Billy Martin with Alarm Will Sound (Photo: courtesy of The Drawing Center)

Billy Martin with Alarm Will Sound, part of his three-night performance titled Wandering (Photo: courtesy of The Drawing Center)

Tonight in the Drawing Center’s newly renovated gallery, Billy Martin and several fellow percussionists will perform a “visual score” painted by the Medeski Martin & Wood member on a 200-year-old wooden post — the second performance in a three-night series titled Wandering.
“It’s really just a bunch of x’s and dots representing various phrases and rhythms,” said Martin over the phone with us earlier today, describing what it means to be reading a “visual score” off of a log. “They [the performers] will have the freedom to choose their own tempo and rhythm, which means the performance can go in many directions. I’ll rightly be there to guide them.”
“Wandering” is the first of the two multi-evening events organized by the Drawing Center; “Drawing Sounds” is described as attempts to demonstrate the “intersections between drawing, sound, and performance-based art.”
Tonight’s show will begin with the four performers around the post and climax to a group of 30 surrounding Martin as he both performs and orchestrates his mad circus. Tomorrow, Paul Auster will do some spoken word.
Billy Martin (Photo: courtesy of The Drawing Center)

Billy Martin (Photo: courtesy of The Drawing Center)

“It’s difficult to know how a performance is going to turn out, there’s always a chance element, like walking a tightrope. Only in this instance, I’m the tightrope… It’s a lot of responsibility.”
The performance continues a tradition of experimental improvisation embodied by the Fluxus movement or Dadaists, and forms “a branch of that tree,” per Martin. “I’ve tried to stay away from any tradition or reference anything specific which is why I like expressing myself in improvised ways, whether it’s drawing, painting or performing musically… I don’t have a formal approach as to how [the visual scores] should be interpreted. I don’t tell the artists what they should be playing.”
If this is all sounding a bit too avant garde for your liking, rest assured there’s a certain amount of structure. For instance with last night’s performance, a chamber ensemble performed from written sheet music, interspersed by soloists and duos interpreting Martin’s graphic scores. Also crucial in connecting the audience with the improvisational nature of Martin’s performance is his use of visual representation, seen through his trusty old post, projections of his score and tonight, a dance performance by improviser and choreographer Yoshiko Chuma. And beyond all that, in a back room behind the gallery, an installation by Martin called “Stridulations for the Good Luck Feast.”
Billy Martin's automatic drawing (image courtesy of The Drawing Center)

Billy Martin’s automatic drawing (image courtesy of The Drawing Center)

“I have a lot of the rhythms in visual forms installed there,” said Martin, describing a display of “automatic drawings” he created on hotel stationary over many years of touring, a carefully arranged domino set, and a “scentstallation” created by his wife Phaedra Martin.
“We [Phaedra and Billy] heard crickets stridulating and it was a sort of mystical experience,” explained Martin, recalling an epiphany he had a couple years back in Heuco Tanks, “a sort of oasis” not far from New Mexico. “Scent and music exists in the air. But, if you’re experiencing sound and scent, you can’t really see it…you’re only experiencing it aurally. I think in some ways it has an intangible influence in that you can’t hold it, grab it, see it, or put it in a book. It has to be experienced.”
Billy Martin's visual score (image courtesy of The Drawing Center)

Billy Martin’s visual score (image courtesy of The Drawing Center)

“Wandering” continues tonight and tomorrow, 7-9pm, at the Drawing Center on 35 Wooster Street, Soho; tickets $10. “Drawing Sound” will continue it’s second series from September 11–13.