Copyright © 1998-2008
All Rights Reserved
by Claudia Chapline
Notes on Ash Can Blues
An Environmental Sound Piece by Leonard Ellls
Premiere Performance at IDEA on April 10, 1976
Six trash cans, dented, galvanized metal - in the air over them, six plastic bottles suspended from the ceiling, water dripping from them through tubes (6/8 time) 12/4' every can has a silver lining (plastic opaque)on the floor a thin film of clear plastic - at the bottom of each trash can, alfalfa sprouts grown by Leonard - twenty-eight people in the audience, watching two latecomers tiptoe in - Pepe Lobo is
is walking in time with the percussive rhythms to get in position to photograph Leonard who is manipulating the sounds at the mixer6/8, click, click, click, da, da, click, the taps get louder - one young man in a business suit strides out - Pepe is peeking around the screen, people are listening with their eyes closed, toes are tapping, fast drips sound like birds, marching and chomping, splashes, rhythms slowly piling up on each other, 3, and feedback, and 4, echo and reecho, loud 1, 2, 3 knocking, four people are lying down.
I begin to see water drops splashing on the plastic tape recorder wheels. Drowsy people look up as two more latecomers arrive. Part of the plastic film on the floor has air under it, making a transparent breathing mound as the plastic membrane responds to air currents. Leonard is wearing his performance costume, tie-dyed jeans and an oversized white lab coat. He adjusts the tubes on the bottles to allow the water drops to fall more rapidly. 2/4, the bottles sway slightly. Harold Johnson moves to the empty space and begins to dance slowly. Ray Brenner is falling asleep. I get up and dance with Harold. Ray snores, People giggle. Leonard and the water sounds continue. Leonard closes the tubes one by one until there are no more drips to sound. He plays a pre-recorded tape for Part Two: a collage of popular songs which mention rain. It is a silly musical pasteup in complete contrast to the quiet concentration of Part One. It is brief and lets us know that moments come and go. The environment remains to remind us of a musical experience we can remember later on, long after the enthusiastic applause stops and the curious heads Iift their ears out of Ellis' water drums. Weeks later fragments of audio-visual poetry reappear when I wash my hands or pass the rows of empty trash cans along the city streets. Yes, the rain makes beautiful music in Southern California, when Leonard Ellis is the rainmaker.