I've been aware of Stephen Prina ever since I became a fan of the Red Krayola while still in college. So when giant billboards with his name in lights started popping up all over Hollywood a year ago, I was freaked out and slightly amused. Had he signed a deal with Death Row Records? Was he in some sort of competition with Angelyne for the drive-by market share? It was complete saturation, but pretty funny when you consider that he was advertising a show at the MAK Center's Schindler House. Last night I caught his performance of Christian Marclay's Graffiti Composition at the UCLA Hammer Museum. According to the Hammer website, Marclay created Graffiti by plastering blank musical notation paper in public spaces throughout Berlin in 1996, inviting passerby to compose a collaborative symphony. The sheets were later published as an edition of prints and performance copies to be interpreted and played by other musicians. Prina performed in the same museum courtyard where, only a few weeks ago, Lee Ronaldo and Marclay himself kicked out a free-noise traffic jam. Car horns and pedestrian voices filtered in from Wilshire Boulevard. Almost a Cagean experience, and welcome, since I'm too young to have ever seen Maestro Cage.
Here's the play-by-play. Prina waltzed onto a small stage that held an acoustic guitar with electronic pickups, a Yamaha Motif synthesizer, and an empty table. He wore a plaid suit-vest with matching pants, sported a neat John Waters-style moustache, and carried an L.L. Bean bag with his name clearly printed on the front. He unpacked a few tools from his bag of tricks, picked up his acoustic guitar, and, in a very workmanlike manner, played some chords. After a few minutes of abstraction, he deliberately broke a string. He "operated" on his guitar and returned to playing minimal compositions, accompanied by lyrics like "You should just/sing a song/about a dog/or something." He sang Toni (not Anthony) Braxton's hit "Unbreak My Heart" (actually not a bad song when sung by an anti-diva). Photographed his instruments and the audience. Asked for a beer (6 dollars!). Read a few pages from the synthesizer's technical manual, and placed duct tape over the words "Yamaha" and "Motif", which were written on the front of the keyboard. Banged on his guitar with mallets, creating a vibrating, chiming sound. Played a 12-bar scale, slowly then quickly, slowly then quickly. Announced that he would compensate those of us who could not attend the Aimee Mann-Rufus Wainwright concert going on across campus by performing Wainwright's song "One Man Guy". Performed "One Man Guy". Played his guitar with a portable tape recorder, which was playing, again, Toni Braxton's "Unbreak My Heart". It was all very conceptual (befitting Marclay's exhibition, which is filled with one-note installations like glass drumsticks, giant drumkits, vinyl record sculptures, and humorous collages made from a collection of obscure and famous album covers). None of this really measured up to Prina's collaborative work with Mayo Thompson and the Red Krayola. The highlight was when he said, "For those of you who can't read the inscription on my cufflinks, it is in Urdu, made in Nepal, and says 'U.S. Out of the Middle East', dedicated to Claes Oldenburg, and is one half of my 1992 piece 'Haberdashery' ".