Brian Butler with Kenneth Anger and other musicians, live score for The Dove and The Serpent, LA><ART ANNEX, Hollywood, May 25, 2011

Los Angeles’ long history of fascination and experimentation with alternative religions and the occult never seems to stop manifesting in latter-day fragments of cultural production. Following right on the heels of Anna Mayer’s intimate generative fire (which in turn followed a performance by magician and interdisciplinary artist Derek Del Gaudio at LA><ART ANNEX, which I missed) was this highly anticipated musical set by Brian Butler and his friend Kenneth Anger, both of whom have a well-known allegiance to mystical practices.

I once saw Anger speak at a Cinefamily screening of occult films that came out of LA. Following a viewing of Wormwood Star, a poetic portrayal of artist and occultist Marjorie Cameron, he briefly described how he had lived as Cameron’s slave, sleeping faithfully on the floor next to her bed. He was deviously compelling, having the air about him of someone who had been profoundly re-adjusted by his life experiences. A deeply influential filmmaker and one of the key figures in LA’s underground history, Anger is of course nothing short of a living legend, and I talked to many people at this performance who had excitedly come out just to see him.

But I don’t mean to give short shrift to Images and Oracles, Butler’s exhibition at LA><ART ANNEX that opened that night. It’s a lovely installation, consisting of a film projected on one wall, three photographs of creepy objects and Vincent Gallo on another wall (I believe these were film stills from Butler’s Night of Pan), two large cubes inscribed with magical symbols, and a pew-like bench setup in the gallery. There was immediately a feeling of “magick” afoot when one entered the room, as though one had walked right into a spell. This feeling was authentic and lingered, in spite of the MTV-level production values and the use of beautiful goth models in all imagery.

On opening night, Anger—whose work is obviously a big influence on Butler’s films—was there to help his buddy and collaborator with a live performance of the score for an extended version of the film in the show, which is titled The Dove and The Serpent. And Anger did not disappoint, working his theremin with demonic flair, conjuring bewitching noises simply by waving his hands in the air near the instrument, often suggesting sexual acts by stroking the spindly end and inserting his fist into the circular end. Just like the variegated imagery of his films, Anger’s dramatic movements formed a kind of pagan invocation. And while Anna Mayer’s intent was to appropriate, deconstruct, and redistribute an occult ritual form, a concentrated iconography and cult of personality were readily apparent in Anger and in Butler, who accompanied his friend with impassioned guitar playing.

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