Suttertown News, May 6-13, 1993. Vol XIX, No. 7. Sacramento's Weekly Newspaper, 1731 L Street, 95814, (916) 448-9881 excerpt copyright 637w

"The Beat Gets Weird", by Terri Evans.

The May 22 concert will feature the San Francisco group Crawling with Tarts and Sacramento performer Cloud. A third group remains to be announced.

Crawling with Tarts will present an art form they call turntable opera. Five or six phonographs will play simultaneously, each offering a different record. The albums are usually oldies, collected from thrift shops or junk sales, explains Michael Gendreau, one of the performers.

"They're mostly handmade records made anywhere from the '30s to the '60s and '70s, very strange recordings that maybe a family made--a letter, a recording of a party, some work sounds or animal sounds," Gendreau explains.

Gendreau and his collaborator, Suzanne Dycus, have been collecting records over the last ten years to use in their turntable operas. They group the recordings in a variety of ways to emphasize certain themes--"themes about other places, themes about God, themes about strange cultural rituals."

"We know a way that we can achieve a certain mood by playing a certain combination of records," says Gendreau.

In addition to the records, Crawling with Tarts uses a variety of homemade instruments. Gendreau estimates that the pair have made hundreds of instruments over the last ten years.

"We use found percussion instruments, such as interesting-sounding metals and woods," Gendreau explains. "We have string instruments we've built which have resonators on them. A lot of them are really quiet, so we amplify them with contact microphones."

A classically trained musician with an M.A. in composition from Mills College, Gendreau writes out his turntable compositions with a combination of traditional musical notation and picture notation. Dycus, a visual artist by trade, adds further graphics to the written score.

The two have collaborated on some 30 recordings over the last ten years. Their most recent LP, "Opera", contains four operas, all using turntables.

Although their work has been reviewed in such varied terms as avant garde, experimental, folk, and rock, Gendreau himself defines their current work as "more in the vein of contemporary classical music. People call it experimental. I don't like the term experimental so much. I think of it as being strongly rooted in the traditions of utopian art movements."

The work sometimes takes on socio-political overtones," Gendreau says. "Some of the themes come out as strange cultural rituals, strange because of the separation in time and because the material wasn't intended to be used as it's going to be used."

Burns believes that many of the concerts in the series may make political or social statements.

"The art is usually made up by taking pieces of noise that people use for one stereotypical reason and using them in another context," he explains. "even if they are using a guitar, they are using it in a non-traditional way. It can't help but make a statement."

The trademark of Sacramento performer Cloud, aka John Frank, is "a big collage of sounds", he states. Frank, like many other experimental performers, has no formal music training.

"That can be an advantage," according to Burns. People who are immersed in the tradition of major scales and primary chords tend to play only music that sounds predictable, while the unschooled musicians are more open to innovation, he believes.

Gendreau, at the other end of the education spectrum, has a B.A. in physics and an M.A. in music. He maintains that the two are related.

Dycus applies her studies of botany and etymology to her collaborations with Gendreau. For example their "Bee Opera" is based on the life and social structure of a bee colony. Tiny electric motors are used to simulate the sound of bees by driving layers of plastic inside pans.