Thursday, July 31, 2008

by the prophet of the earth...

armitage design 1

armitage design 2

armitage design 4

armitage design 3

by the prophet of the earth was written as a kind of ethnobotanical guide to the plants of arizona as used by the pima indians, and is largely a list of plants and how the pima people used them for food, medicine, and other uses. it's a beautiful book, designed by merle armitage in 1949. armitage had a very crisp graphic style, and everything looks a bit like he worked with wood blocks and is a nice hybrid of modernist and folk art tendencies. a book on american indian culture seems totally fitted to his aesthetic, and indeed many of his books are related to the desert. here are some nice bits:

some keys to pima pronunciation:
ai as in aisle: e.g. vaila, dance
ee as in eel: e.g. eebdak, heart
a as in papa: e.g. babat, frog (i like how this word sounds so much like a frog sound)
i as in pit: e.g. itdam, upon
yi approaches a softly aspirated vi: e.g. cofyi, woman

protection against whirlwinds:
lewis told me he has a brother who lives at casa blanca and when he sees a whirlwind approaching, he steps out of his house, crosses his index fingers, and hums. with this method he keeps the whirlwind from entering his house, it just passes by.

the fair one's attention is saught... to do this, he takes his flute, an instrument of cane with four holes, and, seating himself beneath a bush near her dwelling, keeps up a plaintive noise for hours. the music is continued day after day, until she acknowledges him.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

when ecstasy showered its petals with the full peal of the bells


when the bells scatter
the small salty notes of the parish bells dropped on his head
the evening bells rang
the sound of the bells
the unanimous peal of the parish bells seemed to harmonize with her walk
and bells were ringing so faint, so distant
a sound of parish bells
he heard the bells more and more
the wind full of the peal of bells
through the open windows came the swelling concert of the parish bells
listened to the ringing
and also the small bells
ecstasy showered its petals with the full peal of the bells
the bell rang
in the silence, came a sound of bells
all the bells at once
to the cadence of the last bells

incredible cabinet photo of two bell lovers, gently ringing each other... the list of bells, every bell mentioned in georges rodenbach's bruges-la-morte, a dark love story shrouded in bell sounds...

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

rukin in any other language...

rukin1 ? 1910 - 1920 england RPPC

rukin2 ? 1910 - 1920 england RPPC

a pretty scary RPPC from the uk circa 1920, of two dolls or puppets on a stage, with some incredibly beautiful fabric letters behind them.

i tried a google search for 'rukin' and got only a slew of last names, a dictionary search yielded nothing; and my usual favorite, running it through google translate's 23 different languages and still every time it comes up 'rukin'... a word that only means what it sounds.

so here some text by rilke about dolls, that seems somehow to capture how unsettling dolls and puppets can be...

"so in the end we really destroyed you, doll-soul, when we thought we were cultivating you in our dolls. it must have been the larvae who were eating you from within; and this explains too why the dolls were so fat and why they could not be given more food.

now this new timid generation escapes and flutters through our dark sensibility. looking at these, one might describe them as tiny sighs, so faint that our ears are not attuned to hear them. they swarm and fade at the uttermost limit of our vision. for their only concern is to dwindle away. sexless like our childhood dolls themselves, they experience no decline in their permanent sensuality, into which nothing flows and from which nothing escapes. it is as if they yearned for a beautiful flame, to throw themselves into it like moths (and then the momentary reek of their burning would fill us with limitless unfamiliar sensations). thinking these thoughts and raising our eyes, we stand almost unnerved as we contemplate their waxen nature."

r.m. rilke, dolls, from: essays on dolls, penguin, 1994

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Monday, July 28, 2008

unsystematic searching...

..."that was the plan. but then as you walk along, you find things. i think that's the advantage of walking. it's just one of the reasons why i do that a lot. you find things by the wayside or you buy a brochure written by a local historian, which is in a tiny museum somewhere, which you would never find in london. and in that you find odd details which lead you somewhere else, and so it's a form of unsystematic serching, which of course for an academic is far from orthodoxy, because we're meant to do things systematically.

but i never like doing things systematically. not even my ph.d. research was done systematically. it was always done in a random, haphazard fashion. and the more i got on, the more i felt that, really one can find something only in that way in which, say, a dog runs through a field. if you look at a dog following his nose, he traverses a patch of land in a completely unplottable manner. and he invariably finds what he's looking for. i think that, as i've always had dogs, i've learned from them how to do this. [audience laughter] and so you then have a small amount of material, and you accumulate things, and it grows; one thing takes you to another, and you make something out of these haphazardly assembled materials. and, as they have been assembled in this random fashion, you have to strain your imagination in order to create a connection between the two things. if you look for things that are like the things that you have looked for before, then, obviously, they'll connect up. but they'll only connect up in an obvious sort of way, which actually isn't, in terms of writing, something new, very productive. so you have to take heterogeneous materials in order to get your mind to do something that it hasn't been done before. that's how i thought about it. then, of course, curiosity gets the better of you"...

from an interview with w.g. sebald from 'the emergence of memory', 2007. i'm grateful to the recommender of this book to me, because of how sebald talks about inspiration, and here about the gathering of material before the writing starts. this kind of wandering that allows one to find connections in things discovered in a much more random way - as though these objects come to you, rather than you to them; seems opposed to the precise nature of writing, and in the interview sebald says the writing is the worst part, the least fun, while the research and gathering is the good part.

his path is guided by intuition, and reminds me a little of what i wrote about a few months ago regarding the photo of the toy trains and a sculpture for my last show, and how the photograph worked on me even after i had stopped 'thinking' about it. for sebald it is the city streets, small museums, etc. for me it is continually the flea markets, because i tend to respond to old things; but inspiration always feels stronger when it sneaks up on you than when it bonks you over the head.

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

when walls are for reading and looking...

two details of my studio walls

two details of my studio walls

two images from my studio walls that surround me while i work. the list below should help you navigate a bit of my world...

from top to bottom, starting on the left...

image 1:
a drawing from a friend
a photograph of a castle made out of tin foil, supposedly made by the elephant man (i think it is fake but it's a beautiful object)
a small painting from me, very very old
a photo of alan lomax making a recording
a stick (i know not from where anymore)
piece of an installation i made for guru dutt,

a very old painting from me
a snapshot of my painting in an exhibition hanging next to a cy twombly painting!
a photo of harry bertoia making sound

a card from a show of bruce conner.
a postcard from paul panhuysen
a polaroid of a garden in england
a card for an exhibition of oskar fischinger
an old painting of a buddha
a tiny picture of my dog
a card for a show of per kirkeby

a comparative map of all mountain ranges in the world from the 1880's.
a card of emma kunz, agnes martin, and hilna af klint
an old painting by me
the handle from my grandfather's saw
a quote from rilke about rodin
a map from the south seas made with sticks related to ocean currents
a photograph of fireworks
a small bit of red wire i found i don't remember where
an image from a book by jacques cousteau, the coral looks like a jackson pollock painting
a quote of cocteau ("i elaborate in the prairies of inner silence")
my own music note notations for a painting

part of a large wall chart of all the keys on a typewriter
a chart of making letters with colored dots from an old toy
a tiny collage made from pages of my mother's phone book from the early 1960's
a postcard of a sculpture by rodin of a woman with a greek temple on her
a very old macintosh floppy disc
a snapshot of a garden
a magazine photo of my favorite japanese actor

image 2:
an old disc from a music box, i don't know the song
a sculpture made of chewing gum wrappers, folk art, anonymous
some microscope photos
a score from the serpentine gallery performance
a sketch for a sculpture/sound project

an article about the space station mir and its demise
some music notation i found on the ground in paris
a string with lines for 26 inches that i can use to make drawings as a curved ruler to translate text into curves (a = 1, b=2, etc.)
some drawing by a friend.
an old watercolor by me
a postcard of a constructivist sculpture
an old postcard of a japanese temple
a prayer from an indian music concert

a postcard image of emma kunz drawing
a postcard image of a parachute
a postcard from goethe's house in weimar
an old science image of stars
a quote from a kids book about the universe
a postcard of a sculpture by richard lippold

the bottom edge of a painting
a photograph of a japanese hotel i took in 1978
another postcard of goethe's house in weimar
a science drawing of the sounds of bird songs
a snapshot of an artwork by my friend
a photo of guru dutt
a drawing of sculpture of a landspeeder from star wars i remember making as a child

drawings made by children listening to my music with their eyes closed
a postcard of a drawing by emma kunz
a list of musical note and color equivalents, written by a cashier at a store for me
a postcard of a power tower
a postcard from corbusier's ronchamp
another drawing made by a child listening to my music with his eyes closed
an old edison record i cast to make the plaster disc for my recent sound installation
an envelope from brazil with a butterfly stamp on it, that is quite special.

a print made on a letterpress
an image of a work by joseph cornell that inspired my sound piece moon field
a drawing of a radio antenna
a list of the things joseph cornell saw out of his kitchen window (his "observatory")
a book cover about a large pipe organ found on the ground in paris
a drawing made with a stencil of a contact microphone being burned by the sun


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

when writing looks like weather...



this is one of those photos where the text on the back seems totally connected to the image on the front. the style of handwriting seems so much like little dust balls bouncing in the wind on this barren landscape. it also seems a kind of notation of wind. it's almost as if the writing could be super imposed upon the surface of the photo (a kind of montage) that would somehow feel right. the swirling movements of the writing clearly indicating weather.

the words found within these scrambling wavy lines are also nice: "drop me a card any way and tell me what you are doing. am all alone and the wind is blowing 2:40 snowed this PM and everything looks and feels wintry. but i have lots of coal and it is inside. have 14 of the finest pupils you ever saw. they are so mannerly and nice i really have been blessed to get this quarter and school at home. you will have to come out to this dark land some time. i weigh 103 most i have ever weighed and feel fine.every organ works perfect for i guess i never know i have any".

the photo of the duet is also quite stunning. it is difficult to see in the scan, but they are really playing together, the mandolin player's head cocked as if completely lost in the listening. there's a ton of detail in the barn and its beautiful parallel lines of various widths...

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

wordless and silent experience...

"my interest is in experience that is wordless and silent, and in the fact that this experience can be expressed for me in art work which is also wordless and silent.

...those who depend upon the intellect are many. those who depend upon perception alone are the few.

we perceive - we see. we see with our eyes and we see see with our minds. we want to see the truth about life and all of beauty.

both are a great mystery to us.

perceiving is the same as receiving and it the same as responding. perception means all of them. it goes on all the time whether we are awake or asleep...

perception is a function. a function is part of a process. it does not identify. we are not identified by perception.

we also think. perception is a primary experience. thinking; we consider that which we have perceived. it is a secondary experience. thinking compares everything that we have perceived with everything that we are perceiving at the moment.

...thinking leads to pride, identification, confusion, and fear...

agnes martin, the still and silent in art, in 'writings'.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

when the sun rises in spite of hooligans...

july 20th, 2008 sunrise beginning

july 20th 2008 sunrise ending

a strange weekend indeed.

i arrived at the performance space saturday afternoon around 4 pm, to do a soundcheck for my sunrise performance. i was quite happy to discover a perfection of site. the performance space was in the southwest corner of the carousel building, facing the coastline with a curved wall of windows - absolutely ideal for the light shifts outside to be experienced by listeners inside. the soundcheck went relatively smoothly, and i was quite sure i would be able to have the audience hovering in a state between gentle sleep and barely awake.

12 hours later i arrived at the space at 4 am, only to discover an abundance of policemen, and some serious chaos. it seems some hooligans were wreaking havoc on the carousel itself, someone called the cops, and just as i arrived, the carousel space, as well as much of the rest of the festival, was shut down. i was told i would not be able to do the performance.

driving home in the dark i decided that the sun was still depending on me, so upon arrival, i put my gear together haphazardly on the floor of my studio, opened the garage door, and just as the sky was beginning to feel a slight presence of light - probably around 5:35 or so - i played a nice improvised piece for about 20 minutes. when the performance was done, i looked up to see that the light had completely changed.

i have to say i felt really bad for the wonderful and dedicated fans who woke before dawn and arrived only to find the venue barricaded. so i decided to post the performance that no one saw or heard other than me and the sun, for free download/listening. as you can see in my little telephone photos, the sound seemed to make the sun very happy.

the piece was performed with a lap steel guitar, an old paia oz battery powered synthesizer, a contact microphone, my voice, and two very old delay pedals. it was recorded live direct to a small zoom h4 recorder.

click here to listen

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Friday, July 18, 2008

as darkness moves into light...

sunrise, polaroid, 1970's

for those in the los angeles area, i will be doing a live sound performance at 5 AM sunday morning on the santa monica pier, inside the carousel building, as part of the event 'glow'.

when i was in philadelphia earlier this year i performed in a space that had no electricity and the performance moved from sunset to absolute darkness. it was quite beautiful to work with this natural cycle of light.

since i'd already played the sun down, when i was invited to this event, i requested the 5 AM time slot so that i could play the sun up. i figure a lot of people will be tired from such a long event (it begins at 7 pm the night before), and imagine a room full of nearly asleep eyes and resting ears... i'm looking forward to it. more info here: glow

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

when tents make music...

1923 japanese band in front of tent postcard

"the thing to keep in mind about tents is the way they sound. a decibel meter's delight, they flap, sigh, creak, groan, rustle, and when used as enclosures for revival meetings, conferences, circuses, and the like, they give the assembled public the choice of listening to speakers, or the snarls of caged beasts, or the near-subliminal symphonies created by the responses of the fabric and ropes to the shifting pressures of air movement.

it is also a fine thing to see what tents do with outside light: they diffuse the sharp rays of the sun and seem to shrink with the passage of clouds. overhead shadows of things nearby, ropes, cables, bits of hardware, are razor sharp and these too move occasionally in the wind.

a permanent feast for the senses, tents are also - and have been for millenia - structures of unsurpassed elegance and economy, first cousins to the sail, as fluid as a full clothesline in a breeze, kinetic sculpture in its most nearly dematerialized form..."

george nelson, architect/designer, 1978, in george nelson on design. (image: 1923 postcard of japanese band in front of tent...)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

when she whirled 2990 times in 32 minutes...

marie bayrootie

"mary bayrooty, the syrian girl who last year whirled for thirty-two minutes without cessation, making something like 2,240 revolutions established a new record yesterday afternoon in barnum & bailey's freak hall. she made 2,990 twirls in thirty-seven minutes. this is a new world record... when the last note died and the last whirl had been achieved, marie was fresh as paint. she ran across the floor to the nearest reporter and pinned a rose on the lapel of his coat, remaining until her fame had been suitably sounded. then she sat down and gave the other freaks a chance."

much as i wish i'd written the text above, it is a newspaper account of marie bayrooty that i found online while researching her. the CDV with her image was a recent find.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

of eels, river, and rainbow...

the 1971 exhibition at the boston museum of fine arts called "elements of art" contained works that used as their medium one or more of the four elements - earth, air, fire, and water. the catalog was published in two parts, the first is a spiral bound book that has only descriptions of the pieces, while the second (which i don't have) is filled with documentation of the works after they were realized. what is nice about the first part of the catalog is that it allows you to picture the pieces in your mind (and seeming a bit of a return to the work of lawrence weiner). here are a few gems:

jerusalem river project, 1970
joshua neustein, georgetter batlle, gerard marx
sound and photographic documentation of a fantasy river which was created by using the sounds of waterfalls, rapids, and senile flows and was "distributed" by loudspeakers for two kilometers through a dry mountain valley in jerusalem.

charles river rainbow, 1971
otto piene
a rainbow will be made across the charles river, just east of the massachusetts ave. bridge, with colored tubing in a 230 ft. arc

eel track, 1971
richard boudelis
the eels movement through the tubing creates continuously changing patterns and rhythms. the eels are fed through a filter circulating system.

i kind of like the idea of compressing the three pieces into one, involving a two kilometer listening walk of quiet water sounds emanating from tiny speakers, and ending at some crazy huge network of rainbow colored tubes filled with eels, like some surrealist oasis. i imagine standing beneath this rainbow, with sun pounding through the colored tubes and these black lines slowly moving all in the same direction, but at different speeds. everything is silent except for the tiny speakers that cover the ground and sound a bit like insects singing quiet water sounds...

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

music on a long thin wire...

1916 ohio RPPC man playing violin on a high wire

this photo was taken in 1914, as french violinist simon renaud continued his journey across america, never setting foot on the ground. renaud had come to america a few months earlier seeking a woman he knew only from a passing glance on a paris street a few years earlier. he did not know her name, only her initials 'em' which he had seen imprinted in gold on one of her suitcases, as she passed beneath him during one of his infamous performances playing violin upon a high wire. renaud was smitten from above, but could find no way to make contact with her from such a distance.

there is no record of how he knew she was returning to america, maybe it was his keen eyesight, and his ability to read small things from above, but he decided to cross the ocean on a boat to find her.

when he arrived in america, he bagan a journey from coast to coast entirely upon telephone and electrical power wires, convinced that he would only recognize her from the same vantage point as he had first seen her. he knew that if she somehow passed beneath him, she would seem to him exactly as she was that quiet morning she caught his glance. he hoped to recognize her, and take her to be his own.

renaud was renowned for wire walking, as well as his ability to play the violin while upon the wire. he had invented a special kind of 'amplification rod' which when hanging off the wire and touching the neck of his violin, would act as an acoustic microphone, amplifying his melancholy tones so they were audible for miles.

here we see him on sept. 19, 1914, in fredricktown ohio, several weeks into his journey. renaud had spent years designing "musical performances consisting of a series of any number of phrases which explore the acoustic properties of a single vibrating wire." he was not only an exquisitely balanced man, but a tinkerer and a thinker and a listener. his amplification rod allowed him to "pick up the sounds of the vibrating wire... on the resonant bridges and amplify them for ...listening." his night performances were extremely beautiful, as he would "light the wire so that the modes of vibration (were) visible to viewers." newspaper reports of these 'performances' remain the best descriptions of what seems to have sounded and looked quite magical.

renaud spent several years looking down on american cities and small towns trying to find this woman he knew only as 'em'. by this time, he had ceased speaking, because of his distance from the ground (for who could hear him, and he was tired of yelling). instead, he used his violin to express his ache, and the telephone wires spread the sound of his sadness as a kind of sonic cloud that followed him everywhere. his longing became a weather condition, and most folks could hear the audible tugging of his heartstrings hours before the man was within their view.

it is believed that he found her once or twice, but she managed to unknowingly elude him, because the wire paths never quite followed the pedestrian paths, and they would move together at first, but then drift apart. there is some speculation that in rural ohio, he once managed to get her up upon the wire with him (she holding onto him ever so tightly for dear life), but this has never been proven.

at some point he realized that he had spent so much time above the landscape he had no real desire to ever come back down. the earth was too earthly, and too solid. it had neither the resonance nor the view that that felt right to him. he needed a line to walk upon.

finally, sometime in 1916, he actually arrived in the town that she called her home. he was quite beside himself at such luck, because he never really had a direction, as much as a hope. he was a bit nervous that after so many steps and so many notes he might have found the end of his journey. he became a little anxious that she might reject his advances; for after so much looking and longing, he felt a bit outside of the things of life, and perhaps not quite the man he used to be. because of this he realized he could never really come down to her, and he spent many days above her house quietly adoring her perched upon his wire like a bird waiting with the hopes that she would eventually come to him with some breadcrumbs.

all of the wire walking and ache sounding left his arms and feet exhausted, but every time she walked beneath his eyes, his heart beat audibly because he knew she was there. eventually, he began to make quite special notes fall from his violin into her. it was his only way of speaking.

rumor has it that these tender notes are what finally brought her to him, and after hearing them, she would regularly visit him in the darker parts of the evenings. like a sleepwalker, she was able to climb up onto the wire without fear, sometimes for a moment, and sometimes until the sun began to be visible on the edge of the horizon. after so many miles and so many yearnings, renaud's mind had fallen into a state that continually drifted back and forth between realities. for himself, he was never really sure if it was she who came to him in the night, or if it was a phantom he kept returning to in a dream. regardless, on those nights he was quite happy.

image: RPPC fredericktown ohio, sept. 29, 1914, fredericktown day celebration, quotes in the text from alvin lucier's score for music on a long thin wire

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Friday, July 11, 2008

of architecture, words, and trees...

max bill

this morning i woke up with max bill's name running through my head, for no apparent reason. i don't know if this ever happens to others, but there are days when a word or a name continuously bounces into consciousness in a kind of repetitive frenzy, sometimes for an entire day. so now i am in the midst of the words 'max bill' being constantly spoken to me by my brain. it's only 7 am, but i am already a bit tired of hearing it inside me. nonetheless, how could i not begin to notice how nice his name sounds being spoken with only two syllables (is there anyone with a real name that is only one?). it seems to me that along with the sound of his name, the look of the spelling, the short form of the words, it completely fits the austere lines of his architecture, and the clean precision of his graphics, paintings, and sculpture. say his name or look at it as a graphic form, and know the meaning and the relationship is almost perfect. it is as if all of the work that he made, came out of looking at his own name, and quietly repeating it to himself... max bill, max bill, max bill, max bill...

yesterday i emailed a friend to ask about the german word for tree, and i was surprised to find that it is the word 'baum'. unlike the wonderful relationship to the words max bill and every thing that came from the hands of max bill (actually even his hairstyle...); i can't find the word 'baum' feeling anything like a tree when i hear it or see it. in fact, it sends me everywhere but to the idea of tree. this is one of the first times that english actually trumps another language in terms of the relationship of a word spoken and seen, to the object it represents. for me the word tree in english sounds kind of like the form of a tree, with a heavy root system in the spoken beginning "tr" and then shooting up to the sky with the sound "ee". if you place it on its side, with the 'T' at the bottom you will see what i mean. it also seems connected to a tree visually, with the "t" seeming like a trunk and limbs, the 'r' being a curved branch coming off the stronger "t" frame, and the pair of "e"s feeling a lot like leaves.

if one wants to get deeper in all of this, one remembers that max bill was swiss, and i'm pretty sure he spoke german, so the word "baum" came out of his mouth many times. i'm wondering what 'baum' sounded like when max bill spoke it, or how it looked written in his hand. did either make the word any more tree-like... or perhaps less so?

the severity of bill's name and the seemingly small feeling of the word 'baum' suggest to me a kind of small tree skeleton, more like the skeleton of a tiny bird, but feeling like a fall tree without any leaves. now i can almost see this 'baum' looking hand drawn in ink against a relatively light sky. this kind of tree could be a tree, but it would still suggest architecture and graphic language. it would be a max bill tree, or i suppose der max bill baum...

above, you will understand the joy one feels when by some small bit of magic, one writes a bit, and then uncovers absolute perfection in the archives. i don't know who or what guided me to this photo of bill, looking very much like the words 'max bill', holding in his hands not only his architecture, but clearly a few tiny max bill baums... i can't help but feel that this photo is of the man contemplating the sounds of his own name in relation to his own architecture and to the word tree written and spoken in many languages...

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

when paper flowers mirror life... and tragedy yields beauty...

kagaz ke phool 7" sleeve

in october of 2006 i did a week of posts celebrating my favorite indian film director, guru dutt. i posted images and songs from most of the soundtrack LPs, but at the time i didn't have anything from kagaz ke phool (one of his greater films, perhaps second only to pyaasa, which is definitely his masterpiece). this 7", a recent find, sparked a revisiting, and so for any completists our there (besides me...), here's a song from that film.

as with most of dutt's later films, kagaz ke phool (the title translates as 'paper flowers', and suggests not only the fragility of life, but also the fleetingness of fame...) is a relatively dark and depressing film, and very much connected to dutt's own tragic biography. the story centers on an aging movie director, who is unable to recapture the popularity of his earlier films with the public. he is lost in a loveless marriage, and because of circumstances, unable to be with the young actress he is truly in love with. scandals develop, people are selfish and ugly, and dutt is constantly criticizing the gossip and fame machines in the film world. the film is incredibly pessimistic in its view of fame. in the end, it is a classic tragedy of unfulfilled desires, and unappreciated genius, both of which unfortunately, mirrored the darkness of dutt's own late career. the last scene of the film shows the director in a kind of mental fog and physically unrecognizable to everyone around him, sitting alone, broken, in a darkened film studio, collapsing "to let the life flow out of him". five years later dutt would take his own life.

kagaz ke phool is certainly considered a masterpiece now, but at the time it was an enormous box office failure. the negative reception finally exhausted dutt's faith in the public ever embracing another of his films. it was the last film he would ever credit himself as director, fearing the public's dislike of his dark pessimism would keep any film with his name as director from having any success. the few films he made after kagaz, dutt is listed as a producer, even though you can see his hands all over the place in them. clearly he was more involved than credited. unfortunately even these films were met with relative disinterest.

kagaz ke phool is a powerful film in its own right, but in terms of its relationship to dutt's own life and beliefs, it is a difficult film to watch. it's an incredibly powerful film, but knowing dutt's biography, one has a sense he was very aware of the unfortunates life had in store for him.

the song here, waqt ne kiya, is sung by his wife, the amazing singer geeta dutt (although unintentional, in the context of the film's narrative this is highly ironic). it conveys beautifully all the sadness of such a melancholy love and the longing that unfolds with the story. dutt was a pioneer in this - using songs to enhance the emotional trajectory of the narrative, instead of simple festive breaks. for the film music, dutt worked again with composer s.d. burman, who wrote several great scores for him. of course, as you can hear, this song is an absolute gem...

click here to listen

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008


musicians circa 1910

music for stains and scuffs to dance like ghosts about the place.
music for creases in various places, like wire snakes.
music for hats arched at almost perfect opposite angles.
music for geometric floor patterns receding into nothingness.
music for two types of ties, and four hands seemingly the same size.
music for the strange presence between their heads, like an echo.
music for the tear near his face that looks like a small fish.
music for two stringed instruments, one strummed and one plucked.
music for the phantom glows behind them.
music for a knee to rest upon a stool awkwardly while some kind of emulsion explodes on the other knee.

photo: recent find, rppc circa 1910, nothing written on the back...

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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

when ink blots are sad...

bruce conner ink blot drawing

sad news today, artist bruce conner passed away in san francisco on monday. for me, he was the artist who most signified forging your own path without compromise.

i remember being bored to tears at the 97 whitney biennial until i wandered into a room of conner's drawings, which seemed not only relevant, but stunningly beautiful and comforting in the midst of a show that gave me much eye-sickness. at the time, he was in his 60's.

i have thought of that moment often, in relation to my own career, as well when i work with grad students, because even though conner probably felt slighted and underappreciated up to that point, you can't discount the difference in being in a show like that at 28 or 60 - both what it means to the artist, as well as the quality of the work shown. even more so, it suggested that what would now be considered a slower career path has a purpose - to be able to work in solitude, to forge your own path outside of market or social concerns, and to find your own voice. plus... conner's room in the 97 whitney really kicked some serious ass, and almost every other artist i talked to about the show mentioned his work before anything else.

in its own quiet way, conner's work was cantankerous, but never at the expense of being incredibly poetic and moving. i remember walking through his 'retrospective' and thinking so much of the work and its installation seemed to be flipping someone or something the bird. the tactile qualities and solitary labor in his work were incredibly refreshing at a time when french theory surrounding the simulacrum was being shoveled down my throat in grad school. while i always felt conner's work approached elegance, it also seemed to come out of the simple spoken truth: 'shit or get off the pot'. you got the sense from it that he simply sat down and went to work with a purpose.

it came as no surprise to me to discover that he photographed much of the early san francisco punk scene, because his work has that spirit that punk rock created in a lot of people who participated in its early days - when it was creative and open, before it became codified and angry (and pretty darn boring...). even in the ink blots, which are incredibly elegant, connor seems to kind of dare you to question their sincerity and labor, because on one level they are intricate controlled drawings, but on another they are simply drops of ink on folded paper. if you buy into them, you partially buy into a kind of alchemy, and thus a level of belief (one rarely speaks of punk rock in terms of belief, but for those of us who were there in the early days, it actually held much hope and creative presence - and perhaps that is why so many people involved ended up as artists...) it's interesting to think about conner's works in relation to a punk rock spirit, because they don't wear what would typically be described as a punk aesthetic on their outsides as much as they are imbued with a kind of independent spirit on the inside (an independent spirit is both personal and highly evolved... in relation to conner, how can one not think of jess, or cornell...). i think this feeling pervades all of his work.

the ink blot drawings and earlier psychedelic felt tip pen drawings (hyper obsessive versions of every high school stoner's notebook doodles) clicked with a kind of psychedelia that was uniquely san franciscan. it is interesting to see how much of a rebel conner seems next to someone like terry riley, with whom he collaborated a few times. where riley, can dive whole hog into some seriously new age territory, conner never seemed to lose that rebellious edge; and it is this that gives his work so much weight for me. he's never willing to simply hand you sugar, because he wants you to have to work a little, to come to his work on his terms.

i've always felt that conner's work questions the idea of pure beauty, as much as it embraces it; and it contains not only the fluffiness of the spirit, but accepts and willingly inserts, the darker aspects of the spirit in heaping tablespoon doses. the ink blot drawings are the culmination of this for me. it takes a while to wander through them, and to discover both their beauty, and their darkness. they also seem to slyly question the idea that meaning in work is completely embedded and controlled by the artist, in that each one is populated by hundreds of tiny rorschach blots... the thing that more than anything else, is the most recognizable cultural symbol of a viewer creating meaning through his own inner desires... artwork as a trigger of self knowledge. by the time you arrive at the end of your their journey into one of these complex visual worlds, you will have seen, or found, more about yourself, and the artist, than you probably bargained for.

the image above is one of my prized possessions, a tiny (and i mean TINY) drawing, probably from the early 1980's.

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Monday, July 07, 2008

when walls with words become scores...

lawrence weiner retrospective at moca

this coming friday, to coincide with the last weekend of moca's lawrence weiner retrospective, i've been invited to do a short performance inspired by weiner's text pieces. the event will take place at beyond baroque, and will include a humbling roster of art folks including morgan fisher, judith hoffburg, kathryn andrews, lisa mark, tamara sussman, brian kennon, dagny corcoran, norm laich, ann goldstein, stephanie taylor, john baldessari, ed ruscha, and more.

my relationship to weiner's work is quite small, even though i've always been a fan (and i always like an artist who also makes records.) the one piece of his that really had an effect on me, was a piece i saw painted on a WW2 bunker in vienna many years ago, that says 'smashed to bits in the still of the night'. it was visible from my small dark hotel room, and weiner's haunting text gave this giant ominous concrete beast an enormously oppressive presence.

saturday, i walked through weiner's retrospective, looking for pieces i might be able to use as scores. the interesting thing about weiner's work, for me, is that a lot of them read as actions. many suggest documentary text of a performance that has already happened, with no evidence left behind of its happening. on the other hand, things are generally implied or suggested, so that they really only happen inside of you. for instance, when i read 'a cup of sea water poured on the floor', i instinctively look at the floor for a small water pool, i see the pouring action in my head, i can kind of smell the sea water, know its wetness, even picture a milky white measuring cup filled to the brim, etc. the texts work on all of your senses.

because of the nature of his texts, my performance of them will be a kind of reversal. with the words gone, the action will be the only thing present; but in the context, people will be looking back to the words. i like the idea that weiner's words are always pointing me towards action, and now my own action might point people back to his words.

i found a number of things in the show that could be used to generate poetic and sound actions, such as:

many colored objects placed side by side to form a row of many colored objects

just another thing
taken and changed
(a wood) (a stone)

a cup of sea water poured on the floor

dropped stones

pebbles and straw strewn on a level with the surface of the ocean

i also found the following texts quite beautiful, and although i can't quite figure out how to actually 'do them' in the context of such an evening, seemed worth posting... they also sound quite nice spoken...

stars don't stand still in the sky

a line drawn from the first star at dusk to the last star at dawn

every time we say goodbye
we die a little
every time we say goodbye
we wonder why a little

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Friday, July 04, 2008

when flags rest on pianos....

star grand pianos advertising RPPC

nice little advertising RPPC for starr grand pianos, with a flag for july 4th...

"what should one have a piano for?
better to have ears
and love nature."

excerpt from f. pessoa, the keeper of sheep...

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

measured by the eye...

corbusier model for philips pavilion

"i spoke of harmony and suggested the disaster of abrupt interruption in the delight which is our due. terminology appropriate to music... precisely! architecture and music are sisters, both proportion time and space. the tool which cultivates our feeling of enchantment is proportion. our feelings so closely bound up with it that in its highest form we approach the esoteric, the language of the gods. feeling derived from architecture is determined by the measure of distance, dimensions, heights, volumes: mathematics possesses the key to - or away from - unity.

would you believe it? architecture's key, proportion, has been lost, forgotten. proportion, which in certain periods meant everything, leading men to the very heart of mysteries, is no longer something for us to think or worry about; it has been abandoned. that's what we've come to. proportion, eminently visual (for aren't we dealing with objects measured by the eye?), can concern the metaphysical, thereby linking the material to the spiritual..."

le corbusier, talks with students, 1961; image: model for corb's 1958 philips pavilion...

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

studio visit...


"there's something for the analyst!" he (pollock) said,"the painter locks himself out of his own studio. and then has to break in like a thief"

before we could stop him he had smashed a pane of glass.

"couldn't we force the window?" i said.

he tried, but without success. there were wedges nailed from the inside.

"damn!" with his elbow he smashed another pane, and then another, tearing away the wooden strips between them. "wait i'll get a hammer and really go to work on this." he ran back to the house while we collected the splintered glass in a pile. returning with the hammer, he finally managed to raise the lower half of the window and, shoving a table covered with dusty sketches out of the way, stepped in. we followed him...


as we walked toward the window to climb out, he took a look back into that lair of creative devastation.

"these paintings, the ones i've kept, are my securities. they're all i've got left." he leaned out the window and looked at the view of the distant pond.

"painting is my whole life..."

from seldon rodman's conversations with artists, 1961

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