Here for you is some audio documentation of my show this past Monday at the "MeMerMo" avant-music salon in Austin, my second appearance as part of this series. This was done to accompany a live screening of Spanish cult director Ivan Zulueta's rarely seen, yet highly intriguing 1976 Super 8 film "A Mal Gam A". I composed part of the soundtrack at EMS Stockholm in 2014 (yes, my hours and hours of time logged on their Buchla system there just keeps giving), with live improvisation done on several different analog electronic devices.
Future attempts at replicating this will be made, most likely when I branch out into other regional performances (e.g. in Dallas and Houston). For now, though, enjoy what is probably one of my most fully-realized sets of the past five years or so.
Some more good news for 2017: Super Sensor magazine, whose "physical" edition comes in a USB stick form, will soon be available as soon as I receive my copies in the mail.
This is good news particularly because this archives some of my pieces that have not been available in the English language yet, haven't been made public in any form, or have disappeared from their previous homes on the Web. Some of the text contents include:
A New High in Low: Adventures in Low-Bitrate Audio
Born to Corrode: interview with Scott Konzelmann / Chop Shop
Doing by Not Doing? Minimal Package Design in Techno Music
I Am The Others - CM von Hausswolff
John Gray's "Silence of the Animals" - a review
Lemurs over Laptopia: Will New Performance Interfaces Rejuvenate Electronic Music?
No More 'The Other Shore': In Conversation with Yan Jun
Casey O'Callaghan's "Sounds": A Primer
Our Presence Together in Chaos: Branca vs. Cage Revisited
Roc Jimenez de Cisneros: The State of Radical Computer Music
Something In The Air: Post-Industrial Music and Control Society
Timo Kahlen's "Earcatcher" Retrospective - review
Welcome to 2084: The Age of Overload Aesthetics
Whose Noise Is It Anyway?
In addition, there will be two full (half hour) audio pieces included here, and a video. I'd advise any interested parties to check my web shop within the next two weeks, as I'll post ordering information immediately upon receipt of my copies.
This is, of course, a collaborative project, though I'm unaware of the full list of other contributors. I don't wish to drop names here, since all the recipients of the original "all call" for contributions might not have actually contributed. All I know is that Francisco Lopez has a very keen curatorial skill, and that my own contributions will merely be a drop in a bucket brimful of radiant knowledge.
A couple interesting items for you all today: first and foremost, I've recently conducted a discussion with local Austin artist and all-around good guy Carl Smith, which has been converted into an episode of his "Fresh Goose" podcast. It can be heard in its entirety here, and I'll also be adding it to my Soundcloud pages in due time. This is a rare opportunity to hear me actually having an organic conversation rather than reading a manifesto - nothing here is scripted, and there is previously undiscussed bio information galore, along with alighting on topics as diverse and seemingly unrelated as my primary contact with the Japanese noise underground, the Glitter movie, and comic dynamo Doug Stanhope.
"Global Ghettotech", take two
It seems like a number of my past articles from the intriguing Candian journal Vague Terrain have gone missing, and so I'm now making a concerted effort to place them on my personal website. I received a request from a professor at Bowdoin College to send along my 2010 article "What in The World is Global Ghettotech: Radical Riddims or Neo-Exotica?", and so that one has been fast-tracked to the front of that particular queue.
It's interesting how "current" much of that article still is, despite my having written it 7 years ago. I do have to add the caveat, though, that I'm effectively done with using Slavoj Žižek's writing to bolster any opinions of mine (largely, but not exclusively, owing to his plagiarism debacle of a couple years ago).
please don't forget to help out with my ongoing fundraiser if you can. Without funds to continue paying for housing, it's unlikely I will be able to stay in Austin and keep the creative ball rolling. The scenarios which will unfold after losing my home, of course, will be a lot more damaging in the long term and will involve much more serious consequences than just losing my ability to interface with an audience. More than any point in the past, I do need your help, so please take a look at the pitch page and see what you can do (and what I can offer in return).
It’s officially the dawn of a new calendar year, and, against all odds, actually cold in Austin. So, it seems as good a time as any to stay indoors and send out my first update of 2017. I have another fundraiser pitch to discuss with everyone, but first let’s talk about some genuine productivity.
The Taste of Sound
On the sonic arts front, I have a new brainstorm to host a combination culinary event and music concert here within Austin (or elsewhere…contact me if you are considering doing anything similar in your own place of residence). Since I’ve written a great deal about how under-valued the “chemical senses” (taste, smell) are in forming an enlightened view of the world, I feel it may be time to demonstrate some possible ways of using the dining experience to make so-called experimental or avant-garde music literally more “palatable”. This idea is still in what I’d call the “cartoon lightbulb appearing over my head” phase, but I do have at least some skeleton of a concept to flesh out over time. I hope to have performers appear who will collaborate with culinary pros to make a multi-course menu for the evening, which will take about as much time to prepare, serve, and enjoy as the musical performance will take to play out.
This will all be carefully choreographed and hosted in a venue (still to be determined, obviously) that will be able to provide both adequate sound reinforcement and a great atmosphere for dining. My hope is that, whether this is a standalone performance or a “series,” it will be able to take the interaction between culinary and sonic art beyond the state in which one form merely acts as the passive sensory framing for the other, but in which the common ritualistic aspects of both forms are heightened by presenting them together.
Ne Plus Ultra update
While I wait for the distribution of To Hear The World With New Eyes to commence in earnest, I am making some headway on one of my two (!) other books in progress. As I might have mentioned before, I’m working together with my Spanish partner to translate a number of my texts into Español under the title Ne Plus Ultra (I’m also going to be conducting completely new interviews and writing new essays to enrich what we have already). The common theme of the book is that of “extreme” culture, and what exactly that elastic phrase means to whom. My ambition is to map this concept out as fully as possible within the covers of a 300+-page book, and to share important insights about the differences between “extreme” culture as simply a different flavor of conformity, and “extreme” culture as a real engine of meaningful change.
I feel like I’ve already made some headway towards this goal in my previous books, particularly my studies of sound cultures (noise, onkyo etc.) that strive to communicate something unique by relying on minimum of maximum values of information and sensory impact. Some of my more recent writing on video art, architecture, the writing of J.G. Ballard also fit this bill, and will in fact be included in the new book. I’m also going to be touching upon issues such as communication technology, high-speed transportation and performance genres like standup comedy that I haven’t explored enough previously.
“Secret history of pre-fabbed buildings” update
I am still trying to get a strong start on my newest English-language book, which will deal with the cultural history of pre-fabricated buildings in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc. I have sent out a number of emails to arts institutions and individuals in Russia, which I felt would be very helpful in the process of mapping out the book and in providing a larger pool of contacts to interview. Oddly enough, many of these mails have been bounced back to me undelivered, and I’m left wondering if that has anything to do with the ongoing enmity of the U.S. political class towards Russia (if there is one article I can recommend that cuts to the core of the American establishment’s dangerously stupid agitation of its nuclear-armed scapegoat, it would be this one by Glenn Greenwald). Whatever the case, I’ll continue with outreach efforts and keep everyone updated.
As I’ve been alluding to in previous posts, things are not looking good now as far as my ability to support myself. I won’t go into any more detail about this here, but I do urge you to please take a look at my fundraiser page and share it with anyone who might be interested. As I mention on that page, I want to take advantage of this current “downtime” to do truly interesting things that will strengthen bonds between myself and my supporters, not to simply accept donations and to let my commitment end with a simple (albeit sincere) “thank you”. I’m cautiously optimistic that my current state of hardship won’t be long, but it will be just long enough to be in a justifiable state of panic over the affordability of housing here in Austin. Please help spread the word!
Having just become the beneficiary of a job layoff before the holidays, I now have plenty of extra time on my hands, and I do plan to make good use of it. Of course, I also have extreme austerity to look forward to for the near future also, but that’s another story. Here are some more plans-in-motion from me:
I will be going back into the vocal studio soon to record myself reading from Henri Michaux’ amazing psychonaut memoir Miserable Miracle(sorry, just the English translation, for any of you who were hoping to hear my truly awful pronunciation of the French language). This is going to form a piece that I’ll be contributing to the annual Austin Noise compilation assembled by Matthew LaComette. This may form part of a larger project other than this stand-alone track, we’ll see what happens with this first salvo and go from there.
I’m in talks now to join local Austin radio station KOOP, for my own time slot to play the most interesting sound from the fringes of human consciousness. I’m not at liberty to discuss too much beyond this, since I still have some preliminary training to get out of the way. However - I am actively encouraging and soliciting contributions for anyone who wants to appear on the show for an interview or use it as a platform to audition a new piece of work. For more on that score, take a look at my previous proposal to resurrect my Belsona Academy show that briefly played on London’s Resonance FM.
I’ll have more regular appearances as ‘DJ Foxbat’ soon (my last, as recently as this Monday, was a completely unannounced ‘soundclash’ with multiple simultaneous DJs, and of course one of the best showings I’ve had so far…typical!)
So - yes, ‘busy’ will still remain the watchword of the day. Reiterating what I mentioned above, though, this next couple of months is going to be fairly tough as I try to find alternative sources of income with which to pay for life basics (housing, food, transportation). If you want to help, the easiest way to support me is just to purchase some of my work - I still do have personal copies remaining of “To Hear The World With New Eyes,” for example. I have done so many ‘donation drives’ in the past to help me through hard times, that I am reluctant to go down this road again and to keep nagging my terrific, loyal friends and fans. Donations are always welcome, but I prefer to give you something in honest exchange for your help, so - please see if there’s anything remaining in my web shop that you might like, or contact me personally if you feel there’s some creative service that I could offer you.
You win some, you lose some: as I play the waiting game to see whether or not I will still have a paying job come the holidays, things are looking up in other areas. My first live talk on the new book To Hear The World With New Eyes, officially “launched” in the U.S. in Austin’s Farewell Books, was a success. Thanks to Tara Bhattacharya for putting genuine effort into reading the book and asking questions that mattered.
This may actually be a kind of informal “warm up” for other readings / workshops in the region (with some possible venues being University of Texas, End of an Ear and elsewhere). We still have plans to do a one-off radio program based on synesthesia; namely music either composed by synesthetes or with synesthetic ambitions.
While I (of course) had no chance to promote it, I did play a live music show on the same day as the Farewell reading. This took place outdoors in the erotically chilly open air, at the Dimension Gallery in East Austin: a fascinating sculpture-centered gallery built within a disused filling station. Titled “An Evening of Artful Sound,” this featured me alongside Alex Keller / Lisa Cameron, Brekekexkoaxkoax, and Brent Fariss.
I performed a new live improvisation there with minimalist turntable, modular MFOS synth and computer plug-ins, which I retroactively titled “Turning Worms Into Dragons”: a personal banishing ritual to counteract the choking, unrelieved anxiety that has been the hallmark of my surroundings for weeks. Alex Keller managed to make a hybrid soundboard / audience recording of the show: only the below excerpt exists for now (but please do contact me if you have a recording that spans the full 30-odd minutes). Enjoy!
Things have admittedly been quiet on this journal page, although that doesn't imply any kind of lack of activity in my personal life. Those aspects of life that I see as compulsory (work, further education, etc.) are taking more precedence than they have at any point in the last five years or so, yet for all that I am still busy with new creative work and new research into esoteric but valuable subject matter.
I have talked before on this blog about a new piece entitled "Negative Autoscopy," and themed after the similarly named hallucination (in which individuals claim they are unable to see their own reflections). Given that accounts of this are extremely rare, and that the phenomena of autoscopy as a whole is still very interesting, I've altered the name of this piece to "La Reproduction Interdite" (named for the Magritte painting above). The story of this phenomenon has all kinds of interesting implications for one's psycho-social development, particularly as it is very different from the mystical "out of body" experience in which individuals claim to have an affirmation of existing outside of their own body. Autoscopy, by contrast, forces humans to confront a doppelganger of themselves and to question where their true self lies (a la Chuang Tzu's famous dream of being a butterfly) - this has led to fascinating, if occasionally horrifying, instances of the doppelganger acting as a pursuer or consoler. For this piece, which will be released on Daniele Antezza's new Holotone label, there will be special artwork and text (to be read in a mirror, natch) which will report on the occluded world of autoscopy, without attempting to draw any moral conclusions and all the while letting listeners make up their own minds.
As per usual, I have composed everything on the upcoming recording by myself (though with some valuable assistance from Alex Keller, who helped to record the spoken voiceovers).
Meanwhile - my new book To Hear The World With New Eyes, while encountering some more delays in its international distribution, is nonetheless available from me for a short time, and will especially be available when I conduct a live presentation at Austin's Farewell Books on November 19, from 5-7pm. I do hope to see lots of friends and supporters there!
Well into the 21st century, artwork based on scent is still faced with the same challenges that it has struggled with ever since the artist became a distinct social category. When the scents in question are appealing, the olfactory artists who conceptualize or implement them are often dismissed as being prodigies of good taste rather than as genuinely creative synthesizers of raw materials. When the scents are unsettling, these artists are just as often viewed as sadistic agitators terrorizing us with an inventory of repressed information. Ironically, given this power to make enduring impressions, the consensus on scent is that it is the most “ephemeral” of the arts (even more so than fine cuisine, which can at least be visually documented ahead of its consumption).
This paradoxical sense of intense affectivity via ephemerality is explored in the collaborative project simply named Ephemera, the brainchild of the daring perfumer Geza Schoen in partnership with Polish curator Małgorzta Płzsa and the multi-national electronic arts festival Unsound. Schoen was previously invited by the installation artist Sissel Tolaas to design her fragrances Hsideews and Made in Norway (Tolaas herself maintains a “scent archive” of over 7,000 unique fragrances), but while Tolaas’ projects interdisciplinary projects have focused more on pairings of sensory input, Ephemera endeavors a three-way correspondence between sound, sight, and smell. With curator Płzsa’s stated aim of “creating a representation of sound waves in molecular form,”[i] this ongoing project’s first installment made an ambitious attempt at forging a synesthetic connection between a triptych of designer fragrances, musical compositions, and short video works. The trio of fragrances in question, titled “Noise,” “Bass,” and “Drone” is each accompanied by a short musical piece by Ben Frost, Kode9 / Steve Goodman and Tim Hecker, respectively. Upping the synesthetic ante even more, the video artists Manuel Sepulveda (a.k.a. Optigram) and Marcel Weber (a.k.a. MFO) each provide glistening, elemental visuals to accompany both the installation versions of the project and the “home” versions thereof.
Though Ephemera will surely be many people’s first encounter with a collaborative ‘olfactory art’ undertaking, the “intermedia”-inspired questioning of spatial boundaries has caused a steady uptick in installations and performances that use diffused scent as a primary aesthetic element rather than as a supplementary one. Prominent chapters in this story include Jana Sterbak’s 1995 piece Perspiration - a “chemical reconstitution of her partner’s glandular secretions”[ii] that questioned the need to capture another’s “essence” - or Nobi Shioya’s 2003 piece 7S, in which he commissioned seven separate perfumers to create olfactory interpretations of the “seven deadly sins.” Meanwhile, outside the boundaries of the art world proper, individuals like Luca Turin (the biophysicist crowned the “Emperor of Scent” against his wishes), have tirelessly advocated for designer scents to be seen as an art form rather than as a chemical compounds. Turin’s spirited defenses come from the understanding that synthetic scents are not static artworks meant to have the same affective qualities from one moment to the next; rather they are creations whose elements change volatilities over time and therefore have a compositional quality akin to performance, music or poetry. Turin regularly makes allegorical comparisons to the more universally accepted methods of creative composition, like his musings on “chemical poems” and his elevation of perfumer friends as being “the greatest composers of the 20th century”.[iii]
In their revelatory article “The Aesthetics of Smelly Art,” Larry Shiner and Yulia Kriskovets claim that olfactory art’s curse, i.e. “having so little history compared with the arts we associate with vision and hearing”[iv] is actually a blessing for artists who want to create something that links mysterious vestigial remnants of a prehistoric existence with the “science fiction now” technology of the present. It’s a spirit has manifested itself in, for example, the many scent-based artworks of Peter du Cupere, up to and including his “smell sonata” for a scent-diffusing keyboard instrument called the Olfactiana.
Much contemporary art, with its desire to overcome digital-age estrangement from the body, still “aspires to the condition of music” (as Walter Pater famously noted). So it’s not surprising to see projects like Ephemera matching the persistent, atmosphere-permeating hyperaesthesia of “bass,” “noise,” and “drone” with similar aromatic qualities. While perfumers and their enthusiasts have long used musical terminology to describe scent - i.e. calling the subsequent impressions received by a complex scent “notes,” and calling such complex scents “accords” to draw an analogy to musical chords - Ephemera modernizes this concept by focusing on the elements of electronic music. From the musique concréte of Pierre Schaeffer onwards, electronic composition has tended to see vibration itself as the fundamental unit of sound composition rather than pitched “notes”, while Turin’s theory posits that the human nose also detects olfactory information through molecular vibrations. Acknowledging that the scientific exactitude of the scent-sound-sight translation is a work in progress, Płysa states “I am definitely still interested in researching closer connections one could make between sound waves and scent molecules.” Though she also hints that upcoming expansions of the Ephemera line will “take a more ‘organic’ turn” (and playfully notes that “we can’t reveal much” at this time)[v], the initial emphasis on distinctly electronic sound is a wise choice.
For all its graceful execution, projects like Ephemera can still be difficult to pull off in a world where the fragrance industry’s thousands of yearly launches include novelty items certain to alienate skeptics (see, for example, fragrances inspired by the Resident Evil video games or fragrances approximating the aroma of a freshly purchased MacBook Pro laptop). Meanwhile, even if Ephemera successfully creates the illusion of fusing sensory modes, there is still the task of uniting the specialist subcultures who are content to be aligned with a single art form. As the Ephemera thread on the Basenotes fragrance forum shows, not all olfactophiles are also audiophiles or cinephiles, and the self-appointed spokespeople for each group carefully guard their aesthetic terrain against encroachment from outside interference, seeing attempts to “interpret” through other sensory channels as a form of condescension rather than a more profound experiment.
This clash of aesthetic preferences isn’t completely a bad thing, as such arguments over the legitimacy or the “gimmickry” of Ephemera are at least revealing an increasing willingness to discuss and delineate the role of scent in the contemporary arts. Should there be a sort of “absolute” scent-based artwork to be opposed to Gesamtkunstwerk [‘total artwork’] pieces like Ephemera, or should olfactory art be presented without any kind of artist’s commentary, in the same way that non-descriptive “absolute music” stood in opposition to narrative “program music”? Or, like visual artworks of an experimental bent (e.g. Andy Warhol’s deathly boring films like Empire and Sleep), to what degree is the scent merely a signpost pointing towards the “real” artwork, i.e. the “social sculpture” resulting from the multitude of audience impressions and reactions? In asking these questions, both creators and their audiences are providing new perspectives on those unresolved problems that affect all forms of art presentation, and it is here where Ephemera and future projects like it will become truly meaningful.
[i] Email correspondence with the author, March 29 2016.
[ii] Jim Drobnick, “Inhaling Passions: Art, Sex and Scent.” Sexuality and Culture, Vol. 4. No. 3., pp. 37-57.
[iii] Mick O’Hare, “A Nose for Controversy.” New Scientist Vol. 192 No. 2578 (11/18/2006)
[iv] Larry Shiner & Julia Kriskovets, “The Aesthetics of Smelly Art.” Journal of Aesthetics & Art Criticism, Vol. 65 No. 3, pp. 273-286.
Three years’ worth of hard work on my new book To Hear The World With New Eyes is finally at an end. My preliminary batch of authors’ copies has arrived from Spain and I’m happy to say, holding the books in my hands, that a lot of work has gone into the presentation and layout - my good friend and collaborator Susana has put serious thought into making a design that reflected the book’s contents and yet wasn’t intrusive upon them.
The U.S. “launch party” will take place at Austin’s Farewell Books in the first week of October. I’m still working with the organizers on the exact date, so for everyone who is interested in attending the above event, please get in touch with me and I promise I’ll keep you posted. I believe there will also be an on-air interview about the book on local KOOP radio.
Because I am saving most of the books that are in my possession for upcoming live appearances (and waiting to see what the distribution scenario looks like for the rest of the books), I have a very limited number on hand that can be sold via my web shop. The good news is, if you purchase one, it will come autographed by me and dedicated if you choose that option. Again, I urge you to act quickly - a honestly have only a few copies to sell online, and am not creating a state of artificial scarcity.
With the blessing of hard-working local concert organizer Melissa Seely, I’ve also been given free rein to have an irregular DJ residency at Me Mer Mo, an intriguing Monday-night showcase of sonic eclecticism at Austin’s Volstead Lounge (I am thinking I will be here every 2-3 weeks or so; feel free to contact me for a more concrete schedule of appearances, though I know for a fact that I’ll be present on the 19th of this month from 6-11pm). Also know that I DJ under the alias DJ Foxbat (the NATO reporting name of a supersonic MiG fighter-interceptor that was originally adopted when my DJ sets were more heavily represented by tracks from the late Cold War).
I’m relishing this opportunity to introduce unsuspecting ears to sound and tonal music from all cultural and perceptual extremes. Compared with the smoothly beat-mixed, genre-specific nights associated with more “professional” club DJs, I set these sets up to reward those who like looking for the hidden consistencies between supposedly irreconcilable types of sound. While I generously spin work from my friends and influences in the ‘sound arts’ realm, I have also enjoyed sharing everything from the icy folk of Yanka Dyagileva to the mesmerizing naivete of the Langley Schools Music Project to lectures on neurology and the malleability of consciousness.
So, by all means, please join me some upcoming Monday for an intimate sonic journey (and, of course, stay for the actual performances - which often range from curiosity-provoking to outright excellent).
Note: this post re-edited as of August 10 with video added below.
Less than 24 hours after sweating out several liters of water within the sauna-like confines of Austin’s Museum of Human Achievement, I’m happy to say that the “New Tongues” event referenced earlier here has been a terrific success in terms of the quality of performances and interaction with the audience. (I've posted a short excerpt of the full show at the bottom of the post here). Suffice it to say that I look forward to future collaborations with the determined and ambitious individuals (James Eck Rippie in particular) who applied a level of energy to this underground event that most people can’t or don’t invest in supposedly “professional” exhibitions of creativity.
Programs for the performance were printed up, which included an exposition of the ideas behind the piece I debuted that night - “Cancion de la Muerte Pequeña” - and more besides. This will be included in the promised torrent of documentation soon to come from me. Another interesting side effect of the primary event was an interview conducted between sets and dealing with my upcoming synesthesia book. This is being submitted by the interviewers for broadcast on the California radio station KCRW, and I will certainly update you all on what form that eventually takes.
Since the intense subject matter and sonics of the past couple performances have fatigued me a little, my next public appearance will be a little more informal and shot through with a little more bizarre humor than some of my friends and fans might be accustomed to. I will be returning to the Volstead Lounge on the 22nd of of the month [not the 15th as previously mentioned - TBWB], doing a unique DJ set which will see me throwing techno-industrial-dub rhythms, concrete poetry, kitsch nonsense, psycho-ambience and yet more into a bubbling sonic cauldron. Feel free to stop by and decompress from the workday.