June 15 2011 12:00 AM

Multimedia artist talks about his craft, religion and what he's been up to

Michael Trigilio
Michael Trigilio specializes in the art of "demystification." A multimedia artist who teaches media arts and sound at UCSD, Trigilio endeavors to unlock mysteries. His film Bodhisattva, Superstar is an "allegorical documentary" exploring Buddhism in America and his project, Neighborhood Public Radio, a cheeky play on National Public Radio, is an art collective that champions outside participation. 

We weren't sure what he had planned for his performance at Whistle Stop Bar in South Park on Thursday night, so in the spirit of demystification, we sent him some questions over email. Here's what he had to say:

CityBeat: What was your earliest exposure to multimedia performance? 

Michael Trigilio: When I was in high school in San Antonio, Texas, I saw the premiere of Bob Ostertag's "All the Rage" performed by the Kronos Quartet. This was a string-quartet that also incorporated samples and found-sounds of anti-homophobia protests and testimonies of gay-bashings. It was an amazing work. I had been introduced to the works of Laurie Anderson and saw her "Stories from the Nerve Bible" in 1995, which also had a strong impact on me at that time. In the early 1990s, I was very much inspired by Merce Cunningham and his integrated use of video, electronic music, and choreography—seeing his work at this time was a wild intellectual revolution for me. 

As a medium for your work, what do you like about multimedia? 

I think multimedia work is exciting insofar as it is an experiment at the edge of any particular medium (sound, video, dance, cinema, etc.). I feel like "multimedia" is a bit of an old-fashioned term, but is one that does a lot of the heavy lifting that "intermedia" or "new media" sometimes fail to do; "multimedia" is, for me, fundamentally about experimentation and the little bursts of inspiration that can occur when multiple strategies intersect and collide. 

Why is music so important to incorporate into other mediums? 

Music is important to me as much as sound, generally, is important to me. My background as an artist is born from my training as a musician and audio-producer. Music is fundamentally abstract and carries with it deep psychological expressions; some sounds are pleasant (harmonious) and some are irritating (dissonant). To me, a really fascinating experience can be authored when we alter the "soundtrack" of an experience. I've done this in the past by putting 100 electric guitarists in a Contemporary Art Museum, or by composing sad music to accompany stand-up comedians laughing at their own jokes. In many cases, the sounds (including musics) that occur are less directly "noticed," thereby acting as little invisible carriers of meaning. Plus, I love music. 

What is the “demystification” in your work? 

MT: Demystification could be understood as a kind of education. In my film Bodhisattva, Superstar, I was invested in demystifying various aspects of American Buddhist practices, as well as demystifying the notion of authorship and authority itself. At the same time, in my Neighborhood Public Radio project, my collaborators and I are invested in making radio and transmission technologies easy-to-make and easy-to-use, thereby effectively demystifying the relationship we have with broadcasting and technology. Throughout my works across many media, I like the idea of deconstructing a political, social, spiritual, or even technical idea and then re-orienting the viewer / listener / participant towards a personal relationship with that idea. 

Would you say this theme is an important one? If so, why? 

MT: I think demystification is important only because so much of our political / social / spiritual / technical lives are deliberately kept shrouded for us. How many of us know how our phones work? How many of us understand [how] to build [a] TV transmitter? Similarly, there so many complex and fascinating and deep theologies and mythologies that seem to be interpreted and translated across cultures. Even our relationships to each other are so psychoanalyzed and informed by media that our relationships with one another can seem confusing. So, a vocabulary of "demystification" is something that is meaningful to me—to illuminate and understand how we operate with each other. 

Tell me about the role religion plays in your work. 

Religion is something that is omnipresent in our culture (and many others), and yet is often treated with obnoxious piety or simple scorn. I think religion is fascinating, and I think the ways many people are engaged in a constant bargaining with their religions is really inspiring. Religion occupies a substantial amount of the narrative content throughout art history, literature, and poetry, as well as informing the national political debates of which we all are a part in some way. As much as sex and mortality are powerful motivating forces in our lives, I'm always intrigued by the ways individuals will join, follow, abandon, or invent a religion as a way of coping. I used to be very religious myself, though not so much anymore, but that shard is still stuck in my system. 

What kind of things can we expect to hear (and see) from your show at the Whistle Stop? 

I'm doing a long-form analog-modular synthesis performance which will sound like orbiting satellites celebrating an acid-orgy. I'll be joined by Jon Beals and Scott Jones who will play some Earth-inspired metal riff-drones throughout the performance. And the video I've made is derived from 1950s educational films about how to say "no" to heavy-petting. It's all an elaborate experiment, and I'm as eager to see how it evolves as anyone! 

Do you have any new projects in the works? 

I'm co-producing a series of dance-media events in San Francisco at the end of September with a choreographer named Katie Faulkner from Little Seismic Dance Company. She and I collaborated on a film called BRINK in December, which should be finished this summer, and we're staging a series of multimedia happenings and flash-mobs in the Fall. I'm also continuing to collaborate in my Neighborhood Public Radio project which is staging an event in November in Santa Barbara.

Michael Trigilio performs at Whistle Stop, 2236 Fern St. in South Park, on Thursday, June 16. Ego War and Monsterpussy will DJ; Acamonchi and Gil Dominguez will show their art.


See all events on Thursday, Oct 20