Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Charcoal and Paint: Tom Barlow

Tom Barlow doing some charcoal work

An interview with Tom Barlow

Some of Tom's work
Some of Tom's work

Tom Barlow painting
Tom at work

Artist: Tom Barlow
Medium: Charcoal, oil, acrylic, pencil, sculpture
Location: South East corner of Union Square

Tom Barlow is a multi-faceted fellow. Initially from upstate New York (near Buffalo) Tom is a renaissance man – or at least artist – working in a variety of media including silkscreen, acrylic, oil, watercolor, pencil, charcoal and sculpture. If you’re asking how a man becomes so skilled in so many things (and his work is quite good, especially the charcoal), Tom explains that he was always good at this sort of stuff and it just became his career. He did go to school for art, though, at University of Binghamton and the fine arts school in Buffalo.

Tom does “a kind of new realism, it’s not connected with photography, it’s all done from space with three dimensional space.” He says that he enjoys this form of art because it’s more challenging than working from a still life. The scenery is always changing, the light is changing, even your perspective is changing. Moving a few feet can completely alter a picture or inform a new idea on how to change the piece. Furthermore, Tom likes the street. “I’m used to it and I find it very stimulating, it really forces me to focus despite everything that’s going on…I find it incredibly dull to work from a photo or work in a studio all the time.”

Although not a native city-dweller Tom is quite inamorate of the place. He came down from upstate some 12 years ago for a friend’s wedding and just decided to stay. “It’s very conducive to the arts, people will pay for good art. It’s a little hard making sales upstate.” But it’s not all about the money, New York is just a great city, and Tom should know. He’s been commissioned to work in London, stayed over in Paris and outright lived in Montreal, working from life on the street in all places, of course. Of New York Tom says: “I find New York easier. There’s more elbow room, it’s bigger. Europe, everything’s tight, and small, more constrained…I noticed, after I came back from London how nice and roomy it is here, freedom.”

However, Tom isn’t uncritical of the city. He dislikes the way New York is changing – the gentrification, the abandonment and gutting of old buildings and the work being done by the newer architects. “I don’t care for it…I don’t think they’re doing a good thing.” As we were speaking, Tom pointed out that the building behind me, in fact, was being gutted and it’s decorative pillars capped to serve as a condo in a high land value area. While he feel this detracts from the character of the city he admits “it’s probably a natural process, so what can we do?” And it’s not that Tom is reminiscent for high crime and grittiness but he did say “the 80s were great.” And, with a chuckle, revised it to “yeah, good for art and crazy life…things were cheaper and a little scarier. In the subway you sometimes felt threatened. But it was beautiful in it’s own way.”

Tom is primarily known for his architecture work and, if you’re looking at the picture above, you’ll agree his Wall Street silk screen is quite taking. But he also does sketches on the subway noting that it’s “pretty intense. It’s like going to the zoo, you get to see specimens in their natural habitat.”

Like a true New Yorker Tom leaves the following message: “We’re running out of space here, stay where you are.” I can only assume he forgot to add: “I’m talking to you, tourists, learn how to swipe a metrocard.”

Influences: Fan K'uan from the Sung dynasty, Van Gogh, Hokusai, Hiroshige and other print makers, the impressionists, the renaissance, the medieval ages – you name it.

 Subscribe in a reader

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Bucket drums, African jembe, bass drum, hand drum, shaker, saxaphones: The Drumadics

Full song from The Drumatics

Spliced pieces of a really, really long song. Yeah, I know, the video doesn't synch up in the middle section but it's still awesome.

Founder Will Johnson talks about the idea of the band and the music.

The rest of the band talks about the music and their lives.

Medium: Bucket drums, African jembe, shaker, bass drum, African dun duns, alto sax and alto sax
Artists: William Johnson (buckets), David Park (bass drum), Alla (jembe), Alissa (African dun duns), Joel (shaker), Welf Dorr (alto sax), Nick Gianni (baritone sax)
Location: 42nd Street Times Square Station

William Johnson, Bronx resident, is responsible for this motley and highly talented crew of musicians. Founder of the Drumatics, he has been playing in the subways and on the streets of New York for well over 10 years. After being around for so long, Will has become an innovator has created a band which incorporates many of the cultural sounds unique to New York areas like Times Square, 34th St., Herald Square and Penn Station into a coherent art form. So, for example, you would normally see an individual instrumentalist playing by his or herself, a sax here, a drummer there. Will decided to combine them with his drums to make a whole new style of music that is uniquely American and uniquely New York. Will takes great pride in the extent to which his band’s music captures the sound of America, a well blended combination of several styles of music and types of instruments. “America has one of everybody…we actually have 15, 20 of everybody. So take all that rhythm and all of that culture and you put it in one room you have America.” So when people are on their way to and from work we like to lock them into that culture and diversity. Will himself lends an urban, industrial tone with his bucket drums while others blend in African, Carribean, jazz and funk flavors. Will’s goal is to make his and his original partners’ drum work more musical and accessible to people who are not necessarily into just the buckets or just industrial rhythm.

Will has been playing music his whole life, starting with the violin, flute and piano. In high school he began playing the drums with the original bucket drummers Larry Wright and JR. They would invite him to play with them and challenge him to improve. Now, after playing on the streets with them he’s living it up in the Subway. Of course, the Drumatics also do gigs, though, and right now have an off Broadway project called “Drumatics: American Culture Defined.”

David Parks plays the bass drum, the really big one that requires him to stand. Well, he plays a lot of other things as well but here he plays the bass. He moved to NY about three years where he met Will. He explains that when they met he happened to have his drum with him, Will mentioned he was looking for someone and “ever since I’ve been part of the group.”

David truly enjoys playing in public. “[T]o be honest with you, it gives me a chance to do what drumming is actually intended for, which is to bring communities together…Whenever you see a circle around drummers, that’s an ancient thing and, in this day and age, that I get to participate in that process, I feel that’s a big thing in my life…I dig playing the drums for the people who enjoy it.” He adds further that “this isn’t necessarily performance for us…we’re not pretending at all.”

David says that initially stardom is what brought him to New York. He picked up the drums after going to cooking school and was looking from something “a little more challenging, a little more grassroots/up-start…a little less corporate.” After playing in several different African dance companies and traveling to Africa, he found what he was looking for in the Drumatics. He likes the band so much, in fact, that he turned it into a family affair.

Alla is David’s son. Nine at the time of this interview, he has been playing for 7 years (since he was two if you’re too lazy to do the math). Alah came to join his father from Portland, OR. Alah explains that originally he came to NY with his father one summer and began playing with him on cans, noting, though, that “soon enough we got some new drums.” After returning to Portland at the end of the summer, Alah was invited back by David after he joined the Drumatics. At first Alah was a bit hesitant to play with the new band but now he’s really into it and says that he would like to be drummer when he grows up.

Alissa, the only female of the group comes all the way from Trinidad. After witnessing some amazing drumming in the Trinidadian “Best Village” competition Alissa knew she had to play. Unfortunately there are not many female drummers and she found it difficult to find a teacher. After tenaciously beating on any solid object she could find, however, she was finally accepted into a drum company. She has continued with her passion to this day and is now attending Marymount College for a degree in performing arts.

Alissa met Will and them in the subway about a year and half ago and has found the experience quite educations. Having been traditional African drumming for 5 years, Will has been trying to get her to open up and try new ways of drumming.

Joel, like Alissa, is from the Carribean. A drummer from Jamaica Joel is actually in the U.S. to study science. After school Joel plans to have a traditional career in his field but, in the meantime at least, finds drumming really fun. He’s been drumming ever since he was a baby but has only been working the shaker since he joined the Drumatics about three years ago.

Joel really likes working the Subway. “I love coming down to the subway. High energy, a lot of people…there’s different people from all over the world. It’s not a club scene, it’s a subway.”

Welf Dorr, familiar to Concretebeat veterans from his work with the Underground Horns, met Joel in the subway and, through him, started playing with the Drumatics. Welf then brought Nick Gianni, another Underground Horns member into the fold.

 Subscribe in a reader

Like what you see? Hire 'em or contact for more information about their show

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Martial Street Art - Tai Chi, Bagua, Capoeira: Roberto Sharpe

A capoeira class with Roberto

A lesson in capoeira street tactics

Capoeira sparring

A lecture on Tai Chi push hands

A lesson in Tai Chi push hands combat (see above video first if you don't know what push hands is)

A lesson in Chinese martial art combat and street applications

A Tai Chi Class with Roberto

Interview with Roberto about real fighting and being a black martial aritist

Interview with Roberto about his life

Artist: Roberto Sharpe
Medium: Tai Chi, bagua, Xingyi, capoeira, judo, karate, boxing, jiu-jitsu, xuejiao and others
Location: Thompson Square Park on the Lower East Side

Roberto Sharpe will kick your ass. With Tai Chi. Well, no, he won’t. But he could. “Those of us who have been around a while know that the human life is the most precious thing we have and you don’t just go around challenging people.” That being said, Roberto has been challenged many times in his life, often, he says, because people want test his slow, stately art of Tai Chi. Having suffered no permanent injuries Roberto modestly says that, in terms of showing his martial prowess, he’s done OK and notes “most people walk away from me feeling like…I’m alright.” As in, an alright guy, not merely a decent fighter. “I don’t try to hurt anyone, unless of course it’s really called for.” Of course, you can afford to be modest if you’ve been as successful in competition as Roberto has, you trophies will speak for you.

Roberto has been studying the martial arts since he was a young boy. Coming from a martial arts oriented family, he started with Judo when he was very young and continued learning throughout his life studying, most notably, karate as a teenager, Jiu-Jitsu and Tiger Claw later on and, in the latest stage capoeria, boxing and Tai Chi and its sister arts Bagua and Xingyi. But Roberto isn’t limited to just these styles, of course not, these are just the ones he comments on most readily.

Now Roberto is most committed to Tai Chi. He feels that Tai Chi’s slow, methodical style allows a person to study their own nature – the way they move, the way they react, the way they think – and make themselves a better person all around. He notes that great athletes like Tiger Woods, have themselves taped and watch their movement in slow motion to acquire deeper understanding of their action. Roberto personally advises skipping the cash outlay and just taking things slowly. As such, Tai Chi is a philosophy of combat that Roberto incorporates into all his martial arts and, in turn, allows all his martial arts to contribute to.

As a true practitioner of Asian martial arts, Roberto does the Asian thing and practices openly in the park. Just like in China, or Chinatown for that matter, where throngs of people gather in public spaces to study their martial arts, so too do Roberto and his students. In fact, it was as a function of practicing outdoors that people started requesting lessons from him. A holder of degrees from both Columbia University and New York Law Roberto never envisioned that he would be making a living teaching martial arts full time. In fact, up until a few years ago he wasn’t. After law school Roberto was a parole defense attorney. When Bloomberg came in to office, however, his hard stance towards crime left little room for Roberto’s job. Thus, Roberto made the switch to full-time instructor, a job he finds equally fulfilling. “To me, they’re all part of a similar mission which is try to help those who need the help…[Such as those] who are in prison who can’t possibly help themselves.”

Although Roberto now teaches in gyms, schools, retirement homes and other institutions, he still loves doing it in the park. “If there’s a lot of people we have a great time…if there’s one person we have a great time and if it’s just me I still have a great time.” And, if you find him in the park, he’ll teach you anything you want to know. I’ve seen him doing Tai Chi, Bagua, Capoeria, Boxing and MMA. Ultimately, though, Roberto teaches people to be comfortable with whoever they are and whichever style becomes them. A practitioner of his own form, Liberation Martial Arts, Roberto seeks generate confidence in physical ability and awareness to free the psyche of needs and insecurities, to make a person free from their troubles and individual shackles. Like many martial artists Roberto does not endorse violent action but like all martial artists, he understands that without investigating your own capacity for violence and for dealing with violent aggression, even in self-defense, you are never free of its threat. Roberto likes to talk about the holy man who, when assaulted by a street tough, loses all comport and risks killing out of confusion and out of lack of preparation for an intensely stressful scenario.

 Subscribe in a reader

Like what you see? Take a class
Thompson Square Park - Wednesdays and Fridays from 10-12, weather permitting (i.e. rain, he does it in the cold). Only $25 suggested donation for a 2 hour lesson

Really like what you see? Get in contact

Monday, October 8, 2007

Hurdy Gurdy: Melissa "The Loud" Kacalanos

Melissa playing

Interview with Melissa - includes explantion of the hurdy gurdy

Artist: Melissa “The Loud” Kacalanos
Medium: Hurdy Gurdy
Location: Union Square

I consider myself a pretty well educated and cultured individual but truly, I did not know what I was looking at when I saw Melissa The Loud playing her hurdy gurdy in Union Square. With most of its machinations hidden within its casing, the hurdy gurdy is a bit of a mystery to your average New Yorker, or average anybody for that matter. Melissa, though, was nice enough to explain the instrument to me.

The hurdy gurdy, which saw its heyday in medieval and renaissance Europe, is powered by a crank wheel which rubs against a loop of string laid parallel to its axis of rotation. As the wheel imparts kinetic energy to both sides of the loop, the string vibrates producing sound. Within the casing, then, are rows of teeth, or keys, which the player presses against the vibrating strings to create notes. Melissa was quick to note that this makes the hurdy gurdy on of the rare keyboard instruments on which you can bend notes. While written descriptions can be helpful, perhaps the interview above, where Melissa opens up the instrument, would be even more helpful. Anyway, enough about the hurdy gurdy.

Melissa, a resident of Queens started playing the hurdy gurdy about 5 years ago. After she saw someone else playing it she decided it was so cool she must have one for herself. She was able to get a few lessons from the person who made her instrument but after that it was mostly self-teaching, “the lessons were very valuable,” though, she states.

Melissa plays both traditional pieces from all Europe, mostly from the Medieval and Renaissance periods, as well as original ones. As inspirations she cites “a whole bunch of people I’m sure no one has ever heard of” including – Paul Ash (the first person she heard playing the hurdy gurdy), Nigel Eaton (a hurdy gurdy virtuoso), traditional bagpipe music (especially the Hungarian variety) and Medieval Spanish stuff.

A hard worker, Melissa plays gigs every week with her band and out on the street almost everyday weather permitting. This day she was outside practicing for a gig but she enjoys playing in public because she meets cool people and likes to educate the populace.
“There’s so many wonderful instruments in the world and so many people only know about a small fraction of them.” Melissa tells me that many people approach her and ask what kind of guitar she’s playing, once she tells them they often say:

“Oh, I see it’s like a cross between a guitar and an accordion.” To which she responds
“No, it’s more like a cross between a nyckelharpa and a trampamarina.”

“And that just confuses them more”

In the spirit of this, Melissa told me that the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a great collection of unusual instruments. Also, in keeping with her mold breaking instrumentalism, her message to all us is to “go out and do something different.”

 Subscribe in a reader

To get in contact with Melissa check out her site or email

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Live Appearances In October '07: Greg Patillo and Eric Stevenson, Max ZT, Pesu, Break of Reality, Ande Sedwick, Larry Wilson, Welf Dorr

Greg Patillo and Eric Stevenson’s performance info below video

Most days at midnight at the Broadway-Lafyette station going downtown. Tell ‘em Concretebeat sent you.

Max ZT’s performance info below video

Thursday, October 4th
Le Grand Dakar - 9pm until ~11pm
285 Grand Ave, Brooklyn (between Lafayette and Greene)
$5 cover
(G train to Classon. walk one block against traffic on Lafayette. Make a left on Grand)

Wednesday, October 24th
Bowery Poetry Club 11pm-??
308 Bowery, Manhattan
$6 cover
(F train to Second Ave, or 6 train to Bleecker)

Pesu's performance info below video

Old-Souls presents: Art of Autumn @ Isona restaurant / lounge
(57 Great Jones St. NY 10012)
gallery hours: mon-sat 5pm - 12am or by appointment

Opening reception: 10/07(Sun.) 5pm-10pm

Closing party : 10/28(Sun.) 5pm - 10pm

Join us on Oct 7th for the reception party. We will have Live art provided by Yushi aka PESU( Old-Souls) and Emrie along with DJ who deliver lounge music.

Isona special: $3 beer, $3 hand-roll

Break of Reality's performance info below video

Friday, November 2nd, 2007 - Break of Reality @
LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, 31-10 Thomson Avenue
Long Island City, NY, 11101. 8PM show, tickets $15.

Thursday, November 29th, 2007 - Break of Reality @ Eastman School of Music, Eastman Theater, Rochester, NY. 8PM performance as part of the Eastman PRISM concert, 75th Anniversary of NYSSMA.
Saturday, December 1st, 2007 - Break of Reality @ University of Rochester, Wilson Commons, Rochester, NY. 9PM-11PM performance. Acoustic and Electric performance.

Ande Sedwick's performance info below video

Wednesday October 31 at 11:00pm
The Bitter End
147 Bleecker Street (between Thompson and LaGuardia)
New York City, NY 10012

Welf's performance info below video

Friday, October 12 at 11:00pm
NuBlu, 62 Avenue C between 4th and 5th st.

Melissa's performance info below video

Every Wednesday, 7:00-10:30pm
Je'Bon, 15 St. Marks Place
12-14 Djinn plays East Coast Tribal belly dance music at Rakkasah East in Somerset, NJ.

Larry's gig info below video

Lion's Den in the Village, October 30 at 9pm

 Subscribe in a reader