Obstacle Illusion

“The kind ​of fiercely independent artists the world needs more of.”
– LiveEye TV

“Extreme imagination”
– Greg Burk, LA Weekly​​

”Slyly sublime and beautifully brutal”
​- August March, Albuquerque Alibi​

“The performance as a whole was utterly unique, inviting a deep sense of reflection to those who attended.”
– Lola Watts, Santa Barbara Independent


Obstacle Illusion is a live multimedia experience pairing Thollem’s solo electric score with the films of ACVilla. It includes selections from a variety of projects that illustrate ACVilla’s unique approach she calls contextualizations, layering multiple projections onto common objects and surfaces to deepen the significance of subject and object. Stemming from the name of Thollem’s solo album on Astral Spirits Records, the music is a collaboration with new technologies, an exploration of sound through unique timbral combinations with a plethora of influences and inspirations. His approach is informed by his background in 20th/21st century composition and improvisation as well as his years of perpetual travel. Through multiple overlaying of sonic and visual stimuli, Obstacle Illusion reveals subconscious thoughts and hidden memories. The experience is simultaneously pleasurable, challenging and intellectually stimulating. Eternity filtered through two artists at the center of a world on the edge. (Duration: 60 min.)

Interview with Thollem in The Wire: “Obstacle Illusion is a kaleidoscope of sounds layered upon each other, all created in real time. ACVilla’s technique matches with my musical approach because she is also layering images in real time. Working in an analogue manner with digital equipment, she creates optical illusions by projecting footage she’s taken along our tour onto the interiors of old adobe abodes in northern New Mexico and stone houses in southern Switzerland.”

“There’s a continuous sense that things aren’t quite right but are still beautiful and intriguing,” he continues. “It’s a similar quality that I’m after with my approach with my sampler. We’re both interested in recontextualising sounds and images and therefore challenging our preconceptions about life and our relationship with the world.”

Since 2008, ACVilla (Chicana, b. 1968) has focused her time as a peripatetic traveler, tour manager, photographer, videographer and visual artist. Her pieces has been shown throughout the US, Canada and Europe in DIY spaces, museums, galleries, schools and universities, some being: Pioneer Works (Brooklyn NY); Crocker Art Museum (Sacramento, CA); Crystal Springs Museum of American Art (Bentonville, AR); Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center (Buffalo, NY); Guild Cinema (Albuquerque, NM); Northwest Film Forum (Seattle, WA); Toledo Museum Of Art (Toledo, OH); and Krannert Art Museum (Univ of Il. Urbana). She was commissioned by the internationally-renown Rova Saxophone Quartet to create No Distractions, a video score which they performed on their 40th anniversary. Dire Warning was created for Estamos Trio (cross-border collaboration) and debuted during the SITE Santa Fe (NM) 2018 Biennial. With her partner and musician Thollem, she continues to tour various iterations of Obstacle Illusion as well as her abstract work specifically created for the artist.
Her approach of contextualizations and previous pieces reflect her upbringing in a bicultural family in the multi-ethnic Bay Area in the 70s and 80s, particularly with Mexican-American immigrants and their inner-city communities.  Her visuals emphasize the reality of change, travel, the actions that create our daily lives, all the while honoring ‘home’ – a safe place where everyone deserves to exist. More

Since 2005, Thollem has played over 2,000 concerts throughout N. America and Europe as a soloist and in collaboration with other musicians, dancers and filmmakers. In that time span, as leader or co-leader, Thollem has released more than a 100 albums on 25 different vanguard labels to international critical acclaim. A brief cross section of his many recent collaborators include Pauline Oliveros, Nels Cline, William Parker, Amy Denio, Rob Mazurek, Mike Watt, Martha Colburn, Hafez Modirzadeh and the Sicilian Improvisers Orchestra.

Thollem’s on-going collaboration with visual artist ACVilla has resulted in many different projects, primarily documentaries and interviews/profiles of artists and art communities along their peripatetic travels.​