Music

Birds Wheeling Flick Audibility by James belflower

For me, lines of bird flight are always audible. Birds wheeling flick the quick wisps of the conductor's baton tip into the blue, they curve shimmering notes up over the top staff line, or they bend like a light arc flickering through a lens pointed into the sun. But even more than resonating with other phenomenon, bird murmurs draw me into that moment of alien self-organization where I am confronted with confluences completely outside myself. Jane Bennett calls minor experiences like this enchanting and argues that they can remind us how wonder reorients our perception toward less habituated modes of experience. What I enjoy in enchantment is that although I associate the organized kinesis of the bird's swooping with musical expressiveness, the fact that birds understand what constitutes music differently than we do means that this expression is not reducible to a culturally legible melody or form. In short, bird murmurs remind me that there is always a pressure on the cultural conditioning my hearing and vision emerge through. I find this pleasure enchanting. 


Bennett, Jane. The Enchantment of Modern Life: Attachments, Crossings, and Ethics. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001.

Canyons Tour @ PS1 in Iowa City 10.9.16 by James belflower

 Performance Space One

Performance Space One

The Canyons tour ended its first phase in Iowa City at Performance Space one, hosted by John Éngelbrecht. It was a lovely night. The performance artist Jillian Weise screened pointedly political videos of her alter ego Tipsy Tullivan, and poet Raj Chakrapani read from a new work that blended poetry with voice-overs of prominent public figures. Matthew and I played a longer set than previous readings and we enjoyed plugging into PS1's sound system for two reasons. One, we didn't have to lug all our equipment in and out! Two, it was vastly superior! I'll post audio of this performance over the weekend so check back soon! We are in Providence toward the end of October, so if you're in the area we hope to see you. The rest of our tour schedule is available here.

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Canyons Tour @ Absinthe and Zygote in Chicago, 10.8.16 by James belflower

 Photo courtesy of Matthew Klane

Photo courtesy of Matthew Klane

Another amazing evening on the Canyons tour! After a few too many coffees Matthew and I landed in Chicago for our 3rd performance at the Experimental Sound Studio. Anne Shaw and Toby Altman hosted us at Absinthe and Zygote an innovative performance series that changes locations for each event, from dark rooms, to crowded elevators, to hair salons. In front of the welcoming pink baffle backdrop of the Experimental Sound Studio it was a night of multimedia projections, polyvocality, and hilarious characters. We opened our set with "Welcome to Colorado" and sonically constructed an environment in which the "pure products of America go crazy." Little did we know how well that would resonate with the other performers. Poet and playwright Kate Morris read next, projecting maplike watercolor images in the corner of the room. She was followed by Olivia Lilley, whose comparisons of dating life to The Lord of the Rings had everyone cracking up. Olivia Cronk's reading of Louise and Louise and Louise ended the evening, quickly switching through the voices of a slew of characters, inhabiting each deftly. We read in Iowa City on the 10th, and will pick up the tour again on October 22nd in Providence. Hope to see you there!

We just arrived home yesterday so audio of the tour will be posted soon!

 Kate Morris

Kate Morris

 Olivia Lilley

Olivia Lilley

 Olivia Cronk

Olivia Cronk

Okkyung Lee and the Insistent Forms of Affect by James belflower

Okkyung Lee's newest album Ghil

Music that resists my capacity to divide, to classify its parts. Music that grabs my ears by the shoulders and shakes them, blurring all its auditory patterns into novel seams. Music that recognizes that repetition, as Gertrude Stein believed, does not exist. What we hear instead, since music can never repeat the same emphasis, is insistence.

EMPAC Performance Hall

Last night at EMPAC in Troy, New York, I had this experience of insistence listening to the noise artist and cellist Okkyung Lee. After listening intently, I thought of Eugenie Brinkema's description of affect in her book The Forms of the Affects where she extrapolates a formalist reading of affect from the tear clinging to the face of Psycho's murdered heroine in the infamous shower scene. She argues that the resistance of the tear to frameworks of representation formalizes the l'informe historically attributed to affect. The tear, in all its "tearness," writes Brinkema, insists that it is "pure exteriority of the sign of emotionality" (22). Tearness, as insistent non-representation also applies to Okkyung's performance, particularly the way in which Lee's style resists uncomplicated emotional connection and the impulse to divide her textured noises into westernized notes, phrases, or rhythms. This is not to say that it is an emotionless music, but that it is an affective music rich with sonic particularities that provoke a precise dissident intensity that insists on a life of its own. The resin smoke cloud floating in the spotlight above her frenetic glissandi was a vivid example.

I started to consider it this way. To attend carefully to Lee's performance, to practice "reduced listening," by way of Michel Chion's Audio-Vision, is to recognize that Lee's achievement deforms emotional interpretation as opposed to inviting it and thereby affirming categorical feeling. Lee's music also refolds a listener's semantic ears by sustaining its difference from perceptual frameworks. It refuses to honor the implicit contract my perception brings to it. Think of trying to locate that lid in the Tupperware drawer that will fit the jar you are holding. Lee's music thus provokes questions: Why do I want to link frenetic string work with anger?; Why am I compelled to refer Lee's thick textures to a sound I've heard before that evoked an emotion? The powerful moment she incites shows what is in the event of listening, rather than reducing the listening experience to what I habitually remove from it to "properly" hear. Alfred North Whitehead's perspective on a proper relationship to nature relates to the listening act in this affective moment. In this quote from Isabelle Stengers's A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts, I replace nature with music to approach the listening act Lee's music constructs. "The problem is not to polemicize but to accept the risk, to try the adventure, to explore what the rejection of a bifurcation of [music] obliges us to think" (40). To put it simply, I enjoyed the insistent "noiseness."


Sources

Brinkema, Eugenie. The Forms of the Affects. Durham: Duke UP, 2014.

Stengers, Isabelle. A Free and Wild Creation of Concepts. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2011.

A God In Drone by James belflower

When I think of the Old Testament the first thing that comes to mind is not rich, textured, drone music. However, AMULETS, the tape + electronics moniker of Austin based audio/visual artist Randall Taylor, crystallizes them beautifully. On his album The Old Testament, AMULETS repurposes Old Testament books on tape. So, if you spent much of your childhood punching play on various bible versions recorded on poor quality TDK or Maxell cassettes, then the stretched, looped, and collaged stories will melt into biblical soundscapes that not only bring to mind those moments but pleasantly subvert them. What I love about Old Testament is that there remains a god lurking in these warm sonic clouds, but it is not the angry, vengeful god the Old Testament leads us to expect. Instead, AMULETS finds a human heat in the ambient tape scrub, a viscous and sensuous cumulus of biblical proportions. Check it out and enjoy!

 

Find other AMULETS offerings here.

 

 

 

Echo Locution: Aural - Environment - Body - Poetics Part 3 by James belflower

Maryam Parhizkar, David James Miller, & James Belflower

At the Disembodied Poetics Conference: Writing/Thinking/Being at Naropa University, in October, 2014 David James Miller, Maryam Parhizkar, and myself discussed the influence of music on our critical and creative writing practices in a panel titled "Echo Locution: Aural / Environment / Body / Poetics." The conversation afterward was very rewarding and there were many questions about the various textual and musical sources referenced. To say thanks, and to keep that conversation going, we've posted a brief summary of our talks and a list of resources from our papers. This is the final installment in a three part series. We hope you enjoy!

Echo Locution

David James Miller

How might poetry of attuned attention function—connecting the deliberate act of listening inwardly to the self with listening outwardly to the environment? As in some experimental music, listening is somatic in such poetry, where one becomes open and receptive to dialogue between the self and the larger environment. Pauline Oliveros describes this as: “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear no matter what you are doing. Such intense listening includes the sounds of daily life, of nature, of one's own thoughts as well as musical sounds.” Her improvised, collective compositions (with Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis) perform such attuned attention deep in an empty, underground military reservoir 70 miles north of Seattle. Likewise, the music by Taku Sugimoto and other so-called ‘Onkyo’ musicians, performing at the Tokyo performance space Off-Site at the turn of the millennium, enact a similar listening experience. Emphasizing a “conscious recognition of the reverberation of sound (oto no hibiki)” (Plourde), their performances are often almost completely-silent, resulting in music of an interactive dynamic, highly attuned to tensions between the material, sonic performance and the unplanned sonic experiences from the immediate environment. This recalls, for me, John Cage's statement that “the sound experience I prefer to all others is the experience of silence... and the silence almost everywhere in the world now is traffic.” This also recalls writing by Leslie Scalapino and John Taggart—poets whose writing connects (the body of) the self and sound, with the body of the many social, political, spiritual, and psychological environments we inhabit.

Echo Locution: Aural - Environment - Body - Poetics Part 2 by James belflower

Maryam Parhizkar, David James Miller, & James Belflower

At the Disembodied Poetics Conference: Writing/Thinking/Being at Naropa University, in October, 2014 David James Miller, Maryam Parhizkar, and myself discussed the influence of music on our critical and creative writing practices in a panel titled "Echo Locution: Aural / Environment / Body / Poetics." The conversation afterward was very rewarding and there were many questions about the various textual and musical sources referenced. To say thanks, and to keep that conversation going, we've posted a brief summary of our talks and a list of resources from our papers. This is the second of three parts. We hope you enjoy!

Reckoning in the Feedback Loop: Some Notes on the Poetics of Transcendence/Transfiguration

Maryam Parhizkar

The feedback loop – in sonic terms, this is the event in which a produced sound, an output, is returned to the input, causing changes or modulations in the new output, but always being a continuous buildup of what came beforehand. I’m going to mangle with this idea a bit, figuring out ways in which the idea of this buildup – this coming back to oneself in a performative act that is of past, present and future at once – might be a way for us to think of how language, whether musical or textual, can be used, and what such a buildup might be working toward.... This project aims to transcend the restraints of the body, or, “the limits of body” to think in resonance Akilah Oliver’s question. In other words: how the loop can be an act of constant reckoning, especially for those who create and perform from the several variations of the margins. To transcend, or rise above, can require a change in the performing body – in other words, a transfiguration. How does a politics of transfiguration operate in this constant return?  The politics of transfiguration is what scholar Paul Gilroy describes in The Black Atlantic as the utopic intersection of politics and aesthetics in a “emergence of  qualitatively new desires, social relations, and modes of association,” working in a lower frequency,  “under the nose of the overseers.” My emphasis, in thinking of transfiguration within this context, is on the literalness of the word: trans/figura, the changing of the figure, or, here, the body. Transfiguration as possibility. To work in counterpoint with Akilah’s question: what are the possibilities of the body when the body becomes language or sound?