Friday, May 30, 2008

audio lucida...


recording booth

"what the photograph reproduces to infinity has occurred only once: the photograph mechanically repeats what could never be repeated existentially".
roland barthes, camera lucida 1980

home recording discs are like snapshots. they are small records recorded in a record booth (see photo above); or at home, with smaller portable units that looked a bit like record players. in most cases a minute or two of sound was recorded onto a plastic covered cardboard 'blank'.

when i was 5 or 6 i remember recording two sides in a booth in an arcade down in san pedro. on one disc i did a howard cosell impersonation calling a fight between muhammad ali and joe frazier. on the other i sang an unaccompanied version of bad bad leroy brown....(yes, i still have these, no i won't post them...)

like digging through mountains of mediocre snapshots and seldom finding a nugget, the majority of home recorded discs are pretty dull. an audio letter telling a son in the army about on what's going on at home, or worse, a recording of a big band song off the radio (an early attempt at killing music with home recording). once in awhile, like the hunting story filled disc i posted a few months ago, you get a gem, and over the last year or so, i've been fortunate to find a number of pretty great little discs.

there's something about an honest amateur that works. i believe it is the feeling that the folks speaking, singing, or making, are sincere in their attempt. if they miss the mark, there's generally a level of innocence that can be pretty powerful, and at times, more so than a schooled approach. it's not a question of better, but of having access to the presence of a person in a state of absolute vulnerability and humanness. like standing in front of a camera, there's the potential for either a "ham" or absolute awkwardness when confronted with a microphone for the first time.

like the photograph in barthes camera lucida, an audio recording also stops time and allows for numerous repetitions of a moment that in 'real life' was never repeated. the difference, i think, is that listening to someone's voice is more intimate as an experience than looking at a picture, and connects one more vividly back to a specific moment. listening with eyes closed, one is transported to another time, where voices are heard beneath a surface of noise, almost as they were in life. unlike the complex flattening of life onto a small piece of paper called a photograph, sound can still project from a speaker out into space as it might have when originally spoken from mouths. certainly it is detached from faces and original rooms, but in terms of the voice still being a voice, it remains relatively intact.

unlike fading in a photo, where information is subtracted, the distance of time in a disc recording is generally felt through addition. photographic images evaporate, recordings get covered in noise. handling and material disintegration fuels a mountain of defects that eventually renders the original voice mute in favor of the voice of the object's tactile surface. images evaporate, but audio get buried alive...

click here to listen to one of my favorite recent finds...

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

when chairs look like sculpture or spaceships or candy...

1968 8x10 from newspaper files

a retouched 1969 photo of eero aarnio's pastil chair from the discarded files of a newspaper...

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

secret tones as in the pace of the stars...

RPPC charley trigg, 1910

"sea waves stream on the beach rocks.
again, every time, star and tree,
cloud and bird, my close kindred;
the stone greets me as a brother,
the unending sea calls me, friendly.
my road, that i do not understand, leads me
toward a blue, lost distance,
nowhere a meaning, nowhere a definite goal -
nevertheless, every forest brook speaks to me,
and every humming fly, of a deep law,
a right way that is holy,
whose firmament spreads out above me also,
whose secret tones,
as in the pace of the stars,
beats time in my heart as well."

hermann hesse, 1911, fragment from holiday music in the evening, from poems translated by james wright, 1970. (image: RPPC of charley trigg, april 18, 1910, sent to miss hazel...)

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Monday, May 26, 2008

when autoharps were born...

early autoharp tintype

because the majority of early photos of people playing music are usually brass or military bands, it is more difficult to find images of folks playing instruments other than bugles, trumpets, trombones, etc. finding a nice painted drumhead or even more so a guitar is tough enough, not to mention an unexpected find like a harmonica or dulcimer. thus, i tend to get pretty darn excited when i find a photo that includes an instrument i don't have images of in the collection.

this tintype of a guy holding an autoharp is one of my favorites, not just because the image suggests the title of one of my favorite books by knut hamsun - a wanderer plays on muted strings - but because it was probably made within the first 10 years of the instrument's invention, and is probably one of the earlier photographs of the instrument.

i have a few rppc's with autoharps in the background or someone holding one you can see only with a magnifying glass because they are in a larger group of band members, but this is the only one where the instrument is the focus of a single being. according to the web, the instrument was designed/patented in the 1880's. this tintype is most likely from the late 1880's or early 1890's; and remarkably, still retains its original thin decorated paper frame.

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when architecture is a sky and windows are rainbows...

"unannounced public panam building spectrum light show

in each room of the panam building which has windows should be placed lightbulbs of the major hues: red, orange, yelllow, green, blue, and violet. the number of bulbs in each room should be determined by the size of the room and the number of windows so that each window emits the same amount of light.

the show will be given at dusk or after dark with the least amount of public announcement as is possible. acceptable exceptions: police and city officials and companies renting space in the building.

the lights are to be lit in the following order: red for ten minutes, orange for ten minutes, and so on through violet. the show should last one hour."

stephen james kaltenbach, from arte povera, 1969

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Friday, May 23, 2008

the discarded voice of the poet...


i haven't run much in the way of sound on the blog for a while, but the discovery of this library "discard" a few weeks ago seemed ideal for such a rainy morning. a few months ago i posted a 78 of a reading of a vachel lindsay poem by norman corwin, a radio guy. today's post features a recent find of a 78 of one of lindsay's poems read by the poet himself. lindsay's reading is pretty incredible and it is interesting to compare the connects and disconnects with this and corwin's reading of lindsay's work.

lindsay's voice and performance are grittier, sounding ever more like harry partch. you can even hear him clear his throat once or twice giving one the feeling that the incantation/singing must've taken considerable effort, which brings it down to a very human level.

take a peek at that older post for a picture of lindsay because his voice and inflections so match the photo incredibly. there are many moments in this scratchy beat to hell piece of shellac that his words dissolve into simple voice rhythms that are quite beautiful, and i'd recommend listening to it very soft so it sounds more like mumbling than words; although the words themselves are quite wonderful, and from his epic poem the chinese nightingale.

since we've got an uncharacteristic rain storm going on in pasadena this morning, including some seriously ominous dark clouds, and loud pattering drops, the image of a small chinese nightingale birthed from lindsay's voice makes for quite a morning...

click here to listen

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

a color scheme for telling time...

colors of lights


yellow white
orange yellow

5 p.m.:
orange and red

greyish blue
violet blue
green blue



orange and red

greenish blue

magnesium light:

almost black

"in the south the much reflected shadow can be almost warm, luminous...

excerpt from the 1894 journal of the painter paul signac

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

when plastic bags are houses...

cornell university plastic house 1971

cornell university plastic house 1971

two images from an early 1970's popular science magazine featuring an experimental polyethylene air house built by architecture students at cornell university using a single 20 x 100 foot sheet of plastic, and kept inflated with an air hose. note the student holding a super 8 film camera... i would very much like to see that movie!

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

when trumpets speak in whispers...

1903 RPPC

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Monday, May 19, 2008

a different view...

george nelson photograph of a subscape3

george nelson photograph of a subscape2

george nelson photograph of a subscape

george nelson writes about discovering "the new subscape" by rolling off the couch to pick up a fallen magazine and noticing how different chairs look when one is lying on the floor looking up at them instead of standing or sitting and looking down. nelson provides his own dictionary definition for the term as: "view of the furnishings of an interior, ranging upwards from the floor to the height of a chair seat or at most the underside of a table...the lowest zone within a room, averaging thirteen inches in depth and never more than twenty-eight inches..."

nelson goes on to talk about this first moment as a kind of epiphany, for as a furniture designer (and architect, writer, teacher, industrial designer, etc.) he had never thought much about the view of a chair from the ground up. he continues, "the subscape unfolds its manifold wonders in a zone of nearly total invisibility... i stared about me bemused by the view as a visitor from mars... (from) a region of whose existence i had almost been totally unaware..."

eventually he goes back into the zone with his camera to photograph what he sees, and discusses "the value in the shock that comes with seeing familiar objects from a strange point of view... is still one of the most potent and least-used tools in the design process". he then compares the subscape view to skyscrapers, connecting the aesthetics of current (1950) furniture design to current architecture, and suggests that this lower interior subscape as an aesthetic equivalent to the designed upper exterior landscape.

many years ago, when i first discovered nelson's work of the 40's and 50's; i was immediately attracted to his furniture designs; but as i eventually discovered his writings, i found them quite inspiring. nelson not only approached design with a set of ethics that involved curiosity and experimentation; but his way of looking at the world seemed very much connected to rilke's ideas regarding "inconsiderable things".

rilke says: "if you have this love of inconsiderable things and seek quite simply, as one who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier, more coherent and somehow more conciliatory for you, not in your intellect, perhaps, which lags marveling behind, but in your inmost consciousness, waking and cognizance."

by simply lying on the floor to see the underside of tables and chairs, one begins to see the old as the new, and the ordinary as the extraordinary. the familiar becomes the unfamiliar, and something seemingly empty is suddenly full of potential and inspiration. clearly, the designer had the perception of the poet.

for years i've made recordings in architectural spaces by closing my eyes and letting the sounds suggest movements of my hands holding a pencil or ink on paper. experiencing architecture with ears, sends one inside of a different kind of subscape, an inscape perhaps; and similarly suggests the potential of a different view. at one point i used a nelson designed bubble lamp to generate a soundwork, plucking and rubbing its surface and interior like an instrument, for a work titled "a subscape of resonance".

perhaps, like view, there is are also different ways with objects, and beyond normal use, there is a kind of "sub-use". as one may see things from different angles, one might also handle things in unintended ways, toward unintended uses - a new use disconnected from intentions, towards a new way of seeing, hearing, or holding. there is much poetry to be found in quiet anarchy...

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Friday, May 16, 2008

tilted arc...

motorcycle ramp 1930's snapshot 1

motorcycle ramp 1930's snapshot 4

motorcycle ramp 1930's snapshot 3

motorcycle ramp 1930's snapshot 2

some 1930's snapshots of a ramp being built, i believe for some kind of motorcycle stunt. as much as it was built for use rather than aesthetics, it certainly is a beautiful piece of sculpture - as well as a ridiculously compelling piece of architecture. nothing so awkward ever illustrated better the beauty of the mantra form follows function.

it's amazing that some hillbillies in a football stadium would build something that so clearly resembles the spatial constructions of rodchenko, as well as some russian constructivist monuments and sculpture. idealism comes in many shapes and sizes, but here its form is somehow a consistent historical trajectory.

there's a kind of collision in much of what i respond to in the world... a bit of the hand made, a reference to architecture, potential aesthetic wandering in spite of its intentions, unintended awkwardness, simple materials, and a composition built of units. i'm not sure if it is funny, sad, ridiculous, or disappointing how much more inspiring a few photos like this can be compared to what i've seen in galleries and museums lately...

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

to enable us to keep time...

1879 music time keeping hand motions

1879 music time keeping hand motions

1879 music time keeping hand motions

1879 music time keeping hand motions

images from the 1879 book "favorite songs: a new collection of music for congregations, sunday schools, singing classes, and conventions" by h.r. christie. the book is mostly sunday school hymns, but the first 20 or so pages explain how to read and teach music. the old printing and disintegrating paper are beautiful.

the images above fall under the heading of "motions of the hand in beating time" along with the following text:

"to enable us to keep time accurately in singing, and to distribute it properly among the various notes in a piece of music, so that each note shall have its exact relative duration, it is customary to aid the mind in its rhythmic computations by certain motions of the hand, which are called beats, or beating time... this answers every purpose, and saves the learner a good deal of trouble."

in my own work, which is consistently mining translation system possibilities, i've been working with letters as numbers towards hand movements (with brush in hand) for a long time. three has, in numerous works, been moving the hand in a triangle form, but four has never been the up and back "L" shape as shown above. indeed this book is full of revelations...

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

candy box guitars...

1927 RPPC candy box guitars

1927 RPPC candy box guitars

1927 RPPC of "valley city epwarth league, dean weiss and joe devandanum (hindu)". not sure what they're in the midst of, but their guitars are snicker bar boxes. probably don't sound as good as the wooden cigar box guitars known as diddley bows...

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

2 short poems by paul klee...

my star

my star
rose deep
my feet.

where does my fox
go in the winter?
where does my serpent

last things last

in the heart's center
the only prayers
are steps

from voices of german expressionism, 1970

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Monday, May 12, 2008

before stereo...

george de moss concert ticket

george de moss concert ticket

a concert ticket, circa 1910, for the deMoss family - the lyric bards of america - featuring a great image of george deMoss (1867 - 1933) playing two trumpets at once (he could also play two guitars at the same time...).

there's a pretty insane history of the deMoss family on this myspace page, by someone who may be descended from george (and if you click on the song song "flashing lights" the first part sounds quite a bit like 45 grave doing "piece of wax")...

of course, the above image of george reminds me much of roland kirk, the king of shoving too many instruments in his mouth at one time... perhaps george is just about to dive into an early americana version of slippery, hippery, flippery.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

nothing but what is therein contained...

sound installation at girard college may 2008

sound installation at girard college may 2008

sound installation at girard college may 2008

sound installation at girard college may 2008

sound installation at girard college may 2008

thomas walter's original design for founder's hall at girard college was based on stephen girard's incredibly detailed requirements for the building as stated in girard's will. walter's first first drawings are extremely minimal, and titled "nothing but what is therein contained". the phrase refers to the fact that these initial designs basically followed the stipulations of girard's will, and nothing was added that wasn't mentioned in the will. i wonder how the structure would've looked had it been built following these original plans. the outside of the final design shows more of walter's grand greek influences than girard might have wished, but much of girard's original ideas were followed on the inside.

the four dome shaped rooms on the top floor are acoustic wonders, and during my performances the past few nights i was able to use acoustic objects without amplification and to blend them with the electronic sounds at a relatively close volume. the ways sound travels around the space is pretty extraordinary.

while the installation in the archive worked in relation to the contents of that space (which also had a very different response to sound because of all the paper and cardboard); the two installations in the other dome rooms worked to exploit many of the acoustic characteristics of the architecture - and were approached through walter's use of the phrase "nothing but what is therein contained" in that i used only sounds and objects found in the space.

the field recordings, all made within the space, contained the natural sound of the space, which when played back in the space, essentially sounded in response to the architecture twice. in some instances you could hear things better from across the room than standing over the speaker, and in others, if your eyes were closed you had absolutely no idea where the sound was coming from. the amazing thing is that this didn't always mean muddy sound, in fact a number of sounds had an incredibly tactile presence to them.

the installations were opened to the public around 7:15 pm until the performance which started at 8. during this time, because there is no electrical lighting in the space, the room went from evening's soft light to near darkness, and after the performance, around 8:45 only the small camping lanterns to light the space. the performance and the installations felt very much as soundtracks to the moving of light to darkness...

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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

the poetry of a fragmented biography...

archives girard college

he daily stretches forth his invisible hands...

i have made my way alone, with means gained from my nurse, the sea...

at this period commences the first continuous record which is to be found among the large mass of books and papers...

grass literally grew in the street, and nothing disturbed the silence...

it was during this period that he built the splendid fleet of vessels which he principally named after distinguished french philosophers...

i shall not murmur...

i am wrapped up in a labyrinth...

fragments and sentences from the 1879 book "girard college and its founder" (image, another view of the archives).

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

some postcards from the archives...

dr. boyd postcards girard college, PA

dr. boyd postcard girard college, PA

dr. boyd postcard girard college, PA

dr. boyd postcard girard college, PA

steve roden installation may 2008

the past few days i've been working on an installation and performance for founder's hall at girard college for orphans in philadelphia. part of the installation and performance will be in three large empty domed rooms using sounds from the space, while a smaller single speaker installation will be in the archive. the archive is a giant mass of the history of the college in the form of piles and boxes of paper. there are things here from the school's earliest days in the mid 1800's up to the the 1960's.

many of the boxes and papers are covered in dust, dead bugs, lead paint chips, etc.; but much of it is in good shape, and i didn't see a single silverfish. while thumbing through a small pile of paper sitting on a box, i discovered was a small stack of about 200 postcards written by former students circa 1899 - 1917 and sent to john boyd, who worked the school. the letters are fascinating, mostly asking for money or help finding jobs, generally simply stated with handwriting and language moving from the awkward to the formal. many are asking for money to buy coal, some for tickets to a stephen girard birthday celebration, and one about recently getting a job as a "box maker and crusher".

they reveal much about what it was like to get out of school at the turn of the century; and almost every one of them begins with "dear sir". i ended up recording my own voice reading all of the cards to generate a small installation. i layered the recordings to create a bit of a field, but it is the first time i've simply used unprocessed recordings of words to make a piece.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

the wanderer...

snapshot of a one man band on street 1940's

hitting the road again for some site specific performances in philadelphia (fortunately no funny hat, and i'm not walking, but i will be carrying a lot of my gear on my back...).

i'll probably post some images and text while i'm gone next week related to the site and its history - the 1830's girard college for orphans, designed by architect thomas u. walter, who also designed the dome for the us capital building.

if anyone is in the area and interested in coming to the performance, info can be found here.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

1 plastic dome, and 1 totem pole...

artists protesting moma circa 1960

artists protesting moma circa 1960

in 1940, the american abstract artists staged a demonstration at a ny museum, protesting the lack of abstraction in their exhibition program. 20 years later, a group of realist painters staged a protest at moma to complain about a policy of not showing realistic works, and for "encouraging artists to execute absurdities for the entertainment of its elite public."

the above photos of the 1960 demonstration are from the 1961 book 'the artist's world' by fred w. mcdarrah, which chronicles the new york art scene in the late 1950's with a ton of photos. the pictures above struck me as being interesting in that artists were actually so pissed off about being excluded from an exhibition program that they got together and staged a real protest. of course, folks like the guerrilla girls still take action against exhibition policies related to gender and race; but when's the last time you saw artists protesting a museum simply because they weren't supporting a genre.

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