Archive for Music

Images of Sound

Posted in Art, Art and Philosophy, Art Exhibits, Body and Affect, Deleuze, Film, Theater and Performance with tags , , , , , on May 16, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Applying Deleuze theories on temporarily to sound and music is very interesting. First it is a reminder that image is not only the visual image but any fluctuation within the fabric of the environment that affects our (or any organism’s) perceptual sensors. More importantly the temporal characteristics of sound is different from the moving image. Sound necessarily unfolds through time and a still or snap shot of sound is not imaginable. Music has also been created for thousands of years with primitive tools and without a technological apparatus mediating between creator and the images. One of the first mediation affecting the temporarily of music, at least in terms of its production, was the invention of systems of musical notation. Recording technologies pushed this separation further but at the same time created a reaction to emphasize on the zone of indeterminacy in improvisational music.

Roulette was hosting an opening concert for the 3 day event on ‘Improvisation and Technology’ in conjunction with Department of Music at Colombia University and NYU. The interesting irony about that event was that unlike most of the times that technology, as mentioned above, is being used to decreases virtuality, in this events, it was used to intervene into the regular flow of music to make unexpected happen.

The setup of the stage, with more than 30 computers and different conventional and experimental instruments on the stage, was promising failure to some extent from what had been planned. In many pieces improvising machines were being used to create effects based on what the musician was playing and forcing the musician to change what she was playing, creating a loop of reactions to make the result of the piece completely out of control of the musician. In some other pieces looping machines were recording and looping parts of the performance based on some algorithms creating overlaying and juxtapositions of time.

In overall there were very interesting and state of the art experiments in pushing improvisational music into the extreme to allow the most unexpected to happen. This is also in relation to Deleuze’s idea of desert island that something bold and novel does not happen as a continuation of what had been but as an eruption.

Deleuze, Gilles. Desert islands and other texts, 1953-1974. Los Angeles, CA: Semiotext(e) ;, 2004. pp. 9-14

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Ba lance. Rep it tish ion. Com pose zish ion. Mir rors.

Posted in Art, Deleuze, Immanence, Theater and Performance with tags , , , , , on May 7, 2012 by immanentterrain2

Before The Books called it quits, I was fortunate enough to see them perform live. For those who don’t know, The Books are an experimental duo who make music with found sound, recorded sound, and instruments. As Pitchfork’s Mark Richardson says, “Their music is easy to appreciate immediately because they use pretty sounds – it’s not harsh, noisy, they use space […] Ringing guitars, cello, melodic – but it’s also hard to put a finger on, and there’s an in-between-spaces aspect to The Books that I find really appealing” (qtd. in Ganz). Unlike many other artists who use found sound, The Books only use analog audio (most of which is found in thrift stores or other random places). Instead of taking audio from the Internet, they use old answering machine recordings, self-help audiobook cassettes, ancient exercise tapes, etc.

One of their first songs, “Enjoy Your Worries, You May Never Have Them Again,” will probably give you a good idea of the kind of music that they make:

When they perform live, The Books project videos that they’ve created (with stock footage). Some of these videos, like the one for “Smells Like Content,” are simple but effective:

The album that houses this track, Lost and Safe, is a deviation from their earlier work. Thought for Food and The Lemon of Pink (their first two albums) both used very few vocals and focused mainly on found voices coupled with sparse instrumentation while on the other hand, “Smells Like Content” contains a full set of lyrics. What I like about the songs with vocals is that they’ve put into words what they’re trying to initially express solely with sound. In other words, if you weren’t sure what their agenda was after listening to the first two albums, pick up the third and everything will begin to come together.

For me, The Books are a very philosophical group. After many listens, I have noticed bits of Hume, Nietzsche, Sartre, and (recently) Deleuze in their work. “Smells Like Content” is a song that explores the purpose of life and asks the same question as modern philosophers, “How might one live?” At their show, Nick Zammuto (the half of the duo that provides vocals) said that his brother went on a hike and recorded his stream of consciousness ramblings which were then used as inspiration for the lyrics. In “Literature and Life,” Deleuze says, “Syntax is the set of necessary detours that are created in each case to reveal the life in things” (2). For this song, syntax is very important: each word is placed in a specific way so as to create a rhythm that exists on its own, without the addition of extra sounds. In “Smells Like Content,” the extra sounds that are included act as a form of repetition and as what Deleuze and Guattari would call a refrain.

In “Of the Refrain,” D&G talk about territory, deterritorialization, milieu, and assemblage (among other things). From what I gather, rhythm is the difference created through repetition and repetition is what moves us from milieu to milieu (while simultaneously creating those milieus). D&G say, “A milieu does in fact exist by virtue of a periodic repetition, but one whose only effect is to produce a difference by which the milieu passes into another milieu. It is the difference which is rhythmic, not the repetition, which nevertheless produces it . . . (346). In simpler words, the difference is what creates the rhythm. I don’t feel it’s necessary to summarize the whole essay, but I will say that in the end, D&G basically say that something called “the Cosmos” is the end game (which probably isn’t the right phrase) of music. They say, “[. . . ] modern philosophy tends to elaborate a material of thought in order to capture forces that are not thinkable in themselves. That is Cosmos philosophy, after the manner of Nietzsche” (377-8). So then music (not pop music, but music that D would deem worthy) does the same thing as philosophy, it seems. The Books are one of my favorite experimental duos because I think it’s obvious that they are trying to express that inexpressible through their music.

For me, “Smells Like Content” is a great song, albeit it doesn’t play with space, silence, and sound in the same way as their earlier material. Essentially, the entire song is about process ontology, the idea that the world is always in flux and that all we can do is think about what is coming into existence. The lyrics tell us, “But then again, the world without end is a place where souls are combined,/ but with an overbearing feeling of disparity and disorderliness./To ignore it is impossible without getting oneself into all kinds of trouble,/despite one’s best intentions not to get entangled with it so much.” The world is complicated and it makes sense for people to want to try to understand it; however, it is impossible to know for sure what the world is and why we’re here, etc. Philosophy is often hard to understand because it is an exploration, not an explanation (and it’s easy to get entangled when exploring different ideas). It’s also notable that the words in the video are spelled out phonetically and that some of them change as they are changing (that sounds confusing, but for example, look at “overarching paradigm” as it appears on the screen). By breaking the words up into other words, we are given a visual example of how everything is just a fragment and part of something bigger.

This fragmentation also reminds me of Gertrude Stein’s “Susie Asado.” In this poem, Stein was trying to recapture the rhythm of a flamenco dancer, to paint a portrait of her with words. Stein’s writing uses phrases that almost make sense, but not quite. She forces us to toss away our conventional expectations and accept the open-endedness of her writing. When The Books say, “Meanwhile,/ the statues are bleeding green,” I am reminded of both Stein and Noam Chomsky (and of course, Deleuze). Chomsky’s sentence, “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously,” makes grammatical sense but really means nothing (15). How can ideas be both colorless and green at the same time? Because both “colorless” and “green” have figurative meanings, we interpret them a certain way. Stein’s poem strives to be nonrepresentational, even though the words that she uses also have figurative meanings; the meaning of her poem does not rely on what each of the individual words mean or what they are associated with. There would be no way to paraphrase Stein’s poem. To me, the lyrics of “Smells Like Content” are trying to tell us (with words and music) that conventional categories and ideas aren’t going to work if we’re trying to figure out what life is/what it means to be.

The Books describe how/why we created artificial categories and concepts in order to explain the world. They say, “Then finally, we opened the box, we couldn’t find any rules.” We’re born and never given any guidance about how to live our lives, what life means, what it means to be, etc. There are so many possibilities for what life is and what it could become but because of “faith,” we “decided to go ahead and just ignore them,/despite tremendous pressure to capitulate and fade.” There are so many possibilities that instead of considering them, we usually just fall into the routine/trap of artificial constructions (“So instead, we went ahead to fabricate a catalog/of unstable elements and modicums and particles”). The song ends with, “Expectation -/leads to disappointment. If you don’t expect something big huge and exciting . . ./Usually . . ./I dunno,/just, uh yeah . . .” While these maybe don’t seem like brilliant lyrics at first, I think that they say a lot in very few words. In a world that’s constantly changing, how can we have expectations for anything? As the video progresses, the images trick us. First, it seems like I’m looking at outer space. When I see jellyfish, I now assume I’m looking at the ocean. When the video ends, it is revealed that I was just watching footage from an aquarium the entire time. What if the world is just an aquarium and I’m just a fish? Does it matter?

If anyone is interested, here’s a link to the videos that The Books play at their shows: http://zammutosound.com/videos.cfm

— Kilgore Trout

Chomsky, Noam. Syntactic Structures. Berlin: Mouton De Gruyter, 2002. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles. Essays Critical and Clinical. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1997. Print.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. trans. Massumi, B. (1998). 1837: Of the Refrain.
In A Thousand Plateaus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. London: Continuum.
pp. 342ñ386.

Ganz, Jacob. “The Books: Making Music Through Found Sound.” NPR. NPR, 04 Sept. 2010. Web. 07 May 2012. <http://www.npr.org/2010/09/03/129607098/the-books-making-music-through-found-sound&gt;.