Billy X. Curmano was buried alive for three days, fasted in the desert for forty, swam the entire length of the Mississippi River and journeyed to the Arctic Circle just to check up on "global warming".
His first solo CD received a 2006 Experimental Album Award from, Just Plain Folks (JPF) - the “Grass Roots Grammys” - and biggest music awards program in the world. It was chosen from a field that included over 25,500 albums representing over 70 countries. As a comparison, the Grammy's typically consider only about 1000 albums each year. His anti-war anthem, "Wagin' War”, was also nominated in the spoken word category.
Billy X. Curmano came to the music scene through the back door. Although he's most widely recognized as a performance artist, he's always used unique music and sound in his original compositions. He sought out luminaries like John Cage, Rachel Rosenthal and Babatunde Olatunji to help shape his musical vision. But most importantly, he learned to listen, really listen, to nearly anything and everything.
He's hosted free music sessions wherever possible. The sessions have evolved into a laboratory and experimental free jazz collective that meets weekly in a secret hide-out somewhere in the beautiful bluff country of the middle west. It's a safe place where nearly anything goes. Over the decades, this hide-a-way has served as inspiration and a launching pad for a plethora of projects and plenty of the area's top musical talents. The results have been a series of bands, performances, recordings and soundtracks.
One example, his New X project, is a fluid group of players that have become known for an eclectic blend of free jazz and improvisation wrapped around words and odd tones. They don't play too-cute fuzzy-bunny or top 40 commercial hook infested pap - and sometimes are billed as the area's most bothersome band.
Whether as a soloist or front man, Billy X. has traditionally stretched the boundaries of music and art. When he takes the stage alone, he steps out and delivers "a performance" with a mix of acoustic melodies, rhythms, stories and tales.
"Solo Set", is probably the definative Billy X. It was captured in real time as a live studio recording with no over-dubbing or cheap tricks. You could say it kind of put Billy on the high wire without a net. It's far from the usual musical mix. Sure, there's plenty going on in the vocals, melodies and rhythms to tweak the ear of even the most discerning and intelligent folk-blues-jazz and spoken word zealot, but there's a whole lot more. "Billy X: Solo Set" is a compilation of material that evolved through edgy and eccentric performances over years of living life as art.
Billy X. was buried alive for three days with the words to "Epitaph" etched on his tombstone. "River Rap", "Baptize Me" and "Recycle Mantra" surfaced during his 2,000 plus mile Mississippi River swim as both performance and environmental statement. "Genesis 9:1.1" followed a 40 day fast in Death Valley in his search for the spiritual in art. He's toured just about every way imaginable including 6,200 miles and 15 cities in 45 days on a Greyhound Bus. He comes by his overall anti-war and social justice themes honestly. He's witnessed the stupidity and horrors of war on two continents, the insides of a jail house looking out and the poverty that grips our world.
Billy X. Curmano is an award winning performance artist. A new traditionalist that uses an unusual blend of jazz inspired performance, poetry, music and movement along with an odd assortment of instruments to create what he sometimes refers to as "riff-rap". On "Solo Set", twenty-two cuts in 72 minutes highlight his passion for dulcimer, guitar, mbira, ocean harp, vibraphone and both the sung and spoken word. He's intriqued audiences from the Dalai Lama's World Festival of Sacred Music in Los Angeles and New York City's famed Franklin Furnace to Austria's Vienna Secession and "more than plenty" of points between with his heady mix of forms.
Mary Beth Crain described his auto-biographical "Adventures with Billy" in a "Performance Pick of the Week" article for the LA Weekly:
"He's the only human being in recorded history to claim the distinction of swimming the entire length of the Mississippi River. He was buried alive for three days in a much ballyhooed effort to bring art to the spirirt world that included a New Orleans-style funeral complete with Christlike resurrection. He once imprisoned himself in a tiger cage to protest the inhumane treatment of POWs in Vietnam. Maverick? Eccentric? Full-blown madman? Billy X. Curmano will be delighted to let you decide. For the past 27 years the Minnesota-based performance artist/environmental activist - who earned an M.S. in sculpture from the University of Wisconsin and has had exhibits and installations in the U.S., Japan, Spain and Austria - has been a fixture in the public consciousness of the Midwest (journalists have described him as "the court jester of Southeastern Minnesota") and has earned praise around the world for his creative vision and politically directed artistic consciousness. "I don't consider myself an extremist," the bushy-headed, mustachioed Curmano mused during a TV interview. "Actually, I'm a conservative living in extreme times." This weekend Curmano ventures forth from his farmhouse in Rushford, Minnesota, base of operations for his Experimental Artwork Terminal #1, to make a rare live appearance in L.A. His show, entitled Adventures with Billy, is an obstreperous blend of monologue, video, slide projection and live music chronicling his most famous achievements. Among these are his swim of the entire 2,500 miles of the Mississippi, from Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, a ten-year-long performance piece/activist statement designed to inspire people toward awareness and respect for "water, the source of life"; his self-imposed interment, where he spent three Houdini-esque days in a coffin six feet under (cheating a bit with full life-support systems on hand); and his delightful Cow-a-Bongo: Bongo Bovine, in which Curmano and his band staged a jazz/pop performance for a herd of bewildered cows in the wilds of rural Minnesota, witnessed by an equally bewildered audience aboard a tour bus to the site. Curmano calls Adventures with Billy "a slightly satirical journey documenting art as life and life as art." I call it an uninhibited blend of courage, charisma and chutzpah, the sort of thing you either love or hate but definitely aren't allowed to regard with, God forbid, neutrality. (LA Weekly, Vol. 21 #12, Feb. 1999)
Billy X. has six other compact discs out on the XART Audio label. The latest project, “Orange Alert”, teams him with long-time collaborators John Pendergast and Steve Smith as Threat Level 3 in what one reviewer has called electro-acoustic free jazz meditations on world music. Jamie Lee Rake goes on to say, “Threat Level 3 make advanced music theory and dissonance fun” (Shepherd Express). “Orange Alert” follows two primarily instrumental and moody folk-jazz duets with John Pendergast, "Amanita" and "Doozy".
Then there are 3 CD’s with the free jazz collective he founded with D.L. Hunt and Steve Smith, the New X Art Ensemble featuring the Amazing Tess Toster Tones. Their material is unpredictable and ranges from classical to blues, rock, funk and jazz with a nod to alternative before each style. They recorded a highly improvisational studio album, "New X: Trios & Duets", a live at Rascals CD, "New X: Fresh X" and the classic "New X: Xmas".
No one, but no one, deconstructs Xmas like New X in their irreverent boom box recording and former cassette-only release. Thoughtfully, they retained all its spirit and low-tech glory with an equally lo-fidelity replication to compact disc. Mike Starling summed it up in LaX, "A word of caution: If Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas" or Andy Williams singing about chestnuts and open fires is your cup of Christmas carol tea, avoid this tape! However, if music makers like Ornette Coleman and the Art Ensemble of Chicago appeal to you, this may just be the weirded-out take on holiday music you're looking for."
Curmano's musical tastes are original and eclectic. His poetry and compositions segue into free form improvisations or haunting repetitive musical phrasing. Collaborations with the New X Art Ensemble, Fly Agaric and other musicians on numerous original scores for film and video soundtracks led to the 2002 "Hampton Award for Excellence in Film & Digital Media". He's been a McKnight Foundation Interdisciplinary Art Fellow and during his 2,000 mile swim, he was honored with numerous civic awards including Billy X. Curmano Day in St. Louis, Cape Girardeau and New Orleans. Did I say, "Swim" ? ? ?
The Milwaukee Journal:
“It’s not a race. But is it art?
A quarry operation tops a Missouri bluff a few miles south of Cape Giradeau. As Billy swam by, he improvised a rhyming rap on hammering and cutting and grinding, in the hard-rock rhythms of quarrying. His audience of four paddled in amused silence as he concluded gracefully: “And now, the percussion bridge...”
Right on cue, the quarriers took it away, the sound of their work suddenly vivid and interesting. Then the grand finale: Some workers noticed us and started waving, and the truck drivers started blowing their horns. They’d probably seen Billy on TV.
Curmano is scrupulous to the point of obsession. He cannot eat or drink while in the river, but he craves hard candies. To supply him, we sidle up very close, and Tom or Debra pops a piece into his mouth. He treads water during these delicate maneuvers -grabbing the canoe for even a second would, in Billy’s mind, be cheating.
Curmano jokes about his “water ballet,” but The Swim is a kind of dance, complete with moods and phrases and variations. In one fast stretch of water, he somehow planted his feet on a channel buoy and played a jazzy conga solo on it. Then he pushed off and whirled away in the current, hooting and turning and playing on the surface, happy as an otter.” -Tom Strini, Journal dance Critic, The Milwaukee Journal, Aug. 14, 1994.
He's been compared to the likes of P.T. Barnum, Andy Warhol, Marcel DuChamp and a happy otter.
Billy X. Curmano performs on dulcimer, guitar, harmonica, mbira, ocean harp and vibraphone. His vocals move freely between the sung and spoken word.
He performs as a solo act or as front man for the New X Art Ensemble featuring the Amazing Tess Toster Tones, an ever evolving group with up to 12 free jazz players.
He also works with the ambient cool jazz trio, Threat Level 3, with John Pendergast on Goya Guitar and violin and Steve Smith on tenor saxophone and dijeridu.
2008 "Orange Alert" with Threat Level 3
2004 "Billy X: Solo Set"
2003 "Doozy" with John Pendergast
1999 "Amanita" with John Pendergast
2003 "New X: Fresh X" with the New X Art Ensemble
2001 "Trios & Duets" with the New X Art Ensemble
1993 "New X: Xmas" with the New X Art Ensemble
Always Remains the Same from "Solo Set"
First Take from "Orange Alert"
Playin' for Peanuts with Steve Smith from "Fresh X"
Yo Beam from "Orange Alert"
End Suite with New X from "Trios & Duets"
Adventures with Billy
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Adventures with Billy in LA Weekly, Mary Beth Crain "He's the only human being in recorded histor...Adventures with Billy in LA Weekly, Mary Beth Crain
"He's the only human being in recorded history to claim the distinction of swimming the entire length of the Mississippi River. He was buried alive for three days in a much-ballyhooed effort to bring art to the spirit world that included a New Orleans-style funeral complete with Christlike resurrection. He once publicly imprisoned himself in a tiger cage to protest the inhumane treatment of POW's in Vietnam. Maverick/ Eccentric? Full-blown madman? Billy X. Curmano will be delighted to let you decide. For the past 27 years the Minnesota-based performance artist/environmental activist - who earned an M.S. in sculpture from the University of Wisconsin and has had exhibits and installations in the U.S., Japan, Spain and Austria - has been a fixture in the public consciousness of the Midwest (journalists have described him as 'the court jester of Southeastern Minnesota') and has earned praise around the world for his creative vision and politically directed artistic consciousness. 'I don't consider myself an extremist,' the bushy-headed, mustachioed Curmano mused during a TV interview. 'Actually, I'm a conservative living in extreme times.' This weekend Curmano ventures forth from his farmhouse in Rushford, Minnesota, base of operations for his Experimental Artwork Terminal #1, to make a rare live appearance in L.A. His show, entitled 'Adventures with Billy', is an obstreperous blend of monologue, video, slide projection and live music chronicling his most famous achievements. Among these are his swim of the entire 2,500 miles of the Mississippi, from Lake Itasca, Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, a ten-year-long performance piece/activist statement designed to inspire people towards awareness and respect for 'water, the source of life'; his self-imposed interment, where he spent three Houdini-esque days in a coffin six feet under (cheating a bit with full life-support systems on hand); and his delightful 'Cow-a-Bongo: Bongo Bovine', in which Curmano and his band staged a jazz/pop performance for a herd of bewildered cows in the wilds of rural Minnesota, witnessed by an equally bewildered audience aboard a tour bus to the site. Curmano calls 'Adventures with Billy' 'a slightly satirical journey documenting art as life and life as art.' I call it an uninhibited blend of courage, charisma and chutzpah, the sort of thing you either love or hate but definately aren't allowed to regard with, God forbid, neutrality." - Mary Beth Crain, "LA WEEKLY", Vol. 21 #12, Feb. 12-18, 1999, Los Angeles, CA.
Threat Level 3 Orange Alert
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Neither the name of the band nor the album connotes any danger from Homeland Security. I... Neither the name of the band nor the album connotes any danger from Homeland Security. Instead, Threat level 3 turns their Orange Alert into electro-acoustic free jazz meditations on world music. Ex-Milwaukeeans Billy X. Curmano and John Pendergast pluck, strum and bow their stringed instruments as Minnesota Steve Smith blows tenor sax and didgeridoo. The inclusion of ocean harp and Zimbabwean Mbira and trippy electric dulcimer makes for textures harsh enough for intentional listening yet unobtrusive enough for background ambience or avant-garde soundtracks.
One piece accompanied by a spoken-word love poem of ambiguous sincerity makes for a dry-humor hoot. Even more engaging, however, are the rickety samba grooves appearing on a couple of pieces. This album is not for smooth-fusion fans by a long stretch, but for those with ears to hear, Threat Level 3 makes advanced music theory and dissonance fun.
- Jamie Lee Rake, Shepherd Express, February 19, 2009, Milwaukee, WI
Saving the World
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Death Valley Desert Classic in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Strini "Saving the World" "Re...Death Valley Desert Classic in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Tom Strini
"Saving the World"
"Remember Y2K? How it turned out to be just another Jan. 1 and not Doomsday?
Billy Curmano explains why that was the case in the current volume (No. 21) of The Fandango, the newsletter of the Billy Curmano fan club.
Curmano, who is best known for swimming the length of the Mississippi River as a performance-art project, passed the new millennium on the 20th day of a 40-day performance-art fast at remote Texas Springs, Calif., in Death Valley. Each day, he meditated roamed the vicinity around his camp and recorded a one-minute video, thus reducing a 40-day event to 40 television minutes.
Curmano made his case in the lead story in the Fandango, under the headline 'Apocalypse Blocked': ' That's right, folks! We're pleased to say that Billy and the Apocalypse Blockers were able to put the end of the world on hold with the big Death Valley 40-day performance-art fast...Suffice it to say that anyone that didn't send project support, money, prayers, etc. owes us big-time." - Tom Strini, "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel", April 11, 2000.
Mutiny on the Mississippi
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Mutiny on the Mississippi in The Milwaukee Journal, Tom Strini "Billy Curmano is swimming the Mis...Mutiny on the Mississippi in The Milwaukee Journal, Tom Strini
"Billy Curmano is swimming the Mississippi, all 2,552 miles of it, from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana. The project, which will occupy Curmano's summers for the next few years, is a combination of performance art, environmentalism, politics, metaphysics and derring-do.
Saturday evening at the Milwaukee Art Museum, Curmano entertained about 100 with a vivid account of the trials, tribulations and delights of the summer of 1987, his first in the river. He covered 300 miles, and as 'Swimmin' the River, Part 1: Mutihy on the Mississippi' revealed, it wasn't easy.
Curmano, a former Milwaukeean who now lives in a small Minnesota town near the river, told the story through music, rap, video and theater. A child's circular, inflatable pool stood for the river. A rickety drummer's stool next to it stood for the precarious stump upon which Curmano took refuge from leeches and attempted to survey the weed choked swamps he encountered on his first day.
That first day was hell. That became clear as Curmano stood trembling on the stool, soaked, clad only in swim trunks, swatting at imaginary deerflies, pulling (real? plastic?) leeches from various bodily crevices, reeling with the memory of the intense sunlight that prickled his shoulders, and re-living the rising panic at the thought of being stuck on that bump after sundown.
But like many survivors of tough situations Curmano came to see the humor in it. He cracked up the audience with the image of this gentle environmentalist madly trying to strangle a leech, and then calming himself by repeating, 'We're all part of the food chain, it's not very nice, but we're all part of the food chain...'
The acted monologue about the disastrous first day was the center-piece of the 70 minute presentation. It opened with various recordings of 'Ol' Man River' played in darkness, then picked up live by clarinetist Rip Tenor, trombonist John Foshager and bassist Alan Anderson.
Curmano then explained the aesthetics, politics and personal reasons behind the swim: He sees the whole river as a vast performance platform; he believes the wholesale pollution of it to be a societal crime and self-destructive mistake; he grew up near a creek, and his father's love of rivers swept him up.
In print in a nutshell, it doesn't seem like much; but when Curmano tells it, it's plenty. He's an intense little fellow, full of feeling for the river. He paces and stalks, he puts his half-naked body on the line, both before us and in the water. He sometimes adopts the cadence of a revival preacher, and frequently glides into rap rhymes that intensify the message; he's a believer. But now and again, he sort of pulls back, shakes his head and laughs at his own antics and weaknesses. And we can laugh with him." - Tom Strini, Journal music critic, "The Milwaukee Journal, Milwaukee, WI, Nov. 15, 1987.
Cross Cultural Music
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Bob Riggle in the Veteran, Champaign, IL, Fall 2004 Billy X. Curmano's New X Art Ensemble featuri...Bob Riggle in the Veteran, Champaign, IL, Fall 2004
Billy X. Curmano's New X Art Ensemble featuring The Amazing Tess Toster Tones, "New X: Fresh X; Live @ Rascals".
New X is an evolving free jazz collective that was formulated to expand and contract easily in its musical pursuits. The New X genre, while shunning stereotypes, has a genuine respect for the past. At the same time there is a definite focus on a cross-cultural mix of melody, rhythm and continents.
When I was first asked if I was interested in doing this review, I was glad to; I’ve known Billy Curmano for over 30 years. But after starting on the project I realized it might be hard to separate the various artistic skills he has from what I was supposed to be reviewing.
A little background on Billy X. Curmano, longtime VVAW member, artist, poet, musician and fantastic guerilla theater creator/performer. He is, if the need arises, flamboyant and outrageous at the same time. And he will wear some prop-up-your-eyelids costumes to make a point.
"New X: Fresh X" screams eclectic. I know not one damn thing about this form of music, but it is good. With Steve Smith on dijeridu and tenor sax on "Minnesota Singles Search" and at times on "New York Conversation" and "Street People", there seems to be a very strong Sun Ra influence and maybe a little John Coltrane. At the same time, "New York Conversation" and "Street People" bring to mind the Sixties talkin' blues.
"Say Son," my personal favorite, also strikes me as Curmano's most poetic work. "Wagin' War" is Curmano's typical take on the military structure and its politics.
My take on “New X: Fresh X”? Please check it out. When was the last time you could invite your friends over to check out the awesome mbira or dijeridu player on Billy X’s latest CD?
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Midnight Babylon in High Performance, Reggie McCleod "In 'Midnight Babylon" the audience looked o...Midnight Babylon in High Performance, Reggie McCleod
"In 'Midnight Babylon" the audience looked on as the artist - awakened by a nightmare - spent a sleepless night recalling nightmares and ruminating on the horrors and humor of war, life and television.
The work was performed on the first evening of a three-day teach-in on U.S. policy in Central America. Billy Curmano shared the bill with singer/songwriter Country Joe McDonald. Because of the context the audience was not a typical one for a performance piece. However, the attentiveness, laughter and several interruptions of the performance by enthusiastic applause were proof that Curmano's writing and energetic performance were reaching everybody.
A vertical bed, a stool and a projection screen provided a stark setting that focused attention on Curmano, while reminding us that we were eavesdropping on an insomniacs monolog. Awakened by a nightmare and then frightened by a clothe-tree, Curmano recalled a nightmare containing both ridiculous and frightening symbolic images of war.
The lights faded and then returned to show Curmano sitting on a stool staring at his left wrist, his left hand bent back. A razor blade in his right hand remained poised in the air - almost forgotten - as he spoke of the pleasure of watching his pulse beat, feeling the blood flow through his body. Then he agonized over the frustrations of life and society, sometimes wanting to blow the whole thing up. But, like blood circulating, his soliloquy came full circle when he concluded, 'It don't mean nothing. It don't mean nothing at all.'
He described a television awards show, 'The Wammy Awards', for the top ten current wars. The description was interrupted for a word from the sponsor, Art Works USA, Curmano's studio in Rushford, Minnesota. Slides, music and recorded narration advertised three of his wearable sculptures: a pair of boots on small rockets, a vest adorned with sticks of 'dynamite' wired together and a strap-on pair of legs in the full-lotus posture.
Returning to the awards show Curmano became the master of ceremonies, joyfully announcing the death-count and a brief history of the top ten current wars. Religious fanatacism - of both the right and left - were credited for the honors. The Iran-Iraq War, with a half-million dead, was the winner. Curmano became the grateful recipient of the prize; his thanks included appreciation to the Reagan Administration for helping both sides accomplish the slaughter.
Suddenly Curmano realized the night was over. We were delivered from one surreal world to another: 'I gotta go. I gotta get to work. I'm almost late." - Reggie McCleod, "High Performance", Astro Artz, Los Angeles, Issue 38, 1987.
Cow A Bongo; Bongo Bovine
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Performance for Cows in High performance, Dean Baker "While the art world scrambles to identify u...Performance for Cows in High performance, Dean Baker
"While the art world scrambles to identify underserved audiences, performance artist Billy Curmano has taken the zeitgeist to the extreme. His New X Art Ensemble performances are strictly for the cows.
'Cow A Bongo; Bongo Bovine', the latest in the 'Performances for Cows Series', is staged as a music concert of mostly originals like 'Sacred Cows' and 'Invocation: Buffalos', composed for the nontraditonal audience's taste. According to Curmano, the cows are usually interested in the show, sometimes pulling things from the stage.
Occasionally the cow audience is incorporated into a larger event called the Seven Star Adventure Tour. Curmano sends human participants on a campy and elaborate motor coach tour of the local scenery and inhabitants, including a glimpse of 'Cow A Bongo'. Mock stewardesses, area residents and cowhands provide geographical information, local history and folk wisdom. Though many tour-goers express interest in seeing 'Cow A Bong', tourists, press and art lovers can only view the performance briefly from the motor coach. After all, the pasture is community-specific." - Dean Baker, "High Performance", Astro Artz, Los Angeles, #60, Winter, 1992.
An udderly enchanting concert:
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Smiley Anders, October 29, 1992 Looking over my collected works for the last few weeks, it occurr...Smiley Anders, October 29, 1992
Looking over my collected works for the last few weeks, it occurred to me that impressionable readers could get the idea that I spent my well-deserved vacation entirely in Minnesota bars and cafes.
Not so! I attended a major cultural event – a concert for cows.
It was put on by Minnesota performance artist Billy Curmano, whose previous presentations have included being buried alive and taking an intergalactic tour. He’s also been swimming down the Mississippi River – reaching St. Louis this year and due to enter our part of the river any summer now.
I was introduced to the performance of his “Cow a Bong; Bongo Bovine” by the lovely and talented Kathy Scales, a Baton Rouge artist with family in Winona, Minn.
We were telling some of Kathy’s relatives about the pastoral concert, and an uncle mentioned the large pig ranch – or farm, whatever – operated by some cousins north of Winona. He wondered if Billy would perform for pigs, too.
“But what would he play?” asked his wife.
I replied, “Probably something by Hoggy Carmichael.”
Which is why I can’t go back to Minnesota anymore….
Swimmin' the River
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Swimmin' the River in The New Art Examiner, Debra Drexler "His work's strong populist appeal has ...Swimmin' the River in The New Art Examiner, Debra Drexler
"His work's strong populist appeal has seen him cheered by towboat pilots, hailed by bridge construction crews, and pursued in speed boats by local news teams, gaining him a reputation as a modern folk legend. In St. Louis, the day of his landing was proclaimed 'Billy X. Curmano Day.'
Like Christo's projects, the complex logistics of the piece heighten its impact on the communities it touches and like his Futurist influences, Curmano's intention is to make art which has this direct force. His history of performing for non-traditional audiences includes a 1983 three-day live burial titled 'Performance for the Dead' and his series 'Performance for Cows,' in which tuxedoed musicians perform for a bovine audience, the 1992 offering of which featured an actual stage, cowboys on horseback serving as ushers, and a secondary human audience. The sensationalism of this latest feat and Curmano's appropriation of mainstream news media have raised questions regarding the swim's status as art, even prompting The Minneapolis Art Institute to stage a debate on the subject. Aesthetically, Curmano claims that his swimmming strokes mimic brushstrokes, imperceptibly altering the flow of the river. The power of the piece, however, exists not in the artist's 'alteration' of the river's flow, but in his alteration of our perception of the Mississippi itself." - Debra Drexler, "The New Art Examiner", Chicago, October 1994.
Performance with Dancing Flames
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Performance with Dancing Flames in High Performance, Roger Flandrin Lacher "Curmano challenges ev...Performance with Dancing Flames in High Performance, Roger Flandrin Lacher
"Curmano challenges every status quota of modern culture. Diverse audiences have been shocked and taught by his multi media performances. The theme throughout his work tends toward transcendence: 'Releasing the shaman within us is powerful, especially in times of helplessness. When science doesn't provide enough answers, we go beyond the physical to metaphysical to pataphysical.'
For 1990's Day Without Art, Billy Curmano presented his second annual 'Performance with Dancing Flames': a radical departure from the previous years more mainstream approach to the subject of AIDS.
In 1989, Curmano's eXperimental Art Research Terminal (XART) convened a panel with the State Human Rights Commissioner, County HIV Resource Personnel, Minnesota State Arts Board, ACT UP representatives and regional artists to discuss the impact of AIDS. The resultant 'AIDS and Culture' video has been aired on cable TV to fulfill XART's educational mission.
Last year the metaphysical, the sacred and atavistic aspects of the disease and death were primary. As Curmano put it in his opening remarks to the intimate gathering, 'We've discussed AIDS and culture...the rational...the scientific...safe sex and so on...now it's time for ritual and ceremony!'
The performance site was an old farmstead where Western prairie gave way to steep valleys of the Root and Mississippi Rivers. Silhouettes of vacant barns hulked around XART's curious sculpture garden. The full moon revealed a crude wooden burial platform erected near an effigy mound and gravesite from Curmano's 'Performance for the Dead'. The crowd circled closer to see skulls and bones hanging from the macabre scaffolding. Suspended metal pieces jangled in the wind and a small spotlight focused on a dead rat hanging by one leg.
The audience, somewhat taken aback, was further surprised as Curmano switched off the only light, ignited piled brush below the platform and started a chant invoking elemental instincts. Firelight reflected from his grotesque bone facemask as he danced to a brass jazz frenzy played by XART collaborators Steve Smith and D.L. Hunt. Smoke and sound swirled around the standing circle.
A high point was Curmano pointing a flashlight at the rodent and shouting, 'The AIDS virus is like a rat amongst us eating away our strengths. Go now to your ancestors and take the virus with you!' With that, he jerked a string, raising the rat to the base of the platform. A dry pine branch burst into flames as he swept it up from the bonfire to torch the rat. Tinder piled high on top of the frame caught fire and sparks spiraled up as Curmano shook the burning assemblage and screamed, 'I chase the virus from the East!'
The exorcism continued as he addressed the other cardinal directions and added a Sioux chant from the Ghost Dance lexicon. Many in the audience joined in to hum and grunt and growl at the intense spectacle. As the last of the pyre burned to the ground, emotions subsided and the conductor requested a moment of silence that amounted to several minutes of witnessing remnant sparks blown off into the dark by the chill wind. Sparks, souls.
In a hyper-scientific age, it's time for ritual to stress the 'prime' in 'primitive, the 'root' in radical and the 'act' in art. Once again, from his backwoods Minnesota headquarters, Curmano confronted an issue, rendered it bonebare, redressed it in the wildest finery, inventively scratched its backside and proffered the product to his audiences. And, characteristically, he claimed there was no art involved, not on this day." - Roger Flandrin Lacher, "High Performance", Astro Artz, Los Angeles, Summer, 1991.
Mostly originals or unique arrangements here's a description off his "Solo Set" CD:
1. Moody folk blues: Always Remains the Same (dulcimer)
2. Environmental blues: River Rap (mbira)
3. Political folk blues/jazz: Say Son (guitar)
4. Angry political drug war rant: Big Brother (spoken word)
5. Pathetic country/no western: Edgar Meadows (harmonica)
6. Hasn't a clue blues: Midtown Stand Around Blues (acappella)
7. One soldier's PTSD: At the Coffee Shop (mbira)
8. Howling anti-war: False Profits (harmonica)
9. Eerie anti-war: Wagin' War (ocean harp)
10. Environmental revivalist: Genesis 9:1.1 (spoken word)
11. Folk tale: Sacred Cows (dulcimer)
12. Eerie schizo episode: Preschizophrenic Panic (dulcimer)
13. Found MN optimistic ad: MN Singles Search (spoken word)
14. Ethereal jazz: That Tune (vibraphone)
15. Found words spoken: NY Conversation (spoken word)
16. Angry environmental: Recycle Mantra (ocean harp)
17. Psychotic spoken word: Vigilante (spoken word)
18. Etched words "buried alive": Epitaph (spoken word)
19. Precocious rant: Wildman (harmonica)
20. Spoken word bat chain puller: X-Ray Glasses (spoken word)
21. Spoken environmental revival: Baptize Me (spoken word)
There are no upcoming dates at this time.