Archive for John Cage

Bach + Mantione: Idea

Posted in Duos, Structure, Themes with tags , , on February 19, 2013 by glenncbach

Mantione: Just had a thought about our collaboration.  I was impressed with your performance quite a bit and it occurred me that since you’re taking loud sounds and taking them way down in volume, it would be a nice contrast to record very soft sounds and exaggerate their volume.  To borrow yet another Cagean concept (from the directions for Atlas Eclipticalis) where he suggested that loud sounds be played short and soft sounds be played long, I would focus on short bursts of timbre based on recorded samples while you do your thing.  Sort of a blanket of sound periodically pierced and divided by points of focused aural saturation.  Of course we would need to secure a location and I still like the idea of capturing the sounds in the same space prior to the performance.

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Bach + Roden + Roden: Transcript Excerpt

Posted in Structure, Themes, Transcripts, Trios with tags , , , , , on June 17, 2012 by glenncbach

Glenn: Knowing that when we’ve played before, based on who we are, it’s been a very complimentary, respectful space. I know that whatever we do is going to be great. Personally I’m interested in making it as rich as possible, so, for me I would like to have some kind of structure to help guide things, whether it’s this color coding system or…

Steve: When I did the Cage pieces with Mark Trayle we had to draw straws and make all these things, and basically what you end up with is all these different amounts of time, and within each amount of time there are a number of events, and it’s not…some of it was pretty specific, but most of it was…if you have five minutes you need to do three things. What was cool about it was that you could break the rules and the other person wouldn’t know [laughs]. But it did make you a little more sensitive to…”I have three things I can do in a decent amount of time, where do I want to drop them?”

Jeffrey: This was the thing you did at the Norton Simon?

Steve: Yeah.

Jeffrey. Yeah, that was really good. It didn’t seem improvised at all.

Steve: Right. And the structure was just enough of a skeleton in a way, it forced me to do less. Which was important. And he [Trayle] also tended to be quite active, so the dynamic between the two of us was strong because of that.

Glenn: I’m not seeing the structure as something as intense as the stuff that you [Steve] do with your paintings and systems for the different pieces, where you have a very poetic and deeply considered apparatus that you use to gain entry into the work, and whether or not people are fully conscious of that apparatus…

Steve: It’s of no concern to me.

Glenn. No concern. It’s just your way of accessing the…

Steve: In a way, for me, those structures work in a way…what Jeffrey was talking about in terms of anticipation, and knowing when the note is supposed to drop. It’s helpful at times to know that you don’t know what’s coming up or what you’re going to do, but somehow working with some sort of skeleton or something, there’s a sense, for me, I can be even more in the listening…

Glenn: Yeah.

Steve: Because I’m not quite so worried about what’s going to happen.

Jeffrey: Well, there are rules, that’s the thing. So you go, “I know I’m not going to do this.”

Steve: Right.

Jeffrey: Like in my work I know that suddenly there’s not going to be this virtuosic explosion of activity. It’s just not going to happen. I mean, it could happen if I wanted it to, but it’s not going to. So, there are these limitations that aren’t limitations; they’re a sort of boundary.

Glenn: It’s a boundary of…

Steve: Even with the Cage pieces we had pretty specific timings and there were times when I was doing something and I thought, “I don’t want to cut it off right here. It feels like it wants to go on.” It’s just getting you to that space where you can say “Okay, I’m really listening to this and I want it to go on.” It’s not like I’m Mr. Virtuoso trying to wow people with my fast fingers. Yeah, having some kind of thing to bang up against is good.

Glenn: Knowing that you don’t have to worry about certain aspects of the performance, that you can then be in a position to listen. What I love about the Soundscape Ensemble [SCSE] is that since there are a number of people involved, the burden isn’t on me to keep the thing going, and because we’re all operating from different sources of amplification, there already is a limitation to overall group dynamics and levels. So, there are moments, and I absolutely love this about that group, there are moments when I can just sit for two or three minutes at a time, sometimes longer, and just not do anything [laughs] because there’s nothing for me to add. The sounds people are broadcasting are so interesting and peculiar and quirky, stuff that I never would have imagined using, that I don’t feel I have to add anything because it’s already complex. It’s already complete.

Steve: Right.

Glenn: Being in that moment where the group mind takes over, assuming the role of caretaker over the live improvised soundscape, nudging it along, keeping it alive and healthy. Those moments where all the other parameters have been taken care of. We’re not coming out of the same p.a., and so I don’t have to worry about everyone’s sound being washed out into one stereo channel. That’s already taken care of. It’s a very freeing position to be in. Sometimes in a performance I may only play two or three sounds. I have these recordings of the dawn chorus from these campsites, three or four in the morning, half an hour long. For the first half of the performance I could be playing just this section of birds and ambience, bring it down to the threshold of audibility, bring it back up just a little so that it just peeks through. And that’s all I do for ten minutes. I love that. I love having that freedom. So I would like to have a similar thing in switching voices, instruments, to ones I have less proficiency in. I’m proficient on the computer, I know what I’m doing, I know the limits of what I do, the dynamics. But on these stringed instruments I’m an amateur. I want to dive in to these instruments to see if I can find a similar type of freedom.

Another thing to think about: the catalog for this project will be a collection of all the accoutrements from the performances and discussions, so any kind of notes, sketches, photographs, scores, background images that could serve as raw material or inspiration, liner notes, gear lists, all that stuff is going to be included in the catalog. So, if there is a structure or a series of guidelines, we could have fun with that as well.

Jeffrey: Yeah. I’d be interested in looking at something that was directional rather than notational.

Steve: Right. That’s exactly…

Jeffrey: Not to get fancy.

Steve: That’s all I can read. All my scores are like that. Actions more than…

Jeffrey: That would be challenging and interesting. It would just be a thing to find that ensemble basis and then press on. If you [Glenn] are going to play these two things, then perhaps Steve and I could craft an orchestration around those things. And then from that you move forward into what you’re going to make. I think that would be logical. Piano, to me, would just seem too big and bulky. I don’t play it well enough, nor do I think it’s small enough…it’s a pretty freakin’ large thing.

Steve: [laughs]

Jeffrey: To play it as an instrument.

Glenn: To play it as an improvisational instrument?

Jeffrey: Any kind of instrument. If you want to do some kind of sound thing with it, which, frankly, I would have no interest in, then you can do a lot with it.

Glenn: Sure.

Jeffrey: But to just play it as an instrument using its note qualities, it’s pretty large. Large-sounding.

Glenn: Yeah. I also want this to be a chance for you two to explore some things you’ve always wanted to do or are interested in.

Jeffrey: It’s always very challenging when I have to play outside of any traditional musical environment, so that’s always challenging. One time we played with Damon and…

Steve: Oh, man, that was awesome.

Jeffrey: I played A flat for forty minutes. I just droned in A flat; it was perfect. There was nothing better I could have played on my bass. And when you do stuff like that, inevitably you do learn something.

Steve: Absolutely.

Jeffrey. I think the challenge is probably greater in a sense because sound instruments are more flexible. There are fewer restrictions on them. Musical instruments, if you want to play them as instruments, as opposed to making them a sound instrument, then they’re fairly limited.

Steve: They’re stubborn.

Jeffrey: Well, they were made for something. You could use a hammer for a screwdriver, but it’s better to just use a screwdriver. I think that’s why at some point the great virtuosic jazz players went to sound. That’s what Coltrane was doing when he died.

Glenn: Yes.

Jeffrey: He left and tried to find that bridge. That’s the bridge that hadn’t yet been discovered. It’s been discovered now, but not when he was alive. I think Feldman and Cage and all those people made a big discovery. But, even then, their big discoveries could not be replicated; they were unique to them.

Steve: Right.

Jeffrey: It’s new territory.

Glenn: And with Coltrane it was this ecstatic vision, too, that only he…

Jeffrey: He wanted to play all the sounds that were possible in his mind that couldn’t be limited to just the changes. And the people that followed him and tried to the do the same thing, you think, “Really? You’re just making squeaky sounds on your horn. And it’s making your horn squeak.”

Steve: Right.

Jeffrey: I think it might be helpful to compile an ensemble or direction, because it’s always easier to improvise off of a basis, rather than an open…

Steve: I think, too, it might be a situation where we find instruments that, for whatever reasons, are compatible.

Jeffrey: Yeah, that’s a better way of saying it.

Steve: So, having a group of things that we know how will work together, whatever that means.

Jeffrey: Sonically.

Steve: Yeah.

Glenn: And I’m open to working with other things. I don’t want to limit myself to just working with these two crazy instruments. I have a kalimba. I’m interested in manipulating objects that make sound as a quasi-percussionist. I’m interested in how things resonate in the space itself, and in the recording process as a voice in the collaboration.

Steve: Where is this going to take place?

Glenn: [shrugs]. Wherever we want to. Rent a space? Someone’s studio, a warehouse, a church? A venue? I’d like to set up some recorders and have that translation process as part of it. What happens when the sounds are generated in the room and the microphones then captures a copy of it? I want the specifics to come out of this conversation as well. I didn’t want to dictate that we would do it here or there, or use this mic or this approach. I wanted us to come up together with some possible solutions.

Jeffrey: Unfortunately the room with my piano is pretty tiny.

Steve: We can’t do it here [the restaurant]. [laughs].

Glenn: No.

Jeffrey: Well, we could. [cheesy saxophone solo plays]

Steve: Speaking of saxophone. [laughs]

Glenn: “Sax-a-ma-phone.”

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