Tag Archives: KIM YE

MicroTextual Musings: Isaac Schankler Interview

11 Apr

In the last of our interviews leading up to the April 16 MicroFest event, composer/performer Isaac Schankler talks about the composer as abacus, the omnipresent 60Hz hum, and science fiction eeriness.

MicroTextual will premiere Isaac’s piece Honey, Milk and Blood, with soprano Andrea Zomorodian and conductor Troy Quinn.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

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?

IS-Honey, Milk and Blood incorporates a text by Jillian Burcar, a wonderful writer who I’ve collaborated with a few times now.  It’s inspired by an old interview with the inventor Nikola Tesla, who had these radical predictions for the future, including this notion that society would become matriarchal and have this hive-like collective organization.  Jillian’s text is, in a way, a depiction of this society, but what’s great about it is that it’s this very open-ended and free-flowing amalgam of scientific language, poetic symbolism and almost violent imagery, so you can focus in on different aspects of it and come away with very different impressions or conclusions.

I’m drawn to things like that, where things seem to be on the cusp of a comprehensible meaning without ever fully resolving, and it’s something I think music can do really well.  We tend to think of music as emotional or expressive medium, but these emotional associations can vary a great deal from person to person or from culture to culture.  I think in the 20th century there was a lot of skepticism of this and so you see movements to make music totally abstract, to make it some analog or elucidation of a mathematical or objective process, in everything from serialism to minimalism.  But if you rigorously adhere to that process something is lost — you’re not operating as an artist but some kind of glorified abacus.  So for me at least, the process becomes some kind of negotiation between abstraction and expression, and the inevitable imperfections that result are what gives music its beauty and meaning.

CP-Why do you choose to compose in a microtonal language?

IS-I don’t always compose in an explicitly microtonal language, but when I do I’d say it’s largely driven by my background in electronic and electroacoustic music.  When working with electronics it’s really trivial to produce any frequency you want, and if you do any kind of electronic analysis it’s impossible not to notice that all music is inherently microtonal, in a sense.  Almost every sound is made up of harmonics that don’t fit in the equal tempered scale.

The kind of microtonality explored in Honey, Milk and Blood came out of some research I was doing for Light and Power, a chamber opera about Nikola Tesla commissioned by Juventas New Music Ensemble that Jillian wrote the libretto for.  I found out that Tesla was directly responsible for making 60Hz the operating frequency of alternating current throughout North America.  So this low 60Hz hum you hear everywhere, coming off power lines, appliances, stereos, florescent lights… it’s all Tesla’s fault.  It’s normally an unwanted sound, a sound you want to try to weed out or minimize, but I thought it would be interesting to use as a foundation instead.  It’s an especially troublesome sound because it doesn’t fit in our equal tempered tuning system — it’s almost exactly halfway between a low B and B-flat.  So I built a kind of ad hoc microtonal scale based on harmonics of 60Hz and harmonics of 49Hz (basically a low G).  For me this scale became a kind of link between our world and the world of Tesla, and there are some mesmerizing sonorities that came out of that.  There’s not really any grand scheme or theory behind it, though — it arose from the needs of the piece, and the next microtonal piece I write may have a completely different approach.

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?

IS-Well, one thing that’s exciting about microtonality is how it can break down our most fundamental ideas about what music is or how it’s constructed, and how it challenges us to build something new from scratch, from the ground up.  I think one of the things that drew me to Kim Ye’s work, and made me want to collaborate with her, is that she seems to be doing something similar in the physical world, breaking down these concepts of how our bodies are constructed or what our relationship is to our bodies.  Not to mention how Jillian’s text breaks down language, how we write and speak, and how Tesla’s ideas poke at how civilization is put together.  It just all seemed like a natural fit.  Plus there is, I have to admit, a common thread of science fiction eeriness that links them.

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MicroTextual Musings: Kim Ye Interview

24 Mar

Continuing in our series of interviews leading up to Catalysis Projects’ MicroFest event on April 16, interdisciplinary artist Kim Ye weighs in on embedded text, relating to the public on a bodily level, and the ambiguity of trans-disciplinary collaboration.

Kim is creating performative sculpture for composer Isaac Schankler’s new work for soprano, women’s chorus and electronics, Honey, Milk and Blood.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

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?

KY-In the visual arts, I think many of us read objects and images as texts. We try to find meaning in the piece by decoding, or trying to decode, the symbolism of its components, production process, and its emotional affect on us. In group crit situations, there is this attempt to withhold judgment, to suspend your knowledge of what you like or dislike, in order to give the object a chance to speak.  But because there are so many layers of text potentially embedded in one object, the meaning of the work—what the piece says—is really dependent on what language you listen for.

In my work, the intention is not to inject a specific meaning into a piece for the audience to extract later and then either “get it” or not. More and more, I’m approaching what I make in terms of creating an ambiguous, maybe amoral, force—something that might be meaningless in itself, but forces people to project onto in order to make sense happen.  By asking people to make choices, maybe I’m asking them to identify what language they are listening for…

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?

KY-I think the question of “who is your audience?” is an important one. The fact that work can perform boundary-work, which creates a group of insiders who speak the language vs. outsiders, who don’t, is really fascinating and problematic to me.  I think my current m.o. is to make sculptures, to make work in general, that can be interpreted through and float between various bodies of knowledge.

There is always an affective component to any work I make, which tries to relate to the public on a bodily or emotive level. I think that I gravitate towards this type of communication because it kind of operates as the “unknown known”—like the things that drive us to sleep, to eat, to learn, to buy, to perform, to like or dislike certain people, to be attracted to someone, are all things that operate underneath the surface. Our moods, associations, fears, and compulsions determine our practices, but are not really beliefs. This is an area that everyone has experience in, but in completely idiosyncratic ways…so instead of trying to force someone to have a conversation with me, maybe I am suggesting that he should have one with himself.

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

KY-On a very basic level, Honey, Milk and Blood is a sculpture-based performance embedded in a microtonal oratorio of sorts. In a way, the collaboration between Isaac and myself involves exploring the space between positions; the work we are presenting is not a musical performance in a concert venue, nor is it a performance in the white-cube, art gallery way either. So what are our roles? Am I a set designer, or costume provider for his composition? Or is he a sound provider for my installation?

The emphasis changes depending on how the project is framed. The ambiguity of trans-disciplinary collaboration is pretty powerful and still mysterious even though there are plenty of practical and political implications latent within it.

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?

KY-Well I collaborated with Jeff Jenkins, who directs commercials normally, in the making of the Gastro Porno video. My original idea was that it was going to be a straightforward documentation of a performance where I would eat unfamiliar/nasty-looking food sensuously. In my mind it would be cut together fairly randomly switching back and forth between the different foods. Jeff comes in and is like “Where’s the story? You gotta have a story…otherwise who cares?!” and after some grumbling on my part, I’m like “Ok, well let’s do it then.” So the video ends up being a music video with a cover of Britney Spear’s Toxic as the song!

The final result was way more commercial, but probably much more compelling, than what I would have churned out on my own. (You can see the final version on the homepage of www.kimye.com)

Kim is creating performative sculpture for composer Isaac Schankler’s new work for soprano, women’s chorus and electronics, Honey, Milk and Blood.  Here are the particulars:

MicroTextual:  music with words | words without music
Saturday April 16 | 8:00pm
MIMODA STUDIO
5772 W. Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90019
Enter though Paper or Plastik Cafe
$15/10 online or at the door
CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE AND BUY TICKETS:
www.catalysisprojects.com/microtextual.html

Not Just Garbage: What do I know about art and service?

5 Oct

Musings by Kim Ye

As some of you may know, I’ve recently started the MFA program at UCLA. The following short article is basically me public processing issues touched on in my discussion group last night…

In 1969, Mierle Laderman Ukeles wrote the Manifesto for Maintenance Art in which she framed everyday chores as performance art pieces. This document drew attention to the fact that certain actions are given cultural and economic value, while others are not. Artists Richard Serra (steel worker) and Donald Judd (carpenter) represent the laborer removed from his cultural context. Their actions recontextualized in the art world appreciated in value in comparison to their blue-collared counterparts who actually refined the processes the artists employed.

What this implies is that those involved/invested in this sector of high culture find value in the development and progress of work that falls under their umbrella. Changing what art means, what art does, what art looks like is valuable. However, the impact of these changes on the culture at large—how it affects the layman—remains largely unexamined or unaddressed. Perhaps lacking is an appreciation for the basic structures that support and make possible the existence of art institutions. Garbage collectors, construction workers, road workers, postmasters, and security guards all play a role in facilitating the day-to-day functioning of museums, galleries, and other art spaces.

So, if the non-traditional actions that artists are employing to create their work—doing chores, providing shelter, giving away food—already exist in contexts that are outside of art, what is the value in bringing these activities into an art context?

Some possible answers:

1.     Artists are attempting to widen the role and responsibility of art so that they can leverage the (often substantial) money and resources within the art world in order to bring tangible benefits to society at large.

2.     In changing the definition of art, artists are hoping to create a trickle-down effect.  Art becomes experience, the dynamics of relationships (relational aesthetics) instead of an item to be purchased or owned. If art is perceived as an experience, then perhaps it is implied that each person is the architect of the experiences of those around her. This may lead people to act in ways that are more conscientious, creative, or progressive.

3.     Art is able to bypass the bureaucratic and legal limitations put on social service groups.  In this way, the artist can have an immediate effect on her environment and create a testing ground for possible solutions to social problems. If the role of the artist is to show what is possible, then this model for art-making fills the gap between theory and programming.

Finally, one last series of questions:

How do we evaluate the success of these service/art pieces? Do we evaluate them by their social effectiveness, or in an art context? Should both be considered, or should some new measure of success be created?

If sculptures could talk…

17 Mar

by Kim Ye

Recently, I took a trip up to Berkeley, California to install my work at the Alphonse Berber Gallery for the Works that Disturb the Moonlight group show. After 5 hours alone in a pick-up with no radio, and 72 hours of manual labor, the 7200 square foot gallery is now home to nearly the entire Autoerotic and Synapses Series. The show is up from February 11th until March 27th, so I guess technically it’s more of a sublet…

In any case, this is the largest number of my pieces that have been under one roof—an exponential increase in population density! For the reception, we had 7 performers modeling 5 worn latex pieces in 2 rooms.


One of the most interesting components of these performances is the interaction between audience and model. I view the reception as a site for observation and experimentation. What happens when art perceives you?

Interestingly, people were much more comfortable interacting with performers that were already coupled up. It seems that 2 already constitutes an environment—taking the pressure off the viewer. Take this guy for example:

If you watch or interact with a couple, or a group, you don’t feel as implicated. When you’re a voyeur of an individual, it’s a much more intimate relationship; you become responsible for the interaction, an equal partner. In their own words:

“The funniest thing about the audience, I thought, was that they would come up to me and poke me sometimes to see what I was made of…or to see if I was real? There was definitely a fusion between impersonal and personal interactions given I was the art that was on display.”—Anahid Modrek (Dress model)

“Some people wouldn’t even look in my direction, others would keep glancing, or if I stared at someone for a long time, they would often stare back. But all of these people would be reluctant to check me out (look me over completely). They would focus on my face. Only if I was looking in the mirrors, would they look at my tentacle boob-arms.” –Hanna Ashcraft (Shirtsleeves model)

“The audience was really respectful, but I was surprised how many people asked to touch my penis tumor. I was even more surprised how many people, after touching the penis tumor started touching me! I wasn’t sure how to react to that so I pretty much did what those Buckingham guardsmen do: stay completely still and emotionless.”—David Hubbard (Shorts model)

Post reception, all the worn pieces were displayed as skins—hung floating in space. At some point during this arduous process, I had a nice little exchange with Crystal Natsuko who blogs about it here.

Special thanks to Cameron Jackson and Jessica Cox, co-directors of Alphonse Berber. Also, thanks to performers Sarah MacLeod, Laine Foreman, Carly Helsaple, Steven Joseph Tritto, Anahid Modrek, Hanna Ashcraft, and David Hubbard.

Photos courtesy of Danielle Lee of AB Gallery.