A World of Sounds

Two recent articles about soundscapes that caught my attention:

John Cage Recital? Take the A Train (NYTimes, Aug 8, 2012, though published in the Sunday, Aug 12 Arts Section of the printed newspaper) – this is beautiful evocation of how Cage can teach us to appreciate our soundscapes, how magical the world around us is (if only we paid attention)

Janet Cardiff, George Bures Miller and the Power of Sound (NYTimes, July 26, 2012, but published in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine on July 29th) – these folks are amazing! Wish I could experience some of their work (see review of The Murder of Crows at the Park Ave. Armory in NYC)

(Added 8/27):

Listen to the Soundscape (NYTimes, July 28, 2012, pretty sure appeared in the print edition on Sunday, July 29th in the “Week in Review” section) – a good introduction to acoustic ecology

Creation, Preservation, Destruction, Quiescence

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We’ve (finally) uploaded the score, the program, Dave’s schematic for connecting the games to the soundboard, and two audio files (dress rehearsal and the premiere performance) to UO Libraries’ Scholars Bank:

http://hdl.handle.net/1794/12214

We were thinking there might be other items to present, but there aren’t and Dave may post about that in the future. I will note on my end that I can’t find the original score to the 3rd movement, so the score that I scanned was the enlarged (to 11×17) score that we used during performances (enlarged so we could see it better), hence the wrinkles and otherwise battered look of the pages in the pdf.

Now that these materials are preserved for posterity, the work of IJCno1 comes to a close for me (and by work, I mean the whole process including creation and performance). There may yet be trails of work related to IJCno1 – maybe Dave and I will publish something about it or maybe we will perform it again (who knows?) – but by and large it feels finished to me. This has led me to a strange feeling: IJCno1 has always been to me a performance piece, but now I can imagine recording it; not recording another live performance, but doing a studio recording without any players. Part of this is an impulse to create a high-quality, “definitive” version, but part of it is destructive. Here’s an excerpt from Cage’s lecture on “Indeterminacy” (published in his Silence: Lectures and Writings):

One evening Morton Feldman said that when he composed he was dead; this recalls to me the statement of my father, an inventor, who says he does his best work when he is sound asleep. The two suggest the “deep sleep” of Indian mental practice. The ego no longer blocks action. A fluency obtains which is characteristic of nature. The seasons make the round of spring, summer, fall, and winter, interpreted in Indian thought as creation, preservation, destruction, and quiescence. Deep sleep is comparable to quiescence. Each spring brings no matter what eventuality. The performer then will act in any way. Whether he does so in an organized way or in any one of the not consciously organized ways cannot be answered until his action is a reality.

Following Cage, I think I want to destroy IJCno1 in order to usher in a new Spring, to open up a space for eventuality. In the end, we may do a studio recording of IJCno1 or not, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the work of IJCno1 now includes this moment of preservation, the memorialization of the first performance, and in this memorial I can start to sense the possibility of a new work: a new work that may resemble what remains of the first work or may not, but either way it will resemble or not resemble on its own terms.

First glimpse at audio from the premiere

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Here are a few links to one of the recordings we made of the performance at the premiere. This is all very preliminary; mostly I wanted to get these up so that our performers wouldn’t have to wait an inordinate amount of time before gaining access to their work. In the near future we’ll have more recordings to share, along with documents and schematics that will hopefully make the whole thing somewhat more intelligible for people who were unable to attend. I expect we’ll also develop better and more thorough metadata standards than what you see here. I must confess, on that front what we have could be described as “ideals” and not so much as “a plan”.

In any event, the audio is available for listening / tagging / downloading via Soundcloud. I also tossed it onto YouTube for ease of sharing / embedding / etc. Oh look, there it is:

A kind of avalanche

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Imaginary John Cage no. 1 (for 12 Video Games) premiered today. I cannot speak for the audience, but I am so very happy with the performance. We are deeply indebted to our players for their energy and ingenuity, to University of Oregon Libraries for their kind sponsorship, and to the friends and colleagues who gave us their time to help with setup, recording, and breakdown.

We will share recordings very soon. For now, we rest.

We are not afraid of anything either

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Imaginary John Cage No. 1 has three movements:

  1. benediction
  2. her people speechless
  3. to see beauty even in

The first movement is spoken and begins “Welcome. Thank you all for coming.” After that, the speaker is welcome to do any number of things that might fall under the title of benedictions. Dave has agreed to do the first movement, which is nice because I wasn’t sure I felt like it (for future reference: the first movement is entirely optional).

However, here is a sketch of how I imagined this first benediction might go:

Welcome. Thank you all for coming. There are a few things that you all should know:

  1.  One hundred years has passed since John Cage was born; twenty years ago, John Cage died.
  2. Inspired by the work of John Cage (particularly his Imaginary Landscape, no. 4: for 12 radios), we came up with the idea of creating the composition you have come here to experience.
  3. Imaginary John Cage no. 1 (for 12 video games) is comprised of three movements.
  4. You are currently listening to the first movement, “benediction.”
  5. The next movement, soon to begin, is “her people speechless.”
  6. The third and final movement is “to see beauty even in.”
  7. I solemnly swear that not using capital letters was an accident, not an affectation.
  8. (However, the use of parentheses is fast becoming a crutch.)
  9. We are not afraid of anything either.

You are here, this is happening

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It all started to feel so real when the posters arrived.

Just over one week to the performance, and we’re starting to find all sorts of fun details that need tying up. It’s remarkable how much I have personally enjoyed seeing to those details. The pleasure I have taken from the work reveals a simple, somewhat startling truth: that I care deeply about this project.

This puts me, potentially, in a difficult position because the fact is that I have very little idea what will happen at the performance.

All manner of performances operate under the influence of boatloads of variables. Many are simply beyond control, and so are elided from consideration depending on the specifics of the production. Most others tend to be part of “The Plan”, or specifically “The Plan” involves controlling them to the greatest degree possible.

IJC no. 1 (for 12 Video Games) is designed to take some of those variables out of our control. Twelve video games / instruments are played, live, by twelve players / performers. Audio from each game is routed into a single audio mixer, and from there to the performance space’s speakers. The score is written for the mixer, and details the volume level of each channel at a given time. (The complexity of the score and the mixer has led us to assign two people to this task, roles that John and I will fill (though certainly someone mentally quicker and more physically dexterous than us might play the mixer solo).)

The only instructions to the performers are when to begin and when to end. What they do in their individual games, and so what audio is being sent to the mixer, is entirely up to them. The score only dictates which channel’s audio is passed to the speakers, and at what level, at a given time. Further, we allowed the performers to exercise broad discretion in their choice of game / instrument. Similarly, the score does not dictate channel assignment, so theoretically the same performers with the same instruments could produce two vastly different performances by simply altering the audio routing.

Keep in mind that in this conceptualization, there is no visual component. We will hear what the performers are doing according to the provisions of the score; but we will not see. Sight will be reserved for the performers alone, which is another way to say that it is withheld from everyone else.

So, yes, a lot of unknowns to go along with the unknowables. A lot of uncertainty, which a part of me finds deeply disturbing. Something akin to a fear reaction. It’s scary, I think, doing this and inviting people and going to no small amount of trouble with the planning, the composing, the hardware setup, etc. & etc., when the fact is that I can’t tell you what it will sound like because I do not know. And that’s a good thing, because it means I’m going somewhere I haven’t been before.

And at least I’m not addicted to brain crack.

“Run coward … I hunger”

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Even though I lived in Rochester for about a year, I didn’t realize that the Strong Museum had a video game archive – the International Center for the History of Electronic Games. ICHEG has a blog and late last year, Michelle Parnett wrote up her thoughts on the auditory experience of electronic games: Do You Hear What I Hear in This Video Game?

4’33’ for Mario Paint and the Work of Art

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From my perspective (and I very much do not want to speak for John on this; he may agree, he may disagree), one of the things I hope to take away from my work on Imaginary John Cage is a broadened consideration of Cage’s work in various contexts.

“Work” is a simple word that simultaneously reveals and hides complex meanings. It is a noun, representing physical and virtual objects (A work of art), conceptual objects (I did the work), and a tangle of location / place / space (I am at work). It is also a verb, describing labor toward some purpose (I work all day).

Varying contexts allow us to consider the ways in which we might simultaneously engage multiple meanings of “work”. For instance, installing screws and bolts in a prepared piano is work; but do we consider it to be part of the work titled Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano?

from http://facweb.cs.depaul.edu/sgrais/prepared_piano.htm

What about the chart that tells us how to prepare the piano? Is it part of the work?

from http://facweb.cs.depaul.edu/sgrais/prepared_piano.htm

Imaginary John Cage no. 1 for 12 Video Games will apply a gaming context to some of the concepts that John and I have taken from Cage’s music and writings. I find video games wonderfully complicating; they are full of divided subjectivity, merciless abstraction, rigid hegemony, and a sometimes-not-so-subtle perspective on the concept of work.

In keeping with that context, here is a performance of 4’33” done in the Super Nintendo game Mario Paint and uploaded by OHNOinc.

YouTube also has a few versions of 4’33” done in UnFun Games’ Mario Paint Composer, PC software that emulates that portion of the SNES original and is free to download here. The possibilities of using it to recreate certain of Cage’s other works is intriguing.