"It doesn't matter what the act is," says Oakland musician and visual artist Matt Volla, "whether you are drawing a picture, or painting a painting, or making a sculpture, or a video, or a film, or pouring a cup of coffee, or throwing a ball for your cat. It is an act, and that act creates a situation and the situation creates an experience. And somewhere between the act and the experience, the process can be broken down to its molecular level and the atoms can be reorganized so when you zoom back out to the experience level, your act has transformed into something else."
Hence the "BARTology" series, in which Volla documented people entering trains, sitting down, and exiting, and then translated that information into musical compositions. Or "Knotology," which involved tying metal tape measures into knots and then using the numerical locations of the knots to create formulas for "knot travel," "knot music," and "knot talk." Or "Pourology," where he poured paint at random onto boards and observed the intricate interactions of color and viscosity. Music plays an integral role in all of his projects, too. He's currently working on a master's degree in music at Mills College, and plays trumpet in the improvisational free-jazz trio Sacrifice Fly. He credits the music and visual art experimentations of Marcel Duchamp and John Cage as his most important sources of inspiration.
Volla's latest field of experimentation involves puzzles, which he buys from Goodwill and rearranges into sculptural compositions. The "Puzzled" series -- opening Saturday night at Oakland's Buzz Gallery -- involves two groups of works: one with puzzle pieces "poured" onto pieces of paper and glued in place, and another with vertical towers of stacked-up pieces. The gallery presentation will include four towers (up to six feet tall), a half-dozen or so poured works, and a video.
"Puzzles are supposed to fit together tightly and create a continuous image on the horizontal axis," Volla says, "but I found that they also fit together very well when you stack them one on top of another into a tower. And when I pour a handful of puzzle pieces onto a piece of paper, they land in a haphazard way, like a tape measure with numbers all out of order. I've also been working on a composition that I programmed to create sonic puzzle pieces, and playing around with musical ideas for the show. One relates to the puzzle towers. I take a pop music song, like Ricky Martin, or even something by John Cage, and I dissect it into small parts of four seconds each (the perimeter of a puzzle piece is four inches). Then, just as I stack the puzzles one on top of another, I stack the sonic pieces one on top of another by stacking the sound files."
Volla is already thinking about his next project, "Tennis Music," a system that uses music to generate a strategy for playing tennis, and then analyzes tennis strategy to generate music -- an intriguing reversal of what has thus far been his usual modus operandi: "Up to this point," he muses, "I have used situations to compose music. Now I am using music to compose situations."
"Puzzled" opens Saturday, August 9 (7-10 p.m.) and runs through September 2 at Buzz Gallery, 2316 Telegraph Avenue (next door to Mama Buzz Cafe), Oakland, 510-465-4073 or MamaBuzzCafe.com
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