Third City: Walking on Red and Blue

Thursday 13 May 2010

Third City was an installation for photographs, drawings, maps, printed texts and two simultaneous recordings on a loop. Exhibited at Grey Area Art Space, Melbourne, 1998.

There is the absurd tale of a Spaniard who used a map of Barcelona to find his way around Paris; or of an associate of the situationists who traversed the Harz mountains with a map of London for guidance; or of Robinson’s quest for signs of Parisian café culture in the suburbs of London. The UBD street directories used to feature on their covers an aerial photograph of the city in question (Adelaide, Brisbane) overseen by a man on a tightrope, invariably consulting a map of inner Sydney.

From the intersection of the preconceived city found on the map and the experienced city found on the ground, a third city results that can be found only in the mind – a discernible form rising out of the collision of images.

Such a city may be conjectured from the fragments assembled here, according to a plan drawn from a conflation of two cities. On a map of Adelaide (where I grew up) I marked sixty-four points in the city that had some personal significance to me, and mapped out the different psychogeographic ‘zones’ that I felt held sway over my movements about town. These points and lines were then transferred onto a map of Melbourne’s central grid, creating a plan that would determine most aspects of the eventual installation.

Certain points on this plan were selected by chance to be written about (referring to Adelaide), other points were photographed (in their transposed Melbourne locations), and maps were drawn from memory connecting points in different zones of Adelaide. Sounds recorded in central Melbourne were treated electronically, using the plan as a musical score, measuring selected points against the grid to determine the varying attributes to be given each sound.

The plan was then used to assemble these divergent images of cities, measuring corresponding points on the grid to determine the placement of sounds in time, the maps and texts in the space of their pages, and the placement of all the articles on the three available walls.

Walking the City on Red and Blue

In 1997 I walked two circuits around central Melbourne, visiting sites represented on postcards. An audio recording was made of each walk, with distance measured by aurally marking each red object passed on one walk (left channel) and blue objects on the other. This became the material to be electronically treated, according to the score generated using the Third City map. Two tapes were created, which played simultaneously on loops for the duration of the installation. The tapes were of different lengths and interspersed silences with periodic bursts of treated and untreated city sounds, in varying overlapping patterns.

A few years later I made a new mix of the tapes for the Hearing Place Audiotheque, which combined sounds from both the original, untreated tapes and the processed sounds, to make a composite sound portrait of walking the city.

My Drug Money

Monday 10 May 2010

The Caffe Nero in Theobalds Road is obviously a money-laundering front.

Varèse 360°: but first, a rant.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

On the weekend I was blown away by the Edgard Varèse 360° gigs – yep, three tight little concerts of the complete works of Varèse. Awesome.

I want to write some nice things about it, so I’ll get this out of the way first. Enough with the crappy video projections, already. Nobody likes them. Critics don’t like them, the punters don’t like them, nobody’s bought a ticket to your gig to look at insipid video art, they’re there for the music and your ill-conceived attempts at visual decoration are a distraction at best, an embarrassment at worst. You’ve been trying this crap on for years and it hasn’t gotten any better. Give up. The people coming to your gigs are savvy enough about culture to know that your visuals just don’t cut it for a professional outfit. You may think you’re getting down with Yoof but if The Kids are lured to one of your concerts they’re already switched on to video and recognise crap when they see it. Stop it – you’re only hurting yourselves. It undermines the concert experience for the regulars and it convinces the newcomers that it’s as lame as they feared.

My weekend, so far

Sunday 18 April 2010

The Slips

Sunday 11 April 2010

More details about The Slips can be found here. Audio excerpts and other documents will be available soon, once I’ve cleaned them up a bit.

Performance of The Slips at Clubs, 2003. Click for larger view.

Slips 1 and Slips 2 were written in March 1999 and revised in November 2002. They are two of several works I have written using musical compositional techniques to produce texts; in particular they are inspired by the formalist poetry of John Cage and Konrad Bayer. Unlike my previous texts (A Walk Around the Lake (1994-95) and An Austrian Automaton (1996- )) Slips 1 and 2 were written particularly with spoken performance in mind.

The matter for both pieces is taken from the slips of paper – Zettel – the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein kept in a box, in no particular order, which was discovered after his death. From this collection of short texts I have taken only the words and phrases written in quotation marks: examples of language, hypothetical speech, “things”, rather than the thoughts that connect or discuss them. A list of some 650 phrases or words was thus obtained.

Both works are one hour long, for two voices. For Slips 1, each minute was allocated a certain number of phrases, between zero and twelve, for each speaker to say. Apart from some specified timings, the speakers are permitted to say their phrases at any time within the designated durations. As well as speaking, the performers are instructed to write out specified passages while they say them. The number of phrases spoken, the selection of phrases from the list, the timings and designated written passages, were all determined by chance using Andrew Culver’s computer program ic, an I Ching simulator. With the exception of a small number of chance-selected phrases, the parts for the two voices in Slips 1 are almost identical, differing only in their timing and passages designated to be written out.
Excerpt from a page of Slips 1. Click for larger version.

Slips 2 uses the same compositional method as Slips 1, but instead of complete phrases only a restricted number of words are selected from the given phrases. At first these words are extracted from the text for Slips 1, and after this material is exhausted newly-selected phrases from the list were subjected to this process. The parts for the two voices in Slips 2 do not differ at all, apart from their timings and designated written passages.
Excerpt from a page of Slips 2. Click for larger version.

The two works may be performed separately, or with Slips 2 following Slips 1. Each work may be performed by two live speakers, or one live speaker with a recorded voice. As the text gives the original German and parallel English translation, each piece may be read out in either language, or a mixture of the two.

Two important aspects of The Slips in performance are the prevalence of silence (absence of consciously-produced sound) and the sense of time passing. One final point is the requirement for additional music to play very quietly sometime during the middle third of each piece. Other events may occur simultaneously with the performance.
Performance of The Slips at Clubs, 2003. Click for larger view.

The first complete performance of The Slips was given by myself at Clubs Project Inc. in April 2003. I performed both works twice, once reading each part, with a recording of myself reading the other part. The performance was entirely in English. To emphasise those two important aspects mentioned above, all the windows in the venue were left open throughout the afternoon of the performance, and the last of the four readings was times to conclude at sunset. During the second performance of Slips 2 the shadows lengthened across the room, and the candle on my table that I had lit at the start of the afternoon finally asserted its prominence as the only light source within the room.

At certain moments during the day, excerpts from my NSTNT HPSCHD PCKT MX (2002) for fourteen virtual, out-of-tune baroque harpsichords would play softly in another part of the venue, its presence more noticeable in its disappearances.

Other, smaller-scale pieces have been made from the same source material as The Slips. The most notable of these is Wandering Split (2002), an audio-only piece that was essentially a condensed version of Slips 1, spoken simultaneously in English and German, with a specially composed musical soundtrack acting as a third voice mediating between the two. Wandering Split was first presented as part of a sound installation in the group multimedia exhibition Gating, curated by Michael Graeve at West Space Art in 2002, and subsequently issued on the exhibition CD. Since then, the piece has enjoyed a few outings at sound art gigs in Austria.

Hecker at Chisenhale

Monday 5 April 2010

Whether the effect were intentional or not, a single cough belied the purpose of this installation. Florian Hecker had four “sound pieces” installed at Chisenhale Gallery last month. That term “sound pieces” in the accompanying gallery text serves to remind everyone of the problem this type of show always brings up: that sound art is merely failed music.

In the gallery the show looked all very nice and professional, and did enough to fulfil the expected role of a sound art installation, yet not enough to succeed. There were four pieces, each of a specific length and played through a particular set of speakers. The gallery was thoughtful enough to provide a programme to give an idea of what you were getting and when, but this act had the side effect of raising the spectre of Ersatz Art: the special pleading for a piece of music or film displayed in a gallery to be judged on a different set of artistic criteria.

Should you sit (stand, actually) through the entire programme just to hear the first minute of the one you came in on, to say that you honestly “got” that whole piece? If you don’t like that long piece, should you be expected to wait through it to hear if the next one’s any better? These are probably not the questions the artist intended to raise with this show.

Three of the four pieces used directional speakers to create a spatialised distribution of sound through the large, resonant room. This seemed really cool until someone coughed or fidgeted and you realised that the room was so reverberant that any sound at all created the same effect. If that point was the work’s intention, then it was obscured by an apparent need to make composerly, musical gestures in each piece. This was especially the case with the fourth piece, which attempted to project contrasting movements of sound through the space, but was swallowed up by the room’s acoustics and ambiguous sonic material.

The most effective piece pointed a single speaker at a tiled section of wall at one end of the room, creating an impressive array of localised sounds from the echoes it generated. The other pieces lacked the clarity needed for the room.

The question remains, whether it is possible to present sound art purely as sound when its presentation, as here, is so dependent on the sense of time passing.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Filler By Proxy LXXVI: Poème Electronique

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Philips PavilionJodru at ANABlog went to see the virtual recreation of the Philips Pavilion from the 1958 Brussels World Fair, and has posted a fascinating summary of little-known aspects of the project.

The design of the pavilion, which housed a presentation of Edgar Varèse’s tape composition Poème Electronique, was attributed to Le Corbusier at the time. The title was in fact Le Corbusier’s idea: “I shall not create a pavilion, but a poème électronique. Everything will happen inside: sound, light, color, rhythm…” He then got Iannis Xenakis, his assistant, to design it for him.

At ANABlog you can see a photograph of the World Fair site, showing the size of the Philips Pavilion, compared to those of the USA and the USSR, along with surprising photographs of the pavilion other than the iconic image on the left. There are also more details about how Varèse tried to exploit the acoustic properties of the pavilion’s interior to the fullest, creating an immersive, spatialised sonic experience (and nixed Le Corbusier’s plans to lecture the audience over the top of his music.)

Plenty more goodies at the Virtual Electronic Poem site, including a Dutch documentary made at the time of the pavilion’s construction, and photographs of the other pavilions at the fair. There’s a lot of retro-futuristic architecture, but there are also the names: Atomium, the USSR, the Tobacco Pavilion, Kodak, Pan Am. Watch the film, and see the world in which the pavilion was built, and the fact that this all happened over a half a century ago really hits home. This temple to modernity was planned by hat-wearing men, built by workmen driving creaky lorries and spraying asbestos like it was whipped cream. It’s a future that never happened, but it’s amazing that it got as far as it did.

“…since they are dead are ghosts and as such inhabit the same world we do.” — John Cage

Monday 11 January 2010

4h 33°

This Way to the Miracle

Thursday 7 January 2010

Agape Miracle Centre Church, Catford