Sunday, December 31, 2006

12 minutes after 6 o' clock...


new years is probably the biggest holiday in japan, and it is a time not only to be with family; but also to visit those who are important in one’s life. when greeting one's elders it is still important to show them the proper respect.

I found these images in yesterday's kobe newspaper. it would seem that some of japan’s oldest customs are slipping away; and after 60 plus years of embracing western culture, japan's younger generations either don’t know the customs, or have forgotten the proper ways to practice them.

these photos were used to illustrate an article on the proper method of bowing, just in time for new years greetings. of course, one would expect to see such things in a travel guide or roland barthes empire of signs; but it was a little surprising to find them in the morning paper.

i really like how they equate the body angles with different times on a clock. essentially, one should keep one's feet firmly planted at 6 o’clock, with head moving from 5 minutes past the hour to the position of utmost respect at 12 minutes past the hour. remember when bowing to a person older than you, to keep the position longer than the person you are offering respect to...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

off to japan...


i will be in japan for the next few weeks
airforms may or may not be silent
while i am gone...

a man from airforms
travels to the land
of the rising sun
to find the man with a basket
on his head
and a shakuhachi
in his mouth.
the man from airforms
is also seeking ancient gardens,
and of course
old photos, maps, graphics, and sounds...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

a realm for the senses...







these are some of my favorite printed pages of all time. they are from a booklet entitled the realm of flight, "published by the federal aviation agency and presenting practical information about weather in relation to the piloting of an aircraft"... no date but probably early 1950's.

rather than wax poetically about their artistic merits, or feebly attempt to discuss their technical meanings; i'll just say that they mostly refer to air currents and airplanes, in a visual language that clearly represents the golden age of scientific illustration... these exist in the netherworlds between concrete visualizations of abstract ideas, and abstract visualizations of concrete ideas... they are really so much more than they were ever meant to be...

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

music for tape, ice, and hot water...


an image from the feb. 1958 issue of radio and tv news, illustrating a method of testing the quality of audio tape by running it over a block of ice, through the deck, into some boiling water, and back... one can only dream of the lush beautiful tone poem this might have produced...

Monday, December 25, 2006



in december 1979 i bought a great little punk zine called praxis because of articles on the buzzcocks, gang of four, magazine, and johnny thunders. nestled in the center was a flexi disc that at the time was disappointingly not punk rock.

... the flexi (which i recently discovered in a box) is a version of silent night played by robert fripp with all the holiday frippertronic trimmings. it's basically guitar running through a reel to reel tape deck, creating live delays and loops...

while i'm not much of a fan of the song, or holiday music in general, this is quite a beauty and i like to think it's more about the feeling of "night. silent." than anything else... happy holidays.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

jingle bells...


Saturday, December 23, 2006

that's what drums are for...


Friday, December 22, 2006

up-side up...(addendum)

23 numbers (key):

small egg
big egg
long stream
big pool
low sound
high sounds

jagged surface
elephant mouth

top circle
bottom circle (connected)

moon center
smaller moon center
small moon

medium light
hole filled with holes

bright light
caterpillar moving upwards


an egg in a nest
dim light

Thursday, December 21, 2006

up-side up...


tonight's the solstice... so... here's a beautiful moon map from a 1910 brochure for the terlux binocular - binoculars that were supposed to be used as a telescope. i only have the first page of the brochure, but it professes to show the "when and where to find the things of beauty and interest in the night-sky".

perhaps these things of beauty were also to be found in the brochure itself, as this map is a favorite. the caption states "most of the published photographs and charts of the moon are "up-side down", as viewed in an astronomical telescope. our chart shows the moon without this inversion of the image - as viewed in the terlux". i love how the scrawls and numbers look like a kind of secret code...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

a solid sky...




3 maps from a little book called an easy guide to southern stars, published in london in the early 1900's. most of the maps are beautiful deep blue circles filled with tiny white dots making up the constellations. they're pretty familiar feeling, but the maps on the last 3 pages are quite different.

the thing that struck me were the dashed lines that present the constellation clusters as territories with the kind of graphic borders that are usually used to designate land areas. the lines define forms i've never really seen in sky maps before, and they create images that have nothing to do with the openness and visual emptiness of traditional sky. in a sense, they re-present the sky as a solid plane - feeling like a flat landscape of interlocking pieces seen from above.

the forms remind me a lot of jasper johns's smaller fragmented map paintings, or even more so like some of the later works, such as green angel which turns images into map-like presences.

the small book has been in my studio for years, and while i've tried unsuccessfully to use the maps to generate specific works several times over the last 15 years or so, i think they've definitely had an influence on my image building...

Monday, December 18, 2006



arrived in today's mail...the brothers, the guitars, and the beautiful orange spots of something... if you stare at it long enough you can hear it...

unsilent night...


last night we participated in a performance of phil kline's unsilent night, a work he has presented publicly during the holidays in new york for the last 15 years. created as a kind of alternative to holiday songs and caroling, this was the first time it has been performed in los angeles, and it was quite a wonderful evening.

at 6:30 pm, i'm guessing about 250 people gathered at pan pacific park in the mid wilshire area. the 50 or so people who brought boom boxes were given cds or cassettes, and at around 7 pm we all started the music and began a 30 minute walk around the darkened park. it was a beautiful brisk evening.

at the beginning, it felt like all the boom boxes were playing the same thing, but after a few minutes, the music, which sounded like it was mainly composed with synthesizers, and/or voices with tons of reverb, began to shift. as the piece evolved, the sound coming out of each boom box became much more distinct; and because everyone had a different audio system, the variety of speakers added to the different sound colors. eventually, as we became more of a line than a clump, the sound became a spatial cloud with one's own sounding box as a kind of center.

we followed the leader's star shaped ballon along the park's path, until we ended up at a small outdoor amphitheater, where the drones and washes turned into chime sounds. the last 15 minutes or so were spent seated in the dark, listening to the various cds end. the soundscape got smaller and smaller until the last disc went quiet. this last section of the music was beautiful.

there were many things about the experience that were really lovely; particularly being audience and performer at the same time. there were moments that were incredibly intimate and moments that felt extremely communal; and there were moments of passivity, as well as moments of focus. some people talked a bit, but for the most part it was not a distraction as the atmosphere was more of a gathering than a performance.

surprisingly, the music never felt random. it was compelling at times (referencing minimalism and synth potentials), and perhaps a little too new agey at others (i heard someone mention "tubular bells"); but in many ways, although it wasn't secondary, the music became a soundtrack for an experience rather than a composition in and of itself. the sound became a vehicle for a different kind of musical activity, and so the listening became more important than the listened to - and in a way, the fact that we were all producing the sound became more important than the sound produced.

i think particularly because we had all volunteered to help create the piece, rather than pay to sit in a space and listen to it, the dual role of participant and audience shifted one's notion of a concert experience (and in a way, improvised music because many of us were manipulating the boom box controls or swinging the speakers as we strolled). it was totally different than the few performances i've seen where audience members are handed speakers or instruments in their seats, as there was no physical or implied separation of performer and audience at all.

like film music that is always dependent upon a specific scene; i'm not sure unsilent night would be a great listen on it's own, but as fuel for an experiential fire it definitely burned brightly. you can hear a bit of it here, and i would encourage folks to check out the schedule as it's being done in a number of other cities around the holidays; and check out kline's discography, his work should definitely be better known.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

he who consumes white wine, popcorn, and sesame seed candy.


when i first heard this recording of babalu, i couldn't begin to fathom how something this beautiful could've ever ended up the schmaltzy signature tune of desi arnaz. i couldn't find any information on joaquin y diana, but the guitar playing, singing, rhythms, and the complexity of the interwoven song shifts in this 78 are unbelievable - and it just might have the greatest "ariba" ever recorded. it's the antethesis of the the campy "cuban pete" persona of desi's work; and it's absolutely sublime.

The song babalu, which was of course made famous by desi arnaz, is actually a tribute to san lazaro, babalu aye. according to the web, "December 17th, is Babalu Aye day in the Afro-Cuban religion. Babalu Aye is the Orisha name for St. Lazarus, who is commonly referred to as the father of the world. BabaluAye is the Orisha who governs epidemics and heals infectious diseases. Though originally associated with smallpox, many of today's worshippers appeal to BabaluAye for healing from HIV/AIDs. His colors are brown, black, and purple. His number is 17. His symbols are two dogs and crutches. He is portrayed dressed in burlap. He is offered white wine, popcorn, sesame seed candy, and a variety of grains, beans, and seeds.

Many Cubans hold a vigil starting the night of December 16th. They get together and light candles and make offerings to Babalu Aye and wait for him to arrive at midnight. Come midnight they ask for San Lazaro to watch over them and keep them and their families safe and healthy."

celebrate december 17th with a listen to joaquin y diana's babalu

the boy wonder...


here he is, age 6, the youngest violin player in the u.s.a on an RPPC from 1922. when i found this card i figured l. wade ray was a flash in the pan that no one had ever heard of, but boy was i wrong...

by the time the above photo was taken, he had already been touring for a year; and by the time he was 10 he'd amassed a collection of over 100 fiddles given to him by adoring fans. my favorite of his many feats is that in 1958 he was the first person to ever play an electric fiddle - made for especially for him by fender.

in classic hillbilly tradition, wade learned to play the fiddle as a young child on a homemade instrument made by his father out of an old cigar box. dropping the "L" from his name, wade ray would eventually appear in some of cowboy rex allen's hollywood films, and later on in some of the country hillbilly themed early televison shows. much of his honky tonk music of the 60's is still available on cd; and it seems he was good friends with willie nelson. ironically, after wade ray became a star, the boy wonder was nicknamed "pappy"...

wade pappy ray died in 1998, with a little less chops than the image above, but still fiddlin' right up until the end. below is a photo found online from the 50s... note the resemblence of pappy to the young guy...


Friday, December 15, 2006

before harry partch...


anyone out there know what this instrument is? kind of like a slide whistle meets a clarinet. i've never seen such a thing. the photo was taken at royal studio in fresno california...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

all is falling...


well, i don't know about global warming, but the last few days here in los angeles are finally starting to feel like what i've always called 'october weather' (in most places it's called fall...). october is generally the only time in this place you actually feel a slight inkling of weather change. i have to say i'm a little miffed i'm now going to be calling it 'december weather' (maybe every seven years it'll fall in october again)...

in light of such things as fall in the midst of what is supposed to perhaps be winter, i found this circa 1910 snapshot at the flea on sunday... i thought it was quite incredible. it also reminded me a bit of bas jan ader, an artist who disappeared in 1975 while attempting cross the atlantic ocean in a 12 foot sailboat. ader is quoted as saying "all is falling"; and number of his seminal works involve the act of falling, including the tree fall image below, of a work where he was filmed holding onto a tree branch until he fell into a stream beneath it...

it's wonderful how a blurry photo in a messy box at a flea market can bring one back to the work of a seminal artist. there are so many premonitions and secret truths to ader's work, finding connections back to him simply feels like he's still dropping clues...


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

designing architecture...







the last of my alvin lustig posts is this super rare 1951 guide to contemporary architecture in southern california. the guide, edited by frank harris and weston bonenberger, was certainly a precursor to the great guides to architecture in los angeles by david gebhard and dr. robert winter. the photographs were taken by the master, julius shulman.

the cover is classic lustig, an amalgam of rectangles and X's, certainly in sympathy with the design of the recently completed eames house. the book itself is exceptional, with several different kinds of paper, well placed photos, and a sophisticated sense of space and type. images include area maps, floorplans, and shulman's beautiful photos.

because of the consistency of the floorplan drawings, i think lustig created these stylized versions from the architect's originals himself - exploiting the nature of the graphic as information as well as purely visual inspiration. on top of the design being consistent with lustig's cleaner late work, this is also one of the best reference books on the location of major and minor modernist architecture works in the los angeles area. with addresses to structures designed by r.m. schindler, gregory ain, richard neutra, quincy jones, rodney walker, harwell hamilton harris, greta grossman, criag ellwood and even lustig himself; it's unfortunate that the book is now way too coveted to live in the car.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

words in the underblows...





although lustig's work for new directions are his most well known, i have to say i'm partial to his earlier work for the ward ritchie press in the late 1930's and early 1940's. the above pages are from ghost in the underblows, an epic poem by alfred young fisher (who was one of sylvia plath's teachers and mfk fisher's first husband). they are the most sophisticated of lustig's works that build images out of pre-existing type ornaments. by creating complex visual forms with a set of relatively simple pre-existing, and pre-determined, tools; lustig comes up with an early kind of sampling - recontextualizing pre-existing fragments to make them "sound" new.

it's a stretch, perhaps, but there are formal relationships to these works and early conceptual and minimal art such as sol lewitt's early cube pieces, which use a pre-determined set of parts to build a variety of wholes. of course, lustig isn't after the same things that lewitt would be interested in 25 years later; but both saught vocabulary expansion through limitations.

you really have to hold these pages in your hands (or at least click on them and see them actual size...) and feel the texture of the pressing of the type into the paper to get a sense of the parts that make up the images. they're so complex and beautiful they make a piece of paper feel like a world you can fall into. lustig has created a substantial visual world with something previously thought to have little meaning (ornament).

the images below are from another ward ritchie press book called words and their meanings by aldous huxley. here you can see lustig's design sense clearly with a repeated motif featured on the dust jacket, the book cover, and the first page. several years ago i was in an exhibition titled "a simple complex" and here, i think the phrase is totally apt. lustig repeats the image in various directions based on spatial proportions of design elements... his seemingly simple decision on the dust jacket to lay it on it's side, is simplicity and complexity all rolled into one.

perhaps huxley's last sentence in words and their meanings relates to lustig's ideas about design, particularly if you insert the word "design" into the place of the word "words".

"words and the meanings of words are not matters merely for the academic amusement of linguistics and logisticians, or for the aesthetic delight of poets; they are matters of the profoundest ethical significance to every human being."




new directions...







alvin lustig's most famous works were probably his book covers for new directions. in 1947, the gotham book mart press published a small catalog called bookjackets by alvin lustig for new directions, with statements by james laughlin & alvin lustig. the small spiral bound book is insanely rare, and the cover is one of my favorite of lustig's designs... simple colors and forms, clearly derived from arp's cut outs, with a little more sophistication.

for the new classic's series, lustig devised a series of symbols that he felt "would quickly summarize the spirit of each book". with romance novels or westerns this might not be so tough; but with authors like baudelaire, djuna barnes, franz kafka, and others, choosing a few symbols to express the spirit of such complex literary works seems no easy task. of course, lustig was up to the challenge.

as new directions publisher james laughton says in the intro: "there's nothing in the book world today that compares to them for color, for variety, for life, for appeal to the intelligence, again and again i find myself lining the books up just to gloat over them...lustig's beautiful designs are helping to make a mass audience aware of high quality reading..."

i think the reproductions in the catalog are actually extra printed proofs of the jackets, trimmed and bound. they feel like the same inks and papers as the original jackets.

Monday, December 11, 2006

the designer...


"the words graphic designer, architect, or industrial designer stick in my throat, giving me a sense of limitation, of specialization within the specialty, of a relationship to society and form itself that is unsatisfactory and incomplete. this inadequate set of terms to describe an active life reveals only partially the still undefined nature of the designer" alvin lustig, 1956

alvin lustig designed graphically; creating book covers, logos, and other visuals for paper in all its glorious flatness. he also worked with dimensional forms, moving from signage to furniture to architecture; and, he worked with words - teaching, and writing a few seminal texts on the designer's role, approach, and practice.

5 of my favorite books i own are connected to lustig and have his hands and mind all over them. the other 4 (which i'll share in the next few days) were designed by him; but the picture above is the cover of a little book of his collected writings, published posthumously, in an edition of 600 copies in 1958 (the cover photo was taken by another of my heroes, experimental film maker, maya deren!)

most of lustig's writings were short magazine articles, or lectures, and his words move from the practical to the poetic. like george nelson, lustig wasn't just interested in designing, but expanding the thinking that went along with being a designer, and how that expanded thinking could affect the practice. as the quote at the top suggests, he was constantly attempting to expand the definition of what a designer could be and could mean. he can, at times, be as inspirational as agnes martin... here are a few gems:

"i have found that all positions men take in their beliefs are profoundly influenced by thousands of small, often imperceptible experiences that slowly accumulate to form a sum total of choices and decisions. rational and logical explanations for these are developed long after the basic work has been done."

"...this ability to see freshly, unencumbered by preconceived verbal, literary, or moral ideas, is the first step in responding."

"the ability to select, to find the truly organic solution, rather than the preconceived one... becomes more and more desirable."

"as instinctive decisions slowly develop and acquire support from other people and from ideas of a related nature, a system of response and action develops that makes you a specific individual with your own concept of reality. you will find delight where another finds ugliness...order where another sees chaos...clarity and elegance where another sees barrenness and sterility..."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

bird's eye views...



two pages from a 1965 japan architect magazine article on the nagoya-kobe expressway.

the top is a map/diagram of all 14 interchanges that occur between komaki and nishinomiya; the bottom is a photo of the otsu interchange (which you can match to the map above). i like very much the relationship of these images to the knots from a few days ago (as well as the visual language of abstract painting).

the linear pathways feel connected to drawing and writing; perhaps because even though they are maps, there is an implied trajectory through the images. at this scale it feels like a guide for moving hands...

Saturday, December 09, 2006






images from a late 1800's atlas showing part of a series of comparative maps of all the islands and lakes of each hemisphere. there's something wonderful about seeing this things as kind icebergs that have drifted into a single plane, as though some magnetic force has brought them together. i'm not really sure about the history of these maps, but they are incredibly inventive ways of showing visual relationships of scale. you can click here for an earlier mountain/river map i posted, and there will be more to come.