A Toast to Thomas Angove

Thursday 1 April 2010

I’m breaking my impromptu holiday from blogging to pass on the sad news that Thomas Angove, inventor of the wine cask, has died at the age of 92. Not since the inventor of booze itself has one man advanced the science of getting an entire nation so drunk, so quickly, at so little expense. A large part of the art world will be forever in his debt.

Please Mister Please

Friday 19 March 2010

Big Star, “I Will Always Love You” (1975).
(3’42”, 5.08 MB, mp3)

Link fixed now.

A roundabout way of debating whether or not to pay £10 to see a performance of Monotone Symphony next week

Thursday 18 March 2010

Via greg.org, Google Street View of the street where Yves Klein “actually leapt into space one morning in 1960”. Fun fact I didn’t know: the famous photograph inspired Paul McCarthy to throw himself out of a window at art school.

I hadn’t seen the photograph, so I jumped out feet first,” McCarthy says. “In the late ’60s when I see the image of him diving, I am shocked and I think, ‘Oh god, mine is so pathetic.’ And then, years later, it comes out that the photograph is a fake. That’s what’s so great.”

Once again, I’m back onto the ideas of radical amateurism and the desirability of distortion. I can’t find the references now, so I won’t mention the story of Nam June Paik being annoyed when Joseph Byrd performed Paik’s composition Playing Music (the piece which instructs the performer to make a 10cm cut in their forearm) because, as the instigator, he then felt obliged to perform the piece himself.

Instead, I’ll mention the time I visted the Louisiana Museum and saw a small group of little kids on the floor, clustered around one of the Yves Klein Anthropométries, painstakingly drawing copies, reproducting exactly each stray fleck of paint with coloured pencils and sheets of paper.

The Nostalgia File

Monday 15 March 2010

This was inevitable. I’ve been trying to find some of my old recordings to re-edit and pass off as new recordings for someone’s project. Of course, those recordings aren’t where I thought they were and now I can’t find them. Also of course, I’ve turned up a bunch of other old stuff instead, which I’d forgotten I had.

And so I’ve spent the evening listening to music with which I’m completely unfamiliar, even though I made it myself. It’s mostly stuff I obviously had no intention of using for “end product” at the time yet, compulsive hoarder that I am, set aside for possible future salvage. Usually this activity is about as optimistic as saving a small bowl of leftovers in the fridge, but in this case it turns out I may not have been quite as dumb as usual.

There is, as I hoped at the time, some stuff in here that interests me which I couldn’t hear when it was made, because I was too close to the process. At that stage of recording I was looking for a certain set of sounds, and I had to shut out everything that wasn’t relevant to my immediate goal – whether it was “interesting” or not – lest I get hopelessly lost amongst all these distracting details. I don’t need distractions; I can wander off-topic all by myself.

This experience has reinforced some ideas I’ve been clarifying in my mind for a while, about my relationship to my music. There should be some posts about these ideas soon, and some uploads of the salvaged tracks.

Please Mister Please

Sunday 7 March 2010

The Dixie Cups, Two-Way-Poc-A-Way” (1965).
(2’42”, 2.46 MB, mp3)

Filler By Proxy LXXVIII: We connect August Strindberg with John Cage

Sunday 7 March 2010

Few outside of Sweden know that the playwright August Strindberg had periods of intense engagement with painting and photography in the 1890s, when his literary creativity had reached a deadlock. In an essay from 1894 called “Chance in Artistic Creation,” he describes the methods that he employs, speaking about his wish to “imitate […] nature’s way of creating.”* …

Strindberg distrusted camera lenses, since he considered them to give a distorted representation of reality. Over the years he built several simple lens-less cameras made from cigar boxes or similar containers with a cardboard front in which he had used a needle to prick a minute hole. But the celestographs were produced by an even more direct method using neither lens nor camera. The experiments involved quite simply placing his photographic plates on a window sill or perhaps directly on the ground (sometimes, he tells us, already lying in the developing bath) and letting them be exposed to the starry sky.

More about Strindberg’s Celestographs can be found at Cabinet, along with a translation of “On Chance in Artistic Creation“. (Found via greg.org.)

* A quote remarkably similar to John Cage’s “The function of Art is to imitate Nature in her manner of operation,” a thought to which he returned throughout his later life. Cage got this idea from reading Ananda Coomaraswamy’s The Transformation of Nature in Art. I don’t remember Cage making any references to Strindberg, and I don’t know how far east Strindberg extended his interest in exotic forms of spirituality.

Another gig – 24 February

Sunday 21 February 2010

I’ll be one of the performers of Dan Goren’s new group piece Sum Over Histories, as part of Music Orbit Showcase 3: 7.30pm on Wednesday 24 February 2010 at The Forge, 3–7 Delancey Street, Camden Town NW1 7NL. More info here – should be an interesting night of electroacoustic group improvisations and more. I’d tell you more but even I don’t know exactly what’s going to be happening.

Please Mister Please

Thursday 18 February 2010

Josef Matthias Hauer, “Labyrinthischer Tanz, Op. III” (1953). Joseph Kubera and Julie Steinberg, piano.
(4’27”, 6.33 MB, mp3)

What Was Music?

Thursday 18 February 2010

Futile longing for a vanished world.

Rescreening: String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta)

Sunday 14 February 2010

When String Quartet No.2 (Canon in Beta) was exhibited as part of Redrawing in 2008, I added a video component to it, as a structural gesture to the work’s origins, and acknowledgement that it was being exhibited in a show of visual art. Fiona Macdonald kindly made me a video of a blank, white screen, which played on a continuous loop in the room while my cheap Malaysian laptop sat on a shelf and performed the music.

When I was asked to play the Quartet at the Vibe Bar last month I was also asked if I had a copy of the video to go with it. Even though I didn’t, I said yes, figuring that (a) it surely couldn’t be that hard to make a video of flat, solid white and (b) however bad it turned out it couldn’t be worse than having some random VJ doodling crap all over the wall behind you while you’re trying to play some music.

As it turned out, (b) the lovely people at Music Orbit don’t pull that gratuitous VJ shit, and (a) about as time consuming and frustrating as I thought it might be. There’s a video button on my little digital camera, which I’d never switched on before. I balanced the camera on a stool, pointed it at a flat white panel on a door, and let it roll.

You’d think there’d be nothing simpler, but it took a few goes and some playing around with the settings before I got something slightly acceptable. The gloomy English skies of January didn’t help much either, and I got 10 minutes of fairly solid grey. I played this back on my computer and made a handheld video of the screen. After too much time messing about with the movie editor software that came free with the laptop I got the final product, a soft grey that complements the muted monchromaticism of the music.

As the resulting video is a remake of a pre-existing work (originally made for an exhibition about remakes), and is itself a video of a video, the title Rescreening seemed apt. The 10-minute duration of the Vibe Bar performance makes it an ideal fit for YouTube, where you can play it to your heart’s content.

Goodbye to Everything

Thursday 11 February 2010

The Museum of Everything closes on Sunday. This remarkable hoard of “outsider art” (for want of a better term) hidden away off a sidestreet in Primrose Hill has been the hotspot for jaded punters over the past few months. The exhibition is a crash course in the past century of artworks by autodidacts, the mentally ill, folk artists, backyard shamans and the otherwise obsessed.

This is the second ambitious attempt I’ve seen in London to find a way of accommodating this art into mainstream practice, the other being an exhibition at Whitechapel a few years ago which intermingled the “outsiders” and the, um, “insiders”. It’s reassuring to read that the Museum founder James Brett rejects the term “outsider”, preferring “self-taught”. The unusual presentation of the exhibition doesn’t try to normalise the art, but it is similar enough to typical underground art spaces to prevent the work being trivialised. Sensational aspects of the artists’ biographies are, for the most part, kept to the minimum necessary to contextualise their art. Strangely enough, the growth of the public’s prurient interest in other people’s private lives has met the outsiders halfway, so that scrutiny of their personal affairs is no less than for any other painter, politician or priest.

Despite the claims of outsider art’s champions, it’s not hard to spot discrepancies between it and the “normal” art world. This self-taught art is frighteningly earnest; it presents in starkest terms the case for art as (to adapt Ezra Pound’s saying) objects charged with meaning to the utmost possible degree. Each item is saturated with significance, a desperate need to communicate a truth not otherwise evident in the material world. In this respect the exhibition is the clearest possible refutation of the modern lie (told by non-artists) that art is self-expression.

The wall texts, thankfully confined to artists and not individual works, are variable in quality and point to the greatest tensions underpinning the show. It was a nice idea to have each text written by a different person, each presumably with some insight or deeply felt response to that particular artist. At their best they present an interesting perspective on the artist’s work, as with the blurbs for Henry Darger and Alexandre P Lobanov. At their worst they manifest the worst traits in discussing outsider art: hyperbole (relativism + overcompensation = genius), misrepresentation (the self-expression canard again) and London’s Appeal to Authority, the celeb endorsement (Q: Does Nick Cave really think Louis Wain is “the greatest”? A: Who cares?). In any case the curators find it hard to discuss the artworks without making them seem like relics of a personality, surrogates for the real topic of interest – but this is a problem with most cultural criticism across the board, these days.

Like the art itself, the exhibition was overstuffed. Room after room crammed with paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations, of the highest overall standard I’ve seen in a big show for a long time. I’ve been twice now and each time came away feeling overwhelmed, knowing that there was still plenty more I’d missed.

Please Mister Please

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Clouds, “4 p.m.” (1991).
(2’32”, 4.67 MB, mp3)

Doppelgänger Blues

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Thanks to another one of those wacky mixups that keep happening to me, I found out that some people have been listening to my music on Last.fm, presumably by accident. By “some” I mean “fourteen”.

Enticed by the prospect of doubling the size of my audience, I took responsibility for my artist page and have now started uploading stuff there too. At first, under the “Similar Artists” tag on my page they listed Max Neuhaus and I was chuffed. Then they changed it to People Like Us and I was sad. Now they list a bunch of guys I’ve never heard of so I’m OK with sharing with you again.

There are only a few tracks up right now, but I’d like to put up some pieces I don’t have room for on my website. Will give you a heads-up when new material appears.

I met Tony Buck with a flashing red bike light stuck in my mouth outside the old Brisbane Museum.

Monday 8 February 2010

I met Tony Buck with a flashing red bike light stuck in my mouth outside the old Brisbane Museum (download, 23’24”, 23.43 MB, mp3)

Having set a neat little process in operation, I repeatedly find myself in the dilemma of whether or not to then break it in some way. It’s not a question of worrying about being ‘composerly’ enough, and I still find that there’s a lot to be said for letting the process do its work without further human intervention. In fact, it’s this disinclination to interfere that makes me wonder if I ought to do something to disrupt it. The question becomes one of how sounds can be heard when they become alienated from the system that produced them.

In November 2003 I wrote some simple scripts in a MIDI editor to generate a sequence of the most common cadences in Western harmony, each one continuing from where the last left off. Eventually, the sequence went through the entire circle of fifths, with every note in the octave being used as the tonic for every cadence. Rather than have this cycle repeat itself as infinitum, I made a retrograde inversion of the entire sequence, sending the whole thing back to where it started (despite it having gotten there already), only upside down.

I met Tony Buck with a flashing red bike light stuck in my mouth outside the old Brisbane Museum is performed on an organ which is very slowly going out of tune, with the higher notes gradually sliding down a semitone during the course of the piece, while the lower notes gradually slide up a semitone. To complement the sense of entropy, I patched in the cheap, nasty soundcard built into my computer and amplified the line noise (continued.)

Filler By Proxy LXXVII: The Turner Prize and the Super Bowl

Thursday 4 February 2010

I care even less about gridiron than I do about any other type of football, and I would have happily ignored that Super Bowl match the Americans are having on Sunday until this popped up at Modern Art Notes. Museum directors in the home towns of the two rival teams are betting their art on the result, and the stakes keep getting higher.

On Monday, Indianapolis Museum of Art director Max Anderson proposed wagering an IMA loan of an Ingrid Calame painting to the New Orleans Museum of Art, should the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts.

That was a nice choice… but apparently Anderson wasn’t too worried about having to pay off the bet: “We’re already spackling the wall where the NOMA loan will hang,” he tweeted.

Over the past few days, the two directors have been locked in a cycle of calling and raising their bets, with plenty of trash talk about each other’s teams, cities, and taste in art. The full coverage is here.