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Rainmakers: The Los Angeles Department of Weather Modification

Courtesy of Los Angeles Department of Weather Modification.

My car is in the shop, and I've just biked over a beast of hill to meet up with San Francisco-based artist Chris Kallmyer at Machine Project, a non-profit artist space in Echo Park.

"It's really hot today," says Kallmyer, noticing my huffing, my sweat-glistened face. He is empathetic. The weather, after all, is something we all have in common, and is, for the most part, out of our control.

Later, while sucking down iced coffees, we talk about Kallmyer's project, Los Angeles Department of Weather Modification, a four-day sound art performance series at Downtown L.A.'s Grand Park, which starts June 10 at 11 am. The project is part of Machine Project's Field Guide to Grand Park series.

Some might think of evil villains using a remote control to fling tornadoes at good guys when they think of weather control, but Kallmyer is an easygoing mensch with a perpetual smile and an interest in real world applications of weather modification. His mock weather modification "company" (complete with logo and LADWP-esque branding) is modeled more after cloud seeders who actually use silver iodide to make it rain on crops in the Midwest than any sort of sci-fi villainy. But Kallmyer recognizes that weather control brings to mind other concerns, like the safety of pumping silver into clouds to produce crop rainwater.

Courtesy of Los Angeles Department of Weather Modification
Courtesy of Los Angeles Department of Weather Modification

"There's something impure and inauthentic about modifying the weather," says Kallmyer, who grew up playing in punk bands in Washington, D.C., before studying classical music at CalArts. "I wondered how to do it in a non-confrontational way? What do you need to perceptually modify the weather for people -- sonically or for the mind or body? I think sound is really good at contextualizing everyday things in intriguing ways."

Kallmyer, who is interested in breaking down the stuffy barriers of the concert hall with nontraditional performance spaces, has created a program of events that explore both the scientific and spiritual connections to weather modification. On the first day, for instance, he has planned a rain meditation and a series of performances and talks, first from Will Marsh, who plays North Indian monsoon season ragas, and Matt Cook, a percussionist who will play "rainy, wet sounds," according to Kallmyer.

"Most weather modification is about creating precipitation, because we don't have enough drinking water and we don't have enough water for irrigation," says Kallmyer, who did intensive research into weather modification, including building a relationship with North American Weather Consultants, a weather modification service based in Utah. "There's all these old folkloric traditions. Usually they involve stripping a young girl naked, putting her in the outskirts or center of the city, and then having her pour water on the ground. In ancient Greece, they used to drag stones through the streets of the city during a drought. 'The Department' wants to leave people in a more mindful, mystical relationship with the weather itself."

On Wednesday, Kallmyer will bring in two percussionists, one with a vintage 19th century wind machine, and one with a complex wind chime. He also plans to distribute white painted "listening glasses" that will enhance the ability to imagine a gusty locale. "If you were to close your eyes and engage with them, you can become transported to a very windy place without the presence of wind at all," says Kallmyer. "I want to give people this windy experience."

Sketches of the Fair Weather Opera | Courtesy of Los Angeles Department of Weather Modification
Sketches of the Fair Weather Opera | Courtesy of Los Angeles Department of Weather Modification   

Day three on Thursday will begin with a focus on fog. Kallmyer recently moved from Los Angeles to San Francisco, where he lives close enough to the Golden Gate Bridge to hear the foghorns. To translate this to his series, Kallmyer has transcribed the sounds of the foghorns to be played by a brass trio, and created a "fog tent," which will provide an immersive fog-like experience. Thursday night will feature the "Fair Weather Opera," a musical performance inspired by Charles Hatfield, a Los Angeles-based rainmaker from the early 20th century, who used a secret concoction of 23 chemicals in his process that was so successful, he is credited with flooding San Diego.

"No one's really sure he did it," says Kallmyer, "but as the Department of Weather Modification, of course 'we' believe he did it. Our official stance is Charles Hatfield nailed it."

The performances will close out on Friday with a series of scheduled "thunderstorms," with two percussionists playing thunder-invoking sounds. "Giving people a visceral experience of my super-fake, modified weather, I hope that it makes them look at their everyday weather in a way that changes the way they observe it," says Kallmyer.

Weather Stations from Chris Kallmyer on Vimeo.

A series of talks, including one by Mike O'Malley, a Pomona-based artist and baker, who will discuss the affect of weather on bread, and one by Christopher Roundtree, the conductor of wild Up, an L.A.-based classical ensemble, who will explore the significance of thunderstorms on Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, will be interspersed throughout the week. The performance series will be documented into a film by Machine Project that can be viewed on their site.

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