Archive for May, 2012

Bach + Mantione: Extramusical 2

Posted in Duos, Themes with tags , , on May 25, 2012 by glenncbach

24 May 2012

Hi Glenn,

A few responses below:


I’ve been thinking about our talk, especially your reflections on extramusical ideas. I don’t know if its possible, at least for me, to avoid having extramusical connections or threads. When I say sound for sound’s sake, that’s a listening thing, and, like you said, a given. When I make music, either live or in the studio, it may not necessarily be about something, but it’s always with something.

Let me clarify what I meant about the extramusical and why I find the issue of such relevance.  I’m going to quote Seth Kim-Cohen from his book because he puts it very succinctly:

Music has always functioned according to Greenbergian precepts.  As a practice, music is positively obsessed with its media specificity.  Only music includes, as part of its discursive vocabulary, a term for the foreign matter threatening always to infect it: ‘extramusical.’ Even at the height of modernism, painters did not have a name for extrapainterly elements; filmmakers do not worry about the extracinematic. But in music as an academic, artistic, and performance discipline, there is a perceived need to identify–often to eliminate–aspects of production, reception, or discussion that are not specifically manifest in material form. (In the Blink of an Ear: Toward a Non-cochlear Sonic Art, pp.39-40)

You’ve said you doubt the possibility of being able to avoid having extramusical connections or threads. I don’t think it is possible.  My point is that this idea of avoidance is a modernist perspective that was played out in the visual arts long ago, and yet it still seems to persist in music.  It should really be a non-issue.

I had a conversation with a young composer last weekend (by young I mean 30 something) who was adamant that music should be purely about the beauty of sound…that that’s all that is required or necessary.  My question is: is that all that’s possible and if other avenues exist why not explore them as well? Must there be this insulated environment?  Does the inclusion of ‘extramusical’ ideas make the beauty of sound less beautiful?

I find it interesting that music, one of the few social art forms, has so often chosen to ignore social issues. New music composers have no problem addressing and/or changing the listener’s sensory perceptions or their sense of time…but is that all there is?

I ask the question: Do we have any responsibility as artists beyond appealing to the senses (the listener’s and more importantly, our own)?  It’s funny that music as entertainment (Pop music for instance) is looked down on by many experimental composers as commodified drivel (which in many cases might be true), but many Pop artists have created and encouraged real social change for the better through their music.  The same cannot be said for new music composers, at least not to the same degree.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to enforce my judgment on any other artist.  Nor would I want to lock myself into one way of approaching music.  I’m simply looking inward and trying to reconcile an internal conflict that has both fueled and haunted my work for several years.


Whenever I’m in a live moment, I always try to remind myself to toggle back to the point of view of the audience, hearing it as they hear it. In a sense I take on the responsibility of the overall soundscape, whether or not it’s mine to take, and I invest in its care and quality of life. So, there’s that goal of contributing a worthy addition to the preexisting collection of soundscapes in the world.

But when you “toggle back to the point of view of the audience” aren’t you really still hearing from your own perspective?  How can it be any other way?  How can you group an audience together and conceive of some consensual experience they are having?  And even if you could, how would you determine the difference between that and your own?


So, part of it for me is spelunking deep and wide into the performance to see if there is an opportunity to showcase and celebrate those intense moments of group-mind and audience connection. Is that visionary? Ecstatic? If there is such a thing as a humble and quiet ecstasy, then, yes.

I have experienced this quiet ecstasy…I know what you mean.  It’s magical and addictive, as much as it is rare. Looking forward to achieving some of these moments together, as soon as we find our third collaborator.


Bach + Mantione: Extramusical Ideas

Posted in Duos, Themes with tags , , on May 23, 2012 by glenncbach

e-mail to Phil, 22 May 2012

I’ve been thinking about our talk, especially your reflections on extramusical ideas. I don’t know if its possible, at least for me, to avoid having extramusical connections or threads. When I say sound for sound’s sake, that’s a listening thing, and, like you said, a given. Music is different. When I make music, either live or in the studio, it may not necessarily be about something, but it’s always with something.

In any case, it’s never a purely musical expression. Often it’s about space, perception, context and re-context, real and artificial. There is the idea of linear continuity we discussed earlier.

Whenever I’m in a live moment, I always try to remind myself to toggle back to the point of view of the audience, hearing the music as they hear it. In a sense I take on the responsibility of the overall soundscape, whether or not it’s mine to take, and I invest in its care and quality of life. So, there’s that goal of contributing a worthy addition to the preexisting collection of soundscapes in the world.

And, I think there will always be a small element of disbelief that I’m actually engaged in the process of making music or improvising with other musicians. Not that I think that I’m getting away with anything, but that I have an outlet for my particular method of selecting and presenting sounds and that my sensibility and vision have coincided so well with a community of like-minded musicians. So, part of it for me is spelunking deep and wide into the performance to showcase and celebrate those few intense moments of group-mind and audience connection. Is that visionary? Ecstatic? If there is such a thing as a humble and quiet ecstasy, then, yes.


Bach + Mantione: Discussion Excerpt

Posted in Duos, Themes, Transcripts with tags , , , , , , on May 19, 2012 by glenncbach

Mantione @ Atwater

Excerpt from discussion that took place at Atwater Crossing, Los Angeles, 5 May 2012

Bach: So, you could say, if you’re talking about broad categories, that the electroacoustic thread is stronger for you right now than the musical. Electroacoustic, acousmatic, sound-based…

Mantione: The thread, I would say, at the moment…

Bach: Not to the exclusion…

Mantione: No, I would never exclude anything. The thing about acoustic music is it takes more than myself, obviously. That’s a good thing, or it could be a very bad thing [laughs]. Depending on who the other people are. But, those other people are needed for that whole process to complete itself. That’s not always easy. In fact, it’s mostly not easy, depending on your circumstances. And there’s the immediate feedback of computer music…you can imagine what the notes sound like, and play them, and hear them, and maybe with MIDI even play back some of it…you can have some kind of fairly certain auralization of what you want, but it never, ever is like that, ever…

Bach: No.

Mantione: As opposed to computer music, which is.

Bach: What you hear is what you get.

Mantione: It’s it. Certainly you are at the mercy of the speakers or your headphones, but, other than that, it is what it is.

Bach: It’s tape music. Get up, press ‘play,’ sit back.

Mantione: That’s right.

Bach: And now we can take computer music, electroacoustic music, and mess with the parameters while it’s being auditioned, performed.

Mantione: Did you see this thing, lately, a call for live coding? People actually go on stage and type in code in real time as the thing is generated.

Bach: We did a little bit of that in Milwaukee with the Milwaukee Laptop Orchestra. I didn’t, I’m not a programmer or coder. But some of the guys are heavily into Pure Data. So they were writing patches in the moment and rearranging stuff. They’d given a bunch of patches to the group, so the group had a series of basic patches that formed the basis of the network, using the connectivity to run PD and have everyone’s output shared. But I believe there were some who were writing the patches in real time.

Mantione: That to me is not as impressive as the coding. Because I can’t code either. I would be amazed if someone just typed in lines of code. You can slap together a Max patch. Writing a Max patch really isn’t that difficult. But, coding. I can’t even type. I’m a two-finger typer.

Bach: I appreciate all of that, but that’s not how I think.

Mantione: There’s a disconnect between the gesture and the result. But isn’t that a mental gesture? Isn’t it like, “I want this to happen.” There’s the gesture, it’s kind of an invisible gesture, and this is just your finger moving here.

Bach: Right.

Mantione: So, isn’t it still there?

Bach: Yeah. It’s extended.

Mantione: It’s extended.

Bach: It’s extended and less immediate.

Mantione: Right.

Bach: It’s not quite the Rube Goldberg contraption of trying to set up this elaborate structure to make a very simple thing happen. In a way it gets back to…if you’re going to be old school about it, pure, you’re controlling every aspect of it. I’m guilty of not wanting to know what’s under the hood. I like to have some presets and some buttons, where I slide this slider and it does this, and I’m not as interested in the code that says when you turn a pot it activates this circuit to add extra gain or resistance…an oscillator is then fed through these filters…it interests me abstractly, of course, metaphorically and just for the idea of it, but as a model for composing or performing, not so much. I’m not opposed to it. If someone else was working in that, I would be open to collaborating. Maybe Max would be different. I don’t know how different Max is from PD. I know that there are improvisers who set up Max patches that they use for live stuff, and for them it’s pretty intuitive. So, I’m not opposed to it.

Mantione: Well, you know there’s a whole other issue, performing live vs. not. That’s a whole other issue. I’ve been teaching this class, your class, Listening and Analysis, and we’ve been talking about, “okay, here’s this electronic tune or pop tune or whatever. Now, we’re hearing the recording, but if we went to hear this live would it be the same?” Most people agree that, no, it wouldn’t be the same. And I say, “would it be a different piece?” I don’t know what they think, but I think they’re two separate pieces.

Bach: Any time it’s broadcast it’s different.

Mantione: That’s true.

Bach: We’re in a different room. Okay, this R&B singer [from music playing in the background], we’re hearing it out of [turns around to point at the speakers at the end of the lounge] the P.A. at a reduced volume, it’s a completely different piece if we were to hear this at a club or a party or on a ‘hi-fi.’

Mantione: Right. I remember one of the first concerts I’d ever gone to was Chicago, “25 or 6 to 4,” one of my favorite guitar solos, ever, and I went to that concert expecting to hear that perfect guitar solo the same way I heard it a million times, and when it didn’t happen it was disappointing, and kind of an awakening to me, that, okay, live music is different from recordings [laughs]. Now the bifurcation has happened. And so, with that in mind, the reason I bring it up, is that each one takes a different kind of technique that is very different, and you cannot expect that if I can make music that I really love in non-real time, that I can do the same thing in real time. I cannot do it. I cannot do it as well, I’ll tell you that right now. Because I haven’t done it as much.

Bach: Right.

Mantione: Some people take that into account and they say, “well, it’s live,” and in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “okay, it’s live.” Is that a value-added thing? Or should it be meaningless as far as whether it’s good, the sonic result? And I think it should be meaningless, at least as far as what I do. It’s either good or it isn’t, you know? If it’s live, then you fucked up live [laughs].

Bach: Right.

Mantione: That’s not an excuse, in other words. You know what I mean?

Bach: Yes. And I think by keeping those separate…and I try to get away from categorization, this is this and this is that, but sometimes it’s good to have…

Mantione: Two worlds.

Bach: Okay, here is the stuff that I can do in the studio, in the box, with this elaborate, intimate, excruciatingly detailed control over pitch, timbre, time, EQ, stereo image, that you can really only do as a composer, as someone who is setting out to do this very definitive thing. Then, live, what happens when you have to wait for something to render? Do you keep it silent? Do you play something else in the meantime? So, we’re talking about the gesture, the extended gesture, and the gesture in the box is a different mechanism than the live. With the live there is the performative aspect to it, there’s a tendency to want to keep the machinery running, you don’t want to screw it up. “Oops, I need to make this right, I need to keep the sound going, I need to have this narrative chugging along.” And in the studio there’s no one watching. So you can take as much time as you want, hit ‘save,’ go read a book, do something else, come back a few days later, and pick up exactly where you left off.

Mantione: Do you prefer one or the other at this point in your life?

Bach: I’m more… [trails off]

Mantione: Let me ask you this. Which would you say you’re better at doing?

Bach: I don’t know if I can answer that.

Mantione: You can’t answer that.

Bach: I started doing both, performing as a DJ with vinyl records, cassette tapes, CDs, doing these sound collages of other people’s work, samples and montage, then simultaneously working with digital audio for the first time and making these, I didn’t know what it was called at the time, but electroacoustic, acousmatic music. But the two never met. I would either perform improvised sound collages or I would compose my own stuff. And then I started to actually perform my own work. Sort of slip it in. At some point that took over. So, they originated from different sources, from different wells, and I think at one time there was a criss-cross, but I think that they still are originating and being fed from different sources. There’s overlap. But, when I’m performing I’m still thinking about this DJ thing. The selector. Mixing two things, overlapping them, transitioning, having this sort of linear…

Mantione: Continuity.

Bach: Yes, continuity. And in the studio it tends to be a little more vertical. I mean there’s still obviously a linear aspect to it—sound exists in time—and I will compose things in the box, these units, or structures, little snippets or samples to then be performed as modules that I can then…so there’s a definite relationship, but I can’t say if I prefer one or the other, or if I’m better at one or the other.  I don’t know if they’re two sides of the same coin. I don’t know if they are bifurcated. I don’t know.

Mantione: I think they’re two different skills. That’s funny, I still play guitar. But I don’t play what I write. I play jazz and blues because that’s what I was brought up with. And I still love using the instrument to do that. And to improvise. I would suck if someone stuck notes in front of me and asked me to…or even recording the guitar, I would suck. But, playing live, jamming with other instruments, that’s where I’m great with the guitar. Not with the computer. Why? Because that’s what I practice. And that’s what I’ve done over a gazillion hours.

Bach: Right.

Mantione: And I think this is where I have a big problem with so much of what I hear in an improvisational setting, with electronics especially, is that people think that if they can make weird sounds, that they can improvise.

Bach: Yeah, that that’s enough.

Mantione: That that’s enough. It’s not. And I don’t care if it’s a stomp box. If you haven’t spent many, many hours at figuring out all the nuances of that stomp box, what happens in all these situations, you don’t know that instrument. Don’t pretend that you do because you don’t. It’s obvious. And I think that’s what I hear a lot.

Bach: That’s interesting you say that. I tend to share that opinion in some regards, but looking at it from my perspective as someone who’s trying to make sounds in interesting ways, whether I’m…I don’t know if I’m illustrating an idea or just hearing these sounds in context and then immediately trying to figure out how to place them. Rather than, “I’m going to play this note as an execution of this thought, or this mental image I had, or this idea that I want to put this sound here.” So, in a way I’m reacting to a lot of the sounds that come out. I want to keep open, for me, the idea that I can take an instrument, an acoustic instrument, and use it to generate sounds that I may not be in control of, to then, in the live moment, have some kind of reaction to that and make it work somehow. That’s the challenge. I can play some very basic notes and chords on the guitar, but I would by no means call myself a guitarist. I would never pick up a guitar in an improv setting and say “I’m going to play the guitar and do this.” I could set up the guitar and put some mics on it and pluck a string and see if that can fit into the context of something else. Most often, though, I’ll just use the instrument beforehand in the studio to create some textures that I’ll then play later. So I’m playing recordings of myself manipulating the instrument.

Mantione: Well, I don’t know about you, but when you write in the box, as you’re saying…when I do that, it’s not code. I use Max, but I write patches in Max that I can perform on. Whether it’s a live situation, or whether I’m writing a fixed media piece, it’s still performing. In essence, I create a hundred improvisations on a Max patch and pick out the jewels. Which you can’t do live. But, what’s interesting is it’s still improvisation. I mean, I don’t pre-configure things and say, “Okay, hit the button and let it play.” I’m moving things around and adjusting parameters. Or, if I do hit the button I have some ideas in mind that the parameters have been changed, they will shift, they will randomly move…

Bach: Or, knowing later, you can then manipulate the recording of that…

Mantione: Yes. And also, a lot of this randomness, the randomization is one of the greatest sources of discovery.

Bach: Right.

Mantione: How could you possibly discover something you already know? [laughs]

Glenn Bach and Jeffrey Roden and Steve Roden

Posted in Trios with tags , , , , , , , on May 16, 2012 by glenncbach

Steve Roden and Jeffrey Roden at Quiet.

The next installment of Atlas Sets will be with Jeffrey Roden and Steve Roden. Our discussion is set for Tuesday, May 29, in Pasadena.

I met Jeffrey and Steve at “Day of Attention,” a lowercase-themed concert organized by Josh Russell in 2003. I later had both of them on my radio show, Repeat After Me, on KUCI 88.9 FM Irvine, and then again at my house concert series, Quiet.  Steve would later serve on the graduate committee for my MFA in Drawing & Painting at CSULB in 2004. Other than the improv set for Quiet, this will be our first official collaboration as a trio.

I look forward to a lively discussion.

Bach + Kannenberg: Discussion excerpt 1

Posted in Duos, Themes, Transcripts with tags , , , , , , on May 9, 2012 by glenncbach

Bach: Okay, back to the “pure” experience of sound as just sound. It reminds me of zazen when you are “just sitting” for the sake of sitting. There is no goal other than the experience of sitting and being awake to the moment. Is that how you are thinking about those moments of sound as “just sound”?

Kannenberg: Exactly. It’s not judging the sonic experience, or categorizing every sound as music as Cage would have wanted us to. It’s accepting that sound exists, it is a physical and psychological experience, and as such it can just be. It doesn’t need to be part of any organizational frameworks, and by labeling it as “music” or “not music” we add distance between ourselves as listeners and the experience.

Bach: So, we have a sound. In this case it happens to be a recording of you attempting to draw a circle, for instance, with a pencil attached to fishing line. The activity of the system of drawing yields sonic traces that can be experienced and enjoyed simply as interesting sound. And by “interesting” I mean worthy of taking notice. But, yet you felt a need to add elements of musicality, or at least contextualize the sounds into a more musical framework to justify their inclusion in the system?

Kannenberg: Not exactly. I felt the need to make some musical references in the One Hundred Hours of Infinity exhibition. I called the three sets of drawings that are included the Prelude, the Sequence, and the Coda in an attempt to reinforce the idea of sound (via musical terms) in the minds of the people looking at the show.

Similarly, with An Hour of Infinity, the performance of live drawing at the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology that I just did recently, I added two musicians to the drawing performers who played musical instruments. This was more of a judgment call on what a general audience would be able to pay attention to. I added music because people are used to listening to music, they’re not used to listening to drawing. And it was through the music that I’d hoped it would help train the audience a bit to actually listen to everything happening around them, not just the instruments.

But in terms of justification of the sounds of drawing as part of the system I set up, I feel no need to justify it. I equate drawing and audio recording as two sides of the same coin — they are both records of actions. And therefore I conflate the two into becoming the same experience, the same thing, which might be a philosophical stretch, but it’s a leap of faith that I’ve taken off the deep end, so to speak.

Bach: Got it. So the musical shift was an attempt to find a context for your work to be experienced by an audience in a particular space. And so you wove musical structure into the very body of work itself. And did you get feedback from the audience to see if this worked?

Kannenberg: Well, yes and no. There were several different reactions that I was able to observe from my vantage point during the performance, some of which were positive and some of which were negative. Some people decided to park themselves directly in front of me while I was drawing and proceeded to have an incredibly loud conversation for about forty minutes.

Bach: Oh, yes. Some people get it, some don’t.

Kannenberg: In other areas, things stayed more quiet. And I heard from some audience members later that the music made them aware of the sounds of the drawing, so it at least succeeded with some people.

There’s a great moment on the video documentation where there’s a conversation going on in whispers. You can just barely make it out, but someone says “Ah, they’re drawing,” and the next voice says “Are they doing it to the music?” (and in this case, I think they’ve taken “music” to be the combination of the violin being played in the next gallery and the surround sound installation playing a loop of footsteps). And the response is muffled, but it was probably a disappointed “no.” And the voice that asked the question then says “Oh,” in the same tone of voice someone would use when they’ve found out they can’t return an expensive item to the store they bought it from because they waited too long and the receipt’s no longer valid. It’s the kind of tone of “That’s disappointing. So how do I still get what I want out of this?”

Bach: Well, that’s not totally unexpected. The activity of drawing, the sound it makes, the musicians performing scores derived from pieces in the museum’s collection, and the overarching structure and thematic subtleties of your project are very simple, in some ways, but also very nuanced and complex. Most folks, even those accustomed to seeing contemporary art, still don’t have a means of understanding the role of performance, let alone sound, in a gallery setting. I think you were bound to have some blank looks. Or upturned noses.

Kannenberg: Definitely, and it was that probability that made me most interested in doing the project in the first place. I had this very idealized notion of how the audience would behave, which was how I would behave if I were one of the audience members: I’d walk around very slowly, not speaking, and just listen to as much as I could from as many vantage points as I could. But that’s because I approach everything from that perspective. This was a way to test how two very different groups of people – one a contemporary art crowd, and the other a group of Classicists/archaeologists — would react to this absurd situation of people drawing circles with fishing line in a museum.

Bach:  Your work encapsulates all of it. It has to. For you, the sound is pure sound. For the musician, it’s a grainy drone with hints of percussion. For the gallery-goer familiar with sound, it’s an eye- and ear-opening experience. For the Egyptologists, it’s a bunch of rabble-rousers among treasured antiquities. For others, it’s a bunch of crazy people dressed in black playing with fishing line and making weird sounds. All of that is part of the work, and that’s fine. That’s what happens when we put stuff out in the world. We lose control of its reception, and the experience takes root in the mind and memory of the audience, and those they share it with, in ways we cannot control. Nor would we want to.

Kannenberg: That’s so perfect, and such a non-graduate school attitude to have! Grad school was all about justifying every decision and executing a plan to get the precise reaction we as the “artistes” want. I found so little aptitude amongst faculty for my attitude of wanting to construct a situation and let everyone have their own experience of it. That was apparently “too easy.” And it was that tension, of me wanting to relinquish control and faculty wanting it to be controlled, that led me to make what I did for my final series of projects

Bach + Mantione: Atwater Crossing

Posted in Duos with tags , , , on May 4, 2012 by glenncbach

Phil decided on Atwater Crossing for our meal and discussion. This place came up in my lunch discussion with Ted Byrnes, and it seems like a pretty hip complex. A different kind of community than what I’ve always had in mind for my own vision of an artist colony, but perhaps more realistic in terms of covering what must be tremendous overhead.

In any case, an intriguing site for what I’m sure will be an engaging discussion.