Caly McMorrow is an interactive art and sound artist based in St. Paul Minnesota. Immediately after the 2016 presidential election she participated in social media catharsis by covering a well referenced Leonard Cohen song and sharing it for those who it may benefit. In this episode she talks about the post and her continued efforts to unify and connect people together through the complications of life and art.
To see photos of the piece Status Update visit: http://www.calymcmorrow.com/status-update/
Music in this episode by Caly McMorrow is from her album All of This is Temporary and can be found here: http://www.calymcmorrow.com/music/
Caly McMorrow: So when I learned piano, it was very much classical and I didn't really play popular music growing up. And so when I sit down and play, I often just play - I joke not joke that I got good enough at piano to play Beethoven sonatas badly.
But, interactive installation art...means making for people to interact with. So, there's a lot about museum culture that's look and don't touch or you're the audience and I'm a performer and so I'm the creator and you're the consumer. And the thing I like about interactive installation art is that that line is blurred or goes away entirely. So, creating experiences or environments that an audience is invited to participate with and the purpose of the art work isn't really realized unless they do that.
No, no. It was, actually the line in the song, in the chorus, one of them is forget your perfect offering. And so I thought, well this is not perfect and here you go anyway.
You know, everybody was quoting this line from Anthem. I didn't really know it very well and I went and found it and listened to it and read the lyrics and it just one of those things where; oh man, this really captures what I'm feeling right now. And it's kind of prescient because he's gone.
I like having something that's prepared, but still has that random thing in it as well. But, having that safety too I felt like putting this recording up took a lot of that away and so it was a scary thing for me to do actually.
It was a link that a friend of mine...and this was like Tuesday, Wednesday morning when I couldn't sleep and I was up at like four in the morning. I kind of wanted to put Facebook down, but at the same time it was this...I knew that other people were awake and posting and going through the same thing so I wanted to sleep but I didn't want to put it down because I felt connected to these people that way.
And a friend of mine said, you should Google Amanda Palmer reading Goodnight Moon,and I hadn't seen her do it. And there's just a bunch of videos when really terrible things have happened in the world where she would say a lot of bad stuff is going on right now, but I've got a baby and I've got Goodnight Moon and I'm gonna read Goodnight Moon and there is something about these simple comforting things, especially as somebody who that was my favorite bedtime book as a little kid. That was just really cathartic to watch and kind of the same thing, this imperfect spur of the moment thing that she did; I think maybe to comfort herself and hopefully comfort other people. And it did, for me, so I thought OK, maybe if I do this thing. It's kind of crappy, and the music nerd in me is AAAH, there's parallel fifths and I missed that note and all whatever. But, maybe people don't care a much as I do.
Garrett Tiedemann: So, I guess the first thing we should probably do is what did you actually do?
Caly: What did I actually do?
Caly: I decided to make a video of a Leonard Cohen cover, kind of to help process feelings about the election, feelings about so many awesome creative people dying this year.
Garrett: So, it's a performance a Leonard Cohen song. What was the Leonard Cohen song?
Garrett: OK. Why Anthem?
Caly: Kind of a lot of reasons. I was thinking about why I did it because it was a really spur of the moment thing and...After he died...It affected a lot of art friends and the thing that people kept posting was the refrain from that song which is: there's a crack in everything, that's where the light gets in. And it occurred to me that I didn't really know that song very well. And I went to find it.
So, I listened to it and then I actually tried to find covers of it that kind of spoke to me, maybe even a little more than his version, and there really weren't any. So, I found the chords and wrote it out and played it a couple times and then I just decided to put it online. It was, you know, a crappy sloppy cold rainy day and I decided to work from home, from my job, and I like playing piano when nobody's around. And no one was around and so I woke up wanting to do that because I was kind of the mood of the day.
Ok, I'll do this thing and then I'll go.
Most of the music that I make is electronic and has a lot of layers and has a lot of production behind it. And I also, I'm an introvert, I kind of dislike playing live and especially singing in front of people makes me feel really vulnerable. But, it feels like everyone is feeling really vulnerable. So, it was kind of like, well, if I share this maybe it will help somebody.
Garrett: Well, and you told me, you hadn't posted music in a while, like you hadn't exercised that or at least released that to people for a while.
Caly: Yeah I really hadn't. The last time I played a show was July and just, in general, I make less music than other kinds of artwork lately, but it's still a big part of who I am artistically.
This one that's actually in front of us on table...
Garrett: That you set fire to
Caly: That I set fire to accidentally. Yeah. This has almost completely just been a project for me to learn how to do stuff. And it's an interactive twister board. There's panels that light up that have pressure sensors in them and as you play the game they light up, so it's kind of a play on a disco floor. They light up and each one has a sound associated with it. So, it's a remix - you remix audio based on where you're stepping on the board. And then I have multiple sets of sound loops.
The biggest piece that I did called is Status Update. And it was a spiral of vintage light bulbs and at the center of that was an antique desk with a candle stick phone. The phone would ring every once in a while so the idea was for audience participants to walk into that spiral and pick up the phone and there was a prompt and people could record thoughts or answers to questions and the installation would collect those recordings and then play them back. Every light bulb had a speaker attached to it and it would replay what they recorded back. And then two speakers at the entrance to the spiral played a collage of any of the recordings that past participants had left. So, the longer the installation was up the more it collected and hopefully the more interesting it got through the life of it.
"The memory came faint and cold of the story I might have told, a story in the likeness of my life, I mean without the courage to end or the strength to go on."
[Opens with the story of Libby Cantrell as told by Don Chambers as Recorded at the Show]
Don Chambers: Yeah, obscurity has been...when I was in college my professor Judy McWillie used that description for my paintings that I like to obscure things and I'd never thought about that before. But it is it is part of the way I work and that goes back to that that Tarkovsky idea of poetics and film, that's not. It's a little bit of different from that. But the idea of weaving words or images together in a way that there's plenty of gaps in the weave that need to be filled in by someone. By the intelligence of another person, the person who's coming to it, so the piece remains open.
Obscuring is another way of doing that. Make somebody else do some work too. I don't want to give it all away. I don't have anything to give all away either. I don't have a message. I'm not interested in messages.
Ideas are always, the big ideas are abstract and wily and and hard. The big ideas you shouldn't be able to look at all at once, you can't. We're too close to em'. They are very large animals and we are getting a little glimpse of their hind leg and then of their their main and then the eyeball if you get lucky one day, but you're just moving around this really big thing that it'll take you your lifetime to get to understanding the sublime mystery of the world and how we're here, what are we doing here, all the basic questions these are giant, giant questions and they're the things. Art making is just moving around that big giant beast. And don't get stuck in its mouth.
Garrett Tiedemann: Did you start off as a painter?
Don: I did. I started off, I went to school in South Carolina and then in Georgia and I got a degree in painting and printmaking and worked as an artist for a bit of the 90s. I got a few grants. I did this collaborative piece with sociologists. We went down to Florida and interviewed retired circus performers and I photographed all their like scrapbooks and personal memorabilia. And then I would kind of mess them up. I did installations based on those. And we also had a book of interviews of all those performers. But I was playing music because I was in Athens and that just kind of took over. It was just funner.
There was a point where I felt like I had to decide whether I was going to go one way or the other in my in my 30s and I was like alright, I'm just gonna music for now and let's see what happens. But I keep coming back to it. I had a painting show last year. First time in 10 years. But I keep, I've always done visual stuff, but I hadn't really done anything that I felt like was worth it, was focused enough to show. But, last year I had a painting show and I'll probably do like a three or four month painting stint.
I just, the older I get the more I like working on one thing at a time and focusing on it and making it a project. And then when I'm done with it I'll do three or four months of painting and then I'll go back to music.
I had a dream last night. I had a dream last night that I was talking with Tom Waits. And we were talking about something and I was referencing a book. And he got out. He got out of his really fucked up artist brush. And he had some paint with him and he's like looking at the book and in order to make his points he was just painting onto the book that we were talking about. So, I've been doing watercolors while we've been talking in my notebook.
I stole from my dream.
Garrett: I always find it interesting to encounter people who aren't locked in a singular idea of what they're supposed to do because I mean I know growing up even if you're studying artists and whatnot who did a lot of different things you're sort of given this, and maybe it's an American idea I'm not totally sure, but this idea of the artist doing like, they are a painter or they are a composer or they are a filmmaker. And it's always the ones who never were settled in that that I found the most interesting, where it just all overlaps and feeds a larger piece that's not satisfied with just one medium.
Don: And there they always say you're not supposed to try and be more than one thing. But, to me they all feed together. I mean, why not? Who says?
Orson Welles (from Archive tape): Be of good heart. The fight is worth it. That just about means that my time is up. When my time's up it's time for me to say goodbye and to invite you please to join me at the same time, at the same station. Until then. Thanking you for your attention. I remain as always...
Don: Well if you didn't get enough we can always come back to it man.
This episode of The White Whale goes deeper into the dreams and strange happenings of Funayūrei's making. John starts having vivid dreams that lead him down a rabbit hole to Christopher Hitchens and eventually playing material for a girl who throws up in his guest room.