Category Archives: beautiful buildings

Garden of Memory ~ Summer Solstice Concert

Did anyone check out this event?  I did.

I try to go every year and it’s easy to plan ahead because they always hold this event on the Summer Solstice, in the fantastical venue of the Chapel of the Chimes.  If you haven’t seen this incredible building, it’s one of the most precious architectural gems in Oakland… a real treasure.  So much so I think I’m going to dedicate a separate post just to the Chapel. But for now, let’s talk about this awesome event…

garden of memory, summer solstice concert, new music bay area

The event is organized by New Music Bay Area, an organization of composers, musicians, and new music lovers dedicated to promoting contemporary music in the local community. 

So what exactly is “new music”? It’s obviously contemporary, but it’s more than that.  I’m probably not the best person to explain it, but it seems to be primarily experimental in nature.  This is accomplished through any number of means… unusual treatment of conventional instruments (eg – using the body of a standup bass as a percussive instrument), unusual instruments (ie – fabricated concoctions out of organic or electronic materials), unconventional musical arrangements where genres are mixed, boundaries are pushed, and outcomes are completely unpredictable, and more.

It’s often not the easiest stuff to listen to, but as one who is completely uninterested in Top 40 music, and often bored by conventional mainstream music (verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, verse, chorus… ho hum), I find this stuff fascinating.

This year there were just under 40 separate performances and an incredibly wide spectrum of musical styles and genres was covered…   It’s nearly impossible to see everything, but half the fun is wandering through the incredible labyrinth of rooms that comprise the Chapel of the Chimes to see what one can discover.

Here are some pics and video from my exploration…

new music bay area, summer solstice concert, garden of memory

This was the first performance I saw… Laura Inserra playing a type of drum that I have never even seen before. Completely mesmerizing…

This musician had fashioned a very Dr. Seussian contraption of an instrument… long plastic tubing from his trumpet climbed around the room, terminating in “speakers” made from the hollowed out gourds of seaweed. Crazy, right? It sounded amazing.

bay area new music, garden of memory concert

bay area new music, dr seuss, organic musical instrument

Here is Larnie Fox with The Crank Ensemble… I’ve seen these guys numerous times over the years. It’s always good fun. Wielding homemade instruments of the most unusual designs (and I do believe every one has to have a crank), all mic’d and connected through a sound board for amplification and sound mixing, they performed while two directors communicated changes to them through a series of small handwritten signs. Hilarious.

A short snippet here of a guitarist performing in one of the tiny cloisters… (regretfully I did not get the artist’s info)

summer solstice experimental music concert

Another brief snippet of the performance of Adam Fong, Ken Ueno, and Edward Schocker. I was particularly fascinated by the incredible sounds that were generated from these vases of water…

This installation (below) by Maggi Payne was really cool. She basically constructed a series of small devices to act as musical instruments, each triggered by the flowing water of a fountain. Essentially, the fountain was conducting its own mini orchestra. She was able to change the instruments by tapping an orchid linked to a motherboard programmed with varying instrument groupings. Incredible.

bay area new music, summer solstice concert

bay area new music, garden of memory

Last, here is a beautiful piece performed by the women’s vocal ensemble Kitka

If you’re at all interested in this kind of music/performance art, there’s a cool event this weekend on Sunday evening at the lovely Kaiser Rooftop Garden near Lake Merritt…

Scenes from a Lingering Garden
Sunday 6/27
5 – 8pm

$5 donation suggested

From the website…

Oakland sound artist and composer Hugh Livingston presents “scenes from a lingering garden”, a combination performance and installation covering the 3.5 acres of the Kaiser Rooftop Garden in Oakland.

A field of gongs will occupy a back corner of the garden, designed and engineered by Matthew Goodheart.

Roving instrumentalists add to the mix of hidden speakers in magnolia trees, ornamental firs and a black bamboo grove. The soundscapes are composed from sounds of Oakland and around the world, calling attention to the presence of wind, water and birds. The scenes are a set of variations, providing different views of similar musical material, without a driving component of time, allowing each visitor to experience the composition at their own pace and according to their own tastes.

WPA Murals at the Courthouse

So remember a few months ago (actually, January… yikes!) when I went to The Alameda County Courthouse?  I mentioned a couple of imposing marble mosaic murals that somehow, despite their large size (15 feet tall) and proximity to the main entrance of the building, I missed.

Well, I was back at the Courthouse last Friday and can happily say, I’ve seen them now and am bringing them to you a mere 6 months later.  Phew.

First an explanation…  The main entrance and lobby which feature the lovely artworks, are no longer the main entrance and lobby.  The entire area has been cordoned off, and signs warn visitors that venturing beyond the ropes will set off the alarm system.  Did I listen? Of course not.

I wasn’t going to try to exit that part of the building which has now, sadly, been designated an emergency exit only.  But I was going to sneak closer to get a few better shots of these beauties…

The alarms signaled immediately. That’s it, I thought.  I’m done for. They’re coming for me.  But I might as well get the shots!

I probably set that damn alarm off five times before a security guard came and said, “Hey, you’re setting the alarm off.”  But I just want to take a picture of the pretty artwork sir. “OK.”  And then he left.  Nice security.

marble mosaic murals, terrazo floors, alameda county courthouse

Here are the two murals, mosaics created out of colored marble with backing of silver and gold leaf… created through the WPA (Works Progress Administration), a federal funding program that was established in 1935 to “provide economic relief to the citizens of the United States who were suffering through the Great Depression.” Think stimulus funds, but 75 years ago. Amazingly, a significant chunk of this money went to fund art projects. (

The murals, designed by Marian Simpson and sculpted by Gaetano Duccini were completed in 1938.  The first depicts Native American and Hispanic history of Alameda County, while the second portrays the settlement of the area by frontier settlers.

marble mosaic mural, marian simpson marble mural, alameda county courthouse

marble mosaic murals, WPA murals, courthouse murals, marian simpson marble murals

I’m in awe of the fact that these are constructed out of colored stone…. it’s some incredible craftsmanship. It’s too bad we can’t readily view them as they were intended to be viewed.

Rather you must now enter the courthouse through a side door to pass through “airport security” before entering the building.  And should you want to sneak a peak, you can do so only while sirens wail as you wait for the man in the uniform to come for you.

Mormon Temple

Like a giant night light in the sky, this glowing beauty guides me towards my new home…

mormon temple, lincoln heights, glowing spaceship

Pics shot with my iPhone, these two after hoofing it up the hill a bit…

glowing church on hill, church of latter day saints

oakland mormon temple, glowing spaceship on hill

More on this in a future post…

The Downtown Key Route Mural

Hey everybody… I’m back from an unexpected hiatus.  Did you miss me?

I thought I could get to some quick posts this past week, but was quickly deluged by streams of cardboard, packing tape, and mountains of goods destined for other homes.  It was a crazy week, but the house is coming together, our garage sale was moderately successful, and though I feel as though I’ve been run over by a freight train, I’m now somewhat back in the swing of things.

Hoping to finish up my bookstore series in the near future, but in the meantime, here’s a little something else…

key system building, early skyscraper oakland

rocky rische-baird, oakland heritage alliance

key system building, key system transit line, rocky rische-baird

oakland heritage alliance, history of key system building

Great historical information in this video, thanks to the Oakland Heritage Alliance:

Mural designed by Rocky Rische-Baird
Mural painted by Rocky & Erica
Rische-Baird (2008)