Wednesday, April 29, 2009

on sound and distances...

"looking at photographs of streets published by the newspaper that showed crowds blown up by volleys of gunfire into something that looked like the star-studded nucleus of a comet or a cloud of sawdust, one could only decipher the molecular tension of an unknown species, but there was no structure for further reading: it was like a silent image of an explosion so far away that its sound waves hadn't yet reached us."

"having left the noise of paris behind, we now traveled across these noble, pristine forests standing guard against the encroachment of city life like a curtain of initiatory silence, behind which the ear, listening half heartedly, already expected to hear another noise."

julien gracq, king cephetua

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Monday, April 27, 2009

when one discovers the soul of form...



"sound, therefore, is the soul of form, which only comes alive through sound and which works from inside out." wassily kandinsky, 1912

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Friday, April 24, 2009

when strangers cross your path more than once...

2 gypsies CDV circa 19003 gypsies CDV circa 1900

it's happened before, but i'm still mystified every time...

here are two CDVs, one shot in chicago, one shot in buffalo ny. i found one about 2 years ago, and the other arrived in the mail a few days ago.

clearly the two musicians in the top image are the same two in the center and right of the bottom image. the horn and the tambourine look the same, but the horn player looks quite a bit older in the bottom image.

certainly a touring group of musicians sold or gave away enough photos that they would eventually end up in various cities and in the hands of different antique dealers, but the fact that they have come together again in this room, to my mind, is a bit of a miracle.

unfortunately, neither card has any writing on the back, hence no idea who the musicians are other than both were sold to me as being "gypsy" musicians... and that is all i know.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

when purgatory is full of eyes...


schoenberg vision




a 1966 article in the italian magazine "oggi" detailed some experiments done in late 1965 at the university of pisa around the 700th anniversary of the poet dante's birth. basically two members of the university took "the best available text" of the divine comedy and transferred the 14, 233 lines of the poem to 14,233 standard 80-column IBM cards and fed them into an IBM 7090 computer. it took 18 hours and 46 minutes for the computer to deliver a 977 page document, weighing just over 100 lbs., with some interesting findings...

of the 101, 499 words in the book, apart from pronouns, prepositions, "and the like", dante used the noun "occhi" (eyes) more than any other (it appears in the text 213 times); while some of the others frequently found are: "mondo" (143 times), "terra" (136 times), "dio" (112 times), "maestro" (111 times), "ciel" (105 times), and "mente" (100 times). the most used adjectives were "dolce" and "amor" which both appear 87 times.

one of the main discoveries of the experiments was that 60% of the words in dante's text appear only once, and very few words in the text are used with any frequency. there are 13,770 different words in the text.

interestingly, the word "metallo (metal)" appears in the text, while the word "musica" does not...

images: paintings by the composer and developer of the 12 tone system, arnold schoenberg circa 1910, these "visions" all contain a pretty healthy dose of powerful eyes. i have long wondered about the painting in the middle, which was painted in 1910, looks exactly like andy warhol circa 1960... there are a ton more great images of schoeberg's paintings and drawings here .

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Monday, April 20, 2009



This lonely hill has always
Been dear to me, and this thicket

Which shuts out most of the final
Horizon from view. I sit here,
and gaze, and imagine
The interminable spaces
That stretch away, beyond my mind,
Their uncanny silences,
Their profound calms; and my heart
is almost overwhelmed with dread.
And when the wind drones in the
Branches, I compare its sound
with that infinite silence;
And i think of eternity,
And the dead past, and the living
Present, and the sound of it;
And my thought drowns in immensity;
And shipwreck is sweet in such sea.

giacomo leopardi, translated by kenneth rexroth

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Friday, April 17, 2009

when three wrongs make it right...

horn and head holder


victor brauner

the top two images are of a tintype i recently found with three wonderful mistakes...

1. it took me awhile to realize it, but the brace that looks to be part of the horn, is in fact a head brace, the kind photographers used to keep a subject's head from moving during a long exposure. because the brace is almost always invisible behind a subject's head, this is a relatively rare example of a head brace with a prominent presence in a composition.

2. when the photo chemicals are wiped onto the plate for a tintype, the cloudy mass of chemical spill, which here can be seen on the bottom edge of the photo is usually trimmed off as waste. because all of the liquid was active enough to absorb the image, it creates a beautiful twisting and folding, giving the image an ethereal feeling, as if the man was an apparition or hallucination. because of its location at the bottom of the frame, the man seems to have had his legs severed just above the knees. he sits in a beggar's position, as the liquid blur becomes a blanket, as he rests his leg stumps beneath. this area of chemical 'looseness' is also a rare thing to be found.

3. when i noticed the deep scratch below the sitter's right eye, i instantly thought of the self portrait painted by victor brauner with his eye damaged or missing, pictured below the tintype and its detail. when i first discovered the surrealists, i was obsessed with brauner's work because of this painting, and brauner's obsession with his eyes and his premonitions of losing one of them as pictured in a series of self portraits made in the early to mid 1930's. in 1938, brauner's prediction finally came true when his eye was damaged severely during a bar fight from broken glass. he essentially then became a cyclops. perhaps when the sitter of this photo gouged the surface of his own image below his right eye, he too was thinking of a loss that would somehow be part of his life as he moved along into the future...

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

when rust never sleeps...


rustlady detail

a couple of weeks ago i bought a small lot of damaged photographs because i could see that one of the images in the lot was a tintype of a guitar player. like everything else in the lot, the guitar player tintype was thrashed, but unfortunately not as beautifully problematic condition-wise as this small cabinet photo of a woman circa 1900. the decorative pattern of decay formed by the rust or mold or god knows what, is simply one of those organic things that happens regularly that makes those of us who spend our lives trying to make a decent painting humbled for a good month or two.

before cage was writing about chance and nature's manner of operation, strindberg was writing about such things, and before strindberg it was leonardo. obviously artists have been arm wrestling with nature over the creation of something beautiful, and with this little gem i bow to nature in one of its most masterful strokes. on some level it sets the whole idea of intentionality on its ear.

if you are interested in such moldy blemishes of beauty, you should check out doug harvey's blog. doug has done several performances of his collection of moldy slides, and they are truly some of the most beautiful things i've ever seen.

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Monday, April 13, 2009

when pancakes sound like records...


here's a great 1959 ad for jensen cartridges featuring a comic by virgil partch, known by his signature as VIP. the image reminded me of a performance i saw in liverpool once, i can't remember the 'band name' but they put these large round biscuts on turntables, which created a pretty loud skronky noisescape. it was physical sound and it was a beautiful mess. partch's pancakes reminded me of how much PHYSICAL experimentation went on before the laptop became the environment of choice. i'm not knocking a laptop, but it's rare to see someone perform with one and get their hands dirty at the same time...

obviously the turntable has a great history in art and sound making, but i wonder if partch's giddy jensen cartridge owner might've been the first to put food on a recordplayer and listen... although by 1959 there's a good chance cage, paik, or somebody fluxus had already been there...

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Friday, April 10, 2009

when looking for sunrises or sunsets...





last sunday, i found the 8"x 10" photo pictured above of some men building a radio station (along with some others related to the same station that i will post in the future...). i do have a love of architectural spaces that seem to be for a single person in a landscape to take in a view. this one, i think, is quite spectacular. today, as the photo was gathering dust in a pile on my desk waiting to be scanned and posted, i received a huge lot of photos in the mail, most of them garbage, but two still attached to a scrapbook page with the words "dad's bird cage" written beneath them. in what must surely be familiar "roden logic" to most airforms readers by now, i instantly connected the two... thus, here they are together.

as we move past the beginning of passover, and nearer the sunday of easter, it seemed somehow appropriate to picture these two perches (much more so than the dancing chickens and violin playing bunnies i had planned to post!). clearly, the antenna shot reveals a magnificent suggestion of sunrise viewing, and "dad's birdcage" a perfect spot for watching the sunset.

for years i've been looking at humble architectures of this sort, thinking about structures for one, leaning more towards the isolation of the antenna than dad's birdcage, but more towards dad's birdcage than the antenna in terms of humility of scale.

some of the things that alexander graham bell built, particularly a couple of viewing stations to watch his beautiful kites, seem this perfect combination of the material presence of dad's humble wooden shanty and the geometry-o-desics of the antenna's form. bell's viewing station looked a lot like the small surveyors' pyramids i posted a few weeks ago.

when i was in wyoming during january there was a beautiful stile we could use to step over a barbed wire fence. having never really seen one close up, nor interacted with one, i was instantly reminded of bell's architecture. it was such a wonderful experience to walk up and down this structure, to walk simply and easily over a fence, like a ladder broken in half and bent over. the stile was like a piece of architecture that was only a space upon a frame, or a kind of pedestal for this short activity of a climb-walk. the sensation of moving through it was quite incredible, as it activated parts of the fence that one would not be able to navigate without it. the stile's form and construction reflected much of what i long for in the viewing structures i sometimes think about; for at the top of the stile there is only room for one; and as one stands upon the top step, one feels to be magically standing in absolute stillness upon the thin top line of a fence...

there's a great quote by bataille where he talks about the word silence, and how it's meaning is essentially "the abolition of sound" and so to speak the word is a "token of its own death"; suggesting that if one speaks the word "silence", one opposes the possibility of its true meaning. the word "stile", feels to me as something wholly different. it is an awkward and beautiful word, feeling both visually and audibly like the construction and presence of the thing it represents.

william s. burroughs suggests that the words in an "alphabetic language" have no "pictorial resemblance" to what they mean; but in the case of the word stile, i think it's actually pretty close, though not perfect. perhaps, if the "L" was in the middle, and the word became "stlie" it would then perfectly mirror in form the thing it represents. one could just as easily stand upon the center of the word "stlie" as one could upon an actual stile; and there, upon the center of that word, or that thing, one could see from the top of a wonderfully balanced "l", a sun rise or a sun set, with one's feet firmly planted upon the apex of an "l" that somehow felt a bit like an antenna or a bird cage...

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

when strategic cropping makes a record seem like the sun...

Monday, April 06, 2009

when rivers or roads look like words...



when i was in ny a few weeks ago i managed, as always, to get to the strand bookstore, and it was there i purchased a used copy of arcanum 17 by andre breton (along with a small horde of other books!), which i am now in the midst of reading (i should also mention it is published by green integer, one of my favorite presses, and one i would highly recommend...).

arcanum 17 begins with a hallucinatory description of one of breton's wife elisa's dreams.

"our attention was caught by the sight, defying the imagination, of the abrupt wall of the island, step after step fringed with a foam of living snow and endlessly reworked wide and whimsical scrapes of a blue trowel. personally, i found the scene gripping: for a good quarter of an hour my thoughts just wanted to be white oats in that thresher. sometimes a wing, ten times longer than its counterpart, consented to spell out a letter, never the same one, but i was immediately taken with the extravagant character of the whole inscription. the word symphony..."

this image of sea foam forming letters as the water hits an island, creating secret letter messages, is something i can't get out of my head. it brought to mind a kind of a visual equivalent of that scene in cocteau's orpheus where poems are mysteriously sounding from a car radio. i keep thinking of breton's implied visual moments in nature where letters might be revealed in all kinds of landscapes through motion.

sunday morning, i was, as usual, at the flea market, and started thumbing through some old photo albums and scrap books when i found the above image. it was pasted into a small scrapbook with several similarly fuzzy landscape photos circa 1900. there were enough beautiful images for me to cough up five bucks so i could carry it home. after thumbing through the book a few times i noticed the road (or is it a river?), in the middle portion of this photograph that seems very much to spell out a word in cursive writing.

sometimes i can see "entrance", sometimes "extinct", and sometimes "enxurie", which isn't much of a word at all, but could certainly still be considered writing... i kind of think breton would be quite happy with this idea of trying to read rivers' paths as words, or roads as phrases (something perhaps the situationists might also have done). unlike rorschach blots which use stains to generate words based on the suggestion of images, rivers and roads (as well as sea foamed edges at the tips of waves) generate words through their curving linear trajectories, i.e. they sometimes simply look as if they could be writing, laid down upon the earth as if intentionally written...

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Friday, April 03, 2009



i was invited by SASSAS to create a one night class which will happen in eagle rock on april 15th. it it is part of a series called Make it, Install it, Perform it: Listen

i didn't realize until today that class reservations must be made by APRIL 14, and are limited to 15 people... so i'm posting a note here in case anyone local is interested:

Steve Roden leads a workshop using the concept of the Phonoautograph as a means to explore the notation of sound towards the making of a score and improvising music. Invented in 1850, The Photoautograph translated sound into a drawing etched into a field of soot. That drawing, recently translated via a computer program into audible sound, is now considered the earliest known audio recording. The movement back and forth between sound and image is the basis for the workshop. Steve will begin with an introduction to his own work and will then lead the group in two hands on components -- the first exploring various listening and notation strategies directly on to 16mm film stock, the second, to view the film projected, and to explore ensemble improvisation using the film as a "score.” This will be a decidedly low tech affair, and rather than focus on specific techniques, the hope is that participants can share much in the way of dialogue surrounding listening, drawing, translating, improvising, composing, etc.

Participants must bring their own instruments and amplification if needed.

Wednesday, April 15th
7pm -10 pm
Center for the Arts, Eagle Rock
2225 Colorado Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90041
more info reservations here: sassas workshops

there are 4 classes total, each with a different artist and a different plan:
Steve Roden – April 15
Carole Kim – April 22
Nina Waisman – April 29
Rick Potts – May 6

Tuition: $200 for the four class series, or $75 per class
($65 for CFAER and SASSAS members)

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violin locomotion...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

when an unknown archive falls into your lap...










some gems from an unbelievable lot of over 100 photographs of wallace neff's airform architecture experiments i acquired last week. this is hands down one of the best and most important things i've found... ever! i will post more images and more about them in the future, but for now if anyone in the LA area is going to be at the postopolis conference, i will be presenting my own work related to sound and architecture on thursday night around 8 pm. i will also be talking about neff's work and showing a lot of these incredibly rare images. the entire event is free and also also streaming live, more info can be found here.

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