Sound art and sound in conjunction with art have always delighted me. However, the prospect of writing about the voice is a bit nerve wracking for a painter for whom silence is the norm. None of my paintings has talked back to me yet, although I am sure that day will come.
My first experience of thinking about sound and visual art was when I provided a painting depicting Dadaist Hugo Ball’s journey to and from Switzerland and Italy for Chris Kraus’s production of Readings from the Diaries of Hugo Ball at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project in NYC in the mid-80’s. The performance took place in front of this large painting, now unfortunately lost. The production included a performance by Michael Kirby of Ball’s famous sound poem, “Karawane," which consists of nonsensical Germanic words.
The idea of the visual dimension of sound is compelling. Sound always implies space: things can sound is if they are in front of or in back of one another and is if they are moving. Artists Janet Cardiff and George Burres Miller use the spatial range of the stereo field in ways that are quite comparable to painting by making you hear from different spatial positions. Ten years ago, when I first took Cardiff’s walk around Münster as part of the Sculpture Project, I kept removing my headphones to see what was recorded and what was live. I still do that with their works; they get me every time.
I have always loved the way Pipilotti Rist uses sound and music in her videos. Her recorded voice singing Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” was a fabulous component of her video work I’m a Victim of This Song, from 1995. I particularly liked the name change, from "Wicked Game" to "I'm a Victim of This Song."
An even earlier art sound experience was watching Peter Frank perform a Dada poem by Schwitters at the Johnson Museum (Ithaca, NY]) around 1980. Peter and I became fast friends after that performance and I am delighted to present his writing in this issue. I have also asked David Schuster to publish his poems accompanied by his voice as he reads them. The experience of hearing his poetry spoken in his own voice is different from reading it; the combination of spoken and printed word is perhaps the most interesting way of experiencing it. A frequent contributor to The Art Section is Torinese composer Giuseppe Gavazza and I am pleased to present his work here. We have collaborated on several projects; click here to hear a composition he developed from a message I left on his answering machine.
by Giuseppe Gavazza
A short time ago, in these same pages (The Art Section, Vol. I, No. 1, June 2007), I wrote:
Music history is the history of musical writings (scores); but musical writing was invented just to synchronize sounds. (...) Musical writing imposes a lexical vision (audition) of music but more and more, the listener’s consciousness realizes that form has meaning only because it resonates in our internal perception, connected with memory.
But will musical writing survive? This is an interesting question. Changing parameters of music performance and reception change the concept of the musical work.
Have we (the Western Tradition?) developed a written-score based history of music because we consider traditionally scored music to be “good” music, or just because paper scores were easy to archive and to study? Things have changed: in the last decades, sound recordings have become easier to archive than written papers.
Will we conserve the notion of the score as the reference point (the source) of musical works?
In such a case what is and what will be a music score?
Are vinyl LPs and CDs musical scores?
And what constitutes a score now, in the era of digitally streamed sound?
(Please click on the images below to listen and watch. Windows Users: To watch the video and hear the music, you may need Quicktime for Windows. If you do not have it, you may download it by clicking here.)
In Memoria dei sensi (Sense Memory), I tried to realize a video score.
A score is written music useful (necessary) to perform and synchronize complex polyphonic textures. With a score, it becomes
possible to read music. This is important primarily for performers, but also for readers wanting simply to listen to or to
analyze the musical text. A score could be anything that induces the listener to synchronize hearing and vision. To discover
more about Memoria dei sensi, look at it.
Banalità del male (The Banality of Evil) take its title from Hannah Arendt.
SonoMonic is a mono-voice polyphonic sonogram. The theme, a short audio sample
of a speaking self-referential voice (“Sono Monica”; "I am Monica"), is composed with canonic techniques of early
vocal polyphony: imitation, canon, augmentation, diminution, transposition. The quest here is less for harmonic consonance
than for a subtle but complex articulation of a timbre's homogeneity.
GiPod Tornado refers to G-Spot Tornado, a hyper-energetic, composite,
wonderful composition by Frank Zappa (on Jazz from Hell, 1986). That whole album was performed on the Synclavier DMS,
one of the early (and, at that time, the best) digital music synthesizers.
Giuseppe Gavazza is a composer who lives and works in Turin, Italy.
Intermedia as Construct, Intermedia as Category
by Peter Frank
Excerpted from a paper given at the Sound Art conference, Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen Germany, fall 2005
Intermedial artwork does not exist in a form divisible by its components. There is no music, no sound to be taken out of a sound sculpture to allow the object to stand on its own. Like any musical instrument, there is no artwork if the object is not operating, there is only equipment. Nor is there any artwork if there is no experience of the object. In a work of sound poetry, the sound is the poetry, the poetry is the sound; everything else is notation on the one hand, just un-organized sound on the other. Intermedia requires not simply co-dependency of effects, but the thorough integration of disciplines, that is, of formal practices.
Indeed, intermedia is, if anything, a formal rather than a subjective condition. Intermedia dissolves traditional disciplinary praxis, and only incidentally confounds the sensate response of the audience. The graphic score, for instance, cannot be heard until it is played, but it inheres the tradition of musical notation at the same time as it inheres the praxes of drawing, writing, and/or graphic design; it is thus an intermedium because it manifests visual and musical praxis and infers the production of sound. Concrete poetry conflates the praxes of formal verbal and visual disciplines – and, of course, can also function as a score for sonic realization.
In his Projections of 1950-51 Morton Feldman was the first composer to devise a graphic notation relieving performers of responsibility for playing precise sounds, giving them instead the responsibility for choosing sounds within generalized parameters. Earle Brown was the first to give the performers responsibility for defining what those parameters themselves might be, by presenting an entirely instruction-free image as a score, “December 1952” from Folio. The score bears no instructions, only marks, and can in fact be played in any direction (although the presence of the composer’s signature in one corner betrays the score’s double life as a drawing). John Cage, however, was the one to determine an overarching method and philosophy out of this condition of indeterminacy, engaging extensive chance methods (especially incorporating the I Ching) and a broad vocabulary of non-traditional notations. Cage’s scoring methods ultimately came to straddle the boundary between score and visual artwork.
Cage’s first ventures into non-traditional notation predated his friends’ by several years, with the new system of marks he needed for his prepared-piano compositions in the 1940s. His further extension into graphic scoring coincided with Feldman’s and Brown’s in the early `50s, but – except for the radical notation employed for 4’33” of 1952 – it was in the mid-1950s that Cage created his first entirely note-free scores, appropriate to his first investigations into electronic music, his increasing interest in extra-musical gesture, and his residencies in Europe. Cage opened up even further in the 1960s to non-musical graphic sources, including poetry, cartography, astronomy, and other visual and quantifiable disciplines.
As theorist and practitioner Cage provided the post-war avant-garde with the clearest philosophical and practical model for the expansion of artistic disciplines into full cooperation and even fusion with one another – within, that is, a context of coherent formalization. Cage’s most notorious composition does precisely that. As its instrumentalist is not supposed to produce any sounds, 4’33” effectively superimposes a strict chronometry – two very short outer movements and a long central movement, all of which are defined by precise timings – on the sonic (and by extension visual and kinetic) phenomena that happen to occupy the same time and space as the presentation of the piece.
The development of the graphic score after the innovations of the group around Cage quickly took on international scope, especially as interest in aleatory compositional methods emerged in Europe (in dialectical antithesis to the serial methods derived from the Second Viennese School). By time Cage first visited Europe in the later 1950s he found a network of composers and musicians, and artists and writers, sympathetic to the indeterminant approaches and graphic methods he and his New York colleagues had developed.
The emergence of concrete poetry and its sonic equivalent demonstrably paralleled and intermixed with experimentation in musical notation, particularly in its parallel and equivalent forms in France, including Lettrism and poésie sonore. The Franco-Italian movement le Nouveau Réalisme, with its concentration on the object, would seem to have little practical commonality with these other early manifestations of intermedia. But a strong performative aspect running through New Realist praxis, and a strong intellectual bond with the gestural social radicalism of the Situationists, brought the New Realists close to the expansive intermedial projects of the Americans. By time the New Realists emerged as a group around 1958 they had already forged notable associations, collaborations, and cross-practices with their sound-poetry and electronic-music counterparts.
In this regard the most notable, not to mention ambitious, New Realist was Yves Klein, whose fearlessness and restless imagination led him to realize some of the most spectacular public manifestations of his day. Among his best known are his “nude paintbrush” demonstrations, which were usually accompanied by a musical ensemble playing a single held chord. This 45-minute-long Symphonie Monotone was evidently conceived by Klein himself, but composed by the ORTF-associated composer Pierre Henry. Klein, and Henry, regarded the one-chord “symphony” as a serious musical work, in the vein of Cage’s 4’33”. But the fact that the musicians (and for that matter Klein himself) were dressed in full concert regalia – tuxedos, black gowns – clearly indicates that the conditions of performance parodically mirrored those of the concert hall. In this, the Symphonie Monotone also anticipated Fluxus.
Fluxus was not an intermedium like concrete poetry; for that matter, neither was Nouveau Réalisme. Rather, these movements can be seen as rubrics under which the process of intermedialization could more easily and coherently be undertaken. The movements coordinated the efforts of diverse artists who shared common aesthetic goals and overlapped in their techniques, but differed in their means. Their intermedia may have been different, their attitudes towards intermedia may have been different, but their purpose remained the same: to expand artistic practice by interfusing the disparate disciplines, precisely and skillfully, so that the original disciplines were not betrayed, only reinvented.
While Le Nouveau Réalisme was defined by a critic and theorist, Pierre Restany, the Fluxus movement was organized by an erstwhile architect and art dealer, the Lithuanian-American George Maciunas. It was in Europe that Maciunas introduced Fluxus as “neo-Dada in music.” From the start, Maciunas conceived of Fluxus as a global phenomenon, and as a musical phenomenon with resonance in the other arts. This was true equally in the work of Fluxus and Fluxus-related artists who were trained as musicians -- LaMonte Young, Benjamin Patterson, Yoko Ono, Philip Corner – and those who were not – George Brecht, Al Hansen, Alison Knowles, Robert Watts. Performances more often than not took the form of concerts rather than proscenium displays; musical rather than theatrical or literary conventions were more likely to be burlesqued; and even the terminology of musical scores dictated the wording of the brief verbal instructions that typically functioned as notation for Fluxus events. Thus, purely verbal notation was introduced as common graphic practice by Fluxus composers. The 1962 George Brecht composition Concerto for Clarinet, for example, consists entirely of a single small card on which is printed the title and the one-word instruction, ”nearby.” This “score” functions not as a delineation of action or sonic organization, as do Cage’s or Earle Brown’s scores even at their most open-form, but as a provocation to interpretation. To judge from actual Fluxus practice (of Brecht and others associated with the movement in the 1960s), the performance of Concerto for Clarinet need not even rely on the implied parameters of “concerto,” “clarinet,” and “nearby,” it need only evoke them. A verbal or even optical reading of the score could constitute its performance.
If Fluxus musical performance continued the liberating mode of musical thinking set in motion by Cage, it also extended Cage’s expansive influence on the practice of musical notation into typographic structuring that derived from or at least suggested theatrical, poetic, or prosaic rather than musical models. This directly anticipated the more or less purely verbal propositions of conceptual art, and modes of interpretation associated with Fluxus and Cage alike helped give rise to the varied conventions of performance and video art as developed in the 1970s. At the same time, Cage’s practice, and that of Fluxus, encouraged the dilation of the sound-producing instrument, expanding the source and the arena of sonic experience into the room, the air, and even the airwaves.
The legacy left by the Cage circle, concrete poets, the New Realists, the Fluxus artists, and other groups of intermedialists came to full fruition in the 1970s. This decade was dominated not by isms or styles, but by modes of intermedia –praxis-oriented rubrics such as video art, book art, installation art, and performance art that presumed a conflation of traditional artistic disciplines into new intermedial forms that, finally, could only be delineated by their physical components. Painting need no longer be just painting, and when it was, it was notable as such. Theater was no longer limited to the stage, or poetry to the page. And musical characteristics – the generation of sound and the formal practices of music-making – were to be found throughout artistic practice, thanks to the universal appeal of rock, but also to the liberating example of Cage and his acolytes. Everything we did in the 1970s was, among other things, music. And, despite the resurgence of praxis in traditional disciplines, which is not at all unwelcome, theater still takes place, all the time, wherever one is, as Cage once said. It can be a theater of the ear, or simply of the performative gesture. But everything we do now is still at least music.
Peter Frank is Senior Curator at the Riverside Art Museum; art critic for Angeleno Magazine and the L.A. Weekly;
and a published poet (The Travelogues, Sun & Moon Press, 1982).
III – Propaganda
In the square
beside the concrete US Mission
138 black flags
flap like crows
against electronic signs
in the dark American windows
A Free Country Would Let you Travel
Each flag contains a white star
For Those Killed by US Sponsored Terrorism
A Cuban airliner was bombed
I vow to research this
when I get home
The flags flap like my mouth
like the mouth of Castro
like the mouth of Bush
real and fake at the same time
I am sick of leaders
Where all else is crumbling
Castro had the flags go up overnight
on this island
As I look up
to the black and whiteness
I imagine Matthew Barney
climbing each and every flagpole
The guards shoo me away
like a pigeon
V – Context and Conceptualization
Toirac has been censored
exiled to his second floor studio
for painting leaders of the revolution fading
into the canvas, a succession
He shows his new video –
black screen, Castro’s voice,
bold white digits flash
5 minutes of excerpts from
a 4-hour speech
pockmarked with statistics
5 minutes of number after number
recited by the leader
Oh I get it, clever
But to the side of me
a rumble from our guide Giovanni
first chuckling softly
then laughing out loud
as each statistic rolls off Castro’s mouth
Giovanni laughs and laughs
until tears flow
and he bursts like a thunderstorm:
This artist’s a genius!
All my life those long speeches!”
On our way down
the narrow stairs
brown twine strung
along the wall
Giovanni pays it no mind
but as I stare out loud
One pull from even the top
will undo the front latch, see?
VI – La Cabaña
The Fort of San Carlos de la Cabaña
is on its best behavior
walls and walls of best behavior
Paintings for the Biennial
hide the iron bars
The art lovers laugh
Do they know?
Prisoners of the Revolution were kept here
The shadow of Ché
passes to my left pushing a mop
– mumbles something like
‘To send men to the firing squad
judicial proof is unnecessary’
Oh be quiet, Ché, and look
The floors, the walls
spattered with blood
Is this how history punishes?
Primum Non Nocere
First, do no harm
level the paintings
they have tilted off center
the floors please
someone may slip
go to the gift shop
and buy a t-shirt
the black one, Ché
the one with your name
Stare at it
like a complete man
until you understand
market a Revolution
until you can answer
Is this how history punishes?
David Schuster, pictured here in Cuba, is a writer and a physician who teaches at Emory University.