Monday, November 17, 2008

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Flock & Tumble!

... is almost here. Our first rehearsal in the space is on election night (what was I thinking?) At this point, I'm confident we'll have a reason to celebrate.
This performance feels like a celebration, a very formal one. I intend for humor to pierce the weight at all points. Kathleen and Rikki of Woolly Mammoth have given brilliant performances as hypnotized hand signalers. I can't wait to see and hear it all together.

See you there?
November 7, 8, 9 8:00 pm
doors, drinks and hors d’oeuvres at 7:30 pm
AudioCinema, 226 SE Madison

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Jerry Hunt, 1980

This is taken from a 1980 KPFA interview of Jerry Hunt with Charles Amirkhanian which can be found here.

About performance...
"I like the signing of sounds. And for performance particularly, I don’t think of myself so much as doing performance art as just a concert with the signing of the sounds in a variety of ways. It’s like maybe a color added to the surface of the sound in some way, so that people are not just sitting there watching me work gadgetry. In my mind it makes the rhythm structure of what interests me clearer, it makes the intent become more direct and more immediate, at least on some level. To my mind it does. I like that sense of directness and immediacy."

About titles...
"I like to have a certain formality in respect to both myself and the world and that’s just one clue to it - it’s not the only clue. There was a time when I thought, “Oh, I’ll just call it ‘Turkey Trot No. 1’, ‘Turkey Trot No. 2’”. It’s just not in my character nor in my mind to be able to do it that way. There are certain formalities. The titles are representations of layers of those formalities, because there’s a certain distance that I like. I’m not very interested in music, in a way, you know! ...or in art or technology or anything. Why still do it? Maybe that’s a little clue into what keeps my interest going. But each one I see as just continuing folds of concerns of mine. And if I don’t start with the abstraction, I’m hopelessly lost later. It just keeps it clear in my own brain, and I think it suggests a little bit. I don’t want a title to be too suggestive, but I like it to be sufficiently suggestive to give people indications of what orientation, what position they might expect from me, at some point. I realize that frequently what actually happens and the expectation of the title is very distant. Which is at once intentional and is not. I both intend and I don’t. Because I’m obsessed with the idea that there is nothing at the bottom of anything. And if there’s not, then why not? Why not?"

These have been my thoughts precisely. I'm sympathetic to the idea of the work being "bottomless and without foundation" (as he says elsewhere in the interview). I share this fascination with the way a work can be simultaneously empty and full. It's a construction which rests (in both formation and reception) on contingency, and yet it works.
Also, I have been searching for a way to articulate this reversal of what seems to be the usual relationship between sound and performance. In placing the sound as the primary component, the visual and performance ideas are layers which emphasize and make clear the rhythmical character of the piece, unfolding out from the sound.

And in the music itself, I admire Jerry Hunt's way of creating formless form, in which events or moments of unity seem to be like ripples on the pool of larger movement. And his use of voice, and acoustic noise-makers such as rattles, and his operatic/absurdist use of sources such as George Elliot and John Dee... much more to explore here.

Monday, July 14, 2008


I'm considering the space between notes (bursts, iterations, events) as a moment of charge. Utilizing an erotics of distance: the use of the call to connect across space, invigorating a shared medium (atmosphere). The space between is a charged waiting - a poised position. Balanced by an erotics of proximity: the "tuning-in" of closeness, the ways of changing and being changed by those who are near.
Within the model of compression/expansion, each individual is charged with the minor catastrophe of breaking a silence, instigating a tumbling chain of events. On an individual level, the compression occurs as a small loss of self-awareness around the burst, following by an expansion outward with the ear.
Distance and proximity interact as a self-organizing form. This is my interest in a school of fish or flock of swallows. I am con-fusing spatial distance as an analogy (map) with temporal distance (between events). Always staying near, neither too close nor too far. Keeping an always-same but always-changing form, self-maintaining but allowing for rupture at any moment. A proximation of form.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

The Promenade crew (from L - R) Bill Will - installation, Bill Boese - light, Elise Bartow - coordination, Linda K. Johnson - dance/performance, Seth Nehil - sound.
South Waterfront Neighborhood Park (SW Moody & Curry), July 19th
Gathering beings an hour before sunset - bring a picnic!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

After almost a year, I have finally begun to document this group of drawings, sculptures and sculpture/drawings in a way which approximates their intended display. A week of black-hole days in the studio (as in forgetting to call people, check email, etc) - cleaning, painting, arranging and photographing these pieces. A steady diet of Morton Feldman. The fan in the window blowing cool sunny air (and black particulate matter). So far, 7 single drawings, 2 diptychs, 2 small drawings with wood pieces, 6 wood-only arrangements and 2 large drawings with wood. Balancing set arrangements with the potential for improvisation. Link to an online portfolio.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Currently reading:
Ceramic Uncles & Celluloid Mammies: Black Images and Their Influence on Culture by Patricia A. Turner
On Photography by Susan Sontag
The Black Atlantic by Paul Gilroy
Sound Design and Science Fiction by William Whittington

Beyond my own continuous curiosity, looking for those bits of writing which
might be appropriate to foundation-level readers, containing abstraction while rooted in the particular. Writing which considers the way objects and images operate, asking important questions about the authority of the voice, the use of media in the production of ideology, the responsibility of the image-maker, the impact of reproduction... unpacking, through a multitude of specific examples. That's the goal for the next semester - an omnivorous interest in cultural artifacts of any variety, whether it's a blockbuster movie, an abstract painting, a glossy advertisement, a documentary photograph, a racist ceramic cookie jar, a font, a newscast, a building, a public park. Not to equalize these "objects" but to observe them in all their specificity. I want to move away from art-world specific considerations and to view any object as potentially fascinating, any object as a carrier of layered meanings.
Any suggestions?
New earth pigments have expanded a range of colors.

Shelves are constructed and need to be sanded and painted. Drawings on paper are nearing completion. Arrangements are being experimented. Summer brings open days and the possibility of long studio hours. Maybe a box of saltines and a jar of peanut butter... It's the perfect season to be in the studio - not yet blazing hot when that late afternoon sun comes directly through the windows.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Performance questions

I’m interested in the yell - the shock as a moment of compression and expansion, a release of energy. I’m interested in making bold, clear forms, in reacting against timidity. The yell/shout/exclamation is suggestive of animal characteristics - the oddity and violence of a frog inflating its air sac and the release of that air in a compressed burst which charges the space between. The power of waiting, a group which is poised in the edge of breaking a silence... each performer can be the one to disrupt the structure, balancing on the edge of a catastrophy. The yell as rawness, untrained vocalization. Anyone could make the sound without special knowledge or practice. The yell as a basic, unformed element of music which punctures. By altering factors slightly (extension, tonality) the yell can become pitched - it exists between noise and note. I’m interested in the balance between talking, exclaiming and singing. Crossing between the communicative and the aesthetic. Finding a base physicality which joins the act and the sound.

I’m interested in boldness, clarity, force, perceptual derangement, intentionality, spatial dispersion, emergent form, shifts, demanding durations, engagement, physicality, patterns, darkness, repetition, off-balance structures, tension, care, precision and wildness.

Monday, April 7, 2008

compositional terms

Each new batch of sound pieces tends to concentrate around a group of terms, ideas or concepts, without necessarily abandoning previous ideas. Since December, I have been making new recordings, pieces, sketches and sounds for various functions (dance score, installation, CD). While still working with ideas of "flocking", tumbling" and "awkwardness" which were the main focus of Flock & Tumble (see below for elaboration), I have been identifying some new concerns:

Velocity - The concept of "sound-objects" (Shaeffer's term for discrete sonic occurences) never made sense to me when I was involved primarily in creating "strata" of sound. Recently I've been collecting separate (rather than continuous) strikes, scrapes, thuds, bangs, pings, whips, gongs, drops, clatters, clinks, cries, rumbles... These occurrences form themselves into chains (sometimes with some help). The attack and decay of each event can be manipulated. The speed, power and physicality of attack and decay build velocity. While the composition moves at an overall pace, velocity works through individual sound objects. Velocity indicates force, aggression and physicality - occurring as an object which has weight and implied materiality.

Material Index
- the term derives from Michael Chion's analysis of film sound, and refers to the way in which material density and substance is inscribed into recorded audio, and the way that sound might either correspond with or contradict visual information. Tati's footsteps are an example, in the way different, often very unrealistic foley effects determine a character's presence. The use of ping-pong balls for footsteps creates a hollow, springy character, often without our conscious awareness. This indexical and sensual aspect of sonic material has always interested me, and in the use of simple materials for sound production (metal, wood, glass, etc.) I have realized the degree to which we are able to decode and imagine the tactility of those materials through their resulting sonic character. The "woodness" of sound from wooden objects (for example) is intrinsic and almost impossible to obliterate.

The character of sound matter is imbedded deeply in my work despite modifications and alterations (pitch manipulation, reversing, layering, editing, etc.). In my opinion, this creates a primary complication to the idea of "reduced listening" through using acoustic sources. However obscured or hybrid, something of the initial material is retained. The ear is finely attuned to the qualities of weight, density, rough and smooth - sensations to which sound experiences are connected in daily experience. My own interests include the full range of mutation, hybridity, obscurity, confusion and recognition, while avoiding illustration or description.

Sounds are always (as has often been stated) sounds within a space - which carries its own material index. Mediation (the imprint of media on the spectral or textural character of a sound) provides another aspect of material index which can be manipulated. The particular and unique combination of matter, media and space for every recorded sound is what makes Shaeffer's goal of a complete solfege of sound impossible (though it shouldn't preclude attempts at precise description).

White noise and artifacts - I previously identified this as a component of "awkwardness" and I've been lately listening to clicks, pops, distortions, traffic sounds, far-away voices, tape-hiss, etc with increasing pleasure, as an integrated component of the sounds. I don't want the process to be invisible.

- As I construct flocks of sounds, I work with them at a specific distance in representational space, imprinted by the material index of real acoustic spaces. I work with the ear's movement between different depths, and the dynamic of sounds which move or interact among and between different depths. Thinking of these flocks as points of activity at various distances, producing a complicated mobile - never static.

Tangentiality - A compositional strategy of decentered elaboration. Mutating and disturbing individual sonic elements, allowing a piece to follow multiple possibilities with a limited range of sources, shifting them in space, density, depth, interaction, etc. Shifting views of sonic clusters to reveal a variety of perspectives.

May 22, 2007

Flock & Tumble - a definition of terms.

The composition of Flock & Tumble combined the intensely detailed and the haphazard. This methodology meant being open to chance while paying attention to the "purpose" or necessity of every sound at every moment. Recording and manipulation of sounds involved strategies for random behavior, including:
- recording in noisy environments which contain traffic, rain, wind, people, dogs, radios, etc.,
- a lack of monitoring between overlapping layers,
- improvisatory recording sessions,
- providing participants with only schematic scores (such as indicating pitches as "high, medium low"),
- and the blind layering of individual sources.
In response to this randomness I chose to where and how to emphasize and elaborate, moving into microsecond editing. For example, I created many "hybrid" events by precisely matching/masking multiple envelopes into unified new sounds.

As I worked over the last 6 months, I developed terminology which refers to various structural techniques or methods. Two of these terms became the title, in which I take the ideas as a compositional spur. By "flocks" I refer to sound-events which occur at irregular intervals in varying densities, forming clusters. This is a behavior which occurs on the level of individual layers, each distinct source or element within a composition. It is a form of continuity which links sound objects (discrete sonic events) into strands of intermittent occurences .

Whereas "flocking" is horizontal, "tumbling" is vertical, a relationship between two or more strands in which a sound triggers one or more further sound-events. "Tumble" is the perceptual grouping of sequential sounds into a causal relationship. It could be seen as a "meta-flocking" across layers of the music. These structures come about both intentionally and unintentionally, often arising through accidental correspondences which are then emphasized purposefully.

While the concepts of "flock" and "tumble" are largely specific to this series of pieces, another idea has enveloped my approach to composition in general for the past few years. "Awkwardness", used positively, is a vague and difficult term, more a quality than a thing. It comes in part from pushing against my own comfort levels in the creation of music. It relates to the degree to which I can remain surprised at my own work. It is a sense of unfamiliarity shading into rejections of "the rules". It is also an undefinable "feeling" in the music, a subjective pleasure which may be brought about, in part, from things such as:
- sounds that are too brief or loud in relation to their context,
- recordings that are distorted, warped or noisy,
- backgrounds or environments for recordings which are filled with low-level noise,
- long pauses,
- and sounds which are too "human"/"animal"/"organic"/"artificial" in relation to their context, at times creating a contrast between natural and artificial.
Awkwardness may also linger atmospherically from the use of real acoustic spaces, echoes and reverberations, and especially the confused layering of multiple reverberant signatures.
Awkwardness could be opposed to a cool, refined or machine-like texture, though it should ultimately be elegantly awkward and intentionally accidental.
Awkwardness leans toward an incorporation of humor, oddness and drama, but without specific referent.
It is a floating term, attaching itself on various levels of the work.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Recently visited the Mill End Store with Diana Lang and purchased fabric for Flock & Tumble dancers Woolly Mammoth Comes to Dinner and Linda Austin. A perfect environment for appreciating the details of materials. No piped-in music, natural light and blissed-out quiet. Woolly will be clothed in raw muslin, with shimmery frills, in colors as seen above.

Meditations in the midst of fabric bolts followed some strange tangents. I'm interested in the infinite specifics of various materials. In this case cotton, linen (my favorite), lycra, polyester, silk, bamboo, hemp, nylon, etc. Each has the possibility to seduce with their individual colors, textures, reflectivity, softness, stiffness... not to mention the rituals of folding, cutting, labeling and displaying. There's a concentration to places which are dedicated to materials, a specialized focus which I find attractive - Kremer Pigments is another of these. Or the paper drawers of well-stocked art-supply shops. Or certain old-fashioned lumber yards. Or maybe the light bulb lady on Mississippi (though her shop is a bit cluttered to feel calm). These places contradict the modern desire for convenience and all-inclusive availability. I hope we don't lose them.

There's also the relationship to materials which is implicit in each of these examples, a relationship which builds through use. It's the information held in hands and muscles - a tactile knowledge. A true craftsperson refines this connection though a preference for certain qualities based on predictability and intimacy. I feel like a voyeur to such practices, as I never fully belong to any. Like attending a religious service, I can observe, appreciate and enjoy but never fully belong... Perhaps this is due to my interest in observing meta-patterns, applying comparative models, and breaking down divisions between categories, genres, etc. I've always been a bit mystified by those who dedicate themselves entirely to one thing - Zen buddhism, experimental music, ethnomusicology, oil painting (while of course understanding that there is more than a lifetime of depth in any of these). Applying these thoughts to Flock & Tumble, I wonder how to describe and promote this merging of music, dance, video and performance which will (hopefully) contradict all of these categories.

Yesterday I finished the mastering of Flock & Tumble (the CD which shares only the title, forthcoming on Sonoris) with Timothy Stollenwerk. Now it sounds delicate and brutal at the same time.

Monday, March 31, 2008

muted light

Day through billowing plastic. Moving through drawings and cleaning, elaborating, finishing and fixing each as inspired - one at a time, as single images. My goal is to complete and document these series in the next month, feeling more or less finished with the 'statement' as such and very slowly drawing a boundary to define this body. Shifting to concerns of display, I will be building shelves for groupings of wood pieces, so that each may be displayed at a different height, from floor level to eye level.
Listening to specks of hail striking the windows.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Flock & Tumble - Screens and bodies

A large performance event, Flock & Tumble is scheduled for the first weekend in November at AudioCinema (226 Se Madison St in Portland). A large, empty warehouse, 12 sound-makers (performers), 4 channels of pre-recorded sound, 4 video projections of the dancers Linda Austin, Wooly Mammoth and others, with clothes by Diana Lang. At this point, I am working with 5 sections - an opening "tumble", three "flock" sections ("Flock", "Swarm" and "Torus") and a closing "tumble". Loosely speaking, (that is, as far as I know) a tumble consists of actions which are passed sequentially from one performer to another, while the flocks use rules of behavior taken from animals (birds, insects and fish) to create clusters of activity. The dancers perform only in screenal space - projected onto the walls.

What does it mean to dance on a screen? Why are the dancers in this piece separated from the activities in “real time”? Perhaps simply to create this space for “unreal time”. I have been interested in the possibility of simultaneous frames which “open up” the edges of actual space into alternate ones. With the emphasis on the plural. These are not spaces to lose the sense of the body (as in the typical cinematic experience of "suspension of disbelief” - though these videos will clearly draw on filmic inspirations. I have been noticing the movement of bodies in films which exist on (or across) the edges of “realism” - the carefully choreographed actions in Bresson’s prime output. The way sitting down, turning the head, placing a hand on a bench can be both completely normal and totally stylized. He achieved this hyper-awareness by filming many, many takes of the same seemingly unimportant movement. On the 40th take, the actor finally reaches an appropriate level of automatism. “Don’t we complete most of our actions in a kind of automatism?” he asks.

Another very different film has informed my thoughts - a Japanese yakuza flick called “Branded to Kill” which takes the stylized choreography of genre-specific conventions - the gunfight, the chase scene, the violent death - and twists them into dance. Falling back into a spinning office chair, the wounded man spins around not once but three times, calling attention to the falseness of the entire construct. Calling attention to the beauty of pure movement which fights against the story while furthering it. There’s something about this fighting and flowing which can exist together. Maybe we can call it “Suspension of belief”...

Bodies will be multiplied by four, though not mirrored. Staggered flashes. Where does the individual movement exist in this multiplicity? How does the body contribute to the larger pattern? How does the repetition of movement create sequential pattern? These are questions I leave to the dancers, as authorities on the subject. Perhaps it can spark a conversation. I would like that.

Music has been underway since December, though I have to imagine much of the final result. In combining live activity with recorded sound, I want these elements to coexist, sharing space. I imagine voice to be a primary tool of the performers, while the recorded compositions are "instrumental" for now (concrete and electronic sounds).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

scatter logic

Brushing through a book of Barry Le Va in the library, his work resonated (not for the first time) as an idea of investigating drawing. I'm looking for a way of drawing across, on and with objects, materials. Becoming slightly more clear about how objects have presence. A few weeks ago I dreamed of tall flags or banners hanging from poles and touching the floor, a dark, ominous and somewhat awkward presence. I have been at the sewing machine trying to reconstruct that image in some way. Painting fabric with a mixture of graphite powder, water and acrylic medium results in a dense black surface which turns silver with rubbing or distress. It also results in black hands and fine graphite dust everywhere. Which is not terribly good for keeping all those other mostly white drawings clean.
I keep cutting across the flags and then re-sewing, shifting their angles. I want an unstable feeling, similar to the balanced plywood pieces. The idea of shifting like fractured sedimentary layers. All of these objects suggest a ground plane.
Lately in the studio I move between sanding and priming plywood, cutting and sewing fabric, and hectic clusters of graphite marks on paper. My creative attention is split about equally between drawing and composing, as I've been recording new sounds (springs, trombone, plucked strings, metal) and starting the first stages of new sound clusters. I've also been in a process of mourning the closing of the Portland Art Center's old town exhibition space, helping to write the history of that space and think about potential futures which could include flexible, project-based collaborations and activities. It's a tremendous loss of invested energy from everyone involved, and it seemed on the edge of real fruition. At the same time, not being weighed down by high rent opens up room for different and exciting modes...

chilly in the studio

but I'm warming up with some labor intensive drawings. Fela Kuti is the soundtrack of the week.