NAKED CLOSE-UP. Compiled in Memory Of Walter Diverge By His Sorrowing Friends At The Multi-Media Space-Time Lab. Ramon Sender Barayon [a novel]
Dedicated to sweet old wonderful Ken Dewey who was one third of City Scape, author of The Gift as well as theater events and happenings he produced in many cities. In the 'sixties he became New York City Arts Commissioner in which role he sponsored many avant-garde artists before he scattered himself across a New Jersey landscape playing Spirit of St. Louis in his Piper Cub.
Author's Note: Many of the concerts and events described in this book took place in or around The San Francisco Tape Music Center, of which I was Co-Director from 1962 to 1966. All of the main characters are fictitious and any relationship to persons living or dead is coincidental. However, many of the composers and artists mentioned are real people, some appearing as themselves, some with their names changed. R.S.B.
... , we had topped the previous program, or at least matched it. Now December would have to be equally extraordinary - our audience expected it. All we had planned was a straightforward evening of chamber music. That meant finding money somewhere to pay the performers, unless we wanted to be picketed by the Musicians' Union. We were pondering lab finances when Walt spoke up. He had been standing listening to the conversation, one shoulder propped against the wall.
"I know!" he shouted. "We'll do a total city piece!" He had been impressed by the evening's program and had filmed snatches from the hallway. "Explain," I said, seated on the couch with one arm around Livvy. "We'll take them all over San Francisco," he replied, waving towards the street. "Everywhere - to the movies, the park - you know - a happening!" The idea was appealing. "We could hire a truck," I said, "and take them to specially prepared adventures in different places - maybe up to Potrero Hill - " I thought for a moment. "Or maybe out to the Mime Troupe's church in the Mission." "For a light show," Livvy added.
"Well..." Norm hesitated. "We shouldn't get too outrageous. After all, our local donors keep us afloat. We have to maintain our image as serious artists." "We are serious!" we chorused. "Just because people enjoy themselves at our concerts instead of nodding off during the slow movement," I began, but Norm cut me off with a Toscanini-like gesture.
"I'm all for music as theater," he said, milking his beard with one hand. "But it should be done really well and thought out in advance - you know what I mean. You should score out every aspect." Walt's eyes lit up. "Absolutely!" he shouted. "And we'll call it" - he squinched his eyes tight shut - "City Scape!" He raised a forefinger towards the ceiling. "That's it!"
Chapter 11 Perennia Describes City Scape
Well, we did up City Scape proud! We scored it from the trombone player in the Broadway tunnel to the reappearing lovers in the broken-down convertible to the storefront soprano in bathrobe and curlers. By then Norm and I had accepted Walt's involvement as inevitable and were warming up to his fierce enthusiasms and unique brand of creativity. The day we rolled out the finished score, Norm overcame his doubts and agreed to appear in the role of 'Lab composer hard at work'. He would record the audience when they entered and have a sound collage of their voices ready to play back mid-way through the evening.
The weather presented us with a crystal-clear December  weekend, the city squeaky clean from the rains of the previous days, a pre-Christmas consumer mania in the air. Across the Bay, 600 students had been arrested at the Sproul Hall sit-in early that month, and, after the faculty came down on the side of the Free Speechers, the administration had capitulated to their demands. In Washington, President Johnson was preparing for his first real inauguration. Loser Goldwater was predicting Nixon as the winner in '68 and oh how right he would be!
Sarah sat in the front doorway nursing Baby-Boo, and directing the audience around the house to the kitchen door. There they signed in and entered the closet one by one to answer aloud a set of questions tacked to the wall: How do you get by? Duplicate your favorite sound. Name the person of your choice to be locked up in a closet with and tell why.
Norm recorded their answers and ushered them into the living room. There they were handed crayons and turned loose on the butcher-paper-covered walls. Once we had assembled a roomful, we handed out maps directing them to a little park four blocks north on Jones Street on top of a hill facing North Beach. Livvy mounted her motor scooter and zoomed down to the Columbus Avenue Safeway. In the parking lot, Ted had marshalled four cars and drivers to perform the Car Ballet. An almost-full moon would clear the Berkeley Hills in an hour.
Headlights covered with colored gels, the cars scattered on their predetermined routes. Meanwhile, on a rooftop in the financial district, Walt began projecting liquid shapes onto the blank wall of the ten-story Wells Fargo building, mixing in some of his films.
Up in the park, the audience gradually became aware something unusual was happening below them. Walt's projections were spotted first and a set of flares which lit up a North beach balcony. The cars were merely odd pairs of colored moving lights in the traffic until they formed up single file and climbed Telegraph Hill to Coit Tower. In the parking lot they lined up facing us, blinked their lights and beeped their horns. That was spectacular! And when the drivers scattered into the bushes to set off sparklers and firecrackers, a chorus of Fourth-of-July 'oohs' and 'ahs' went up.
The park sat spang over the Broadway Tunnel and the trombone player's blasts echoed beneath our feet like a subterranean whale's sighs. On the walk back to the Lab, the storefront songstress stood in Peter Wolford's piano workshop window singing Debussy chansons in bathrobe and curlers while her accompanist hammed it up at a piano in white tie and tails. No one could be sure if she was part of the program or just a neighborhood character. We had hoped this would happen, that our events would blend into the city and thus encourage the audience to study everything they encountered with a sharpened awareness. Thus the normal zaniness of a San Francisco night would merge into our program and vice versa.
The Reappearing Lovers in their broken-down convertible showed up in front of the Lab. KK, 'the woman at the wheel,' wore a blonde wig and cocktail dress. Oren her friend was teaching her how to park. They were arguing in strident tones over the location of reverse gear. "Up to the middle and then over and up!" Oren shouted. KK struggled with exaggerated gestures, managing to grind the gears most horribly before stalling the engine. "Clutch, clutch!" Oren wailed. "But I'm doing what you told me you big gorilla - so there!" KK shrieked, bouncing in his seat and blatting the horn.
We served coffee and cookies during a short intermission while Norm played back his sound collage from the recorded closet comments. He had hand-wound the tapes at various speeds, laying down four separate tracks. The result sounded like an interplanetary barnyard, but individual voices were still recognizable enough for their owners to identify them.
"Smooth-out terrific, Norm!" I said, giving him a few strokes. He smiled and blinked his eyes modestly. "Not bad for a quickie, huh? I might use it in my next piece."
When the first of the two two-ton U-Haul trucks pulled up in front, I shooed people outside again. Ted stood by one tailgate to boost passengers aboard into the cavelike darkness. There was no way anyone could see where we were taking them. The Reappearing Lovers were still at it. KK had Oren in the trunk and was seated on the lid, pounding on his outstretched arm with a purse. "Gruesome beast!" he shouted. "I'll clutch you!"
First stop was the Mime Troupe headquarters in their old church in the Mission. Elias Romero, one of the early pioneers of the liquid light show, put on an exquisite performance. Unicellular shapes from our evolutionary past flowed across walls, merging with each other in sexy ways while spattered colors swirled in response to his tilting of the convex clock faces he used as receptacles on the overhead projectors. An hour later we piled everyone into the trucks and took off to the North Beach Cinema. The owner treated us to a bull-fighting movie in slow-motion through a Cinemascope lens which elongated the bulls into squat-legged monsters of distorted dimensions. Walt had befriended him and the idea for the show had originated from a newly-hired projectionist's mistake.
Afterwards, we handed out old books to everyone and walked two blocks down Broadway to the City Lights bookstore for a book-returning event. So many books had been stolen from Larry Ferlinghetti's store over the years that we decided to donate some, placing them on their appropriate shelves. The usual Saturday night crowds jostled past the strip joints and we were now participants in the scene we had watched from the hillside park--a unifying element in our composition.
On the corner of Broadway and Columbus, Livvy sat on her toilet again, this time fully clothed, in the doorway of the Bank of America. Walt stood in front of her dressed in a doorman's uniform, a roll of toilet paper under one arm, his mustache waxed and curled, waving people past her. "All right, move it along, " he kept saying. "Just move it along." "I can't if you look!" Livvy wailed whenever tourists stopped to stare.
An overheated convertible--hadn't we seen it somewhere before?--stalled in the intersection. The Reappearing Lovers stood on the front seat shouting at each other while traffic piled up behind them. "First is not down!" KK screamed. "First is back! I'll show you first!"
A police car turned the corner a block away. The convertible's engine suddenly sputtered and they moved in a series of head-snapping jerks towards the Broadway Tunnel where the trombonist had played his mournful solo earlier.
Reloading everyone into the trucks on bustling Columbus was an event in itself. "All aboard!" I kept shouting, hoisting bodies inside. "Where are you goin'?" a young man asked, obviously drunk. "Never you mind," I said. "Just hop in." He kept pestering me with questions while we picked up speed on the Embarcadero Freeway. "Traffic's so bad on Saturday night that we've set up an underground bus service overground," I said soberly. "Wow!" He was impressed. "Where's your first stop?" "Not quite sure," I said. "Hang in there. It's bound to be interesting."
It was now past midnight but everyone was eager for more, caught up in the boisterous spirit of the occasion. The final event of the program awaited us on top of Potrero Hill where a tree-lined park overlooked the Mission District to the west. Ted parked and I jumped out to open the rear doors. To my amazement, the park was already full of leather-jacketed youths. Two groups armed with baseball bats and chains were squared off on the grass, glaring at each other. With howls of delight, our audience ran towards them, arms outstretched, convinced they were part of the show. I tried to shout a warning but my voice was drowned out in the uproar. Just then two huge weather balloons came bouncing around the corner. A volunteer had filled them by attaching them to the exhaust of a vacuum cleaner. Such strange, podery spheres in the moonlight! They looked like extraterrestrial critters on the loose.
With our arrival, the incipient rumble faltered, and with the appearance of the balloons it disbanded. Our second truck emptied and everyone chased the balloons with glad cries. A game of surrealistic volleyball began, the steady western breeze against the rest of us. The teenagers watched openmouthed from under the trees. One balloon quickly burst in a huge puff of dust, the vacuum cleaner bag had not been emptied beforehand, transforming the nearest people into grey statues. This appealed to the adolescents' sense of humor and they doubled up with laughter.
Just then three squad cars wailed around the corner and skidded to a stop beside the trucks. Unh-oh. A hysterical neighbor had blown the whistle. Lights came on in a few houses and people's heads began peering through windows. But instead of the reported riot, the cops found a circle of chortling youths watching a group of adults make complete fools of themselves, rolling on the grass and chasing a ten-foot sphere around the seesaws.
The sargeant scratched his head with his ballpoint tip while his men checked I.D.'s. By then the youths had either merged with our people or vanished down the hillside. 'What are you?" the sergeant asked. "Some kind of church group?" Ted gave him the Lab's name and described how we were concerned about making the city safe for everyone at night and had formed our own peacekeeping committee. He was very earnest and laid it on nice and thick, spreading it evenly into the corners. The sergeant listened in silence while I went around getting everyone back into the trucks. " The cops are real," I kept saying. "Even if we're not!"
"Hey man, you people are all right!" one teenager sneered self-consciously."Does your club accept new members?" "Sure." I handed him a program. "Look us up sometime. We have concerts every month." It was a new experience for me, functioning as a benevolent social force.
Walt also was very impressed. "Imagine!" he shouted over the engine's roar. "A tactical squad made up of artists and clowns!" We could surround rioters with huge balloons filled with laughing gas. When they burst, people would begin to giggle, and tensions would dissolve into fun and games!" His eyes flashed with inspiration. "Look how well it worked this evening. And we didn't even plan it!"
Exhausted but happy, we bade goodnight to our patrons and gathered in the Lab's living room for a final cup of tea. Walt expressed his sorrow at not having filmed the evening. "But we have the score," I said. "We could repeat it again." "Only in San Francisco," Livvy said. "I just hope we don't make the papers," Norm muttered. "I'd hate to have to explain this one to my Department Chairman!"
Frankenstein had phoned the day before to ask if it was a musical event. When I explained it was planned as Total Theater, he begged off, being somewhat too frail for bouncing around town in the back of a truck. But a day or two later there was a report in the evening paper about our role in dispersing the rumble. The police sergeant was quoted as saying that, although our methods were 'unprofessional', the city would be 'a safer place if there were more groups as socially conscious' as we were. That would look good in our scrapbook, especially when we tried to hit up local sponsors for money.
Livvy and I lay awake until morning replaying scenes for each other, laughing over remarks that startled bystanders had made. For a few hours we had transmogrified the city into a magical wonderland. Now if only there were some way to make it an ongoing thing, so that no one would ever know when we might strike again. It would keep them on their toes, alert for the extraordinary, a potent antidote to the drudgy humdrum of daily chores.
"It'll be really hard to top this one, " Livvy said, snuggling closer. "We'll have to dream up something special!"
Chapter 16 Perennia On Settling In
I suppose the house-in-back constituted my first real communal experience, with Sarah as housemother. I spent every day at the Lab and Livvy was nine-to-five at the TV station, so the house filled up mostly on weekends. It turned out to be a historical monument of sorts, one of the first frame houses to be built in San Francisco. Somebody named Abner Phelps had bought it in New Orleans in 1850 and shipped it in sections through the Straits of Magellan to be reassembled here for his sickly bride Augusta. In the 'seventies it was designated an official San Francisco landmark and moved fifty or so feet to face Oak Street. Abner and Augusta! Those names really stirred my creative juices!
The first public offering after our move was Walt's City Sculpture, which Norm mentioned, sort of a spin-off from City Scape and from Walt's growing enthusiasm for the happening-type event. He wanted to assemble us in the park at 3am, when the police patrols slacked off and 'do something' with the materials he provided. KK, Oren, Verna, Livvy and I showed up in a drizzle, yawning like hungry 'gators, to confront a huge pile of scrap lumber, old doors, windows and crates which Walt spent all night scamming up. By deftly twisting some rusty lengths of bailing wire, we managed to keep the hammering to a minimum so as not to alert the neighborhood.
We built a 'thing' in the middle of the park that looked like an on-site privy for a Martian construction crew, mainly because of the door labeled 'Men" in the center of it. On the surrounding benches we arranged some quadruple amputee mannequins--about an our's work to get it all together--and stood back to admire our creation. The results were smooth-up impressive. We all agreed it had a certain indefinable charm. Two night-owl derelicts sidled up to Walt and inquired with alcoholic politeness what it was.
"A sculpture," he said. "We're donating it to the city free of charge." "Are you communists?" one of them asked. "Anarchists," Walt replied, grinning through his toothbrush-bristle mustache.
Oren became very involved with some final touches and drove home to pick up clothing and hats for the dummies. When dawn began to snuff around the city like a hungry coon hound, we gave our sculpture one last lingering glance and headed home.
It was a labor of love, as Walt explained, an expression of our affection for this friendly city of gravity-defying hills which had gathered all of us to its foggy bosom. San Francisco was good to us during those years. When I think back, I realize how the Lab could never have happened anywhere else. There was enough interest in the avant-garde to provide a rich topsoil for us to take root without the high-powered dog-eat-dog competitiveness of New York and Los Angeles.
Many other similar groups flourished in the Bay Area and matured into their specific modes of expression before reaching the limits of what they could accomplish and moving elsewhere, enticed by the lure of the Big Time. One example was the Actors Workshop's move into the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center the following year where it bombed totally.
So if you, the reader, detect a certain nostalgia for the Good Old Days of the early sixties, you're right on target! Those years before the hippie swarms vibrated with rich creative energies and a special flavor all their own. The composers who gathered around the Lab - Terry Riley, Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros and Morton Subotnick among them-all went off to make their own distinctive imprint on the musical world, each different but with their stylistic roots entwined.
City Sculpture made the afternoon paper the following day, complete with a photo. The article reported that a TWA executive had looked out his office window that morning for his normal view of St. Mary's Park, blinked twice and buzzed his secretary. "Do you see what I see?" he asked her. She peered out the window. "A shipwreck?" "Damned if I know," he muttered and phoned the Mayor's office. All departments at City Hall confessed their ignorance and a maritime expert from Port Authority was summoned to check it out as well as a few reporters with nothing better to do. The expert decided it wasn't a boat and called Park and Recreation, who disavowed any knowledge.
"Well, is it art?" someone had asked. "Maybe we ought to put a plaque on it." The Art Commission was called and their director walked around it stroking his chin. "It's definitely Junk Art," he said at last. "But we didn't commission it." "Just plain junk," Park and Recreation's commissioner grumped. "Haul it to the dump." By that evening, the fruit of our labors was gone. No one complained about the demolition. Those of us responsible were satisfied that its ephemeral mysteriousness had jolted a few consciousnesses up a notch or two.
"We'll do it again," Walt said with a happy smile. "We'll haul it back from the dump and rebuild it right on the same spot!" ...
Acknowledgments: I would like to acknowledge my indebtedness to other members of the San Francisco Tape Music Center including Don Buchla, Michael Callahan, Anthony Martin, William Maginnis, Pauline Oliveros, Chuck Shaeffer and Morton Subotnick. I have derived some written material from composer friends Terry Riley and Steve Reich as well as the poets, dancers, and musicians of San Francisco.
The theater piece described in Chapter Nine was derived from Event II by the R.G. Davis Mime Troupe performed in January 1963 at the Tape Music Center on Jones Street. It also contains elements from the Dancers Workshop Three-Legged Stool by Anna Halperin, AA Leath and John Graham. City Scape, designed by myself, Anthony Martin and Ken Dewey, is described as it occurred. City Sculpture, created by me, also occurred as described. Information is a composite based on a piece of mine and a museum event of Gerd Stern.
I would also like to acknowledge my special indebtedness to the life and work of film-maker Stan Brakhage. Many of the elements of Walter Diverge's artistic philosophy were inspired by aspects of Brakhage's life and films. I would hasten to add that he himself remains alive and well, a moving spirit in the world of cinema today.
I utilized the following books as direct and indirect sources in the development of Walt's filmscripts: Film Culture Reader, edited by P. Adams Sitney, Praeger Publishers, NY, 1970 Visionary Film by P. Adams Sitney, Oxford University Press, NY 1974 Film Is, by Stephen Dwoskin, The Overlook Press, Woodstock NY 1975 Volume 30 of Film Culture in which Brakhage's Metaphors on Vision was published.