Tula Centre for Contemporary Art, Russia April 2007
Moscow Book Arts Fair June 2007
Open Form Festival of Indeterminate Music
March 10th – 13th March 2007
Realisation of Cornelius Cardew’s ‘Treatise’ (page 47)
By Adam Asnan & J_Milo Taylor
London College of Communication
At the time of writing Treatise, Cardew was also exploring the possibilities outlined by free improvisation as typified by the group AMM who were in the process of moving towards ‘sound’ rather than ‘music’. This double articulation of Cardew’s practice, spontaneous improvisation embodied in real-time human interaction, coupled with a rejection of this in favor of notation has informed our approach to the work.
My vector into Treatise is situated in our practices as a sound artists, rather than improvising musicians, although we both improvise regularly as part of David Toop’s Laptop Orchestra. An early concept to transform the score into a map for ‘prepared’ guitar was quickly rejected but the concept of transformation was kept, and carried through to this current iteration of our response. While we were developing our work, it quickly became clear that Adam’s strategy was to be a highly formalized deconstruction of Cardew’s graphic score. It was less an interpretation, more of an extreme re-mapping of the possibilities imagined by the composer.
This in turn, prompted me towards a more direct intervention, into the work, my own practice and into reality. I re-imagined my role and decided to embark upon a process of de/re-constructing the score, and transforming it into a sculptural sound object; this object would be definitively derived from the score, limit my choices in performance, whilst facilitating these choices. Score as object, or score as instrument, a kind of physical embodiment of an originally abstract intention.
P-47 Misery Box: Sample 1
P-47 Misery Box: Sample 2
P-47 Misery Box: Sample 3
P-47 Misery Box: Sample 4
It is my feeling, that although respectful of Cardew’s intentions, we are also aware of our own situatedness, and the possibilities of articulating an alternative discourse removed from the rarefied ambience of the music academy. Our work, while a radical de/construction of the score, would, we hope, sit well with Cardew’s broader social and political aims.
The piece was presented in the Royal Academy of Music, Oslo in a workshop led by Christian Wolff.
This work of dedicated to the Cardew’s memory, with the hope he would have enjoyed our response and to Siri, Lena, Else and everyone who have been so welcoming to us during our time in Oslo. Takk.
For BBC Radio 4 Drama. Directed by John Dryden.
Belmont Cinema bar, Aberdeen
Male voice,”I gave all that up”.
The conference ended. People went off to get their flights. As an aside, a screening of the HERNoise film was announced. Few of the conference people made it down to the Belmont cinema.
playback > > Gentle exploratory sax improvisations.
Young men who were assisting in the conference, as technicians, welcoming participants etc are hanging out and chatting. A duo plays, reverbed out guitars with analog synth textures; a ten minute improvisation.
Male voice,” I wrote a song last week. From start to finish”.
playback > > Atonal punk guitars.
Male voice, “…Transylvania conquerors…”
“…live…” (Scottish accent).
This is not sound art. An independent cinema bar room. I go outside to smoke and chat to a fireman. Some talk about a collaboration with a member of the Canadian collective ‘Godspeed, You Black Emperor’.
Before coming here to the Belmont, I has an extended conversation with Jonty Harrison, which meant I missed the film screening. He feels ostracised by music, in the academic sense, and as if acousmatic music is being misappropriated by new media, pushing it into places he does not want it to go.
Male voice,”Do you know Angels of Light?”
After talking to Harrison, a short conversation with Dugal McKinnon who gave the presentation on vinyl. He does not own any, nor has he ever listened to music on vinyl. He comes from a background in ‘ants on a page’ composition.
Here, now, a single bearded, intense young man, on his knees, upon the floor, is creating a low distorted drone, somehow with a harmonica. The same model of Behringer desks that were present in the ‘academy’ during the conference are being used her, but attached to a string of guitar pedals. Delay, reverb, distortion. No granular synthesis here. A beautiful listening experience, a long way from the completed objects of Stollery, Harrison et al. Yet…
With a mouth harp, the tones pulse and build.
I think of tall trees, or a view over water. Breath as source, non-linguistics modulated by circuitry. The audience sits close – to performer, to each other. Active, eyes open. A small JVC camera records the action. There are framed pictures on the wall. A mono line of kazoo maintains spaced out beauty.
Neither high art or low.
But in-between. Less a blurring, more a contingent demarcation of personal experience.
Buzzzzz. Ice machine turns itself on.
The performer riffs against this. He is active in his spatial listening.
The magic has been broken.
I consider the body as the site of both oppression and agency. I feel totally alone in this town, yet sound has continued to connect me to a rich experiential sequence of intersecting aesthetic moments, punctuated by long periods of utter banality.
The acoustic, unamplified voice of the performer, a few moments ago an awkward disruption of the circuit-based abstracted beauty, now takes on its own meaning.
The entire audience is male.
“Walking through the sights” (sung)
In fact there are two women, both with partners.
“Walking through the skies on my bike”. (sung)
“Sigh”. From behind me.
The people here are active listeners. Well lit. Serious. Joking. Present. Young and old.
This is not academic music, is it? Is this then low? Fuck you.
Active state, undissipated. For this instant.
I feel no pain. For this instant.
Beating tones eternal. Electricity. Shifting slabs and delicate colours. I sense 600 years of change from summer to autumn, winter to spring.
In its way, this performance modifies what might be possible to hear, and see, in such a place as this. It sounds like part of here. It does not sound like apart from here. It does not sound like apart from hear.
The manager is counting coins from behind the bar.
Low grade Celestion speakers with appropriate sound streaming through them in situ.
Still the bar manager, oblivious, continues to count the silver.
Electricity from the performer, studied engagement. My view of him is blocked by a pillar, which in some ways, I am grateful for.
Just sound, no gesture, no source, no human, just sound.
“This is a semi-virtual environment, later to be made available as an archive”. (male voice).
“How does sound art relate to the audience?” (The first question from the floor).
Kubisch is the first to respond to this. She discusses the audience experience of sound installations, and relates to her own experience of the works shown here, with a particular regard to the work shown by Giancarlo Toniutti, perhaps the most successful of the installations shown during the conference. In experiencing this work, she found herself lying down, in order to filter out the visual from the auditory, in what was a difficult space in which to present work. It seems important to her that sound installations are not exhibited as objects to sit down in front of and to watch. Toniutti joins the discussion with his conception of a ‘sound-site’, an immersive space to enter, intentionally distanced from a dialectical occularity. For him, the ideal environment in which to place work is ‘open and public’ and he is critical of the other installations which repeated unreconstructed visual codes of theatre/film.
The acousmatic composers enter the discussion with Harrison relating the question to the process of composition, where he assumes the role of the audience. He relates his listening during composition, his listening during performance; in public diffusion of his works, he is situated within the audience, embedded within their auditory field. For Stollery, composition is only complete when performed in public.
Keith Rowe, from the perspective of an improvising musician stresses the emotional nature of the relationship. He senses the psychology of the audience, and notes that this is crucial to what an improviser is able to due in a given situation. For Rowe, all performance is site-specific, as every moment is unique.
“In the room is everything”.
Kubisch responds to this with a comment about the visual aspects of site and evokes notions of sensitivity to place and of atmosphere.
It is interesting to hear Rowe articulate his concerns, as the performance he was part of yesterday, I found to be emotionless, self indulgent, tedious and one dimensional. For all his hyperbole about sensitivity to space, context and audience psychology, in no way were any of these in evidence in his so-called performance. He was so involved in his particular processes, in this case running a battery powered fan, that he seemed generally oblivious to not only the audience, and the space, but also to the intention of his improvising collaborators. He is not solely responsible for this, Mehta too, appeared so involved in what he finds an exciting deconstruction of his instrument, that his elephantine trumpeting into the corners of the room, left the world class musician de Saram floundering. I am sure Rowe has a justification in his interest in battery powered fans, there is without doubt some novelty value in playing a guitar with one, but if this fascination with object takes precedence over the necessary dynamics of tone, gesture and interpersonal action and reaction, then where are his strategies leading us?
Second question from the audience – “I feel titles are important in placing the audience in the work, but they also limit possible readings. What does the panel think about this?”
Kubisch: “I think it would be great not to have titles. It’s just pragmatics”.
Rowe: “ Performances don’t have titles, CDs do. For example “Hqrsch” a CD release came from a live recording. I listened to the recording 40-50 times until the title appeared”.
Relation to the experiential ‘what is in front of you’ of work
Kubisch – installation. The space can be the subject, to some extent, of the work.
Peformance as ritual. Applause at the end, reassuring. You know what to expect. Installation cannot be anticipated, and her work is open to may different interactions. For example with her water underground work and old lady, quite normal, would come everyday, lay down and listen to a particular sound.
What is the duration of performance? It begins and ends with a long continuum which can extend for months before and after the actual show.
Rowe, Zen archery example. You must know a process so intimately that you cannot make a mistake. There is no such thing as chance.
Tonuitti – disagress, there is always the accidental. In his installation the low frequencies were vibrating the room – unitended, but interesting.
Final question from audience: ”What do you take away from the conference?”
“receiving new ideas”.
Kubisch: ”Time out to connect parts of my brain. I got some ideas for some new work”.
Rowe:” I’m not going to know for a long time. There’s something there though. I’m in two minds about such places as this, either to tear them all down, or that these should be the most revered places in society”
Stollery: ”Pride at being able to attract such high calibre musicians and sound artists to our little town”.
Harrison: ”Meeting people from different areas the same field. Some are on the high ground, some are on the other ground”.
Thompson: ”I would like to express my personal gratitude to everyone”.
A gift of a boxed tuning fork is presented to each of the panel members.
Stollery, “What you will not see are performers”.
“The diffusers are in the centre of the room”.
“The speaker system consists of stereo pairs, and will diffuse sound from all around the room, and also give the appearance of sound coming from outside the room”.
Pete Stollery | ‘scenes /rendez-vous’
The first piece presented ‘scenes /rendez-vous’ by Stollery is introduced by a film by Claude le Louche. The film was an attempt by the filmmaker to travel a certain route through Paris in a speeding Mercedes with a short period of time. As Stollery’s father was dying, father and son repeatedly watched the film. Following the death of his father Stollery visited Paris and made recordings along the route taken by LeLouche; these recordings formed the basis of the composition. It seemed anomalous, in an acousmatic presentation, to connect the work with the visual domain.
Sketches made during performance.
Washhhhhhhm of white noise sound.
Beep (car horn)
Traffic sounds moving left to right and right
Car horn modified into thematic material.
Car horn filtered from all other noise acting as anchoring drone.
Very low bass hum.
Digital scrapes – like bottles being tapped by coins.
A coin spinning on a table – eternal. This is a heavily treated section.
Raw street sound. Mopeds, other vehicles. Slight treatment enhancing spativality.
Little granular chimes – unidentifiable source.
Play on the stereo field.
Something being shaken or pushed.
Passing traffic spatialised.
Squeak of child or cat.
Treated background washed out texture.
Water being poured onto some different surface.
James Wyness | “Metallurgy”
He is working from a score. His piece is much more spatial, the sounds seem much more separated. He is mixing manually on an old analog mixing desk, riding the faders of the multiple stereo pairs.
For this work, the Scottish artist gained entry to a small metal working factory. During his time there he made a series of recordings of working men and machines. In addition to this he obtained off cuts of metal which he then used to create instruments, also heard in the piece.
An immersion in sculpted sound.
A fading in and out of raw source material and abstracted inner processes.
A poetic work operating on a number of levels:
An exploration of this particular room.
An exploration of a specific local context and work environment.
An investigation into the sonic properties of the material used in that workplace (various metals) – he created instruments constructed from waste obtained from the metal factory.
A investigation into the electro-acoustic techniques of transformation.
Further to this, an unexpected spontaneity of performance.
An audience member utters a small moan of appreciation.
I am unable to describe my experience of sound in this context. The material is too rich, too dynamic, too changing, too spatial and shifting to be represented by writing.
A small bat type sound flicks from the left to the right of the room, pricking my awareness, forming connections between underdeveloped synapses.
There is consummate control of sound in a positive sense.
Nothing over the past few days comes close to the sheer poetics of these pieces. What might airlines, bus companies, architects learn from these artists?
Each composer has announced themselves acoustically and succinctly proving just enough to provide an intriguing entry point into the work.
Chimes, gongs, rain.
Wind or a travelling train.
Again the physical impression of natural sound.
Modified water – which becomes more so, like a scribbling pen on paper.
Ke – binng.
CHoin – choing – choing
Bloop – bloop woopa wooopa
Wopple – whoople bloip bloip blop blop
Woip-woip woip woip-woip bubble-bubble
Dzzz Dzzz zeeerr
Creak-creak Creak-creak Creak-creak Creak-creak
Dup-dup Dup-dup Dup-dup Dup-dup
Scribble scrubble scribble
D-zee- de-ze, d’ze
Something is now squeaking rhythmically, a mechanism turning. Not loud.
Café sounds. Birdsong. A canary?
Pans being gonged.
Indistinct conversation – male and female.
A click. (Billiard balls?)
Passing traffic, very spatialised.
An aeroplane passes overhead.
An opera singer from a radio in some kind of distance.
Sudden extreme processing. Washes of sounds – source unidentified.
Car horn type sound, very abstracted becomes a choral chant.
It is now fading a w a y.
Whistling. Broken snatches of conversation.
Claking footsteps. A crowd of people. A touch of flute. A touch of fiddle music.
Jonty Harrison | Unsound Objects
I am watching his fingers flicker over the faders of the mixing desk. It is so beautiful. Detailed. Defined. Dangerous.
Running water. So much ‘waterness’.
He rides the array of stereo pairs as a thunderclap enters. What beautiful power. Powerful beauty.
To see Jonty, clearly enjoying himself in the throes of live acousmatic performance is to understand his problems with academia. This music is intuitive. He is using no score, and he anticipates each sound object, moving them around the room. He is placed in the middle of the audience, the position of best audition. An interaction between composer-player-space-technology-representation.
He twists his head around to map the audio levels front and rear.
Ocean waves. Walking on shingle. Children’s voices. A fade to a bell-like electric tone.
To near silence.
He grins, nods his appreciation.
Harrison is here to provoke the audience. He is one of the UK’s, if not the world’s, leading acousmatic composers. He describes a situation where a relatively young art form, acousmatic music, is treated with open hostility by those within traditional musical discourse. Here he is explicitly referring to ‘classical’ music practitioners, but I would propose that this hostility, or lack of comprehension, could be extended to almost any realm of traditional sound-making.
While acousmatic music enjoys a relatively high degree of support in its historical Francophonic centres of France and Canada (more specifically Paris and Montreal), within the UK, and much of the rest of the world, acousmatic music remains a culturally isolated activity. Harrison is here to offer us some insight and analysis of this situation.
He beginsby defining his terms. Acousmatic music is designed specifically for loudspeakers; he goes on to pick out a number of defining characteristics:
1)Acousmatic can refer to a situation, or to an intent, it is not a description of a style, and should be seen as a means and not as an end. He compares the term to ‘piano music’ which is sufficiently open to cover musics ranging from traditional jazz, classical works, film scores, experimental work and so on; he relates ‘acousmatic’, as a term, to also allow a great range of interpretations and deployments.
2)It allows the use of any sound as a valid compositional element.
3)Visual aspects are detrimental to acousmatic performance. The focus is upon sound and its transformations and movement in space.
Acousmatic composers trace their filiation to Pierre Schaefer’s influential invention ‘musique concrete’, which began from an empirical approach to sound. From this empiricism (e.g. the classification of sounds according to its amplitude envelope (attack, decay, sustain, release) and frequency envelope) structural compositional implications are derived, with a resulting effect upon working methods; which Harrison describes as ‘hands on’ and ‘organic’.
He compares this traditional with the Cologne School of ‘elektronische Musik’ which operated along much more formalist methods, as typified by serialism.
e.g of Tony Conrad et al boycotting Stockhausen concerts – cultural elitism of Lamonte Young for all his posturing.
Harrison notes that the tension between the differing approaches of the two schools continues to destabilise practice.
L’objet sonore – ‘recording was the most important dynamic of twentieth century music, much more than the abandonment of tonality.
— McLuhan – sense ratios.
Reduced listening – the detaching of the sound object from the sounding object
‘sound as sound’
Schaefer’s early work Etude aux Chemins de Fer (1948), now seen more as an experiment rather than a finished work, was criticised for too close a relation between the two objects, but Harrison notes that this oscillation between ‘real sounds’ and those more abstracted, is one of the most effective techniques available to acousmatic composers.
—- how is visual representation considered? A painting, photograph or a film surely is not presented as reality, but a construct. What does this allow us to say about acousmatics, field recording and phonography?
Harrison ends this section of his talk with a description of the introduction of digital technology as a ‘quantum leap’ forward.
playback > > “Unsound Objects” J.Harrison (1995, 13mins, excerpt)
Footsteps on bracken.
Footsteps on shingle.
Footsteps on snow.
Sudden short cracking sound reveals itself as fire.
Realism gives way to abstract interplay and textural changes.
Fire bounces spatially.
Which then becomes a ping pong ball which fades away.
The sound of keys leads to the unlocking of a door.
Recapitulation–? of rain and thunder
Footsteps motif is linked to a similar sound, a car on shingle.
We then arrive on a beach.
There is a real fluidity in the way the location can be treated in acousmatics.
Acousmatics proceeds from the concrete into the abstract, and from practice to theory.
Harrison then asks the question whether acousmatic music is actually music. Using the often cited quote that music is sound organised in time, and sound art is sound organised in space. Is it then music? Harrison argues that an acousmatic work can be listened to on a CD much less problematically than a sound art piece.
– less associated with the specific site of reception.
– often uses multiple sites as sound sources.
– is concerned with the sonic properties of sound objects, less of a conceptual emphasis. The conceptual concerns of many sound artists, while important in creating significant artworks, can create some pretty unlistenable results, once they have be removed from their original context.
– acousmatic work is explicitly created for loudspeaker listening. Sound art audio output can often be the result of
and their interest is not in the empirical qualities of sounds per se but in sound’s ability to articulate
He reports a dialogue he had with Bill Fontana, who is more concerned with letting ‘sound be’, without any of the transformative techniques used by Harrison and other acousmatic composers. Harrison, self-depreciatingly describes his methods as ‘tinkering around’ but, more seriously, considers his transformative approach as an investigation into what ‘sounds may yet become’.
“Acousmatic music is sound art, but sound art is not music”.
In his final comments, Harrison describes his vision of the future of acousmatics, he sees this future an inevitably involving collaboration, diversification and hybridisation, in a effort to move acousmatics from its precarious position in the arts.
While his address has had much to say, he seems to be firmly entrenched within a modernist and institutionalised culture of academic music. Although acousmatics can be seen to question the conventions of serious music, chiefly through its rejection of the score, and in its reconfiguration of performance norms, within the UK at least, one can say that acousmatic music is firmly tied to academic institutions. Examples of this are Harrison’s own BEAST diffusion system, and the work carried out at the University of York and the University of East Anglia since the early 1970s. Harrison claims that acousmatics has this academic association for historical reasons, and that there is absolutely nothing intrinsic to the form that definitively ties it to academia.
Kubisch (from the floor),”I have always seen acousmatic music as academic. There is no difference between a composer of instrumental music, and one of acousmatic music. It’s very male dominated, is not fun, and is clearly academic”.
Harrison responds by emphasising the organic nature of his working process. He is not engaged in research, he ‘makes things’. His approach is not theoretical, but is based in practice. Again he reiterates the historical justification for its placement within universities, but then acknowledges that performance venues and the technical difficulties associated with monitoring and mixing acousmatic work, has limited much performance to relatively well-resourced institutions.
Acousmatic music involves the audience in very ‘artificial listening’, and as such requires a process of familiarisation with the techniques, processes and goals of composers. Given the fact that it remains a largely under funded discipline, particularly in the United Kingdom, this process of familiarisation, has historically been centred upon those institutions associated with the development of acousmatic technique, discourse and practice. Penetration into broader society would require a degree of promotion and dissemination impossible under the financial constraints suffered by historical practice. Harrison responds to Kubisch’s comments with the observation that the acousmatic listeners are highly dispersed in a geographical sense, and a survey of such an audience remains to be undertaken. He concludes by speculating on the future of acousmatic music in the information age where listening habits of music lovers in the widest sense are changing, perhaps towards a situation more sympathetic to acousmatic listening.
“We’re having this conversation again, about you not being academic”. (Male voice from the floor)
Both of these projects, in their own ways, offer a different perspective on contemporary sound art practice. They operate less along the lines of the modernist artist, or of creative collaboration with agents of capital, but are centred upon the educational and community benefits to be gained from a creative engagement with sound.
In one example of the SonicPostcards project, the Sonic Arts Network team went into Downham special School. Activities included drawing sound maps, drawing environmental sounds and students being encouraged to keep a sound diary. The project is explicitly driven by debate and discussion, with technology being deliberately kept in the background as a facilitating, but potentially distracting, conduit for the exchange of ideas between the visiting artists and the students.
Adam Proctor presenting directly after the SAN has been working on a sound project in the nearby town of Inverie. The aim of the piece was to explore the identity of young people within their environment, and for them to experience everyday sounds from a different perspective.
Proctor articulates a desire to move these types of activity into mainstream education, as he has proposes that creative sound projects can help ‘marginalised’ groups and individuals reengage with learning on a wider level.
—- get more specifics.
— discussion – funding sources for sound art
— proof for his claims? Is he arguing this to secure finance for his organisation?
Adorno, The form of the Phonographic Record.
Time-binding – changing sounding flow into object.
‘The Intractable Recording’
playback > > Thomas Edison “Mary had a Little Lamb” (19xx)
‘The Veridical’ – ‘an empirical document outside of reality, with an aura of truth’. We read this to be true though this may not be the case.
playback > > Chris Watson “Ol-Olool-Ol” (2003)
‘Voice and Verity’ – transparency and opaqueness.
playback > > John Cousins “Sleep Exposure” (1979)
The Edison track erroneously plays.
‘Authenticity and the Real’ – ethnographic truths. It is not possible to record folk songs on paper”
playback > > Berio “Naturale” (1985)
‘The Analytical Recording’ – records are photographs of their owners.
‘The Spectral Recording’
‘Spectres & Affect’
‘Coda’ – ‘sonaisance’
Lecture Theatre, MacRoberts Building, Uni.of Aberdeen.
“There’s feedback going on throughout the system…”.
“…both internal and external…”
“…Sound is the interface…”
“…a heretical use of technology. Less problem solving and more problem raising.”
“…it cannot be controlled, and can only be interacted with”.
“the relation of technology to sound artists is interesting from an anthropological perspective”.
“…using technology for critical discourse on a technological world”.
“How do artists engage with technology on a day to day basis?”
“Compare this to acoustic instruments. The search for extended techniques is emblematic of the creative spirit. The desire to subvert design”.