to Scott’s work intrinsically analog – object-oriented, rather than experience-oriented.

 

something about the importance of frank zappa

I might be movin’ to Montana soon
Just to raise me up a crop of Dental Floss Raisin’ it up
Waxen it down
In a little white box
I can sell uptown

 

I met him through his daughter, Moon Unit, who had a pop song that did really well in the early 80’s. I loved him for the kind of music that he made that was all squiggly (for the lack of a better word) that had lyrics like the ones to Montana, which run through this little essay.

Later he became Seriously Important. His testimony at the PMRC labeling hearings before Congress were aired on TV. His testimony declared creative freedom, defended personal liberty to create.

 

Part 1 – Frank Zappa at PMRC Senate Hearing on Rock Lyrics

 

Frank’s testimony provides astute insight into the gap between performer and audience. His description of audience as ‘consumers’ back then touches the contemporary audience identity of those who now get their music without paying for it.

 

Movin’ to Montana soon
Gonna be a Dental Floss tycoon
(yes I am)

 

Revisiting his testimony, I reflect on his discussion of ‘the music industry’. Record labels mediated the relationship between composer (Zappa’s language) and audience. Music was a product, to the audience. For the composer, music is an activity. The industry itself transformed music from activity to product. Congress was acting to regulate that – the way that music as a product was marketed to the audience. Zappa was testifying to how that regulation would affect the creator.

 

I’m ridin’ a small tiny hoss
(His name is MIGHTY LITTLE)
He’s a good hoss
Even though He’s a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or
Blanket on anyway

 

Zappa’s core message has been ignored. Why regulate music, declaring it good or bad? Why not provide music education in the public education systems funded by the government, so that people can decide for themselves what is good or bad? I mean, that’s the function of the constitution, right? To provide us with the liberty to enjoy our deciding of good and bad in our own lives.

 

He’s a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or
Blanket on anyway
Any way I’m pluckin’ the ol’ Dennil Floss
Even if you think it is a little silly, folks
I don’t care if you think it’s silly, folks
I don’t care if you think it’s silly, folks

 

His loopy, scribbly music. He talks about finding musical lines from the cadences of ordinary speech. Music as conversation. I’ve been learning how to write a fugue, more recently, with all of Bach’s etiquette. And here, in the fugue, is the process of conversation – a musical idea is passed back and forth between voices, evolving through slight shifts in notes and presentation. The vocabulary for the techniques of the fugue is a vocabulary of conversation.

Zappa takes that conversation from music theory to include the waveform. He talks about that in a wonderful documentary made after he was diagnosed with cancer.

 

Frank Zappa – Peefeeyatko

 

Peefeeyatko contains the transition from instrumental music to the computer as performance tool. Today’s software puts Zappa’s programmable synthesizer into ordinary computers anyone can walk into a store and buy. This is important, and overlooked, I think, in the fight over who gets to better identify our discontent.

 

Every other wrangler would say
I was mighty grand
By myself I wouldn’t
Have no boss
But I’d be raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss
Raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss
Raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss

 

Our culture struggle with the problem of music-as-product vs. music-as-experience. The form by which the audience purchases it is so easy. Click a virtual button, a virtual thing downloads to an imaginary space inside a computer. Keep track of one’s sonic possessions by looking at lines of text on a screen. Keep track of those virtual possessions using a tool that you use to write email, read the internet, and do other things. Listen to that data file by clicking on it using a virtual tool, a mouse or trackpad.

The audio file is an invisible body. LP records, 8 tracks, cassette tapes, CDs are things, they give music physical weight. Does the iPod get heavier when I sync my music to it? The experience of listening is easily forgotten. The appreciation of value provided by the listening experience? Often overlooked, for it is our experience. American culture teaches the art of dissatisfaction, in order to fuel ongoing consumption.

Its so easy it makes people forget, or never learn, that the act of creating music takes a lot of work. Work which I need to return to – I want to learn how to write a fugue by writing a fugue, and writing this essay is a little bit of a distraction from that (I’m about a third of the way through that process).

Technology makes many things very easy for us. Technology makes it easy to consume. Remember to value what comes from us, what the tools themselves can’t do – like create the music, like play or speak from the stage.