Bitter Party, an LA-based ghost-pop band, performed music and read excerpts from their book, “Ghost Pop,” in collaboration with food artist Genevieve Erin O’Brien at Oxy Arts on York Boulevard Sept. 20. Oxy Arts and the Center for Digital Liberal Arts (CDLA) sponsored the event in collaboration with Occidental’s Talking Books, a program that gives authors a platform to share their insights on creative processes.
The music was calm yet engaging, and the poetry spoken between songs tied everything together. Students, faculty and community members mingled around the “Breaking Bread” exhibit and ate O’Brien’s dish as they listened to the modern sounds of Bitter Party.
“Ghost Pop” has been years in the making, according to Associate Director for Instruction and Research for CDLA and band member Jacob Alden Sargent. Bitter Party formed out of a group of friends in 2013, and they released their debut album with the “Ghost Pop” book Feb. 8, 2019. Sargent said that band members’ traumatic migration experiences largely informs their music.
“The band explores themes like identity and longing, community, family and dislocation. For a lot of people in the band, their families migrated,” Sargent said. “So [we are] looking at what does it mean for a family to be in this transnational space, how does memory work, how does history work, where are the spaces for people to talk about some of the trauma of those experiences.”
The origin of Bitter Party’s name holds significant meaning, according to Sargent.
“The name Bitter Party came from the idea of celebrating the melancholy in life — trying to recognize this grief and sadness in life, but also find some celebration and connection,” Sargent said.
Brian Chambers, CDLA’s user experience specialist, started the Talking Books series and brought Bitter Party to Occidental with help from Sargent.
“When their album came out with the book, and he [Sargent] had mentioned the album was released, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a band that has a book,” Chambers said. “And to me, I thought that was perfect for the Talking Books series.”
“Ghost Pop,” completed in 2019, embodies these themes of migration and trauma. The book pays homage to past generations of immigrants and their rich history, while telling their own new stories, according to Chambers.
In the book “Ghost Pop,” Bitter Party writes “Animate the ghosts. Tune into kindred spirits. Dance to their heartbeats. Sing to soothe the anxieties from another time and place. We are the proud queer children of the postcolony… We listen to the ghosts and ask them to sing with us.”
In addition to Bitter Party’s performance, O’Brien put on a Gastrosonic collaboration — a food element that corresponds to the sounds. She made a dish that echoed the emotions evoked by the music of Bitter Party.
“The dish that I made in response to the song ‘Ferry Boat Ride at the Parallel.’ It’s not a Vietnamese dish, but it had flavors and and kind of harkens back to Vietnam as a presence in the dish itself,” O’Brien said. “And so I would say, we approach with a different medium, but a very similar approach to the work.”
Bitter Party and O’Brien collaborated on multiple projects. O’Brien says the music of Bitter Party and the notion of Ghost Pop is relevant to her life and culinary endeavors.
“The music itself speaks to me personally, for me, as a Vietnamese American,” O’Brien said. “Some of the songs are in Vietnamese and feel very familiar to me, even though they’re not songs that I know directly or songs that I grew up with. And I think for me that those sort of notes of nostalgia don’t really point back to a very particular time and place, but more like an ephemeral actor of a memory.”
The Bitter Party performance, Ghost Pop reading and Gastrosonic collaboration complimented Breaking Bread in LA, the current exhibit in the Oxy Arts building running Sept. 12–Nov. 24.
Meldia Yesayan, director of Oxy Arts, said she thought Bitter Party and O’Brien would mix well with the theme.
“The library does these talking books series, and Bitter Party was interested in potentially having their book launch here, and I thought, ‘How could I incorporate it into our Breaking Bread in LA series?’ and suggested that there would be a way to integrate a food element with the performance,” Yesayan said. “And it was a really lovely alignment with our program for the fall.”
The event appealed to a wide-ranging audience.
“It was great to see an incredibly diverse crowd in all respects of the word,” Chambers said. “Age-wise, we were between 5 and 75.”
Yesayan said she found the event to be inclusive and engaging for everyone.
“I think that there was something for everyone, including children who were able to play instruments that they brought and students who were really interested in the music and people who were there to try new cuisine. So it was a great evening,” Yesayan said.
According to Yesayan, Oxy Arts is about bringing Occidental students together with the surrounding community together through art. O’Brien said she had a positive experience collaborating with everyone involved.
“Oxy Arts is amazing, it was really great. It’s a great space, I know that it’s new and it just opened, I’m really excited that it’s in the neighborhood. I hope that I may do more in the future,” O’Brien said.
Yesayan described the event to be heartfelt and engaging. She hopes to hold more events like this in the future.
“The music was so soulful and melancholy, it kind of felt like a love letter to past generations. And it really, I think, moved everyone who was there that evening, so we’d love to do more things like that, that have a cultural element and really unique perspective,” Yesayan said.