The Sound of 171 Pictures
The entire U.C. Berkeley graduating class disrobing in Berkeley Stadium
Over thirty years ago I wrote "a beat sheet" titled "The Sound of 171 Pictures" as the basis for a videoplay. I had recently helped complete an experimental video titled "Available Light" and I was itching to create something new and better.
"Available Light" was funded by a $10,000 New York State Council On The Arts grant shared with pioneer video producer David Rose and Harlem-born painter and poet Stanley Welsh Duke. This was the age when video cameras had just appeared on the scene, and were the size of a knapsack, and if you lugged them around they seemed to weigh a ton with their huge batteries.
"Available Light" was based on a psychic reading given me by Spiritualist medium Ralph Lewis and was interpreted through a light-hearted mixture of performance art (Duke oil painting a young, bare-breasted white female), pre-rap jazz poetry by African-American poet Bobby Johnson, and a watery electric bass riff by the late George Barajas from the rock group Duke Jupiter of "Trouble In Paradise" fame.
It was screened at the Memorial Art Gallery in my hometown of Rochester, New York, viewed at The Kitchen in New York City and aired on PBS.
Soon after that I had the audacity to send "The Sound" via pre-e mail days or "pony express" to Ben Fong-Torres, a hero of mine and featured writer of the then newly evolving Rolling Stone. The now faded rejection notice he sent back looks like a museum relic, typewritten and signed on "cool" diagonally striped Rolling Stone stationary.
Torres commented that he liked the piece, but had no idea what to do with it, yet could he keep it? One of the "beats" or images, number 23, had referred to him as "A new voice heard near a pile of wet lumber."
"The Sound Of 171 Pictures" was directly inspired after reading about an astrologer named Marc Edmond Jones who, in 1925, handed clairvoyant Elsie Wheeler a deck of 360 blank cards representing the 360 degrees of the Zodiac, and within a period of four hours and two sittings Wheeler received a "picture" for each degree. These images were later translated by Dane Rudyhar in "An Astrological Mandala" (Vintage Books).
After studying the mandala for several weeks I was what can best be described as "gently seized" by 171 images of my own, also in two sittings.
After the Rolling Stone rejection, I tossed "The Sound" into an old battered trunk of manuscripts and diaries, all having weathered more than a quarter of a century of hot and humid monsoon seasons on the west coast of Mexico, where I had been living and working (sometimes illegally).
Digging deep into the trunk only recently I discovered that the bottom layers of papers were moldy and stuck together, which reminded me of one travel writer's observation that "the tropics turns all ambitions into a perfumed mush."
But "The Sound" still lay on top, dry and intact, and as I re-read it thirty three years later, I could hardly remember having written it. I certainly didn't recall writing image 146: "The first Black president is sworn in." That image had been preceded by 145: "A scene from Imamu Amiri Baraka's 'Slave Ship'".
I'm still scratching my head. Read it for yourself:
1 Knapsack on forest ground, young Black hand seen removing roll of toilet paper, sound of children playing.
2 Frankenstein or genius? Man trimming his beard in mirror -fastidious trim job, boringly so...next second he's murdered. (Gary Gilmore: "If I feel like murder, it doesn't necessarily matter who gets murdered. Murder is just a thing of itself, a rage, and rage is not reason, so what does it matter who?" -Newsweek)
3 Children playing "ring-aroun'-the-rosie" near road off school playground...one white boy in the background. Eye concentrates on the lonely figure.
4 Flash fingers hunt and pecking an old Underwood typewriter.
5 The interior of an old mansion about to be torn down. Man sitting near open door to a bathroom. One hears water dripping.
6 Proud parents and babies in a pediatric ward exchanging baby glances under an oil painting of a young mother.
7 Very hot sex scene at "Top of the Plaza", a restaurant on the roof of a Manhattan skyscraper.
8 A dance class where discipline can be sniffed in the air.
9 A knock on the door, a spiritual friend comes in to rap.
10 The interior of a museum, behind a group of old women.
11 Elephantiasis at Family Medicine Center.
12 An amusement park at night with all the lights out. Sound of rides.
13 Two people doing two different things in the same house-on-a-hill.
14 A revolutionary sweeping the steps to the White House.
15 A revolution between a group of Blacks and whites at Liberty Pole, followed by a man waking up from a dream.
16 A real dog fight followed by two dogs making love.
17 Children eating popcorn at Roseland Amusement Park.
18 The interior of a monastery with no one in sight.
19 A classroom at a foreign university.
20 A reunion with one's mother at Star Supermarket.
21 An old woman baking.
22 Lyrics to a song spill out freely.
23 A new voice heard near a pile of wet lumber (It's Rolling Stone's Ben Fong-Torres.)
24 Three children fornicating in Letchworth State Park.
25 A rainbow mist at the bottom of a falls.
26 A family household very secure.
27 Downtown Manhattan glitter.
28 A taxi cab delivers a brown package to an old farmhouse in upper state New York.
29 A Christmas tree being dismantled, with the cut-off limbs packed along with the bulbs.
30 A little girl hopscotching in the inner city.
31 World War Three.
32 The opening of a slick art gallery in a refreshingly new parking ramp.
33 The interior of a court trial. The police versus "Clear Eye".
34 A bank robbery where no one is hurt. Camera pans intricate Italian mosaic work.
35 An aging spinster counts the ticking of the clock.
36 A cattle roundup in Technicolor.
37 Three politicians dining out at "Sneaky's".
38 An armored Brinks truck parked in a suburban neighborhood.
39 A Dancemobile in Harlem.
40 A deserted beach finds a light-skinned African-American contemplating the rocks.
41 A jubilant South American festival.
42 An unending line of starving people.
43 Two young men walking along the river Seine.
44 The hush of a university library, brimming with students.
45 The hanging of a man outside a church.
46 The inside of a Black Spiritualist church.
47 The studio of a tv station taping a soap opera.
48 A song sung by Sarah Vaughn at Carnegie Hall.
49 An ugly street fight in Boston.
50 Two people feeding pigeons in the park, laughing.
51 The kitchen of a very busy vegetarian restaurant.
52 A talented rock group jamming at "The Wine Press", a local dive.
53 A long white covered picnic table with the cast of "Godspell", including its director and stage crew eating in a park.
54 Three hundred years later.
55 A new government with a poet as president.
56 An airplane view of open farmland.
57 The surface of the moon at night.
58 Closeup of a Black man's face, pockmarked.
59 Twenty or thirty hands of all colors turning in the center of a circle at Buffalo, New York's railway station.
60 A large chrysanthemum blossom.
61 The decay of the exterior of a house.
62 The interior of a bathroom which is neither dirty nor clean.
63 Two men conversing at the base of the Grand Canyon. (It's President Jimmy Carter talking to whom?)
64 An atomic disco nightclub for the liberated.
65 A caravan of North Americans tour South America.
66 Brasilia, the capital of Brazil.
67 A praying mantis devouring an insect.
68 The Immaculate Something grammar school where children wear uniforms.
69 Adult people working in an electronics factory.
70 A foreign family watches tv.
71 A man dressed as Jesus Christ in Rio de Janeiro.
72 The assembly of the United Nations.
73 A machine at M.I.T. that makes people peaceful.
74 The ringing of hundreds of churchbells on a Monday.
75 A stuffed toy in the shape of a lamb is slaughtered in an ancient ritual through mime.
76 A circle reading in the basement of a psychic medium church.
77 The hunchback of Notre Dame.
78 A unique view of the Pyramids at noon.
79 A young boy weeding his garden.
80 A young girl doing needlepoint.
81 A cosmic show at a planetarium.
82 The birthday of a baby.
83 One family in total harmony.
84 An old man walking along a country road.
85 A casket shut tight, then the sound of Dixieland jazz.
86 A mysterious looking machine at Xerox world headquarters.
87 The entrance to a tunnel which leads to an underground interior of outer space beings.
88 The most luxurious feeling in film.
89 A voyage of color and music.
90 Street scene of love flesh against love flesh, sweaty.
91 In front of a Sporting Goods store: a close-up of a penis with lips around it.
92 An attractive young male guzzling a banana milkshake.
93 A public bath during early Grecian times.
94 An atomic dude ranch called "No Way".
95 An outside theater that can hold the whole world.
96 Across from a supper club run by the Mob is the emergency entrance to an atomic hospital packed in the aisles.
97 A human being with luminescent skin.
98 The witnessing of a miracle at a Main Street intersection named "The Four Corners".
99 Inside a kitchen in Mendon Ponds, New York one overhears two women having a long discussion about wild peppermint.
100 A warehouse of gold bullion.
101 The mythological whore at the "Puddy Cat Lounge".
102 A steady stream of mythological characters representing the twelve astrological signs.
103 A water bearer with loin cloth.
104 The squeaking interior of a ship.
105 A succession of doors open to find an old man clothed in red, sitting at a desk. (It's Andrew Sarris of The Village Voice.)
106 A running picture of holy men from India.
107 A theatrical rendition of Carlos Castaneda's Yaqui Indian sorcerer Don Juan Matus.
108 A museum filled with vegetables.
109 A freak show behind "El Rancho" bingo hall.
110 Someone pulling the covers to go to bed.
111 The forest at night.
112 Dawn, and the slow unfurling of morn.
113 Black fingers typing in the newspaper office of the Democrat & Chronicle in Rochester, New York, in 1976.
114 An outdoor writers' workshop on a Sunday afternoon.
115 A small group of Rastafolk reading poetry at the noisy "Cobbs Hill Grill".
116 A clear sounding voice singing a lyric behind guitar.
117 A tumultuous applause for a rock group performing at a stadium.
118 The sound of a desert storm during the day.
119 Cardinals and sparrows under a tree that's being rained on.
120 Shot of man pissing against forest tree.
121 A woman breast feeding a child, her shoulder length hair freshly brushed, wearing velvet.
122 Buffy Saint Marie's orchid farm in Hawaii.
123 The international rock group Yes inside a plane they rent for one million dollars a year.
124 A grainy filmed audience with His Higness the Vatican Pope.
125 Musicians at the "Dome Arena" bullshitting after a concert.
126 A Spanish bullfight with unarmed matadors.
127 A tour of nut trees on a sunny day.
128 Someone making ice cream the old-fashioned way.
129 Wine poured out of a barrel spigot at "Bully Hill".
130 An LSD trip at its peak while purchasing a bus ticket at Continental Trailways, destination New Mexico.
131 The crucifixion of someone who looks like Christ.
132 The Christ figure on top of a garbage truck filled with fresh oranges moving through a Jewish neighborhood.
133 An unknown place.
134 A joyous choir blend of voices and electronic music at Zion Church.
135 Young gymnasts at the World Olympics.
136 A perfect male human body dancing nude.
137 A traffic jam on the L.A. freeway.
138 Velvet curtains come down on an orchestral performance conducted by a tuxedo-ed Isiah Jackson at the Eastman Theater in Rochester, New York.
139 An old man in red robe sitting behind a desk -it's Andrew Sarris again!- as he opens door behind him to reveal resounding crash of ocean and rock.
140 The ancient sirens.
141 Three witches being drowned in a cemetery pond.
142 A Black female choreographer crying on the steps to "Outside The Gate" dance theater.
143 Black lovers feeding pigeons in Manhattan.
144 The inside of a Black vegetarian restaurant named "The Unburger".
145 A scene from Imamu Amiri Baraka's "Slave Ship".
146 The first Black president is sworn in. (This was penned in 1978.)
147 An outdoor limbo party in a predominantly Black neighborhood.
148 An attempted assassination of the first Black president.
149 An unnatural quietness wraps the inner city at dusk. Then the sound of a wood flute.
150 New Year's Eve 2012.
151 The University of California graduating class of 2012.
152 The entire U.C. Berkeley graduating class disrobing in Berkeley Stadium.
153 Flashback on Roman Coliseum atrocity.
154 An outdoor drama staged in the nude.
155 An outdoor dance staged in the nude.
156 Any downtown USA staged in the nude. ((While Toronto, Canada jumps, just across the border at Main & Clinton, Rochester, New York slumps.)
157 A long religious procession in full regalia on Any Main Street.
158 At the head of a parade well-known figures from every walk of life: the arts, theater, science, religion, politics.
159 Comedian Dick Gregory alone on an island.
160 Black poetess Maya Angelou reading from a personal journal in the sanctity of her home.
161 Black poetess Maya Angelou staging a classical production in L.A.
162 The profile of a famous movie star off set.
163 A European cafe with old men drinking wine.
164 A young girl dancing in a cabaret.
165 A man, woman and child riding a horse-drawn
166 The hush of Disneyland at moonlight.
167 A few hands clapping.
168 A cluster of hands clapping.
169 Groups of people clapping hands.
170 A filled auditorium gives a resounding applause.
171 The flight of a white dove against blue sky over a statue of Mercury.
Without labeling it as such, I inserted my "backstory" at the beginning of this piece, as it was crucial to understand before reading the 171 images.