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.
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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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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 amicrophone. 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)
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.