X-TRA is proud to present Robert Wilhite’s Chinese Cocktail as part of the Pacific Standard Time Performance and Public Art Festival.
Originally performed in 1978 at the San Francisco Art Institute as Chinese Cocktail and then at the Newport Harbor Museum of Art as Ido Ceremonial Music, Wilhite’s musical performances attempt to demonstrate the potential sounds of otherwise mute objects. The concert is played on Wilhite’s musical sculptures––a combination of original instruments from 1978 and a number of re-imagined objects produced specifically for this event, including Cone,Cube, Sphere, Silent Cube, Black Box, Black Ball, Silent Harp, and Spinners.
For this restaging of Chinese Cocktail, the instruments are played by both original performers and an ensemble of the artist’s recent collaborators. The program will also include Parallelogram, and Wilhite’s music from Ramona (1977), one of his collaborations with Guy de Cointet.
Wilhite worked with X-TRA editors Shana Lutker and Aram Moshayedi to bring this restaging of Chinese Cocktail to the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre, where Wilhite and Guy de Cointet initially staged their collaboration Ethiopia in 1975. Concurrently, ephemera from Ethiopia is featured in the exhibition Civic Virtue at the neighboring Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery in the Barnsdall Art Park.
In 1978, Wilhite described the concert Chinese Cocktail:
The orchestra was composed of 10 musical instruments which I made. Each was non-traditional. The geometric shapes of the instruments were direct visual art references while the sounds they created only remotely fit into the categories of wind / string / percussion.
I devised my own musical notation system for the performance. I used symbols which related to the geometric shapes of the instruments, and created a type of hieroglyphic system. Somewhat crude, but effective. The music notation simply provided an order for the musicians to play. They followed no rhythm pattern, and the sound created by each musician with the instrument was up to that person. The musicians were all friends and most had no music background.
Robert Wilhite’s work is represented in a number of exhibitions that are part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time initiative, including “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980,” organized by the Getty Center; “Downtown LA,” Las Perlas, with Larry Bell, Ed Moses, Robert Irwin, and Laddie John Dill; “Los Angeles goes life: Performance Art in Southern California 1970–1983,” LACE, Los Angeles; and “Civic Virtue: The Impact of the Los Angeles Municipal Gallery” at the LA Municipal Gallery at Barndsall Art Park. The Getty Center presented IGLU in December 2011, the second of four plays Wilhite made in collaboration with Guy de Cointet. Currently, Wilhite has a solo exhibition at the Kunstverein Amsterdam, “The Robert Wilhite Store for Art and Design,” on view until February 2012.
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