Tag Archives: cat lamb

MicroTextual Musings: Quintan Ana Wikswo Interview

7 Apr

Quintan Ana Wikswo is an interdisciplinary artist whose projects integrate a constellation of works in photography, original text, video and installation, as well as performance collaborations with composers and choreographers. Catalysis Projects interviews her about synesthesia, washing dishes with kitty litter, and microtonal fantasies.

MicroTextual will premiere Quintan’s Floriography I/Coimbra 1452 (with Rafael Liebich) and Floriography II/Bavaria 1543 (with Philip Shakhnis), a diptych of video-integrated text performance works about medieval botanical and ecological life at Inquisition convents and Crusade villages.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door

CP-Language can be defined as a system of symbols that convey meaning. In your artistic practice, how do you convey meaning? In what way do you use your medium to create your own language?

QAW-This summer in Czech Republic – where the character system and language are completely different from English – I spent a long time in a shop trying to distinguish a box of dishwasher crystals from a box of cake mix. Both were cardboard containers of white powder with images of a kitchen and a cat and a half-eaten slice of cake on a plate. I stood there giggling happily while the workers glared at the demented Gypsy lady who might steal the box of cat litter.

A few years ago I was told I have synesthesia, which tends to tangle up meaning through some aberrant neurological and cognitive wiring. As a visual artist and writer, this is a big tangle. For instance, the color yellow makes a sound, and thus has stronger auditory than visual meaning  – yellow is not a “color.” Likewise, letters are very visually and emotionally evocative – much as human faces convey very distinctive personalities.  When I make words, I make little villages. Sentences are civilizations. The integrated text-video-performance pieces for MicroTextual (Floriography I and II) explore mass slaughter and genocide, but I built the texts using letters whose personalities are extremely gentle and pretty and demure. A bit shy, with the tendency to daintily cringe away from any unpleasantness.

Clearly, there’s no way an outside audience could share in that kind of personal language. Yet every creature is fairly clueless about what its fellows are trying to say, and at some point it’s the process of conveying meaning that can be most mesmerizing – watching someone try to wash dishes with kitty litter, or bake a cake using dishwashing powder is more intriguing than doing it just like everyone else. This struggle about attaching symbols and meanings have resulted in psychiatric asylums, Carnegie Hall, and the Crusades. It’s nice to imagine that as artists we finally have the right to draw our own conclusions.

CP-Text can be understood as a code – a symbolic mark-making that some others can “read,” but yet completely unintelligible to people not fluent in that language.  How important is it to you whether your “text” conveys a comprehensible meaning or communication to your audiences?

QAW-My most fertile conversations begin with misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and errors of interpretation. Otherwise, there’s no friction. No rough edges to catch against. I find a perverse pleasure in being artistically uncomfortable and confused and disoriented. Over time, this sensation has become a barometer that monitors my stagnation and aeration. I never create a work from a tidy place of comprehension – my own works are documents of an awkward struggle to understand something I find unwieldy.

As artists and audiences, I think it’s very important that we get excited by – rather than intimidated by – disorienting, perplexing, unfamiliar communication. I rarely want anyone to pre-digest anything for me, and I try to carry that philosophy forward to audiences, whether they like it or not.

Overall, I think it’s fruitful to resist the marketplace-driven phobia about being misunderstood – the whole idea that everything must be distilled to a tits-out elevator speech where god forbid something isn’t quick and easy and sexy. It’s repellant, but not in the fun way.  Likewise, the attempt to control the outcome for an audience is very dull and stultifying – when artworks are presented with a hegemonic surveillance around “the right meaning” it completely kills the chemical reactions between artist and audience.  It makes artworks that smother rather than kindle.

A lot of my work is politically engaged, and so for me to try and control or police meaning would get really ugly. The pieces being performed at MicroTextual explore epic historic genocides, and of course I have various points to make. But it would be splendid if someone just gets that there are green butterflies in a field. When someone attaches a new meaning to my work, it means the piece sprouts renegade tendrils and grows weird vegetables in someone else’s brain. Birth is meant to be a struggle for everyone involved.

CP-The term microtonality is generally applied only to music that uses a tuning system other than twelve-tone equal-temperament.  However, we believe that, because microtonality breaks down one of the fundamental building blocks of western music (the tyranny of the twelve), it is a term that can be applied to other disciplines of artmaking.  Do you see microtonality in your, or other, fields? How does your work on the April 16 concert find the small spaces between the keys or between the words.

QAW-I realized recently that I have developed an little fantasy about microtonal music being an arcane, Kabbalistic, alchemical treasure hunt where secret notes are hidden between the visible notes.  Rather like an auditory wormhole through which one can vanish out of mundane do-re-me territory and emerge someplace altogether fantastic. Like sailing to the edge of a flat earth and expecting to fall off, only to discover a sphere…or vice versa. How lovely!

Microtonal music is also such a wonderful imposition on musicians and audiences who might otherwise fall into a rut of twelve – let’s make it fast! Let’s take the interstate, instead of Route 66.  I love how microtonality forces participants to navigate unfamiliar, disorienting situations, and requires people to grow new perceptual antennae to sleuth out what’s going down. The risk is feeling foolish, vulnerable, overwhelmed, annoyed and exhausted, but the reward is gaining a new auditory knowledge that’s a bit secret and arcane.

When you approached me about contributing works to this event, the challenge was to find a analogous “microtonal” tuning in literature – a way of composing and performing text that involves that sense of striding off the map, sailing over the edge, spending time in uncharted waters. I thought about how much I love spending time in countries where I’m illiterate in the written and spoken language because I’m forced to embark upon that treasure hunt for other clues of meaning, like gesture and expression and context.

So I created two works for the April 16th concert that involve finding the small spaces between languages – each text piece is visually projected in English, while being overspoken in other languages such as Russian, Hebrew, and Portuguese. In a sense, the audience is the performance, occupying that space between the two languages where a third meaning emerges.

I’m very excited to hear everyone’s pieces at the April concert, especially so many premieres. It’s impossible for artists to really play it safe within these creative parameters, and that’s tremendously inspiring.  Besides – if the world doesn’t turn out to be spherical, the ship will make a lovely crash as it falls off the edge of the world.

MicroTextual Musings: Cat Lamb Interview

4 Apr

Cat Lamb is a composer, violist, and teacher living in Los Angeles. Her music pays delicate attention to layers of sound, and their shadows.  Catalysis Projects interviews her about her music, lingering tones, and the dhrupad.

Cat’s piece, The Field (for Agnes), will be given its world premiere at Catalysis Projects’ Microfest event on April 16.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door

CP-Many of civilization’s oldest languages remain unwritten and
undocumented yet maintain an oral history. Our oldest music also
transmits itself this way. How do you feel your work is changed by
the process of formally writing or scoring it?

CL-The musical score is a struggle to the ever-changing being of the musician. I
am a being, in a state, when I place something on paper. What is placed on
the paper is no longer my pure state of being. Later, when I give it to a
musician to “read” (logic interfering), no matter how precise/imprecise my
demands are, ideally, their being will eventually infuse with that something
on the score, and we will experience present being(s) making sound in a

CP-Just as there are an infinite number of pitches between any two
keys on the piano, there are an infinite number of ways to compose
microtonally. Do you adhere to a particular flavor of microtonality,
and, if so, why?

CL-My work has sometimes been described as “droning music,” and although I
relate and have been a student to such described work from the older living
generations, I believe the word “droning” describes something that is static
and unchanging, never fading, but a bold presence for other sounds to sit

Diversely, I am interested in a tone lingering long enough for its colors, in
relationship and alone, to be clear and present and changing in a room,
existing within the quiet shades of clear resonance, and allowing for the mere
fluctuating combinations to ever-alter their presence and fade.

CP-How does your work on the April 16 concert find the small
spaces between the keys or between the words.

CL-I don’t think about being between the keys. I think rather that the keys,
which don’t usually appear in my work, form together an interesting skeleton
of relationships that have accomplished some really wonderful music over the
years in Western Music History.

As far as The Field (for Agnes), the tonal relationships are all derived from a
15 Hz fundamental, or 2 octaves below the ever-present 60Hz, American
electric cycle. I mostly work from a limited and narrow range, this one
simply being the 12th partial to the 36th partial.

I have recently become interested in the clarity of movement within one
tonal spectrum rather than a web of ever branching ratios.

CP-Here at Catalysis Projects, we believe that the collaborative
process can lead us in new, exciting, and sometimes unexpected
directions. Have you ever had a collaborative experience that led
you to results you didn’t expect?

CL-I believe it is safe to say I have learned a great deal from every musician I
have worked with. I continue to be interested to write for winds, for
instance, but feel that I am rather ignorant to the technicalities and that I
definitely go into unknown territory (for myself) when writing specific pitches
on these instruments.

For instance, when I give a set of pitches in a certain range to Christine
Tavolacci, my flute player for The Field (for Agnes), she has the impetus to
try every combination she can until the tone will sound clearly and with a
certain timbre. And of course at times it won’t, so that’s all part of the
process, and partly why I find this kind of working “experimental.”  I simply
don’t know every time whether something is going to work or not, and the
result may happen upon a timbre I hadn’t been aware of before.

CP-Is there anything else you’d like to say about the concert,
microtonality, world affairs, etc…

CL-While writing these answers I am thinking of Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. His recordings have taught me a great deal about a
being, ever-present in their sound creation. He was a dhrupad
composer/musician who could explore shades of color for hours at a time.

I mention Dagar and dhrupad because dhrupad was (from what I
understand) derived from a language initially, and in general dhrupad
musicians are vocalists. The various timbres are described as syllables, and
there are many, possibly infinite, distinctions. I have a difficult time with
language but this has fascinated me for some time now.