At Arthouse, Graham Hudson's 'Rehearsal at the Astoria' recreates razed venue for musicians.
Band rehearsal doesn't happen in museums. Band rehearsal happens in garages. Musicians straggle in with bed head, drink beer and make lewd jokes until they get around to playing music.
These stereotypes don't seem to bother English artist Graham Hudson, who has taken the idea of music in progress and made it the beating heart of "Rehearsal at the Astoria," Arthouse at the Jones Center's latest installation, which runs through April 10.
Using original blueprints, Hudson re-created the inside of London's historic Astoria Theatre, which was torn down in 2009 to make way for a Tube station (London's underground rail system). The theater that, like the Jones Center, began its life as a movie theater in the early 20th century, was host to a who's who of famous performers, including Radiohead, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones and Madonna.
With the help of an advisory committee made up of familiar faces from the Austin music scene, including KGSR's Andy Langer and James Moody of Transmission Entertainment, Hudson and Arthouse plan to have more than 150 bands and musicians rehearse inside the structure in shifts lasting two hours and forty-five minutes. Slots are still available — visit arthousetexas.org to apply and to see the current schedule of bands (they haven't announced plans for South by Southwest, but with so many musicians in town, who knows who might show up).
"I quite like the process on display, setting things up where there could be this kind of chaos," said Hudson, who, at 33, wearing a hoodie and dirty sneakers, could be mistaken for a member of a punk band. Process is a key word here — rather than ship materials overseas from the theater, Hudson reimagined the venue using construction materials found in Austin. The result is a skeleton of scaffolding, resembling a renovation more than an auditorium.
Like the architecture, the human components of the project are meant to represent the idea of process as well. The call for bands released in January specified that the space was meant for "rehearsal use only," with no performances allowed. Musicians decide whether to interact with anybody who might be listening.
Hudson's inspiration for the project came from a band that rehearsed, and often argued over their music, next door to his London studio. When the Astoria was demolished, he decided to meld the concept of rehearsal with architecture.
Results so far have been mixed, in part because of the arctic weather that swept into Austin the day the installation opened. On a very cold Wednesday night last week, Austin pop band Candi and the Strangers rehearsed with only a handful of people in attendance. Keeping with Hudson's wishes, the inner workings of the band were on display.
"We don't usually have a theremin with us, so you're probably going to get tired of it after a while," band member Erik Wofford said. The band's appearance truly was a rehearsal rather than a performance — facing inward, toward one another, they talked amongst themselves and repeated a cover of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" several times.
By requiring that participants keep things informal, Hudson has created a living art exhibit, equal parts sculpture and performance art. Unlike a show at one of Austin's many music clubs in which fans arrive, loiter and drink as they wait for the performer and then depart after the show, the project presents music as something visitors can happen upon.
For another musician involved, "Rehearsal at the Astoria" offers a bit of a reprieve from Austin's bar-focused music scene. "This is the best thing I could have asked for," said VC Childcraft, who rehearsed in the space last Thursday. "I really don't prefer a lot of the atmosphere of shows, so any chance I get to play in unique spaces I feel right at home."
Artists set up on a stage — a platform, really — in the center of Arthouse's cavernous second floor. Observers can sit on bleacher-like seats or explore a catwalk of various platforms that wrap around the structure.
"I really appreciate the raw aspect," Childcraft said of the setup. "Just being able to see through the entire thing, the fact that it doesn't really mess with sound, you can really fill the space."
Childcraft's parents sat in on the rehearsal, along with his girlfriend, Nora Frank. "I think that making an interactive space that people can relate to and have a totally different type of experience is really cool," she said.
Childcraft, who rehearsed alone, created what he describes as "ephemeral electronic" music — pulsing samples combined to form a sort of sonic layer cake — using only a laptop computer and a few keyboard synthesizers. He epitomized Hudson's desire for the project to be populated by a broad spectrum of artists. Bands playing rock, Americana, punk and more are set to take part along with solo artists playing pianos, guitars and more.
Hudson wanted players involved to represent a range of experience as well. "It would be great to have someone really recognizable followed by someone playing a harmonica they started learning yesterday," he said.