I cracked open my 75 cent Pepsi. According to the lore, my grandfather invented this system of opening cans but didn’t get the patent in time. Every time I have a can of soda I think about that claim. I listened to the high, fluttery buzz from a broken light mingle with the sounds of conversation from two overlapping populations: buzzy art-folk types and bewildered Southmoreland residents just wanting to have fresh skivvies come Friday morning – an atypical Thursday night all around at Walnut Place Laundromat.
Lately, it’s found itself the stage for a series of presentations for Byproduct: The Laundromat, a Rocket Grant project organized by Sean Starowitz, designed to take place during the course of a typical wash/dry cycle. For me, it was a return to old haunts, since that used to be our ‘hood. Located in the vicinity of KCAI, the Nelson-Atkins and the Kemper Museum of Art, it serves a standard Midtown crowd as well as the yearly turnover of art school types. But a laundromat isn’t the sort of place you go back to visit, no matter how fond or important the memories, even though it’s one of those public/private places (like the Internet, where, like meticulously folding those beer pint-patterned boxer briefs in view of the vacantly glazed expressions of strangers, we shake out personal information under a veiled anonymity), a place of casual community, of awkward silences, of shy glances, of hopeful meet-cutes with wrinkly strangers, and where new lovers literally display their dirty linens to each other.
[I know that I didn’t put visiting Bobo’s Bubbles at the top of my must-see list when we were in London last year … damn, there goes a wasted hour on Google maps trying to find it again, a decade old memory of schlepping those backpacks through the streets of Kensington every couple of weeks, stuffed full of travel-stained garments, washing out the dust of airports, trains, Irish gorse and Spanish sand, the funk of Paris, Swiss soot, but mostly London grit … it’s still there and much closer to the flat than I recalled. I suppose a crammed-to-bursting pack makes for a weary journey.]
During the afternoon of the last Sunday in Oct, while Starowitz folded his baker’s whites, I made my first ever print, watching The Print Factory’s Jesse McAfee give tutorials on the process of relief pressing on his self-fashion mobile press – my second Byproduct experience. They’ve had live music, a DJ, kimchi making, a clothing swap, ‘zine make and exchange, and storytelling, among other events I presume. It was hot with all the dryers running and I realized that I did my “J” (I’d been reading up on Robert Indiana right before I went over) backwards, which is to say forwards, and didn’t notice for about twenty minutes of standing around looking at it.
But better than making my first ever print was, that Thursday night in late September, hearing Helen Gillet and James Singleton, with Snuff Jazz’ Mark Southerland (in pandaish gold kicks) and Brian Steever, play portions of their new album “Ferdinand.” In titling, they reference the church they recorded in and the street in New Orleans. In presentation, Helen referenced the bull who preferred flowers to fighting.
The weirdirati gathered in chatty expectation, the beginning of a subtle battle over the door space – prime space to listen (and be seen) – and people arriving loaded down with their evening’s chore. Facing the “stage” and door, I enjoyed watching the faces of those entering unaware, or passing by, caught off guard by the emanated snickerings and effects of modulated bass and cello.
The melodies, arrived and departed by way of parabolic fluxes, while unfamiliar, seemed known, whether distilled from folk traditions or from childhood. Distortion featured prominently as always – while improvised it didn’t seem too loose, too free, with cues and trading off – quiet growth and messy chaotic bits and pedals, opening, often, into a big moanful roar, then melting away like watercolor.
Singleton also played a pocket trumpet lacquered blue.
A little preview of their album release the following night, it was a casual affair, typically loose as these things are. They’d driven straight through from Louisiana to be there that night and they played almost straight through, morphing from tune-concept to tune-concept in the ticklish rumblings of overlay and percussive pizzicato. After an hour or so they’d played what they wanted to play. Exhausted, there was no encore, nor one needed.