Tag Archives: electronic transmogrifications

Misfits and Hooligans Interview: Tom Flaherty and Quintan Ana Wikswo

25 Apr

In the second in our series of interviews with artists leading up to the Misfits and Hooligans concert on April 28 at Beyond Baroque, we talk to interdisciplinary filmmaker/visual artist/writer  (and Catalysis Projects Core Artist) Quintan Ana Wikswo, and composer Tom Flaherty.

     

Can you tell us a bit about your work that’s being presented on the 28th?

TF: “Shepard’s Pi” a piece that explores weird sonic characteristics of the toy piano, whose lowest notes can sound higher than its highest notes. The live toy piano is accompanied by electronic transmogrifications of itself, and the player gets to dance with a funhouse mirror of his or her playing.

QW: I have two new pieces on the 28th – one is a collaboration with Veronika Krausas: her music JONAS with my poem cycle and 35mm film suite, called THE ANGUILLADAE EATERS. The second piece is my film projection APIMANIAS, which I created to go alongside Aron Kallay’s phenomenal toy piano performance of Tom Flaherty’s equally-phenomenal and intriguing SHEPARD’S PI.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

TF: Named after cognitive psychologist Roger Shepard, a Shepard scale is an audio illusion in which a scale seems to rise endlessly, without getting higher. The constituent pitches consist of several simultaneous octaves, which fade out at the top of the scale and fade in at the bottom. Taken out of the moving context, the actual octave register of a note is ambiguous to the ear. A toy piano displays similar ambiguity: as the length of the sounding rods at lowest keys is too short to produce a true bass note, its overtones are louder than its fundamental pitch. Taken out of context the lowest F can sound more like its C overtone, an octave and a fifth higher. This ambiguity is part of the charm of the toy piano, and Shepard’s Pi enjoys playing with that charm, with lots of scales that seem not to get higher, sonorities whose octave register is ambiguous, and moments where the meter and tempo could be heard in several different ways.

Oh yes, pi. Just as pi = 3.14159265. . ., so too Shepard’s Pihas slightly more than three electronically produced sounds (all derived from the sound of the toy piano), sections, and tempi.

QW: When I first encountered Tom Flaherty’s “Shepard’s Pi,” the word “apimanias” began spiraling through my mind alongside the music. I find the musical work quite charming and endearing – it suggests an obsessive, insistent structural precision, a kind of auditory engineering that is similar to the unrelenting, exciting din of skyscraper construction – something rising, and yet never seeming to finish. Admirable, and inexorable, it’s the din of highly controlled creation. I immediately thought of bees. The preoccupying, intrusive, dominating and yet subtly complex sound of their wings spiraling in circles of flight – annoying, but breathtaking, and also quite gorgeous. As I read the score of Tom’s piece, the carefully nested progression of concentric octaves somehow echoed the precise mathematics bees use to build the structure of their hive. The Greek mathematician Archimedes approximated Pi by inscribing a hexagon into a circle: that is at the heart of bee geometry as well – their honeycomb is a mass of hexagonal wax cells that contain their larvae, honey and pollen. And dreams. The word Apimanias means “an excessive interest in bees.” And hidden within the word Apimanias is another word: pi.

While I was working on my B/ee-Movie, I became obsessed by the posture of the bees – their hunched backs bent down intently over their mathematical task. This ominous, slightly maniacal physical shape that suggests obsession and inexorable focus. During this time, I saw a video of Tom’s piece in performance and recognized an uncanny similarity between the bees and the toy piano player – both hump-backed and crouched, singlemindedly constructing geometry within a creation device…I suspect the honeycomb and the piano may serve the same function for two different species. Or perhaps, not so different species. I know pianists have very good posture, especially Aron.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

Do you consider yourself a hooligan or a misfit? Or both? Or neither?

TW: Definitely misfit. That used to be a requirement for admission to the Composer’s Union, though they may have relaxed their standards in recent years.
Perhaps hooligan, to my students.
film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

QW: I am probably mostly like a bee: both a misfit and a hooligan. Currently, there is an astonishingly large, obnoxious and ungainly wood-boring bee attempting to drill through the wall of my studio. At first, I thought it was a lawnmower. All that trouble from just a little fellow. There is a punk quality to its uncaring response to being in the way, being noisy and obstreperous, and generally being just not much of a joy to have around…but it’s just being a bee. And honestly, there’s also something quite silly about them in their ridiculous fuzzy carapace and ungainly wings and their sentimental affection for overwrought flowers. Yet nevertheless, bees can kill people. Lots of people are terrified of all sorts of bees – perhaps because they’re also very unpredictable. One never knows if a bee will kill somebody – they’re just as likely to land on your fingertip and slurp up a bit of tasty sweat as to put one into the grave.

But getting back to your question – it’s just the bee’s nature to drill and buzz and annoy and terrify and make life happen, and pollinate, and cross-polinate, and create. They are the best sorts of misfits and hooligans.

As far as new music, I think that Saturday’s concert – and new music in general – won my heart a long time ago with its ability to be the bee…to cause shock and horror, discomfort, and make enemies without even trying – but also to be a bit silly and ungainly, and wobbly and fragile and peculiar. Invariably someone seems to walk out of a concert once they realize the violin in never going to sound like Debussy. They seem partly ashamed of themselves – as if they know they must be missing something – but also betrayed by their friend, the obedient violin. So much new music invariably horrifies unsuspecting audience members who want to expect the expected. And that’s really quite thrilling to be within.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

Tell us about the most memorable oddball instrument you’ve ever encountered.

TF: There was a vegetable orchestra in Vienna a couple or years ago. That’s got to rank pretty high on the list. But clearly this question deserves greater thought.

QW: I grew up in the Cumberland Valley of Tennessee way out in the country, and my brother played dulcimer at Appalachian and mountain music jamborees. Jamborees are a glorious experience in making a lot of something from nothing. And for truly transcendent expression to come from the least likely situations, and equipment. I was probably about six years old and we were in some mountain hollow filled with hickory smoke and crickets and desolation, way out there in the Smokey Mountains.

Up on stage come these tiny blonde triplets in overalls, each holding a pair of spoons. Honestly, at first they made me really hungry. Everything in the south will make you hungry if you look at it the right way, but spoons just looked delicious. I kept thinking of what they were about to eat on that little rattletrap wood stage, and what it had to do with mountain music. Then it was just like a lightning storm descended into their little pink hands – flashes of bright white shining light and all sorts of glorious rhythm and vibration and clattering whirring cadence. They played a waltz. And a hoedown.

And a “fiddler’s choice” piece that probably belonged in a temple to some unknown displaced haint. They’d hit those spoons on the snaps and buckles of their little overalls. Just to get more range. I guess I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear something equally transcendent and shocking, but it hasn’t happened yet. Those girls really knew how to play their spoons.

film still, APIMANIAS by Quintan Ana Wikswo. 35mm film. 9 minutes. 2012.

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