Exray's Vessel XII

Last month, a strange email landed in my inbox. It was from Jon Bernson, musician, artist, playwright who is “resident sound designer” for the Tides Theater, and founder of the record label Howell’s Transmitter.

As you can tell, Bernson is a multifaceted dude, but this email was peculiar even for him—by which I mean full of links and what seemed like “information” yet completely cryptic at the same time. “Welcome to Vessel XII” was the subject line and there was a link to download a new EP from Exray’s, Jon’s lo-fi electro-pop band that also features Michael Falsetto-Mapp as beatsmith and Jason Kick as keyboardist. But the EP was called The Dome, not Vessel XII.

Here’s the email:

You’ve been selected to receive a Vessel XII email from the people of Exray’s.

Please review the options below and then make your choices in a timely manner:

1. Watch the Vessel XII video, which is now visible (thanks to the Freedom of Information Act).

2. Download The_Dome, a free EP of songs, sounds, and scenarios.

3. Purchase one of twelve physical copies of The_Dome.

4. Familiarize your staff with the de Young museum, where Vessel XII will be featured in April of 2015.

If you feel that you have received this message in error, please contact our department immediately.

Thanks for your attention to this matter,


So what the hell is Vessel XII? And what does the de Young Museum have to do with it?

I watched the video, which turns out to be of a “press conference” of sorts:

That explained it a bit, but I came away from the video with even more questions. So I reached out to Bernson to find out just what this Vessel XII thing is all about, how Exray’s new EP fits into it, and what he has planned for his artist’s residency at the de Young in April 2015.

The Bay Bridged: First off, is Vessel XII real?

Jon Bernson: That’s a great question, but I can’t answer it with any degree of certainty. I used to think that it was just a conspiracy theory, but now I’m unsure. One of the ideas behind the residency is to present the known evidence and let the public decide for themselves.

TBB: How did you learn about it?

JB: It was first introduced to me by Astrid Bly at a Signal Intrusion lecture. She was the only other person who wasn’t from the military, or a government agency. We got to talking and she mentioned her Vessel XII research, and the correlated series of international broadcasts.

TBB: What do you find so interesting about it?

JB: I’ve always been interested in unexplained phenomena, especially ones that have an aesthetic element to them, like the Roman Dodecahedrons, Nazca Lines, or the Kryptos Sculpture. XII has elements of all of these, so it didn’t take me long to become obsessed. Also, I’m really interested in how others react – how concerned we are with knowing what is true and what is not – it makes us uncomfortable to face the fact that we don’t know very much about life, the universe or even ourselves.

TBB: You’re the de Young Museum Artist-in-Residence for April 2015. What does that mean exactly, and how did you decide to get Exray’s involved with it?

JB: The de Young is really supportive in a variety of ways, but what’s most exciting to me is that they provide you with a large gallery, which is open to the public. I will work there during museum hours for the month of April. Throughout that time, the space will be used to explore and highlight the Vessel XII phenomena, which is a project that Michael Falsetto-Mapp (from Exray’s) and I have been developing for a few years. Plus, all the new Exray’s music is based on XII, so for many reasons, it was a natural choice.

TBB: What’s the plan for the de Young exhibit? Will Astrid Bly be present? Will others be involved?

JB: Definitely. Astrid and other researchers will share their theories. Jennifer Welch and Tides Theatre will be providing reenactments of key XII events, sculptor Andy Diaz Hope will be contributing, as will Seth Wiley, a filmmaker.

TBB: How will sound be incorporated into the exhibit? Will Exray’s be making a live appearance?

JB: For reasons that are explained in the video, sound is central to this project. The gallery will be filled with audio all month, both live and pre-recorded. Exray’s (which includes Jason Kick, Michael Falsetto-Mapp and myself) will be performing at scheduled and unexpected moments throughout.

TBB: According to the press release, it sounds like there will be some multimedia going down too?

JB: The video screens in the space will be put to good use, as will the walls and perhaps even the floor. I don’t want to make specific campaign promises because plans shift every week, but this will be a multi-genre, multi-sensory experience, created by people who have no desire to build another IMAX theater.

TBB: How does the new EP by Exray’s tie into it all?

JB: ‘The Dome’ is a sampler that has a few new songs, an excerpt from one of the broadcasts and some narration from Vessel XII’s log book. You can expect three albums to be released over the next year. This EP is a preview, which is why it’s free. Download it here my friends.

TBB: Do you plan to take the Exray’s material on the road or otherwise perform it in venues other than the de Young? If so, will those performances include any of the components of the residency?

JB: Yes on all accounts. The truth of the matter is that the de Young residency is the beginning of this project’s life. The performances and installations will change and evolve throughout the month. After that, they will move on to new venues, theaters and galleries, but who knows what they will look like? Think of them as unknown phenomena that their creators will not pretend to predict.