SCORES Performances at Lawrimore Project

As I announced last week on this blog, this past Saturday was the closing celebration of SCORES, Lawrimore Project’s exhibition of art objects intended to be played as graphic scores.  Participating musicians were Robert Kirkpatrick, Wyndel Hunt, Pearson Wallace-Hoyt and Jon Sargent, Timm Mason, Simon Henneman, David Golightly and myself.  Robert Kirkpatrick has an excellent recap of the event on his blog A Spiral Cage, as well as some photos from the event in his Flickr photostream.

Timm Mason playing a score by David Schafer. Photo by Robert Kirkpatrick.

Timm Mason playing a score by David Schafer. Photo by Robert Kirkpatrick.

I think the challenge of having musicians interpret artworks as graphic scores was a good exercise that yielded some interesting results.  But perhaps the greatest accomplishment of this event was that it brought together two spheres of interest that are, to be frank, much further apart than they should be.  One hallmark of a thriving art scene is a high degree of communication among creative individuals of all stripes, and yet I am often surprised by the lack of integration between the visual artists and musicians working in this town.  This event was a wonderful opportunity to spark some meaningful interaction.  I’m grateful that I got to be a part of it.

This is a video of my “reading” of a piece by artist Steven Hull, which features a modified toy train that runs through a tower that is adorned with a John Cage score.  In my interpretation of this object, I used a Boss RC-2 Loop Station to create audio loops that mirrored the length of the train track.  Singing a simple drone, I built each successive layer by modulating pitch according to the train’s twists and turns around the path (only partially visible in the video frame).

In addition, there are videos of Timm’s and David’s performances on Vimeo.  Thanks to everyone who helped make this event possible!

~ by emilypothast on June 16, 2009.

15 Responses to “SCORES Performances at Lawrimore Project”

  1. I’m sorry I missed out on this – your rendition was perfectly haunting, layered, and beautiful!

    Wow, you’ve made a really good point. How have I not thought about this before? So many artists have been influenced by music, how often does this get turned around?

    It just seems more collaborative efforts between these two-not-quite-separate-worlds would be a really good thing to see happen, especially with those of you deeply entrenched in them. I hope this Lawrimore event is just the beginning of many.

  2. Thanks!

    So many artists have been influenced by music, how often does this get turned around?

    This is true, but in a limited sense. Artists listen to music all the time, but in my admittedly limited experience, most of the visual artists I know tend to socialize mainly with other artists and seldom attend or participate in the sorts of “new music” events that roughly correspond to the contemporary art world.

    How many brilliant artists do you know who have their finger on the local pulse when it comes to visual arts events, but then list some indie megastars like The Shins or Arcade Fire when asked about their favorite music!? Not that there’s anything objectively wrong with that stuff, it’s just not particularly HERE and NOW. Conversely, despite being totally in the know about what’s going on musically in Seattle, most of the musicians I talked to about this event had never been to Lawrimore Project!

    There are, of course, notable exceptions to this, I’m just pointing out a general observation about Seattle. We are known for keeping to ourselves here, and when we go out, we tend to keep to our own kind.

    In retrospect, I could have seen this exhibition becoming way more interactive, perhaps with scheduled readings by different artists and musicians spread out over the course of the entire exhibition.

  3. I could easily see this problem manifesting in other cities too, specific scenes being what they are. It would be interesting to see what the crossover is in other cities, actually (given that Seattle is so particularly/peculiarly reclusive)!

    I admit that I don’t have my finger on any musical pulse at all. Once in a while I come across something interesting and less pop/indie-ish, more compositional/experimental. That said I wouldn’t presume to be able to keep up with what’s going on out there, especially locally! This needs to change!

    Oh and in terms of artists being influenced, I don’t know how that stand in contemporary art. I thought about specifying “historically” but didn’t want to exclude those who might be working with/from music. The first artist who comes to mind is Romare Bearden, who also composed music in addition to his visual art. I’m sure there must be others I’m forgetting. I’m sure there must be contemporary versions?

    At any rate, I do like what you’re envisioning. This project could have some serious legs, and I hope more people become involved!

  4. Unfortunately, the exhibition came down. Our performances were on the last day.

    I can definitely empathize with the lack of being in the know re: local music. For a long time, I totally ignored it because it seemed too daunting to get into. Also, being an artist is a largely solitary endeavor that limits the amount of time one has to investigate such things. I basically run myself ragged at this point trying to keep up with the interesting things all my friends are doing.

    For me, it’s useful to have lots of musical friends that can introduce me to things that I might like. Here’s a short list of some of Seattle’s unsung treasures in that regard:

    Eric Lanzillotta at Dissonant Plane is a great guy and a veritable font of information about all things avant-garde, and he blogs and sends out emails about local performances.

    The Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center is one of the best spots to hear new music. For me, keeping up with their calendar is a good practice. Another place to check out is Gallery 1412.

    If this stuff isn’t to your taste, there are also great things going on on the rock n’ roll front. Portable Shrines is the bestest (only?) psych rock collective in the history of Seattle! They make an effort to book great stuff and do killer light shows. They also blog.

    As far as I’m concerned, Dave Segal might as well be the only guy writing about any kind of rock or pop music in Seattle. His taste is impeccable.

    Finally, Hollow Earth Radio is an internet-only station that focuses exclusively on a wide variety of underground local music. I haven’t listened to it much, but I like what they’re about in principle.

    I’m sure there are other resources/blogs for other genres I know less about. (SHAUN KARDINAL, where u at?!)

    I think to a certain extent, music and art are like food: it improves the entire ecology of the scene if you consume locally. I grew up going to grocery stores like everyone else in this country, and I remember being an adult before I realized that FOODS GO IN AND OUT OF SEASON. Now that I try to buy organic/local, everything tastes better and is healthier for me.

    To me, going to be in some anonymous crowd to see some popular musician whom I’ll never meet in person is a guilty pleasure, like hothouse tomatoes in the winter. Sometimes it’s exactly what I want, but I wouldn’t want to live off it.

  5. Hey Emily,

    Good write up and thanks for the link to my report. You raise questions here that have been issues I’ve thought about a lot. I’m very enamored with contemporary art (merely as a viewer, I’ve never studied it and don’t produce it) and I’ve long felt that contemporary music is always a bit conservative in comparison. In the areas of music that appeal to me (primarily highly abstract improvisation, modern composition and other experimental musics) there has long been an association with the arts but in many ways its only advanced so far. It all hearkens back to John Cage and the New York school of musicians connections with the New York School of abstract expressionism and it seems that the touchstones for modern musicians haven’t expanded much beyond that.

    In the art activities that I’ve been involved in (mainly as a blog reader, gallery attender and through artist friends) the situation seems even worse. The days of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and so on selling pieces to put on a Cage retrospective, or bringing all their artists friends to fill out the audience for a Morton Feldman concert seem long gone. Gallery openings have retrogressive indie bands or DJs (at best) and there seems to be no interest to push forward the music as one would push forward the arts.

    For these reasons I thought this Scores performance was a step in the right direction. The performances seemed much more forward looking with nods toward current trends in improvisation, drone and noise music and demonstrated that you can mix contemporary art with contemporary music. That in fact it is the music that complements certain abstract art most effectively. I hope that more events like this occur and that there is greater interest in what is happening now in music as well as art.

  6. Dear Robert (spiralcage),

    Thanks for the kind words, and for taking the time to write such a thoughtful and indepth post about the event. I tried to comment on your post yesterday and WordPress was giving me some issues (I finally found my login email for your site just now, in my spam folder). D’oh!

    You bring up some interesting issues about the relative level of experimentation that may be found in contemporary music versus contemporary art. At the one end, I suppose, the disciplines merge, and “art” can be comprised of anything, including sound. For instance, is Yann Novak a composer combining video images with sound, or is he an artist using sound as just one possible element in an installation? Both/either, depending on who’s looking, but I know Yann considers himself a “composer.” Still, composers and artists both learn about John Cage in school, each claiming him as one of our own.

    A few months ago, I got my hands on a full set of the SMS portfolios through the gallery where I work, and Eric Lanzillotta and I staged a listening party of all the audio pieces at Dissonant Plane (recap here.) In addition to the sheer level of innovation of the work represented (La Monte Young’s Drift Studies!) to me, the most striking thing about that project is the collaborative spirit between musicians and visual artists at that place and time (i.e. 1968 Manhattan). All the definitions were more fluid in those days. Musicians La Monte Young, John Cage, and Angus MacLise all contributed written/visual pieces to SMS, while Marcel Duchamp and Bruce Nauman contributed audio pieces.

    That said, I think when it comes to music, art, and hybrids thereof, “experimentation” is no longer interesting to me in and of itself. I’m getting to a point where I’m most interested in music and art that harnesses the discoveries we’ve made about the nature of perception to illuminate something of the “patterns we’re made of.”

    To practical ontology!

    But that can and does include music we both call “experimental.” (I’ve been reading Rudolf Arnheim’s stuff about Gestalt theory of perception lately, and he’s confirming what I already know to be true from intuition: not all abstract forms are created equal, and the reasons why have to do with the resonant frequencies of our perceptual apparati. Ding!)

    I’m glad I discovered your blog. I hope that by linking to it and having this very conversation, we’re doing the thing we both wish people were doing!

  7. Artists, we musicians need your help with album covers, photos, website art, flyers + handbills, LIVE VIDEO PROJECTION and more. You need something that isn’t bland for your openings. Seems like we’ve got a lot to talk about.

  8. By the way, I realize what a corner I’ve painted myself into by declaring that want my art to live up to some zany psychological standard AND be local! But that just means you got your work cut out for you, Seattle!

  9. Artists, we musicians need your help with album covers, photos, website art, flyers + handbills, LIVE VIDEO PROJECTION and more. You need something that isn’t bland for your openings. Seems like we’ve got a lot to talk about.

    Good point, Timm, but artists need musicians for way more than that. Like for instance we need to hang out with you, so that we can seem less obsessive and self-absorbed in comparison! =)

  10. Glad I can help, but where do _I_ go to feel less obsessive and self-absorbed? Should I hang out with a philosopher?

    PS I was serious – I’m shocked by how tame the music usually is for art openings. There is no shortage of performers who could do anything from field recording collage to drone to harsh noise to minimal beats to you-name-it. We are mostly kind folks who are happy with a little space in the corner to set up, and box wine from plastic cups.

  11. love the celebration of synesthesia! wish i could have been there, but not sure the incidental noise of an infant would’ve added anything. collaboration between disciplines is some of the most satisfying and groundbreaking work, but doesn’t come easily in a subdivided/specialized world. it does seem to be a basic human impulse, though. many of the arts are used together in ceremonies (weddings, e.g.)… theater makes use of a bunch of the senses at once… etc. it’s fun to see this version (scores) acted out.

  12. Great points, Gala, especially regarding ceremonies, theater, etc. It’s strange that visual artists and musicians feel like they need to reinvent the wheel in order to interact!

  13. True.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parade_(ballet)

    Seattle’s Degenerate Art Ensemble is relevant here, too.

  14. That said, I think when it comes to music, art, and hybrids thereof, “experimentation” is no longer interesting to me in and of itself. I’m getting to a point where I’m most interested in music and art that harnesses the discoveries we’ve made about the nature of perception to illuminate something of the “patterns we’re made of.”

    Lots of good points coming up in this thread. On this point you made Emily, I agree that experimentation in technique is probably not as interesting in and of itself as I think it was during the 50s-70s. Obviously there needs to be continual experimentation in this regard as it leads to the continual slow evolution of the arts, but I think the time for these experiments as the end product is no longer sufficient. However I think that experimentation with ideas is absolutely essential. In fact I’d say that ” [art that] harnesses the discoveries we’ve made about the nature of perception to illuminate something of the “patterns we’re made of.” ” is an idea that one could experiment with.

    Working through ideas with my music is what I’m constantly trying to do and what attracts me to the music I really love. In art I feel it is no different. I can see a piece and get the sense that there is something the artist is trying to work through, or I can see its just an application of technique or worst of all regurgitating someone elses ideas.

    -Robert

    • On this point you made Emily, I agree that experimentation in technique is probably not as interesting in and of itself as I think it was during the 50s-70s. Obviously there needs to be continual experimentation in this regard as it leads to the continual slow evolution of the arts, but I think the time for these experiments as the end product is no longer sufficient. However I think that experimentation with ideas is absolutely essential.

      Thanks for saying this better and clearer than I did. For me, experimentation of ideas is the more interesting thing at this point, and technical experimentation occupies an important, but subordinate position. What I expressed as an interest applies to me personally and I hope I didn’t imply that I don’t think there are other valid modes of expression. It’s just that when I go to performances of “experimental” music, I’m generally hoping to hear someone whose mastery makes the nuts and bolts of technique disappear into the form, or at least occasions an “expression” whose whole is greater than the sum of parts. It’s not what everyone is after, and I can see how being a highly experimental musician might give one much more sympathy toward pure experimentation.

      To some extent, I think the overarching conformity to natural patterns I mentioned is that which arises natuarally through open, honest and sensitive experimentation and production. I’m of the opinion that we can’t help but make structures that echo the structures of the consciousness that not only produced them but deemed them worthwhile:

      Christian [praying]: Lord, make me an instrument of Thy will!
      God: If I’m omnipotent and absolute, how, pray tell, could you not be?

      I wrote an essay for La Especial Norte earlier this year called “Fleeting Moments in an Infinite Flux: Artists and Other Windows on Eternity” that explains what I mean by this a lot better than I’m doing on this thread.

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