THE SUN Ceremony @ Berkeley Art Museum

12 Jul

Expecting to be handed a set of drumsticks upon entering an art museum is not entirely normal. But it was entirely awesome the night of THE SUN ceremony at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

photos courtesy of Terri Loewenthal

A core group of 40 musicians, artists and friends facilitated the audience-inclusive ceremony paying homage to the sun, our earth’s principle source of vitality. Oakland based artist Chris Duncan orchestrated the sound based group through a fellowship at the Kala Institute in Berkeley. The resulting ceremony of drums, cymbals, silence and singing is reminiscent of the Sun Dance practiced by Native American tribes as a celebration of renewal and rebirth, minus the dancing, fasting and self-torture.

Anywho. Let’s get back to the night of the ceremony.

Museum doors opened to a steady drone, which set the tone for the layers of sound and light projections to progress, peak and diminish as a loose representation of the sun’s daily cycle. A large, white painted, excellently papier-mâché orb began to rise as vocal announcements of “THE SUN” reverberated from a live recording. It continued to rise as drum calls were initiated and the beats swam through the museum while projectors from above cast light upon sun.

Once the sun hit its peak, the proverbial wall between audience and performer was broken and all who held one of the 130 pairs of drumsticks beat the surface before them, unifying presence and energy. Simple, color-coded music sheets posted throughout the area notified the audience-as-performers when to stop the Sun Jam and play upon the 22 cymbals hanging from the museum’s soaring ceiling. Cymbals stopped. White costumed performers sang as they perched from the overhangs of the galleries above and others made their way down the walkways and joined those singing on the ground floor’s center gallery. Silence, even the ambient drone. The sun begins to set. Dark spirals are projected onto the sun, diminishing its brilliance.

A young lady with light brown, braided hair wrapped around her head casts salt upon a large metal plate. Eight performers of various white costumes double-fist large green bottles and blow for the low tones as the young lady sings her distant, unearthly child’s cry. The microphone she holds is attached to a Chladni plate and the vibrations move the salt into pictures. The metal plate resting above a speaker follows the research and design of eighteenth century German physicist and musician Ernst Chladni, who played around with nodal patterns, making sounds visible in other words. The pictures, she said later, dictated what she sung and what she sung dictated the pictures. Her name is Meara O’Reilly and she is a sound designer, instrument builder and former member of the band Feathers.

THE SUN ceremony is the first of four performances programmed by Oakland based artist David Wilson in conjunction with his Gatherings exhibit and the Berkeley Art Museum’s L@TE program. Judging by the success of THE SUN, I suggest you check out what lies ahead in the upcoming Friday night performances.


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