Block Ice and Propane
Posted by Ariel Frager
When choosing shows for this years TBA I had about five minutes to read through the catalogue, check to make sure the show times didn’t conflict and to select which performances I wanted to see. Had I read more carefully, I never would have “chosen” to see a cellist. Sure I like cello, it has that seductive sexy between the legs thing going for it, but really I don’t think I would have chosen a cellist over all the other odd ball arty pieces TBA put up this year. I am very thankful my regular tendencies did not take over, Erik Friedlander’s Block Ice and Propane, a cello concert with projected still and film images turned out to be one of my festival highlights, if not my all out favorite.
The performance was very simple. Friedlander played his cello both traditionally with the bow and picking the strings as if he were playing a big stand up acoustic guitar. The music he wrote filled the Winningstad Theatre with hauntingly beautiful chords that served as plates to devour the images projected behind him. Had I read the catalogue more closely, I would have already known before entering the theatre, that Friedlander is the son of Lee Friedlander, the famed street photographer of the 1960′s and one of my art heroes. Surprise. Friedlander the younger created this series of pieces from memories snapped of family summer road trips, as the Friedlander clan zig zaged across the country traveling by camper van from photo shoot to photo shoot so dad could both earn a living as an artist and spend time with his family.
Friedlander told family stories as introductions to each piece of music, sharing with the audience the catalyst of memory inspiring his music. With pedal control over the images, Friedlander often held the photo for much longer than we needed to gather all the information, forcing us to really look at the image he had selected for that moment in the music. Other times, he just played and left the screen blank, focusing the audience on the music and how fully its melody enveloped the hall. Many of the images were of a skinny young Erik, shirt off in the hot summer sun. Others showed the brilliance of his father, his camera pointed to those things most of us overlook: a cloud above a street sign, the cable holding up a bridge, his family lost in a natural setting. Beautiful and simple images interspersed with short films by Bill Morrison, moving images of the open road. As he spoke, Friedlander seemed almost nervous, his voice shaking a little when sharing these intimate details of long summer road trips.
The true gift of Block Ice and Propane lies in the insight into the creative process. Friedlander described clearly which family memory his art comes from. Not only did he share the memory but used the photographic evidence to back it up. For the first time, cryptic song titles made sense: Cold Chicken, Aerostream Envy, Pressure Cooker, each had a story and it was as if the audience had been let in on a little family secret. Although not my favorite mode of transportation, this was a family road trip that I would gladly take again.