Saturday, April 21, 2007

a hill of the sprites, the dance of the drums, and some muted strings...


well, i'm off to norway for the 100th anniversary of grieg's death, to gather material for a piece that will happen in the fall. the distance means that the archives here will be gathering dust until may 7 when i return. it is unlikely i'll have email or internet access... so here's a few gems to tide things over...

first is an old RPPC of edvard grieg's cabin at troldhaugen (which translates as the "hill of the sprites"). i am hoping the end of my visit will include this small cabin where grieg composed much of his work. there's a nice story from an old article i found on grieg that said he liked to leave notes for potential burglers inside the small writing cabin asking them to leave the manuscript papers and take whatever else they might want... i'm hoping to make some recordings there.


the second is left turn from norway, from a 78 set of music by uday shankar that i picked up last week. shankar was an indian dancer/choreographer, and also ravi shankar's older brother. the thing that got me interested me in him was the fact that guru dutt got his artistic start as a young dancer in shankar's troupe. the recordings are probably from around the time shankar's troupe toured the states in the late 1930's / early 1940's. all of the sides are amazing, but "tabla-taranga" is absolutely unbelievable! the liner notes say it "is almost a musical miracle"... and i think they might be right! it is played by vishnudass shirali while sitting in the center of 12 tablas each turned to a different pitch, playing with "the grace of seagulls on wing". it almost sounds like a string instrument and is totally from another world (i'll probably post the whole set on juju when i get back in town...)

click to listen to tabla-taranga

the last bit goes back to norway and one of my favorite writers... a quote from knut hamsun's a wanderer plays on muted strings:

"i stood for a long time upon the hillside, listening to the sough from heaven and earth; there was nothing else to be heard. then there might come a rustling sound, which would prove to be a shriveled, curled up leaf fluttering down through the frozen branches; it was like listening to a tiny fountain. then heaven and earth would sough again, a mildness enveloped me, as though all my strings were muted."

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before wallace berman...


1910 RPPC of the twinsburg band from ohio made up of a slew of tiny photos. i love how the collage of small photos deals with space - the light and landscape is not continuous from image to image but it feels like it is, yet just slightly broken. the multiple rectangles black and white images feels like a little film, or a flipbook before cutting and binding. there's a wonderful feeling of movement coming from the drum as a kind of center and the trajectory of the angles of the instruments sprouting away like a fountain... and the grid reminds me a bit of the amazing verifax collages of wallace berman.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

four poems by josef albers...

the more
the sun shines
the more
water evaporates
clouds appear
and the sun
- shines less

the less
the sun shines
the less
water evaporates
clouds diminish
and the sun
-shines more

da capo

calm down
what happens
happens mostly
without you

one is walking
one is standing
who is more entitled
to the path

easy - to know
that diamonds - are precious
good - to learn
that rubies - have depth
but more - to see
that pebbles - are miraculous

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

when hands speak...


silent: place palmar surface of tips of fingers of right hand over lips, and usually incline the head slightly to front.
from the indian sign language, w.p. clark, 1884

silence: the index finger is laid across the lips, as if to keep them shut.
from supplemento al dizionario italiano, bruno munari, 1963
(photo also from munari)

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

brian's song...



there are some artworks that i simply can't get out of my mind, and one of them is this work by brian lane. lane ran a small press and an artist space in the mid 1960's, and eventually published many "distilled performances in print" in the early 70's under his "editions brian lane" imprint. his own works included performance, publications, and object/ephemera in small editions.

these images are from a 1975 performance and the edition that came out of it. the activity, a kind of combination of yves klien dropping gold leaf into a river, and a fluxus/cage chance operation; involved 150 red and 150 yellow polystyrene balls dropped from a bridge onto a river. lane took photographs of the shifting arrangements of red and yellow drifts. the title of the activity was "quiet yellow sounds on the river / red with menace".

the balls were retrieved by the people who had come to witness the event; and they became the beautiful little edition in the second photo as relics of the activity.

i love the idea of a temporal moving painting of colored dots in a landscape being arranged by river flow. (makes me think of cage's comments about using nature's manner of operation literally.) and for some reason the little box always tugs at me, no idea, but it seems poetically perfect.

with a title like "quiet yellow sounds...", i can't help but think of this work as a score for a potential sound work. i've often thought about a kind of re-working of the piece, dropping all the balls in the river at once and then collecting them in sequence down river a bit and using that sequence to determine next compositional moves... maybe someday...

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

eight symbols...


beautiful little image depicting 8 symbols invented by fo-hi circa 2800 BC. from the story of the alphabet by edward clodd 1928.

the lines are pictorial representations of knotted cords that were used before the invention of writing. "the number and distances of the knots served as conventional mnemonics, and also as imperial records until written characters replaced them". these were the first characters to symbolize words based on the cord knot system.

of course, this little op art box represents some very serious words. i really love how the various arrangements of continuous and broken lines feel like an agnes martin painting - particularly as these simple lines are connected to both landscape and belief.

the lines are also reminiscent of graphic notational music scores, almost like a key of permutations for a lengthier work.

lastly, both the words and the lines remind me a bit of ian hamilton finlay's text works. like finlay's best concrete poetry, if one reads the list outloud there are all kinds of spoken sounds the words share, and there is a hint of narrative (from heaven to earth). there is also an added dimension to the fact that even though the line sequences are based on abstract notational knots in string; they somehow begin to feel "representational" in relation to the words connected to them.

it's nice when an illustration ceases to illustrate and becomes it's own path of various references and wanderings...

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Monday, April 16, 2007




"note: play at low volume for realism; the zither is not a loud instrument"

according to the liner notes, ruth welcome was the "acknowledged high priestess of her antique instrument" - the zither. she grew up in germany and basel before studying at julliard. these recordings are probably from the mid 1950's.

although there is a potential for irony here, this recording is haunting and quite beautiful. welcome's performance is intimate, delicate, and has a kind of informal quality that feels like you're at her house and she's simply playing music for you.

i've posted it as one long track to keep the feeling intact...a record spinning from the needle drop to the needle lift - with all the artifacts of a 10" red vinyl object's life lived through multiple listenings and handlings. it also sounds a bit like a little film.

click here to listen to ruth welcome playing her zither.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007




"abstronics" is what lewis carrol would have called a portmanteou word. it is composed of the first one and a half syllables of "abstractions" and the last one and a half syllables of "electronics". the letter "r", fortuitously, is the hinge of the two parts"...this word, "abstronics", was suggested to me by albert tomkins and aptly connotes this important fact: today it is possible for invisible events in the sub-atomic world to be made to have esthetic manifestations which an artist can control, and, via motion pictures, organize into an interesting and meaningful visual experience...for years i have tried to find a method for controlling a source of light to produce images in rhythm. i wanted to manipulate light to produce visual compositions in time continuity much as a musician manipulates sound to produce music... on january 31, 1932, we (bute and leon theremin!) gave our first demonstration of "the perimeters of light and sound and their possible synchronization". this was an early use of electronics for drawings...dr. potter (of bell labs) designed an electronic circuit for such an application of the oscilloscope... by turning knobs and switches on a control board i can "draw" with a beam of light with as much freedom as with a brush... by careful conscious repeptition and experiment, i have accumulated a "repertoire" of forms. the creative possibilities are endless..."

images & excerpts from a 1954 article in "film in review" magazine written by mary ellen bute. if you've never seen her beautiful films you can see a pre-oscilloscope film here and some of her more sophisticated films are part of this dvd collection.

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Saturday, April 14, 2007

before the sixties...



a 1920 (yes, 1920!) RPPC of a guy in front of his cabin, playing his lap steel guitar. unfortunately nothing written on the back other than the AZO symbol that dates it. his cabin, with straw insulation on the outside and two rooms is one of the more complex architecturally that i've seen; but i really just wish i could hear the music...

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Friday, April 13, 2007

before rauchenberg...



nice little RPPC of whistling rufus one man band from around 1915. i love the odd placement of the smaller negative within postcard size paper and the large hand scrawled text. reminds me a lot of some of rauchenberg's silkscreen works from the 70's... and of course you have to love the GIANT harmonica.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

built in usa...



moma's built in usa exhibition covered the years 1933 (the year of moma's first architectural exhibtion) to 1944. it was curated by alfred h. barr, elizabeth mock, and philip l. goodwin; and included 47 buildings. the show's vision was fairly east coast-centric; with one of the major architect invisibles being rm schindler.

the moma catalog shown above is not super rare (although this dust jacketed version is tougher to find), but it is much less common than the "every used book store has one for sale" post-war version from 1952 (designed by alvin lustig!).

i never knew the exhibition was also shown in europe until i stumbled on a swiss version of the catalog in basel a few years ago. this 1946 catalog contains only a sampling of the numerous photos in the moma publication and includes most of the text in swiss; but the thing that really makes it wonderful is the bauhaus inspired cover design is by numa rick.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

the towers...







simon rodia spent 33 years building watts towers alone, without any help. when he finished in 1954, he deeded the lot to some neighbors and walked away. clearly it was his life's work. the towers were built from old tiles, bottles, pipes, steel frames, and 70,000 seashells. his day job as a tile setter and telephone repair man influenced his methods of building and decoration.

these images include the front and back covers as well as several pages from a beautiful little brochure from 1961. the towers are still standing, and are an absolutely glorious presence...

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

incomplete cube...


sol lewitt 1928 - 2007.


Monday, April 09, 2007

when speakers become sculpture...


the cover photo from a 1960 issue of pf reporter and electronic servicing magazine. the rest of the magazine is nothing to speak of, but i really love this cover shot. most of us spend our whole lives looking at audio systems like this from a distance, but this lucky repairman looks like he's about to climb inside one. it's nice to see the scale relationship of the speaker mass to a human.

part louise nevelson, part moholy nagy, and part donald judd's nightmare; the cubes, curves, and cubby holes form a pretty wonderful piece of sculpture. the visual pleasures here are most likely an artifact of decisions that had nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with acoustics; but there is certainly at least a small drifting cloud's worth of inspiration to be absorbed from the collision of forms.

if you look at it upside down it begins to feel like a space capsule or even like architecture. and if man and machine are one it becomes a tree of honeycomb complete with human trunk...

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

happy hillbilly easter day...



if you want the next best thing to some marshmellow peeps, click to listen to the dixon brothers singing easter day.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

some serious clowns...






the melancholy looks on the faces in this RPPC remind me a little of the sad clowns in some of picasso's early works...there's a lot of pathos here, and not much jolly in these faces.

a quote from the web: "Picasso identified most closely with the clowns, those performers who masked their true selves with costumes and makeup. In fact, Picasso portrayed himself as the harlequin in a diamond-patterned costume in Family of Saltimbanques. The jester and the acrobats are lost in their own thoughts and glance toward the woman, who sits alone, while the harlequin reaches out to the child behind his back. In his deft representations of the various figures, Picasso manages to portray not only the lifestyle of the real saltimbanques but also the apparent melancholy mood of his friends and the collective alienation of this group."

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Friday, April 06, 2007

what's happening...



text and images of stone ceremony, by milan knizak, from source magazine issue 11, 1971:

on a bottom of an abandoned rock-quarry stone circles are compiling. everybody works on his own circle. after finishing it people get into their circles and silently stand there, sit there and finally draw on the ground inside their magic sighns. after that they leave stone circles and with a monothony buzzing climb up to the rock cliff above the quarry from where they watch their stone circles left alone down on the bottom.

been thinking a lot about happenings and how such things could exist more on the side of ritual than theatre. a group of people simply and quietly making circles of stones, all in the pit of a landscape and then all at different paces making their way up to a ridge until everyone is out of the pit, and the circles are quiet and distant - like small drops of rain hitting the surface of water.

it reminds me a little of improvised music, being in kind of a mental listening space together, and coming out of it though various pauses individually.

as an alternative to the fussy sculpture in nature photo ops of andy goldsworthy, knizak's work feels less calculated, and more genuine (i.e. it doesn't smell like art.). it's more communal, and it somehow feels distanced from the irreverent actions of most fluxus activities, as well as knizak's more well known works. it's introverted, more poetic, and potentially quite beautiful.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

multi-purpose chairs...






images from a 1943 article in architectural forum about the "recent" designs of frederick kiesler for peggy guggenheim's art of this century gallery. kiesler was a wonderfully inventive architect whose projects such as the conceptual endless house; and his only built structure, the shrine of the book at the israel museum, are clearly the work of a visionary.

his ideas regarding the display of artworks were somewhat nuts and definitely over the top (and probably pissed off a number of artists); but the idea of sacrificing the integrity of the single object towards an interactive spatial installation in many ways pre-figures the thinking behind much installation art from the 70's by at least 30 years.

the drawings above are for "the multi-purpose chair"; which was not only a beautiful organic form, but part of a larger project where single objects/structures could have multiple uses. the drawings, which suggest numerous uses, are certainly reminiscent of corb's modular drawings...

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007



going through a stack of 78's purchased over the last few months, and came across this gem. two songs from the 1964 film haqeeqat by two of the greatest masters of indian playback singing: mohd. rafi and lata mangeshkar. rafi's song is particularly meltingly sad and beautiful... thank god they were still making 78's in some countries right into the 60's.

click and listen to

rafi and lata.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2007

the third bank of the river...



jose guimaraes rosa's third bank of the river is a wonderful tale suggesting that there is generally more to a space than meets a logical eye. in the story, a father leaves his family to inhabit the center of a river - choosing not to live on the left bank or the right, but creating his own life space in between. i love the implications that a kind of directed perception can create a third space where once there were two (reminding me of the calvino story 'the baron in the trees' where the treetops become a new landscape to navigate above the old..).

the images above are from the end flaps of the dust jacket of an early edition of rosa's stories titled "the third bank of the river and other stories". i've been reading it slowly for the last few months, and every time i open the book, i tend to spend time with these little images - savoring them both before and after i read each one of the stories they are connected to. the jacket says "flaps adapted from the brazilian edition", so no idea who drew them.

for me, these two panels of little pictures have become another kind of third bank - a small space between the the cover and the text that continually demands attention even though it speaks in whispers. the images are not really telling stories as much as they are suggesting them - creating trajectories of wandering through how they connect and disconnect with the text before and after reading. they have become another space of the book that demands attention over and over again...

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Monday, April 02, 2007

house forms...


image from a 1943 architecture magazine of all the pieces that would eventually make up a small pre-fab house. the house itself was less interesting than this photo of the recently delivered parts, which is one of the most beautiful wood piles i've ever seen...

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