The late conceptual artist Joseph Beuys, the thematic link connecting those at the Broad’s Summer Happenings series on Saturday night, long pondered extreme self-expression in his work and his teachings.
“When I speak of art, I mean the possibilities still embedded in this field, sleeping, dreaming undetected,” the artist said in a 1983 interview, adding that for him, art was “the science of freedom” and that “even the act of peeling a potato can be an artistic act if it is consciously done.”
Beuys’ ideas surged to life at the Broad, where music-focused artists including Japanese noise innovator EYE, Georgia artist-bard Lonnie Holley, New York frequency weaver Pharmakon (Margaret Chardiet), German “krautrock” innovators Faust and Miami noise monger Total Freedom delivered oft-brutal assaults.
The sets on the second of four evenings in the downtown museum’s inventive annual performance series brought Beuys' philosophy into the here and now.
That was true whether raging against the imaginary borders separating real families (Holley), waxing on the beauty of circles (Faust) or rubbing an amplified balloon to squeakily propel a musical workout, as electronic duo Matmos did during a typically clever set.
The night was notable for any number of reasons, but high on the list was a rare Los Angeles performance by the Japanese artist known as EYE. The artist is best known as a founding member of the Tokyo-based collective Boredoms, and his last L.A. performance occurred almost exactly a decade ago when, on Aug. 8, 2008, he and band convened 88 drummers at the La Brea Tar Pits for an 88-minute piece called “88 Boadrum.”
The multi-hyphenate creator delivered a DJ set that could be called that only in the loosest way, as there weren’t many structured beats to match. Instead, he manipulated sound waves — African field recordings, orchestral string sections — as a sous chef works a roux. He liquified the sound of bagpipes until they melted, data-mosh style, into pitch-scrambled samples of faraway drum circles.
Power-electronics artist Pharmakon pounded metaphorical nails into eardrums with her synthesizer, effects-pedal rig and vocal roar. By far the most musically aggressive performer of the night, the New York-based artist moved from rig to stage to crowd, bellowing unintelligible words that were complemented by frequencies that struck the senses like bots on a DDoS attack.
Matmos harnessed the aforementioned squalls of a balloon, the clangs of broken plates, rose stem-driven rhythms and the readings of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein to an audience in the museum’s courtyard.
Afterward, the influential German group Faust, appearing this time as a case-sensitive incarnation called faUSt, wandered through partially constructed musical works that left ample room for process-driven detours. Accompanied by artists including underground legend Barbara Manning, the group offered music centered on a handmade percussion instrument cobbled together from a car muffler and other bang-friendly items.
The performance group FlucT (Sigrid Lauren & Monica Mirabile) undertook their physically taxing, body-hurling piece in the lobby of the Broad. To a sound collage accompaniment that featured, among other snippets, a recording of then-candidate Donald Trump repeating “no puppet” during a televised debate, their movements at various points expressed desire, violence, infantilization and the politics of sex. At one point, Lauren lifted Mirabile, aimed her leg, rifle-style, at the crowd and mimicked a shooting spree.
Minus a proper stage, though, only an enviable few of the hundred or so people who might have wanted to watch actually could. Because of the museum’s curved surfaces and cavern-esque passageways, the sounds scoring FlucT’s performance funneled up into the third floor gallery — and straight into Holley’s sublime set of improvised songs.
By then, Holley had offered the night’s most moving piece, one that, like most of them, he will perform only once. The first of his half-dozen pieces was a meditation on borders. Based on a recent trip , the artist pondered lines and boundaries to the accompaniment of a moaning trombone and drums courtesy of the duo Nelson Patton.
“The other day I was headed to Marfa, Texas,” he said as gentle synthesized tones drifted with him. He told of moving through El Paso, waking up in a motel and, during the day’s journey, coming upon the border patrol. Extending syllables into phrases with gospel-accented joy, he sang about invisible lines and the real-life consequences that lead to children being separated from their parents.
By far the least abrasive moment of an otherwise (gloriously) loud night, Holley’s personal musings penetrated the noise.
Beuys devotees, after all, are likely familiar with these words from a 1983 interview: “If I look for art on the culture pages of the daily newspapers, I find it completely anti-progressive, completely traditional and belonging to the capitalistic and communistic repression of the world.”