Notes on the Tangential

January 28 / February 4

Several times I mentioned the deep influence that the following artists had on my thinking as a young artist.  I often assume that all young artists are very familiar with them, but realize this may not be the case:

Marcel Duchamp shifted my sense of the function of art in fundamental ways.  One of these was a shift in the role of the physical artifact.  Duchamp was interested in the primacy of the ideas generated when encountering an art work, valuing the conceptual over the sensual –while still recognizing the role of the sensual in initial perception.  He came to disparage the merely “retinal”.  I had always been more interested in the affect generated by the direct experience of the sensual –and I still lean in that direction with much of my work.   That said,  I cannot help but recognize the importance that Duchamp’s thinking has had on the development of  much modern art –and a generation of artists that came into prominence in the sixties and beyond.  Not surprisingly Duchamp’s research and ideas are deeper than a few sentences can relate.  One interesting short paper that he delivered in 1957, The Creative Act, concerns an enlightened definition of the twin poles of the artist and the spectator in the social function of art.  Arturo Schwarz has written a comprehensive book on Duchamp’s work from a Jungian perspective.  In this book Schwartz provides a deeper understanding of Duchamp’s role as an artist than is commonly presented : The Complete Works of Marcel Duchamp.

John Cage shifted my sense of what musical composition could be.  Inspired by the thinking of Duchamp (among others), Cage developed the notion of a decoupling of emotional gesture and traditional compositional structures in favor of the indeterminacy of chance operation and other procedural devices in the composition and performance of music.  During the period of the late sixties I was particularly influenced by his thinking and how it applied to the aleatory aspect of the liquid light projection work I was doing.   His 1967 book of compiled essays, lectures, and journal entries,  A Year from Monday, challenged my thinking about more than musical composition,  It also expanded my ideas about ways of simply being in the world.  His seminal composition 4’33” caused me to realize that what I had once considered the extraneous sounds in a concert hall were not necessarily distractions from the musical experience, but in fact simply an ancillary aspect of the event.  This allowed me to relax in a way the made musical performances more enjoyable.  I no longer had to strain to ignore what had hitherto-fore been annoyances that pulled me out of the intended musical experience.   When Cage was at CalArts as part of his 75th birth-year tour he staged a large ensemble concert in the Modular Theater that brought him to tears of joy at its conclusion.  He stated that the musicians had proved his detractors wrong about his music lacking beauty.  I understood what happened that evening as the result of his indeterminate score providing a grounded freedom that made space for the ensemble to improvise together.    I was impressed with the result of this particular blending of chance process and affective gesture.  This experience continues to inform the approach I take in the creation of my work.

John Coltrane improvised music with an intelligence and emotive power that seems to transcend the eras in which he played.  Coltrane was constantly learning and pushing the membrane defining musical experience.  He was capable of extrapolating the complex crystalline patterns of harmonic construction,  deconstructing and reconstructing those patterns with a rapid fluid grace.  He moved on to working with melodic modal forms, and then to increasingly abstract and free explorations.  In all of that it is the strong affect he achieves that most attracts me to his music.  He is as important (or more so depending on your point of view) as John Cage in extending the development of musical form. I find in his improvisations a sense of the compelling expressive gesture that I wish to embody in my real-time absolute animation work.  It is a highly ambitious goal. If you are not familiar with Coltrane’s music the following NPR program on his seminal album Kind of Blue is an easy point of entry.  You may want to move on to the unequaled  A Love Supreme and then beyond to the work of his terminal velocity.


February 10

While speaking of marginalized art practice and general intellectual trends, the notion of what it means to be hip arose and I touched lightly on Cannonball’s take:
“You know, you get a lot of people who are supposed to be hip, and they act like they’re supposed to be hip –which makes a big difference.”  –Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, 1962, from the introduction to ‪The Cannonball Adderley Sextet in New York.‬

Addressing the perceptual limitations of the framed flat rectangle that composes the traditional movie or video screen in comparison to the essentially unframed interactive view possible within the immersive space of a stereoscopic HMD brought up a dated analogy of listening to music on a transistor radio from the 1950’s compared to a stereophonic HiFi of that same era.  A contemporary analogy would be listening to music on a smartphone speaker compared to using stereophonic earbuds.

The transistor radio reference segued to an impromptu board talk on Lee Deforest and the basic concepts of a weak flow modulating a more powerful flow that was at the heart of the world changing electron amplifying valve which had led to –among many other things– the development of the transistors in the computer I am using to share this information with you.

Balistreri’s comprehensive video on the development of the the amplifying valve provides an interesting account of the twists and turns involved in creating this foundation of electronic communication.