For 30 years, the Exploratorium, whose often-ignored tag line is “the museum of science, art and human perception,” has been offering artists a space in which to perform, present workshops, screen films, and exhibit work. The creative relationship has resulted in more than 200 artists-in-residence, but still the museum is known primarily for its devotion to science. “Second Wednesdays,” a monthly live-art cafe where artists and patrons can exchange ideas and appreciation, may change that. The first installment offers silt, a cinematic collaborative that uses mirrors, liquids, lenses, their own bodies, and archaic film footage made in 1915 from plant extracts to smudge the boundaries between technology, alchemy, history, and fiction; and a sound installation created by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot that incorporates swimming pools, floating china, and harmonicas played by silent vacuum cleaners. At the Exploratorium on Wednesday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. Ticket price is included with $7-9 museum admission; call 563-7337.
At the beginning of this year, Momus, the singular virtuoso of euphonious gossip and analog Baroque, offered 30 “patrons” the opportunity to be immortalized in musical portrait, without having to sleep with the artist. The price was $1,000 and the “commissions” for Stars Forever were reserved within two weeks by a supergroup called Minus 5, a DJ from Hoboken, a PR company in New York, a military fetish researcher, an ex-endoscope salesman, a university lecturer in Reno, two San Franciscans, and Florence Manlik, a performance artist who, along with her boyfriend, Gilles Weinzaepflen, has been a great inspiration for Momus' past work. Manlik has been seen through a peephole wearing headphones and dancing nonstop for days on end; Weinzaepflen is Toog, a musical amalgamation of conspiracy theory, God fear, and jackalope hunting. On 6633, the album recently curated for Momus' label Le Grand Magistery, Toog elucidates delicate tales of overlarge goldfish, cyclopean hate, white trousers, and dental hygiene. Any lover of Momus is certain to enjoy Toog, but because Toog sings exclusively in French, he is not as likely to inspire delightfully vulgar karaoke parody as found at the end of Stars Forever, at least not without subtitles. Toog opens for Kahimi Karie and Momus on Thursday, Nov. 11, at Bottom of the Hill at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $7-8; call 621-4455. And at Amoeba on Friday, Nov. 12, at 6 p.m. Admission is free; call 831-1200. And on Saturday, Nov. 13, at Bottom of the Hill at 10 p.m. Tickets are $6-10.
The English language makes it necessary to point out that the instrument built and beloved by Ethan James is not the hurdy-gurdy of organ-grinder monkey fame, which cranks out set pieces of music as might a player piano; it is the strange, somewhat melancholic, instrument called the “beggar's lyre” more than 1,000 years ago. The hurdy-gurdy works a bit like a mechanical violin: It is strapped to the player's midriff, freeing one arm to crank a rosined wheel that acts as a circular bow rubbing against melody strings that are pressed by piano keys with the other hand. The drone strings, which sit on a loose-footed bridge called the “chien,” or “dog,” give the hurdy-gurdy its resonating bagpipe tones. It piqued the imagination of music producer James, who, failing to find an instrument for sale, constructed his own from 18th-century religious paintings and mechanical relics found under glass in museums. Coupling his unique instrument with dulcimer, harmonium, bouzouki, and sax, James secured easy admiration for his reproduction of early music instrumentals on A Garden of Hurdy-Gurdy Delights, but he is not your typical early-music devotee. As owner of the underground Radio Tokyo Studio, he was one of the first to work with and record Black Flag, Jane's Addiction, Sonic Youth, Firehose, the Minutemen, the Bangles, and L7. Consequently, his unceasing fascination with the hurdy-gurdy and the subsequent albums — Shaking Hands With Kafka and What Rough Beast — have drawn more comparisons to Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits than Pál Havasréti. Ethan James performs on Friday, Nov. 12, at the Slavonic Cultural Center at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $7-10; call (510) 649-0941.
For years, the live vocal performances of Meg Lee Chin have been the most compelling thing about Martin Atkins' industrial collaborative Pigface, but she's rarely made it on record — not that you'd listen to Pigface at home, but the absence of Chin was notable nonetheless. Born the youngest daughter of a U.S. Air Force electronics engineer and his Taiwanese wife, Chin spent her early childhood overlooking a Taipei slum from her shiny playroom balcony. Feeling confused and isolated, she turned to music and, upon moving to America, petty crime. After numerous adolescent arrests, a high school counselor suggested San Francisco might be Chin's kind of town and she relocated, attending SFSU, fronting some forgettable bands, working as the college cafe's sound engineer, and producing Faith No More's first demo before singing lead for an early incarnation of Garbage. Shirley Manson and a move to London later, Chin found herself touring with Pigface and recording an album in her living room. While Chin spends a lot of her interview time whinging about being an ostracized youth and a female engineer stuck in a man's world, Piece and Love is not self-indulgent or obviously combative. In fact, despite Chin's electro-industrial devotion and strident vocals, her debut possesses buoyancy, wit, and poplike caprice, as well as contributions from the Belle Stars' Redjen Tuning, S.O.D.'s Lee Frazer, Test Dept.'s Martin King, and, of course, Atkins. Chin performs with Chemlab frontman Jared Louche on Monday, Nov. 15, at Rasputin's in Berkeley at 6 p.m. Admission is free; call (510) 848-9005.