"The Sonosopher" is the tentative title of a full-length, feature documentary film that is currently in production. This film will document the life and creative works of poet, polyartist, sonosopher, scholar, teacher, mentor...Alex Caldiero. The documentary and this blog are a portion of a greater, ongoing effort to record, document, and archive Alex's life and works.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

2003 Review of Joint Exhibition in Park City

Published in Catalyst Magazine March 2003

“Every Angel is Terrifying”

Frank McEntire and Alex Bigney, with Alex Caldiero, in a Stunning Kimball Exhibit

by Scott Abbott

In the first of the Duino Elegies, Rainer Maria Rilke’s persona wonders who would hear him from the ranks of the angels if he were to scream. His thoughts turn immediately to the problematic nature of calling on a “more potent being,” “for every angel is terrifying.” By definition, divinity (or beauty in Rilke’s case), is horrific (a truth we suppress while singing sweet hymns in church or invoking god to save America). This month at the Kimball Art Center in Park City (February 16, 2003—March 24, 2003), two Utah artists, Alex Bigney and Frank McEntire, are exhibiting works under the title “What Cannot be Spoken”; and their works, like Rilke’s elegies, wonder about beauty and divine presence while holding them, warily, at arm’s length.

Consider first several of McEntire’s works, found and constructed objects with reference to LDS, Catholic, Hindu, and Buddhist iconography. Alongside the obvious religious devotion McEntire expresses in beautiful pieces like the hanging “Libation,” “Hidden Text,” and “Rice Offering,” a viewer begins to notice in other works that Jesus has been ripped off the cross and lain stiffly on an iron bed (“Rise Up”), he’s been lifted on his back and thrust frontally toward heaven (“Ascension”), he’s been plastered over and then skewered by a sharp rod while standing on an iron grate (“Lightnin’ Jesus”).

The most disturbing of McEntire’s works, perhaps, is “Chicken Feed,” a kind of steel trough set on the floor and filled with communion wafers, round, flat, cross-stamped hosts. As blasphemous, or as pointedly aimed at the blasphemy of venial religion as Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ,” “Chicken Feed” feels like a knee in the groin of organized religion, or (and these multiple meanings abound in this show) it evokes biblical chicks under a wing and the “bread of life,” and our all-too-human frailty dependent on a succoring god. Much depends here on the eye of the beholder.

Still, and always, it’s a terrible god McEntire depicts, profound, comforting, vapid, and dangerous. An installation on the wall near “Chicken Feed” embodies all four aspects: “Visitation From the Divine Other” includes a tin belt-housing with a rectangular hole in the center from which light streams. Mounted above the housing is a white rabbit head, pink eyed and prettily veiled, a white wedding veil that descends over the housing. Looking through the veil, one sees a hand emanating from the wall holding a crucifix. McEntire talks about the divine (m)Other and the rabbit as a symbol of fertility. I see the pink-eyed rabbit head with its shroud as turning its secret into burlesque. Alternately, the guard and the veil protect the viewer against the horrific hand of GOD, so OTHER that it will burn your eyes out.

Like McEntire’s works, Alex Bigney’s seven new paintings, good-sized canvases that glow, numinously, from across the room, meticulously retract the secrets they reveal. These are humble paintings, reverent and devotional and ironic to the core. Beauty is the god invoked here, a terrible and traditional beauty not to be toyed with, but amenable to play and humor and infinite craftiness.

“Incognito” has a hand in the upper triangle with rays streaming around it. Between the hand and the rectangular painting below is a strip with the words


The inscription in vulgar Latin, Bigney says, was scratched on the wall of a little basilica in the Roman catacombs. The words are broken, the letters spaced to make deciphering difficult. “Don’t say the secret out loud,” is the message. A black bowler hat tops a masked head in profile, revealing blue sky, white clouds, and single feathers within. Is this revelation the secret to the man’s identity? If so, what does it mean? Is it more of the disguise? A statement that we mean even when we hide meaning?

“Cappelleria,” hat store, repeats the profiled head with black hat, but this time the hat is opaque, revealing nothing but itself. Scratched faintly into the paint is the familiar vulgar Latin inscription. At the top of the painting a snake, a real snake, has been gessoed to the canvas. It appears now under layers of paint, visible as form but covered. The bright blue sky around the head is bumpy in places, covering remnants of an earlier version of the painting, announcing subtly that “ceci n’est pas un ciel.” Delicate little human/reptile figures recede and appear from a border surrounding the head.

Bigney paints a canvas, sands it down, paints again, sands it partially, leaving traces under the new paint. It’s an old technique, pentimento (I repent, I’m sorry, I take it back) a painterly palimpsest. What’s the effect of so much layering and disclosing? Hints of a deeper secret? A failed painting announcing itself? A continued reference to the process of painting itself?

Finally, this provocative exhibit I have scarcely hinted at includes twenty-six multimedia drawings: "Said Z," text by Utah poet Alex Caldiero, visual responses by Alex Bigney.

Said Z “I am Zephyr”

“you are Zero” said the Lord –

said Y “I am Youth”

“you are Yoked” said the Lord –

. . .

said D “I am Daybreak”

“you are Doom” said the Lord –

said C “I am Called”

“you are Canceled” said the Lord –

Bigney explores each of the letters visually, composing on paper silkscreened several times with light gesso, affixing letters cut from

Italian block-printed papers. Each drawing includes a border (of real quills sewn to the paper for “Q,” of dino stickers for “D,” of blue cosmos petals for “P”). It’s difficult to convey the craftsmanship evident in these playful and serious works, the meticulous care that went into sewing beads into the black silk around the letter “B” or gathering and wrapping and sewing the tufts of brown hair around the “H.” And it’s hard adequately to depict the playfulness, the willful verbal and visual humor of the compilation of images. These literate drawings ought to be seen, ought to hang in Salt Lake’s new library.

Alex Caldiero performed “said Z” for the audience at the opening reception, and added a poem that brought together Bigney’s obsession with the secrets of beauty and McEntire’s fascination with the secrets of the divine:

-- nonetheless he believes in god . . . the Lord does not respond – he believes in god all the more . . . what’s wrong with this man? How can he be so stupid? He does not know – he has no answer – he is a pure devotee . . . he is god’s stooge – he is god’s baboon. . . .

That would make McEntire, Bigney, and Caldiero the three stooges. It’s a brilliant show.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Alex Caldiero Performs Allen Ginsberg's 'Moloch'

"The Sonosopher" Documentary Project

The link below is a link to a post that I just made on my personal blog. The post is a general introduction/description to our documentary idea...check it out.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

HOWL, 50th Anniversary

One of the most remarkable events I have ever witnessed. There's a good film of the event that might have some good scenes for the documentary.

Conversations Between a Mystic and a Rationalist

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Intermittent Conversations with Alex

For the rest of this essay about Alex's exhibition at the Salt Lake Art Center, see:


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Alex and Theta Naught

Published in Catalyst Magazine, October 2006

On Words

By Scott Abbott

Abstractions Come Home: A review of Sound Weave, by Theta Naught and Alex Caldiero

Sound Weave

Theta Naught / Alex Caldiero

Differential Records, 2006


While there is plenty to read and see in the liner notes of Sound Weave – a set of striking blue-toned photos of mountains and lakes, night photos of a full moon and lightning over a city, and the texts of Alex Caldiero’s poems printed in white over the photos, there is no way around the fact that vibrations of breath and gut and steel and wood and electronics are the essence of this brilliant collaboration between a self-styled “Sonosopher” and a group of musicians whose name “Theta Naught” and the titles of several tracks (“fibonacci’s pi,” “axioms that satisfy”) reveal their obsession with mathematics (Darren Corey – Drums, Greg Corey – Lap Slide, Peter Romney – Cello, Jared Stanfield – Keys, Ryan Stanfield – Bass).

Theta Naught most often performs without a vocalist, and Caldiero doesn’t work regularly with musicians (although he has a history of occasional collaboration with dancers and sculptors and musicians). Still, when they got together for a performance at Utah Valley State College a year or so ago, the overflow audience could scarcely contain its excitement at an intriguing weaving of sounds and ideas. The current CD, finely engineered, a thing of aural beauty, necessarily lacks some of the sparks of the live performance, but has its own special and substantial delights.

Improvisation between these musicians and poet begins with someone laying down a groove. Sometimes it’s the voice, sometimes the bass, or the drums and the cello, and the instruments often trade off as the groove continues; but each of these songs, whoever’s got the groove, features ongoing improvisational conversation in the context of that groove. Neither poet nor musicians knew what song or poem the other would offer when they began to record a track for this album on a long day last March, but once one or the other laid down a groove – a rhythm and sonority and minimal melody – the pattern was set that played out over the next minutes. Caldiero’s poems stretch to the measure of the music and the music adjusts to the words; just how the two are transformed by working together is apparent in the second CD of music without words and the one poem, “to harpo marx in heaven,” done a cappella.

“Who we are is how we sound together,” intones Caldiero. He repeats the declaration, breaks it into individual syllables, letters even, stretching and clipping the sounds while the electric bass and then drums add layers, interwoven with keyboard effects and bent magic from the lap steel. There is meaning, of course, in the sentence, just as there is meaning in measured notes and numbers. But marrying music and words, at least in this case, diminishes the chord of linguistic meaning and enhances the voice, with its articulated words, as sound among other sounds.

“Won’t you sit down,” the poet asks, his voice rising in question. The cello’s deep, constant line rises, and, conditioned by the voice, we hear a question. The bass breaks tone like a voice, and the voice growls assent. Vocal cords and cello strings resonate the same sustained note. Abundant rhymes “In the Wee Hours” (“Yr plumbing’s bad / Yr drumming’s mad / You’re just like yr dad / & his dad & his dad / & the mother you never had . . .”) work like musical harmonies; and the hearing mind feels like its abstractions have come home.

Sound Weave is available from Slowtrain Music, Orion's Music, Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore, Ken Sanders Rare Books, Vagabond's Café, and in Provo, Velour Live Music, or from Theta Naught’s website.

Photo of Alex Caldiero performing with Theta Naught at UVSC by Don LaVange

Friday, December 21, 2007

Poetry Is Wanted Here

Check out this amazing program that KCPW is doing with Alex Caldiero and Ken Sanders. The info. on how to tune in to the radio show is on the image/poster to the left there (thanks to SLC artist Leia Bell). KCPW also has some of the past shows available online. If you want to download them or listen to them just go to KCPW's main website: http://www.kcpw.org
You'll see a search box in the top right hand corner...if you type in 'poetry is wanted here', or 'ken sanders', or 'alex caldiero', the audio files of the shows that the programs appeared on will show up. Click the audio link of the show...this will take you to another page where it will give you the option to download the "Poetry is Wanted Here" program. It was really easy for me to download them, so you shouldn't have any problems. I think they are trying to get a single web page up that will archive all of these shows...which will make it easier to access them in the future. I'll update this if it ever happens.

After the Tree Had Fallen:

Recent Works and Collaborations

By Alex Caldiero and Frank McEntire

Art Access Gallery, 339 W. Pierpont Ave. SLC, through Oct. 10. Gallery hours: Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The Other Side of the Limit

In his introduction to the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Ludwig Wittgenstein writes that the book’s

whole meaning could be summed up somewhat as follows: What can be said at all can be said clearly; and whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

The book will, therefore, draw a limit to thinking. . . . The limit can . . . only be drawn in language and what lies on the other side of the limit will be simply nonsense.

Alex Caldiero and Frank McEntire are supremely curious about what lies on the other side of the limit, they approach that limit with all the canniness of Newtonian/Leibnitzian calculus, and neither of them has any inclination to remain silent in the presence of limits.

Although both are variously inclined to eclectic and infectious mysticisms, these two artists catch our eyes and ears and imaginations precisely because (1) they practice the honesty of clarity and (2) they aim their wit at those of us who eschew clarity for occluding trivial mysticism.

And, quickly, whatever else we say about the meaning of these works, there remains the sheer beauty of them: the simple lines and textures of Caldiero’s drawings/paintings on golden-grained birch, the singular beauty of polished obsolete machines in surprising contexts in several of McEntire’s pieces, the bright splashes of red, white, and blue in and among the dominating muted colors of wood and paper and fabric and steel and tin and cinderblock. These works are, formally, simply breathtaking. And, as one expects from these two artists, the striking form is in the service of provocative content.

Caldiero’s “In Tongues” was first exhibited in 1994 in the Salt Lake Art Center’s show “The Unclosed Hand.” But much has happened to the original monoprints on birch since then.

These black-ink images of mostly upturned faces with flames burning deep inside the heads and with words forming inside mouths that emit an occasional upside-down or fragmented utterance have taken on patches of primary colors. Red clouds, a blue face, white stripes alongside blue ones, red flames, yellow streaks make the seven works shout from the wall where they hang.

What do the newly painted pieces say that the earlier versions didn’t? At least in part they proclaim the agony of the artist seeking an adequate form for his ideas.

The originals addressed the impossibility and inadequacy and yet necessity and brilliance of language. And now, as Caldiero paints over the birch, as he experiments beyond words and lines with acrylic and markers and oils and crayons and gessoes, as he speaks in additional tongues, he performs the limits of these languages too. This is what I’ve got to work with, he seems to be saying, I can’t speak otherwise, and yet these media are completely out of my control. At first blush one might think this naïve painting, and Caldiero professes to have no formal training in these media. But on second thought, in context, it makes more sense to see the inadequacies on display as a statement of having approached an unapproachable limit. If Caldiero were a better painter (or poet), he would be less an artist.

Across the room from “In Tongues” stands McEntire’s “Royal Script,” a rather large crucifix being rolled into the carriage of a Royal typewriter raised up on a delicate wooden stand. A crucified Jesus Christ being (word)processed into a text! McEntire’s “Royal Script” constructs a string of signifiers, Nietzsche’s “mobile army of metaphors,” as a sculptural portrayal of the act of writing that depicts a crucifix that stands for a story written in a holy text, itself a representation of a supposed event. As if to emphasize this repeated and exponential distance from the “thing in and of itself,” McEntire has placed a bound and wax-sealed set of three books on a shelf beneath the typewriter

Caldiero and McEntire continue to probe the limits of the languages that are their tools with a collaborative work they call “Tzim Tzum for Burroughs,” guided by the memory of the writer W. S. Burroughs, whose family owned the Burroughs company that manufactured calculating machines like the beautiful steel-and-glass Burroughs model perched on a tall and delicate wooden stand and by the Kabbalistic notion of “tzim tzum,” a teaching that in the beginning God was all encompassing and so, in order to create the world, had to withdraw to allow the other to exist.

It is jarring to see Caldiero’s handwriting on the calculating tape (manuscript written with three sizes of markers so the words contract and expand, thinner and thicker, systole and diastole) spool out of the fat rolled tape into the heavy machine whose keys read “error,” “repeat,” “non-add,” and “total,” to fall in loops and folds across the floor. The calculator can’t possibly translate the thoughts of the hand, yet it gleams as the only possible mediator. Impossible machine. Impossible communication. Incongruous beauty.

Speaking of incongruous beauty, McEntire’s “East Fork,” looms delicate and deadly on a bed of cinder blocks. Four long, sharp steel tines curve down from a light wooden-and-steel frame. It’s a salvaged “Jackson fork,” used to raise hay bales into a loft, and so the “East Fork” title has an agricultural flavor. But under the tines of the fork is a dark bronze woman’s head, Japanese letters on the back, resting on a steel bow that was once a leaf spring. The effect is a peaceful, Zen-flavored pure form. Conceptual art at its formal best. And like the best conceptual art, the piece has an aftertaste. It leaves one who has read Kafka’s “In the Penal Colony” in a cold sweat.

With a harrow poised over a flat bed, Kafka’s steel-tipped machine inscribes a judgment on the body of any given prisoner. McEntire’s machine, with all its beauty, evokes (probably unintended) nightmares of guilt and harsh justice.

McEntire’s “Sealed Kali Upanishad” continues the themes of beauty and hidden truth and subliminal terror. Suspended in a striking steel-slat receptical/coffin lies a corpse-like heavy 110-foot roll of Jackson-Pollock-splattered tarpaper, decorated with colorful Hare-Krishna strings and beads, resting on a pair of silver boxes. The pure beauty of the piece reminds one again of McEntire’s uncanny ability to bring together found objects in awe-inspiring conjunctions. Like other works in the show, the sacred text remains almost entirely hidden, sealed. The title identifies the black roll with the fierce black Hindu goddess Kali. Sunken between steel slats, tightly rolled, and named Kali Upanishad, this sacred text promises to sever heads and hands of unwary readers/viewers.

Caldiero and McEntire dip their thoughtful and beautiful show in red, calling up disturbing memories as they explore the gifts and curses of tongues. Formally striking, conceptually challenging, witty and wily, the show threatens to cut out our tongues while giving us tongues we never had.

Scott Abbott

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

gallery 110

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Unpublished review: Memory Sees in Slices

photo by Don LaVange. original at


This collaborative event at the Surface, Back Alley Gallery, is what Robyn Hitchcock would call a "Victorian squid . . . It's greasy and hot, when you've had lots then you'll want more." On an evening in late May, at the end of the first really hot day of the season, a small crowd filters down an alley off Second West and into what was once a house.

Mixed-media paintings and drawings by Alison Marie Perreault on the walls. A huge compartmentalized mural, for instance, called “Doll House.” Tenement dolls. Not a pretty picture -- except as abstracted in a viewer
=s eye and slashed across by a sharp blade of sunlight. “God in the Bedroom,” a grim-faced naked man standing inside a door and looking past a woman curled into a fetal position on a bed. “Sunday,” a naked woman stretched out brazenly in the foreground, hand in a tub of popcorn, and in the background, through a door, a tiny man sitting stiffly at a table, reading a newspaper.

The crowd of maybe 50 sits in four tight-fitting sections of chairs arranged for a performance that will circle the room. Alex Caldiero appears in a door, his black shirt open at the neck, his black hair and beard trimmed short. He sways, uncertain, on the threshold. With his right hand, he bangs a drum tucked under his left arm, developing a slow rhythm. He stumbles, slumps. He is unable to enter the room. He fights to continue the simple rhythm. And then it’s over. He enters. He stands in front of “Doll House” and reads from a sheaf of white paper in a worn black binder.

“Reads” isn't verb enough. Caldiero whispers. He moans. Shouts. Hums. Chants. Spits. Grimaces. Dances. He does hold his binder in front of him. He does read its script. But he performs a physical, bodily transubstantiation. Words become flesh. “Remembering is a kind of dreaming / (speaking is a kind of bleeding) / forgetting is a second death.”

“Audiobiography,” the poet announces, his face to the east wall. He slaps his face. Then again, and again. A chilling sound. Remembered violence is a second death as well. He turns to the room's center with a smile and shuffles a practiced soft-shoe step and throws out his arms and smiles even more concertedly.

“I write my pain and the words have no feeling,” Caldiero says in his strong bass voice. The touch of a Brooklyn accent. And the hint of Sicilian herbs.

Holding a flat, single-skinned drum close to his mouth, standing in front of “God in the Bedroom” so that his face and the desolate face of the naked standing man repeat and reinforce their separate sorrows, Caldiero keens a repeating mantra: “I've got poison in my brain. . . . poison in my brain.” The words are distorted and amplified by the vibrating drumhead. Can he leave this self-reinforcing loop? Is this the song that never ends?

Moving to the north wall (thank god for movement), Caldiero stands before the long youthful leg of the small-breasted woman whose man reads the Sunday paper in the next room. “When he / no longer drinks / at her breast / When she / no longer sips / at his mouth / The sun / does not / come.”

There are lovers in the audience. And ex-lovers. Multiple lines cross the room. Tensions from the past and from the future. “And this was not the food,” Caldiero intones, “after which you never hunger. Oh, Jesus, it was the food after which you were hungrier than ever before.”

His strong face glistens with sweat. He looks up. He relaxes and in a sweet voice recites a love poem: "Your hair / is a labyrinth / I can never hope / to get out of... / This is the beginning of a / love poem. / I'll just leave it at that."

The audience relaxes too. Caldiero lifts his forehead, arching his dark eyebrows, then he brings all his face’s flesh together in two concentrated creases above his nose. “If I get close,” he says, “the mark on your forehead begins to resemble the face of a man screaming. / If I get real close, the open mouth begins to resemble a mark on the forehead of a woman turning into the head of the man I'm getting closer and closer to. / The colors are so livid” he shouts, “they spill.”

Silence. I look at the mottled wall between the paintings, at the blind west window, at the windowed door, knob absent, covered from the outside with a box addressed to someone in the Czech Republic.

Caldiero’s voice, calmer now, takes up a story. “I ran from my death,” he says, “I built walls / between me & my death - / I went thru doors, / bolted them behind me . . .And when I had / locked the final door / behind me . . . There was my death / waiting for me all / the while sitting on / an easy-chair - / It looked at me / and said, / ‘Just testing. / Just testing.’"

A cricket lends its voice to the performance. The blade of light withdraws from the “Doll House.” Caldiero sits and drums and recites: “One morning you and I and everyone will wake up and love will have been re-invented. . . . [We’ll] live in houses with no doors, no windows, no walls, floors or ceilings -- better than any wilderness.” He drums feverishly. He rolls wild ecstatic eyes to the absent sky. He shouts nonsense between drumbeats. He reaches a climax and suddenly falls silent. “The mechanic,” he says quietly, “is through. Now we can make love again.”