All posts for the month July, 2010

For those who can’t get enough of Bunker Hill the way it used to be,  Bunker Hill 1956 has just been posted to vimeo.

The 17-minute film was a project by students at USC Film School, directed by Kent MacKenzie, who went on to direct The Exiles, a feature about Native Americans living on Bunker Hill.  As with the series of stunning color photographs mentioned here before, those documenting the neighborhood for this film knew that its days were numbered.  In this case, the focus is on the pensioners living there and what was to become of them.  As one longtime resident says of the Community Redevelopment Agency’s plan:

Their method of going about it is to not only clear the slums but clear all the people out of the area, and rebeautify the whole thing, rebuild and  put an opera house up here.  Make a picture area out of it, without keeping the inhabitants in mind at all.

The film vividly captures the fabric of the area, the rich textures of a drug store, a shoemaker’s shop, meager apartments, and everyday street scenes.  And there are great shots of Angels’ Flight (in its original form) and the Grand Central Market.

(via LA Observed)

The Theremin, invented in the 1920’s by Russian physicist Léon Thermin, has all too often been relegated to producing creepy sounds for 1950’s sci-fi flicks or making horrible noise to augment the music of 90’s hipster bands.  This is due in part to the obscurity of the instrument, it’s interesting electronic sound, and the fact that the player never actually touches the Theremin, instead moving their hands in the proximity of its antennas to vary the pitch and volume.  Because of its novelty, few people have taken the time to actually practice on it and learn to play it as the musical instrument it is.

Clara Rockmore worked with Léon Thermin and toured the world playing this incredible instrument.  Arguably the greatest thereminist who ever lived, she played for over 50 years until her death in 1998 at age 87.

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Early in the video, she’s interviewed while having dinner with synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog, whose company manufactures theremins.  Late in the clip, she plays another song.  She’s so good, you’d swear she’s playing a cello, but it’s actually a series of capacitors and oscillators.

About 10 years ago, I heard an interview with Bob Moog on NPR about the theremin.  I started researching it and eventually obsessing over owning and playing one.  When I started to dream I was playing one, I knew it was time for action.  One of the two electronic instrument dealers in LA who actually stocked Big Briar theremins was, strangely enough, half a block from my office.  Imagine dreaming of buying a theremin for months, only to find out a dozen were sitting on a shelf a few hundred feet away from my desk.  The place was off a back alley in North Hollywood, and I picked one up on my lunch hour.  I don’t know if that place is still there.  Maybe it was never there.  More about my theremin experience in a later post (if anyone is interested).

CalArts was founded by Walt and Roy Disney in 1961 with the merger of the LA Conservatory of Music and the Chouinard Art Institute.  Classes weren’t offered until 1970, and the current location in Valencia didn’t open until 1971, so the vision set forth in this mid-60’s film was pretty much just that.

But the quality of the film and the vibrancy of the color is stunning.  There are gorgeous renderings of the future Music Center downtown, as well as a LACMA that didn’t materialize as shown.  And a huge modern film museum across from the Hollywood Bowl that also didn’t happen, though the site currently houses the Hollywood Heritage Museum‘s Lasky-Demille Barn.

The most shocking revelation are the renderings of the proposed campus perched high above Hollywood in the Cahuenga Pass between the 101 and Lake Hollywood.  When I checked Google Earth, the ridge today is still mostly open space, save for one tiny feature: the beautiful and historic Ford Amphitheater.  Now how could the city allow a venerable landmark to be destroyed to build a school?  Oh right.

via The CalArts Story on Vimeo.

First in my series of virtuosos who mastered obscure instruments is Emmett Chapman.

This clip not only includes incredibly expressive playing of a then newly-invented instrument, but also illustrates the wit and sophistication of one of my favorite game shows: What’s My Line (the Larry Blyden daytime syndicated version).

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Chapman created the Stick in the 60’s and started manufacturing and selling them in 1974.  Because the strings are tapped, not strummed, one can play two separate lines and chords, like a piano, but  with the sound and style of an electric guitar (or two).  He’s based in LA and still makes them.

Be sure to catch the Fuzzy Logic Boptet around town if you can.  They’re a fantastic jazz combo, and Jim Wright plays a mean touch-style guitar.  (I know it’s a Warr guitar and not a Chapman Stick but they’re both still neat).

More grim employment news for the San Gabriel Valley reported in the Pasadena Star News.  The unemployment rate held virtually steady at 12.2% countywide.  And the small, affluent town of Bradbury seven miles east of Pasadena has no one on the unemployment rolls and is still facing a rate of 7.3%.

The Milestone Theatre Company is mounting a production of The Laramie Project to benefit the LGBT community in Pasadena.  Tickets are $25 with proceeds going to the AIDS Service Center and PFLAG of Pasadena.  The Laramie Project follows the true experiences of the actors in the Tectonic Theatre Project as they interview the residents of Laramie, Wyoming in the aftermath of gay college student Matthew Shepard’s brutal murder.  The show runs July 23rd to August 1st at the Church of Truth in Pasadena.  To buy tickets, visit the or