Tuesday, June 30, 2009

before deep listening...

radio underground

detail from a printed postcard circa mid 1930's or so, featuring some engineers testing radio reception from within the depths of "endless caverns", new market, VA. the men in the image are listening to the radio, nearly a mile from the entrance to the caverns. the back states clearly that "musical reception" was "exceptionally good".

like the incredible music of the magnetospheres that stephen mcgreevy has recorded with his VLF receivers aimed at the sky, i have to wonder what potential soundings this set up might have encountered from the depths of the earth. certainly it would be nice to listen to recorded music in such a setting, but i think it would be a lot nicer to actually be able to listen to such a setting generate its own music.

field recordings of music were certainly part of the recording world by this time (actually much sooner). location recordings were in production, but mostly towards sound effects and environments for radio theatre than for straight listening. i do have several nice 78's of weather sounds, and other supposed natural landscape actions such as ocean waves (most of which are faked), but unfortunately no gannett sound effects disc labeled "endless caverns and men manipulating radio equipment"!

of course, in light of recordings in cisterns and abbeys by the likes of pauline oliveros and stuart dempster (stellar recordings, i might add...), i can't help but think that these listeners might have made some music of their own in these depths, even if it was only their mumbling, whistling, and dragging around of equipment...

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Monday, June 29, 2009

when unknown gardens arrive by mail...

end paper from an unknown book

i've posted in the past about receiving something in the mail, and the packing material ended up being as interesting, or more interesting, than the thing it was protecting. a few days ago i received this garden - basically the back cover torn from a discarded hardback book - which was used to keep a photograph from being bent in the mail. no idea as to the title and the words it was once attached to, but it is now sitting upon my bookshelf as one more window...

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Friday, June 26, 2009

when propellers are like trees...


"and there, beyond all this vastness of furnaces and clanging machinery, you will find at last the quiet, simple thing that all this is about: namely, the smooth column of steel, lying in cool and comfortable bearings and turning round and round with no sound - the propeller shaft. a passage in which you cannot quite stand upright conveys its great length to the tail of the ship.

think of a tree. the roots of a tree spread in a most complicated manner through the ground, extracting all kinds of necessary things. this nourishment passes, unified up the plain column of its trunk, and bursts out in the air into a countless multitude of leaves. so all the varying forces, the stresses, the resistances, proceeding from that welter of machinery, are unified into the simple rotation of this horizontal column: are conducted calmly along its length into the sea: and there burgeon suddenly into the white and glass-green foliage of the swirls, the tumbling currents, the enormously powerful jostling of crowded water which is a ships wake"

text: richard hughes, in hazard
image: keith sonnier, 1968

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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

when silents began to sing...






one of my favorite recent finds: a 1910 western electric telephone small brochure for a portable sound film system. the tiny promotional object includes an actual piece of sound film featuring george bernard shaw. you can see the horizontal lines that make up the soundtrack, in the detail of the film strip. the fact that these "dashes" generate the soundtrack of the film still seems a bit mysterious and alchemical to me...

note the images are a bit bigger than the object's actual size.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

one more on windows (and music, and music scores)


"IN THE EARLY MORNING he went back out onto the street. The cafe had only just opened. The air tasted sweet. He accidentally brushed against the ice-cold marble table-top. He thought of the eggshell on the table in his room. His reflections were laid out in artful counterpoint to the streaming current of reality. Through the glass pane he could see an old-fashioned corset-shop in the window opposite, in which a lone bustier hung from a metal mannequin in the otherwise empty display, decorated with lace. He enjoyed the unique musical score of accidental perceptions."

the image is a cabinet photograph circa 1900, that has been in my collection for a few years and was supposedly taken in long beach california. the text is a "chapter" of gerhard roth's 1973 hallucinatory novel in fragments: the will to sickness.

upon re-reading roth's surrealist-ly tactile book saturday morning, i figured i should post this little "window" text as a follow up to friday's windows. much of roth's text reads like a visible "field recording", but it is his last sentence that captured my attention; for in many ways, it reflects the sensibility of the blog, as well as much of my work. it suggests the potential of an invisible, yet "scored, path" in looking, as he deftly balances the words "score", "accidental", and "perceptions", to create an activity of image-perceiving, or gathering, that is not unlike a series of stepping stones. the eyes as gatherer, the mind as archivist.

the phrase reminds me a bit of a short quote by walker evans on collecting that i forgot to put into my initial post on his postcard collection:

"i think artists are collectors figuratively. i've noticed that my eye collects."

for evans, this "collecting" (or mindful seeing), becomes a score that sets an action in motion - taking a picture. where roth's Kalb is constantly absorbing and moving, evans is also stopping time to create a physical record of such perceptions. here, the question becomes one surrounding accidents, as one wonders if a photographer like evans began his photographic looking with conscious intentions or if at times he was able to simply happen upon something in the moment, as if he too was able to be led by "the unique musical score of accidental perceptions" rather than a map of his own predetermined seekings. i would imagine it was a bit of both - visible in evans' postcard collecting as well as his photographic practice.

roth suggests that the things we see in sequence are somehow unconsciously connected, and perhaps there is meaning in the supposedly accidental order or sequence of what we see and how we see. even when one is absent minded, moving the eyes from one thing to another can be miraculously active... eyes dance upon things as fingers on piano keys, following a score, and one sees the bones of an idea: perhaps it is not only the seeing that is scored, but one's entire experience of the world...

if looking is like a series of sequential notes in a musical score, then whatever our eyes will rest upon in the next few seconds will be a combination of what is determined (scored) and undetermined (accidental), the path is set in motion... but that doesn't mean there isn't room for wrong notes. roth challenges us to seek meaning in the relationships between each thing, each vision, or each thought...

so how does the text relate to the photograph, other than the fact that there are actual windows in both? roth's "seeing-path" through a world both scored and accidental, perfectly describes the life moments captured by photographic artworks that folks now tend to call a "vernacular photograph"- a spiffy term for what is essentially an amateur snapshot. like the phrase "folk art", the term has become complex and fuzzy, with multiple definitions more or less inclusive depending on the collector that is using the term.

while i can't imagine someone saying that they collect "musical scores of accidental perceptions", roth's phrase is ideal in suggesting the birth of a candid photograph, and yet it doesn't necessitate the maker be an amateur. it clearly suits any un-staged moment regardless of the training and/or ability of the capturer.

certainly, "a musical score of accidental perceptions" could describe any photographic moment, but in line with roth's text as a whole, it seems clearly aligned with the so-called "candid" moment - a moment that is less controlled and more discovered. it's a guy with a camera circa 1900 walking with people at some kind of street fair, stopping to capture in a photograph a complex arrangement of people, on several levels of horizontal space, with several levels of spatial depth, some compressed, some expanded... (or one might simply say, a guy walking down the street, snapping a photo of some street performers...).

the interesting thing is that this moment of perceiving the "accidental" is no different than the one that generated stieglitz's masterpiece's - the "steerage" - which might be the ultimate photographic example of perceiving this "musical score of accidentals". surely both humans, the master and the amateur, felt some inner pangs in their own visual situations that suggested they bust out the camera and capture the visual moment.

all of this, of course, is simply a long winded road, full of left turns, that allows me the small happiness of feeling that in some way, the process of my work, essentially a combination of perceptions, scores, and accidents, is also somehow connected to the process of life; and that in roth's phrase, my being, seeing, making, doing, collecting, etc. are all connected by a tangled mass of invisible threads - sometimes known and most times unknown. roth suggests that these threads continually bind the accidents, perceptions and scores, in such a way that they are always together, and their connectedness can never be broken... god bless the beauty of invisible things felt yet not quite fully understood or known.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

addendum to what is seen and heard: (one more window)

i go indoors and shut the window
they bring the lamp and say good night.
and my voice, content, says goodnight.
oh, that my life were like this always:
the day full of sun, or gentle with rain,
or in fury raging, as if the World would end,
a soft afternoon with clusters of people going by,
looked at with interest from the window,
the last friendly gaze turned to the repose of the trees,
and then, the window closed, the lamp lit,
without reading a word, without thinking a thought or sleeping,
feeling life flow through me like a river in its bed,
and there, outside, a vast silence like a god asleep.

fernando pessoa, the keeper of sheep

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what is seen and heard through windows...


close eyes - open window


open eyes - if daylight is not satisfactory: close eyes again


and close window


and try another window

image and text by the fluxus artist arthur koepcke / addi kopke as an insert in the danish furniture/design magazine mobilia, 1970.

the text and image recalls the work of peter hutchinson whom i've posted on in the past. thinking about the notion of closing eyes and opening another window i was reminded of a morning a month or so ago when i was awakened by a strange sound while still having my eyes closed. it was very early but the sun was bright and even with eyes closed i could see that reddish glow of bright light falling on eyelids. i grabbed my phone and opened the window to discover a woodpecker in the tree in front of the house. such a thing i've never heard, nor seen, living here now almost 11 years. fortunately, and this is why i grabbed my phone, i was able to record a tiny bit of the uncanny sound on my phone, before the cars beginning their morning commute enveloped it.

i hadn't heard nor seen wing nor tapping until yesterday when the bird appeared just outside the window in the afternoon in a tree. he was not tapping at all, but standing still as a statue. the first time i'd only heard him, and this time he was completely visible - a red tufted head, black and white body - standing in complete silence as seen through a window that doesn't open. each view a different window, a different direction, different time of day...

somehow all seeming to make sense with the flipping through the pages of this old mobilia magazine this morning in the studio and happening upon koepke's piece. a reminder that with eyes closed, ears are perhaps a bit more open...or perhaps ears themselves can be that other window.

click here to hear the low fidelity recording of a woodpecker in the city...

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

when paintings and photographs converse...

father daughter music

american gothic

top: snapshot circa 1940, found at the fleamarket on sunday, a father preacher holding an open bible, and his guitar playing daughter.

bottom: grant wood's american gothic from 1930, also a father and daughter.

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Monday, June 15, 2009

when lists are like poems (as always...)







found a very very old piece of paper torn out of a book, i know not which nor what the book was, but here a list of words related to pronunciation, such as "a" as in "stain"... i cut out all of the "a as in" and left just the list. it's quite wonderful when spoken out loud, and while one suspects there were a multitude of choices to choose from for each sound, there are words here that seem specific and particular to whomever chose them of course... i hope you'll take a quiet minute or two out of your day and speak them all...

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

between agamemnon and philip johnson (a small timeline of openings)...


WPA peoria, ILL1934


perhaps the beautiful wpa era construction photograph i recently found is a missing link between the entrance to the philip johnson's painting gallery, built adjacent to his glass house, and johnson's inspiration, the treasury of atreus (also known as the tomb of agamemnon), constructed in mycenae greece around 1250 BC. while johnson's influence related to atreus is well known, i have no idea if anyone has ever suggested this kind of industrial architecture at the time might have also come into his thinking...

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Monday, June 08, 2009

when book covers speak...

monsieurteste cover by paul de harak

sometimes an image or a design gets under your skin and you can't figure out why and you can't let go of it, and it simply has its way with you.

i've been staring at this cover of paul valery's mousier teste for ages, and specifically for the design of the cover by rudolph de harak. there is something unspeakable about the way it continually nags for my eye attention. de harak did hundreds of cover designs for mcgraw hill (he also did their logo), many of the covers stellar, but none that work their magic on me as deeply as this one.

in some strange way i believe the image captures valery's text perfectly in its near ordinariness and feeling slightly off or uncanny at the same time.

de harak was a very wonderful designer, who worked not only with flat surfaces but also exhibition design, signage and even some parts of expo 67. there's a great oral history of with him here, coincidentally recorded on my birthday in 2000.

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