Heels & Picks: Rockin’ out at Spalding House
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
“Pas de Bras, pas de chocolat.”
The literal translation of this French saying is, “without arms, no chocolate.”
What the ever-romantic and vibrantly artsy French are really saying is, some things are physically impossible to do.
Those who are wildly innovative in their field would look at something seen as impossible and ask, “Is anything really impossible?”
Enter Pas de Chocolat, the business run by husband and wife art-installation duo Cara and Kyle Oba. The pair aim to bend the imagination by pushing the boundaries of what is thought possible through their art.
This past Sunday, Nov. 3, I was invited by the Honolulu Museum of Art to perform as part of their “Now Hear This” exhibit. They invited local acts Erika Elona, Mano Kane, Zack Shimizu (half of Sing the Body) and myself. All of these people are friends of my family, whom I admire musically and perform alongside with often.
When I arrived at the stunning grounds of the Spalding House Museum on Makiki Heights Drive, I was greeted by curator Aaron Padilla with a warm smile and an invitation to explore the exhibit and find a space where I felt most comfortable performing. This is where I first encountered Pas de Chocolat and their installation, “Noise Machine #1,” an interactive, computer-based installation with built-in infrared sensors and video projection.
Guests of the exhibit run around in front of a screen, their bodies triggering both sound and video. Every movement creates what I can only describe as warm tones, with an accompanying abstract video feed. Very cool.
I was to sing an acoustic set, which means no microphones and no amplification — just my voice and my guitar. I have a big voice, so this is not a problem, but there are factors at play with this type of performance. If only there was a cathedral-type room for me to sing in, one with high ceilings so the music carries, wraps in the natural reverb and bounces back to my ears so I can control what I’m putting out.
Turns out, there was a room like that. I found my performance space.
I set up downstairs in front of one of two giant screens projecting the music video for Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes.” Also in the room were statues of characters from the stop-motion piece by creator Tobias Stretch. A walkway overhead allowed museum patrons to enjoy the pieces with the stairs for those who wanted to stand right in front of the video screens.
Aaron turned the music video sound down, I picked up my guitar, museum guests gathered on the walkway and I started to sing. More people arrived as my 30-minute set went on. The acoustics in that room were so good that I could belt and it would boom, then use my quiet, low voice and still be heard. This type of environment for singing is like salt on caramel — perfection. It’s like eating chocolate, although your hands are busy playing a guitar.
I performed the most obscure of indie-rock pieces, both my own and songs of those I admire. Normally I would consider such a set to be too self-indulgent for Hawaii audiences; indie-rock is not the norm in these parts, though the scene is hard-working and dedicated. But performing essentially as part of an exhibit fit for Toronto, Montreal or New York City, I let my hopelessly artsy flag fly and went for it.
Padilla, the curator, came in to watch, and when I was finished he said, “My office is behind that wall over there. Man, you have pipes. I had to come check it out.”
Other notable parts of the “Now Hear This” exhibit include a stunning, modern, club-influenced digital print on canvas by Peter Chamberlain, a bronze and steel instrument/sculpture by Henry Bertola, and a 2nd stop-motion animated video entitled “Katachi” by Kijek and Adamski.
If you haven’t been to the Spalding House, this exhibit is a good reason to drive up the winding road to Makiki Heights and explore the museum. “Now Hear This” runs until January. Make the drive during daylight hours and you can walk the museum gardens, check out a gorgeous outdoor area with a sweeping view and several permanent garden sculptures. Keiki and adults will enjoy it.
Erin Smith is a singer and guitarist who performs as a solo artist and with Maui-based Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated band The Throwdowns. Born in Canada, she moved to Hawaii in 2004 and now resides in Kailua. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.