I don’t have a lot of experience with the art of puppetry. I believe I was in kindergarten the last time I was in a puppet show. I seem to remember the puppets were made out of pudding boxes. I’m sure when I was a kid I must’ve stuck my hand into a sock on more than one occasion. A lot has changed since then… Or, come to think of it, maybe not. You can make a puppet out of whatever you want, however you want, and long as you’re creative and express yourself, you’ve created art. Very much like music — especially the experimental DIY music I enjoy so much.
That synergy led to an event called No Strings Attached at the Salvage Vanguard Theater on Sunday, March 20, the last day of South By Southwest. It was organized by Bradford Kinney and Katie Rose Pipkin, members of the non-profit arts group Church of the Friendly Ghost. As sore as I was from traipsing around Austin, even knowing I had work the next day, I couldn’t resist.
FM Campers were amazing, just as they were the first time I saw them a week before. I was sad that I didn’t get to see Bubblegum Octopus, who got sick and had to cancel. I also had to leave before Zorch came on. I did get so enjoy some strange and exciting music, videography, noise and puppetry. I made a great discovery in the form of a talented multi-media artist Particle Kid, aka J. Micah Nelson.
The show started with Ghost of Electricity (Bradford Kinney) creating electronic atmosphere and songs, accompanied by video projections and puppetry by Katie Rose Pipkin, who made evocative shadow plays using paper cutout characters and objects projected on a screen. As the show went on, the shadow puppets began to integrate with the video projections, which began as abstract art and geometric shapes. The songs and scenarios seemed to be about heartbreak, including a retelling of the Icarus myth.
Next was a show from Glass Half Full Theatre group, which stretched the boundaries of puppetry by using everyday objects on top of a table: paper cutter, typewriter, staplers, staple remover, electric pencil sharpener, Scotch tape, etc. They made the objects fight, the pencils had sex with the pencil sharpener, and there was all sorts of mayhem, accompanied by silly noises. Maybe I got it wrong, but I think it was a “survival of the fittest” story.
FM Campers blew the doors off just as I expected. Their show, accompanied by a puppetry free-for-all and vintage videos of a wildfire threatening a family farm, an ant colony and kaleidoscope shapes, was especially moving and psychedelic. I love how the drummer sits with his back to the audience. Really gets you involved in the music.
House of Wolves, featured Rick Reed and Brent Farris making electronic soundscapes. A film played out next to them, projected onto a screen from behind, while a shapely young woman made silhouette poses, James Bond intro-style.
Particle Kid (J. Micah Nelson) put on a fascinating show in the gallery. On a screen was an image of a lightbulb. A few ripples revealed that it was in fact reflected in water, which was in a dish on top of some kind of speaker or amplifier. He played keyboards, making vocal loops and building up various chords and harmonies. As he did, fascinating patterns began to form on the water. The piece started out very ambient and grew more and more lively, adding some beats. The water began to grow chaotic and splash out of the dish, and had to be replenished a couple of times. All the while, a woman wearing a bear hat gave a performance featuring an umbrella and little birds hanging from a mobile.
I’ve since looked into this guy and find he’s way more than a musician. He’s also a talented visual artist.
You can hear some of his experimental music here:
You can also find out more at: