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.Artist-Partners Document Actually Epic Road Trip in ‘Silver Ochre’

Two artists and partners spent the last seven months traveling around the country to collect material for a documentary about artists engaging themselves in socio-political-communal action

music in the park san jose
Thollem McDonas and Angela Villa have created a socio-political-communal art project called Silver Ochre.Photo by ACVilla201

Two artists and partners just spent the last seven months traveling around the country to collect material for a documentary about artists engaging themselves in socio-political-communal action.

They’ve already operated in a nomadic fashion for years, but this time around, Thollem McDonas and Angela Villa traveled to all 48 contiguous states, performing along the way, and gathering source footage for a related live show debuting at WORKS/San Jose this Saturday.

Featuring McDonas on a smoking Waldorf Blofeld synthesizer and Villa’s digital video talents, Silver Ochre takes its name from a harmonization of opposites. The ochre pigment used in paleolithic cave paintings meets the silver screen. Old meets new. Intimacy meets distance. Combining the present-time awareness of zen perspectives with the technology of digital synthesis and video, the performance will likewise reconcile the polarities of the human condition. As the the two artists explain, Silver Ochre trains the eye on small moments of time and the ear to the moment of the times.

Together, both Villa and Thollem are peripatetic artists, with Villa working as an artist manager, promoter and photo-videographer to Thollem’s keyboard exploits. What’s more, they bring a bloodline of social, ethnic and arts advocacy, as well as avant-garde San Jose shenanigans.

Angela’s father, Jose Villa, was a legendary Chicano activist decades ago in San Jose. He chaired the Mexican American Studies Department at San Jose State University, was director of urban education at San Jose Unified School District, and he even headed up MACSA (The Mexican American Community Services Agency) for six years. Jose also claimed as his mentor the late Ernesto Galarza, a pioneer of bilingual education and the individual for whom the “Man of Fire” table sculpture on Paseo de San Antonio was created.

McDonas was born and raised in San Jose, rigorously studying the standard classical piano repertoire, composing and improvising from a young age before graduating from music school at SJSU. Now, as leader or co-conspirator, he has released more than 50 albums on 20 different vanguard labels just in the last 10 years, playing every possible sub-genre of post-classical, free jazz, noise, punk, world music, dance, film and more. A brief cross section of his many collaborators include William Parker, Pauline Oliveros, Stefano Scodanibbio, Nels Cline, Mike Watt, Martha Colburn and Matthew Barney. He is equally at home on concert hall stages or in underground Italian WWII bunkers. He first performed at WORKS over 25 years ago.

For Silver Ochre, expect a collaboration combining the talents of both artists, each one being naturally interested in fusing polarities. For most of his life, Thollem was an acoustic pianist, but a few years ago he pulled a Dylan and went electric. After pushing the boundaries of multiple electronic keyboards in various composer/performer schisms, this time around, for Silver Ochre, he’s turned his sights on the Blofeld, a piece of machinery normally dominated by German ambient and techno musicians. Instead, Thollem is more interested in using machines in ways they were not intended to be used.

“Every time I have a new instrument, I develop ideas based on its potentiality, as opposed to me buying an instrument based on a vision that I have,” Thollem says. “I see it as a real collaboration with the technology. I’m not approaching an instrument with a specific goal in mind. I’m approaching it with the idea of creating something that I would never have conceived otherwise, if I didn’t have this instrument.”

For the video component, Villa will transform her present-time awareness, zen-like in its simplicity, to suggest beauty beneath the mundane. Her photographic eye—in which the native and exotic, the distant and the intimate are fused—will unfold in the videographic accompaniment to Thollem’s real-time manipulations of the Blofeld.

“Her work is really based on being in the moment,” Thollem says of Villa’s visual art. “Being really aware of beautiful, amazing things happening in totally mundane situations.”

Together, the masculine and feminine polarities of life will fuse. Yin shall weave with yang and the natural opposing forces of the human condition will integrate. And that is beautiful. And amazing.

Works/San Jose
Saturday, Nov. 19
365 S. Market St, San Jose
$8/$5 members

Gary Singh
Gary Singh
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.


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