Friday, December 24

"This then, I thought, as I looked round about me, is the representation of history. It requires a falsification of perspective. We, the survivors, see everything from above, see everything at once, and still we do not know how it was."
— W.G. Sebald

Thursday, November 18


Yesterday, I bought some industrial shelves from a woman who runs a sewing and miscellany shop. She had posted them on Craigslist, which I've loved for the past year because it is affordable and eliminates the more mysterious aspects of a market economy. I've found most of the sellers I've dealt with to be kind and interested in someone using their discarded items that they themselves have no further use for. I suppose that plays off of my own sentimentality: that even things discarded are carefully passed on to another specific user instead of thrown out or anonymously donated.
The shelves are great, a much-needed addition to our cluttered workspace. It was somehow comforting to know that they came from a similar situation: of being filled with fabric, old vintage items, miscellany. The woman who sold them to us showed us a wooden box of cards she had found. She had not seen them in a long time, hidden somewhere on the shelves before their dis-assembly. She was collecting playing cards she found on the street, in the hopes that one day she would have a full deck. It was a curious exercise in ordering the chaotic, and also putting faith in the random. It's beautiful to think that the found cards would not all be the same, that there was an entire deck of mismatched cards laying on streets, waiting for someone to bring them together. Like all curated collections, the order may come from the collector. It is sometimes their role to find the meaning in the accumulation.
After we had loaded up and paid, she said very seriously: "Now remember, take time to set up your shelves and organize. It's very important to do that."

Monday, August 2


"All of nature in its awful vastness and incomprehensible complexity is in the end interrelated - worlds within worlds within worlds: the seen and the unseen - the physical and the immaterial are all connected - each exerting influence on the next - bound, as it were, by chains of analogy - magnetic chains. Every decision, every action mirrors, ripples, reflects and echoes throughout the whole of creation. The world is indeed bound with secret knots." -Valentine Worth

Monday, July 5

Seeing is believing

Great article in the New Yorker today regarding the methodology of those who authenticate the work of old masters.
The art historian Bernard Berenson described his talent as a “sixth sense.” “It is very largely a question of accumulated experience upon which your spirit sets unconsciously,” he said. “When I see a picture, in most cases, I recognize it at once as being or not being by the master it is ascribed to; the rest is merely a question of how to fish out the evidence that will make the conviction as plain to others as it is to me.” Berenson recalled that once, upon seeing a fake, he had felt an immediate discomfort in his stomach.

I was thinking about it as a nice analogue for how I (or other artists, for that matter) make an artwork. Over a period of time, abstract connections that make sense on what seems to be an instinctual level are made into words. It is almost as if the response to a life load of knowledge can materialize rather quickly, but the means to communicate why that makes sense takes longer than the formulation of the idea itself. To make a unique idea that is unique to an individual universal enough to be communicated is an interesting process, a primary function of the clunky tool we call language.

Sunday, May 16

Health, history, horses

I'm finding that all this moving around has made me very aware of my experience of cities, particularly how I adapt to them both physically and psychologically. The pace of life here is different, slower than in larger cities I've lived in. (There is something to be said about the reduced stress on the immediate envorins that smaller populations have.) The freedom of time and movement has allowed me to indulge in a kind of regional wanderlust.

We recently took a drive to Saratoga Springs, now famous for it's annual horse race. Originally a fort built on the Hudson River, mineral springs thought to have medicinal properties caused settlement to develop around the site. By the 19th century, it was a major destination for those suffering from a diverse list of ailments ("From Lung, Female and Various Chronic Diseases"), who sought relief from the specific mineral properties of about 110 different natural springs. As modern medicine phased out the popularity of hydrotherapy, only the Roosevelt Spring is now still open for use. The rest of the original site, built in the 1940's for public use, is now a park.

The comparison of types of "watering holes" was apparent to me on our visit, and I couldn't help but make the relationship between contemporary consumptive practices and a prior generation's pilgrimages for a bath. The 19th c. notion of traveling to the rural springs for rest from the physical stresses of "the metropolis" involved engaging with a space and a community in an act and environment specific to the physical location and removed from the behavior needed to navigate a city. The park-like setting of the original bathhouses was a space built more for a slow contemplation. In contrast, Saratoga as it is now exhibits a more contemporary list of leisure activities related to consumption: eating, drinking, and shopping at boutique stores. All of these activities were somewhat expensive to engage in, and exhibit a much more quantitative form of leisure, i.e. you can probably calculate your fun quotient by using your receipts. Furthermore, many of the stores are chains or sell a displaced good (Mexican food or Rastafarian gear.) It's as if the space is simulating a unique experience, but really acting as a surface for what is known. As posited by Robert Misik, "Public places that are only pseudo-cities, backdrops of the social in which one can indeed be active, but only in a peculiarly passive way."

What will be the next face of cities? Saratoga has retained it's visual appearance as a city built in the 19th century, yet has had to adapt to the rapid change in use of urban centers as shells for global culture. And now with the connectivity provided by the internet, a physical location for interacting, sharing information and trading goods and services is not necessary. We no longer need to go anywhere. And yet our cities still exist and function. People still move to them, live in them and work in them. If not centers of commerce, then perhaps our communal activities can become truly about communities again. The High line project in New York, for example, re-imagined the detritus of industry as open space for community interaction. In places like this, we would be entering back in to the "real", where we could experience the phenomena of lived space as dictated by users, not commercial interests. If we are hoping to experience a combination of a density of human interaction and the opportunity for contemplative space and time, it seems a viable solution. I guess as long as people can use a laptop to order their groceries and check their email there, it would work.

Friday, April 30

Depth perception

"...even Marx understood that 'technologies created ways in which people perceive reality, and that such ways are the key to understanding diverse forms of social and mental life.' Not only did technology change the aural experience of social life, encouraging active manipulation of sound and enlarging the concept of aural architecture, but it also influenced spatial cognition, sensory perception, and social dynamics. The industrial revolution was also a sensory awareness revolution." From spaces speak, are you listening? by barry blesser and linda-ruth salter. Image above is Hogarth's Enraged Musicians.

Tuesday, April 6

Institutional hobo

Harry Partch's visionary view of music was surprisingly inspired by the intricacies of the human voice. His preoccupation with speech patterns inherent in the American vernacular led to his development of a microtonal system that would serve as a more accurate analogue to our listening experiences. While living as a hobo during the Depression, Partch transcribed the pitchs of overheard speech onto musical staves.

"Words are music. Spoken words. Spoken words were music to the ancient Greeks, to Gregorian chant (at its conception), to the troubadours of Provence and the Meistersingers of Nuremberg, the the hillbillies of Tennessee. Yes, even sometimes to the tunepeddlers of Tin Pan Alley. Wagner had the idea, too, but then he threw it to the mercy of a ninety-piece orchestra. Nothing could survive that. These others all used words in music in a way that retained some vestige of their spoken vitality, and they produced a vital, living art."
- from Bitter Music, collected journals of Harry Partch.

I have to admire the completeness of Partch's vision, in that he not only examined his theories through writing and practice, but fabricated a means for them to exist. His instruments, with names like Cloud Chamber Bowls and the Harmonic Canon, poetically insinuate an output based more on a common impression of a sound or object rather than referencing a more institutional music terminology. According to Partch, he bacame "a philosophic music-man seduced into carpentry".

The Montclair State University in New Jersey has housed his collection since 1999. A recital by the MSU Harry Partch Ensemble this month includes Partch's And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma (1966) for diamond and bamboo marimba, as well as more traditional pieces, such as Chopin's Prelude (1839/2010) performed on five zoomoozophones.

Monday, March 15

Can't get there from here

From Holland Cotter of the New York Times on video artist Luke Fowler's piece Pilgrimage from Scattered Points, a visual investigation of the life and work of Cornelius Cardew: "(it is) a memory play; a sampled, impressionistic history; a dramatization of fact. The film does document the utopian moment we think we know, bubble-fragile and waiting to burst. But it also points to what we don't know: misheard words, unreadable personalities, garbled sequences; the basic missing what-where-and-why stuff that, because it is now irretrievable, we guess at and invent."

Thursday, March 4

In the labyrinth

“A new form will always seem more or less an absence of any form at all, since it is unconsciously judged by reference to the consecrated forms.”

Sunday, February 21

Father to a sister of a thought

Today is International Language Revolution Day, a United Nations-sanctioned holiday to commemorate the the ethno-linguistic rights of people around the world. The date chosen stems from the Bengali Language Movement, a political movement in Bangladesh in the 1950s advocating Bengali as the official language of the newly independent state of Pakistan. Pakistan had been culturally divided east and west at its formation in 1947. In 1948, the Pakistani government declared Urdu as the sole state language, despite the fact that Bengali-speaking people in East Pakistan (also known as East Bengal) made up 44 million of the newly formed Pakistan's 69 million people.

The ability of language to not only define a cultural group, but to radically change the socio-economic status of a people was a real fear as an outcome to this decision. "The writer Abul Mansur Ahmed said if Urdu became the state language, the educated society of East Pakistan would become 'illiterate' and 'ineligible' for government positions." On February 21, 1952, a student protest in opposition to the "Urdu-only" policy at the University of Dhaka ended in bloodshed and death. It was not until May 7, 1954, that the government recognized Bengali as an official language of Pakistan. The legacy of the movement has been a tumultuous one: this concession did not placate the tensions that led to the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971.

I found myself reading Steven Roger Fischer's A History of Language on Google books this morning. He uses a beautiful metaphor for language as the structure for a culture:
“…language is both the foundation and building material of the social house. Society’s final architecture and subsequent remodeling are also measured from and through language. Language gives all human action voice, achieving this in complex and subtle ways. Multiple levels of social interaction, from international relationships to intimate relationships, are borne, enabled and empowered through language.”

Perhaps it is also fitting that today in 1958, Gerald Holtum designed the peace sign to promote nuclear disarmament. And he based it on a (somewhat) universal visual language that could communicate over large divides: semaphore.

Thursday, January 28

Faking it

A share regarding our culture's obsession with aestheticized simulation, via a quote from John Mayer:"I'm not diversifying in terms of selling anything. I'm not selling 'John Mayer: the cologne'. If I did it would just smell like sausage and sleep. I don't look at my fans and think, 'Wow, they really like what I do musically. Imagine if I could get 60 more dollars out of them!' Who out there really goes, 'You know what, I just fucking love perfumes. I always have since I was a kid. If I weren't a pop singer, I'd be a perfumer?"

Sunday, January 24

"We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey."

Nothing can compare to the loss of human life. In the coming months in Haiti, the loss of cultural symbols in the wake of disaster will also be a sensitive concept to be considered. For nations that have suffered natural disasters to the degree that Haiti suffered recently, the structures, objects and symbols of nationhood that have been damaged or destroyed represented a common conceptualization of what it means to be a member of that nation, regardless of personal aesthetic preference, political views for or against, or socio-economic standing. The New York Times ran an article this morning detailing the extent of that loss for Haiti. During the inevitable days of reconstruction, it should be interesting to follow how a nation unfortunately wiped clean of its historical representations chooses to redefine them.

Tuesday, January 12

With musical intent

Gordon Monahan is a sound artist and composer based in Toronto and Berlin. The first two of the three pieces included in the 2007 edition of Drunken Boat are a beautiful crossover between percussion and musical instrument. Percussion is sometimes defined as an instrument with no discernible pitch or overtones, a noise instrument. The pieces included here vacillate between the repetition of a beat on a musical instrument and the more erratic sounds of drumming. Not quite a drum circle, not quite the order of a traditional composition, Monahan beautifully toes the line between the two. A nice Tuesday listening....

ps I love the above photo, which makes laptop-ism look downright rock star cool.

Tuesday, January 5

Monophonic accompaniment

"The melody to this one was heard aboard a British Airways Vickers Viscount about a hundred miles from Essen. It was one of those old four engine 'prop' jobs, that seemed to drone the passenger into a sort of hypnotic trance, only with this it was different. The droning, after a while, appeared to take the form of a tune, which mysteriously sounded like a church choir. So it was decided! We accosted the pilot, forced him to land in the nearest village and there; in a small pub, we finished the lyrics. Actually, it wasn't a village, it was the city, and it wasn't a pub, it was a hotel, and we didn't force the pilot to land in a field... but why ruin a perfectly good story?"

Monday, January 4

Viking mice

An article on the blog Spectre relates the subtle revelations of history that animal and plant companions to human communities inevitably relate. A narrative running parallel to our own, these symbiotes moved with human colonies, although I imagine without the intentions of altering the culturally landscape of their destination (although some did and have.) The head louse, for example, lives only in body hair; a subspecies, the body louse, lives only in clothing, and therefore must have diverged from its sister species when humans began to regularly don apparel. Rodents in the UK can trace their ancestry to Norwegian house mice, most likely stowaways on Viking ships. Dependent on dense human populations for food, the instances of these mice trace a path of human migration and settlement. "Like spies in the halls of history, our animal and plant companions hold lost secrets about our past. Through their genes we can trace the paths of ancient migrations and trade routes, and sometimes unpick the knot of successive waves of colonisation."