Friday, January 30, 2009

when weather is cold and books are warm...

perhaps it is the wintry weather here in wyoming that had me yesterday, picking up one of my favorite books about landscape (actually one of my favorites about anything!)- views from a tuft of grass, by harry martinson. martinson is an extraordinary writer and thinker, constantly refining, defining, and blurring, the edges between poetry and nature writing - between verse and essay...

i realized ironically, that as i am in the midst of the coldest landscape i’ve ever been, most of martinson’s essays in ‘tuft’ are related to warm weather. in light of that, perhaps i have been unconsciously seeking martinson’s words, not so much beacause i always return to them, but perhaps because in light of my current weather conditions, these words bring me a very different kind of warmth inside than reading him in los angeles... here, some excerpts from “summer - play of the senses”, 1963

“perhaps summer gives its most heartfelt and penetrating performance for your senses on a windless day in july when summer’s warmth is guaranteed even in the shade. that’s when you can sit and listen to the richest song of the summer pastures - the buzzing song of insects.

most birds become quiet around midsummer or slightly thereafter. they follow the cuckoo’s example. but when the cuckoo is at its most silent and keeps utterly quiet for the rest of the year, that’s when the buzzing song of the insects starts up in earnest and continues for two months. with innumerable instrumentalists around each and every bush and flower, the elf orchestra plays on day in and day out without fatigue, and with rainy or windy days as the only rests.

many people listen in an absent-minded or distracted way to this performance. a few might even claim that they never hear anything. but if that buzzing song were to end, and if a summer against all odds became silent of insects - bee silent, bumblebee silent, hover fly silent, and without the sounds of crickets - then it would be noticed by everybody as a dead and voiceless summer...

there is good reason to believe that fragrances are the thoughts of flowers. whereas it is true that we have not so far been able to translate these thoughts into something resembling our own, the nose has its hunches. it knows, or let us say, it suspects, that a summer meadow is filled with as many ways of thinking and dreaming as any good library is with thoughts and dreams expressed in characters and words.

once i experienced how a bouquet of violets - with its fragrance - recited a four line stanza so beautiful and rare i was simply unable to capture it in words. i simply felt it would remain there forever, like an unwritten fragrance poem on a violet’s life and circumstances. if you try to translate things like this into words you always fail; it becomes a strange and lost way of sobbing with words. but the nose knows better. the nose is the real flower poet, the meadow’s acute mind reader. and even if it is looked upon with irony by the other four senses, it still sniffs along among the smells of summer, proudly aware of its own way of knowing...”

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

when recording in snow...

recording snow1

recording snow 2

recording snow 3

recording snow 4

some tips for recording in snow:

1. be careful if your contact mics are warm... if you place them on ice, they will stick to it, like your tongue on the inside of the refrigerator.

2. your baseball cap can work pretty good as an impromptu protective cover for your recorder if it starts snowing.

3. sometimes even in snow and cold, a dog will run up to your mics and try to lick them, perhaps thinking they are food or play toys...

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Monday, January 26, 2009

to make a snow film...


i have made several films using a kind of relative scale drawing process. the first was done by tracing all of the notes in a piece of music onto clear film stock. the second was from my trip to norway, and involved tracing a map, words in a book, and a player piano roll. when i got to wyoming last week, i wanted to find a way to do something related to the landscape, but trying to find a way to have it have a relationship to scale.

for the first film/drawing, i covered the entire sliding glass door of my bedroom with clear 16mm film stock, and then tried to draw the view onto the large plane of strips. this one was a bit of a disaster as i ended up getting sharpie marks all over the window and had to spend the better portion of the next day cleaning it off.

yesterday, as it began to snow, i decided to try to map the dropping flakes, so i covered the small window in my studio with clear film stock, and did several 5 minute drawings, trying to map the falling white dots in different colors, within the window plane.

what you see above is the resulting drawing, before it was taken apart and edited into one long strip. i have no idea what these will look like when projected, but quite excited by the potential...

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Friday, January 23, 2009

when readers ask big questions...


well, been in wyoming for a week and finally broke the spell of the studio with a visit to the only used bookstore in sheridan. it's wasn't much to speak of, although enough good paperbacks to save a stranded reader's life.

digging around in the back i happened upon a book on sentence structure by noam chomsky, which the writers at the residency here figured must've been his graduate or phd thesis. i picked it up for the sentence diagrams, but bought it for the handwritten footnotes. this one in particular is what sold me on the book:

is something that is never said in the whole history of a language from beginning to end be said to be a sentence of that language? i can imagine any physical occurrence - does this effect the laws of physics? not a good analogy unless language must ultimately be defined behavioristically and can never be defined mechanistically - as a function of the human brain, that is.

kind of brings to mind the zen koan of the sound of one hand clapping or a falling tree sounding in a forest with no one to hear it...

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

when sunlight like honey is...

this is the afternoon and so it is time to make a
poem of the afternoon, to come up from under it
with a long sigh and to swing into it from above: the
afternoon, the golden time: to have no subject but
the world, life and the world, life in the world, the
texture of life the texture of every minute as it

this is the afternoon and so it is time to make a
poem of the afternoon (the afternoon is making a
poem of itself)

afternoon, the afternoon, the people stand on the
sunlit quay and wait for the kanaris.

they stand on the quay and wait for the boat: the
canaris to arrive...

a long afternoon: an afternoon in the sun

the people stand in a kind of hushed silence;
waiting for the boat to appear on the (blue) horizon

an afternoon of hushed sunlight

a time of afternoon: the people stand in classical
poses waiting for the traditional return of the boat
to the island

and wait for the boat to appear on the blue horizon

a golden afternoon: when sunlight like honey is
poured on the land

they stand in hushed silence and nobody speaks

they are all there, all there, everyone from the town
is there

they stand on the quay in a hush of waiting and look
toward the (blue) horizon

this is the afternoon, a time to make a poem (of the

the afternoon is making a poem of itself

sunlight pours on the land like honey

(the sunlight lies on the land like a tender regard)

this is the afternoon (a time for its music)

sun, the sunlight is the (music) the music the music
(the music) the music (the music) the music the

of (this time) of the a(fter-noon)

the sunlight pours itself on the land and lies on the
land like a tender regard

they stand about and wait for the boat,

they wait for the boat, the canaris, to come in

robert lax, march 20, 1964, from stereo headphones # 8-8-10, 1982

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Monday, January 19, 2009

mechanisms of transformation...




“if we understand the landscape at the outcome of an action or a chain of actions, applied simultaneously or at different times, we can posit the designing of the landscape by deciding on the actions that will bring about the transformation of the existing landscape and generate a new one.


the designing of the landscape is converted into a designing of actions: we decide upon the mechanisms of transformation in contrast to an aesthetic and static final image. the resulting form is in part a surprise, inasmuch as it depends on the response of the environment, ever complex, and to some extent unpredictable. and the landscape thus generated goes on behaving, as did the pre-existing one, dynamically; interacting in time with all kinds of actions, to which it remains permanently exposed.”

manuel ruisanchez, from: landscape +, GG, 2007

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Friday, January 16, 2009

when there are demons in the airwaves...

dear loyal readers, i have arrived in banner wyoming for the residency, and to say that the internet connection is 'wonky' would be an understatement. those of you who read the blog daily will quickly realize the situation for the next four weeks will be a sporadic one at best. in better news, my studio faces a beautiful snow covered mountain and i awoke this morning at 5 am to snow sparkling in the moonlight and a rabbit slowly hopping past... the landscape so quiet i could hear his little paws on the surface of the snow...

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

when migrations are in the air...





yesterday was the first day of my drive to wyoming, and i drove from pasadena to park city utah. there were two very strange moments, both seemingly related to my previous post regarding otto piene's thoughts on the word migration suggesting certain forms of ephemeral artworks drifting in skies (you should take a peek at piene's great inflatable kite pieces from the 70's).

the first incident was about a half hour north of las vegas. at first i thought i was hallucinating, as it appeared to be a flock of giant birds, but as i sped closer, i could see that the drifting dots were actually humans with small colored parachutes - a small swarm of drifting humans slowly descending to the ground, as hundreds of automobiles sped by. it was uncanny to say the least, particularly the difference in the speed we were traveling on the ground, and the relative slow motion feeling of how they were falling.

the second incident was somewhere in utah, in a much quieter area and it was simply like a vision, as i turned my head to look at the landscape to my right, and i could see all these markings in the sky, probably a temporal map of flight patterns, but looking a lot like one of rudolf steiner's black board drawings.

i couldn't help but think in both circumstances that piene was right about the potential of such things, and i wonder if stockhausen wasn't so bombastic with his helicopter string quartet, how a group of instrument playing parachutists slowly descending while playing, might sound; and perhaps they could even be watching the sky, translating such graphic notations as music literally falls into our laps...

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009


from otto piene's more sky

from otto piene's 1970 book, more sky:

migration: migrating artworks or groups of artworks can float or swim like fish, fly like cranes, or fade like the setting sun. migrating man carries portable electronic charms and receives universally spread tele-information. migrant apparitions could be planted into the sky like wandering clouds of snow.

i'm leaving this morning on a 3 day drive to banner wyoming for a residency, where i will spend the next four weeks with 5 other artists on a 1000 very cold acres, with my own tiny studio. yes, i will be bringing my portable electronic charms, and will be able to receive universally spread tele-information (on my computer but fortunately not on my phone!). i plan on also wandering like a cloud of snow (as there will indeed be many of them).

there's a good chance airforms will be heavy on the text and light on the vintage photographs while i'm gone, as i won't be receiving things in the mail, and there don't seem to be any flea markets near where i'm staying... nevertheless between the very large box of books that i'm bringing and the amount of landscape i'll be ingesting, i will certainly find at least a few nuggets to share.

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Monday, January 12, 2009

what might have been...

i was recently looking over one of my favorite catalogs, from an exhibition/project done at the los angeles county museum of art in 1971. the project started in 1967, and was called art & technology. the idea was to connect an artist to a company dealing in technology or fabrication, and to allow through various meetings, for an artist to essentially dream something up and to potentially have it made. in many cases the technology wasn't there yet, and so many of the projects were relatively experimental (and some unrealizable).

a lot of people participated whose work made sense for such leaps - such as robert irwin, james turrell, takis, dan flavin, len lye, otto piene, etc. whose work dealt with a kind of kinetics or technology based perceptions. stockhausen was also a participant.

some of the corporations who participated were: ampex, container corporation of america, IBM, kaiser steel, pan american airways, RCA, litton industries, etc.

there are a ton of amazing projects, both realized and unrealized, documented in detail (it's an incredible catalog), and there are also documents from artists who ended up not participating. one of them who stands out in terms of their work seeming completely outside of participation in such a show, was ellsworth kelley.

here's what the catalog says:
MT saw ellsworth kelley in the fall of 1968 and described various available companies, particularly manufacturing firms that could be used for sculpture projects. kelley said that he was more interested in working with a computer corporation than in making sculptures. he described his paintings of the early 50's, made in paris, as responses to the random play of lights on the seine; he indicated that the systems of black and white configurations on these canvases might be analysed and permutated by use of a computer. he felt that this would be an important project to pursue but that his other commitments would prevent his serious involvement for at least two years.

there are a lot of interesting aspects to kelley's potential approach. of course, connected to my own interests are the ideas surrounding a set of information created by a computer that would then be used to make paintings; but also, unlike many of the artists in the exhibition, technology was not used for fabrication, but for conversation and potentially, inspiration. looking at the mid 1950's painting above, which is in the collection of MOMA, one can't help but wonder what kelley might have done had this worked out, and even more so, where it might have led him.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


from an old diary

(nice to know the days of the week in 2009 are the same as they were in 1925, although i hope you find something worth recording today...)

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Friday, January 09, 2009

straying with eyes closed and nothings (a found map of the universe)


"what makes us look for a long time is that we do not look where we should or that we look where we should not. but how to look for what we should when we do not even know what we are looking for? and this is what always happens when we compose and when we create. fortunately, by straying in this fashion, we make more than one discovery, we have good encounters, and often are repaid for what we have looked for without finding by what we have found without looking for."

"(in a dream.) to unite matter to forms, which are the purest, the most beautiful, the truest things in nature. (written at night without being able to see.)"

"poetry made with little matter: with leaves, with grains of sand, with air, with nothings, etc. "

some text from the notebooks of joseph jaubert, 1808 - 1812. image, an old piece of paper damaged from acidity, reversed.

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

when old things fall from the sky...

sepia leads found on ground 3

sepia leads found on ground 2

sepia leads found on ground 1

poor little box masquerading as a bird, as if fallen from the sky. while walking my dog yesterday, i found him, tattered and torn, covered with grime, in the bushes near my house. his appearance beside manicured lawns and gutters filled only with leaves was incredibly uncanny, as if a magical apparition. as he revealed his patina'd self to me, not just his colored box, but the sepia drawing leads within, i could not help but feel he'd not only fallen accidentally through space, but perhaps also through time. his birth, marked clearly on the box, in czechoslovakia, probably 50 plus years ago. and his cardboard body in tatters and soiled, only to prove the difficulty of this poor orphan's journey. he is now tucked away safely in the warmth of my studio, preparing himself towards some kind of alchemical transformation from sticks to marks, with the hope that at least a few of them just might be a bit beautiful... perhaps next week it will rain pencils, pushpins, or old small bottles of india ink...

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a little bit of horn tooting...

when sun is like rain. when rain is like sun.

most of you who read the blog regularly know i'm not one to toot my own horn very often, but i was recently invited to do an interview with catherine wagley (who must be graciously thanked for asking me some wonderfully difficult questions) at artslant. while i tend to feel about as comfortable with my own words as i do with photographs of myself, i figure some of you might find it of interest even though the questions were unrelated to old photos, old music, old book covers, old poems...

click here for the link

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

when clocks become poets...

john christie, word clock III, 1968

john christie, word clock III, 1968

some images of word clock III, by john christie, from 1968.

"two digital clock units contained one above the other in a small wooden, glass fronted box. the numerals have been replaced by words, and the whole device repeats its cycle every 24 hours... making a total of 1440 different word combinations per day...the leaves are painted in one of five colors...the units can also be changed by hand..."

i remember once getting a compliment from an artist whose work i really love, regarding a work of mine, saying he was jealous i had thought of it first. word clock III is one of those things i certainly wish i'd somehow found within myself before finding these images in an old art magazine...

but perhaps i should simply thank christie for opening a door of possibilities. word clock III is one of those wonderfully simple things that suggests a profound amount of potential - simply by seeing something useful as useful for something else.

instead of using a clock to tell time, it uses time to tell us something new about the potential of poetic composition. our concept of time shifts completely from something we watch because we are anxious, to something we can watch slowly, reading quietly, for hours...

i am assuming the word 'cage' features prominently in the poetic text in hommage to the chance based composition of the clock's combinations of words...

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Monday, January 05, 2009

when cicadas sound like ragas and ragas look like cicadas...

cicadas spectrogram

lee mullican 1962

lee mullican 1979

yesterday, a friend of mine sent me a link to a website related to the sound of some red wing grasshoppers we had encountered in marfa, in september. (they were some of the most beautiful insects i've ever seen). while the site had some incredible sounds, there was also an image of a spectrogram of a chorus of cicadas recorded in arizona.(this is the top image)

when i took a look at the spectrogram, it immediately reminded me of some of the later paintings of lee mullican, one of my favorite painters, who i've written about before. of course, the connection seemed a kind of visual coincidence until i discovered a painting of mullican's from 1962 called evening raga, in which mullican has pulled out all the stops in trying to represent the spectral qualities of indian music. certainly it is not much of a stretch to suggest that the sounds of crickets, grasshoppers, and/or cicadas are equivalent to an evening raga, perhaps not in strict musical terms, but certainly in terms of a listening experience.

the bottom image is another of mullican's paintings, this one called guardian of the modern, from 1979. mullican's work seemed to become more and more fragmented and hallucinatory in the mid-late 70's, and again the multiplicity of tiny parts spread out over a field seems almost a map-like as a kind of topographical image of insects in a field, sounding.

in the caption for the spectrogram, the scientist says that "some are singing and some are just clicking... they emit their sounds over a very broad band and at high volume all along that spectrum. This no doubt accounts for the almost painful nature of their trilling. Very high frequencies coupled with very high volume leaves my ears ringing!"

on many levels mullican's paintings could be viewed similarly, as having such an extraordinary visual quality of intense color in high volume and a density of tiny lines, reflecting a kind of visual equivalent to high frequency sound.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

when words are like clouds...











the first few from my window, the rest from outside, trying to follow the words as they move, fall apart, and fade...

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Thursday, January 01, 2009

to begin anew...

odilon redon, la budha, 1906-07


Whoever you are, go out into the evening,
leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house the last before the infinite,
whoever you are.
Then with your eyes that wearily
scarce lift themselves from the worn-out doorstone
slowly you raise a shadowy black tree
and fix it on the sky: slender, alone.
And you have made the world (and it shall grow
and ripen as a word, unspoken, still).
when you have grasped its meaning with your will,
then tenderly your eyes will let it go...

for some unknown reason i never realized that my single favorite work of art and my single favorite poem fit so nicely together. strange that someone who tends to so easily find connections between things that seldom make sense together, has taken so long to connect these two very connected trees that i mentally walk past every day.

the drawing is a pastel by odilon redon from 1906-07 called "la budha", the text is a poem by rilke called "eingang", here the translation by c.f. macintyre, and curiously rilke's poem is from nearly the same period as redon's drawing - the poem from a group written between 1900 and 1908. on rilke's poem macintyre says "it is with the eyes of the mind that the more real world of the seer is observed." a line that could easily serve both the poem and the drawing...

on this new years day, i would suggest everyone follow rilke and redon's cues, and go outside and ponder the form of a tree or two and begin to build a world inside yourself, "(and it shall grow and ripen as a word, unspoken, still)." begin the year with open eyes, open ears, and gentle hands... to accept all that 2009 will offer you.

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