Volume 43, Index 45

August 5 – August 11, 2009

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On location



PHOTO ISSUE The ghost of Cindy Sherman is everywhere these days. In Untitled Film Stills (1977 onward), Sherman pictured archetypal B-movie versions of herself in emotionally-charged fake film stills. The project remains a salient commentary on self-imagining and imposed, gendered narratives. Yet Sherman’s influence can be seen most dramatically these days in photos where people are simply afterthoughts, either insulated or not present at all. Accessible digital video technologies have partially relieved photographs of the burden of "truth." Built and destructed environments are revealed as character actors and elegiac voyeurs.

This is felt even at current exhibitions of work from past decades, pictures that used to mean something quite different. Jerry Burchard’s nocturnal shots have long offered commentary on the medium’s innate capacity for revelation. But seeing them alongside Debbie Fleming Caffery’s knowing depictions of Mexican prostitutes and Linda Foard Roberts’s oval photos of almost-knowable materials at Robert Koch Gallery, they abandon a previous film-narrative sensibility (the blurry shots akin to 1970s horror film aesthetics, the celestial long exposures like being at the drive-in) and move closer to the subjects themselves: the game-like design of a park in Morocco, the cleavage of skeletal trees. What was caricatured emotionality for Sherman is silent theatricality for Burchard, the black-box-theatre intimacy of it all. His Casablanca, Morocco (1973-76) doesn’t demand that you want to know what it’s portraying. I initially saw the white streak as a mattress, something angelic and domestic that would be at home in a Tony Kushner play, but I was ultimately content with the mystery.

Nearby at Rena Bransten Gallery, photographs in the group show "Decline and Fall" move the empty stage further into ghostliness. Doug Hall’s Helena, Wife of Constantine, Museo Capitalino, Rome (1996/97) reads like Thomas Struth having an exorcism. Light speaks first, statues second. Light holds court. The oval molding appears flattened, invoking airport baggage carts. Next to Hall’s in-transit humans, Candida Höfer’s 2004 depiction of frozen palatial elegance and Martin Klimas’ 2003 picture of shattering ceramics against a white background appear increasingly compassionate.

For the San Francisco Arts Commission and PhotoAlliance’s "10 x 10 x 10" at City Hall, 10 local curators invited 10 photographers to submit 10 works each. Stacen Berg chose John Harding for his careful compositions of people who are "entirely distanced from their public environment." In one hallway, Harding’s analog captures of San Francisco street scenes face off with the late Ken Botto’s urban shots, constructed from miniatures and morphs. It’s as if the buildings and slabs, not the people, are shooting the movies of our lives. Heather Snider chose Solstice Fires, Lucy Goodhart’s "reverential but not sentimental" pictures of last summer’s Big Sur fires. In dialogue with Jesse Schlesinger’s varied but participatory outdoor exposures, picked by Joyce Grimm, and Chris McCaw’s stunning paper negatives, chosen by Linda Connor, Goodhart’s photographs speak to a world that is listening even when no one is there. *

10 X 10 X 10

Through Sept. 18

San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery at City Hall

1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, SF

(415) 554-6080



Through Sat/8

Rena Bransten Gallery

77 Geary, SF

(415) 982-3292


Through Aug. 22

Robert Koch Gallery

49 Geary, fifth floor, SF

(415) 421-0122





PHOTO ISSUE Take Me to the Water (Dust-to-Digital, 96 pages, $32.50) is an eccentric archive, under the same bewildering sign as Harry Smith’s epochal Anthology of American Folk Music (1952). It comprises both a book (75 sepia plates of full immersion baptism scenes performed in nature) and accompanying CD in the same vein as Dust-to-Digital’s earlier ark of covenants, Goodbye, Babylon (2003). But the beautifully reproduced photographs are what make it worthwhile.

They were made at a time when photography was reserved for occasion (one shudders to think of the contemporaneous rage for photographs of lynching scenes). A photograph, like a baptism, was something you dressed up for. In many images here, figures stare down the camera, distracted from the spectacle at hand. One atypical shot looks as if it was snapped under cover of trees: we peer through shrubs at a minister and convert, rippling the water alone.

There is always a danger of mystifying the past with ephemeral evidence this gorgeous, but it would be foolhardy to think the invocatory power of these photographs is purely the invention of contemporary eyes — if anything, the images restore the spiritual sense in which photography is called a medium. The believers are transfigured by God’s light, the photograph by the world’s.

The cameraperson typically shoots from an opposite bank, offering a broad scene. Crowds are in the dozens, if not hundreds, draping bridges and packing every jut of land. The principle pictorial advantage of this framing is the emphasis it places on the water’s reflection. The reverse image coasting the water’s surface rhymes with the one produced by the camera’s lens. More immediately, this reflection gives the impression of ghosts. In his introduction, Luc Sante makes the point that many of these sites were so used for generations, and therefore "accrued layers of association and sentiment." Ghosts were to be expected.

Because the scope of the photographs frequently exceed the camera’s depth of field, surrounding space buckles to the distant baptism’s sharp focus. Time itself seems to bend around this point of clarity and calm. The person being baptized is most deeply submerged, making their reflections the clearest ones. Much of what the photographs communicate, then, is the way these baptisms were both public events and private passages. The individual is simultaneously a part of and apart from the community, in the same way death is to life.

Nearly all those pictured in Take Me to the Water have since crossed to the other side — the passage of time is there in the splotches and creases. The poignancy of these imperfections is that they remind us that the photographs belonged to people, as mementos. In one, a pen marking indicates one of many figures in the water — someone’s relation. Beauty balancing the ordinary and sublime is a strange gift indeed. The wonder isn’t that these photographs survived, but that they existed in the first place.

Hex appeal


CULT MOVIES ONLINE I remember sitting on the floor of a scrappy Las Vegas hotel room, my five-year-old eyes glued to the television. A fuzzy film played from a far-gone era, filled with uncensored violence, sex, and drugged out debauchery. I was horrified, but possessed euphorically by that horror, unable to turn away from the moving screen. To this day I am still looking for that movie’s title. And nearly every film freak who shares a similar story of initiation still seeks out some unknown title. But lucky for us weirdos, the San Francisco collective Cosmic Hex is committed to finding, archiving, and digitally preserving just those forgotten treasures of underground exploitation film.

"We just have fun with the whole underground, sort of lost exploitation movie scene," says Dan Simpson, head organizer of the Cosmic Hex Internet archive. Together with fellow aficionados Scott Moffett and Serge Vladimiroff, Simpson started the digital archive six years ago initially as a way to show the collective’s giant stockpile of 16mm and 35mm films. But the costs of such a feat grew exponentially, and so the project veered instead to the whimsical. "We got to the point where we pay the bills and we do whatever we want. I get to explore my id and go down whatever avenues open up to me that week," Simpson explains. His id currently spirals him into ’70s made-for-television bizarrities like the Western/satanic cult mashup, Black Noon (1971). But Simpson also enjoys fulfilling requests, no matter their obscurity. A film with a single VHS release that died with the mom and pop stores? Only eight copies in the world? The Citizen Kane of "asteroid possessed bulldozer films," Killdozer (1974)? Simpson is game for the challenge.

Besides building their growing digital archive of nearly 300 films, Cosmic Hex also screens some select 16mm choices in its clubhouse speakeasy, the Vortex Room (1082 Howard, SF; www.myspace.com/thevortexroom). The terrestrial SoMa location transports visitors into a whole ‘nother world of the weird, showcasing some of the finest trash and psychedelic madness ever captured on reel. August’s calendar totes the classic psycho-thriller Race With The Devil (1975) and the enigmatic Divine Emanuelle Love Cult (1983) among many other juicy titles. "Somebody has to take charge and make this stuff available, or it never will," Simpson says. "And it will end up burning in some vault at some point and never be seen again." But these films do not engage strictly on an ironic or nostalgic level. Many of them genuinely hold up as quality pieces of work. "I end up finding more genius in some of these films that people would write off without even watching the first 10 minutes," Simpson insists. "The trashier, the weirder, the better it is." (Michael Krimper)

Rocked and rolled



Musical theater separates the men from the boys, and the gritty urban musical is especially tough to pull off. Hardcore violence, seedy city underbellies, bare midriffs, and a sprinkling of angel dust might make me or you want to burst into song, but it’s still pretty jarring to witness. Nonetheless, the GUM as a subgenre is well established. Many would call Rent its quintessential expression. Others might go for Urinetown, if only to take the piss out of the Rent faction. But these are the ones that help sell the form, and they can make it look misleadingly easy.

Boxcar Theatre’s new urban rock musical, Rent Boy Ave.: A "Fairy’s" Tale, has some of the genre’s virtues and many of its faults, with a title already evoking at least two of the aforementioned Broadway precedents (though how intentionally I can’t say; thematically the play’s emphasis falls more on the subtitle, with snaking references to Pinocchio et al.). You have to hand it to Boxcar; as other companies scale back and tighten belts, it steps forward and belts out scales. It’s an ambitious capstone to the company’s current season. It’s also bursting with neighborhood spirit: Rent Boy Ave. is about sleazy back-alley prostitution and drug dealing among underage hustlers in the feral alleyways of SoMa, conveniently located right outside the door.

While there are actually relatively few people to be sighted, let alone tricks turned, in the street immediately adjacent to the theater, director Wolfgang Lancelot Wachalovsky does his best to play up any symmetry, having actors panhandle and proposition the audience as they take their seats, arrayed around chain-link and vibrant graffiti (courtesy of Lily Black and Mr. Fingers) in Don Cate’s enveloping urban jungle décor. The cheekiness simultaneously erases the distinction between theater and street and calls knowing attention to it.

But ambition and local flavor notwithstanding, the musical is rather shaky. The story begins with the arrival of fresh-meat street urchin David (a nicely bold and comically dry, if musically uneven, Bobby Bryce), exiled from his Midwestern home (yes, he’s from Kansas) for being gay. Accomplished hustler Mark (Bradly Mena), already long in the tooth at 17, takes him in hand, while insisting he’s straight despite his male clientele. David is not prepared to prostitute himself, but likes Mark, who introduces him to the Pimp (a dramatically flat but resonantly voiced Anthony Rollins-Mullens), who gets him dealing drugs in the meantime. David befriends another of the Pimp’s properties, junkie thrasher Jackie, whose opening number, "Punk Rock Slut," establishes actor Danelle Medeiros’ conviction and vocal control in the role despite some less than compelling choreography. The streets are haunted, meanwhile, by a psychopathic Dirty Old Man (a bright, enjoyably nasty Donald Currie, with some of the better lyrics) and patrolled by a foul-mouthed soup-kitchen saint, Sister Mercy (an able Michelle Ianiro).

Performances here are mixed, the staging only fitfully compelling. More crucially, book and lyrics (by artistic director Nick A. Olivero) deliver a patchy plot and characters of thin or questionable merit. There’s humor and punch in some songs, but too many lines are poetically strained to the point of hemorrhaging — especially in the generally egregious "rhyme"-busting of the Pimp: "I’ve got apples to pick /And fingers to lick /And money to kick." The rock score (by Michael Mohammed), at times effectively driving or wistful, can also be dully formulaic or ponderously proggy. Rent Boy Ave.‘s moral has an unfortunate double edge to it: among this world’s fleshy but spiritually empty transactions — "Life don’t mean a thing /Living in a prostitution ring" — it’s the soul that counts.


Through Aug. 9

Wed–Sat, 8 p.m.; Sun, 2 p.m., $18–$34

Boxcar Playhouse, 505 Natoma, SF

(415) 776-1747


YACHT rocks



SONIC REDUCER The path of true love — even the healing, heartfelt, pathologically curious, perpetually vision-seeking path of Newest Age, dance-punk, pop-mantra true love — is never smooth. Nor bruise-free, when reality — and task of where exactly to place those four feet — meets calamity.

"There were kinks to work out when Claire joined the band," says YACHT’s Jona Bechtolt on the inclusion of kindred spirit and soul mate (and writer, artist, and musician) Claire L. Evans in his once one-man project. "We didn’t know how to work in each other’s space."

"We still don’t," Evans cheerfully interjects.

"I stepped on Claire the other night!" exclaims Bechtolt, 28. But like so many other things in the curiouser-and-curiouser whirl of YACHT (Young Americans Challenging High Technology), what might seem like an issue — or grounds for a major band or couple’s squabble — is actually a point of modest, optimistic pride.

"We are incredibly paranoid," he continues. The couple first met four years ago while playing the same basement noise show in Los Angeles. "We don’t want to play the same show twice. I’ve played in countless rock bands before, so I know what it’s like to play the same memorized parts again and again. That sort of thing doesn’t work for me as a human being, though I’m not putting those bands down at all. We want to provide an alternative to rock performance, using PowerPoint, video screens …"

"We want to make it a two-way performance where the audience is a part of it," adds Evans, 24.

"We want to break the rules of honoring personal space," Bechtolt says, laughing. "We want to enter people’s personal space physically and emotionally and visually!"

To that end, YACHT wants to take its performance to the audience floor, through the crowd itself, into caves and high schools, or onto a barge boasting a sustainable geodesic dome and drifting down the Hudson River — just as they did the other night under the aegis of WFMU. Space and all the physical and psychic mysteries, conspiracy theories, and belief systems, within and without, are a preoccupation for the pair, who, over the phone from NYC, come across like wonderfully wise, fresh-headed, and all-American enthusiasts — wild-child music ‘n’ art makers in a persistent state of evangelical high energy.

Marfa, Texas’ mystery lights made their way, for sure, onto YACHT’s new album, See Mystery Lights (DFA): the otherwise-Portland, Ore.-based couple relocated to the town for an unofficial residency to study the phenomenon and expand on the seeds of the LP: eight minute-long mantras. "We gave the first version of the record to DFA and asked them for notes, and they were like, ‘Whoa, this is really weird.’ It was eight minutes long," says Bechtolt. "They were freaked out and said, ‘It’s really good, but how do we put it out?’ They gave us the challenge to turn those mantras in pop songs."

(Though never fear, those mantras aren’t lost to the ages: the pair plans to release them on 100 lathe-cut copper discs, as well as a slew of companion works including a "bible" of sorts and software that will allow followers to keep tabs on YACHT. "We’re really into objects right now," confesses Bechtolt.)

And what pop. Lights twinkles then zigzags with all the frenetic future-boogie ("Summer Song," "It’s Boring /You Can Live Anywhere You Want") and raw pop hooks ("I’m in Love with a Ripper") of a so-called DFA combo, as well as nuggets of life-and-death wisdom ("Ring the Bell," "The Afterlife"). YACHT appears to be making music that harks to less than widely referenced sources like Art of Noise, Malcolm McLaren, and other awkward yet insinuating, conceptually-minded pop experimentalists of the ’80s — and those final seconds when the pop charts seemed to skeptically embrace the musical musings of so many art school refugees.

"There’s a repetitive nature built into pop and dance music, so for these atonal mantras we were working on, it turned out to be a better way to disseminate our message," Evans explains. "We’re excited that you can hide a lot in pop music. You can appreciate it on two levels." Two true. *


Fri/7, 8:30 p.m., $15

Rickshaw Stop

155 Fell, SF




The crafty psych magicians are dormant no more. With Spindrift and Ty Segall. Fri/7, 9 p.m., $16. Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell, SF. www.gamh.com


Party with us, punkers, for la causa. With Bar Feeders and Fucking Buckeroos. Sat/8, 4 p.m., $8–$20 sliding scale donation for the SF Tenants Union. El Rio, 3158 Mission, SF. www.elriosf.com


Sunn O))) worshipers might appreciate the Portland, Ore., foursome’s black atmospherics, anarchic electronics, and love o’ the heavy. With Barn Owl, Squim, and Oaxacan. Sun/9, 9 p.m., $7. Hemlock Tavern, 1131 Polk, SF. www.hemlocktavern.com

Lords of drift and discovery


The drift. In 2006, Scott Walker used that phrase as an album title. It’s an apt tag for music of the electronic and digital eras. As inferred by another idiosyncratic singer and surfer of the vanguard, Chelonis R. Jones, electronic sound is dislocated sound. And only through its drift — the drift — does one happen upon a discovery.

Here are some lords of drift and discovery. These five electronic musicians are innovators, even inventors. They’ve been around for decades, but like sound waves echoing back from deep space, their older recordings have returned to reach new listeners. Monoton is a Kraftwerk the masses don’t know about. The meditative sounds of J.D. Emmanuel are inspiring musicians who weren’t even born when he was creating tape loops. Time is only just now catching up with Bernard Szajner’s conceptual and compositional talent. Cluster continues to unite and fragment in studios and on stereos and stages. And like a ghost from a pop memory that never quite formed, Riechmann floats into this past-haunted present moment to deliver a chilly kiss.

The drift? Catch it. (Johnny Ray Huston)



MONOTON Modern music has its share of accidental holy grails — the heretofore-undiscovered missing artistic link; the crate-digger’s trade secret; the record that launched a thousand unknowing imitators. Somehow these records make the most overworked clichés seem like fresh descriptors. So I am willing to stand by my hyperbolic claim that the records Austrian multimedia theorist, researcher, and artist Konrad Becker released in the early 1980s as Monoton are some of the best electronic music albums you’ve probably never heard.

Such was the consensus of British canon-building screed The Wire almost 10 years ago when they nominated Monoton’s 1982 limited release album Monotonprodukt 07 as one of its "100 records that set the world on fire (when no one was listening)." Now, thanks to a steady stream of reissues on Canadian experimental electronic imprint Oral — starting with Monotonprodukt 07 in 2003 — it is easier to hear why.

Like the glistening streets in a film noir, there is an aura of mystery — even menace — to the song-sketches Becker crafts from his relatively simple palette of dubbed-out drum machines, five note arpegiated bass lines, and reedy synth drones, all slicked with reverb. Monoton’s sound is wholly self-contained, yet it is not hard to hear strains of electronic music’s divergent future paths — Basic Channel’s heroin techno, Raster Norton’s tonal asceticism, Pole’s digital dub washes — even as it slips in air kisses to contemporaries like Throbbing Gristle, Cluster, and Brian Eno.

As with many other great musical experiments, Monoton was born from frustration: "Nobody else was doing this kind of thing," Becker explains via e-mail, "So if I wanted to spin something like that on a record player, I would have to do it myself." Working with admittedly "low-end equipment" — borrowed synths and a 4-track — Becker started making music that was "not ‘composed,’ but deciphered from nature, like Fibonacci numbers, pi, Feigenbaum, etc. [These are] embedded physical or natural constants with values and proportions that can be expressed in frequencies." The titles of many Monoton tracks ("Soundsequence," "Squared Roots", "p") are matter-of-fact explanations for their stochastic origins.

But the records were only one part of Becker’s larger project researching synesthetic experiences and the psychoacoustic properties of music. He’s put together several site-specific multimedia installations in spaces like underground medieval chapels and blackened tunnels covered in fluorescent paint. It’s a testament to his preternaturally prescient aesthetic that his decades-old comments about "building acoustic spaces" and "treating sound in an architectural way" could have been pulled from any number of recent interviews with drone-metal act Sunn O))).

Becker’s tireless curiosity continues to yield interdisciplinary projects that look and listen to the future. As the current director of the Orwellian-sounding "cultural intelligence providers" Institute for New Culture Technologies and the World-Information Institute, he has less time for sound-based performances. But the remastering and reissuing of his early, quietly pioneering musical work ensures that Monoton will keep setting the world ablaze, one listener at a time. (Matt Sussman)



J.D. EMMANUEL Over the course of 40 years, the sun has risen and set and risen again within the music of J.D. Emmanuel. "I was talking to a buddy before Christmas," the man says on the phone from Houston, where he lives. "I realized that I started making music in August of 1979, and my last piece of music that I ever created was in August of 1999. I don’t know why there is a 20-year cycle."

Now, in August 2009, adventurous listeners can bask in the slo-mo beauty and consistent warmth of Solid Dawn: Electronic Works 1979-1982 (Kvist), a collection of Emmanuel tracks accompanied by gorgeous sunrise and sunset photos, another one of his specialties. Over the course of a few decades, customer service workshop gigs kept Emmanuel on the road and in the air — he estimates he has logged 1.5 million miles. "If I was seated by a window, I’d take out my camera and see if I could find something fun," he says, with characteristic lack of pretense. "I was very fortunate to see a lot of beautiful things from six, seven, (laughs) eight miles high."

And we are fortunate that he took pictures, and even more lucky that he’s created the sonic equivalent of natural wonders — songs like Solid Dawn‘s "Sunrise Over Galveston Bay," a water-swept and windblown chime dream that makes reference to Emmanuel’s childhood surroundings in its title. Personal and universal wonder is at the core of Emmenuel’s meditative outlook. "For whatever reason, when I was a little kid, around eight or nine, I discovered how fun it was to put myself into an altered or dream state," he remembers. "I would go into my grandmother’s bedroom, close the curtains to make the room as dark as possible, turn on the air conditioner and just lay down. I’d take these one hour naps that were just delightful — little trips."

The second sunrise of Emmenuel’s musical career began when his second LP and favorite recording, 1982’s Wizards, was reissued a few years ago. It’s already out of print and rare once again, but Solid Dawn offers more than a glimmer of its powerfully elemental and yet understated pull, a magnetism that has influenced the sound of recent artists such as White Rainbow. The ingredients can be reduced to instrumental gear: a Crumar Traveler 1 organ, an Echoplex, a Pro-One and Yamaha K-20 synthesizers, and a Tascam 40-4 reel deck. They can be traced to influences ranging from "Gomper" off the Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request (Decca, 1967) to Roedelius and Tangerine Dream tracks heard on a radio show by Houston radio DJ Margie Glaser. But ultimately, the source is Emmanuel. His music has a unique sense of being. It’s also warmer than German electronic music of the era. Must be that Texas sun. (Johnny Ray Huston)



BERNARD SZAJNER Somewhere between Brian Eno and Marcel Duchamp rests Bernard Szajner (pronounced shy-nerr). The elusive French electronic sound innovator and visual artist has always been living in the future. After creating a Syeringe or laser harp (an instrument where light triggers sound) in the 1970s, he put out five albums between 1979 and 1983, then left the music scene unexpectedly. Now two of those albums — 1980’s Some Deaths Take Forever and 1981’s Superficial Music — have been digitally remastered and reissued (with bonus tracks) by James Nice’s legendary U.K.-based label, LTM Recordings.

"I never left the music scene," Szajner says via e-mail from Paris, where he’s been getting very little sleep while preparing for a solo exhibition "Back to the cave" at Galerie Taiss. "I just decided that I had to become ‘invisible.’ In the same way, I never left the visual art scene. I just felt that I had to work for a few years … before reappearing."

The installations at Taiss will start with a huge sculpture, Mother, that begins visitors’ ascent from light on the first floor into darkness on the third. The overlapping M’s could be seen as an experimental musical score for light. Whether working in sound or vision (he sees the two "forces" creating a "third force that is stronger than any one of the two"), Szajner’s genius is in making the act of storytelling as relevant as the story itself. The reissues both present journeys. Some Deaths Take Forever‘s layers of synths and distortion eventually reach a celestial, radio-frequency climax. Superficial Music is literally a half-speed, backward journey through his first album, Visions of Dune , followed by a metallic triptych called Oswiecim, the Polish name for Auschwitz. Szajner’s parents were Polish Jews who came to France via Germany, and Superficial Music was partly an effort to evoke the "impressions and sensations of my parents’ storytelling."

When these albums were first heard, Szajner notes, "they appeared strange to most listeners. It took some 20 years to discover that my music might be of interest." Was it hard to come back to a musical landscape where digital music-making software had proliferated? "My opinion is irrelevant because the proliferation is inevitable," he writes. "When I became visible again, I had to cope with an entirely new problem: how does a ‘cult musician’ — like I am supposed to be — get in touch with labels when they receive about 500 demos a week?"

Szajner donated his old synths to an art school some time ago, and he now uses computers just like everybody else (although he claims not to listen to music: "I never, really never, listen to any music, not even my own once it is finished"). Labels eventually started contacting him, asking about reissues. "I chose LTM because it is the most serious proponent of my genre," he says.

An argument for the abolition of torture and the death penalty, Some Deaths Take Forever slowly coheres in the mind. As Szajner puts it in the liner notes/art: "Terms of reality /New body form /The difference is not all that great." Life, after all, is not essentially political. How can you argue with emptiness? (Ari Messer)



CLUSTER Cluster is known to the German state as Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius. Roedelius, 74, and Moebius, 65, are elder statesmen of electronic music and appropriately dignified in their old age. When I saw them at the Great American Music Hall in May 2008, they performed behind glasses of white wine, much as I imagine they’ve always done. But the whooshing, cartilage-shaking sounds emanating from the sound system bore only a passing resemblance to the intricately sequenced music they are best known for. Whether you hear prime-era records like Zuckerzeit (Brain, 1974) or Soweisoso (Sky, 1976) as krautrock, protoambient, kosmische, or plain electronic, the duo knew how to build bridges. Thirty-eight years after their beginnings as Cluster — an early incarnation of the band, spelled with a "K," included Conrad Schnitzler and formed two years earlier — the band has just released Qua (Nepenthe), a record whose surface strangeness reveals a band plunging again into the primordial waters they tested with their debut.

Pioneer status is always shaky — krautrock reissues in particular seem to be coming fast and thick. Still, Cluster (Philips, titled Cluster 71 for Water’s 2006 reissue) is more than an assemblage of cleverly processed sounds (few synthesizers were used), it’s a successful stab at a new language — one that incorporates academic experiments and pop music textures but doesn’t really belong in the company of other records. From their sophomore album, Cluster II (Brain, 1972) through 1979’s Grosses Wasser (Sky) Moebius and Roedelius structured their early experimentation by splitting the difference between the former’s ambient washes of sound and the latter’s baroque and whimsical sense of melody. Counting contemporary releases in collaboration with Neu!’s Michael Rother (as Harmonia) and Brian Eno, these dudes broke a lot of ground in their first decade of existence.

Zuckerzeit‘s "Hollywood" is a good summary of what synth/loop questers like Arp or White Rainbow draw from the band’s working methods: percussion is built around an unquantized loop, giving the woody guitar burps that ride above a tumbling momentum and the icy euro synths that bleed down from higher frequencies a strange tilt. Look close enough and you can’t miss the gaps that let the warmth in. Despite the obvious futurism of their work, Cluster were also secret classicists — Michael Rother’s solo work of the same period, or the Berlin techno that followed in its wake, appear like cold, rationalized Le Corbusier edifices compared to Cluster’s rambling sense of space.
What Qua drives home is the sense that while Cluster never comes across as mechanized, neither does it come across as particularly hospitable. The straight lines of Rother’s music or the subperceptual, soft contours of Eno’s still give a sense of movement toward a better, more human world — naturally so, considering these were some of the principals of early new age. With the exception of album closer "Imtrerion," billowy and warm like the coda to some forgotten shoegaze record, most of Qua is made up of sketches that skew toward the dark and circular — the downtempo time-warp of "Na Ernel" is more Bristol than Berlin. Although the album is filled with miniatures, it’s probably the closest in feel to the formless expanses of their debut. Possibly, the band’s returning to where it started because few of the people it has influenced have done the same. Just as likely, they’re far enough ahead of the competition to be standing behind them. (Brandon Bussolini)



RIECHMANN When he powdered his face a morbid, ghostly white for the cover of his debut solo album Wunderbar (Sky, 1978), how could Wolfgang Riechmann know that he would soon be dead, the victim of a knife attack? This tragic irony is at the core of Riechmann’s story, a little-known one that may attain cult status thanks to Wunderbar‘s reissue 31 years later.
Riechmann the solo artist deserves a cult following for Wunderbar‘s title track alone, a stately and slightly mischievous instrumental track for a movie never made. Somewhere between Ennio Morricone’s whistling spaghetti western rallying calls and Joe Meek’s merry and slightly maniacal anthems for satellites and new worlds of the imagination, "Wunderbar" gallops and lopes, and then floats — better yet, drifts — into orbit. It is glacial, yet seductive.
Listening to Riechmann’s sole solo effort, it’s impossible not to ponder what might have been. If his suave corpse pallor seems to arrive in the wake of Kraftwerk’s automaton image, right down to similarly slicked-back hair, it also prefigures Gary Numan’s android routine. A peer of Michael Rother’s, Riechmann possessed Rother’s gift for instrumental grace. A series of green glowing transmissions from an alien planet, alternately alluring and slightly sinister, Wunderbar calls to mind Rother’s Fernwarme (Water, 1982) — except it arrived four years earlier.
Who was Wolfgang Riechmann, and what exactly happened to him one fatal night? These questions lurk behind the photo of Riechmann’s painted face on Wunderbar‘s cover, with a dearth of text providing any solid answers. Perhaps we’ll know more as the album’s reputation is revived, and canny journalists ask the likes of Rother about a one-time peer. Lords of drift and discovery float in from the past and float out toward the future. (Huston)

Variety lights



If Jean-Luc Godard is right that film history is the history of the 20th century, the film preservationist surely occupies a privileged seat of knowledge. Steve Erickson implied as much in 2007’s Zeroville, his surrealist novel centering on a "cineautistic" film editor who gives new meaning to Freud’s concept of "screen memories." But by and large the preservationist’s labor is beyond public view. UCLA’s prestigious moving image archive is trying to change that with a touring program of highlights from its biannual Festival of Preservation. In an e-mail exchange with Jan-Christopher Horak, the archive director wrote that "When I became director 19 months ago, it seemed that all the work was wasted if we only showed the films in our theatre in Los Angeles."

The Pacific Film Archive screens 14 of these restorations during August, one of which showed at the Castro Theatre in May. Head archivist Ross Lipman reintroduced the eager crowd to John Cassavetes’ A Woman Under the Influence (1974), veering comfortably between technological details and dishy anecdotes. Several of Cassavetes’ original collaborators were in attendance, and it was clear that Lipman had joined their ranks in his material intimacy with the film. I was fully expecting to be wowed by seeing Mabel and Nick Longhetti’s tumult splayed across the big screen, but the revelation was in the soundtrack: the dynamic see-sawing between nonsense whispers and splitting screams made the film a physical experience.

Restorations can bring our attention to previously unseen (or unheard) aspects of a film, making it more complex than we first realized. Dial the formal elements up too much, though, and you have the aesthetic equivalent of a juiced ballplayer — many critics felt this line was crossed in the brightening of R.W. Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) and the soundtrack facelift performed on Orson Welles’s Othello (1952). Nitrate is time-sensitive and costly to preserve, and since the number of titles is so great, the choice of which film to preserve is bound to be polemical.

"While UCLA has traditionally focused on Hollywood films, given our geographic location, we have become increasingly interested in independent and avant-garde work," Horak explained. This shift has resulted in its tremendous success with restorations of Killer of Sheep (1977), The Exiles (1961) and the early films of Kenneth Anger — a set of work that, when taken together, brings wider attention to Los Angeles’ rich tradition of what scholar David E. James calls "minor cinemas."

The PFA picks are delightfully eclectic, but the common thread of this mostly American set is independence. From early avatars like Edward Curtis (1914’s In the Land of the Head Hunters) to Poverty Row auteurs like Edgar Ulmer (1948’s Ruthless), political outliers like Joseph Losey (1951’s The Prowler) to those filmmakers who gave indie cinema a name of its own (Cassavetes and John Sayles), "Secrets Beyond the Door" weaves a multitude of independent traditions. *


Aug. 7–30, $5.50–$9.50

Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249, www.bampfa.berkeley.edu

Summer of ’69


When Dylan wrote "Forever Young," he surely didn’t reckon on something that would make even the most yoga-limbered original hippie feel old: Easy Rider turning 40. But it just did, an occasion commemorated by the restored print playing the Red Vic this week. Disregarding the tragic social-commentary ending, one can ponder "Where would Captain America and Billy be now?" — then watch 2007’s Wild Hogs for one depressing possible answer.

Easy Rider has been lionized and analyzed as the single film that most changed — or eroded — old-school Hollywood. It was made well under the radar for a pittance, by the blind leading the naked — Peter Fonda had never produced a film, and Dennis Hopper had never directed one. Real rednecks hired as bit players really did want to beat up the longhaired crew, who really were frequently on the drugs ingested on-screen. Hopper dithered for a year before delivering a three-hour edit. (Surprisingly, he approved of the 95-minute final version others hastily cut.)

By the time Rider finally came out, some thought the biker genre was already finished. Despite all that, it became a phenomenon, "defining the sixties" and inducing the studios to chase that elusive magic by green-lighting innumerable other first-time filmmakers’ equally loose, indulgent features.

Looking at Easy Rider now is like rereading Hermann Hesse or Carlos Castaneda 40 years later — do it at your own peril, because what seemed so profound then might be revealed as pretentious, vague, and awfully dated. The mystique transcended the movie long ago. But this tale of two hippie dudes smuggling coke (scored from Phil Spector as "the Connection"!) cross-country only to discover they "blew it," has innumerable parts greater than its sum: it gave us Jack Nicholson (who was about to quit acting before being asked to replace Rip Torn), cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs, all-rock soundtracks, the inimitable Karen Black, and many more. As phrase and symbol, Easy Rider still evokes a dream.


Wed/5–Sat/8, check Web site for times, $6–$9

Red Vic Movie House

1727 Haight, SF


Nothing ventured



Dear Andrea:

I am straight (?), married 12 years, and have always been faithful to my husband. Before we were together, I had sex with a few boyfriends — nothing crazy. I did used to have fantasies about women, though; like, while trying to have an orgasm, I would think about a woman going down on me instead. Not any particular woman, just a kind of idea of femaleness. But I never did anything about it, or even particularly thought I wanted to.

Now, though, my husband has a lot of business trips, so I’m alone a lot, and lonely. I do have a girlfriend (a friend who’s a girl) who comes over a lot and suddenly I find myself having those kind of fantasies about her in particular. Do you think I could have been a lesbian all along, or could be becoming one now? Or am I just bored? Should I have sex with her if she’s interested?


Secret Life

Dear Life:

Since you have no idea if she’s interested and she probably isn’t (the majority of random women would not be), it’s probably moot. But let’s say you were having a glass of wine (let’s say it’s the second glass of wine) and all of a sudden she offered you a back rub and then suggested it would be better if you took your shirt off … you know how these things go, at least in fantasy. Let’s say you immediately complied, and things proceeded from there. Let’s say you were compatible and it was great and your husband’s still traveling a lot and you do it again. That’s an affair. It doesn’t matter that the other person is female — she is not your husband! You may be ready to experiment with bisexuality, or with this one friend in particular, but are you ready to cheat on and lie to your husband? They’re not the same thing.

You need to disentangle "bored and lonely" from "interested in women," and "interested in women" from "compelled to explore interest in women." It’s entirely possible, for instance, to be fully bisexual yet completely faithful to the one person you married or partnered. People do it all the time. They relegate one gender to fantasy and go on with their lives, just as other monogamous people do. When you choose one, you lose one. You deal.

Not everyone does deal, of course, or can, or even should. You could be a lesbian who was in deep denial or seduced by the promise of "heterosexual privilege" and now need to get out of there in order to live authentically. You could be a bisexual who can manage ethical non-monogamy and really need a girlfriend and not just a friendgirl, like the one you’ve got. I’m kind of guessing not, though. I’d put money on "bored and lonely." I’m betting, actually, that if that friend who drops by were male, you’d be wondering if he’d like to give you that back rub too.

I’m also wondering if your husband knows you’re feeling this neglected. Maybe he could travel less, or take you along more, or pay more attention to you when he’s home. If none of those do anything, and you ‘re still thinking, "Want woman!" you could always ask him if he’s ever entertained that fantasy, you know the one, and would he maybe like to act it out, or maybe just hear about it after the fact, if you’re not into sharing? These options would be complicated and process-intensive, and require the sort of open communication that everyone plays lip service to but few can really manage in practice, at least not without a lot of sobbing and door-slamming along the way. It can be done, though. People do it, and marriages survive it.

Marriages survive cheating too, actually. More spouses forgive, if not forget, than you’d think. It’s one hell of a blow, though — a marriage needs special, Weeblelike powers to wobble and not fall down. I’m not sure yours has them, what with the frequent separations and, frankly, your willingness to entertain the possibility of cheating without noticing that it’s cheating. I worry.

If I were you, I’d get some girl/girl porn (you can get something funky and homemade — with pubic hair even — if you don’t like the glossy fakey stuff) and a nice vibrator. That should address at least some of the boredom. I’m all for bisexuality and non-monogamy and threesomes and hiring a professional and sex parties and all the other options out there. In theory, anyway, it’s all good. It’s all risky too, and if you’re not up for risking the loss of your nice husband and your nice marriage than you probably want to stick with the nice vibrator. It’s not that it will all blow up in your face the second you try to introduce a new person or element, it’s just that it could. "Nothing ventured, nothing gained" is a good adage but it does have a corollary: "nothing ventured, nothing lost!"

And don’t cheat.



See here now


This is the third year of the Guardian’s photography issue, and fittingly, three themes or commonalities are at the forefront.

First, there is an emphasis on urban landscape or place — while we’ve always only showcased work by Bay Area artists, this year a number of photographs overtly consider specific settings in SF and surrounding areas as part of their subject matter. Or, in the case of John Chiara and Aaron Rosenstreich, their chief subject.

Second, this issue often — though not always — looks like trans or queer spirit. Molly Decoudreaux, Jack Fulton, Katy Grannan and Josh Kirschenbaum all capture moments in the neverending gender play that is San Francisco life. The vast breadth and wildly different shadings of their collective vision is itself quite different from the East Coast trans visions of Diane Arbus and, later, the "Boston School" (David Armstrong, Nan Goldin, and the under-known Mark Morrisroe).

Third, there is a tension between now and then, thanks to a 1968 photo by Fulton, a contribution from archivist Robert Flynn Johnson, and the issue’s more contemporary looks at local faces and places.

To borrow a phrase from SF Camerawork curator Chuck Mobley — who remodeled it from documentary filmmaker Thom Andersen, who in turn took it from porn director Fred Halsted — in the images that follow, San Francisco plays itself. It’s a great performance. (Johnny Ray Huston)




TITLE Untitled

BACKGROUND This image is from a recent collaboration with the kind folks of the San Francisco Food Bank.

SHOUT OUTS Josh Kirschenbaum’s work has always been my primary source of photographic inspiration. Special thanks to the Academy of Art Photo Department, and the wonderfully talented students there for allowing the exigency of my work to expand beyond just the printed medium.

WEB www.jameschiang.com




TITLE Bowdoin at Harkness, 2008

BACKGROUND I photograph cityscapes in a process that is part photography, part event, and part sculpture — an undertaking in apparatus and patience. Many times this process involves composing pictures from the inside of a large hand-built camera that is mounted on a flatbed trailer and produces large scale, one-of-a-kind, positive exposures.

SHOUT OUTS Artists I have worked with and those who have been inspirational are Jean Graf, P.K. Steffen, Michael Ninnan Hermann, Sue Ciriclio, Linda Flemming, Jim Goldberg, Stephen Goldstein, Larry Sultan, Richard Misrach, Marco Breuer, and Muriel Maffre .

SHOW "An Autobiography of the Bay Area, Parts 1 and 2," Sept. 1 through Oct. 31. SF Camerawork, 657 Mission, second floor, SF. (415) 512-2020. www.sfcamerawork.org.

WEB www.lightdark.com




TITLE Go-Go Outfit, Lamp, and Heels (Mica Phelan), 2008

BACKGROUND This is from "The Creatives: Daytime Portraits From a Queer Nightlife," a series of portraits of San Francisco’s DJs and drag queens in their personal spaces. Mica Phelan, a.k.a. "VivvyAnne ForeverMore," is the creator of Tiara Sensation and Beast clubs and the designer behind House of Horseface, as well as a method go-go dance master.

SHOWS "The Creatives," Sept. 15 through Oct. 15. The Seventh Heart, 1592 Market, SF. (415) 431-1755, www.myspace.com/theseventhheart. Also: Nov. 10-Dec. 18 at the Lexington Club, 3464 19th St., SF. (415) 863-2052, www.lexingtonclub.com

WEB www.mollydecoudreaux.com




TITLE Waiting for Olafur Eliasson (from "Drivers"), 2009

BACKGROUND The idea is to photograph a series of limousine service drivers at different international airports. In front of the camera, a driver patiently waits with a sign in hand for an artist that will never arrive. The artists include Gabriel Orozco, Olafur Eliasson, and Francis Alÿs, among others. The artists’ names are selected based on their international presence within contemporary art spaces including museums, galleries, publications, and art events over the last nine years.

The process involves hiring a limousine driver to go to the airport and pick up a given artist. Drivers are expected to arrive five minutes before the arrival and wait for 10 minutes. These photos are not staged. The driver is real and he believes the artist he is waiting for will likely arrive, like in Waiting for Godot where two tramps wait by a sickly-looking tree for the arrival of M. Godot. The tramps quarrel, make up, contemplate suicide, try to sleep, eat a carrot, and gnaw on some chicken bones. Between the first and second day, the tree has sprouted a few leaves.

SHOW "An Autobiography of the Bay Area, Parts 1 and 2," Sept. 1 through Oct. 31. SF Camerawork, 657 Mission, second floor, SF. (415) 512-2020. www.sfcamerawork.org.

WEB www.maquilopolis.com




TITLE Three on a Cadillac (from the portfolio "Nellie’s (K)night: Black and White Photographs From Halloween 1968, the Tenderloin, San Francisco, CA")

BACKGROUND The prelude to this is Martin Luther King’s death in April, and Mario Savio’s defiance at University of California Berkeley in 1964. It is ALL about freedom of being who you are and being appreciated for that. In 1968, when these photographers were made, the only night a man could "legally" dress as a woman in public places was on Halloween. In the then-Tenderloin, the baths were open and fun was everywhere with the police supporting the whole thing.

SHOUT OUTS Thank you to Brennan and Don Guynes

SHOW "New Works by Togonon Gallery Photographers," Nov. 5 through Dec. 5. Togonon Gallery, 77 Geary, second floor, SF. (415) 398-5572.

WEB www.jackfulton.net; www.togononongallery.com




TITLE "Buddha Pests"

BACKGROUND In this anonymous photograph, Bohemian Club members somewhat irreverently sit in the hands of a 70-foot plaster replica of the Daibutsu of Kamakura, Japan that was made for the "Buddha Jinx" of 1892 in Muir Woods. The next year, the Bohemian Grove was permanently relocated north to Monte Rio.

MONOGRAPHS Anonymous: Enigmatic Images From Unknown Photographers (Thames and Hudson) and The Face in the Lens (University of California, 208 pages, $45).

SHOW "Hunters and Gatherers: Photographs from the Private Collection of Robert Flynn Johnson," through Aug. 29. Modernism Gallery, 685 Market, SF. (415) 541-0425,


WEB flynnjohnson@gmail.com




TITLE Wishing Well (from "You and Me On A Sunny Day," 2007)

BACKGROUND For the past few years, I have been constructing a silent film narrating the internal discourse of an elderly woman in today’s pervasively influential world. Through a sequence of stills, "You and Me On A Sunny Day" explores the impact that film and fictional media has on her way of life.

SHOUT OUTS Special thanks to Gilda Todar for her extraordinary acting and dedication. We’ve taken photographs for this project nearly every Sunday since 2007.

AWARD McCorkle is one of the winners of Flash Forward, the Magenta Foundation’s annual international competition for emerging photographers. A book launch will be held at Lenox Contemporary in Toronto, Canada, in October.

WEB www.rockymccorkle.com




TITLE Illinois Street, San Francisco (from Ocular Landscape), 2007

BACKGROUND This is an image taken from my studio window near the Mirant power plant. In that particular moment the sky was extraordinarily apocalyptic. This image is part of a series of constructed landscapes in the San Francisco Bay Area.

SHOUT OUTS Eugene Atget, William Christenberry, vernacular landscape photographs, neighborhood histories, urban planning

SHOW "PastForward: The 25th Anniversary Exhibition," through Aug. 29. The LAB, 2948 16th St., SF. (415) 864-8855, www.thelab.org www.thelab.org

WEB www.aaronrosenstreich.com

A story goes with it



CHEAP EATS There’s something reassuring about this, that, blink, 15 years later there’s still a line outside Kate’s Kitchen on Sunday morning. And they still haven’t figured out how to make home fries taste like anything. And their homemade sausage patties are still only slightly more flavorful than hockey pucks — but not nearly as succulent. And I will still wait in line for half an hour to eat there.

The good news is I won’t have to do so again until 2024, at my current rate of amnesia.

There’s more good news. I’d scored a goal in a soccer game that same Sunday morning, so while the Maze and me were waiting, he in his bicycle sweat and me in my soccer stink, I got to describe this great goal in great detail, the ins and outs, overs and unders, the intricacies, the outricacies … there was all the time in the world.

Having seen me play soccer before, the lucky fuck, my Maze’s amazement was palpable. His forehead wrinkling into a labyrinth of wonder, he asked, "You didn’t get lonely?"

Now, to appreciate the excellence of this question, one would have to be an avid Cheap Eats reader, which I’m not. So he had to explain it to me, but I don’t have the time to explain it to you because, contrary to all appearances to the contrary, this is not a review of Kate’s Kitchen, and we haven’t even sat down yet. Suffice to say, it was a good question, and the answer was, no, I didn’t get lonely.

"Were you nervous you would miss?"

"I wasn’t nervous," I said. "I was sure I would miss." Have I explained this already, to you nonathletes? There’s the zone, see, and then there’s the no-zone, and the cool thing is that in either of them anything at all is possible.

"Your table’s ready" … for example.

It was so loud inside Kate’s that a little kid was holding his ears. It was so loud that, once seated, I kind of wished we were still standing outside on the sidewalk. And that was before our food was served.

Another thing about this day was that it was the San Francisco Marathon. So the Maze and me were not the only sweaty smelly people in town. We’d watched some of them staggering along Haight Street, way after the fact, looking like death and saying, "Thank you. Thank you." Because everyone was congratuutf8g them. Marathoners inspire me, too. Big time. I wanted to pat them on the back, but was afraid they might fall over.

The Maze tried to explain bike racing to me. The last stage of the Tour de France was that day, too, and he’d been watching and following it. These ‘uns ride 100-plus miles a day for weeks and there are mountains and sprints and teams and packs and stages, and all I kept thinking about, the whole time he was talking, was their butts.

But that night we watched a little bit of it on his computer, and I thought I understood. Bike racing, like any other sport, has stories in it. And that’s what makes it, and life, interesting. I think it was a Damon Runyon character who used to say this, about horses: "There’s a story goes with it."

I say that sometimes about a restaurant. Maybe it’s what used to be there before this place. Maybe it’s something important that happened to you, like divorce. Or a particularly transcendent chili.

Looney’s in Berkeley just opened a second Looney’s in Oakland, on MLK Blvd., making it the closest barbecue to my house. I go by it many times a week. I’ve eaten their pulled pork sandwich, and french fries, and I’ve studied their menu, which is extensive for a barbecue joint — and expensive, for a barbecue joint. I’ve sampled a few of their many sauces, but I still don’t know their story. Sign says they were voted Alameda County’s best barbecue. Really??? I might eat there four more times this week, in the company of 12 more question marks. They have a lunch buffet, beef stroganoff, and clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls.

Something tells me they ain’t going to make it until 2024. Help me understand.


Daily: 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

5319 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Oakl.

(510) 652-1238

Full bar


L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.

The algae solution


The San Francisco Bay may soon host a dramatic new environmental project that backers say could solve three problems at once: clean wastewater, remove carbon from the atmosphere, and produce biodiesel fuel. Yet it’s gotten remarkably little attention.

"For the most part, people are just ignoring me," says Jonathan Trent, a researcher at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, who is one of the driving forces behind the project.

The new technology Trent and his colleagues have created is called OMEGA (Off-shore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae). The idea is to grow large colonies of freshwater algae in what amounts to large plastic bags floating in the bay.

Wastewater from local sewage plants and carbon sequestered from power plants would provide food for the algae, which then produce oxygen and freshwater along with an oil that can be refined into fuel.

The OMEGAs are giant semi-permeable membranes; the design allows freshwater in but keeps saltwater out.

Using algae for biofuel isn’t new — there are a number of algae farms on land. But they require large amounts of real estate and fresh water and enough electricity to keep the water moving.

In this case, light from the sun provides the energy, and the motion of the waves stirs the algae around.

Trent is looking at ways to collect the freshwater that gets released by the OMEGAs — potentially another major breakthrough for a state desperately short of water.

Trent has shopped his project all over the world and many countries have showed interest, but he believes San Francisco is the perfect fit. "The people of San Francisco really have an enlightened attitude and are aware that something needs to be done to fix the problems we’ve created," he told us. "It’s a great place to demonstrate to the world that this is a feasible technology."

The OMEGA project still faces political hurdles. Trent recently survived an internal audit. And U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.) has been critical of federal spending for biofuel projects.

But the scientist isn’t discouraged. "Actually I’m glad we have been audited," he said. "I’ve been able to get attention and show that not only does our system not use water, it actually produces clean water."

On July 29 the project received approval for an $800,000 grant from the California Energy Commission. According to Trent, the approval for the grant was ready for approval months earlier, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wanted to put it on hold because of the budget crisis.

The CEC grant is coming just in time. A previous grant, from Google, was due to run out at the end of September. "We’re optimistic that if people see that the CEC has invested, maybe others will want to invest," Trent said. "But we need more than just financial resources — we need brain power as well. The next step is to find engineers to really make this a workable option."

Trent would like to get a working model up and running within the next 18 months and hopes to see a full-scale operation in place in five years.

San Francisco may be the first city to host OMEGA. San Francisco Public Utilities Commission staffers have met with Trent and are cautiously optimistic. "Although it is just at the preliminary stages of discussion, it doesn’t dampen our excitement about the project," said Tyrone Jue, spokesperson for the SFPUC. "We have to know what good we will get out of it and if it is feasible in this area."

Environmentalists caution that it’s far from a perfect solution to the planet’s problems. Sierra Club staffer John Rizzo notes that "biofuels themselves are not a good solution. It’s a good bridge, but they are still burned and create carbons that are bad for the planet." In the short term, however, it sure beats drilling for oil off the California coast.

The blackout factor



This chart shows how customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. face far more power outages than customers of any of the public power agencies in the Bay Area

Noel Birbeck makes signs. In a low, nondescript building tucked into a south of Market side street, a printing machine spits out personal greetings and corporate messages in all colors, shapes, and sizes.

Until the power goes out.

"We print things that are up to 50 feet long," said Birbeck, the business manager of Budget Signs. "If the power goes out at foot 35, we have to start the printing process all over and throw out all that time and money that went into the initial printing."

And that, unfortunately, has been happening far too often. In fact, a Guardian review of available data shows that customers of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. lose power much more frequently than customers of municipally-owned and operated utilities.

That costs money and harms the local business climate.

"[Any disruption] is a huge deal," Birbeck said. "If we’re in the middle of a deadline and a customer expects something at a certain time, that can cost Budget Signs a huge amount of money. No one is going to pay you for something that is only kinda done."

The last major outage cost Budget Signs more than $300 in employee and company time as Birbeck and her workers waited for the power to return. It’s a manageable amount, but she insists she can’t put a price on the inconvenience, the uncertainty, and the potential loss of business.

Reliable power is a basic requirement of most businesses. Restaurants and markets need refrigeration, factories need to power production lines, office buildings run large computing systems, retailers need to run cash registers, lights, and credit card machines. An unexpected power outage can cost San Francisco businesses thousands of dollars.

A 2001 study by the Electric Power Research Institute estimates the cost of power disruptions to California businesses is between $11.5 million and $17.8 million annually.

No utility can guarantee year-round power without disruptions, surges, brownouts, or severe weather-related outages. But reliability varies widely among California utilities.

PG&E breaks its service area into districts, and, according to reports it submits annually to the California Public Utilities Commission, San Francisco customers experienced an average of two hours of non-weather-related outages per year over the last six years. (Weather-related incidents are not reported at the district level.)

That’s better than the three-hour average across PG&E’s entire California service area. Still, PG&E customers in San Francisco lose power, on average, 2.5 times as often as customers of other Bay Area utilities.

The Palo Alto Utilities Department, Silicon Valley Power in Santa Clara, Alameda Municipal Power, and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District have dramatically better records, ranging from 82 minutes a year of outage time in Sacramento to only 16 minutes in Santa Clara — and these numbers include all weather-related events.

In other words, the municipal utilities deliver power more consistently and at considerably lower rates — even before factoring in PG&E’s impending rate hike of 3.3 percent to 5.4 percent.

"We consider any widespread blackout a major event," said Larry Owens, division manager at Silicon Valley Power. "Systems can be managed to minimize storm related events — we do [that]."


There are a number of reasons why these public power sources are more reliable than PG&E: size of the service area, age of the infrastructure, administration of the organization.

"The general concept is that the more complex the topography is and the older the urban areas are … the more unreliable the system is going to be," said Mark Loy, a ratepayer advocate at the CPUC.

"For PG&E there are negative powers of scale," he continued. "They are so large and spread out that being bigger actually makes things more difficult for them to fix. In San Francisco, the circuitry PG&E uses hasn’t even been mapped out in some places, so it is all haphazard and harder to keep on top of."

Public power agencies also have more incentive to invest in maintaining their infrastructure.

Patrick Valath, manager of electric engineering at the Palo Alto Utilities Department, attributes his city’s annual average of only 65 minutes of power disruption to an "aggressive and sustained infrastructure replacement program that is spread over many years."

Alameda Municipal Power’s Alan Hangar said the annual average of only 25 minutes of outage in that city is due to years of building stability and redundancy into the system.

Santa Clara is by far the most reliable utility company in the area, Owens said, and is often ranked second in the nation. "Our current operating philosophy is to load the system with only half of what it is capable of carrying," he said. "That allows us to switch a customer to another circuit quickly, so we restore their power and make repairs on our time, not their time."

He also noted that the vast majority of Santa Clara’s power lines are underground, making them far less susceptible to damage from storms, accidents, and other interference.

Municipal utilities have more freedom than investor-owned companies like PG&E to shift the focus away from profits, revenue, and shareholder returns toward quality and customer satisfaction.

"We are customer-driven," Owens said. "They repeatedly tell us that reliability is the No. 1 priority. The cost of power is second. We have some customers who say they lose $1 million a minute in an outage, and that by far trumps the cost they pay for energy."


Business owners don’t need studies to tell them they are losing money because of PG&E.

Arienne Landry, owner of Just for You Café in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood, faced a blackout during lunch service at her café several months ago.

"The power was out for four or five hours," she said. "During that time I’m paying people to work, but I can’t serve customers without power. I probably lost a couple of grand in sales. It’s not a severe loss, but it takes a little while to catch up."

Birbeck of Budget Signs remembers a power disruption that occurred when she was in the middle of two large printing jobs. She and an employee returned to the shop at 10:30 p.m. after a neighbor alerted her that the power had returned. She said they worked through the night to complete the jobs on deadline.

"They were our two largest jobs for our two largest companies at the time," she said. "Both jobs were over $10,000. Potential loss of either or both of these companies would have been disastrous to a small company. I really couldn’t even put a price on it."

And the cost of an outage doesn’t stop at that initial business. If the power goes out at Birbeck’s sign shop and a sign doesn’t get finished and a deadline isn’t met, Birbeck might lose money or even a client. But that client might have needed that sign for a business event, and that business event may have needed that client … and the losses can go on and on.

Those ripples are larger and go farther in many high tech industries. Larry Owens of Silicon Valley Power said that consistent, reliable power is especially important for the high tech firms located in Santa Clara, including Applied Technologies, Inc., McAfee, Inc., and Intel Corp.

"There are some processes that require a 21-day burn in," he said. "If there is a power outage, they have to start all over again. An outage can cause a company to lose market share or dominance or preferred vendor status. It ripples out a long way."

Some companies have such sensitive systems that a drop in voltage for a mere fraction of a second can shut them down and require rebooting.

"Our customers have become power-quality sensitive," Larry Owens said. "It doesn’t take an outage to harm a business. A fault on a transmission line causes the whole system to dip, a voltage dip. If you have a heavy load, it knocks the voltage down for milliseconds. If it drops enough, companies’ systems drop out."

State Sen. Mark Leno is intimately familiar with the problem — he owns Budget Signs. And he has called on the California Public Utilities Commission to investigate the problem.

"As a San Francisco small business owner, I am personally aware of the lost business I experience as a result of PG&E’s performance failures," Leno said in a press release. A June 18 letter Leno sent to the CPUC noted: "As the commission considers PG&E’s request to upgrade its grid, I would ask you to include both an investigation of these problems and PG&E’s proposed solutions to them."

Almost a month later Michael R. Peevey, president of the CPUC, responded, arguing that PG&E’s reliability rate in 2008 was better in the previous few years. He also pointed out that the utility has a formal process for filing claims and that the commission has no authority over system reliability.

That, Leno said, is unacceptable. "From reading that letter, one would never know that the mission of the California PUC is to be the protector of the ratepayer," he told us. "The ratepayers are being badly served by PG&E and the CPUC."


In theory, state law requires PG&E to reimburse businesses for losses caused by blackouts. A business owner or manager can find the claim form on PG&E’s Web site or can call the claims office. Each case is assigned to one of the 21 claims investigators who cover the utility’s service area. With the help of supporting documents, investigators look into the occurrence, determine PG&E’s liability and the degree of monetary loss, and compensate the business accordingly. All, according the Web site, within an average of 30 days.

Emily Mitra, owner of Dosa, which operates Indian restaurants in the Mission District and the Fillmore District followed this process — and it wasn’t that simple.

On Dec. 18, 2008, a PG&E transformer blew and both locations of Dosa lost power. Mitra had to contend with food spoilage, staff costs, down equipment, lost business, all of which added up to about $12,000.

"We filed claims, but it was a long process," she said. "A check came for the Valencia Street location immediately but for the Fillmore location, PG&E didn’t even have record of an outage."

After three months of badgering PG&E to no avail, Mitra said she contacted Sup. Ross Mirkarimi’s office and the Small Business Commission.

"I was ready to sue them," she said. "I had dozens of witnesses, but that didn’t seem to faze them. It could have been a coincidence that they found the data right after we talked to the Small Business Commission. But it was a pretty quick turnaround after that."

A check arrived for the full amount of the claim. But Mitra couldn’t claim compensation for the time, energy, and frustration the claims process cost her over its three-month duration.

Birbeck told us PG&E never informed her that there was a formal claims process. "No one ever mentioned a claim to me — that has never been offered at all," she said. That’s a common complaint — although the forms are on PG&E’s Web site, the utility doesn’t widely promote or advertise that fact.

PG&E also asks business owners to provide a slew of paperwork ranging from tax records and bank statements to payroll records, revenue and expense statements, and sales receipts.

"We had to give them a lot of data," Mitra said. Because Dosa’s records are mostly digital and automated, supplying them to PG&E was the least of her problems. But, she conceded, "if you don’t run your business in a way that keeps all that data, it would be a pain in the ass."

Of course, the claims process does nothing to address issues of reliability. Neither does it guarantee that Mitra’s refrigerators won’t fail without notice, leaving her without food to serve.

It is, however, another reminder that San Francisco is not being well-served by its private utility monopoly.

The Moss Room



The basement restaurant is an odd duck — odder still if the basement is in a museum in a relatively remote park. Yes, my 16-ton hints do pertain to the Moss Room, the venture orchestrated by Loretta Keller and Charles Phan that opened last fall in a subterranean sector of the new Academy of Sciences building in Golden Gate Park.

A word, if I may, about that building, which faces its nemesis, the DeYoung Museum, across the concourse the way Minas Tirith faced Minas Morgul in The Lord of the Rings: one fair, the other sordid. The Academy of Sciences building is, for me, the far superior design because it subtly but unmistakably refers to its predecessor and because, with its expanses of glass and filaments of steel, it sits in its sylvan setting far more lightly. It does not imperially impose itself on its surroundings. Also, it has the Moss Room.

Strange to say, but the restaurants the Moss Room most resembles are both downtown, where the Academy should have been moved. One is Shanghai 1930, a similarly elegant basement, like a lavish bunker. The other is Bix, above ground but with underwaterish light and a bold staircase. At Bix, the staircase rises to a mezzanine; at the Moss Room, it descends from a cafeteria to the subterranean sanctum and adjoins a channel-like aquarium and a wall garden.

These design details suggest the restaurant’s commitment to sustainability, and as weary as sometimes one grows in using that word, it’s probably worth repeating with respect to a place that is inside a science museum in the middle of a large urban park. If any restaurant should be attentive to food’s ecological dimension, it should be the Moss Room. And it is, with the passion extending all the way to the wine list, which is organized under the rubrics "organic," "biodynamic," and "sustainable."

The Moss Room’s look doesn’t suggest its kinship to Keller’s other restaurants, Bizou and Coco500. The former was like the best restaurant in a quaint Provençal town, while the latter offers a slightly deracinated spareness meant to appeal to urban youth. The food, though, is another matter. Keller has long been a leading exponent of a cooking style I associate closely with Zuni Café: the cuisine of Italy and the south of France, fluffed and freshened. We could call this style "rustic" or "lusty," to use two clichés much favored in a certain cliché-choked competing venue — but let’s not. How about "lustic"? Or perhaps "lustique"?

Because the Moss Room, despite being below the water line, is a more elegant venue than either Bizou or Coco500 — a carpeted hush, dim lighting, high ceilings, the zen spectacle of drifting aquarium fish and herbs growing from the wall above them — there is a certain tension about the food. Should it be elegant or lustic? Can it be both? When you try to be both, you risk being neither.

The small plates reflect a certain restlessness. They range from a humble plate of hummus and pita bread ($10) — glistening like naan — embellished with roasted red-pepper and manouri cheese, to the more elaborate batter-fried squash blossoms ($9) zipped up with goat cheese, mint, and roasted-garlic aioli.

A bowl of corn chowder ($8) did strike me as quite Kelleresque. The corn came from Brentwood, and the chowder was made with chicken and shrimp stocks, along with bits of bacon for deeper flavor. Summer corn is famously sweet, of course, and shrimp stock can intensify this effect. So can under-salting. Luckily, fate provided us a small bowl of sea salt.

Equally Kelleresque was a bowl of squid-ink spaghetti ($12) tossed with a meaty mix of squid and sun-dried tomatoes sharpened with chili flakes and what the menu called "herbs." This dish was visually striking, with the zinfandel-colored strings of pasta looking like a clump of kelp, and its flavors glowed with a steady dark heat.

I caught a milder wave of the same effect with the local albacore ($26), a pair of seared chunks looking like roulades embedded on a textured carpet of roasted eggplant shreds and tomato quarters, with a pale green purée of summer squash piped around the perimeter. Albacore is wildly underrated and is worth searching out.

As for salmon: I like it but don’t love it, and when our server explained that the wild Alaskan version ($23) consisted not of a filet but of flaked flesh tossed with English-pea cavatelli and a north African blend of radish, mint, and preserved lemon, I silently cheered. Salmon can be overbearing and rich, but here the kitchen induced it to cooperate with its platemates.

Speaking of platemates: Greg’s cookie plate ($9) offers a petit-fours-like array of tiny treats. It’s ideal for sharing, and you get lots of bites with not much heft. For the heft-minded: a roasted-peach tart ($9), accompanied by a lump of crème fraîche custard and grainy peach sorbet. Close your eyes and think of the Stairmaster.

<\!s>Le boo-boo: In a recent piece about Bistro St. Germain (July 22) I described Paris’ Faubourg St. Germain as being on the Right Bank of the Seine. Well, no, it’s actually on the Left Bank. *


Mon.–Tues., 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m.;

Wed.–Sun., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

55 Music Concourse (in the California Academy of Sciences, Golden Gate Park), SF

(415) 876-6121


Wine and beer

Not noisy


Wheelchair accessible

Whoop Click!


PREVIEW Like most superhero tales, actor-comedian James Judd’s story begins with a spider bite. He hopes the incident will give him superpowers (specifically the ability to manipulate ATM machines with his eyes), but it never comes. Instead, the nasty bite gives him an excuse to, well, sit on his butt. And it is in his treacherously hot Palm Springs home that our hero gains a lot of weight.

In his newest show, Judd tells the story of how a poisonous spider bite on his butt leads to a two-week holiday at a decrepit fat camp in Florida. Tricked by his parents, Judd accepts a birthday gift at a luxury spa ("You’ll really love it — it’s like rehab!" says "Judd’s mom) only to arrive at a weight-loss camp in the middle of a swamp in July. To make matters worse, Judd is accompanied by his four Mormon aunts, who were all made famous in his previous show 7 Sins. In his 45-minute set, the San Francisco resident takes on 10 hilarious personalities, from the doctor who is convinced Judd’s spider bite is a brain tumor to an aunt who can’t seem to part with her Bible trivia books. Laugh along at Judd’s pain as he relives how he survives the fat camp while trying to uncover the truth behind a dark family secret. Oh, and he reenacts a scene from a porno called Ass Artist 3 — intrigued yet?

WHOOP CLICK! Through Aug 22. Sat, 8 p.m., $20, Dark Room, 2263 Mission, SF; (415) 401-7987, www.darkroomsf.com

“Beyond ESPN: An Offbeat Look at the Sports Film”


PREVIEW Co-curated by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ Joel Shepard and the Guardian‘s Johnny Ray Huston, "Beyond ESPN" also goes beyond cinematic convention, offering up a scorecard of (mostly) uncommon picks cleverly corralled under the banner of sports films. In other words, there’s no Rudy (1993) here. The series kicks off Thursday, Aug. 6 with "Rare Films from the Baseball Hall of Fame" (including commercials featuring a pre-scandal but ever-cheeky Pete Rose) and continues throughout August with takes on professional cycling (1976 doc A Sunday in Hell); tennis (1982’s The French, a behind-the-scenes look at the 1981 French Open); and swimming (2006’s Agua). Plus: Visions of Eight (1973), a study of the tragic 1972 Munich Olympics by eight different directors (including Milos Forman, Arthur Penn, and John Schlesinger); and 1971’s Football as Never Before, an intimate, on-the-pitch portrait of luxuriously-maned soccer great George Best. Also included is Clair Denis’ 2005 Towards Mathilde, about contemporary choreographer Mathilde Monnier, and a trio of good-time flicks dubbed "Winning Isn’t Everything: A Tribute to the 1970s Sports Film" from Midnites for Maniacs programmer Jesse Hawthorne Ficks: Ice Castles (1978), The Bad News Bears (1976), and The Cheerleaders (1973). Go team!

BEYOND ESPN: AN OFFBEAT LOOK AT THE SPORTS FILM. Aug 6–30, $8. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission, SF. (415) 978-2787, www.ybca.org

Bootie Six-Year Anniversary Weekender


EVENT A good mashup is musical proof that sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. ("ABC"? "Paradise City"? Both good songs. "ABC City?" Even better.) And when it comes to the art of mixing parts of two or more songs to make one revelatory new one, Bootie SF’s Adrian and Mysterious D are expert mathematicians. The duo has been solving mashup equations for the masses for six years, and this weekend they’re celebrating their international success with two nights of madness. Friday’s theme is School Night, featuring classic mashups, Blow Up DJs upstairs, special performances by Renttecca and Suppositori Spelling, and plenty of naughty school-girl and -boy go-gos. Saturday’s Pirate Night features last year’s best mashups, DJs Jells Mayhem and Earworm, and performances by Anna Conda and Cookie Dough. And both nights will see A + D on the decks, mashup band Smash-Up Derby on live instruments, and gold-clad Bootie L.A. dance crew Random Acts of Irreverent Dance (R.A.I.D.) on stage. What do you get when you take SF’s favorite dance party and double it? A damn good time.

BOOTIE SIX-YEAR ANNIVERSARY WEEKENDER Fri/7–Sat/8, 9pm. $10–$15. DNA Lounge, 375 11th St., SF. www.bootiesf.com>.

Editor’s Notes



I am done talking about Chris Daly’s personal life. It’s been a nasty, ugly discussion this past week or so, and if you want a taste, you can go to the Guardian politics blog and read dozens and dozens of comments attacking Daly, attacking me, attacking progressives in general, and raging about hypocrisy.

Okay, I’m almost done. I want to say a word about hypocrisy. I’m not so into buying foreclosed houses; it does stink of profiting off someone else’s misery. But the banks are the ones doing the foreclosure and eviction, not the buyer.

Which is not the case with Ellis Act evictions and tenancy-in-common purchases/condo conversions. You buy a TIC, you’re evicting someone, some tenant who is not quite as well-off as you. It’s legal, and not everyone who buys a TIC is evil, and I know all the caveats — but nearly all the people who have been attacking Daly (and me) in the online comments I’ve read (and in print articles, witness Michela Alioto-Pier) are supporters of TICs and condo conversions, which they refer to as homeownership opportunities.

Yes: homeownership opportunities. Yes: evictions. I’m not defending Daly here, I’m just saying.

Now then: The thing I’m not done talking about is the constant, implied, and often direct supposition that the suburbs are better places than San Francisco to raise kids. I beg to differ.

I grew up in a suburb, mostly white, mostly middle class. (More middle class than the suburbs today because the middle class was bigger and doctors, plumbers, and factory workers lived in the same subdivisions — but still, pretty homogenous.)

Today’s suburbs are more racially mixed, slightly. But they’re still essentially homogenous.

My kids go to a wonderful public school (McKinley Elementary) where everyone isn’t just like them. Some kids have one parent, or two, or are raised by relatives. Some kids go on nice fancy vacations for spring break, and some kids get their main caloric intake from the subsidized breakfast and lunch. A lot of kids don’t speak English as a first language. And for my son and daughter, they are all classmates and friends.

Yes, Chuck Nevius: Michael and Vivian see homeless people on the streets. Usually we give them money. And we talk, my kids and I, about why there are people who have no place to live, and why it’s important not just to give to charity but to try to change the conditions that allow billionaires to pay low taxes while people sleep on the streets.

And last Friday, Vivian and the other seven-year-old campers at Randall Museum camp (public, city-funded, open to all) finished a two-week session on hip-hop dance with a performance that literally made me cry.

My kids are city kids, San Francisco kids. We kick suburban ass. *

Fixing PG&E’s blackout problem


EDITORIAL The electricity that San Franciscans buy from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. isn’t just expensive — it’s unreliable. That’s what figures from the California Public Utilities Commission show (see "The blackout factor, page 8). In fact, PG&E has more blackouts than any of the public power agencies in the Bay Area.

That has a significant impact on local businesses — but neither City Hall nor the small business community is paying much attention to a multimillion dollar problem.

During the worst days of the California energy crisis, rolling blackouts were a regular event, and the press and public talked constantly about the impact of power outages on businesses and the economy. Now that the worst of that crisis is over, many blackouts get no news media attention at all. But the problem is still serious: reliable power is critical to most business in the Bay Area, and even short-term outages can hit the bottom line.

That’s why public power agencies like Silicon Valley Power in Santa Clara and Palo Alto’s municipal utility put substantial resources into infrastructure upgrades and repairs. PG&E, which as a private company seeks to keep costs down to fatten profits and reward highly paid executives, has fallen far behind on its system upgrades. That’s why, for example, underground explosions keep happening in San Francisco, shorting out power systems and plunging neighborhoods like the Tenderloin into blackouts.

State law requires PG&E to pay claims for economic damage caused by system failures. Restaurants that lose frozen food, for example, can fill out a form, go through a cumbersome process of proving the extent of the losses, and get reimbursed. But PG&E rarely advertises or promotes that program, and lots of small businesses know nothing about it or never manage to file claims.

And even the claim process doesn’t cover lost business, lost customers, and the loss of reputation.

State Sen. Mark Leno, who owns a small sign shop (and has suffered from blackouts) has asked the California Public Utilities Commission to investigate PG&E’s reliability and mandate that the company meet basic standards for keeping the lights on. But so far, that agency is ducking. Leno has promised legislation if he gets no results from the CPUC, and he should proceed with a bill that would set minimum reliability standards for private utilities and provide significant penalties for failing to meet those targets.

San Francisco needs to take action on the local level, too. The supervisors should hold hearings on electricity reliability and demand that PG&E executives explain the reason system failures are so much higher here than in other Bay Area communities with public power systems. The Small Business Commission should set up (and publicize) a process for filing complaints about PG&E and include information about filing claims in its outreach material.

And as the city continues to wallow in budgetary disaster, city officials (and small business groups) should take note of the lesson here. Public power is not only cheaper — it’s more reliable. And that means it’s good for business and the San Francisco economy. *