MUSIC Shellacked gummy worms, cherubic Ebay'd figurines, one of those ships in a glass bottle usually reserved for nautical-themed offices, a red bike reflector, a holarctic blue copper butterfly, a vintage stenograph. The physical items sit on separate pedestals as part of the release for Michael Zapruder's newest album, Pink Thunder (www.michaelzapruder.com).
You have through Nov. 18 to visit the Curiosity Shoppe on Valencia in the Mission, stick some headphones on your ears, and press a small red button on a bubblegum-pink square circuit board affixed with a kitschy sculpture of a bear holding an empty pot attached, or that bowl of shellacked gummy worms, or that holarctic blue copper butterfly, and hear the single track encased within. Zapruder dubbed the structures "portmanteaus" after the linguistic term meaning two blended words.
These particular portmanteus are blends of vision and sound, sculpture and music. The objects, and the individual songs that pump out of them — Zapruder's free-form pop built from poetry — force you, the listener, to think beyond your lazy current manner of music absorption.
"Just generally, I love the idea of a totally unconnected song. This is a song. That feels like an object that's somewhere closer to the stature of the music, as opposed to a CD. This celebrates music. It dresses it up," Oakland's Zapruder says, smiling in the center of his portmanteaus.
Plus, it's fun to touch the art.
"Imagine if you went into a record store and there weren't that many things but each thing was really cool, you wanted to pick it up and play with it, and there was only one copy of each thing. Don't you think that'd be cool?" He laughs after he says it. Could this be the future of the now-shuttered mega record stores? Could downsizing have saved the behemoths?
Of course, it all goes a bit deeper than that, the vision behind this multifaceted, six-year-long project.
"I think it's good when people listen to stuff in an uncertain state. So many listening experiences are so familiar. You're working on your computer and you're listening, or you're in a club. And it can be amazing. But you know what you're going to get, you know the structure. [Pink Thunder] songs are all experimental, all free-composed. Hopefully they're very listenable, but they're odd, and I thought it'd be good for people to be in a 'what is this?' state."
Though the songs are also being released through a few more traditional venues. Pink Thunder as a whole is the portmanteaus, each with one of 22 songs that are also compiled into CD form and 12-inch vinyl on The Kora Records (known for releasing records such as Philip Glass' recent Reworked), seven-inches released by Howells Transmitter, which Zapruder helps run, and a bright pink poetry book, put out by Black Ocean.
The whole process took half a decade to create, completed with the Oct. 16 release on The Kora and the installation at Curiosity Shoppe, which opened in mid-October. Though clearly, the wider range of this project, beyond the physical objects, is the relationship between poetry and music.
It all began with a poetry tour organized by Seattle's Wave Books; Zapruder's renowned poet brother Matthew helps run the small publishing house. Zapruder jumped on the Green Tortoise poetry bus for a week of the 50-city tour and after a few false starts, he came up with the idea: "I wanted to see if songs could communicate those same kinds of things that these poets' poems do."
He gathered up poems by the likes of the Silver Jews' David Berman, Carrie St. George Comer, Gillian Conoley, Noelle Kocot, Sierra Nelson, Hoa Nguyen, D. A. Powell, Mary Ruefle, James Tate, Joe Wenderoth, and his brother, and turned them into lyrics.