Interview Without Questions
Often, interview questions unduly influence the way in which one considers an interviewee’s response. By framing the responses with silence, a greater interpretive space is left open.
Conducted over Skype, September 2012
The Musical Condition of Reasonable Conspiracy
The Musical Condition of Reasonable Conspiracy is a discussion-performance from the “discussion in a room” series I’ve been developing since 2011. My phone interview with the Australian composer Chris Mann discussing ‘composer’s conspiracy’ is transcribed into a script and reenacted by two performers while a group of Rome-based composers intervene throughout the conversation. Here, “discussion” means something simultaneously organized and performed by re-enactors, speakers, listeners and beholders, all of whom become conspirators in a shared unfolding process.
Re-enactors: Michael Fitzpatrick, Gaby Ford (The English Theatre of Rome)
Interlocutors: Fabio Cifariello Ciardi, Daniele Del Monaco, Matteo Nasini & Fabio Rizzi
• Chris Mann, composer and performer. “Language is the mechanism whereby you understand what I’m thinking better than I do (where i is defined by those changes for which i is required)”. He is currently based in New York City.
Meseo Pietro Canonica, Rome, Italy
24 May 2012
Privation F Dec Release
Iteration · December 8–10, 2012 · Philadelphia
Counter-variation · Strict partial order · Samples · Apartment · Two rooms subdivided into four sections, connected by another · Two to four doorways · Peavey bass amp · Water · Vans
Outline/blurb assigned numbered coordinates · Comments referencing room sections, objects occasioned, faulty time coding: https://soundcloud.com/lateral-addition/abd/s-3B10u · Lament metanalysis
Nonrandomized domestic recordings: four linear tracks, seven breaks · Contingent irregularities — exception: three guests arrive · Additive objects and/or surfaces substitute, account for one another’s duration — obfuscatory spatial treatments · Per lack of attention, nonproportional proximity the rooms the podcast · Admeasure · Aural minimalism in lieu of fiction · A man hissed from behind the door · Terminology · Regressive link · Discourse: “just me walking around” inference — preemptive, unsystematized save f trials of these spaces, their interchangeability, section lengths “two arbitrary silences, facilitating sound for rec,” imposing experiences, rites, approaches · Walking to and away from · Inability to construe systematization (e.g. weather) as voiding aesthetic games, I sunk my head only a little out of disappointment · Amount
The guests annex media · Andy Martrich : Iona (BlazeVox, 2012), Once : “The Empty Deck” (N/A, 1981), Trisha Low : Purge (Troll Thread, 2012) · Discretionary approaches of interaction and abandonment — compulsive wandering, browsing, setting down of
Attempts 40 seconds 8:00-13:00 · 50 seconds 22:00-25:00 · Bonus two more eclipsed segments
The Trajectory Toward Which All Other Trajectories Converge
“To understand the trajectories of the stars through a galaxy, Michel Hénon computed the intersections of an orbit with a plane. The resulting patterns depended on the system’s total energy. The points from a stable orbit gradually produced a continuous, connected curve. Other energy levels, however, produced complicated mixtures of stability and chaos, represented by regions of scattered points. […]
The nested detail, lines within lines, can be seen in final form in a series of pictures with progressively greater magnification. But the eerie effect of the strange attractor can be appreciated another way when the shape emerges in time, point by point. It appears like a ghost out of the mist. New points scatter so randomly across the screen that it seems incredible that any structure is there, let alone a structure so intricate and fine. Any two consecutive points are arbitrarily far apart, just like any two points initially nearby in a turbulent flow. Given any number of points, it is impossible to guess where the next will appear—except, of course, that it will be somewhere on the attractor.
The points wander so randomly, the pattern appears so ethereally, that it is hard to remember that the shape is an attractor. It is not just any trajectory of a dynamical system. It is the trajectory toward which all other trajectories converge. That is why the choice of starting conditions does not matter. As long as the starting point lies somewhere near the attractor, the next few points will converge to the attractor with great rapidity.”
From Chaos: Making A New Science by James Gleick (pgs. 148-150)
The track is a collection of études whose content is entirely derived from sonification of the Hénon Map and a sound file of the Chaos: Making A New Science AAX format audiobook interpreted as raw audio data.
Realized in real time without any human interference, each étude is the diffusion of a single variation of a compact patch coded by Fraser & Rosenberg in Supercollider in which the chaotic sonifications modulate various parameters regulating the playback of the raw data sound file. The études were sequenced in Audacity, each separated by a period of silence. All software utilized in the piece is free and open source.
– RER & IMF
Field recordings, MP3 compression
Recordings often ask you to listen out-of-body by immersing yourself in the stereo image that the medium is reproducing. As if music were a window whose objects you could only perceive by imagining yourself on the other side.
Immersion Loop asks you to stay where you are, to view the surface of the window and feel its effects in your space. The music is immersed, not the listener. Go about your business as though this sound is equal to all others: chatter, wind, traffic, footsteps, radios, appliance noise, etc.
Audio from Whistling while walking through Charamarende Castle, 2009 and On the Moods of Sound (1 and 2), 2010
Sound is contingent on material yet it has no material component of its own. In some of your recent work, you focus on the material that shapes acoustic environments (such as the wood in Tonewood Hills and the awning in Eve). By emphasizing the physical reality of sound, the non-ethereal, material aspect of aural perception is accentuated. It is my belief that part of what distinguishes the culture surrounding sound practices from the wider field of visual culture is the tendency to look inward and deal with the formal aspects of sound while neglecting the outward, external elements that also inform sonic experience. I would be interested in you addressing this particular concern within your work.
Sound has no obvious materiality but it does still have materiality.
As with the media of light, one of the unique and fascinating characteristics of sound is that it can be present and absent simultaneously.
I am very interested in the relationship between the various elements that shape a situation, a space, an experience. You might say that light makes it possible to see walls or that walls enable one to experience and catch light. With sound resonating in a room, a room’s tone is created by distances, material, heights of ceilings and the thickness of walls.
A point I find interesting in Steen Eiler Rasmussen’s text Hearing Architecture is that buildings are built to make certain ways of singing or talking possible or impossible and that certain ways of singing are developed for specific buildings. This relationship between sound and architecture, in particular, has been crucial for me.
The relationship is also something I am currently investigating as part of a work/study in South India. In several of the temples here, there are pillars constructed specifically to create a unique room tone. These are referred to as musical pillars. In one particular temple, two pillars were removed by the British at some point in history. I am interested in somehow imagining and re-creating the tones that the two missing pillars may have created.
From a conceptual point of view, the project relates to a series of soundboards made of resonating tonewood that I have made. The soundboards do not produce their own sound. They exist as suggestions for alternative non-standardized resonances (see Three Non-standardized Resonances). The space between what can be heard, what can be audibly remembered and audibly imagined is central to my practice. And here the materiality and form of the objects become objects in their own right but also abstract tools with which to begin the thought process into the remembered and the imagined.
in terms of editing, mix of the track
Me: I just listened through again
and was wondering about the order
of the question sets
Me: like what if we move the first question set to after the talking set?
Me: it’s hard to say though if that would make any difference
as it stands it’s not too bad
it’s just really austere in the beginning
and a little silly at the end
Me: though the pink noise helps
actually quite a bit
after the describing food section
EL: its a cleanser
Me: totally a palate cleanser
EL: I’ve been working with pink noise
natural comb filters
I’m open to changing the order
I think it might be better that way because
the call and response process
is sort of like q and a
not q and q
so if we rearrange it
it might make it clearer as just qs
Me: the first three sections
are pretty pat
as in they make a lot of sense as a series of responses
Me: what if we start with sine tone?
then Mexico, your click track, pink noise and dog howl?
I can do that
Me: or at least give it a try
EL: the one mix thought I had
I’m into rearranging it
I think describing food sounds a bit bassy or loud or something
I might just bring it down a bit
Me: it’s a super shitty recording
done through a crap mic in front of a speaker
EL: I usually dont mess with the mix too much on LA cause I want it to be as it is
Me: either clean it up or make it messier
EL: ok I might just leave it then
EL: I think this is all about
Me: there’s some mic feedback that happens
that bassy part
EL: not changing things to make them more palatable
Me: no and my sort of thing is lo-fidelity
and shit recording
Me: partially because I don’t have the right equipment
EL: ok I’ll leave it
Me: and partially because all these artifacts are becoming extinct
and that’s interesting to me
EL: it’s all just diffusing into the ether
Me: so when I was listening again today
it sounded a bit less cynical
though I still wonder if it’s opening anything up
or is it just sort of lazy? I felt lazy on my part
Me: though I did spend some time thinking about how to pose a question in sound
EL: like our idea of “question” was too open ended?
EL: it’s a perspective, right?
Me: and we didn’t get a chance to really talk midstream about what was happening once we started passing sound back and forth
well if you think about an actual interview
its a real time, intuitive activity
EL: so maybe you felt lazy
because you were thinking
“if this is a piece of work
this is lazy work”
Me: but if this is an interview
it’s probably more natural, less lazy
EL: going with whatever sound you think is appropriate
Me: I definitely think that back and forth interviews over the internet make it difficult to get the true face to face quality
because everyone spends so much time on their questions and answers
so part of me did want to be quick about things
EL: kind of like how everything is photoshopped
interviews are cleaned up
but I think the perspective point is important
because as long as you think of each section as a question
Me: is it worth it to share what kinds of questions we felt we were asking with the sounds?
EL: you will process the interview differently than if you experience it as a work
if you think the thinking behind them is interesting
I guess my thinking was kind of obtuse
Me: I mean I definitely took each track as a question
EL: more macro
Me: and started from there
sort of intuiting what was being asked
EL: I think it has interesting aesthetic implications though
Me: how so?
like the aesthetics of an interview
but stripping that format of its normal traits
and filling it with material that is more commonly considered from an aesthetic perspective or attitude
telling a public this is an interview and not a work
Me: what are the aesthetics of an interview ?
EL: trying to struggle with how to approach the sounds
well I think all aesthetics is perspective
anything is art right?
its just how you approach it
but some things are more well defined than others
you go to a museum
or listen to a recording
it’s easier to say
this is art or this is music
when you listen to an interview
you probably focus more on the content
and think less about the particulars of the format
Me: my thought was what does it mean to pour different content into established forms
the form of the interview for instance
that A to B to C to D and so forth
or even the use of an interview inside an interview
is our interview more about the form of interview?
EL: yeah maybe its less about questions and answers
more about this kind of conversation format
Me: the abstraction of asking a question in sound is probably too broad
but the idea of making an interview in sound … hmmm..
EL: I think its pretty clear that
we were having a conversation
Me: yea.. I think so
Me: is that less interesting
just a sonic conversation?
does that open anything up?
EL: we can just call it Interview
Me: I thought about the questions that these sounds may have raised
EL: yeah I think
it’s more natural to think of them as questions than answers
cause answers are closed
Me: that’s an important distinction right.. is this an interview, a discussion, a debate?
EL: its too serial to be any of those
think about the word interview
its a view of the inside
Me: it’s also really linear
which is more interview like
EL: we approached it that way
question is harder
I mean we can still think of the material as questions
but it might be less significant to explain that
Me: well supposing that it’s difficult to say who was asking the question and who was providing the answer
sonically it doesn’t seem so completely certain
in fact the most Answer Like sound seems to be the first one in a way
it’s a sound that seems like a statement to me
Me: perhaps that’s on account of my relationship to the sample
Me: which I’ve used in so many different performances now
that is has a certain value that’s been assigned to it
Me: the other sounds are all open for me
and mostly used here for the first time
EL: but it doesnt necessarily answer any of the other questions
in this context it works as a question
Me: I love when this guy talks about how he loves lyricism
Me: and cites Eminem as a favorite
EL: I thought it was perfect
do you notice he hardly takes a moment
he just reads off questions one after the other
he’s playing COD while he’s doing this btw
Me: he’s just scrolling through this screen
I thought about what it means to “play” something
when I listened to this
EL: “some really bad questions in here…”
Me: “no offense to those that sent them in” !
EL: I’m really happy
Me: shout out to MongolianGnome
Me: he’s very smooth
EL: whats your middle name
EL: you? Bonnie Bethel
Me: Bonnie Bethel Jones
Me: do you carry a pocket knife?
EL: such a fine start
Me: I’m wondering about the impetus behind my response/question to this…
the describing food
Me: I think my response was snarky
EL: what is describing food from?
Me: english language lessons
EL: thats what i thought
Me: for Koreans
who probably dominate COD anyways
EL: I was thinking if I could go back and tweak what I did
my first question
after your sample
I would take out the last two sections
and just leave it silent
the first beating motif
Me: you could do that if you wanted
Me: the Mexico into that first section is musically awesome
Me: hard not to hear it that way
EL: we are changning it anyway
EL: and I like how it kicks off
we are photoshopping right now
EL: I dont want to be doing this from an aesthetic place
but the choices i made
EL: originally were kinda aesthetic
Me: yea… I think my first question was aesthetic
but then again
I do have a strong attachment to that sample
EL: its good
its the starting point
we needed to start somewhere
Me: my other choices were made as quickly as possible
EL: what are we deciding on describing food
leave it be?
Me: I think I wanted to put it out there that the voice is an instrument
designed to convey meaning
but meaning isn’t really singular
so to a native speaker
the way this guy describes food is a little weird
EL: he thinks it’s all tasty
Me: that’s weird
EL: do you know this guy
EL: we should tour with him
Me: oily is for like skin and hair
and hot oil wrestling
EL: and oilies
Me: I’m not sure I’ve ever had a conversation that felt completely open
at each turn
but maybe I’ve made music that had aspects of that
Me: entire areas unresolved
EL: i think thats a definition of a good musical experience
Me: what about the hounds do you think?
we had a duo
EL: I thought it was you at first
EL: thats a live duo?
Me: I guess I have been thinking more about nature and electronics
Me: perhaps this is on account of the cicadas
Me: they were up here in New York and I caught just the tail end of them
the 17 year guys
EL: aged and ripe
I’m thinking this piece
will be good
Me: not a piece..an interview
Me: maybe we should do a COD style
Me: we can set something up after you put out the edition
and open it to the public to live QA us
not that anyone would.. haha
EL: you never know
EL: what are we calling this?
Me: .. was trying to think about that
Could just be the usual.. Interview with Bonnie Jones & Ricky Laska
Me: I sort of love the idea
of you having a sort of regular thing
where you do some kind of interview
that tweaks the interview problem
of talking about music with musicians
Me: interviews and trying to tell someone about musical ideas in words
Untitled, 2013 Critique
This recording was produced during a sculpture critique with Irina Arnaut and David Barr.
Nuvole Detail Prototype with Holiday Vignettes
Please read the following instructions before playback:
The audio above is not the work but a means to facilitate the dynamic listening which you must perform.
Throughout playback you must adjust the volume of your playback system in relation to the constantly shifting loudness of the audio track.
The object of continual volume adjustment is to maintain as constant a resulting perceived volume as possible, despite continual changes of volume built into the track. Performance requires constant attention to the track’s loudness and simultaneous compensation in relation to its changes:
– if the track gets louder, you must turn down playback volume;
– if the track gets quieter, you must turn up playback volume.
By such constant compensation, perceived volume should remain as static as possible.
There are two suggested base playback levels and options for performance:
1) Throughout performance, audio should be kept at the threshold of audibility. This means that the volume level to maintain throughout should never exceed or be less than that volume level below which you could no longer apprehend an audio signal. This means that throughout performance, what you hear should be perpetually on the edge of “nothing”: as soon as you hear “something”, tend to turn it down; as soon as you can no longer hear “anything,” tend to turn it up.
2) Throughout performance, audio should be kept at the threshold of comprehensibility. The material of the audio track is spoken English text. This means that the volume level to maintain throughout should be the minimum level necessary to “follow” the semantic context of the text. This means that throughout performance, what you hear should be perpetually on the edge of clearly making out the content of the text, but no more: as soon as you clearly understand it, tend to turn it down; as soon as you can’t understand it, tend to turn it up.
In both cases, loudness changes in the track swiftly, slowly, and at every speed between; so too must your compensatory adjustments be.
– Audio begins only after 15 seconds.
– The audio track begins extremely quietly (ca. -50 dB). As such, your playback system should be turned up to its maximum setting to hear anything at all. From there, one can best proceed with either of the performance options.
– Before attempting performance, make note of the functioning of the volume controls of your playback system – whether in the form of a knob, slider, button on your keyboard or remote control, or whichever virtual control you might have on your computer or device screen. You must be able to dynamically adjust volume during playback.
– Before attempting performance, you might determine and accustom yourself to the playback level you have chosen for performance (1 or 2) so that you can better track that level during performance.
– If during playback at maximum volume your system cannot fulfill the audible requirements for performance options 1 or 2, you might consider an alternative playback system or playback via headphones.
– If during playback your system is too loud, you will need to perform the entire listening in the lower portion of your possible volume spectrum. If your volume controls do not offer adequate dynamic range in the quieter register, you might then consider an alternative playback system or playback via headphones.
– “Successful” performance is unlikely on your first try. Performance can and should be “rehearsed.” Advanced performance might also enter into loudness compensation of noisier or more dynamic playback environments.
The text of the audio track, a condensed version of Bill Dietz’s “Holiday Vignettes” (2013), was read by Tami Birch, Chris Dietz, and the author on January 10th, 2014 in Bisbee, Arizona.
A live study for “Nuvole Detail” was presented on December 21st, 2013 at Exploded View Gallery in Tucson, Arizona.
A “Nuvole Detail” Tutorial Diversions Profiling Software, with which any audio source material can serve as the basis for listening performance, will be released later in 2014.
Aphorisms Interrupted by Anecdotal Sound
1 – An aphorism interrupted by some anecdotal wood
2 – An aphorism interrupted by some anecdotal wood
3 – An aphorism interrupted by some anecdotal wood
4 – An aphorism interrupted by some anecdotal wool
5 – An aphorism interrupted by some anecdotal oven
6 – An aphorism interrupted by some anecdotal wool
7 – An aphorism interrupted by some anecdotal wood
Uneven Developments is conceived as two independent monophonic compositions of synthetic sounds to be played simultaneously.
Diverse sonic events with varying duration and volume appear and behave independently on each channel. While the palette of sounds may be quite similar on both channels due to the uniform method of sound generation that is based on and inspired by analog modules, the aim of this piece is to reconsider the dominant consensus regarding the notion of stereo sound. Therefore, a central and fixed position for listening is not required and “uneven” or “unusual” speaker arrangements are strongly encouraged.
The piece is born out of two sound collages made with digitally generated sounds from Supercollider and includes processed recordings realized at the BEA5 analog studio of The Institute of Sonology in The Hague, 2013.
Listening in/to the Liminal
PDF with Text and Translations
Contributions from (in the order in which they occur):
Mark So/Eileen Myles
Johnny Chang (with Dina Khouri)
Jordan Topiel Paul
Base Mutant was recorded to tape in the basement at 16th and Moore, between January and April of 2014. I made around six versions, trying out different BPMs and filters, but this one sounded best. Like the other tracks, this one was written on a Yamaha PF-500 and a MC-909. On the 909, I primarily used the synth voices “SonicVampire” and “Dial,” both of which were programmed by long-time Roland Engineer Nick Tidy. Aside from doing sound design for Roland— including 909 as well as 303 voices— Tidy composed soundtracks for a number of shareware games, most notably “Starscape.” Released in 2004, Starscape took the classic “Asteroids” 2D shooter as its model. Most of the play bears close resemblance to the original, substituting hollow outlines for relatively detailed spaceships and lasers. The most significant addition to the game, though, is the elaborate storyline, which unfolds in a series of vignettes that appear after each boss is destroyed. Tidy’s soundtrack, frantic and densely layered with bells, hits all the expected spots of 90s UK garage and techno. It seems to fit perfectly with the mundane text that scrolls along at the bottom of the screen. In the modern “Asteroids,” before the protagonist can blast away rock formations, they first need to secure permission from personnel at Research and Development: A screen appears where a hoary scientist in a white lab coat asks you to fill out a form concerning details of the planned itinerary. Garage techno blasts away as he apologizes for delays: “Once we have enough staff, everything will go a lot quicker. ” Another notable dynamic introduced by “Starscape” is the space base, which is destroyed in slow suspense throughout the game. While the original “Asteroids” encouraged the user to protect an invisible earth concept, this version introduced a visible base, called the “Aegis,” that mutates with every error. Each time the base suffers, Tidy’s soundtrack increases in speed and includes more snare drums. Upon failure, “Buum Bass” throbs as the following message scrolls: “You are lost in the icy vacuum of space.”
Frounce was recorded to tape in the basement at 16th and Moore, between January and April 2014. It uses one of two “D-Beam” controllers located at the front of the 909 unit. D- Beam functions like a theremin but uses infrared rather than radio waves. Generally they make an extended wheezing sound, like air being released from a balloon, with loudness varying by proximity. Otherwise they can be set in correlation with a given sample, in this case the “QuakyPSqr” on the Yamaha PF-500. Introduced in 2000, the D-Beam was not a Roland product but was licensed by the now defunct “Interactive Light Inc.” Strict copyright prohibits the distribution of any stored D-Beam patterns.
Trust One (Blowout): “He looks like John Travolta but with curly blond hair.”(UndrWater909 120:Clubbin 096:RugBurn KrasheadSaws HipHop Drums 1 HipHop Drums 2 HipHop Drums 3 HipHop Drums 4 Human Beat 1 JAck Hammer G-Funk Voice Break It On Check It Out I Like That Thats Tight Dolphin Lo Applause Pa! Chiki! Jungle Crash Swag Rim Planet Clap Regular Ride RaggaTight SD Jive Kick Jngl Tiny SD Regular OHH We’r d’ROBOZ Hi? Kick Da Lion Duel Ethno Eeh Formant Female Oos .T Nite Bass KingApprochz FnkDittyMute Splatter Criminal JunoWotImean ArtifFrog Bustranza BooSoloBoo Lonely Heart Bottle Clown) (The ● symbol alerts the user to things that must be carried out. The specific thing that must be done is indicated by the design contained within the circle. Do not excessively bend or otherwise damage the cord, place heavy objects on it, or place it in a position where anyone could walk on, trip over, or roll anything over it. Do not put burning items, such as candles, on the unit. Do not defeat the safety purpose of the polarized or grounding-type plug. Special Rhythm Sets are rhythm sets that can be used only if the SRX- 05 “Supreme Dance” wave expansion board is installed in the MC-909).
GRIP was recorded to laptop in the bedroom at 16th and Moore, in December of 2012. The opening sample (“In the grip of some force that I cannot explain”) comes from a horror movie arbitrarily selected from Netflix, title unknown. A remix of GRIP is forthcoming from a Philadelphia-based sound artist. He takes exercpts of movie soundtracks and collages them together in Virtual DJ (two deck skin) to a disorienting effect. On listening to GRIP, he commented that the central sample sounded a bit like a sink drain. When discussing his musical process, he uses a lot of fishing analogies: “I catch samples.” Ideal sound production, he says, is an iPhone placed in a glass cup, playing a track from YouTube. Like vinyl, a YouTube file inevitably ends and forces you to consider the next selection.
Trust Two was recorded to tape in the living room at 16th and Moore, between July and August of 2014. Since then three vocalists have proposed making additions to the track. The first came by and went straight to the basement, jerking and wheezing, crying out and smacking the lips etc., only to find that the tape had run out. The second vocalist said “slow it down for me.” I did as he requested, but he wasn’t satisfied. “Even slower.” I did so and haven’t heard back yet. I asked a third vocalist, my roommate at the time, who expressed interest but stressed that she only sang opera. Hitting C repeatedly on the Yamaha she sang half of an aria by Lorca. Her two dusty cats to circle around her with their stomachs nearly dragging on the ground.
Music for The Memphis Group
Please click here to listen with Dan Letson’s visuals.
Music for The Memphis Group was written in late 2013, inspired by the Milan design collective of the same name. The work produced by the association of international artists – active between the years 1981 and 1987 – playfully engaged in hypothetical and pragmatic applications (furniture, apparel, sculpture, kitchenware) for emerging global resources, both synthetic and organic, rare and commonplace.
The loud colors, plastic laminate, and asymmetrical patterning was intended in part as a rejection of dominant Modernist aesthetic ideals of the time – ideals that still hold over today in contemporary attitudes concerning clean, “essentialist” design. The Memphis Group’s willful, incongruous eclecticism filtered into a catalog of gleeful chimera, where the space-aged ornamentation of American Googie architecture fused with minimalist post-industrial Japanese practices, and where quick-witted Italian commercial design ran rampant alongside crude approximations of tribal iconography.
Despite their polymorphous approach, I could not find clear-cut examples of musical pieces sanctioned by Memphis. Scattered bits of influence seemed to be apparent – the contemporaneous work of Hosono Haroumi, Mark Mothersbaugh’s Muzik for Insomniaks, and Shimizu Yasuaki’s Music for Commercials served as principal inspiration for how to translate these aesthetic ideas.
Since the Memphis Group’s productivity emerged alongside of General MIDI and Fairlight technology, I collected large sound libraries of correlated materials and peppered them with 1950s exotica records. I made this choice to highlight the shared, reckless sense of global appropriation. Compositionally, I used contrasting time and key signatures as well as abrupt tonal shifts to mirror Memphis’s commitment to the asymmetrical. Above all, my priority was to preserve the humor and accessible heterogeneity of the original work.
Dan Letson is responsible for the visual element. His involvement was something that I had hoped for, even before the piece was finished, as his insight into the Memphis Group’s practice was absolutely integral to finishing the work. In this presentation, each track is coupled with an algorithmically-generated pattern constrained by a set of parameters that reflect certain compositional elements. Each viewing generates a unique arrangement.
I’d also like to thank Andrew Shamash for repeated listening and Eric Laska for corralling this effort and sharing it. I hope you enjoy it.
This Guy Put 39 Different Songs Onto One CD And It Sounds Amazingly Awesome
While I still buy records and tapes, increasingly for me, the time I spend Listening To Music has become a part of the more general act of Media Consumption, which is largely grouped under the heading Time Spent on the Computer. There is a permissiveness to mixing content in the new culture of sitting on your couch with your laptop, making your own entertainment. The flatness of more access means we listen to more disjointed content all the time, and has created a feeling of normalcy around collage. “Everyone is a DJ.”
A rising tide lifts all boats, and the flattening effect we feel around instant digital access has raised the volume of consumption while simultaneously making each audio delivery channel less special and each act of listening more interstitial. I’m trying to embrace music as just another type of audio, flowing seamlessly with audio from the Internet, Radio, TV, Social Media, and every other formerly autonomous media that has been folded into a computer and now comes out of laptop speakers. I’m trying to use my mixes and radio shows to reflect on this change in my listening and exploration habits in the world of audio.
This centralization of listening has made me much more keenly aware of where and how I listen to music or audio. If digital provides All Access to Everything All the Time With No Forgetting, and if all genres are equal in the Long Tail, then to me, the new challenge is to curate or corral content from different listening scenarios. The patter and crowd noise of live sports broadcasts that come out of my TV. The band pass filter of AM talk radio in the car. The slowly evolving house music on long drives. The podcast for doing dishes vs. the other podcast for woodworking. The freedom of the tinny bluetooth speaker vs. the tether of the high quality stereo ⅛” plug. Physical formats continue to intrigue me, too. Each unit entombs it’s own content, era, sound, and culture as it recedes into obsolescence, and it’s need for specific playback technology dictates a setting, a set of constraints for listening. I have another project where I record live radio on the fly, trying to capture some of the magic of a seemingly now outdated, non-personalized, live media delivery format.
Doing freeform radio shows have allowed me the flexibility of trying to capture and express a curated version of the Universal Listening, the sound of Media Consumption Today. While I appreciate and gather content from genre-specific and format-specific DJs, I’m too interested in the avant garde, and the excitement of grasping at the contemporary to fully commit to nostalgia in my own DJing. I want to make work that treats the sound of an episode of True Blood with the same reverence as all those Parliament albums I’m supposed to know. And with this mix for Lateral Addition I feel I took a step in that direction. I’m trying to let go of some of the “complete-ism” that drives both dedicated vinyl collectors and Spotify evangelists, because to save everything is not to know everything. It’s natural for content to recede past the horizon of our memory and to be renewed again through rediscovery.
I moved to Santa Cruz about a year ago. As a newbie, I have spent a good deal of time alone, as I have only a small social circle, and not a lot of work that gets me out of the house. I have turned to radio, podcasts, and other media as a way to fill the air with voices, to feel less alone.
This mix reflects that through a myriad of voices. It includes talking cowboys, surfers, computers, hippies, stoney prank caller types, TV teens, and awkward real life teens in their bedrooms. There’s an eight year old pretending to be Bill Clinton, DMX revealing that he sounds exactly the same in real life as on his records, mixtape DJs yelling, Miami drive-time radio DJs yelling, and one particular Miami drive time and mixtape DJ yelling about McDonalds. Back in the 70s and 80s Jerry and Cronos chatted with the crowd at their live shows, a Village Voice writer cut a record while riding real high on the fumes of the 80s downtown crossover scene in New York, while Travolta the townie scumbag kid danced in Bay Ridge. We’ve got more kids singing in Spanish, plus their Peruvian hype man, autotune, comedians who voice cartoons, video game troll dudes, and a Chicago commuter who hears jazz in the parking garage. About ten years ago for Halloween I wore a long shroud that I made out of cassettes and fishing line over a sort of b-boy jumpsuit. I bought those tapes off Craigslist, and digitized two of the home recorded gems for this mix.
Artist – Title (Album, where applicable)
Stardrive – Stardrive (Intergalactic Trot)
Bill Cobham / George Duke Band – Almustapha the Beloved (live)
Tuning ‘77 – https://archive.org/details/gd1977-12-31_505
An American Hippie in Israel trailer – http://youtu.be/Qry7XccmQKo
T. Texas Tyler – Deck of Cards
Longmont Potion Castle
Jimmy Riddle Gives an Eefin’ Lesson – http://blog.wfmu.org/freeform/2009/03/eef-beat-manifesto.html
Hearn Gadbois – GAHT MAYH MOH8JOH3 WOYKIHN (Tellus #12)
Amazing Amar – Talking About My Baby
Gary Wilson – 6.4 = Makeout (O.G. 1976 Version) (Mary Had Brown Hair)
MASON HO’S DREAM WAVE (edit) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMkfh4eX9v0 (see also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-5F_7DwPpo)
Door Does Impression of Miles Davis – http://youtu.be/wwOipTXvNNo
DMX Rides Orlando Sling shot !!!HILARIOUS!!! – http://youtu.be/-tZ3-a7lCAU
Three 6 Mafia – Twist It, Hit It, Light It (Instrumental)
DMX – Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer – http://youtu.be/TPXWZxtDooY
Wendy Sulca – La Tetita
Donny Matsler – 2001 (DONNY MATSLER at his… Lowry Organ) – http://waxidermy.com/donny-matsler-at-his-lowrey-organ/
Migos – Adios (Cory B Intro) (Y.R.N. Young Rich Niggas mixtape)
Jon Benjamin Voices Hal in 2001- A Space Odyssey – Late Night Basement – http://youtu.be/G0cqV3h-aDA
Saturday Night Fever
Venom – Live At City Gardens, NJ. CLASSIC. – http://youtu.be/4TztqYaemt0
Los Mier – Santa Claus Le Di Un Beso a Mama
Karol y Su Amor Gitano – Llorando Se Fue
Los Kjarkas – Llorando Se Fue
Mannie Fresh Lecture Redbull Music Academy 2011 – http://vimeo.com/32362836
Strafe – Set It Off (Instrumental)
GTA Guitar Bro – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jQkxsEbnS4
Raymond Scott – Don’t Beat Your Wife Every Night / Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (Manhattan Research Inc.)
Arthur Russell – The Platform on the Ocean (Calling out of Context)
Verticle Lines – Beach Boy
Guitar Red – Fantasy (Hard Times)
Suicide – Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne (Second Album)
WPOW Miami Power 96 Don Cox 1994 California Aircheck Video – http://youtu.be/WfrATpB2UCQ
DJ Khaled McDonalds ads (edit)
Longmont Potion Castle
Ryan Winter – Bill Clinton Speech / If I Could Give A Gift To The World (Ryan Winter, Age 8 ½, 3rd Grade, 11/93 – 12/93 cassette)
Franklin – Sometimes (Franklin’s Demo cassette)
20th Century Fox Flute Version | HQ – http://youtu.be/IsdCGQbbd8k
Strange Cloak Sub-Flight Infinity
Audio Excerpts, Movements 1.5, 2
March 21, 2014, EMPAC, Troy, NY
The notion that underlies this piece is levitation, both literally and metaphorically. When composing I imagined the possibility of the sonic elements existing in a parallel dimension, the aural aspect holding matter suspended as if it were an apparition in an interstitial space. In the presentation of the work, a literal manifestation or demonstration of low-end frequency levitation takes place using hand-crafted subwoofers with materials hovering in the windows of the boxes. The piece evolved out of studies accompanied by drawings and texts as investigations of threshold states. It is comprised of three movements which, forming a tapestry structure, allude to the triadic process of Hermetic sublimation.
OPUS17ASLIMEVARIATION#4 is the fourth variation and first issuing of Roc Jiménez de Cisneros and Stephen Sharp’s re-interpretations of Hanne Darboven’s Opus 17a. The realisation remains true to the original composition save the occasional algorithmic hiccup on the DR-660.
Please click here for commemorative PDF.
Always a Floor
This audio comprises binaural and stereo recordings. As a result of the mix, it is best experienced when listened to on headphones.
The binaural audio is related to the research I conducted during my residency at EMPAC in Troy, New York in 2014. During two weeks in May 2014, I created different architectural configurations employing 16 moveable walls made out of materials with various acoustic properties. I placed many speakers around them to compose sounds that focused attention in different ways, an approach that reinforces sonic hierarchies.
In November 2014, I focused on one particular wall/speaker configuration and invited choreographer Jocelyn Tobias to wear binaural microphones and record while moving in the space. In February 2015, Eric Laska and I asked Jocelyn to listen to the binaural recordings while simultaneously verbalizing her experience of listening to them. Her verbalizations were recorded in stereo and added to the binaural mixes. Below are the 3 takes in order with notes on what was playing though the sound system during the binaural recordings.
take 1: noise (white noise played through all the speakers with equal power)
take 2: no audio on speakers (room tone)
take 3: inside/outside composition (field, voice and foley recordings)
This project is an attempt to process a sound experience through another language, in this case dance and words. In the EMPAC installation the walls and sound system are moveable, the audio interchangeable, our understanding of the space is in flux. The most stable thing in the room is now the performers/participants own body.
I am interested in how an individual, trained in movement, listens and to what extent I can guide their movement with sound. How attention moves between one thing and another. I believe it is in this in-between space where we are most vulnerable and open. How do we respond between our bodies and the sound, what feedback do we allow?
Please click here to watch Jocelyn Tobias recording at EMPAC.
Strategies of Non-Intention
The work of Dove Bradshaw bridges the delicate line between object and environmental dynamics. Much of her material exploration is grounded in John Cage’s use of chance as compositional methodology, emblematic in works that employ elements such as live doves or ammonium chloride, the stochastic properties over which she has no control. Time is an active agent in Bradshaw’s oeuvre, lending her an exit route away from artistic bias or intention.
In 1990 and 2014, Bradshaw curated two group shows at Sandra Gering Gallery in New York with works from the personal art collection of John Cage. The first of these shows had the title Imitating Nature in Her Manner of Operation and the latter Strategies of Non-Intention. The artists, consistent for both shows, were William Anastasi, Dove Bradshaw, John Cage, Tom Marioni, Robert Rauschenberg, and Mark Tobey.
In this informal interview, Bradshaw discusses the underlying conceptual thread running through both shows and her own artistic practice.
Recorded October 2014
Here, William Anastasi elaborates on his thinking behind the pioneering 1966 Dwan Gallery show Sound Objects, his relationship with John Cage, and the tautological nature of his work.
Recorded October 2014
I Can’t Stop This Feeling
Voice, drums, recordings here and there.
Composed July – August, 2015
I started this piece walking down by the Limmat on a cold, windy day. Whitecaps chopped the water and I was a bit out of breath from fighting the wind and trying to keep warm by moving at a brisk pace. Under the Hardbrücke the deep resonance there swallowed me up. A long rowboat chained to the concrete pilings of the bridge whipped to and fro in the strong current. I headed up the stairs to my studio.
Schulhaussingen happens twice a year at my kids’ school. I usually go and I also usually record this. I like the fact that all the parents are there to hear their kids sing. People in my neighborhood come from all over the world. It’s cool to see so many different nationalities, hear all the different languages. The kids sing these really goofy songs but it’s a nice vibe all the same. And afterward they all mingle in the entrance to the auditorium. Their laughter and shouts fill the space like a fierce storm. I like to disappear in those voices.
Most days I go to play the drums at a musicians collective not far from my house. I bring my cymbals, set up and start to play. Nothing in particular. Sometimes I have the Sony along and record whatever it is I’m playing. I guess I’m always recording something. The material just piles up. I like to go back and pick stuff randomly. It’s amazing sometimes what I’ve recorded. Maybe in that moment it just sounded OK, nothing special. But with time, wow, where did that come from? I don’t remember that!
I’m not sure when I started singing. I guess when I was a kid. And then in some bands later on. But those recordings never saw the light of day. And now a few years ago I started again. It’s not really something I practice at technically, like I did the drums. More just when I get a hankering to do it. It’s just a feeling. Sometimes I get the chance to do this in front of an audience, either alone or with others. I like sitting there, vulnerable. There’s nothing between me and the listener. No microphone. Just a guy sitting there on a chair making sounds with his mouth.
I’m not sure how this piece came together. I knew how I wanted to start it, down by the Limmat. And the end had to be this lullaby which I sang to nobody in particular. But the rest was just this hole. Finding that recording of the kids singing had to be one station between the beginning and end. And then too Alice learning to talk. I think she was two years old then. Now she talks non-stop, so it was funny hearing her wrestle with wildebeest and giraffe. Time flies, as they say. The title is taken from the lyrics to Hooked on a Feeling. I prefer the B.J. Thomas interpretation of this song to Blue Swede’s commercially more successful version.
Why did I put the drums in there? Hard to say. Maybe as a musical interlude?
The beginning is me reading a text I wrote about a man standing at an intersection in downtown Los Angeles, jingling coins in a tin cup. This happened around fifteen years ago. The city has long since cleaned up this part of town. They got coffee shops and cute restaurants there now, so I don’t think the man would be able to stand at that intersection anymore. Or, if he did, certainly not for as long as I saw him standing there. I sometimes wonder where that man is now.
Fidelity and the Work of Imagination
In Peter Ablinger’s work, the listener is often asked to cross the distance between sounds. These types of comparative actions fall into at least three categories. One of these categories is a comparison between two sound sources: a recording and a reproduction. The term Ablinger uses for these reproductions is “phonorealism.” Another type of comparison is between a sonic memory and the sound that is present. I’ll play two examples later that activate specifically musical memories through a process called “verticalization.”
We’ll start, though, with yet another type of distance that is to be traveled, this time in the sonic imagination, between a text and the sounds it suggests. In Weiss/Weisslich 11B, you hear one thing, but your mind’s ear is being directed to a different series of sounds. As Ablinger explains:
Since 1994 a series of scripts have been written for which I would sit for 40 minutes each and write down what I actually hear. I would love to think about this noise protocol as music: one imagines the sound which is actually read. The music arises in the head of each reader or listener. I think “real” music is not too different from that.
So the listener’s work is to imagine the sounds as they unfold in this script. There is no assistance here apart from the descriptions themselves. The speaker is to read the text without expression. Ablinger’s method of capturing a memory becomes the site for your own imagination, constructing these sounds internally as extensions of the sounds that are present in your memory. One of these texts has been translated from German to English. The sounds that were verbally transcribed took place over 40 minutes in October of 2001 on a terrace at the Villa Aurora, near Los Angeles. I’ll read part of it now.
[2:24-4:50 Weiss/Weisslich 11B, excerpt]
Moving on to phonorealism, I’ll play three examples from the second act of City Opera Graz. The first act is “an acoustic topography” of the city, 400 recordings distributed among 36 listening stations, to be heard through headphones. 21 of these recordings are used in the second act, which Ablinger calls “The Orchestra” and describes in this way:
the orchestra as Trojan Horse:
via phonography, procuring the city-recordings the highest possible podium;
orchestra and phonography;
like hand-colored photos;
givenness and handwriting;
the opposition of contingency and culture;
the opposition of continuum (noise, life) and grid (music, perception);
concert situation, collective hearing
This grid can also be understood as pixellation, the reduction of data to a resolution that can be reproduced. Here is one example from the second act, intermezzo 11, called “Record.”
[6:12-6:54 Intermezzo 11, “Record”]
Since the recording and the orchestral rendition of this record are played at the same time, the listener is invited to compare them. There is no question of which is which, but the distance between them becomes the listening space. The listener’s work is to assess the fidelity of the reproduction to the original—but the original is also a reproduction. Ablinger describes the steps in his practice of “phonorealism” in this way:
1) The first step is always an acoustic photograph (“phonograph”). This can be a recording of anything: speech, street noise, music.
2) Time and frequency of the chosen “phonograph” are dissolved into a grid of small “squares” whose format may, for example, be 1 second (time) to 1 second (interval).
3) The resulting grid is the score, which is then to be reproduced in different media: on traditional instruments, computer controlled piano, or in white noise.
Even a digital reproduction, whether audio or visual, can be distinguished from the actual thing it reproduces. When there is a hand-made component to a reproduction, the fineness of the detail and the types of techniques used are brought into question. In Tableau II of Act II, “Endless Cassette,” a message on an answering machine is played six times, and the orchestra also plays their version of the recording, at increasing degrees of resolution.
[8:45-10:57 Tableau II, “Endless-Cassette”]
The final example from this act of City Opera Graz is of a more sustained recording—the sound of passing traffic in a tunnel.
[11:08-12:14 Tableau V, “Plabutsch (Tunnel 2)”]
As I go back and listen to that recording, the removal of distance between the sound of traffic and the sound of an orchestra is causing me to imagine those two forces in the same space. It’s a terrifying image.
We’ll stay with the orchestra for the next set of pieces. Weiss/Weisslich 22 is a set of verticalizations of the complete symphonies of six composers. I won’t get into the details of how it is done—you can read more about that on Ablinger’s site—but each composer’s section lasts for 40 seconds, and then immediately switches to the next. I find myself listening most actively at those points of transition. How is my memory of all the Mozart symphonies I’ve heard different from my memory of all the Beethoven symphonies? Is that reflected in that transition? Yes, it is. Is it my imagination that it is reflected there, or can I point to specific qualities that are different, specific changes in the cumulative presentation of the work? My effort to do that is an act of speculation, and that act of speculation becomes my listening experience. I am tracing the distance between my memory of Mozart’s work and my memory of Beethoven’s work, and also between my memory of each composer’s work and this presentation of them. So here they are, in order: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler
[14:00-18:00 Weiss/Weisslich 22, 1995 version]
Ablinger offers this explanation about the set of pieces called IEAOV:
The basic operation for the IEAOV pieces is allways the “verticalization” or “condensation”: By condensation successive events are transformed into the simultaneity of a spectrum. A succession of sounds as an input (the “palette”) turns into a color of sound as an output.
The Prestudy for IEAOV is described as a “verticalization of all white piano keys,” that is played alongside a very slow upward pitch shift of that same verticalization. Here, there are two types of comparison that are possible. One is between the two verticalizations: the one that is static and the other that is in motion. How are these pitches playing against each other in their frozen and semi-frozen states? The other type of comparison is between your image of the sound of the piano and the actual sound of this piece. No sound is presented here other than the sound of the piano, but I find that it sounds like many other things.
[19:27-48:38 Prestudy for IEAOV]
– Jennie Gottschalk, August 24, 2015
On June 6th and 18th of 2015, I recorded the sounds Enrico produced from manipulating empty aluminum cans. Discouraged by the boomy sound of Enrico’s living room (let alone the noises coming from a few hyperactive neighbors) we decided to take the car out and go in search of a quiet spot in the country. On the crest of a hill we found an almost anechoic slope, populated by dense tall grass. We wanted the recording to be “pure” – as dry and close up as possible in order to verify with plenty of sonic detail the reasons an object that belongs in the trash was so appealing to us.
What follows is a transcription, translated from Italian, of a conversation between Enrico and I recorded on July 15th, 2015. Audio companion mastered by Giuseppe Ielasi.
EM: I started playing with empty cans totally by chance, while doing a residency at an art gallery in Canada. I remember that I had stumbled on some videos, on the Internet, about so called rudimentary ethnic percussion; during those solitary nights, after a few beers, I absentmindedly started crushing and manipulating the empty beer cans, I kind of tried to imitate, by rhythmically pushing with my fingers the tin, some simple patterns that I had heard in the documentaries. At first, quite naively, I had considered the tin as a means to get a sound that was already present in my mind, treating the can as an inert piece of rubbish, which it is, that I could play as if it were a musical instrument. After a while I realized that the can, when manipulated, would reveal an interesting ability to deform and to react in unpredictable ways. This might sound pretty trivial but I realized that with the disposable material I would allow myself to produce deformations to the aluminum that were non reversible, to slowly destroy the can, and that the affordances of this proto instrument would evolve over time accordingly. Simply put, what the can was offering me in terms of its possibilities would change quite a lot while messing with it.
AF: I recall you telling me that you were very productive during that specific residency, playing and recording a lot. It strikes me that you probably were quite unfocused while making sounds with empty beer cans at the end of the day, on top of that you had drank them all till the last drop… I find the loose nature of these moments quite interesting, that you found something inspiring while in a relaxed mood, while perceiving and listening in a less direct but maybe wider way?
EM: When I “play” the can, I try to be both distracted and focused, in order to be able to enjoy a material with a behaviour I cannot fully control nor understand, as I said a tin transforms itself in time, by undergoing deformations. Also, manipulating soft and thin metals gives me a tactile pleasure. In my work with the percussion instruments I’ve been practicing this a lot, by listening with my fingers (my ears are not alone here) to all of the kinds of properties of an object; every time I touch an object this provides me with information about its internal structure, its weight, its grain, its robustness or conversely its impermanence. In this sense, the point of loosening time with rubbish cans has to do with adapting my hand’s posture to an object that transforms itself, also knowing that my actions will damage it forever. It’s a matter of practical understanding, very physical, and as a measure of that also enjoyable.
AF: What you say about playing something that bends and breaks and at the end gets ripped apart makes me think in relation to the normal musical instruments, especially the ones from the western tradition. It’s as if they were built so that a musician would be able to predict their sound. A well trained piano player, for example, knows how to get a certain sound: by pressing a middle C he’s gonna hear a middle C, if he presses the same key heavier he’ll hear the very same sound, just louder. A philosopher that I like a lot, Manuel Delanda, insists on the rarity of linear processes in nature, linearity is the exception not the rule; by introducing the same kind of energy in the same system, but varying its amount, the effect can change a lot. In his public lectures he sometimes uses this example: try to pull your lip, the more you pull, the more the lip goes forward, even a light force is enough. But then it comes to a point when pulling gently doesn’t produce any movement in the lip, our flesh resists the pulling and in order to get the lip moving we need to pull harder, there’s almost no such thing as a linear process. Another intensive threshold (that’s what Manuel Delanda calls them) occurs when water freezes or boils, cooling or warming water by a certain amount produces predictable effects, you just get cooler or warmer water, but at certain specific “intensive thresholds” the water freezes or boils. The same is true with cans, a slight pressure allows the material to bend back to its initial state, reestablishing its original form, a stronger pressure produces a definitive deformation in the aluminum. You are right when you say that it’s a matter of practical understanding, the only way to go is by doing it.
Another fundamental contribution by Manuel De Landa is the clarification of what Gilles Deleuze meant with ‘’topological thinking’’. It’s a philosophically very dense, almost specialistic concept but I feel like it applies perfectly to your “dirty” practice of playing the cans… If “intensive thinking” (derived from thermodynamics) destroys the foundations of linear causation by acknowledging any subject or object as having the capacity to form “assemblages” with other subjects or objects whose emergent properties are always new, specific, creative and unpredictable, “topological thinking” stems from differential geometry and consists of describing an object without building a set of abstract coordinates around it. Let’s say you want to describe a curved flat sheet of paper; an old scientist would start building around this object a set of abstract coordinates and would measure the distances of any point on the object to these out of the world straight lines. Modern geometry, and Deleuze suggests we should do the same when reasoning, gets rid of this metaphysical “shoe-box” and undertakes the description of the object in a more concrete way; by checking the actual differences and accelerations along the material itself. Deleuze seems to suggest that an object is better described the same way our physical experience of the world is, which is very different from tracing mental coordinates. Our body deals primarily with a set of accelerations and curvatures relative to other points on the same surface, when we touch and manipulate an object we perceive directly a series of immanent differences, in order to understand something we have to stay “attached” to it. Speaking about the way music is practiced by many people (I know a few jazz and conservatory trained musicians), it seems like they struggle all the time to reach an “optimum standard”, which would exists in some ideal space, be it the real intention of the composer who wrote the score that they are going to play or a flawless technical ability on the instrument. Manipulating a can, for as trivial, for as rough as it might be, forces you to be primarily concerned with the way the material folds, breaks, bends, resonates.
EM: Talking about musical instruments, a drum, for example, is made from many different materials: skin, wood, metal. There’s a lot of ways to play it, you can articulate its sound in many ways. A beer can of course is completely different, let alone it’s not designed to be used that way… it’s made out of just one material, it’s very uniform and the way accents are produced is spontaneous, they naturally come out of torsion, ripping, bending, compression, decompression. At the same time it has a resonating chamber and it can get pretty loud. Working with “readymades” actually makes me think about the norm, the musical instrument. A drum is conceived, as you say, to exhibit a consistent performance, when you play it you are supposed to stay within a limited range of force applied to the skin, unless you want to break it…
AF: I guess a proper musical instrument is built in such a way to offer the musician a certain degree of comfort as well, which also stabilizes the way one plays and the level of confidence in what can be achieved in terms of sound, when applying a specific force in a specific way. Speaking of which, I’ve been noticing that your hands were sweating a lot while messing around with the tin…
EM: Yes, that’s true. The aluminum that the can is made from, unlike the skin of a drum, or the wood of a stick, doesn’t absorb the sweat. But that’s also interesting, the grip fails on you every now and then and this forces you to look for another way to handle the object. This adds to the overall instability. I’d say that the can’s “capriciousness” offers me the opportunity to keep the “instrument” (the can) at a distance. You really have to listen to its behavior, there’s no way for me to merge with the instrument the way I am able to when I play instruments that I have trained on; I know well how they will react to my actions and this will lend to a unification between me and the instrument. When I play the percussion instruments I feel like ”owning” the instrument whereas with a can the aluminum is working against my intentions and ideas, and I have to deal with that.
AF: It’s probably just a futile effort trying to establish a form of linear cause-effect relationship while “playing” a can… Let’s think about playing any instrument in general: it takes someone to apply a force to an object, it doesn’t matter whether you are blowing the hell out of a trumpet or caressing a harp’s string. If you hit a drum strongly, not only will the sound be loud but the stick will rebound back strongly as well. If you hit the same skin lightly, the sound will be soft and the rebound will be lighter. This is a kind of linear behavior. After a while your body will learn how to merge your musical intention and the instrument together, and achieving that is perhaps the main struggle for every musician. Being able to access a form of fusional playing. The mainstream idea is that you have to master the control on the instrument in order to achieve this merging. On the contrary, when you produce sounds within a system within which the force that you inject achieves unpredictable results, well maybe in this case it’s another class of skills that has to be evoked, like an ability to listen and to react, I don’t know.
EF: I have to say that I’m not so much interested in the kind of “tension” that occurs when you try to control an object and it doesn’t let you do so, that’s sort of typical of some experimental musicians who know the technique of their instrument very well, and they intentionally push their instruments to the limit in order to lose control. That seems strange to me… What I’m interested in is similar to that but on the surface. When I play the can, I sometimes feel as if I were keeping an object with a life of its own in my hands, like as if it were kind of suspended. It’s nothing magic, it’s not as if the object were actually alive… at the same time, to some degree, it is pulsating on its own and I can feel as if it were at a distance, on another level from me, sort of autonomous, so to speak. I’m producing sound by manipulating it but this sound is not fully contained in my hands, the cracklings happen along invisible tanglings that pertain to the object itself, not to myself. It’s quite different than hitting a percussion instrument and in doing so putting its membrane into motion. When I keep the can in my hands and I shake it, it crackles in crazy ways, sometimes it really surprises me.
AF: Although compact and uniform a can is a complex thing. If we think in terms of “elasticity”, well, almost all the musical instruments are very “elastic” according to the dictionary: able to return to an original shape or size after being stretched, squeezed, etc. The strings on a violin or in a piano, after you have struck them, tend to go back to a state of static equilibrium, in this sense the engine of a musical instrument is elastic. Nonelastic systems can present a greater degree of complexity. At the same time the can also has the tendency to get back to its original shape, if you don’t press too much.
EM: It’s strange because even if I cannot control or understand what’s going on with the can, I can nevertheless recognize some tendencies that the object has. I cannot tell exactly what’s going to be the next sound but I can recognize a generic path that it will follow. Anyway, I’m not so much interested in the ”results”, whether what I can achieve by crushing a can is gonna be nice or musical. Instead, I find it useful as a form of research, as an activity that forces me to listen to an object, to explore its tendencies, and most of all I consider it a tool to train and to expand my perception.
AF: Looking at you while playing the can recalls a basketball player spinning a basketball on the tip of his finger. To keep the ball from falling he has to tap it from time to time, and this must be done very carefully, in order to not interfere too much with the natural tendency of the ball to keep rotating. It’s a fragile balance.
A Partial Exegesis of Cricket, its Laws and Rituals
Excerpts from Day Three at the Sydney Cricket Ground:
Starc bowling to Saha from the Paddington end – dot ball; off-drive: boundary; dot ball; dot ball; dot ball; back-foot defence: dot ball.
Watson bowling to Ashwin – edged: boundary; dot ball; dot ball; dot ball; forward defence: dot ball; forward defence: dot ball.
Hazelwood bowling to Saha from the Randwick Street end – front foot defence: dot ball; back foot defence: dot ball; back foot defence: dot ball; drive to mid-on: dot ball; dot ball; off-drive: three runs.
Watson bowling to Saha – forward defence: dot ball; back foot defence: dot ball; forward defence: dot ball; forward defence: dot ball; on drive: dot ball; leg glance: three runs.
Hazelwood bowling to Saha – back foot defence: dot ball; front foot defence: bowler misfields, dot ball; late glide: dot ball; on-drive: two runs; dot ball; off-drive: boundary.
Drinks break – Saha: 34 runs; Ashwin: 11 runs
That was a short excerpt from the 2015 Sydney Test Match between Australia and India. I used similar excerpts from the 2013-2014 Ashes Series in Australia as a framework to compose a piece for brass choir. The piece is basically a continuos repeated pitch, with slightly different shadings of tuning. There are no dynamic changes or shifts in density – a listener might take interest in each event of a player’s articulation of a note, and its ending. The piece has yet to be performed.
Richie Benaud (1930-2015), former Australian team captain, Leg-Spinner and lower-order batsmen, cricket commentator and all-round gentleman son of Western Sydney had what some would consider a peculiar voice, in particular the way in which he pronounced the number ‘two’. And so, the score 2/222 is called the ‘Benaud Score’. In some countries, cricket is scored by the number of fallen wickets followed by the number of runs – 2/222 ; in other countries it is the reverse – 222/2. Why this is, I don’t know.
My performance piece ‘Numbers Descending’ is inspired by the Polish painter Roman Opałka’s number paintings, in which he painted consecutive numbers on canvass starting from 1 and aiming for infinity. The final number he painted before his death in 2011, aged 79, was 5,607,249. Being more interested in zero than in infinity, I started ‘Numbers Descending’ at one million, and have been counting aloud, slowly, backwards from there. It’s more than likely that I will die before I reach the number zero. In performance, each number takes on a real character with relationships to other numbers – consonance and dissonance, internal rhyme and rhythm and my occasional mistakes (counting large numbers backwards is more difficult than it might seem) – and when I reach new decades or centuries, I (at least) hear real timbral shifts in the material. ‘Numbers Descending’ sounds like my attending to a field – a sonic field, a semiotic field – within a recording of a field: the space in which the piece is performed. Each time I count, the space in which I do it is cordoned-off in time and space, and accorded a discrete ‘eventliness’ for me, in my narrative, in my life. What that experience is for the audience I can’t say.
There exists new technology in televised cricket to aid the umpires in making decisions. The sport is a wide expanse of not-much-going-on in a large open field, and when action does happen, it occurs very quickly. These events are sometimes difficult for the umpires to observe with the naked eye. One of these pieces of technology is called a ‘Snickometer’ or the inevitably shortened and O’d in the British Empire, ‘Snicko’. It is a slow-motion video replay with a waveform visualiser on the screen. It is used in order to determine whether the ball has hit the bat, or any other part of the player’s body, should an appeal be made for ‘Out’ caught or LBW. Usually, if the ball has taken a faint edge from the bat or glove, the waveform will appear as a thin spike. Other shapes on the waveform visualiser, the commentators assure us, are other sorts of sounds: the dull thump of the ball hitting the pad, bat brushing the ground, or the dangerously similar to ball-and-bat-edge sound of the ball flicking the batter’s shirt on its way through to the wicketkeeper.
Rhythm is a huge part of cricket. There is the rhythm of a Test Match – five days, three sessions a day lasting six hours in total, breaks for drinks, lunch and tea; distinctive weather patterns at each ground and how they develop over the course of a day; the pattern of the pitch deterioration according to the type of bowlers running on it, as well as the changes in ground and air moisture; the rowdiness of the crowd as they get drunker as the day wears on (this particularly applies to the English travelling supporters ‘The Barmy Army’ on their tours to hotter climes); and the rhythm of each individual player. Commentators will analyse a particular player’s performance in regards to their rhythm. A bowler who is having trouble finding the right line and length or who’s pace is not what it should be, is said to be ‘out of rhythm’. Some commentators will tell you that they can tell just by the run-up of a bowler to the crease, before they have even let go of the ball, whether or not they are in good rhythm that day. A batter, likewise, can be in and out of rhythm, their footwork slow, or not seeing the ball fast enough, the remedy for which is always, inevitably, getting back into rhythm.
Glenn McGrath (born 1970) – legendary right-arm medium-fast bowler, Australian Test, One-Day and T20 team member, and batsman of comically ill repute – is rumoured to have had a song that he sang to himself every time he walked back to his mark before he ran in to bowl again. He played in 124 Test Matches, 250 One-Day Internationals, 21 T20s, and 189 first-class games. He has never publicly revealed the name of the song. This was supposed to keep him in rhythm. His fans composed a song about him and often sang it from the stands when he was bowling well. The lyrics of which are a testament to the affect on creativity of a lot of beer being drunk over a very long time in, usually, very hot weather: Ooh Aah Glenn McGrath / say Ooh Aah Glenn McGrath.
A ‘wristy’ batter, and one with ‘soft hands’ is one who plays with finesse rather than power. Instead of using arm and upper-body strength to smash the ball all over the place, this other type of batter uses the pace of the ball to their advantage, and guides and places it in between fielders when playing their shots. These are the batters who I delight in watching. Batters from the Indian Sub-Continent are more often than not ‘wristy’. This can be attributed to the slow and turning nature of the pitches in Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, where the more successful batter is the one who can play more strategically – placing their scoring shots gracefully in un-fielded areas until the fielding captain makes changes to stop the flow of runs in one area, the ‘wristy’ batter uses their ‘soft hands’ to change the angle at which the ball ricochets off the bat, and so scores runs in the places from where the fielders were moved.
I have never heard or read a cricket pundit attribute ‘wristiness’ to anything besides growing up playing cricket in these sorts of conditions. It is odd, however, that two of my favourite contemporary batsmen who happen to be of Sub-Continental descent, yet grew up playing their cricket in very different conditions – Hashim Amla in South Africa, and Moeen Ali in England – are classic examples of the ‘soft-handed wristy bastsman’. Perhaps it is the fear of being accused of racism that prevents people from suggesting that ‘soft-handed wristiness’ is somehow a biological trait of the Sub-Continental human. I myself am ‘soft-handed’ and ‘wristy’ – though a rubbish cricketer, and the softness of my hands are probably an outcome of never really doing any manual labour – these attributes well suit the playing of the trombone. Requiring no nimbleness of finger, wrist control is vital to accurate tuning and intonation on the trombone, as is the ability to control the small muscles in the lips, as well as the tongue, and one’s air flow. As an aside, during a Choral Conducting class while I was studying at the Conservatorium, our lecturer stopped me mid-chorale to complain about the floppiness of my wrists. He asked me ‘Are you a descendant of French nobility?’, my blank face said ‘obviously I’m not! What the hell are you talking about?’ ‘The French nobility were known for having slender wrists’ he replied. Interestingly, there is such a game as ‘French Cricket’, but it has none of the laws or gravitas of actual cricket and is usually played at barbecues or at the beach. But, I digress… To play the trombone very quietly, requires not only very specific air pressure control, but also control over the pressure exerted from the mouthpiece onto one’s embouchure. The amounts of pressure in air, and from mouthpiece to embouchure changes, I find, depending on in which register I’m trying to play quietly. Counter-intuitively, in some registers, for almost inaudible playing a great deal of both types of pressure are required.
Before Konzert Minimal began the process of rehearsing and pre-recording parts for a performance of a piece by Phill Niblock, Johnny Chang and I were talking about other ensemble’s realisations of different works by the composer. Johnny was talking about a certain type of tension that players can play with when playing very loudly, which for Niblock’s work seems necessary, but can result in simply tense instrumental playing, rather than the desired monolithic sound-world. Our concert a couple of months later was quite a success (I think) musically as well as in terms of audience – it was very large, and made up almost entirely of people who had never heard us before. Unfortunately, of our sextet incarnation of Konzert Minimal, zero performers were women. But, two of us were Asian – ethnic minorities in Germany…
I heard recently through the grapevine, but not officially said, that a long-running experimental venue of international reputation here in Berlin made the decision to have at least an equal ratio of female to male performers at all of their concerts. While I acknowledge that it is entirely self-evident that female musicians of equal talent do not receive the same attention as their male counterparts and something should be done about this, I feel a bit wary of the gender-binary enforced by this quota system, as well as the prescriptive nature of it. But, and this is a big but, this venue is trying to do something to address the problem of discrimination against female musicians. It has pushed to the forefront of my mind, when curating concerts, the question ‘who am I unconsciously overlooking, and why?’ and maybe that’s the intention of the curators of said venue. This isn’t ‘identity politics’ they are dealing with, but structural discrimination. A recent personal example: I had the need to invite another instrumentalist to an ensemble I have recently been working with. Another member of the ensemble suggested a cis-female who would be great for the group. I considered it, but instead chose a cis-male performer because, and I quote my own internal conversation: ‘I had heard him and worked with him many times before, so I know definitely that he would suit the ensemble’. The question of why I had heard him and worked with him many times before compared to that of the cis-female performer didn’t even occur to me until later, when discussing the new quota system at the venue.
I recently completed a 365 day text-realisation of Manfred Werder’s 2007(1), the score of which is simply: ein tag/ein klang a day/a sound. It was an exercise in field recording using text rather than a microphone. Over time I began to come across a problem of assigning gender to invisible agents creating sound. For example, if the sound I chose to record for a certain day was someone yelling from another apartment building, I would find myself writing ‘woman yelling’ or ‘man yelling’, but interrogate myself about how I knew whether it was a certain gender of a person yelling, and then whether or not it even mattered to ascribe a gender to the yelling. But, there is a lot of sonic information in the ‘gendered-person yelling’ compared to that of just ‘person yelling’. The deeper into Manfred’s piece I went, the more entangled I became in the problem of a field recordist describing the world compared to that of a field recordist creating the world. Even now, many months after completing the realisation, I’m unable to see the two as discrete practices. For one day’s recording I agonised over whether or not to write ‘crickets’, as I couldn’t be completely sure whether or not I had actually heard the sound of crickets, or whether I had heard something that sounded to me like crickets but was actually something else, or whether or not the two were even different experiences.
My installation series Words in Trees is an explicit attempt to deal with the issues Manfred’s score raised. A word, the letters of which are made of bread, are hung in a tree like a mobile. As they turn in the breeze and are disturbed by hungry birds and other small creatures, the letters constantly rearrange themselves, reconfiguring semiotic meaning and visual form.
Time and the elements eventually not so much destroy as reconstitute the work, dispersing the material further into space in the stomachs of animals which is later excreted elsewhere, and breaking down – degrading into the earth as parts of the letters fall to the ground. Singular actions dissolving into the world through the actions of other forces: other people, birds, the weather, etc, but nothing is ever destroyed, only mutated, changed, dissolved – language back to words, phonemes, pictograms, and sound combinations – undermining that paltry tool (to misquote or paraphrase I can’t remember who) with which we order a pizza, as well as beg for our lives.
your words in my mouth
my mouth in your words
my words in your mouth
your mouth in my words
(repeated many times)
4 Situations Involving Objects, Electricity, Movement and Amplification
A knife is cutting through air, relentlessly. However, it cuts very slowly, by degrees and in circles; it’s a wooden knife, not very sharp, like a butter knife but with teeth. The structure upon which this knife is attached has a light bulb resting on it, a light bulb with a rather complex metallic grid inside, vibrating softly with every degree of the knife’s turns.
Then there is a strip of paper or a piece of thin cardboard, suspended; three toothpicks are leaning on and pushing this cardboard but they are not strong enough, the cardboard barely undulates. Sometimes a toothpick will fall down and the cardboard keeps humming quietly, unperturbed.
Two motors, small, round, nervous, on a wood plank; a sandpaper cone on each of them, with minuscule weight but just enough to slightly destabilize their travel. The motors whistle while turning, they seem engineered to operate smoothly, seemlessly, indefinitely – and yet with this excrescence on their backs they limp, heave, and stumble over non existent obstacles.
A ship, that in fact is a bedside lamp, with a 15 watt light bulb inside the deck. A motor on the deck of the ship, leaning against the ropes; electricity scarce or insufficient, the motor barely turns, occasionally plucking a rope as if by mistake. Sound is coming from far away, from the other side of the room, emanating through the gyproc of the wall maybe, or through the potted plant.
Popular Songs A
Late last year, I visited Christopher Knowles in his studio on 20th street in New York City to discuss his contribution to this publication. Knowles shares the studio with his wife, the artist Sylvia Netzer, and the three of us sat down and listened to many of Knowles’s recordings before he decided on the one he wanted to include. As we played a selection of the sound works, most of which were created in the 1970s and early 1980s, Knowles spoke about the condition of each tape’s production. He readily called to mind where he made each tape, the day and year of each recording, and the references it made to contemporary popular culture. The noise of street traffic mingled with the sounds of the recordings and our conversation as we revisited Knowles’s memories of growing up and making art in New York.
Knowles’s artistic practice is wide-ranging, and includes painting, sculpture, dance, and poetry. He began making audiotape recordings in 1970, at the age of eleven, and maintains a keen interest in using cassette tape players to break apart and reconfigure the aural components of spoken language. Popular music figures prominently in his work, and in “Popular Songs A,” Knowles introduces a series of short excerpts from Billboard’s Top 20 songs of fourteen different years from 1957 to 1971. The songs are recorded from the Top 20 countdown series on WCBS-FM, an oldies radio station in New York City that offered a programmed countdown of classic hits in the early 1980s. He made this work on fourteen different days throughout the winter and spring of 1984, and each of the recordings is comprised of songs that were popular on the same day of the referenced year. This temporal layering, in which we hear Knowles in 1984 introducing songs from the previous decades, creates a folding effect that draws sonic connections across moments in mid-twentieth century popular music. Here, Knowles takes us on a tour of this formative period in music history, showing us the differences between the smooth soul lyricism of the late ‘50s, the funk-rock beats of the ‘60s, and the psychedelic poetry of the early ‘70s as we hear cropped excerpts of “Pretty Girls Everywhere” by Eugene Church & the Fellows from 1958, “Dance to the Music” by Sly & the Family Stone from 1968, and “Toast and Marmalade for Tea” by Tin Tin from 1971. As listeners, we are invited to tune in to the soundtrack of Knowles’s everyday world, and to shift effortlessly with him across these carefully measured distances.
– Lauren DiGiulio, February 14, 2016
The following is an excerpt from a conversation between Christopher Knowles and Lauren DiGiulio:
CK: It was 1984. February 4th, 1984.
LD: So you made this on Saturday, February 4th, 1984?
CK: Yes, that’s right. And I remember it was the Top 20 countdown from 5-7pm. WCBS-FM.
LD: And here you’re going through how many of the songs?
CK: Well, I don’t know how many there are… thirteen or fourteen of the Top 20 songs.
LD: So is there anything that you would like people to know about this tape?
CK: Yeah, I guess so. Just listen to it. It’s a tape that I made in 1984. I started making tapes in 1982 when they first did the Top 20 Countdown.
LD: And who was it that did the Top 20 Countdown?
CK: It was Mr. Music Norm at Night. And he lives in Cleveland, Ohio. I remember he was a disc jockey and he remembers everything. He was on WCBS-FM here in New York.
LD: So right now we’re listening to the Top 20 songs of 1959?
CK: I think it was February 5th, 1959. And that’s when I made the tape, 1984. It’s pretty complicated.
LD: So, these (songs) go on.
CK: Uh oh (laughing). Yes, they do.
We love too late!
“I hadn’t been asked,” Udo Kier shouts into a microphone. Kier, the German actor of Cologne origins recites from a pamphlet against the lack of transparency in local politics as part of a performance initiated by Rosemarie Trockel in 2002. The occasion for the art-performance was a huge hole in the city-center of Cologne that emerged as a result of the demolition of a public contemporary art space, the Josef-Haubrich Kunsthalle, which was built in 1967. The local politicians that planned the destruction of the modern concrete building only recognized that there was no budget for a new building on the property once the old structure was already gone. Since then, the remaining hole had for many become a symbol of failed cultural politics. It was a reminder to citizens that the original 1960s building was much better than nothing at all…
Since around the same time, a similar development has been taking place, although hardly noticeable (i.e. officially numerable), in a different domain and at a much slower pace. A shift is occurring, with possibly devastating consequences for music-lovers: The public broadcast network WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk), along with other German public networks such as RB (Radio Bremen) and more recently SWR (Südwestrundfunk) have been slowly but surely rolling back their support for contemporary music genres, some of which they were responsible for conceiving themselves in the heyday of the avant-garde of the 1950s through 1980s.
But maybe there is nothing wrong with a change, since every era also has its own media. Who listens to radio these days anyways? Apparently public radio has completely failed to adjust to the digital world.
There are three problems with this shift as I see it. Beyond the lack of resources for production, it is the abandonment of a symbolic mandate for innovative music granted by a democratically installed institution like public radio. The politicians are giving up radio’s own competence, denying its expert role. Their key argument is thus: Considering the relatively small number of people actually listening to these experiments in sound and composition, it’s simply too expensive. Nowadays, people can do that kind of stuff on their laptops, there is no need for studio time and equipment, not to mention a need for research and shared knowledge. The argument is partly true but innovation and real artistically motivated tech-development always takes time. Unlike in France, there aren’t many non-academic institutions for sound-research in Germany. The other major problem is that there isn’t any transparency in the decision making – the public can, if at all, only react once it’s too late.
My own perspective is a bit biased since I’ve been working with the institution for a couple of commissions. Perhaps it’s worth reflecting on the consequences of this shift in Germany from a system with strong public institutions towards being solely market oriented, with the invisible hand and no direct programmatic influence. But in some ways it’s not really a shift since the non-institutional scene has always existed in parallel. There was and will always be an underground. There will also always be artists, individual entrepreneurs and curators working outside of institutional contexts. Of course we should welcome platforms if they are less reclusive, less middle-aged male dominated, but it may remain to be seen if, in comparison, those are free in the same sense of what’s possible. The hole will show when it’s too late. We love too late!
Gravity N2 outtake from a recording session for WDR3 Open Sounds, March 2016
10 and More Bells
This is a recording of a trio improvisation by Takahiro Kawaguchi (horns) Masahiko Okura (reeds) Masahide Tokunaga (alto sax) which was held at En-ban, a record store in Koenji, Tokyo, at 8pm on August 30th 2016.
Okura and Tokunaga are wind instrument players who work in both composition and improvisation. Rather than focusing on any one fundamental output, the handmade instrumentation and musical content of each of Kawaguchi’s performances are unique. On this recording, he performs as a “mechanical wind instrument player.”
Text translated from Japanese by Wonja Fairbrother. Audio mastered by Alan Jones.
This recording is made from a selection of my collection of cassette loop tapes that were created between 2006 – 2016. Most of them have been used in previous recordings but never in this configuration or layering of sounds. I have been making recordings under the moniker Tether for the last 3 years, and previously recorded and performed as Pak. I was interested in the idea of a time capsule, where information is recontextualized at a later time. My suitcases full of loops became my personal time capsule to investigate and find sounds that would serve a new composition. The title Wildest Dreams comes from the ascending chimes heard in the recording, a device for dream sequences in film and TV, as well as the alternate state that is recreated by repurposing the loops.
Storytime with Richard
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Today I clapped a mosquito dead and there was blood between my fingers. Two drops. I washed them off. The book Ben gave me has blood at the bottom, two drops, although maybe it’s just marker. It’s probably just marker. But, you know, it’s nice when things are more poetic than they should be, when life suddenly inflates like an air bubble in a sausage casing, when time puddles out.
I like reading Judith Butler. It’s usually worth it. I read her at a rate of one book every two years. It’s too much, I guess, like eating a huge rich meal. You have to take a break. I have to take a break. I take breaks while eating more often than I used to. Not everything needs to be devoured.
Judith Butler has written some of my favorite sentences. Sentences like Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we’re not, we’re missing something. Like One does not always stay intact. In Louisville I was teaching a masterclass, I had written QUEER SOUND QUEER TIME QUEER SPACE on a whiteboard with a brown marker and connected them all with squiggly lines I mean of course they weren’t straight duh and I was rambling, you know, like I am right now, not really explaining anything that I meant, and I hit a wall in my ramblesplation or ramblesploitation or whatever and started just going through a roll call of sounds I like that the trumpet makes. But every time I stopped one it felt like coming up from a kiss. I felt lost. And I thought, huh. Is it happening?
What I mean is that something about performing in the way that I did 25 or 26 times on this tour—always saying beforehand in the same goofy voice “hi my name is Jacob Wick, I live in Mexico City,” which is actually the sound my voice makes when I’m nervous and trying to calm myself down, fake it til you make it—made me feel very close to the surface. Is that a better metaphor? I mean I kept feeling like I was going to cry or fall in love or both. I still do, a lot of the time, even though I’m not on tour anymore. I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I used to pride myself I think on maintaining a certain distance from the world, like seeing myself and other people from afar and all that, but my distance has closed. Why be dead when you can be alive. Whenever I think about this I think about this citation that I cannot locate for the life of me where some female character, maybe she’s writing a letter or maybe it’s somebody reading or quoting a female critic or hell, maybe it’s Maggie Nelson, anyway this writer or person or character or all of the above wrote something like, isn’t it funny how men always have to abstract things from the body, distance themselves away from feeling. I read that and I was like, huh. No wonder. Live free or die. The other night after the gig we were translating live free or die into Spanish, giving Brad shit for always saying he’s from New York when he’s actually from New Hampshire, vive libre o muere, ca’. Or maybe that’s too severe. Sometimes it’s impossible to be free and usually it’s hard to die.
What I mean is that the night before I flew to Baltimore to begin the tour I played a solo set here in Mexico City that was pretty dull and unpleasant for everybody including me with the exception of Katya, who seemed to have a really great time, and afterwards Isidore or maybe the German girl, what was her name, she who we waited for, anyway somebody asked me is that what you’re going to do all month and I was like yes with this fake smugness that I’ve never really felt but always kind of wanted to. But then I thought, god what am I doing I didn’t even like that. I was trying to stick with this sound that I had been using in Europe, one of my favorite sounds I’ve ever found on the trumpet. But it obviously wasn’t working. It lacked richness and depth. It had never had feeling.
Good thing two days later in Baltimore I was comfortable enough after spending the day with Bonnie and Marian that when I tried that sound, this sound I had made for 25 minutes in Mexico City that was kind of a drab boring version of a sound I had found in Europe that I guess I have lost forever, or maybe just until next time, anyway when I tried that sound and it didn’t work I was like, ok whatever. We had a nice fling, we were perfect for each other, now it’s done. I guess I’ll improvise. I did that for about a week, maybe ten days. I noticed I could hold this white noise texture for a long time and king of blanket the room and feel myself kind of, I don’t know, imploding? Coming undone. And I liked that. When Gabe said, one of the first days, that felt like a hug, I hugged him and thought, ok, this is what I actually want to be doing. Something that feels like something, not some distanced intellectual exercise. Something basic and bodily and not abstract, not ideal, something nasty not something crystalline. In the previous weeks or months I had been thinking and occasionally saying things, usually to myself, like I want to create a hole in the room or I want to make a web in the room but now I was like yeah I want to create a hole in the room that we can all melt into I want to make a web and bind us I want to create a pool in time so that we float away forever altogether, at least for a moment.
Deleted Scene from Pessimist Rush Hour
i’ve been obsessed with chris tucker’s early work recently
the lines sound so much different in the present moment than they did to me in the past
they now are more like prescient articulations of a horrifying future or a gonzo present
each message opens up its own rift in time and space
i get caught in these little eddies, the accumulation of which has become pessimist rush hour
Last fall, I was touring and performing my piece “Falsetto” every night. It’s a strange, physically difficult, fumbling, deliberately incompetent (or maybe a different type of expert) performance played almost entirely with small bells found at thrift stores, purchased with the criteria that they must in some way sound unusual or broken or just “not nice,” and also that they cost less than $5 each.
The sound of the bells is great. When layered, it’s a complex, weird, and unpredictable sound made with exceedingly humble means – literally just jostling a bunch of crap around that I found at Goodwill. However, the content and performance of the piece may cause some feelings of uncertainty and confusion in the unassuming spectator. One unhappy concert reviewer went so far as to say, “I thought I didn’t understand percussive theory anymore. Hell, I thought I didn’t understand music anymore.”
Much to my delight, this is the exact feeling the piece aims to provoke and the reviewer had actually captured my performance perfectly. Why *am* I drawn to art that I expressly hope will cause me to think, “What the hell is happening?” It’s a feeling not unlike the experience of figuring out that you’re trans at the age of 34, having lived mostly cluelessly outside the worn-out, “ever since I was a little kid, I knew I was different” trope. In fact, even among my other trans and queer friends, I don’t know a single person whose experience resembles my own (which, as it turns out, is a common feeling among many trans people… that we can’t relate to anyone, including other trans people). We look for ourselves in other people’s art and it’s not too often that I find something I recognize in myself.
Martha – “St Paul’s (Westerberg Comprehensive)”
We are not worthy to receive you / We are the daughters and the sons / We are the second-hand trousers / Blazers and blouses / Irredeemable ones.
José Esteban Muñoz wrote eloquently about queer fascination with the mundane and the impulse to see expansive worlds within things that most people dismiss as commonplace. He cites Frank O’Hara’s famous poem “Having a Coke with You” as signifying, “a vast lifeworld of queer relationality, an encrypted sociality, and a utopian potentiality.” It’s a similar impulse to my own, having exposed conventional percussion instruments and their bizarre acoustic inner life – simply by playing them – to the point that I concluded that any object is potentially fascinating if you just play it the right way.
Certainly, the act of “saving” thrown out objects that nobody wants will likely resonate (no pun intended) with most queer people. The “thrown out little bell” and its Ugly Duckling-style “story” in my piece “Falsetto” as representation of discarded queer life is not exactly a brilliantly conceived or nuanced metaphor, but it’s one that stings and feels necessary nonetheless.
1 Corinthians 14:34
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.
Last year I took a class for trans women that aims to teach us how to speak in a way that sounds more like cisgender females than our “natural” voices. The purpose of the class is to find a new way of speaking for yourself that helps to decrease dysphoria and is less likely to unintentionally alert strangers that you’re a trans woman because, let’s face it, that doesn’t always turn out so great.
Most cis people don’t seem to know that when a transgender man takes testosterone, his vocal cords thicken and his voice lowers significantly. Trans women experience no such change. Our identities are quite literally betrayed by our own bodies and there is little we can do to change it, leaving us to grapple with a society that is actively trying to make us disappear.
When I’ve described “Falsetto” to friends and I say it involves, “small hand bells,” a common response is, “Oh, like in church?” Initially, I hadn’t thought about this at all and shrugged it off as an unintentional coincidence – “I just like the sound.” Then came the accidental discovery while researching singing styles that falsetto singing was invented with the express purpose of giving men the female voice parts in church choirs because women were not permitted. The place we most associate with the small hand bell – church – as it turns out, dictated the exclusion of women and now in the present day are dictating legislation that’s keeping trans women out of bathrooms with the unspoken ultimate goal that they’ll simply vanish from school, work, and society.
A six-year old girl asked Klaus Nomi, “Are you an alien?” and Nomi warmly replied, “Yes, little girl. I am.”
Klaus Nomi is one of the world’s most famous countertenors (or contralto, depending on gender) and his former vocal coach spoke at length about Klaus’s insistence on developing only his unusually high register capabilities. Klaus Nomi also created an elaborate persona for himself that involved him being an alien from another planet.
Was Klaus Nomi a closeted or repressed trans woman? Did he find it more plausible to exist in the world as “simply a gay man” who claimed to be an alien from another planet than to identify as a woman?
Even now, one of Klaus Nomi’s closest collaborators Joey Arias uses female pronouns and speaks openly having been drawn to dresses from a young age, but she can’t seem to say that she is transgender. Instead she has invented that she, “has the Z chromosome!” The repression and societal pressure against being transgender is so great, our policing of gender essentialist standards so aggressive, and sexism against women of all walks of life so intense and unmovable, that perhaps it subconsciously motivated Nomi and Arias to be unthinkable beings rather than just simply women.
This is, of course, all total speculation on my part but let’s call it an educated and familiar guess. Klaus Nomi’s most memorable performance of Henry Purcell’s “The Cold Song” when heard in a trans/queer context, coming from the mouth of a self-proclaimed extraterrestrial being, reads like a brutal tribute to chronic dysphoria (Nomi later died of complications from AIDS in 1983, one of the first prominent celebrities to do so). We do tend to recognize our own and the feeling is a familiar one as I set out again to bruise and blister my hands for another performance of “Falsetto.”
What power art thou, who from below
Hast made me rise, unwillingly and slow,
From beds of everlasting snow!
See’st thou not how stiff,
And wondrous old,
Far unfit to bear the bitter cold.
I can scarcely move,
Or draw my breath,
I can scarcely move,
Or draw my breath.
Let me, let me,
Let me, let me,
Let me, let me,
Freeze again to death!
Subatomic Motion (i7 / sine tones / tape)
“A framework of understanding.”
The pitch is a playing field. Four players
trying to pitch something, an idea, a sound.
A tone of definite frequency.
The Pitch is a co-sharing of musical space,
of certain parameters, limitations and an instrumental
awkwardness collectively carried into brightness.
Working out simple ideas to see how far
we can take them. How long we can play them.
How often we can handle them.
Modes of interaction, rules of engagement,
aesthetic agreements, instrumental limitations.
Reducing material until we’ve reached the core.
Initiative, shared intuition, collective composition, instrumentation.
Bass harmonics doubling the clarinet,
vibraphone rounding out the harmona,
sine tones combining instrumental forces.
The harmona is missing pitches. Playing such an archaic,
flawed instrument is a deliberate limitation.
We discovered how to sound together. What to play
and when to play it. Every small decision having
huge consequences for the outcome of the whole.
It seems like we’ve just gotten started. / “It’s actually getting quite good now.”
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The Pitch was founded in Berlin in the year 2009 by BB, KN, MJO and MT with the aim to create a common musical language to be used to play structured improvisations; together and with guests. The peculiar instrumentation was a deliberate attempt to create an ensemble which would rather focus on pitch constellations and the creation of a group sound and group strategies than on the development of individual improvisational languages or elaborate extended instrumental techniques played at the same time.
They have an upcoming concert with legendary Viennese ensemble Polwechsel, for which a new piece has been collectively composed by the two ensembles combining materials and strategies in real time.
More sounds and information about The Pitch:
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Subatomic Motion (i7 / sine tones / tape)
Boris Baltschun – pump organ, function generators
Koen Nutters – upright bass
Morten J Olsen – vibraphone
Michael Thieke – clarinet
Composed by The Pitch
Recorded and transferred by Morten J Olsen
Recorded in Berlin, April 2017
Text by Koen Nutters
*The first phrase of the writing was constructed late one night
with the assistance of Martijn Tellinga.
Materials for a Concert
For this piece, I created a foundation – or “backing track” – that can be used for a variety of playback scenarios. It incorporates on-site recordings and excerpts of cassettes and audio files from my personal archive, including: crowd noise (date and time unknown), guitar and tape recordings (2006 or 2007), synthesizer and electronics (2008), percussion / loop cassettes (2007), and recordings of live noise shows (artists unknown, circa 2008).
Preference was given to sounds of an unknown or barely remembered origin.
These audio clips were mixed with recorded ambiences from a visit to Vox Populi Gallery in Philadelphia on the afternoon of April 14, 2017, in addition to the audio from a solo performance at Vox on the evening of April 15. The ambient material recorded on the 14th includes sounds from the art exhibit that was installed at the time, as well as my own footsteps, the sound of folding chairs, and the occasional interjection of my infant son. The performance on the 15th was recorded by a microphone placed by an open window in an adjacent gallery facing N. 11th Street.
Silence and artificial ambience were added where necessary.
It was my intention to create music out of things that already exist – to not generate more recordings – and to constantly change the perspective for the listener, whether they were listening to this as a stand-alone audio track (as presented here) or in a live performance. Having recently moved from Providence to Philadelphia, it also served as a practical exercise in the unpacking of physical possessions.
Presently, this piece has been performed twice. In addition to the gig at Vox Populi, this current version was used for a performance at the Silent Barn in Brooklyn, NY on April 29, 2017, as part of the Ende Tymes VII festival. Each version was quite different, and included additional materials dictated by the situation.
Timeline of Events:
00:00 – 00:10: crowd noise (date and time unknown)
00:10 – 00:15: silence
00:15 – 00:24: crowd noise
00:24 – 00:26: synthesizer and electronics (2008)
00:26 – 00:40: vox performance (4.15.17)
00:40 – 01:07: vox gallery (4.14.17)
01:07 – 01:10: guitar and tape (2006-2007)
01:10 – 01:21: silence
01:02 – 02:03: vox gallery
02:03 – 02:07: outside window of vox gallery
02:07 – 02:09: guitar and tape
02:09 – 02:10: silence
02:10 – 02:33: vox gallery
02:33 – 02:40: ambience
02:40 – 03:03: vox gallery
03:03 – 03:05: synthesizer and electronics
03:05 – 03:11: vox performance
03:11 – 03:30: guitar tape
03:30 – 03:52: vox performance
03:52 – 03:53: vox gallery (in the black box performance space)
03:53 – 04:05: noise tape (date and time unknown)
04:05 – 04:20: vox black box
04:20 – 04:22: ambience
04:22 – 04:23: silence
04:23 – 04:24: synthesizer and electronics
04:24 – 04:31: silence
04:31 – 04:57: vox gallery
04:57 – 05:01: silence
05:01 – 05:45: vox performance
05:45 – 05:53: vox gallery
05:53 – 06:09: vox performance
06:09 – 06:25: vox gallery
06:25 – 06:27: synthesizer and electronics
06:27 – 06:33: ambience
06:33 – 06:37: silence
06:37 – 07:38: vox gallery
07:38 – 07:40: silence
07:40 – 07:52: vox gallery
07:52 – 07:58: guitar tape
07:58 – 08:00: synthesizer and electronics
08:00 – 08:39: black box
08:39 – 09:13: guitar tape
09:13 – 09:22: vox performance
09:22 – 09:26: vox gallery
09:26 – 09:28: silence
09:28 – 09:32: ambience
09:32 – 09:40: silence
09:40 – 09:56: vox gallery
09:56 – 10:36: guitar tape
10:36 – 11:15: vox performance
11:15 – 11:22: vox gallery
11:22 – 11:28: percussion / loop tapes (2007)
11:28 – 11:32: synth and electronics
11:32 – 11:38: noise show (circa 2008)
11:38 – 11:47: silence
11:47 – 12:25: leaving vox populi, afternoon of April 14