Tuesday, December 18, 2012
in 2011, i performed at the crawford gallery in cork ireland with "strange attractor" - anthony kelly, danny mccarthy, irene murphy, mick o'shea, and david stalling. when it came time to produce a catalog, i was invited to write a text, and unfortunately, the last third of my text was accidentally deleted, and hence the text was printed incomplete... a year later, this third section seems very relevant to where my work has been moving, and i like how it lays bare my relationship to scores and improvisation. over the past year or so the whole idea of what be a score has been a large part of the work - not just in terms of making music, but paintings, writing, film, etc... so here is what was left unpublished (and if you are curious about the references to melville, the entire text is available here)
for years i have used chance operation and found information (from books, musical notation, maps, lists, etc.) to generate scores. sometimes, like my collaboration with melville, i simply cut something away from its source with the hope it might speak differently, potentially offering me to me some un-thought-of moves. other times, a source might be broken down into pieces that would then be reconstructed into a new word or form. once a thing is changed in such a way, it can be read incorrectly, enabling it to speak towards thing it never intended.
last year, while i was an artist in residence at the chinati foundation, i wanted to use a small battery powered synthesizer in one of the large former military barracks not only because it held 50 pieces of sculpture by donald judd, but because it was also incredibly resonant. i woke up one morning before sunrise, crept quietly into the building, and sat on the concrete floor with my synthesizer. as i was about to begin to perform for the room of sculpture, i realized i had no idea what to play. improvising alone in a purely intuitive manner has always been difficult for me, and i generally need to find something to bounce off of, to create some kind of tension or discomfort. like cage’s use of chance, i am interested in how certain confrontations can open doors to previously unknown places... places that i have never been able to reach through intuition alone.
in this case, i had been given a text by judd upon my arrival, and thus while i was sitting on the floor, i read through the text, extracting all of the letters a - g. i then followed the letter sequence on the keyboard of my little synth. like melville above, judd was suddenly making suggestions. because this was not a one way conversation, judd and i eventually split the duties - he determined the notes to be played, and i determined what to do with them (how long they last, if they overlap, could they be played together, the pauses between them, etc.) and so, like melville’s book, judd’s text also became a kind of oracle - offering me information and provoking me to find my own way of reading and using it. i believe there is a huge difference between the questions “what does it say?” and “what can it say?”
in my painting practice, scores are most often used to determine actions. often, information is reduced to a series of numbers related to the alphabet - such as a = 1, b=2, c=3 and so on. these numbers mostly determine formal decisions such as color choices, lengths of lines, number of elements and also an amount of time to be spent on an area. i’ve been working with letter/number scores in this way for awhile; and as with the difference between performing solo or improvising with folks you’ve never worked with, my interest in creating things in any form is still rooted in the idea that something new can always be learned during the process of making, if one can manage to continually shift or renew it. for me, it comes from a constant attempt to re-interpreting what something might be telling me. in such cases one must continually ask “what can it say?” so that the information can continue to unfold and reveal.
a few years ago, i began corresponding with belgian choreographer sandra vincent. our initial conversations had nothing to do with improvisation or scores, but tended towards more ephemeral things, such as sound and movement, essences and intuition. at one point sandra sent me a note describing my soundwork with two words: infinite intimate; and it set me thinking. a score had always been something that could be broken up into a series of rules, constraints or parameters, and usually existed as a substantial list of things (a kind of “to do” list of actions), and so i started to wonder about a score that was simply two 8 letter words.
a month or so after i received sandra’s note, i was invited to perform without the use of electronics. this was something i had been thinking about for several years but always felt too uncomfortable to attempt it in front of an audience. in trying to find a starting point that might distract me from a feeling of nakedness. and so, in the midst of gathering a boxful of small acoustic objects, i also grabbed a small piece of thick paper about the size of a postcard, and wrote “intimate” on one side and “infinite” on the other.
during the performance, i looked down at my table of things numerous times to decide what small object to activate - and each time i was confronted with whichever of these two words was face up. when i started to feel too comfortable with the word, or felt i was falling into familiar territory, i flipped the card over in an attempt to disrupt my focus. in the end, it became an exploration of the various ways i could apply these words not only to actions, but to states of listening, focus, etc.
ever since that initial performance, the card has become an important tool, and so i brought the “infinite intimate” card to cork and i used it throughout our strange attractor performance. during the hours we improvised together, i must have flipped the card 30 or 40 times, attempting to allow each visible word to influence what i was doing - sometimes it necessitated walking around with a small bell, at others simply sitting and listening. of course, no one else in the room was knowingly working with these two words; but because the words influenced my own sonic choices, i can’t help but think that my responses to these words were transferred to everyone else - for improvising together is a continual sharing of inputs and outputs.
in the end, i see this as a kind of alchemy, where two words are transformed via readings, responses and soundings into a kind of audio firmament, hovering over us like shadows, and resonating within us like beams of light.