Category Archives: piedmont ave

You can make art anywhere…

Hey all, I’ve been a bit remiss in my blogging duties… last week got away from me as I working hard in advance of the long weekend (my birthday weekend no less), which was glorious.  Hope you all had festive fourths as well!

I will likely be sporadic and pithy over the next week or so as I am still catching up, digging out, and generally working too much (the price paid for a sweet sweet vacation).

Spotted this sidewalk chalk art in the cemetery a while back…

chalk art in the road, mountain view cemetery

Isn’t this girl lovely?

art in the road, sidewalk chalk art in cemetery

It reminds me that we can make art almost anywhere!

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.

Key Route Plaza Mural

Here’s another mural by artist Rocky Rische-Baird commemorating the history of the Bay Area’s Key Route Train System…

Key Route Plaza, piedmont avenue plaza

Located at Key Route Plaza at the intersection of Piedmont Ave and 41st, the spot marks the site where the first key route electric train arrived in 1904 from a new ferry pier on the bay off Emeryville.  Later in 1937,  a new train station was built here to accommodate new streamlined trains which would run across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, transporting passengers downtown (1st and Mission) in just 27 minutes. (historic plaque)

The mural is full of symbolism, and as guest commenter Oakland Daily Photo pointed out, this one is significantly more political that the downtown version featured yesterday.  In just one section of the mural we can see figures representing Black Power, Women’s Suffrage, and our country’s military might linked to our need for petroleum.

rocky rische-baird, key route plaza, key route station piedmont ave

The primary figure in the upper right-hand corner, Francis Marion Smith
(known as “Borax” Smith for the riches he acquired in mining borax in Nevada), was the visionary behind the Key Route System.  The key he is holding “has three rings at its handle to symbolize the three lines to Berkeley, Oakland and Piedmont. The long stem represents the Key Pier, which carried trains about 3 miles over the bay, and the teeth represent the ferry slip.”

Borax Smith, Key Route System visionary

Artist Rische-Baird raised money for the production of the mural by literally selling the seats on the train.  Passengers portrayed in the windows are real live residents who contributed funds, some who actually rode the train system before its last run in 1958.

Borax Smith, Francis Marion Smith, key route mural

Much of this information and more about the artist and the production of the mural can be found in this article:  Key to the Past / A Piedmont mural captures the glory of a bygone transit system by Sam Whiting.

rocky rische-baird, key route mural

key route plaza, key route station history

Spectator Books ~ the perfect neighborhood bookstore

My catalog of independent bookstores in Oakland continues, and next stop is SpectatorAll aboard!

piedmont avenue bookstores, independent bookstores

Spectator Books is one of two bookstores on the lovely walkable retail stretch of Piedmont Avenue.  Folks love this little main street in Oakland… locals call it “The Avenue,” and as one writer notes… “There aren’t many streets where you can have your shoes “renewed” while you practice yoga, pick up organic produce, and flip through Japanese manga before lunching on anything from duck confit to fish tacos.” (Piedmont Ave… by Charity Ferreira)

The Avenue’s got it all… tons of restaurants, a grocery store, a post office, a library, shoe shops, clothing stores, card shops, toy shops, antiques, magazine stands, coffee & tea shops, hot tub rentals, day spas, movie rentals, a movie theater, and of course, bookstores.

Spectator Books is, according to one patron I spoke with, “the perfect size bookstore.” Not so big that you feel overwhelmed, but not so small that selection is severely limited or space is cramped.  To give you a sense of size, Book Zoo, which I featured yesterday, holds about 15,000 books in their store.  Spectator which is at least twice as big with a space that’s comprised of three rooms total (or about 2000 sq ft), holds somewhere around 75,000.

books at spectator books, piedmont avenue bookstore

So how do you fit 5 times as many books in a space just 2 or 3 times as big?  Well… you have to see for yourself, but it’s pretty impressive.  Every inch of wall space is used.  Once bookshelves are filled, new stacks and rows are placed on top.  Full to the ceiling?  No problem.  Start filling bins on the floor.  Or forget the bins… just stack books on the floor!  This store is chock full, and there’s a lot of fun stuff to look at.  And I specifically mean “look” at.

Spectator is run by Tim Hildebrand who has a background in Art & Photography, in addition to his MFA in creative writing.  One of the unique things about his store, which sells both new and used books, is the large collection of Art books.  In some ways this is a natural reflection of his love for visual arts, but in another sense, it’s downright strategic, focusing on books that are simply pleasurable to hold in one’s hands… gorgeous illustrations or large scale photography or beautiful bindings.  These are items that won’t translate well to Kindle’s and iPad’s, and Tim’s belief is that these new digital readers will affect sales of text-only books more dramatically.  Pretty smart, eh?

independent bookstores east bay

oakland independent bookstores

art books east bay, art books oakland, spectator books
While the store is predominantly filled with used books, there is a nice collection of current releases on the front table.  Tim says these are the types of books that have been hurt most by online sales to Amazon, with 50% of fiction today being bought online.  However, the goal is for Spectator to really be a “general bookstore“, so he stocks a small collection of current fiction.

He’s also formed a collaborative relationship with the movie theater across the street, not only stocking the titles that are playing across the street (ie – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was a pretty great movie by the way (Swedish version)), but also donating copies for the theater’s weekly raffle.  It’s a win-win for both establishments, not to mention the local customer.  This is indicative of the real community spirit on Piedmont Ave.

It’s been a tough economy for small retailers (hell, for all retailers) during the last couple of years, and despite Piedmont Ave’s charm and walkability, it too has suffered, with numerous store closures and reportedly 18 empty storefronts at one point.

For this reason, it’s even more important that those who survive and thrive support each other, and you do get this feeling.  Tim speaks highly of Black Swan Books, also on The Avenue, not as a competitor, but as a collaborator in the effort to keep books alive. A smaller store with narrower selection, Black Swan features collectibles, old & out of print books, antiques (including old maps), and more cutting edge materials (like their occult section).  I hope to get to them in another post…

children's books east bay, children's used books oakland

Community Bookstore Oakland
Not only do most retailers know each other, but most know their customers by name.  During my 15 minute interview with Tim, at least 5 customers came through the door who all knew Tim by name, and he knew their’s as well.  You can’t get that kind of personalized service at Borders.  This is community.

A few other noteworthy points… Spectator buys books everyday from 11 – 5.  As with other used bookstores, they are pretty discriminating, but really do rely upon the local community for their stock.  Sections grow and diminish based upon customer preferences… current highlights are:  cookbooks, metaphysics/spirituality, black studies, mysteries, and as mentioned, their art books section. They also feature a large children’s section (a whole room!), used DVDs, a specialized book-buyer (from now defunct Cody’s) who can find whatever you’re looking for, even if you just have a portion of the title. He’s that good.

Please visit Spectator & Black Swan on your next trip to Piedmont Avenue, and… say it with me now… Support your local booksellers!

Have a great holiday weekend everyone.  And check back next week for more indie-bookstores, including some great events with local authors and more…

spectator books

Tim Hildebrand, Spectator Books