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Here's Why Ariel Pink, Odd Nosdam, Jello Biafra, And Japanther All Make Music With Michael Alan

The New York artist’s deranged performance art, drawings, and paintings draw together an eclectic mix of musical collaborators.
September 6, 2012, 2:00pm

Photo: Joseph Meloy

From the perspective of the average person, Michael Alan‘s mind is all over the place. Seeing the moving, frantic lines of one of his drawings or paintings, you’d never guess the calm, fluid motions that he applies to paper or canvas to create them, his face serene. He manages to fluidly convey those same emotions through a variety of media, the most visceral of which are his performance pieces, which find Alan dancing, in a sense, hypertonic at one moment and wildly loose the next, he and his fellow performers painted like decomposing harlequins.

Photo: Joseph Meloy

For these performances, Alan employs an element that has an ambiguous place within an art gallery: music. For someone whose approach to art is unbounded by the conventions of art exhibition, the general absence of music within that space doesn’t hinder Alan’s exploration of music. His eclecticism when it comes to choosing sounds and collaborators fuels a sort of irreverence for the paradigm of standing there and watching art. Immersion can only happen when one’s inhibitions are gone, and if the audience follows Alan’s example, that’s exactly what happens.


His style has drawn the interest of a range of musicians across genres, artists who, like Alan, challenge whatever category the world tries to place them in. So far, they’ve included Ariel Pink, Odd Nosdam, Jello Biafra, and Japanther, as well as a few less famous but no less notable characters, like Alan’s own mom and dad, and a homeless guy he met in the park.

Alan told us a bit about his craft—the art, the performance, and the music that come together to enthrall the crowds who witness it all.

How would you describe your performance pieces, particularly the musical element?
I’ve been making the music that goes along with the show for a long time, building soundtracks, albums, and making take-aways for the people who come to show—memorabilia, something that can live on after, something that grounds this live music video/tableau. Through time, the living installation became a meeting ground where all types of people gathered together—a new staple of New York City. Thousands upon thousands from all walks of life have come, been a part in one way or another. Rest in peace to my brother Odin who started this project with me.

Performance piece featuring music from Renaldo of Renaldo and the Loaf

How did you connect with musical collaborators that you’ve worked with?
The solo music soundtracks have taken a course for the surreal. I reached out to my music art heroes. I decided to reach out and ask select musicians of choice, musicians who have inspired me in my art, ones I follow and collect. Some are friends, some have become friends. I decided to reach out and ask to collaborate. I expected nothing. Art is supposed to bring us together right? Not separate us. Now I have a large library of collabs stretching from the start of this.

What inspired you to incorporate all these elements into your performance pieces?
I decided to work sculpturally on people and do the same to myself and everything around me. DIY and Do It Live. Start blank and end up like a bomb of energy exploded all around the audience, with pieces dripping off some of them. The shows varied from six to twelve hours (think-a-thons). The materials were everything, literally anything I can use, twist, turn, shake, and melt. The team/cast and crew would collaborate with me on a storyline (Please show up to practice), and practice to the music that would we acted out… The living installation. People would walk into a living painting. Boom!


I really love the idea of going out into the public and and demonstrating function—how is something made? Show and show. Let the “art” take a life of its own through the soundtrack and performance. Let’s give art a chance to publicly interact and continue that conversation offstage, on and on and on and on…

For more of Michael Alan’s collaborative music, check out his Soundcloud page. See some of his drawn and painted works below.


A world beyond lies

I see all the things in my head