food systems

What I'm up to in the first half of 2016 by David Bernabo

This may be more of a list to keep myself organized, but I do hope that you, the reader, will check out a few of these events, products, and showings.


Causal Loop, my two-person show with Blaine Siegel opened at SPACE gallery on 2/12. It is easily the happiest I have been with an art show. The staff at SPACE have been wonderful and my two year-long worries about how to fill the space were easily relieved. I love the pieces that Blaine has created for this, and many people have commented on the fluidity and dialogue created by our juxtaposed pieces. This show runs through March 27.

Also, my film, Food Systems, Chapter 1: A Night Out, which documents local restaurant history and culture, is screening (20 times!) at Historic Howell Theater in Michigan.


March is action-packed. In 2014, I start composing the score for Mark C. Thompson's movement theater piece, Kimono. Now, the finished piece will have a string of performances at Off the Wall. Mar 18-19, 24-26 @ 8:00 pm,   Mar 20 @ 3:00 pm

March 11 - Lightlab 13 at SPACE Taylor Knight and I founded the Lightlab Performance Series two years ago. Now, Anna Thompson has joined our curating team. As part of the Causal Loop exhibit, we programmed the 13th Lightlab event. This event will include the 14th? performance of MODULES (Taylor, Anna, Jil Stifel, and myself), Roberta Guido, and a few other performers.

March 16 - Artist Talk at SPACE Curator Adam Welch directs an artist talk with Blaine Siegel and yours truly. Come see if I have anything to say about my work. Spoiler: I do.

March 17 Rangda at The Andy Warhol Museum I have the privilege of opening for the powerhouse rock/jazz/other trio, Rangda. Rangda is Sir Richard Bishop from Sun City Girls, Ben Chasny from Six Organs of Admittance, and Chris Corsano, most famously known for working with Bjork, but also known for a wealth of amazing solo and collaborative records. My set will contain solo guitar pieces along with some new work for guitar and pitched cowbells. 

Also, The Glassblock, the new web magazine that I founded with EAT THAT, READ THIS's Adam Shuck may launch near the end of March. Stay tuned.


April should be wonderful! I head to Middlebury to work with choreographer Maree ReMalia, choreographer/dancer Jil Stifel, the aforementioned Blaine Siegel, and videographer David Cherry for a week of experiments and collaborative dance making. I also get to screen a short edit of my upcoming documentary, Food Systems, Chapter 3: The Ecosystem.

Speaking of Food Systems, I will premiere the finished version of Food Systems, Chapter 3: The Ecosystem at the Food Innovation Symposium in late April. Additional screenings will follow in May.


and then . . .

at some point, I will release a new solo record called The Inn. For this record, I play all of the instruments myself. The album started with a few drum sessions and then I wrote all of the songs to the drums improvisations. The four-piece Host Skull band may start playing some of these tunes, but I used a bunch of weird tunings on the guitar and didn't write down any of the songs, so we'll see. But along with the two Host Skull records and the first Vale and Year record, this is easily one of my favorite records that I have made. I feel like there are advances with the harmonic scope of the record. Also, it is the first time that I have successfully written and sung four-part harmonies. Stay tuned for a listening party this Spring along with a few music videos.

All the best,


Food Systems and the (personal) cost of doing business by David Bernabo

This Tuesday, Bar Marco will host the eighth screening of Food Systems, Chapter 1: A Night Out, the first in a series of three films about food culture in and around Pittsburgh. I am very grateful to the relatively large number of people that have hosted screenings, bought tickets or watched the film, participated in discussions, provided some critique, and/or participated in the film. For me, that - building of a personal community, furthering my understanding of people's experiences in food - is rewarding enough. But let's talk about money.

I'm a big fan of cost transparency in creative projects. It's interesting. Years ago, I read that David Berman of Silver Jews cleared $45,000 for a record made in 2001 while making roughly $16,000/year for royalities on four other records. A 2006 interview found Berman $40,000 in debt at the age 40. The candidness of these interviews is enlightening. On the one hand, $45,000 to make a record is incredible, but you can easily see how that is not a sustainable path.

When starting Food Systems, I took the same approach that I apply to all my personal creative endeavors - "Let's start the project and figure it out as I go." Funding was not much of an issue. I had an adequate camera from a previous "project." (I bought a Canon 5d in anticipation of making a documentary about the history of the Carnegie Museum. That project never came to light, but I had a really interesting treatment.) I had editing programs. I made music. I knew a few people in the restaurant industry. So, the tools were in place. Aside from my time, there were no major initial expenses.

The Expenses

In the beginning, the main expense was going out to dinner. In order to determine if I wanted to cover a restaurant, I ate a meal there and introduced myself to the staff. With 25 active restaurants in the film, I estimate this cost to be roughly $1,200. In my time as a Pittsburgher (read: the whole time), I had already conducted part of the "research" before this project started.

If a scene has music, I edit best to finished music. To accomplish this, I spent about six day sessions recording different types of music - droning accordions, overdubbed makeshift percussion sections, guitar duos, piano solos. Some of the film score overlapped with my scores for Mark C. Thompson's Kimono and Jil Stifel and Ben Sota's Waywardland. Synergy! But my musical style can be limited. I love jazz scores and thought of my friends in Le Rex. Le Rex is a fantastic Swiss jazz quintet. They have played two shows in Pittsburgh and have come through Pittsburgh in other ensembles. Le Rex allowed the use of their first two albums for $400. Very generous!

One of the first sections of the film that I finished was Kevin Sousa's section. Because I didn't have any music ready, I temporarily placed a piece by Nils Økland and Sigbjørn Apeland in the timeline. The more I heard it, the more I thought it had to stay. So, I licensed the track from ECM (at this point, my favorite record label) for 500 Euro. $624, after wire transfer fees.

There are a number of siloed food documentaries. Fed Up discusses sugar. El Bulli: Cooking in Progress looks at El Bulli. Three Stars provides glimpses of a number of Michelin-starred restaurants. Food Systems could cover a broad range of topics by staying geographically narrow. However, there were two trips. A trip to The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) arose after talking with Melissa McCart. I went there to film the interview segments with Dr. Tim Ryan, who opened La Normande as the executive chef. It was a wonderful and delicious trip. Price tag: $660. I was going to California anyway, but a driving trip down the coast from San Francisco to Big Sur and back provided some beautiful footage that plays over the credits of Chapter 1 and accompanies discussion on the importance of water in Chapter 3. Also, views of CA vineyards and organic farms were useful as so many Pittsburgh chefs felt a weird calling to settle in the cold winters of Pittsburgh after vibing (or still working hard, indoors, for long hours) in the California sun. Food-related price tag: $700.

One issue in my first film, Ongoing Box, is sound, specifically people talking. Luckily, that film is more action than discussion. But for Food Systems, I knew I needed to upgrade my film audio gear. I purchased a binaural microphone (this is a mic that replicates how a human head hears. Check out instructional records from the 50s and 60s for more info) for $1,000 and a mid-tier lavalier microphone for $500.   

The remaining expenses can be qualified as expenses essential to attempting to make money. DVDs and BluRays for three films (Ch. 1 and 2 are on one disc, Ch. 3 will be on another) total $2,200. T-shirts cost $400 for manufacture and $200 for design, which I assume is a generous "friend price."

The total comes to $6,784. Surely, there are some additional gas and travel costs, but let's say those are negligible. 


Sadly, for me, I did not receive any grants for this project. I applied for $1,000 grants, $10,000 grants, and various points inbetween. But as I do often criticize the grant-based nature of local arts making, I suppose this is a suitable result. So, to fund these three films, I created a Kickstarter campaign, which netted $1,486 after Kickstarter fees. The rest is personal investment, culled from eight years of work at Highmark in various roles from Business Analyst 2 to Manager and a now occasional healthcare consultant. Since screening the film, I have netted $472 from three screenings (other screenings were free), made $80 on t-shirts, $7.98 on Vimeo sales, and $10 on Blurays. Note: I just got the Blurays in and only mentioned them to a handful of people. Here's hoping for the holiday DVD push!

I'm not sure if there is a message here. But I do hope it is at least interesting.

TOTAL INCOME: $2,055.98

Meals: $1,200
Music: $1,024
Travel: $1,360
Equipment: $1,500
T-shirts: $600
DVDs and Blurays: $1,100

NET INCOME: (-) $4,728.02

Four Food Systems Screenings Announced + New Trailer by David Bernabo

Mon, 09/14/2015 Pittsburgh, PA - Root 174SOLD OUT

Wed, 09/23/2015 Pittsburgh, PA - Row House TheaterPremiere!, 7:00PM, $12, with reception PURCHASE TICKETS

Sun, 09/27/2015 Pittsburgh, PA - Row House Theater, Noon, $8 PURCHASE TICKETS

Thurs, 10/01/2015 Pittsburgh, PA - Wigle Whiskey Barrelhouse, 7:00PM, open to public


MakerDate, Mine Factory Opening, and CDR by David Bernabo

I write this note to you while listening to the stream of the new Jim O'Rourke record - it is great, unique from his other song-based records, unexpectedly reverb-y, with an unexpectedly low mix on the voice, complex, harmonized, and just crazy good. I'm also making dinner. Slow cooking chuck roast that I froze a few weeks ago. Dehydrating rhubarb. Roasting squash. Quick pickling cucumber.

Anyway, three things are coming up this week. An art opening, an event with Host Skull-related activity, and MakerDate, where my newfound filmmaking skills will be auctioned off for a filmmaking date.

CDR Pittsburgh, 5/14, Space Upstairs

Host Skull has been working on our third record for a bit. We started a little over a year ago, and we are close to completion. We'll be presenting the first video at the CDR event. The song is called "Big Tan" and it closes the record. Here is some background info on CDR. Note: lots of folks will present works in progress. Should be interesting!

"CDR (Create, Define, Release) is an evolving multi-platform music project delivered by a collective of music producers, artists and thinkers passionate about creating opportunities to share the process of music production.

CDR sessions offer music makers the opportunity to submit their own songs (burnt onto CD, on a USB or uploaded in advance) then hear them played in a club environment over a superb soundsystem.

By getting a chance to publicly listen to their sonic works in progress, producers can identify any tweaks or development their songs could benefit from. They can also gauge people’s responses as well as discussing their tracks with others attending."

Live music at Space Upstairs

MakerDate, 5/16

Assemble, founded by my college-era and current-era friend Nina Barbuto, is a great gallery that has consistently engaged the community and brought "making" to the neighborhood through children's programs, interesting curation, and unique events. MakerDate is one of those unique events. It's a fundraiser, but you can bid on an experience. Get a private welding lesson from artist Dee Briggs. Make a zine with Maggie Lynn Negrete. And, um, hang out with me while making the FOOD SYSTEMS films, learn a bit about Adobe Premiere, and strategies for editing. Lots of people are donating their skills and there is a silent auction, too. Check out Nina on CBS!

The event is this Saturday, May 16. MakerDate Tickets


Mine Factory Opening, 5/17

A bunch of us have studios in 201 N. Braddock Ave, which is a building that is often referred to the Mine Factory building or, sometimes, the building that Stacyee Pearl's dance studio is in. Whatever you call it, the building houses the Mine Factory gallery and the tenants are having a group show on Sunday, May 17. The show is called NO VACANCY. The opening starts at 5pm and ends at 8pm.

Lastly, I'm raising some modest funds to cover the remaining expenses of the Food Systems film. By backing the project, you will ensure that you can see the films. Early previews have been very positive. So, I think you will like it. If you can help (even $5 gets you one of the films), I greatly appreciate it! Thanks! Back the project here: Food Systems Kickstarter



Also, while you are weighing your options with those selfishly-me-related activities, maybe you want to go to Conflict Kitchen's Palestinian Film Festival instead. 5 Broken Cameras screens Thursday night at Regent Square Theater. Divine Intervention screens at Melwood on Friday. And Saturday, 5/16 has a double feature with the short, The Dinner, and the long, When I Saw You, under the tent in Schenley Plaza.