When composer Charles Amirkhanian and visual artist Carol Law began to collaborate more than a year ago on a performance art piece examining political image-making, they had no idea that its premiere would follow so closely on the heels of a major election.
"Veto," which blends Amirkhanian's "text-sound" compositions with Law's projected visuals, will be performed publicly for the first time Saturday at the Newport Harbor Art Museum, just days after Tuesday's voting and less than a week after President Reagan visited Orange County, stumping for failed Republican Senate candidate Ed Zschau.
Amirkhanian, speaking by telephone from his home in the San Francisco Bay Area city of El Cerrito, seemed to enjoy the irony of "Veto's" timely premiere. "Ronald Reagan plays an enormous part in the piece," the composer said.
The work's sound track blends snippets of political speeches and commentary stretching back more than 60 years to Warren G. Harding. Law's visuals, likewise, draw from political imagery found in television and other media over the same time period. Law said the images form a "projected environment" for Amirkhanian, who will add two spoken sequences to the recorded sound track during the performance, one as a politician and one as a commentator.
"It's like a cut-up, a collage of media resources," Law explained. Amirkhanian said the work takes political phrases and images out of context "very much the way political advertising takes sentences out of context."
The artists agreed that "Veto" is a departure from their previous collaborative works, which have been generally more abstract and less issue-oriented.
Amirkhanian, 41, and Law, 43, are married and have collaborated on various projects since 1973. Amirkhanian's recorded work straddles a line between music and poetry and has received international attention in avant-garde circles. He has released several records on the CRI label and on now defunct 1750 Arch Records. Since 1969, he has been music director at KPFA-FM in Berkeley, where he produces a weekly program on avant-garde music.
Law's work in photography and printmaking has been widely exhibited in the United States and internationally, but she said the performance pieces she creates with Amirkhanian and others are a welcome change of pace from her more static work. "What I like about it is, it allows me to create something that exists in time," she explained.
Amirkhanian's work, sometimes called "text-sound" composition, began about 20 years ago when, as a percussionist, he experimented with the use of spoken words as percussive elements in music. Now he sees his work as a way to get listeners to look at language in a new way, free from the individual meanings of the words. "I try to get audiences to focus on language the way a child focuses on language," the composer said.
"I tend to always try to do things that are on the edge of the definition of music," Amirkhanian explained. In much of his work, disconnected words and phrases are spoken and repeated, often in multiple tracks, in dense and complex patterns that recall the work of such minimalist composers as Steve Reich.
Both Law and Amirkhanian said "Veto" is meant to convey a sense of whimsy and humor, in addition to its satiric edge. "We hope that people will keep a sense of humor and not take all this too much to heart," Law said. "Each person who sees this will think it means something different."
On Saturday's 8 p.m. program at the museum, in addition to the 24-minute "Veto," are several earlier works by the two artists: "Andas," "The Real Perpetuum Mobile," "History of Collage," "Dog of Stravinsky" and "Moroa."