Ken Jacobs & Aki Onda: “A Primer in Sky Socialism” with Alan Licht / Susan Alcorn Solo

Saturday, January 13th, ISSUE is pleased to present a screening of Brooklyn-born avant-garde film pioneer Ken Jacobs’ 3D film A Primer in Sky Socialism, presented alongside the premiere of a film score by Aki Onda. Enfolding the broad collaborative spirit of Jacobs’ Nervous Magic Lantern (staged with Onda at ISSUE in 2012), Onda’s new score develops their uncanny audio-visual overlap and filmic dialogue -- one that exists between the found sonic interventions of Onda’s field recording practices and the ghostlike illusions, visual obfuscations, and abstract images existing in Jacob’s projection techniques. The new score is performed live in collaboration with musician and writer Alan Licht, who has extensively collaborated with Onda, most notably on their collaborative LPs Everydays and Lost City (also with Loren Connors).

To celebrate the opening of ISSUE’s 2018 season, Baltimore-based pedal steel guitarist Susan Alcorn also performs solo before the film, showcasing her signature extension of the instrument’s emotional strengths and microtonal possibilities -- existing in parallel to the evening’s spectral subject matter.

Premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in May 2013, A Primer in Sky Socialism continues Ken Jacobs’ exploration into 3D filmmaking, renewing his fascination with the histories and technologies of the moving image, a theme that has preoccupied his work for over 50 years. Shot on the Brooklyn Bridge with a view of the fireworks, this long-form film privileges the experiential over narrative drive.

Focusing on the aesthetic experience of cinematic form, Jacobs uses digital 3D processing to delve into the human perception of depth in a dizzyingly brightly colored nighttime perspective of a bustling New York City. The result is a hallucinatory three-dimensional watching experience, in which an iconic monument becomes host to the impossible phenomena and non-existing locations that come to life in the projected dimension between the screen and the gaze of the spectator.

Ken Jacobs (New York, 1933) is a central figure in post-war experimental cinema. In 1966, after becoming an integral part of legendary collectives like the NY Film-Makers’ Cooperative, he and his wife Flo founded the first open-to-all filmmaking studio, The Millennium Film Workshop. Driven by an abiding interest in the act of viewing and the spectator’s relationship with the image, in 1969 Jacobs produced Tom, Tom the Piper's Son, a two-hour film based on a ten-minute short from 1905. In the fall of 1969, he created with filmmaker Larry Gottheim a Cinema Department focused on avant-garde practice at the State University of New York at Binghamton, where he taught for over 30 years. After his fascination with the fact of screen-flatness in Tom, Tom, an abiding interest in illusionary depth entered his work. In the mid-1970s, the artist began to develop the “Eternalism”. With an arrangement of two 16mm stop-motion projectors, he created active illusions that could be seen without glasses and even by one eye in three-dimensions via rapid juxtapositions of closely related film-frames, held onscreen for sometimes minutes at a time. In 2000, The Nervous Magic Lantern took over from The Nervous System as a performance device and he moved from film to digital production.

Aki Onda is a New York-based artist and composer. He is particularly known for his “Cassette Memories” — works compiled from a “sound diary” of field-recordings collected by using the cassette Walkman over a span of last quarter-century. He creates compositions, performances, and visual artworks from those sound memories. Onda often performs in interdisciplinary fields and collaborates with filmmakers, visual artists, and choreographers, including Ken Jacobs,
Michael Snow, Raha Raissnia, Akio Suzuki, and Takahiro Kawaguchi. Onda’s work has been presented numerous institutions such as MoMA, The Kitchen, documenta 14, Pompidou Center, Louve Museum, Palais de Tokyo, Bozar, and many others.

A musician and writer, Alan Licht has appeared on over 100 recordings that range from indie rock to minimalist composition to free improvisation. Recent releases include Currents, a solo acoustic album, and Tomorrow Outside Tomorrow, a collaboration with Tetuzi Akiyama, Rob Mazurek, and Oren Ambarchi. A contributing music editor at BOMB magazine who has written frequently for Artforum, Art Review, Modern Painters, Parkett, and many other publications, he is also the author of Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories (Rizzoli, 2007) and the editor of Will Oldham on Bonnie 'Prince' Billy (Faber & Faber/W.W. Norton, 2012).

One of the world’s premiere musical innovators on her instrument, Baltimore-based Susan Alcorn has taken the pedal steel guitar far beyond its traditional role in country and western swing music. Known among steel guitarists for her virtuosity and authenticity in a traditional context, Alcorn first paid her dues in Texas country & western bands. Soon she began to expand the vocabulary of her instrument through her study of modern classical music (Messiaen, Varèse, Penderecki), the deep listening of Pauline Oliveros, Astor Piazzolla’s nuevo tango, free jazz, and world musics (Indian rags, South American songs, and gamelan orchestra). Her pieces reveal the complexity of her instrument and her musical experience while never straying from a very direct, intense, and personal musical expression.

Though mostly a solo performer, Alcorn has collaborated with numerous artists including Pauline Oliveros, Eugene Chadbourne, Peter Kowald, Chris Cutler, Joe Giardullo, Caroline Kraabel, Le Quan Ninh, Gerry Hemingway, Joe McPhee, LaDonna Smith, Mike Cooper, Ellen Fullman, Jandek, George Burt, Janel Leppin, Michael Formanek, Phillip Greenlief, Ellery Eskelin, Fred Frith, Maggie Nicols, Jeff Snyder and the Mivos Quartet, Evan Parker, Zane Campbell, and Mary Halvorson. Solo recordings include Uma (Loveletter 2000), Curandera (Uma Sounds 2005), Concentration (Recorded 2005), "And I Await the Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar" (Olde English Spelling Bee 2007), "Touch This Moment" (Uma Sounds 2010), "Soledad" (Relative Pitch 2015), and Evening Tales (Mystra 2016). In 2017, Susan was the recipient of the prestigious Baker Artist Award and the Imboden Prize.