The soundscape in which
is presented includes works from the sound portion of the recent
"Bitstreams" exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art,
curated by Debra Singer with artistic advisor Stephen Vitiello.
Introduction by Debra Singer, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art
This CD features sound works included in "BitStreams," an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art focusing on the extraordinary range of artistic expression made possible through digital technologies. "BitStreams," on view from March 22 to June 10, 2001, was curated by Lawrence Rinder, the Whitney's Anne & Joel Ehrenkranz Curator of Contemporary Art, with Debra Singer, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art, who organized the sound portion of the exhibition with artistic advisor Stephen Vitiello.
That there are twenty-five sound artists included in "BitStreams" is testimony to how digital technologies have revolutionized the creation, production, distribution, and performance of experimental music and sound art. The number of possible sound sources, for example, has exponentially increased now that almost any kind of information, even light and visual images, can be translated into binary code and subsequently transformed into sound. In addition, widely available software programs give artists incredible flexibility in how they layer and combine sounds, and even the ability to design original sounds. Many contemporary composers also draw on twentieth-century musical history, which validated the use of everyday noises--as idiosyncratic as the hydraulic system of a bus or the sounds of laser eye surgery--as legitimate compositional elements. As artists experiment with sounds derived from nature, language, abstracted digital noise, traditional instruments, and prerecorded music, they combine avant-garde musical influences with equally inventive ideas drawn from more popular music styles of the last several decades. The results signal a shift in aesthetic principles as well as a desire to explore the ways in which the digital age has affected perception, identity, and communication.
The participating sound artists in "BitStreams" are: Gregor Asch (DJ Olive the Audio Janitor), Jonathan Bepler, Brian Conley, Richard Devine,
Sussan Deyhim, DISC, David Gamper, Ann Hamilton and Andrew Deutsch, John Herndon (A Grape Dope), John Hudak, Brandon LaBelle, Matmos, V. Michael (The Spacewürm), Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid), Ikue Mori, Jim O'Rourke, Andrea Parkins, Marina Rosenfeld, Elliott Sharp, Fred Szymanski (Laminar), Yasunao Toné, töshöklabs, Stephen Vitiello, Gregory Whitehead, and Pamela Z.
CD producers: Jay Di Kay, Debra Singer/The Whitney Museum of American Art, and Stephen
Vitiello. Special thanks to Lawrence Rinder and Evelyn Hankins. Thanks also to Lowlands Distribution, Jos Moers and Jeff Carey for their support on the realization of this CD. The exhibition "BitStreams" was sponsored by Philip Morris Companies
Inc. Additional support has been provided by the Whitney Contemporaries of
the Whitney Museum of American Art, the National Committee of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Christopher Vroom and Illya Szilak, Nettmedia,
Zurich Capital Markets, and Instinet Corporation.
May '00, 2000
Jim O'Rourke is known for a wide range of musical practices, including laptop compositions and performances that transform excerpts from existing pop and experimental music into completely new works. Although capable of intricate, quick interactions, O'Rourke often chooses to develop things gradually, reformulating a small set of sounds continuously over a single extended work. During the course of the work, subtleties of timbre and pitch are allowed to dominate over other elements. In this piece, O'Rourke's sound source is an eight-second sample from John Cage's work String Quartet in Four Parts (1950). One of the most radical and influential composers of the twentieth century, Cage is best known for his Minimalist style, use of everyday noises and found sounds, and implementation of chance operations. To make this piece, O'Rourke wrote a computer program that allowed him to choose different parts of the Cage sample, rearrange their note order, and play them simultaneously. The resulting composition, with its slow and deliberate instrumental passages of warping, bending sounds, is as expressive as Cage's piece, yet completely distinct.
V. Michael (The Spacewürm)
Age Breaker, 2000
Exposing the vulnerability of individual privacy in the digital age, The Spacewürm uses modified police and military scanners to intercept cellular and cordless telephone conversations transmitted within a five-mile radius of his location. A self-described digital voyeur, he surveys the emotional drama of people's everyday lives, likening each exchange to a short story. What began as a prank developed into a musical practice when The Spacewürm began to mix these real-voice interceptions with his own electronic music compositions in both live performances and studio works. For example, Age Breaker intercuts two conversations--one of a woman trying to reassure a jealous boyfriend and another of two men chatting casually about evening plans that possibly entail an act of violence--and sets them against a backdrop of subtly modulated, synthesized tones that keep the suspense flowing. The works' guilt-inducing allure makes it hard to resist the urge to listen. However, our complicity in eavesdropping also reminds us that we are all defenseless against similar acts of surveillance.
madscene 11 (endo-mix), 2000
This piece is from a set of variations contained within a larger work by Rosenfeld, titled fragment opera, which is a playful reference to the madness, death, and drama prevalent in traditional opera. This segment is about noise phenomena that might occur inside your head and is filled with curious scratches, melodic drones, resonating electric hums, and high-pitched reverberations. The work began as phrases of music Rosenfeld played on a violin lying on a table. She bounced these sounds back and forth numerous times between her computer and various analog media, then saved these "fragment-compositions" onto acetate records. The resulting unique LPs were used in various combinations in multiturntable performances where Rosenfeld remixed the sounds and manipulated them in nonstandard ways with tools such as guitar effects pedals, digital processors, and the computer. The final composition is thus the end result of numerous layers of processing, rerecording, and remixing in which traces of the original sources and unexpected digital variants of these sounds coexist.
Freak Cloud Idiom, 2000
Composer and improviser Andrea Parkins creates multilayered musical assemblages by combining her own accordion and piano performances with digital sampling of natural sounds, appropriated audio, and her own processed instrumental work. Freak Cloud Idiom is composed for acoustic piano and sampler, using a limited palette of processed sounds including piano, electric organ, and the human voice. This work moves at once both quickly and slowly through the use of fleeting keyboard passages juxtaposed with subliminally evolving drones. The sonic shapes that are created are analogous to "freak clouds": unstable cloud formations that occur when irregular winds pull in parts of larger clouds to make odd, short-lived cloud structures.
Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid)
Paul D. Miller is a conceptual artist working with sound who has exhibited in both club and gallery contexts. Performing and recording as DJ Spooky, he attempts to critique the social aspects of electronic culture and, in the tradition of artists as diverse as John Cage and Grandmaster Flash, uses sound as a form of compositional sculpture. Describing his method as "cybernetic improvisation," DJ Spooky surveys city streets, collecting sounds with a portable MiniDisc recorder that he then uses as the primary sources for his urban sound collages. In this quietly atmospheric piece, typically annoying traffic noises are transformed into a mellow polyphony. Ftp:>snd> is a good example of a genre called "ambient," a term that was initially used in the mid-1970s to refer to any music attempting to create an environment of sound, but more recently has come to mean pleasant-sounding music that incorporate electronic mixes and found sounds.
While an artist-in-residence at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) in Palo Alto, California, Pamela Z became fascinated by the rich palette of technical terms, acronyms, and catchphrases used by the researchers. She decided to make a piece about this new language, which was then just starting to infiltrate the world at large. Using a portable digital audio tape recorder, Pamela Z documented informal conversations among various technicians as well as their responses to a few questions she posed, such as how they would define the terms "geek" and "nerd." To make the final piece, she simply created short samples from the recordings, which she layered and looped, adding no special processing beyond some occasional reverb. Geekspeak is one movement of Pamela Z's larger project Parts of Speech, which explores the use of language in various contexts.
Conch is a documentary recording of an improvised live performance in which David Gamper used his hands and breath to "play" a conch shell, as one might a trumpet, generating a range of toots, taps, pops, and clicks. A system of foot pedals and switches simultaneously controlled a custom software program that digitally manipulated the raw sounds as they were being produced. The subtle transformations of pitch and time delays create an effect of echoing sounds resonating in different spaces and blur distinctions between the sounds of nature and those of technology.
Cryptid Fragments, 1993
Cryptid Fragments is a densely woven composition filled with surging masses of volatile sounds arranged as a virtual "string quartet." Sharp first recorded several violin and cello passages of varying lengths and techniques. He then used intensive digital processing to expand and compress the samples in dramatic ways, radically transforming these sonic fragments into an orchestra of invented instruments that generate both recognizable and abstract sounds. Like many of Sharp's works, this composition has biological associations: "cryptid" is a term describing creatures whose existence is widely accepted, yet supported only by anecdotal evidence.
Mister Whitehead, Are You There?, 2000
Gregory Whitehead draws on his background in experimental theater and improvised music to create hybrid audio works that mix live-performance elements with disjointed utterances of taped interviews, written texts, media samples, nature recordings, and destroyed music. Whitehead's discursive sound collages are made with older technologies, such as analog cassette recorders and telephones, as well as with digital samplers and audio-processing software. Like many of his works, this piece alludes to an ironic condition of our electronic world: as the possibilities for contact multiply, so too do the failures to communicate. With an underlying comic dread, Whitehead approaches the unintentionally isolating consequences of human interaction through computers and other technologies. Moreover, as the repeated refrain of his own voice asking "Mr. Whitehead, are you there?" suggests, he also indirectly explores the dilemmas of searching for the self in a culture of alienation that endures despite, and because of, increasingly elaborate communications networks.
Plex, Baudelaire, 2000
töshöklabs is a New York collective and microlabel that produces experimental electronic music; it also operates a new media programming and production office in Plymouth, Michigan. With its core members--Matthew Allen, Ron Croudy, Mark Hadley, Chad Harrison, Nate Harrison, Zachary Mastoon, David O'Toole, and Don Rainwater-- located around the country, töshöklabs exemplifies the new possibilities for collaboration facilitated by digital technologies. The geographically dispersed artists have produced albums of separate works and have also composed music together by sending sound files back and forth through the Internet. This particular piece was produced by Plex (Matthew Allen), who is based in Seattle. Plex composes his works by creating sounds with synthesizers and samplers and is especially known for incorporating audio recordings of digital error noises, such as software bugs and hardware glitches. His music has roots in early 1980s synth-pop, a mostly European post-disco style of electronic music, as suggested in its clipped, almost danceable grooves and truncated riffs. Plex's glitch-based sound designs, however, distinguish his compositions from more commercially oriented club music.
Topophony of the Text (Private Dialogue-Public Speech), 2000
Brandon LaBelle creates sound works relating to his interest in the harmonic possibilities of language, specifically, how vowels and consonants together form an architectural scaffolding that allows us to utter syllables, words, and sentences. For Topophony of the Text, Labelle recorded himself on five occasions reciting only the vowels in the final two pages of Roland Barthes' essay "The Pleasure of the Text," in which Barthes addresses how sonic qualities of the voice contribute to the construction of meaning in language. Each time, he sat in a different public space and pronounced the sequence of single vowels. He then used a digital sound editor to transpose these "field recordings" into a syncopated, layered chant that takes its qualities from both his enunciations and the live ambient sounds of each site.
Ann Hamilton and Andrew Deutsch
the first line, 2000
This piece, exploring the "sound of writing," grew out of a two-year collaboration between visual artist Ann Hamilton and composer Andrew Deutsch and was produced specifically for Hamilton to listen to while drawing. The first line developed from an observation Hamilton had made that the soothing, sweeping sounds of her pencil and hand moving across the surface of the paper seemed akin to the lyrical cadences of overlapping whispering voices. Like cyclical prayers or collective chants, the "drawing sounds" have no decipherable meaning, but nonetheless convey a sense of warmth and reassurance. To make the piece, Deutsch placed microphones very close to Hamilton's body as she drew and whispered unintelligibly. He then filtered and remixed the original recordings, adding tones and other sounds to expand its dynamic range. The result focuses not only on the sounds of drawing, but also on how the sounds of language, even when stripped of narrative, can communicate expressive content.
The Peony Lantern, 2000
Based in New York since 1977, Japanese musician Ikue Mori produces richly textured, imagistic soundscapes that exist at the juncture of the digital and the organic. The inspiration for her music often comes from historical sources such as books and paintings. The Peony Lantern, for example, is a musical interpretation of a ghostly romance story of the same name, adapted in 1884 by the Japanese novelist Encho from an old Chinese tale. Formerly an acoustic drummer in the late 1970s "no wave" band DNA, Mori has created music for the past ten years with three electronic drum machines, a digital processor, and a mixer. She has taken the drum machine far beyond the usual basic shifts in beats and rhythm, developing her own nuanced technique to control pitches and shape the color of the sounds. The result is an aural illusion of clusters of different instruments. With her computer, Mori transcribes a melody from a drum machine and makes it sound as if other instruments, such as a piano or violin, are playing it.
Fred Szymanski (Laminar)
Feeder #8, 2000
Fred Szymanski, in his Laminar project, produces extreme, tumultuous fields of sound built from minute bursts of sonic phenomena. The unexpected sources for his explosive soundscapes are often recordings of small, quiet mechanical sounds such as the whir of a spinning CD-ROM drive, the winding-down noises of a computer shutting off, and the buzzing of information being saved onto a disk. The sources for Feeder #8 are computer-generated cycles of feedback sounds. To make this piece, Szymanski "fed" these sonic materials into his computer, which he sometimes refers to as an "aural thrashing machine." Using a variety of software programs, he created new sounds through procedures involving magnification, extension, and replication and by breaking the original sounds into smaller microsounds, or "grains," which were then recombined to form new sounds through a process known as granular synthesis.
Photocell Remix, 2000
Light is the primary sound source in this piece by Stephen Vitiello. By connecting a photocell device that records fluctuations in the intensity of light and translates them into electronic signals for a computer, Vitiello amplified sound waves emitted by small red, green, and white lights set up in his studio. He then filtered and manipulated the sounds to construct a monotone, low-intensity chorus of white noise interrupted periodically by higher or lower tones produced by inflections in the sound waves emanating from the colored lights. As in some of his other works, here Vitiello fuses acoustic sounds with electronic and digital technologies to create hypnotic soundscapes from imperceptible or incidental atmospheric noises.
No Sellout, 1997
The San Francisco-based collaborative project DISC is dedicated to the premise that there are too many CDs in the world. To remedy the situation, DISC recycles and removes CDs from circulation, one at a time. In both live performances and recorded studio sessions, the group uses razor blades, markers, lubricants, and microwave ovens to damage the surface of pop and classical CDs, often picked randomly from promotional bins at music stores. They then allow the CD player to "compose" the piece by letting the damaged CD skip freely. The untampered results are manic screeches and stammers, an example of a new genre of experimental music called "glitchwerks," where the CD skip, or "glitch," is the primary musical element. Although the four original participants are based in San Franciso, DISC is a group with a fluid identity, and the founding members have permitted others to perform under its name, so long as the concert is based on skipping CDs.
John Herndon (A Grape Dope)
Kyoshi's Pop, 2000
John Herndon, best known as the drummer for the group Tortoise, is also a DJ and composer. Although Herndon's work reflects a drummer's expert sensibility with beats and rhythms, his multifaceted compositions use diverse source materials, including melodies produced by friends, original sounds generated on synthesizers and computers, and incidental noises picked up by his portable DAT recorder. Herndon then takes these source sounds as far away as possible from their original character and context through intense, improvisational digital processing. Influenced by musical styles ranging from dub to jazz, he often combines his reworked melodies with a performed bass line, creating pulsing blends of lingering synthetic beats. However, unlike more conventional works in which the bass melody focuses on carrying the groove, Herndon's bass line constantly shifts and evolves, avoiding predictable patterns of repetition.
Excerpt from War! Serbia vs. United States, 1999
This recording documents a live radio performance broadcast on November 14, 1999, on WBAI in New York and in Belgrade on Radio B2-92, which was a key voice of opposition inside Serbia during the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo. The event was an imaginary conflict between Serbia and the United States fought only with cartoon sound effects. Two teams of sound artists gathered at the two radio stations. The sounds each team generated were transmitted via the Internet to the other radio station and broadcast simultaneously on both. To prepare for the performance, the teams read classic books of war strategy--Sun Tzu's The Art of War and Carl von Clausewitz's On War, for example. Participants were allowed to employ any technology, from homemade instruments and the human voice to samplers and computer, to manipulate and organize the cartoon noises. The sounds from each team were broadcast on a separate speaker, enabling audiences to easily distinguish between the two teams.
This project was coproduced by Conley and Sina Najafi of Immaterial Incorporated in New York, Gordon Paunovic and Robert Klajn of Radio B2-92 in Belgrade, and Matthew Finch and Hesu Coue of WBAI in New York. The U.S. participants were: Scott Arford, Gracien Challenger, Bill Chesley, Barry Conley, David Cunningham, Michael DeMurga, Brian Dewan, Thomas Dimuzio, David Dixon, Joshua Fried, Rob Gould, Dan Illian, Nina Katchadourian, Peter Lew, Pam MacKinnon, Akio Mokuno, Sean Moore, Daphna Naftali, <o>blaat, Marcin Ramocki, Maria Striar, Clubbed Thumb, Shane Valentino, Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, Trevor Williams, and Jay Worthington. The Serbian participants have never been identified publicly.
John Hudak works with extremely quiet, small sounds that generally pass unnoticed by most people or are even below the usual threshold of human hearing. Like many of his compositions, pond focuses on natural and environmental sounds: in this case, the high tones of small underwater insects recorded with a waterproof microphone placed in the soft, muddy edges of a pond. Hudak transferred the original analog tape recording to his computer and eliminated background noise with an audio editor. He then made nuanced frequency adjustments to add warmth and depth. Both soothing and austere, the Minimalist structure of pond derives from textural qualities that normally seem static, but which actually change, almost imperceptibly, over time.
Gregor Asch (DJ Olive the Audio Janitor)
Perpetual Sound Check, 2000
DJ Olive is known for his distinctive audio collages that bring together eclectic sound sources and digital technologies. Filled with references to other electronic music styles such as drum 'n bass, house, dub, dance hall, and 1950s musique concrète, his urban soundscapes incorporate a wide variety of everyday sounds to reflect the tensions and chaos of today's technologically accelerated society. Perpetual Sound Check, for example, is as aggressive as it is absurd, combining samples of electronic music with pounding beats created from the sounds of a bus's hydraulic system, circular saws, and someone chewing celery. The ways in which DJ Olive couples two incongruous musical elements to generate a third, mixed sound and his incorporation of mundane and rugged urban noises makes the piece a good example of a genre of electronic music called "illbient." The term comes from a combination of "ambient" and hip-hop culture's complimentary "ill," a word used when unlikely pairs of things, like clothing or colors, are put together and unexpectedly produce successful results.