Between labels like Brainfeeder, WeDidIt, Non Projects, and Friends of Friends, there's no better place in the country for producers and composers to spread their experimental wings than LA. Artists like Flying Lotus, Shlohmo, and RL Grime have gained traction for helping take beats out of bedroom set-ups and into clubs and festivals. But Anenon—the alias of Non Projects head Brian Allen Simon—will help take the movement one step further next month by bringing the sounds of LA's fringe ambient scene into the gallery spaces of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) for a year-long series of performances entitled "Monument."
Inspired by the ambient glow of minimalist artist Dan Flavin's "monument" for V. Tatlin, 1969, the series pairs LA-based musicians and sound artists with works from MOCA's Permanent Collection. Artists will compose and perform original pieces of music directly inspired by and in response to specific works, galleries, and acoustics within the museum's Grand Avenue location. It's less of a conceptual exercise than a refreshing, interactive take on the viewer's experience of the artwork by recasting it through sound.
Anenon has long drawn inspiration from the visual art world, first from time spent working at LA retailer-cum-art-space South Willard and designing catalogues for the private gallery Leadapron, and more recently from his time working with fellow artist/musician Nick Malkin as visitor service representatives at MOCA. It was there, following a series of "water cooler conversations" with friend and curatorial assistant Santi Vernetti, that the concept for "Monument" was born.
"It's nice to be in a quiet museum and look at art, but I think when you bring in someone who is attuned to both visual art and music, and see what can happen when you bring someone in who can activate the space through sound a little bit more, it can change people's perceptions, and that's what got us excited," Simon says.
For Vernetti, the exchange goes both ways.
"LA has such a vibrant art and music scene, and I think that 'Monument' is a way to engage in a conversation with one slice of that enormous pie," he says. "Those involved in the fringe ambient scene often need places to play, and we wanted to create sapce for that to occur. So we thought it would be a great way not just to breathe musicality into the space of the museum, but also to find a way to give back to local artists. MOCA was established as an artist's museuem, so this is very much in keeping with its mission statement and identity. Hopefully what comes out of it is an ability to continue that conversation with other music scenes in LA beyond fringe ambient."
The Black Mountain College gallery at LA's MOCA
Simon's roll as curator, as well as a performer at the event's first installment on January 21, comes in anticipation of his third Anenon LP, Petrol. The album marks his first release on heady production label Friends of Friends, and makes a departure from the saturated solo bedroom aesthetic of his past works. By comparison, Petrol's vibrant collection of compositions breathes through live instrumentation that combines the electronic beats and sampling Simon cut his teeth on with the self-taught jazz saxophone he developed a passion for later on, and that remains his primary instrument today. The result explores the negative space between electronic, jazz, ambient, and classical music for a sound that lives firmly in the present.
"I think Petrol is kind of a culmination of [my] two musical worlds coming together a little bit, with the whole thing being basically based on two improvisation sessions with three other musicians, and then me taking those recordings and taking them apart and building something new," he says.
The challenge of crafting the album through that process continues to play into his development of the "Monument" experience.
"The live instrumentation ended up being edited so heavily in working on Petrol that I think I see the next steps of my work at this point doing away with the rigorous laptop editing and production, and working with more loose, score-based, improvisational pieces, something I've never really tackled in the past," Simon says. "I've also just been playing a lot more saxophone since completing the album, so it feels really natural to go in that direction now."
For his forthcoming gallery performance, Simon—who will also be joined by LA artist and composer $3.33—plans to create a piece responding to works in MOCA's Black Mountain College gallery.
"Black Mountain College remains a hugely significant model to me as an artist trying to continually forge ahead in my own work," he said. "The school's ethos of breaking down walls between mediums and the freedom to be open to letting anything happen remain incredibly valuable lessons for me…I am working on an entirely acoustic score-based group piece that takes into consideration the whole gallery with focus on the child-like scrawls of Cy Twombly's Untitled, the chance operations based and meditative zones of John Cage's River Rocks and Smoke, and the metallic skyward epic-ness of John Chamberlain's Red Beatts, as well as the incredibly deep sonic resonance of the room itself."
Petrol is due out March 4 via Friends of Friends. Check out the premiere of Anenon's "Mouth" and get more info about MOCA's "Monument" series below.
The first edition of "Monument" will take place January 21 from 6 to 8 PM inside MOCA Grand Ave.'s Permanent Collection Galleries. Visit the museum's website for more information.
Andrea Domanick is the West Coast Editor of Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.