Posts Tagged ‘Columbia 30th Street Studio’

Beat Goes On

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014

Stan Douglas’ twelfth solo show at David Zwirner is a six-hour video for which the artist restaged a legendary recording studio, convened top-tier musicians, and unspooled social observations.

For Luanda-Kinshasa, Douglas reconstructed the Columbia 30th Street Studio, which originally was sited in a Manhattan church. Adapted to a studio in 1949, the space combined raw architectural serendipity with state-of-the-art recording technology. It had 100-foot tall ceilings and unvarnished wood floors that the staff refused to clean, for acoustic reasons. Columbia Records brought in the best mics, tape machines, and monitors. Consequently, “The Church” gestated some of our most influential albums: The Wall. Goldberg Variations. West Side Story. Most of Miles Davis, including Kind of Blue.

Douglas populates the pseudo-studio with recording session by a fictional 1970s band; he is assisted by a production staff that includes Christopher Martini, Scotty Hard, Sam Chase, and Kelly McGehee. The band is led by Jason Moran, who is no stranger to art-world collaborations. For years, he has collaborated with Joan Jonas, including for The Shape, The Scent, The Feel of Things. Joining Moran here are Kahlil Kwame Bell, Liberty Ellman, Jason Lindner, Abdou M’Boup, Nitin Mitta, Antoine Roney, Marvin Sewell, Kimberly Thompson, and Burniss Earl Travis.

Like a marathon jam session, the performance appears to be endless and airtight, covering variations on two distinct grooves, with only seconds of rest for each length of performance.  Even the camera takes are long stretches of steady tracking.  The camera pauses to take in an individual performer, especially during solo play, but often roves the studio till performers align from the foreground to the back.  Occasionally, the camera strolls to the edges of the studio, observing technicians fussing with plugs, a journalist contemplating the scene, the fish tank of the control room, and two women seeming to avoid each other while sharing a sofa.  Is it a coincidence that most – not all – of these auxiliary figures are white.  (Maybe in an actual studio, but not after deliberate casting, is my guess.)  Who really has the power here?  Do the plug-fussing technicians literally demonstrate a “shift” in power?


From the wardrobe and instruments, it’s apparent that the band is international, representing four continents.  More international are the varieties of sounds and influences swirling through the music.  Watch, listen, and taste a slice of the globalized economy, which increasingly has multiple centers.  And speaking of centers, Kimberly Thompson is an expressive, effusive engine of syncopated and funk-stomp beats who is a joy to watch.


Stan Douglas’ previous show at David Zwirner featured color photos of disco in New York and civil war in Angola. Each scene seems plausible as photojournalism, but like Luanda-Kinshasa, it’s all fictional and envisioned by Douglas.  Thus, Douglas continues his project of mining colors, sounds, textures, and scenarios that defined a period of time and the dynamics it engendered.  While watching the video, a viewer might wonder what conflicts and resolutions each musician is thinking about – or ignoring – while he or she closes in on the next beat.

(All images courtesy the artist and David Zwirner)