By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
By Emma Silvers
By Alee Karim
Benson found his inspiration when his former group A Minor Forest played a show in the trailer of a big rig in North Dakota. "There was such a cool feel to it — everybody crammed into this little unorthodox space," he recalls.
In the summer of 2006, circumstances led Benson to buy a bus of his own. "I had seen it on the street with a 'For Sale' sign in the window, and thought it was the ugliest thing I'd ever seen in my life," he says. "My first reaction was like, 'God, what an ugly Burning Man monstrosity!'"
The vehicle belonged to a retired Oakland cop, who had bought it from the force. "It was basically just a bare shell of a vehicle, with an engine and a transmission and wheels, and that was it," Benson recalls. He soon converted it into a mobile all-ages performance space, installing a stage and PA system, along with a bank of batteries for power. His band, Evil Wikkid Warrior, played the inaugural show in June 2006 before the bus embarked on its first tour, an 18-show trek largely covering the Midwest and South, sans bands. "Part of the project was taking the venue on tour, not a band," he explains. "So we had local bands play in the bus."
The idea took off from there, says Benson, who now has enough Bay Area acts contacting him to stay busy. He averages about two shows a week, and he loves it. "We can pull in front of a high school and have the Rock 'n' Roll Adventure Kids playing, and it becomes this fantastic once-in-a-lifetime moment for everybody involved," he says. In the past year he has put on over 120 shows, often for younger, little-known bands: "Without any real pretense they can stand on a stage with a PA and play to their friends, and if there's seven people inside the bus, it's like a full house."
For 2008, Benson simply looks forward to a continued role as bus-driving benefactor. "It's proving to be a sustainable thing, because people's enthusiasm has really kept it alive," he says. "I would have given it up after a couple of shows and been totally content, but there's a demand that I wasn't expecting." For more information on the bus, visit www.flickr.com/followthatparade/. — J. Pace
Rewiring the Performance Paradigm at Recombinant Media Labs
"It's got rust ... but it's also got its integrity." So says Naut Humon about the sturdiness of a corroded old bench atop SoMa's Recombinant Media Labs — and it's tempting to apply that casual statement to the decades of mind- and margin-bending sound experiments that have borne wondrous fruit in the building below. But it simply can't be done. Aside from some shabby-chic furniture, there is no rust in RML. Part record-label HQ, part innovative transmedia laboratory, and part 22nd-century electronic playground, Recombinant Media Labs — the brainchild of Humon and Mitzi Johnson — glows like a pristine, futuristic gemstone.
When the two first linked up in the early '90s, Humon had long been staging avant-garde audiovisual spectacles that used numerous video screens and up to 800 loudspeakers. Johnson, meanwhile, was the visionary who founded Asphodel, a conceptual label that not only releases CDs — including work by turntable icon Mixmaster Mike, legendary electro-acoustic composer Iannis Xenakis, cinematic ethnodub deconstructionist Badawi, Berlin chamber ensemble Zeitkratzer, and beat-chopping IDM madman Otto Von Schirach — but also aims to break the staid boundaries of live electronic performances. Together they channeled their combined wealth of inspiration and experience into the construction of RML.
Today the repurposed concrete building near the corner of Brannan and Seventh streets houses both Asphodel's business offices and a revolutionary recording and performing space filled with powerful bit-chewing computers, multivector surround-sound controllers, automated mixing consoles, industrial DVD units, and 360-degree digital video projectors. It's no mere music venue; Humon and Johnson describe it as a "research and development center for experiential engineering of surround cinema." Or, in simple terms, testing ground for technology that allows musicians and video artists to envelop audiences in a fully immersive, mind-saturating environment. With its retina-sizzling visual capabilities and unnerving subdermal bass frequencies, everyone from virtual-space psychonauts to 3D game programmers can use the machines to reprogram reality in ways that make contemporary virtual reality headsets look like Foster Grant sunglasses.
The aim of all this ambitious experimentalism is to create a mobile, adaptable technology that can spread its wings anywhere radical multimedia artists need it — not just inside Recombinant's San Francisco chrysalis. A May presentation at the Elektra Festival in Montreal and a September showing at the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, Austria, represent two immediate steps in that direction. Asphodel and Recombinant could thus theoretically alter the very DNA of modern music and video performance. "We no longer live in the age of simulation, but of recombinant culture," cyberpunk theorist Arthur Kroker wrote. If that's true, Recombinant Media Labs might be the staging ground for a full-scale takeover. — John Graham