Bach + Kannenberg: Discussion excerpt 1

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


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