I haven’t posted anything for a while, and just when I thought spring had come the cold and wet weather returned over the weekend. In keeping with the mood, here’s a little piece of music I made the other night and a few of the old photos I’ve been looking through this evening.
I was going to write a blog post tonight but I started thinking about creating graphic representations of 144 Pieces For Organ – in Excel, of course.
Four of them are on YouTube now. Any resemblance to John Cage’s late prints is purely coincidental.
Hope you like the holiday snap. Back at last, with a quick update to say that the complete series of Real Characters and False Analogues videos is now online. Big announcements next week.
I’ve been thinking about generative systems a lot lately. Like, how can I make a series of videos to accompany these microtonal piano pieces I wrote years ago? I want combinations of intersecting colours relating to the harmonic relationships in each piece…
Or I want to make a series of short pieces for organ, written in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet…
Each organ piece is 12 measures long (each measure a different tempo), using 12 organ stops, each stop playing 12 notes. 144 notes in each piece. Each measure begins with a note on different organ stop, all other notes can appear at any time in the piece. Moving from one pitch to the next is done by a crude approximation of flocking behaviour. Within these parameters, all outcomes are determined by chance.
What you need is a system. To keep you going, to avoid artist’s block, to keep the pipeline filled.
I’ve never thought about artist’s block. That’s not an ego thing, it’s just that I hate inspiration. If I have to insert an aesthetic element into a piece then I consider it a failure. I’m thinking of that idea in mathematics of the elegant proof: that great richness of detail can be drawn from a relatively simple interaction of underlying principles. If the system’s good, there should be no need to fudge or tweak to keep things interesting.
Like that paragraph above describing the organ pieces. A brief set of instructions: the sentences are easily understood, the results produced are not easily imaginable. It would seem appropriate to write 144 of them, but I could break off the series at any time.
I’ve been catching up with friends in Melbourne. We’re getting to the age where we can legitimately reminisce about good old times. Back Then it felt like an exciting time and place to be making music, art. Yeah yeah everyone feels their own little scene is special when they’re young, but what we were really talking about was that there seemed to be a big conversation going on. Doesn’t seem that way now. Is there a conservation still going on, and if so why aren’t we taking part in it?
Back in London, where is the conversation?
I always feel awkward about going back somewhere I know people. After an absence, they’ve moved on and I’m going to keep trying to put them back where they used to be. (This worry disappears as soon as we meet, of course.) Went to the Melbourne Now show at the Ian Potter Centre and enjoyed it for the wrong reasons, then met a friend for lunch. She disliked the show, finding it disappointing, superficial. I told her too much London art was even shallower. What had gotten me inspired was just seeing so many people back from the old Conversation still making stuff. Still not sure if this is a misguided thought.
Running with the pack is one thing, but what I miss is the feeling of competing against everyone at once – or at least of trying to hold up one’s own end of an ongoing discussion.
(Wanting to contribute to an interesting dialogue is the main impetus driving my work.)
Back in 2008 I wrote about the web site for Grey Area Art Space Inc. This was the artist-run space in Melbourne where I got my start in making exhibitions and giving performances. The collective and their exhibition space was wound up in early 1999, but the little website for the gallery just kept on going. At the time I wrote last it had stuck around for almost ten years unattended, log in and password long forgotten, almost entirely intact. “I wonder if it will last another ten years?” I asked at the time.
It turned out that the stray query I’d received in 2008 was the last time I was ever asked about exhibiting in a long-defunct space. I’d check up on the site every now and then to see if it was still there and it always was, until last weekend. After 15 years of uninterrupted rest it was finally cleared away on 31 January 2014, along with everything else hosted on the server.
If only I’d contacted them in November, I might have been able to preserve the web location in perpetuity. As I feel partly responsible for this I’ve uploaded a mirror onto my website, complete with the original tilde in the address. If you want a brief journey back in time please visit http://www.cookylamoo.com/~greyarea/.
Had a discussion with some people last week about “experimental” music. I think everyone knows what this means, kind-of, sort-of, but lots of people don’t like it. Because I’m impressionable, whenever the term comes up I think of John Cage’s statement on the subject, from 1957: unfortunately I only ever remember the first part where he says he used to object to the term and forget that he immediately goes on to say he no longer does. He then goes on to talk about music being nothing but sounds and tells the story about the anechoic chamber again and I kind of blank on the rest of the talk. After that, all I’m left with is Cage’s initial objection, “that the experiments that had been made had taken place prior to the finished works, just as sketches are made before paintings and rehearsals precede performances.”
Surely every success is the consequence of a series of failures, and any “experimental” art presented to us is in fact the result of a successful experiment, to some extent. Really, I don’t have a problem with the term because everyone knows what it means, kind-of, sort-of, and we gotta use words when we talk to each other. My problem is this: I keep hearing people saying that a Good Thing about experimental art is that the failures can be as interesting as the successes. I really don’t think this is true.
Firstly, there is the objection already mentioned, that the failed experiment is not presented as the finished work – the finished work is a successful experiment made as a consequence of the failed experiment. But when people cite failures as being potentially productive as successes… does this ever actually happen? There are fortuitous accidents, but that’s a different matter. The “useful failure” seems to be a case of the arts borrowing a concept from science that doesn’t really fit. The most glaring difference is that scientists want their experiments to be replicated by others; artists do not. Artists don’t present a new work with the proviso that it’s actually no good and provide detailed instructions on how it was made, in the hope that someone else will use this method to make a better piece.
Given that artists keep it to themselves, do they ever make an experiment that fails in a way that turns out to be interesting? Again, I’m not talking about fortuitous accidents, I mean failure. An artist makes an experiment that fails, but that failure itself leads them to some sort of creative breakthrough (“not doing it that way” doesn’t count). Can anyone think of examples where this has happened?
I’ve been thinking about Daniel Wolf’s composition 100,000,000,000,000 Pieces for Clarinet and my anxiety over the use of multiples in my own work.
One of the few things I remember about Wittgenstein: “It is questionable if when he died he had ever come to any understanding of the number 2. Two what? Two things would have to be identical, which is absurd if identity has any meaning.”
Something else that sticks in my head: the criticism that the sole distinguishing, even redeeming, feature of the architecture of the World Trade Center towers was that there were two of them. This is where I start to worry about my own stuff. Do I make multiples of things because I think that each individual element is inadequate as a work of art or music in itself?
Write a short, dull, awkward chorale for piano and it’s no big deal. Preface it with the instruction to repeat it 840 times and you become a musical visionary. Make a small, nondescript object and (probably) no-one bothers with a second look. Turn out thousands of identical objects and fill the Turbine Hall and you pull 4.7 million visitors per year.
I will take as a given that I produce substandard music and art. Does this inadequacy at least partly reside in the reliance on duplication, repetition and scale to add the semblance of artistic distinctiveness? I suppose I would rather believe that I am using “the work” as mere material, a vehicle in which to convey the true artistic substance, which somehow emerges from the sense of difference, repetition, scale and duration.
There is a species of art whose meaning and effect is that it is. The use of multiples is one of the clearest ways of making this point: they raise the question of their own existence and leave the speculation to the audience, while the more fundamental dimensions of time and space do the real work on the darker recesses of consciousness.
As for making them, it’s best to plough ahead through the process as something that needs to be done, because the outcome cannot be imagined. This is why I’ve started work on writing out neat versions of 2000 Guitar Solos again.
Further re-reading (for self): Konrad Bayer, “The Mosaic through the Centuries”.
79% of those interviewed agreed that Britain has become a ‘surveillance society’ (51% were unhappy with this).
YouGov / Daily Telegraph poll, 4 December 2006.
I finally had a C-type print made from one of my photos. There was an old picture frame left by the previous tenants, which was doing nothing except housing a rather grubby Fidel Castro calendar for 1997. It had to go.
The trouble is that I’m so pleased with it I want to make another variation and get it printed, too.
This is going to mean finding another frame exactly the same shape and style, or starting all over with two matching frames. I spent months getting round to this and I still think I rushed it.
Just a quick update to say that I AM THE PRESIDENT OF CAPITALISTS INC. now has a proper page of its own on the website. An update with the thrilling sequel to this historical non-re-enactment will be coming as soon as I get my hands on a decent slide scanner.
Also, you can now hear for yourself This Is All I Need, my contribution to the Interior Design: Music for the Bionic Ear project. This was the concert of new music made especially for listeners with cochlear implants, who can understand speech really well but have a hard time making sense out of music. People without technological augmentation can enjoy it just as much. I’ve gone into some detail about the project and the thinking behind the music.
I’m off for the boat train to Belfast tomorrow for Sonorities 2013 at Queen’s University. I’ve prepared a new mix of Third City: Walking on Red and Blue to present at the Sonic Lab on Thursday, 25 April.
In the meantime, I’ve received a new toy in the mail, delivered in an oversized, passive-aggressive box with a warning label defying me to bend it.
I was so excited with my new mini recorder I left it out on the window while still plugged into the speakers and turned it up a little too loud. Please enjoy this video I made by accident.
This is a piece which has been developing for over 15 years now. It started as a pair of field recordings, documenting walks through the city of Melbourne. These recordings were played simultaneously into a third space, Bill Fontana style, as a sound element in my first visual art exhibition. In turn, these sounds were used as raw material to be digitally manipulated, according to a set of instructions obtained from a new interpretation of the maps that determined the route of the original walks. This digitally-transformed version was used in a later exhibition.
I’ve presented later re-interpretations of this material, with subsequent additions and subtractions, but it’s been a number of years since I last worked with field recordings or audio documentation. I’m looking forward to the trip to Belfast as a starting point for resuming this activity.
The theme for Sonorities this year is “beyond soundscape”, so it seems like an appropriate venue for my approach to soundscape work. Third City: Walking on Red and Blue presents two types of artificiality, or synthesis, in its soundscape. The first is through the conflation of two locations into one; the second is through the intermingling of digitally-processed and unaltered sounds. On first hearing, the listener can distinguish certain ‘landmarks’ as belonging to one realm or the other, while other details remain disorientating or misleading.
A bit more about the history of Third City: Walking on Red and Blue is on the main web site. The new remix will be in the Sonic Lab, Queen’s University, Belfast on Thursday 25 April, starting at noon.
I’ve spent a couple of rootless months while finding a new permanent home in London, hence the lack of updates to the blog and the website. Some major bits of news will be going up over the Easter break, both about my own work and other people’s stuff I’ve seen. In particular, I need to set down my experiences from a couple of weeks ago, when I had the privilege of meeting R. Andrew Lee and hearing him give a spellbinding performance of Dennis Johnson’s incredible piece November.
In the meantime please enjoy some more blurry photographs of Berlin.