Sounds from Old New York

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In the seventy years since it last served as a major terminal for Brooklyn-bound ferries, the Battery Maritime Building has existed in relative disuse, accumulating signs of rust and decay common to the structures and sites of older eras of New York City. But with Playing the Building, a Creative Time-sponsored installation by David Byrne that opened this past weekend in the Great Hall, the building once again comes alive in clamorous sonority, producing a rendition of its own material history played upon its very body. Developing upon a project proposal for Färgfabriken, in Stockholm, Byrne has retrofitted a vintage Weaver pump organ with a bundle of relays and wires, which rise from its backside and spread, like a snaky canopy, over the 9,000 square-foot room. Each note of the organ triggers a particular event and sound in the space: lower keys power motors that vibrate the hall's girders, causing muffled rumbles; middle tones generate flute-like sounds from heating pipes; and higher notes cause spring-loaded solenoids to bang and clang on columns and radiators. The installation thus produces a strangely phenomenal field, all the more surprising given the absence of microphones, amplification and electronics in supplementing the building's performance. Even more importantly, it activates the audience by allowing members to take turns playing the organ. As Byrne remarked, in an interview with Playing the Building curator Anne Pasternak, "It became a kind of social apparatus as well as being an installation. It became a shared communal experience." -- Tyler Coburn


Image: David Byrne, Playing the Building, 2008

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A Chorus Line

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After its March premiere at the Dark Fair, Wordless Chorus will convene for the second time this Saturday evening at New York's Canada Gallery. Composed by artist Brian Belott and dancer Larissa Velez, the piece involves the participation of over 25 choreographed members howling, singing, and grunting nonsensical verse while wielding props such as chattering teeth and batons. Lounge music is cited as an inspiration for the project, an unsurprising fact considering Belott's love for kitsch and distinct sense of humor, which recalls the media savvy and subversive wit of Michael Smith paired with a Dada-inspired penchant for the absurd. While, evidently, the Wordless Chorus is an event that needs to be seen to be believed, those unable to attend can pick up a limited-edition vinyl record of the ensemble's performance later this year from Grey Ghost Press. - Ceci Moss

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Water Curses by Animal Collective

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Artist and prolific chart-maker Andrew Kuo directed a vibrant and wonderfully pixelated music video for Animal Collective's new song "Water Curses." See below.

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Live in the Studio

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For Internal Message Search: A Performative Installation, opening Friday, April 18th, pioneering video and internet artist Nina Sobell will install her Location One artist residency studio in the not-for-profit art center's project space, where she will carry on her practice for the duration of the show. Visitors will be able to see Sobell's recent wax sculptures and drawings, interact freely with the artist, and even accompany her for impromptu musical sessions (Sobell is a skilled improvisational guitarist and keyboardist). In keeping with Sobell's interest in extra-institutional viewing communities, the entire exhibition will also be webcast at all hours of the day, allowing online users access to the conventionally closed-off realm of the artist studio, in a fashion that constructively challenges existing divisions of public and private space, while also placing her web audience in the ambivalent role of surveillants. Sobell and multimedia artist Emily Hartzell realized a similar project in 1994, also using real-time webcasting to transform their studio at NYU Center for Advanced Technology into one of the internet's first time-based installations. Reflecting on the experience, they described moments when "our actions were heightened by our awareness of unseen Web visitors," and others when "we felt ourselves dissolved in...ubiquitous surveillance." Given her open invitation for musical collaboration for the duration of her forthcoming exhibition, it seems Sobell is presently aiming to produce an installation that both foregrounds the "artist-in-studio as spectacle" and facilitates a new type of community-centric performance space, accessible to viewers near and far. - Tyler Coburn

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Christoph Cox Lecture Tonight at the MATA Festival

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Critic and art historian Christoph Cox will give a free talk tonight entitled "From Object to Process: Time in the Sonic Arts" as part of the MATA Festival, a decade-old event for young genre-defying composers in New York. The lecture will begin by examining sound art and music in the 1960s, an era marked by great cultural anxiety around time in relation to advances in technology (a topic elaborated in Pamela Lee's Chronophobia: On Time in the Art of the 1960's), and will continue by charting the direction set by the artistic experiments coming out of this period. Cox will devote specific attention to "the shift from time as a measured whole to time as fluid duration." The lecture begins at 7 pm tonight at the Brooklyn Lyceum. A discussion with composer and sound artist Micah Silver will follow Cox's presentation. For more information about the lecture and other activities related to the festival (including concerts and sound installations), visit MATA's website. - Ceci Moss

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Beat Poetry

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Madison Square Park Conservancy described their calendar for this year as "ambitious" in their press release and, judging from the amount of coverage we've allotted their public art program in the Rhizome blog this week, this is certainly so. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, the Montreal-based artist slated to present work in the park this November, gave an informative lecture about his upcoming project Pulse Park (2008) at the Parsons The New School for Design last week. The inspiration for Pulse Park came about during his wife's pregnancy, when the artist listened to the heartbeats of his twins for the first time. "We could hear how different the heartbeats were, and the pattern - the music - that was generated by the pulses was really fascinating," he reminisced. Imagine that rhythmic pattern scaled up one hundred times, and you'll have an idea of the scope of his proposal for the interactive light installation Pulse Park, which is set to transform the oval lawn of Manhattan's Madison Square Park into a complex matrix of throbbing lights in synchronization with the heartbeats of passersby. During his talk, he explained how this complex operation would function. Two hundred aircraft landing lights will surround the oval lawn, pointing toward the center; on the north and south sides of the lawn will be a computer-equipped stand with two cylindrical metal tubes. When a user grabs the tubes, a sensor picks up the heart rate as well as the amplitude and shape of the beat's waveform. The system translates those variables into a unique pulse of light, which appears in the first light to the left. When the next user records his heart rate, the first person's pulse moves one down the line along the perimeter, and so on. After a pulse has traveled all ...

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Marina Rosenfeld's Teenage Lontano/16 Channels at Whitney Biennial 2008

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As with any exhibition that surveys the best of contemporary art practices, the Whitney Biennial consistently elicits its share of cheers and, more frequently, jeers: complaints about artists omitted, marginalized mediums, insider back-scratching, and so on. While the 2008 edition may also merit such criticism, it deserves some praise for introducing a performance-heavy program at the Park Avenue Armory. Spanning the first two weeks of the biennial's three-month run, the Armory series finds artists and musicians like Agathe Snow, Lucky Dragons and Gang Gang Dance crossing and re-crossing the boundaries of performance and installation in the decorous (and semi-crumbling) rooms of the 1881 New York landmark. This Saturday evening, composer and turntablist Marina Rosenfeld will debut Teenage Lontano/16 Channels (2008), a "cover version" of György Liget's Lontano (1967) that Rosenfeld specifically conceived for the Armory's 55,000-square foot Drill Hall. Rosenfeld's reworking stretches the Hungarian composer's twelve-minute work to an even thirty and subjects his exceedingly meticulous score to a slew of chance scenarios - most importantly, the translation of the orchestral piece into a vocal composition, relayed via portable mp3 players into the headphones of the thirty-five New York teenagers who comprise Rosenfeld's choir. Hanging several dozen feet above the teens, a massive speaker will rotate at 33 1/3 r.p.m., like a turntable, and fire electronic sounds into the recesses of the cavernous hall: a space-age accompaniment to Rosenfeld's acoustic community. Like her seminal performance, sheer frost orchestra, in which seventeen women administered nail-polish to floor-bound guitars, Teenage Lontano/16 Channels emphasizes Rosenfeld's professed interest in the "ideosocial construction of music-making," here taking a vernacular of contemporary listening, a generation for which technology is like a second-skin, and through them reappraising a moment of high-Modern composition. - Tyler ...

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Phase Chancellor at the Stone

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This past February, renowned experimental composer and harpist Zeena Parkins curated an eclectic series of events at New York's avant-garde music venue The Stone. During the last week, Parkins invited a number of guiding lights from San Francisco's experimental media scene to perform. One highlight was the synthesizer trio Phase Chancellor, an improvisational group who have made memorable, yet infrequent appearances at various art and music spaces since 2005. Comprised of video artist Nate Boyce, musician J. Lesser, and Matmos's M.C. Schmidt, the outfit channels the early investigations in electronic art and video carried out by John Cage, David Tudor, and Nam June Paik. Phase Chancellor distance themselves from their predecessors through their integration of digital technology. The backbone of the performance is Boyce's mesmeric imagery, prepared mostly through the processing software Jitter, but altered and added upon live using a hacked video mixer fed oscillations by his Korg Mono/Poly synth. (In the accompanying video, imploding circles in the center of the image are generated by the arpeggiator function on this device.) The Mono/Poly is also part of the sound mix, to which Lesser and Schmidt contribute a rich counterpoint of electronic textures, avoiding the concept of drone altogether in favor of a perplexing and ever-shifting sonic environment. - Nick Hallett

Video: Phase Chancellor at the Stone, February 22, 2008

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1-Bit Chamber Music

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Attend any number of experimental music performances in New York City and chances are you'll come across a curious sight: a skinny young man conducting conversations on a cordless rotary telephone, which accompanies him almost everywhere and is, practically speaking, his mobile phone. This fellow is none other than Tristan Perich, a talented young artist, composer and inventor whose interest in the foundational units of acoustic sound and digital electronics is manifest in his reclamation of obsolescent objects and technology - the rotary phone among them. For 1-Bit Music (2004), the project for which he is best known, Perich retrofitted a CD jewel case with an 8-KB microchip, battery, track control and headphone jack, thereby enabling listeners to plug in and hear 40 minutes of low-fi electronic music. Beyond the strange and marvelous nature of this apparatus, 1-Bit Music's compositions exhibited a surprising degree of sophistication, considering that they effectively comprise MIDI blips and bleeps that Perich wrote in binary code. For tonight's performance at the Whitney Museum, as part of its "Composers' Showcase," Perich will perform three recent compositions (two of them debuts) that find his 1-bit circuit boards accompanying piano, trumpets and violin. Building on Perich's background in math and computer science, Active Field (2007) endeavors to generate the sonic equivalent of a planar landscape, particularly at its conclusion, when ten violins and ten channels of 1-bit music sustain a single-chord, to the point where analogue and electronic sound cease to be differentiable. Far from more conventional applications of electronics as supplements to orchestral music, Perich's project finds the mediums engaged in a formative, structural dialogue. - Tyler Coburn

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Sowing the Seeds of 8-bit Love

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In an art world saturated with fairs and festivals, it can be hard to stand out, but Prague is in good shape with their provocatively-named Sperm festival, which bills itself as a week of "fertile days of music and other media," including electronic art performances, workshops, and screenings. Taking place from March 6-8, the festival occupies a unique position, merging the Western European scene with a thriving Eastern European subculture. Also, this year many American 8-bit artists will be making their first foreign performances at Sperm, in a program organized by New York venue The Tank and net label 8bitpeoples. On the eighth day of March, 8-bit aficionado Mike Rosenthal has curated a program entitled 'Blip,' which will include low-bit music from Bit Shifter, Bubblyfish, Bud Melvin, Herbert Weixelbaum, Nullsleep, Stu, starPause, and x|k, and visuals by No Carrier and noteNdo. On the 7th, noteNdo will also lead a workshop on using the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to create visual images. The program is an exportation of the "chiptune vanguard" of which Rosenthal says confidently, "I'm reasonably sure we're gonna blow their minds." The artists selected for Blip continue to invent new ways to exploit old media, and the dissemination of their work at Sperm is a perfect fulfillment of the festival's mission "to be a fusion of the old and new, the familiar and the foreign." If you can't make it to the Czech Republic, try surfing the original Blip Festival's online archives and rest your ears on some of the pioneering chiptunes streamed at 8bitpeoples. - Marisa Olson

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