Number 61

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As most of these things go, here’s a story for you. The time was July of 2018. The space was Ithaca, New York, where we’d been for a little less than a year, but were generally finding ourselves getting comfortable and familiar with. Not too familiar, but familiar enough that we were beginning to get our bearings not he music and art scene in the town. I’ll spare the specific details since this is more about the actual box as opposed to me establishing a network of friends and well wishers in a small city in central New York, but this guy was built largely out necessity due to me being double booked. All said, it seems that’s kind of how my personal art cycle seems to functions – weeks/months/years of preparation for three weeks of manic activity and then back the workshop. In this case, Pau and I found ourselves booked with a gallery show at Mara Baldwin’s Neighbors Gallery on the same weekend that Cornell University was hosting a two day symposium on Sound Art in Upstate New York. Naturally, my presence was kind of required at both. In the case of the symposium, the original plan was to just participate in the meet and greet – present a basic overview of my work (in ten seconds or less) and end with a plug about the opening the next day. But as the event grew closer, I was asked to perform as well. Possibly not the most ideal of situations, but sometimes you just have to say yes.

The issue I had was what could I actually perform on or with? Since moving to Ithaca (and possibly since moving back to the US – possibly even going as far back as since I left the US in the first place), I’ve been at a bit of an impasse on what I actually even do. I build analog devices but perform on laptop. Or am I an improvisor on four-stringed instruments? Or am I a sculptor and performance artist? Or is it all about my harsh-noise stuff done on a decade worth of home-built instruments? And so on. Sometimes I envy my friends with more direction. Or at the very least, a less diversified skill set. Due to the retirement and lapse in technical upgrades to my performance instruments (not to mention the damage sustained when I took them on an international jaunt) and my reputation as a builder with the regional scene, I’d been supplementing my “sound system” performances with sculptures that Pau and I used for some of our installations. What can I say, they make for an interesting performance dynamic – and are also one of the reasons why the numbered instruments that populated the sound system started to lapse. The issue was that these instruments and sculptures were already mounted in the gallery and there wasn’t enough time between the symposium and the opening to set some aside. Another issue was that I was pretty booked at the office by day and mounting in the gallery by night so I was hard pressed to develop something else and actually have the time to dedicate to crafting a performance worthy of an academic symposium. Finally, the third factor to my woes was the subject of my talk. Since I only had ten minutes, I was faced with the dilemma of what I should even talk about. I know, poor me, yeah? The sound system talk I delivered in Manchester was out since the instruments had mostly become wall pieces and I was a little hesitant on giving the Columbia talk again since a.) it wasn’t my best of talks and b.) I really need better documentation of that piece. Not to mention that I wanted to provide a decent introduction to my work, as well as a bit of a timeline of my travels and all that fun stuff.

In the end, I decided to talk about the worm piece, since I’ve been showing it in some degree or another for about a decade now, its done the international thing and is more or less just plain weird. The fact that it touches on my whole reinterpretation of digital data as both sound and image which is kind of my current meta-thing also didn’t hurt. But how to tie it all together? In this case, welcome Number 61, which is essentially a reduced version of Number 60 and 62 int he same package – so two sculpture-controlled Eyecillator circuits run into two 567 Tone Decoder circuits that were acting as a crude filter of sorts. In the end, we had to wire up two spare sculptures to allow for the performance and the installation, but it satisfied the basic necessity of allowing me to do my thing, present my wrk and not have to develop and rehearse an additional piece parallel to the hours spent mounting in the gallery. To tie it in with the talk, I decided to frame it as an extension of the worm piece – but with the worms replaced with sculptures in what can be viewed as a giant mash-up of a majority of my major sound art pieces, served raw in a single performance of 15 minutes or less. So to summarize – sculpture-controlled synths powering the worm piece in performance where the end result was prints derived from slow-scan radio interpretations of non-formatted analog sound. Or something like that. Here’s a picture of the setup to better explain what I was up to.

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Nice, right? For those interested with the logistics of what I was up to, as well as to spare the details of the abstract, here’s the official art blurb for this performance. For those more into the visual as opposed to the descriptive, here’s a snap from Sarah Hennies of me doing my thing.

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Speaking of, how was my thing in this particular instance? Admittedly, not my best. I’ll be the first to admit that. But at the same time, that’s kind of the thing with experimental music – if done right, it’s an experiment. And like their scientific counterparts, sometimes the experiments fail. If they don’t, I sometimes view the performance as more of a field report as opposed to an active experiment. Or something to that extent. Either that or a.) I like to live dangerously and/or b.) there’s certain flavors of sound art that blend better than others – not everything can be a successful mashup. Or, if we continue with the analogy of sound art as food, some things require more preparation and seasoning than others. I’m glad I did it and the visual output was pretty cool looking, but I definitely ruffled some feathers, considering that this was a symposium that ranged from strict research to standard composition to, well, idiots like me. I’m pretty sure there’s at least a few individuals whose feathers I may have ruffled the wrong way with my performance – and I was admittedly a little hurt when I first had my submissions confirmed, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that maybe it was a bit of a blessing that I was able to get all feather ruffling done in one fell swoop. I mean, would these folks have appreciated either me or my work if it was presented in another circumstance? Probably not. And at the same time, its not like my work will ever change in such a fashion that they might come around to appreciate my approach. So hey, lets let bygones be bygones, live and let live and line in the sand. The important thing is that this is actually a cool little instrument that been used in a couple performances since then, I found more allies than detractors at the symposium and the opening the next day was not only a success, but a fair amount of folks from the symposium rolled over as well. So there’s that.

In the meantime, a quick video for you’re viewing pleasure. This one came from the 2018 Sonic Circuits festival which was an adventure in and of itself – but for now at least here’s a decent depiction of this instrument in action.