‘Text Sound Pieces’: Charles Amirkhanian and Friends October 27, 1975

Charles Amirkhanian is perhaps the best known of the four-person Musicians Union, which presented a program at the Kitchen on October 15. He is the music director at KPFA, the Pacifica station in Berkeley, and one of the more prominent figures in the Bay Area genre of ‘text sound pieces.’ Most of his works are short, and they generally involve carefully made multitrack collages of a few words spoken repeatedly in various combinations. Perhaps the most effective of his many brief contributions to this program was ‘Muchrooms,’ in which the words ‘too bad’ are repeated over and over on two tracks. Steely electronic noise gradually intrudes and finally obliterates the verbal material. In an interesting theatrical moment, Amirkhanian read about ‘Mr. Patchin’ and ‘passion’ and a few similar sounds, reading his text by light of a red lantern attached to his head. I have the feeling that there is real substance somewhere in Amirkhanian’s work, but I haven’t heard enough of it to be able to put the poetry, the music, and the symbolism all together.

The other members of the group all made substantial contributions to the evening. Betsy Davids is a poet who recited a strange fantasy about a bathtub. At another point, she read texts in English, then in French, then in a nonsense combination language of her own devising. Carol Law creates cartoon-like color slides, which must involve very sophisticated drawing and photographic techniques, but which seemed a bit too pop-arty for the context. James Petrillo does long sequences of color slides, as in ‘TV,’ which depicts three TV sets in an open field while the projected image gradually shifts from morning to night. Another slide sequence focused on the cracks in pavement. Another, which seemed too clearly influenced by Eleanor Antin, involved lines of folding chairs set up in ‘seatbelts’ along fields and mountainsides.

All these ideas, and many others, became juxtaposed in a fast-paced program which lasted about an hour. It was a well-rehearsed, almost slick presentation, and leaped from one diverse idea to another without ever stopping for breath. I found it difficult to take everything in, find relationships, detect messages, or even figure out whether I really liked what they were doing.