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Richard Long, From Beginning to Ed, 2009, vallauris clay. Photo courtesy of Tate Britain.

by Deanna Sirlin
The Art Section

I am so excited about this issue, which is about new thoughts, new ideas, and new work.

Anna Leung’s article about Richard Long reminded me of why I was interested in him and excited about his work in the 80’s. His connection to nature is physically personal; his hand touching the earth is primal.

The novelist William S. Burroughs’s films are new to me, and it is my pleasure to publish Robert Stalker’s article on them here. I am pleased that you can watch one of the films then read Robert’s commentary, or vice versa.

And in thinking about new works, I am more than excited to bring you our latest artist’s project, Giuseppe Gavazza’s World New Symphony n.1, his first Geotagged composition and perhaps the first Geotagged piece of music ever made. This new work was just finished in August 2009. So take an audio visit with Giuseppe to Atlanta, New York, Paris, Berlin, and Turin.

My wish is for interesting new things for all of you this Autumn.

All my best,



Richard Long, A Line in Scotland, 1981. Photo: © the artist, courtesy of Tate Britain.

Heaven and Earth:
Richard Long at Tate Britain
by Anna Leung

My work has become a simple metaphor for life.
Art is the one good thing about human life.

--Richard Long

Richard Long was born in 1945. Some twelve years later a man-made satellite was launched into space and circled the earth. Richard Long does not mention this technological breakthrough, which altered our relationship to the world and to space, but I surmise that it must have affected him. Rather than triumph one of the first reactions was a sense of relief that man was no longer fated to be a prisoner on this earth. But a contrary response was to consciously cherish this our home planet and to recognise the vulnerability of our shared human existence upon it; new relationships between the cosmos and the self and between the macrocosm and the microcosm were called into being. Richard Long’s art relates to this shift in thinking about the external world both in its objective scope and in its subjectivity. While originally all to do with his feet marking out lines in the landscape, his work, which he insists is practical and down to earth, also has a cosmic and universal resonance.

This is anticipated in what functions as an anteroom to the exhibition with two hand painted hexagrams, each taking up a whole wall. Taken from the I Ching, the Chinese book of divination, they represent the two main polar entities that underpin all natural events and human activities, Heaven and Earth. Heaven is made up of unbroken lines and represents the masculine, active principle; Earth of broken lines and represents the female, passive principle. Together with one other hand-painted wall painting, White Water Line, and the six floor pieces in the main gallery, they make up Richard Long’s site specific gallery works that complement the documentation of his walks as sculpture; works made in the gallery as opposed to works made in the landscape.

Richard Long was studying in London at St Martins in the late sixties, a time of seismic paradigm shifts and aesthetic re-evaluations in the art world. Painting and sculpture, once characterised by their autonomy as self contained disciplines began to open up to inter-disciplinarity. Boundaries between the arts became permeable and artists were therefore able to navigate between disparate forms, having as their aim to integrate thinking and seeing, the physical and the mental. This coincided with the emergence of a post-modernist tendency which rejected the idea of a work of art as a self-limiting idealist construct confined to an ivory tower of its own making. Abstraction, with its potential to transcend the contingencies of day to day living, had been particularly favoured by this aesthetic position, reaching its apogee with Abstract Expressionism. A major critique of this position was based on a rejection of this type of inwardness, and what the next generation of artists sought to emphasise was therefore not what they viewed as self indulgent expressivity but painting as a factual entity, based either on its own laws (paradoxically still Greenbergian) or on images taken from the real world. Central to both endeavours, and possibly of even greater importance, was an anti-illusionistic stand that was fundamentally literalist and non metaphysical and which monopolised the period from the late sixties into the seventies. This anti-illusionist drive came to prominence with Minimalism, and it is with this group of artists, especially Carl Andre, who was one of his most important contacts, that Richard Long feels the most affinity - despite the Minimalist use of industrial material that was in stark contrast with Long’s preference for natural materials. It is Long’s gallery pieces that are most like Andre’s in their use of prefabricated elements (quarried stone) that hug the floor and which are created by aligning similar shaped stones to create a greater geometric whole. Like Andre’s floor pieces Richard Long’s are essentially democratic. There is no hierarchy. There is likewise in both an emphasis on real space and real time – the time to walk on one of Andre’s floor pieces and the time it takes to walk round one of Richard Long’s circles of stones.

Aesthetically Richard Long’s art practice is situated at the cusp of these developments. It encompasses Land Art - he would say landscape for he sees himself as a landscape artist - and by extension Body Art. For Long takes as his measure not only the number of miles he covers by day and/or by night but the natural forces that exert their influence on him as he interacts with a particular landscape. While stipulating that it is no longer the subjective transcription of this external world that engages him Richard Long remains staunchly connected to his observable environments, bringing into play processes, materials and techniques such as photography, cartography, texts and other time based procedures that were relatively new to sculpture in the sixties. Conspicuous by its absence, however, is video since this would have reduced to Performance Art what was originally conceived as a virtually invisible gesture.

Conceptual work of this period had the tendency to prioritise the intellectual aspects of art making by emphasising processes and procedures based on analytic self-scrutiny. Long’s work, while starting out as a series of preconceived ideas initiated around task and time based projects that usually take the form of a walk (though there are instances of bike rides) invariably oversteps this limit as the walks are incorporated into larger journeys. His maps and drawings both convey the spatial reach of the journey and impart an intimate sense of place. The normally black and white photographs represent the moment the walk becomes a stopping place on a longer journey taken, and the point at which this part of the journey becomes identifiable as an art work. The walk’s parameters while essentially random are at the same time constructed around a self-appointed task or ritual; throwing stones, carrying them to predetermined venues, or picking them up and arranging them as formal geometric shapes in the landscape which he describes as “abstract art laid down in the real spaces of the world.”

The texts, too, tell the story of Richard Long’s walk/work in the landscape. In this case language becomes the means of transposing information regarding the external world; through his use of place names and other seemingly random experiential details Long encourages the viewer to take an imaginative leap. Reading Long’s texts, we can each create our own work of art through the poetic density of words that remains embedded in image and metaphor. To an important degree this belies the famed simplicity of his work and confirms metaphor’s central position as the joining of the particular and the universal. As he explains:

My work has become a simple metaphor of life. A figure walking down his road, making his mark. It is an affirmation of my human scale and senses: how far I walk. What stones I pick up, my particular experiences. Nature has more effect on me than I on it. I am content with the vocabulary of universal and common meanings; walking, placing stones, sticks, water, circles, lines, days, nights, roads.

From an art historical perspective this modesty is in keeping with a whole generation’s resolve to add as little as possible to the existing art world; its aim to dematerialise rather than materialise. Photography and language were therefore favoured art practices. From the late sixties into the seventies the photographic image, which seemed to delete the presence of an authorial signature (e.g., the artist’s brushstroke as an index of artistic genius and virtuosity) monopolised the art scene. Artists such as Gerhard Richter and Andy Warhol persuaded themselves that the photographic image was purely objective, had little to do with style or composition and therefore obviated personal judgement. Long may have sympathised with this aesthetic credo based on the de-skilling of the artist. Nevertheless even the purely documentary aspects of his work retain a subjective edge and partake of his personal experience. For this reason much has been made of his continued attachment to Bristol and its environs. Content will out. It underpins his artistic production. The conceptual aspects with which he tends to identify himself artistically, constitute the tools that he uses and do not have priority over content as they do for many other conceptual artists; his feelings for the landscape do. True, landscape can be equated with a type of readymade. But Long’s work notably lacks that Duchampian element of irony that we have come to expect in the work of artists of this last half-century. For this reason it is not surprising that some commentators have remarked on a certain zen like quality or read into his work, possibly mistakenly, an enduring element of British romanticism. Long rejects these interpretations but there is a strong whiff of romanticism in the image of the solitary artist in communion with nature. Moreover his texts, in their condensation and terseness, do operate in like manner to the haiku. Words on the wall transform into images. Just examine what happens in his wall text Transference that chronicles parallel walks, one a three-day walk on Dartmoor, the other a seven day walk in Japan; exactly the same catalogue of words for both elicits a different set of images. If that is what conceptual means then Long is correct in seeing himself as a conceptual artist.

These wall texts, with their minimalist type settings--Long uses a very plain sans serif font-- and their lack of psychological or emotional content, may aim at objectivity, but they are no more objective than the photographs documenting journeys in desert and tundra, mostly tree-less places, which have inspired his unobtrusive, almost invisible interaction with the environment, the artist gently touching the landscape. The photos are certainly not the mere documents he may have originally intended them to be. They purposefully create an image that has been artistically created in the dark room. They seem staged so that what little evidence there is of Long’s presence at the site is effaced. Long has been at pains to declare “I like the idea of using the land without possessing it.” Unlike his US contemporaries, Land Artists such as Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer, he does not undertake industrial occupancy of the land, nor like Christo get involved with land right issues and planning procedures. Instead he walks or sometimes bikes in national parks, taking the minimum of requirements –the rucksack glimpsed in a photo- mostly alone, but sometimes in the company of his fellow artist Land Artist Hamish Fulton.

His real (in time and space) canvas is non-urbanised nature, nature virtually untouched by civilisation. He literally draws on to the face of nature, and, like early man must have done or the child in all of us, makes his mark on the surface of the earth, scuffs a pathway, erects a line or a circular mound of stones or of driftwood, or paints with mud knowing full well that nature will reclaim what is hers, for as he says, “These works are made of the place, they are a rearrangement of it and in time will be reabsorbed by it. I hope to make work for the land, not against it.” But equally important for Long is the itinerary itself; the walk that becomes a ritual or the ritual that is the walk. This is the area circumscribed by conceptual procedures, procedures, however, which do not rule out subjectivity. Long’s vision remains personal. Randomness is factored in by designating a geometric or linear pattern that determines the walk, e.g. a walk of 4 hours and 4 circles, each a part of a greater circle - each hour presumably walking at a different rate to correlate time and space. To this extent Long, remains a conceptual artist, though the definition of “conceptual” is beginning to feel strained. What he has done is to replace the traditional three-dimensional studio-based sculptural object with a variety of two-dimensional documentary materials that include maps, drawings, texts, and photographs, which allow him to encompass a far wider area in real time and in real space, his real time and space but not ours.

As pointed out earlier this anti-illusionism was very important for artists of Long’s generation inasmuch as it created an ever more expansive ground for sculpture. In Snowball Track, his very first line piece, this was no more than a track made by rolling a snowball on the ground which was then photographed. But the line can just as well remain invisible save for its inscription, visually on a map or non-visually through a wall or book text. The latter effectively enumerates significant events and sightings that significantly include all the senses. The visual, olfactory, and auditory are all equally evocative distillations of a particular experience evinced by a sense of place.

Smithson and Heizer tended to document their projects in order to provide an analytic explanation of their artistic procedures that further dismantled the material constraints of traditional sculpture and allowed them ever-greater freedom. Long’s artistic practice is more open-ended and democratic. For this reason his publications are placed on an equal footing with his gallery pieces. As he has said, “The work is not about possession, so to say ‘to know it is to possess it’ is not quite right. But it’s like people can know a fact of life, that knowledge is common to everyone, no one actually possesses it on their own.” Long equates knowledge as much with the perceptive body as with the intellect. Though originally conceived as an idea, it is with the body that a work is made. Pounding feet make a pathway; hands move stones from one location to another or create geometric forms in far away places that will hardly elicit a comment from a passer by. Crucially, his texts emphasise the degree to which his body is dependent on the forces of gravity, on the elements, sun, wind or rain, cloud or cloudless skies, all of which determine what can or cannot be made or photographed. Contingency rules. Consequently, Long has insisted that he neither encourages nor expects art hungry visitors to make pilgrimages to these secluded sites, which in any case may no longer exist. His photographic documentation remains purposefully non-specific. On the other hand, judging from conversations overheard, his early maps of home territory near Bristol visibly encourage enthusiastic exhibition viewers to discuss the feasibility of his routes or plan to retrace his steps.

This is nevertheless a quiet exhibition. The majority of viewers seem caught up in a contemplative mood which does not quite tally with the artist’s own view of his practice as conceptual. Yet this is how Long wants to be recognised, rather than as an active ecological artist such as Beuys, a performance artist or a romantic artist. If the pursuit of a simple idea is conceptual then Long certainly deserves this appellation. The idea of walking a straight line is simple and Long has continued to expand, and some might say, to exploit it. This is his view on the matter:

One way to look at an artist’s work is the cumulative effect. So if I’d have made one straight walk once in my life in 1967, that might have been a very interesting work. But because I’ve made similar straight line walks or made other kinds of walks in different landscapes all over the world for the next 30 years that gives it another meaning.

Long sees himself as practical, pragmatic and level-headed and rejects the suggestion that his work is in any way transcendent or metaphysical. But the very fact that the exhibition opens with the two I Ching hexagrams representing Heaven and Earth belies this disavowal and reveals a deeper sensibility that encompasses an understanding of relativity and of the universe as cosmos that operates on many levels in our lives and in the lives of all living things, inanimate as well as animate. This need not be mystic or esoteric. On a subatomic level there are forces that determine order and chaos, order that emerges from chaos and vice-versa - an acknowledgement of the new physics which often coasts close to perennial spiritual ideas and allows a sense of the sacred a space in the natural world. This is the physical world in which Long operates as Homo Faber. But his main aim is to limit the degradation done to things that constitute the material world. Smithson, on the other hand, recognised violence as inevitable and his philosophy was therefore pessimistic. Long’s is optimistic, even celebratory. He achieves a sense of balance opposing the ‘butterfly with a life span of one month’ with ‘granite 350 million years old’ (Dartmoor Time) He can still say, “I think art is a very moral activity; it doesn’t threaten people. It doesn’t use people. It sort of humanises us, I hope.” Art has as its aim to reconcile the moral with the aesthetic. Just as we need to know that Richard Long has walked the walk, not just conceptualised it, this remains an article of faith. The exhibition somehow convinces us that he has.

All quotations from Richard Long. Selected Statements and Interviews, Haunch of Venison, London, 2007.

© Anna Leung 2009


Anna Leung is a London-based artist and educator now semi-retired from teaching at Birkbeck College but taking occasional informal groups to current art exhibitions.

The exhibition Richard Long: Heaven and Earth was at the Tate Britain, London, from 3 June – 6 September 2009. For more information, visit

To watch Towers, Open Fire in its entirety, please click play on the window above.

The Films of William S. Burroughs
by Robert Stalker

The movies!—The movies!—We want the Movies!
--William S. Burroughs, The Soft Machine (1961)

This past July marked the 50th anniversary of the publication of William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch (or, The Naked Lunch, as it was originally titled). Published in Paris by Maurice Girodias’s Olympia Press, an English language publishing house specializing in underground and erotic books, the novel was begun shortly after Burroughs arrived in Tangier in 1953. Comprised largely of the “routines”—short, satiric, pornographic, and hallucinatory fragments—that Burroughs had been mailing to his friend Allen Ginsberg, Naked Lunch (called “Interzone” in its earlier, embryonic stages) reflects what Burroughs later called the “end-of-the world feeling” of the international zone of Tangier, “with its glut of nylon shirts, Swiss watches, Scotch and sex and opiates sold across the counter.” An outrageous mishmash of quasi-autobiography, drug-world exposé, Sadean erotic fantasy, futuristic, dystopian thriller, and piercing social satire, Naked Lunch would not find an American publisher until Grove brought it out in 1962. Following an important censorship trial in 1966, the novel went on to become a “classic” (if that’s the right word) of radical fiction, the themes and techniques of which Burroughs would refine and expand in his subsequent influential “Nova Trilogy.”

While Burroughs’s fiction has by now become almost as well-known as the Burroughs persona (his instantly recognizable fedora and overcoat; his years of addiction; his accidental shooting of his wife, Joan Vollmer—all integral components of what has become the Burroughs myth), his experiments with film from this same creative period remain virtually unknown. Even as Burroughs has become increasingly recognized as not only a writer but also a pioneering multi-media artist who impressed his imagination onto spoken word performance, painting, audiotape manipulations, and photography, his daring forays into film remain neglected by most standard histories of American avant-garde film. The several films he made in the early sixties, however, present a particularly fascinating extension of the project he pursued in the novels, offering a number of provocative “intersections” (to use one of Burroughs’s favorite words) between his novels and his films.

The approach to composition that Burroughs adopted for Naked Lunch involved an aesthetic breakthrough that would form the matrix for much of Burroughs’s subsequent artistic output, including his film work. Burroughs composed the “routines” that comprise Naked Lunch himself, but Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Brion Gysin, a Canadian-born painter Burroughs had met while in Tangier, all gathered in the Paris hotel where Burroughs resided to help him collate the texts into the form the novel would eventually take. Gysin, who would become a close friend and key collaborator, later recalled that “the raw material of Naked Lunch overwhelmed us . . . Burroughs was more intent on Scotch-taping his photos together into one great continuum on the wall where scenes faded and slipped into one another, than occupied with editing the manuscript.” Gysin’s description here of the organization of Naked Lunch offers several important insights into Burroughs’s creative process. First, the assistance of Ginsberg, Kerouac, and Gysin in the collation of the manuscript confirms Graham Caveny’s claim that “collaboration was the key to Burroughs’s creative flow.” Collaboration would mark Burroughs’s creative output for much of his life. Second, Gysin’s description of Burroughs’s preoccupation with photo-montage intimates Burroughs’s fascination with recording technology—cameras and especially tape recorders attracted him—and anticipates his interest in exploring in his writing chance arrangements and juxtapositions, especially through the Cage-like procedure of randomly combining texts that he and Gysin, the technique’s originator, called “cut-ups.” Burroughs believed “the cut-up technique,” a strategy for arbitrarily rearranging and merging disparate texts (one’s own as well as, for example, political speeches and articles from newspapers and medical journals), had the power to reveal hidden relationships between seemingly unconnected materials and systems. As Burroughs later described his technique for reordering images and texts: “I use a tape recorder, camera, typewriter, scissors, scrapbooks . . . I get intersections between all sorts of things . . . They all tie up, there are connections, intersections.” This idea of the unexpected intersections spontaneously formed by the more-or-less random jumbling of images and texts informs Burroughs approach to art for the rest of his life, reaching its fullest expression in his influential “Nova Trilogy”—The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket that Exploded (1962), and Nova Express (1964). With the help of Gysin, Anthony Balch, and Ian Sommerville, Burroughs would carry the famed cut-up technique into the world of cinema.

In the early sixties, Gysin had introduced Burroughs to Anthony Balch, an English director of grade-B films and distributor of soft-core porn. In early 1962, Burroughs, Gysin, and Balch began their first cinematic collaboration, Towers, Open Fire. Shot in black and white and running approximately 9’30” the film features as its cast Burroughs, Gysin, Michael Portman (a sometime friend of Burroughs and kind of hanger-on), and Ian Somerville, a young mathematician from Cambridge who advised the artists on technical matters and became Burroughs’s long time lover. The film’s “plot,” insofar as it has one, is loosely based on the episode of the same name in Nova Express, but, in typical Burroughs fashion, incorporates and recycles other material as well. The film opens, for example, with a head-shot of Burroughs as he reads in voice-over from the “Where you belong” section from The Soft Machine. This passage finds Burroughs at his most acerbic, donning the persona of “The District Supervisor,” to ask, “Why don’t you straighten out and act like a white man?” and ending with, “You can’t deny your blood kid—you’re white white white.” After this send-up of prevailing notions of racial identity, the film quickly cuts to Burroughs delivering a kind of incantation as we see shots of Egyptian-style masks, a head shot of Balch in masturbatory ecstasy, and scrambled t.v. signals under a soundtrack comprised of Jajouka trance music, radio static, and other sounds. Shots of newspaper headlines announcing the stock market crash are then interposed with Burroughs reading from what sounds like medical texts about addiction and opium. The film concludes with Burroughs in headphones sitting before a reel-to-reel tape recorder commanding “Towers, Open Fire,” as the film terminates with a kind of science-fiction-inspired apocalypse.

Premiering at the London Paris Pullman in a double bill with Tod Browning’s cult film Freaks (1932) in 1964, Towers, Open Fire contains a number of noteworthy experimental features. The heavy cutting of the film’s rapid-fire imagery seems somewhat akin to the early French New Wave, but the abruptness and randomness of the editing make for a much more disorienting experience than these contemporary experiments with cinematic fragmentation. Hand-painted segments of pink and blue dots, intentionally slap-dash special effects, and kooky sci-fi elements, such as Burroughs in fatigues and gas mask brandishing a ping pong ball rifle that “vaporizes” other characters through amateurish camera trickery announce a clunky, off-beat anti-aesthetic while the Moroccan Jajouka music of the soundtrack anticipates the minimalist drones of New York composers in the later 1960s, such as La Monte Young, John Cale, and Charlemagne Palestine. Also important are several sequences including shots of Gysin and others staring with eyes closed into a “Dream Machine”—Gysin and Somerville’s invention comprised of a spinning cylinder with a light bulb inside it and holes to emit light. When rotated at just the right speed, the dream machine mimics the alpha waves of the brain, inducing in some viewers an intense experience of color. (During these sequences we here Burroughs in voice-over announcing, “anything that can be done chemically can be done in other ways.”) The footage of the Dream Machine’s flashing, shimmering lights anticipates Tony Conrad’s landmark film The Flicker (1966). Burroughs and Balch would push these radical elements even further in their next film.

Also shot in black and white and running approximately 20’4”, The Cut Ups (1966) developed out of an uncompleted documentary about Burroughs and Gysin entitled Guerilla Conditions that Balch had been working on. (The documentary would remain unfinished.) Balch shot about a quarter of what would become The Cut Ups at the famed Beat Hotel and its neighborhood, and the film contains the only known footage of those now-demolished legendary digs at 9 rue Git-le-Couer, Paris, where Burroughs, Ginsberg, Gysin, and Gregory Corso lived and produced some of their most exciting work (Barry Miles’s The Beat Hotel provides an informative and entertaining account of the Beats’ years there). With a screenplay by Burroughs, The Cut Ups, almost unbelievably, has even less of a plot than Towers. (“I am a recording instrument . . . I do not presume to impose ‘story’ ‘plot’ ‘continuity,’” Burroughs has said.)

The soundtrack of The Cut Ups relies heavily on the kind of permutations of language that Gysin had been experimenting with in spoken pieces such “I Am” (1960) and his “Permutation” poems (1960), wherein a set of words such as “I am that I am” is exhaustively recombined. The soundtrack of The Cut-Ups cycles through Burroughs and Gysin repeating lines such as “Yes . . . Hello” and “Look at that picture . . . does it seem to be persisting . . . Thank you,” precisely calculated by Somerville to end the film with “Very good. Thank you.” The almost unbearable, mind-numbing repetition of these banal phrases anticipates in important ways the early concrete poetry of Conceptual artists such as Vito Acconci and Carl Andre as well as these same artists’ later interest in art as system. The images that cross the screen as the words are spoken include footage of Gysin painting a canvas with roller; shots of his écritures, calligraphic white writing paintings in which Burroughs discovered, he said, “the psychic landscape of my own work”; superimposed images, some incorporated as negatives from the Balch/Burroughs short color film entitled William Buys a Parrot (1963); and, again, brief sequences of the Dream Machine.

For The Cut Ups, Burroughs and Balch carried the radical cut-up technique of composition into the editing process itself, handing over to a lab technician four reels of film, cut up into twelve inch lengths, without providing any instructions at all as to how the film should be pieced together. (Nicolas Roeg reportedly adapted this technique directly from Balch for certain sections of his breakthrough 1970 film Performance.) This emphasis on chance and obliteration of traditional narrative, combined with the anesthetizing repetitions of the film’s soundtrack, proved to be quite disorienting. As Barry Miles notes in his biography of Burroughs, during the films two-week run at Oxford Street’s Cinephone in London, 1966, audiences left behind in the theater an inordinate number of items after each screening.

Burroughs has said that the objective of the cut-up technique was to “destroy old false constructs and models of reality.” His films, by adapting and extending the techniques of his fiction, are important not only because they are, as Robert Sobieszek has written, “near thesauruses of contemporary video forms,” but because they retain much of their power to defamiliarize, disorient, and confound, dragging us into that haunted corner of the world that Burroughs’s Naked Lunch first trespassed fifty years ago.


Robert Stalker is an Atlanta-based freelance arts writer.

          Atlanta                      New York                       Paris                         Berlin                         Torino

To listen to each of the five movements of the World New Symphony, please click on each of the city images above.

World New Symphony N.1

by Giuseppe Gavazza

[NB Giuseppe Gavazza and The Art Section had hoped to present World New Symphony as the Geotagged composition it is intended to be. However, we learned at press time that has refused to host the sound files that make up the work. Mr. Gavazza will negotiate with; if they agree to host the files, The Art Section will notify our readers that they can access the Geotagged version. In the meantime, please click on the images below to listen to the work and read the accompanying text. We apologize for this unfortunate circumstance. – the Editors]

The World New Symphony n.1 is a Geotagged composition: certainly my first and, from what I know, the first ever made. The home page of states: “The Freesound Project is a collaborative database of Creative Commons licensed sounds. Freesound focusses only on sound, not songs.” At this site, everyone can upload, listen to, and download recorded sounds with the added optional special feature of linking the sampled sound to a specific place on Earth through Google Maps, typically the place where the sound was recorded. I think – and warmly hope - that soon this capability will be embedded in Google Maps and Google Earth: it would be great if everyone could tag sounds to specific places the way one currently can tag an image to a place (giving it worldwide visibility). For now, this is possible by logging on to the Freesound website, the world's sounds archive.

My World New Symphony is totally composed using sounds I personally recorded in the past months in the places that lend their names to the five movements:

  1. Atlanta
  2. New York
  3. Paris
  4. Berlin
  5. Torino
The only exception is n.3, Paris, where I used a synthesized sound file generated with new physical modeling software as the compositional base, for reasons I will detail later.

To listen to the entire composition go to: (or then click on the left column Search/Browse/Geotagged Samples). A map and a list of Geotagged samples will appear; these samples are listed in the order in which they were uploaded. Initially, they will appear on the first page of the list, then they will appear in the following pages as: by giuseppegavazza. Otherwise you can fly over, hover over, or zoom in on the cities of the symphony (Atlanta, New York, Paris, Berlin, Torino) looking for the tag. More details of the specific places, which will help you find them on the map, will be given in the synopsis.

All recordings (except movement n.5) were made with a Zoom H4 digital audio recorder using its embedded microphones.

Thanks to ACROE, Grenoble for the license to use their physical modeling music software, Genesis.

World New Symphony n.1: Synopsis

1st Movement – Atlanta, May 10th-12th 2008. This movement uses sound recorded in Atlanta and Alpharetta, Georgia, between Saturday April 10th and Monday May 12th 2008. The first “theme” consists of the voices of a crowd at a party in Atlanta (Saturday, May 10th, in the evening): as the voices fade, they degrade into noise. But suddenly (at 0'30'') a double 2nd theme enters: the starting riff of a party band, in a reiterated Ostinato: A simply rhythmic and B (0'48'') with basic harmonic texture. Both disappear, cross fading with a “transition theme” of a short car trip (1'40'') with speaking voices and soft piano music as background. As the car theme (recorded the same evening as the party) dissolves, the 2nd main theme enters (2'40''), a natural motif of a morning walk in a wood (Sunday April 11th) with bird song, barking dog, and far-off noises of truck and airplane. Some ghost fragments of previous themes return at this point, as the forest sounds give way (4'08'') to the final motif: the train transfer to the Atlanta airport (Monday April 12th, in the morning).

2nd Movement – New York City May 5th 2008. All recordings for this section were made in Times Square and a subway station during the day on Monday May 5th 2008. The beginning of the movement (Introduction) is the sound of the beginning of the underground train trip: the sound is blocked in a loop (0'43'') creating a light Moderato rhythmic base. The 1st Theme enters over this base: a clarinet playing, in Canone, a very famous movie theme in a non mensuratic tempo creating a contrast with the looped train. Against ambient station sounds in the background, the clarinet gives way to the second theme: a woman’s voice with guitar repeating herself in an Ostinato song Incipit. A sound harmonizer treatment adds a polyphonic (but homorhythmic) texture. When a new train arrives, the same “rhythm free” clarinet player reappears with another famous theme, this one from the very standard Operatic repertoire as a bridge theme to a new element (3rd theme): a traffic theme with voices, cars, laughter, music, street sounds, and noises. In this section, previous elements (clarinet, female song, ambient rhythm) converge in a Stretto to finish over the base of motorbike and car sounds.

3rd Movement – Paris April 12th 2009. This movement is the only one melding recorded and synthesized sounds. Live sounds were recorded inside and outside the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, round 8 p.m. on Eastern Sunday of this year. The formal structure of this section is provided by the synthesized sounds realized with the musical software Genesis by ACROE Grenoble: this software is under development (it will be available commercially soon) with which I've worked experimentally over the last 12 years. I was first introduced to Genesis in 1995 during an Atelier at IRCAM, the musical division of Centre Pompidou; this is the reason I choose to use this synthesized (but not “un-natural”) sounds. The string-like sounds you hear throughout this section are made with a physical modeled Genesis “string ensemble.” (This is a bit too complex to explain in a few lines; I will be happy to provide more details on demand.) The synthesized sounds proceed as an automatic music box, suggesting a form to the musical elements of the composition: A - an inside ambient sound canvas continuum (starting at 0'36''); B - an outside riff (1'21'') of an Arabic song played, sung, and recorded in the esplanade just in front the Centre Pompidou main entrance; C - voices from videos presented in an exhibit inside the Centre (3'30'').

4th Movement – Berlin May 13th 2009. All sounds were recorded in Berlin, between 5 and 6 p.m. in on the corner of Friedrichstrasse and Zimmerstrasse, the location of Checkpoint Charlie, the checkpoint passage through the Berlin Wall between the US sector and East Berlin. The Wall is a 43 km (27 miles) long scar that runs through Berlin; Checkpoint Charlie was the center of this wound. The old building remains, and there is actually a Berlin Wall Museum; it is a very touristic attraction.

The whole movement has as its base (Basso Continuo) the fragment of a concert recorded at the Berlin Philharmonic Concert Hall in those same days. The music runs all along the soundtrack, shifting slowly and continuously from the foreground to the background. A track of different recorded sounds runs over this base: the Introduzione of this movement presents a recording of Friedrichstrasse street sounds as a Canone starting on different speeds and “tonality” (pitch shifted) and converging (0'00'' to 1'17'') to the original coherent stereo audio signal. At this point, a polyphonic counterpoint of voices speaking different languages (German, Italian, French, English, Japanese) begins over a variegated Bordone of traffic noises: a big truck, cars, a motorbike (1'17'' to 3'43''). The final theme is the sound of the underground station and a train cross-faded (Ripresa at 4'57'') with the original “stereo coherent” audio of the Introduzione. The Finale is announced by applause from the concert’s end.

5th Movement – Torino September 26th 1999. For the final movement, I recovered a vintage work I made in 1999. Ten years ago, I recorded with my Sony TC-D3 cassette recorder 45 minutes (from 11:00 to 11:45 p.m.) of sound at the window of my home (via Silvio Pellico 17, Torino, Italy) in real time (no cut and paste) mixing unpredictable, erratic sounds coming from outside with other well-planned music coming from my audio equipment. I have now made a short remix of this old work, retaining the vintage rustle of dirty analogue sound. The original work was a long one, and the title was also long: Nocturnal-Symphonic-Self portrait of the Author writing a Trio, with apparition of silent statue of Igor Stravinsky and the invisible one of Luc Ferrari (as Ligeti and Berio pass by in the background and, with them, Reich, Riley, and Mahler, and behind them, Chopin and Schubert and the astonished, unmindful ghost of a folk Austrian melody) with the subconscious cryptic final tribute to Franz Joseph Haydn.

At the time. I was simultaneously writing a trio for viola, clarinet, and piano using a quotation from Stravinsky; listening to the (vinyl) disc of Promenade symphonique à travers un paysage musical by Jean Luc Ferrari; the CD of Self-portrait with Reich and Riley (and with Chopin in the Background), the 2nd movement of Gyorgy Ligeti’s Three Pieces for Two Pianos; and a cassette recording of Sinfonia by Luciano Berio, the section where Berio explicitly quotes a fragment of Mahler’s Symphony n.2, which Mahler based on a theme from a composition by Franz Schubert itself based on Austrian folk tunes.

Torino, August 17th 2009


Giuseppe Gavazza is a composer who lives and works in Turin, Italy.