Tag Archives: microtextual

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.

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
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?

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: 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

MicroTextual Musings: Bill Alves Interview

20 Mar

In anticipation of Catalysis Projects’ MicroFest event on April 16, we sent the same fourteen questions to some of our collaborators, and asked them to answer a few.  We haven’t been disappointed… the answers have been as illuminating as they are thoughtful.  First up is composer, video artist, writer, professor of music at Harvey Mudd College, and co-director of MicroFest, Bill Alves.

Troy Quinn will be conducting Bill’s piece Luminescence for choir and tape on the concert.  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:
http://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?

BA-My piece Luminescence references a mantra, a repeated ritual text. In such a practice, the “meaning” soon transcends the semantics of the words, which we quickly cease to hear independently, and affects us through the repetition itself. The words themselves become musical and gently dig a furrow in our consciousness. In Luminescence I also sought to achieve this state by expanding the words until they become disembodied vowels and meaning shifts to that which conventional language does not express.

CP-It seems to us that most people who are drawn to microtonality had an ah-ha moment where they realized the possibilities afforded by breaking free from equal temperament.  What was your first experience with microtonality in music?

BA-I began experimenting with microtonality in college when I saw the possibilities inherent in electronics, but (like others I imagine) I was soon overwhelmed by these possibilities. I had just put a great deal of effort into learning music theory with 12 tones; composing with some other number seemed to take me back to square one.

It was only some years later when I began trying out the ideas from Harry Partch’s Genesis of a Music that I began to see that understanding microtonality means seeing what lies *behind* what’s taught in those conventional music theory courses, not an entirely separate music theory. The mysteries that traditional music theory sweeps under the rug in order to give students a rule-based and gradable structure were suddenly answered. Yes, painting in color would be daunting challenge if all you’ve ever known was mixtures of grays, but what painter wouldn’t want to try?

CP-Performers often shun microtonal music because they perceive it as being too difficult to play.  How have you overcome this obstacle as a performer, and/or composer?

BA-It’s true that it is difficult to overcome years of ingrained motor skills and ways of listening, so that (so far) I haven’t taken Ben Johnston’s route and asked a string quartet, for example, to play precise and extensive microtonal pitches. That’s a huge commitment to ask of someone. Instead, I have instruments or electronics that are pretuned to the scales I want, and ask the players of other tunable instruments, such as voices or unfretted strings, to play in tune with the fixed pitch references. Good musicians always listen to play in tune with each other, so simply asking them to do so with a different set of pitches is a much more manageable task.

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?

BA-Although they won’t be presented on the MicroTextual concert, I have created videos which are inspired by the same symphonies of numbers in their images as in the microtonal soundtrack. I find that through the same proportions as in my musical tunings we will see analogous consonances and dissonances, tensions and resolutions, a great choreography of number and geometry that touches our emotions directly.

Vienna meets Theater Voyeur in Little Ethiopia

15 Jan

by Aron Kallay

Paper or Plastik

When Yasha J. Michelson bought the old Dancers Studio, a few blocks south of Los Angeles’ Little Ethiopia neighborhood, he had big plans.  A true renaissance man, Yasha has worked in fashion, design, fine art, photography, film, and dance.  His vision for the newly renamed and refurbished MiMoDa Studio is to create a multi-purpose space that is capable of accommodating dance, film, music performances, theater, release parties and also capable of being a spot for more community-centered projects, such as youth ballet and yoga classes.  Oh… and did I mention that there’s an amazingly hip and understated coffee shop in the storefront, Paper or Plastik.  I got to experience Yasha’s vision firsthand this week at a concert that featured members of the Symbiosis Chamber Orchestra and Mimoda Jazzo Gruppa.

MiMoDa Studio

Walking into Paper or Plastik, I was struck by the urban sensibility of the space: brick walls, exposed beams, hard concrete floor.  Starbucks this is not.  After ordering myself a tasty cup of Intelligentsia coffee, I entered MiMoDa Studio through a tiny steel door in the back of the shop.  When I was in college, I played piano for more than my fair share of ballet classes.  It was decent money and, if you were good enough at it, you could read the newspaper while you played.  MiMoDa is nothing like the drab dance studios I remember.  Here, one entire wall is floor to ceiling windows that look out onto the street.  The back wall has chairs and tables nailed to it (on which Yasha tells me they sometimes dance).  A high vaulted ceiling has exposed wood beams, lending the space better acoustics than I would have expected.  And here is the kicker: it was packed, on a Wednesday night!

Photo by Aleksandr Ostrovskiy

The first half featured members of Symbiosis, a conductorless chamber ensemble based in Torrance.  To open the concert, the ensemble tore into up-and-coming young composer George N. Gianopoulos’s Cello Quintet, Op. 22, a charming piece that deserves more hearings.  They then moved on to more standard fare, playing Schubert’s epic late Cello Quintet, D. 956, a piece composed two months before the composer’s death.  Alternately tranquil and turbulent, the piece invites comparison to Schubert’s own late piano sonatas, which are similar in emotional scale and harmonic inventiveness (the Quintet ends with a Neapolitan sixth chord in place of the dominant–Chopin, taking up the mantle of harmonic inventiveness after Schubert’s death, would open his First Ballade, op. 23 with a Neapolitan sixth seven years later).  Symbiosis played admirably–one could sense their searching for a deeper beauty contained within the music.

Photo by Aleksandr Ostrovskiy

After a short intermission, and another cup of coffee, it was back into the studio for Yasha’s Mimoda Jazzo Gruppa, an ensemble of dancers, actors, clowns, and singers.  Theater Voyeur is hard to describe.  It continues in the tradition of the grand vaudevillian; short sketches of dance and theater, often intertwined, alternate with comedy and downright silliness (and I mean that in the best possible way).  Much of the second half was visually stunning, with dancers performing in front of, or behind, large illuminated sheets of fabric.

How close Yasha is to realizing his vision for MiMoDa?  I’ll leave you with the following: at the close of the evening, which began with Schubert, something completely unexpected happened: a dance party broke out.

Photo by Aleksandr Ostrovskiy