“[…] to indict the senses in order to reach the soul”
“I mean the massage was fine but … not the message”
—man to woman overheard on the street
What really does happen when a sewing machine encounters an umbrella on an operating table? I can’t say for sure though I have my ideas. But I can tell you what happens when a sewing machine encounters a piano and violin in a performance space. We get what visual artist Elena Berriolo calls “Sewing Music into Visual Art: The Sound of Silence.” Berriolo, through her interdisciplinary approach, creates unique musical and visual art while sewing abstract lines onto high quality paper. In this instance, with violinist Rosi Hertlein and pianist Edith Hirshtal playing everything from Chopin to Gershwin to improvising, creating a world never before seen or heard, as Berriolo moves the needle—staying as rhythmically aligned with the music as possible, zigging-zagging, spinning—making what will eventually become pages of a one-of-a-kind book that she will then hand paint, turning each page into a delightful, playful, or ominous image. The sewing machine is a non-musical instrument that creates beats (differing speed ratios), like music, depending on how one operates the foot pedal.
Berriolo has made this work in various contexts, creating pieces like “The Infinite Line,” or variations on Matisse’s “Jazz,” or on the music of Philip Glass, or with the works of Apollinaire or Ellsworth Kelly. Or, as she describes it, “The idea of transcription comes from music: the same way Bach can be transcribed from violin to piano, I can transcribe music into visual art. But I can also transcribe Lucio Fontana, Matisse […] The idea is to rewrite a piece of history with a sewing machine.”
Berriolo began “Sound of Silence” by reciting a poetic treatise/manifesto, stating in part that “Because of my work with the sewing machine, very often I am asked if I also sew for a living […] ‘Are you a seamstress?’ I am not a seamstress, although I do use the sewing machine to make my artwork […] I am going to make a true three-dimensional line with a top and bottom that in a book as well as with the seams of your clothes, can be moved through space.” She ends thus, “Because the sewing machine, while making its line, also produces a beat, and the beat can be the link connecting visual art to music […] and tonight we are going to hear the sound of the sewing machine, the sound of silence.” We end up with almost all the arts in one brief hour: poetry (literature), painting, sculpture, music, dance/movement, as well as a political statement refuting Baselitz’s remark that women can’t paint. We are presented with a metaphorical wake-up call and protest at the same time, as Berriolo explodes the notion of what is expected of women in their “domestic roles.” For more about this fascinating artist, see her article in the July/August 2012 Rail, “Why didn’t Lucio Fontana use my sewing machine?”
It’s a rainy night. Yuko and I are asked by Lawrence Kumpf to join him, Charlemagne Palestine and his wife Aud, Tony Conrad, Jay Sanders, and undisclosed others at one of Palestine’s favorite restaurants, Sarge’s, in the East 30s and 3rd Ave. I make Yuko walk. We get into a fight on the way but successfully manage—though we are the last to arrive—to get there just in time to order. We sit at the far end of the crowded table, she beside Aud, me beside some guy littler than me and very unique looking, and between him and Lawrence there’s a fellow, Tommy McCutcheon, who I am told runs the Unseen World Records label. Lawrence introduces me to them both, and says about the guy next to me, “This is Dickie Landry, you two should get along fine since you both love jazz.” So for the next hour or so we exchange stories, and I find out that Dickie—being almost 10 years my senior—has seen the likes of Bird, Dizzy, etc., when he was growing up in Louisiana. When arriving in New York as a kid he headed straight to Birdland where he caught Miles and Bud Powell. But he also told me about his fabulous history in SoHo and the entire downtown scene, before and while I lived there (and avoided it all), with such icons as Gordon Matta-Clark—who opened the now legendary Food restaurant with Dickie’s ex-wife. We had a great time together during and after the chopped liver and corned beef sandwiches, the pastrami, stuffed cabbage, and slaw. At some point I finally asked Dickie what he did and he told me he played the saxophone, mostly solo at this point, and had several records out, and had lived back then at Chatham Square, where he co-founded Chatham Square Records.
Dickie told me on an early trip to the city he went to see Moondog on his legendary corner—Moondog was his NYC underground hero since he was 6. Soon after, Dickie visited Glass in Glass’s loft, and when Glass said he had to go into the other room to feed a blind friend, Dickie discovered that it was none other than Moondog, and this cemented his relationship with Glass. Glass then asked Dickie to play in his ensemble, which at that time got maybe one or two gigs a year—so they started doing plumbing jobs. He also played with Steve Reich, helped as one of the original architects of Einstein on the Beach, and had just came back from France, where he and Robert Wilson had finished a six-week project, Jean Genet’s The Blacks, at the Odeon Theater. Dickie was currently showing his photography at Salomon Contemporary Art Gallery in Chelsea. We all left the restaurant around midnight and went our separate ways.
Dickie and I kept in touch through email and the following week Yuko and I went to see his show and hear him talk about his history and where and when he took the photos of those whom he deemed—in the most unpretentious and down-to-earth manner, and rightly so—to be his friends, from Glass to Richard Serra to Moondog and so many more greats from the downtown scene. His stories were witty, personal, sad, and wonderful, his manner matter-of-fact and casual. His photography is marvelous and a true chronicle, like Peter Moore’s, of that period, 1969 – 79. The catalogue reiterates Landry’s stories, of which there are more online at dickielandry.com. There were a few videos looping in the show, including one of him playing solo saxophone which I did not get time to hear, so at this writing I still do not know what Landry’s music is like. But if it’s anything like him, I’m sure it’s as real as Dickie himself. Meeting Landry has been one of the most invigorating experiences of my life, and I could go on forever relating his amazing stories, but I fear no one can tell them like Dickie can.
The greatest hope we have in presenting new ideas is to listen to the ideas of others, then integrate what we need and discard the rest, because if we don’t remember something we’re bound never to forget it.
Poet/collagist STEVE DALACHINSKY was a long time contributor to the Rail. His book The Final Nite & Other Poems (Ugly Duckling Presse - 2006) won the PEN Oakland National Book Award. His latest CDs are The Fallout of Dreams with Dave Liebman and Richie Beirach (Roguart, 2014), and the book/CD Pretty in the Morning with the French art rock group the Snobs (Bisou Records, 2019). He was a 2014 recipient of a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres. His most recent books include Frozen Heatwave, a collaboration with Yuko Otomo (Luna Bissonte Prods, 2017) and where night and day become onethe french poems (great weather for MEDIA, 2018) which received a 2019 IBPA award in poetry.