Mike Migurski invented a very nice way of recording his reading and sharing it, in a series of posts: 'blog all dog-eared pages'. Since he seems happy for others to follow the format I thought I'd do the same. It's a handy way of recording what strikes you about a book. I dog-ear a lot. And underline and scribble in the margins. But then seldom look back at what I marked. So this might be a way of getting more out of my reading. Especially since I'm planning to try and expand beyond my usual repertoire of space opera, Dorothy L. Sayers and business books from airports. I'm trying to read about things that I think I might like if only I knew more about them. Sound Art by Alan Licht is a great example. I'm going to excerpt the dog-earings and link to the artstuff that appealed to me from pictures and descriptions. Because this is mostly new to me I don't have a lot to add to the quotes, so the things I've dog-eared are just things that struck me or that caused tangential thoughts.
I thought it was a tremendous book, serious without being weighty, gave me a sense of some interesting stuff out there, and a sense of how it fitted together. And googling Mr Licht let me find, via Dan Hill, this beautiful piece he did; A New York Minute.
A friend recently commented that avant-garde art is now commercially viable and extremely successful, whereas avant-garde literature, music, and film are usually uncommercial and generally unsuccessful. He's right, but that is because art doesn't have the inherent entertainment value of a narrative that those other art forms have. It doesn't have to appeal to the masses to be successful-as long as it catches one collector's (or curator's)attention, the person who created it can make a fair amount of money from it. Literature, music, and film, however, depend on popular opinion and public demand. This is because they're the primary sources of entertainment besides sports. And that is because of the potential to be engrossed by a storyline and characters, dazzled by spectacle, or have a catchy tune stuck in your head all day. If an effort in any of these disciplines fails to live up to this potential, it's largely considered to be a disappointment; in fact, it's intrinsically disappointing regardless of its actual aesthetic worth. Part of the reason "sound art" has become such a popular term is because it rescues music from this fate by aligning this kind of sound work with the aims of non-time-based plastic arts, rather than the aims of music.
I like this idea of art being viable because it can succeed through reaching a much smaller group of people. One of the things that's interesting about the fragmentation of music is the way smaller and smaller audiences can support more and more specialised artists (artistically, if not commercially).
It also chimes with something I've been thinking about for a while; the idea of commissioning technology like you commission art. There are loads of devices and things I'd like to see built, just for me. I have none of the skills to build them, and I'm not trying to prototype a product, these aren't things that millions of people are going to want and Samsung are going to want to build. These are things that I'd like for me. And it'd be great if there was a marketplace for that, like there's a marketplace if I wanted to get my picture painted on a horse. Maybe there is. I should look harder.
Max Neuhaus - Listen - 'field trips' to listen to sounds, guided by the artist
Stephen Vitiello - Fear of High Places and Natural Things
Ed Osborn - Audio Recordings of Great Works of Art - the Aural Aura Of Masterworks.
"It is this sense of perspective with the introduction of studio effects, particularly echo, that Brian Eno felt made "the process of making music much closer to the process of painting." David Toop has written that in the echo-heavy Jamaican reggae dub genre "the mixing board becomes a pictorial instrument" creating "depth illusion".
I'm not really sure why I dog-eared this page. Except it seems interesting and true.
Bill Viola has written of Gothic cathedrals: "Ancient architecture abounds with examples of remarkable acoustic design - whispering galleries where a bare murmur of a voice materializes at a point hundreds of feet away across the hall or the perfect clarity of the Greek amphitheaters where a speaker, standing at a focal point created by the surrounding walls, is heard by all members of the audience". In modern times architecture has been less preoccupied with acoustics, "sound as a medium is still lost a lot in our culture," sound artist Bill Fontana has said. "Architecture hardly thinks about it. We design space visually and don't think about the relationships between sounds that exist in space."
Modern buildings do seem to be acoustic disasters. Which makes cities even worse, and not something that urban planners seem to think about. And maybe they can't, maybe the urban environment is just too chaotic to be designed for sound. Perhaps there's salvation in the fact that we carry aural environments around with us these days, and, unless we've got really, really good headphones they don't totally blank out the city, they just sit on top of it. I'm always surprised there's not more ambient music designed for this; not for quiet rooms but for the loud environments we're forced to move through. Though Ambient Addition would still be the ultimate answer. Perhaps to everything.
Edgard Varese - listening to his Poeme electronique. That is just a great picture. Henry Miller described him as "The stratospheric Colossus of Sound". You can see a 1958 performance of Poeme electronique on YouTube.
"In 1969 Stockhausen staged an outdoor concert in the Giacometti courtyard (with Joan Miro sculptures) at the museum of the Maeght Foundation at St Paul de Vence, in which musicians sat on roofs, ramps, and in the courtyard, integrating sounds from frogs, cicadas, and other animals. After three hours each musician started to to walk off, still playing, into the forest. At 2 AM there was "a twenty-minute-long dialogue with car horns. I [Stockhausen] started it but then all the people who hadn't left began making horn music with each other, and as one after the other drove off, they exchanged sounds for miles down the road."
I still listen to the Helicopter Quartet every now and then. You have to listen to it, you can't have it in the background, but if you pay attention, it rewards it. But it fits in absolutely with the image I had of Stockhausen as a rather humourless, stern fellow. None of the recent obituaries did much to undermine that and nor did his telling off of Aphex Twin, Plasticman et al for being too repetitive. But this story makes him seem rather playful and light. Maybe it's the pastoral setting. Or the image you get of little 60s cars wondering drunkenly down the road, honking.
Cage: "A music which is like furniture...which is part of the noises of the environment, that will take them into consideration."
You see this quote a lot when people talk about Eno and ambient music. And it always make my mind wonder and stray off the point to imaginary designs for furniture - featuring built in musical instruments. In my head I have elaborate designs for an armchair with a thumb-piano built into each arm so you could sit and idly fiddle on them while watching telly. And I've always wanted to attach drum pads to the steering wheel of the car, wired into the stereo, so you can drum along more effectively. And to make a coffee table which uses marble-run style actions inside the legs and under a glass top to play a little tune. Anyway.
Morton Feldman, after a discussion with Brian O'Doherty concluded: "My obsession with surface is the subject of my music. In that sense my compositions are not really "compositions" at all. One might call them time canvasses in which I more or less prime the canvas with an overall hue of the music...I prefer to think of my work as between categories. Between time and space. Between painting and music. Between the music's construction, and its surface." Between categories is a defining characteristic of sound art, its creators historically coming to the form from different disciplines and often continuing to work in music and/or different media. But in the last decade sound art's identity between categories has intensified, particularly as the term itself has spread. Eno's ideal sound installation is "a place poised between a club, a gallery, a church, a square, and a park, and sharing aspects of all of these."
Maybe that's why I find Sound Art appealing; the idea of it, at least. And maybe why it's getting popular (and I get the sense it is, is it?) - because of the way it hangs between categories. That seems to be an increasingly modern state - finding yourself suspended between previous definitions.
Joe Jones - Mechanical Fluxorchestra. I just like the way this looks.