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how to be more like Ben Patterson when I grow up

“I was not ready for Patterson.” The first time writer, vocalist, and sound artist LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs witnessed legendary Fluxus artist Benjamin Patterson’s work, she left with a puzzle: “How would I approach my own scores, and how might I play with instruction to express my curiosities/concerns by employing mundane objects?” In anticipation of  […]

“I was not ready for Patterson.” The first time writer, vocalist, and sound artist LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs witnessed legendary Fluxus artist Benjamin Patterson’s work, she left with a puzzle: “How would I approach my own scores, and how might I play with instruction to express my curiosities/concerns by employing mundane objects?” In anticipation of  Patterson’s arrival at the Walker this week, we invited Diggs to reflect upon these first instructive encounters with Patterson’s work and to compose a few original scores of her own. Diggs appeared at the Walker last March to present poems, songs, and myths from her acclaimed debut book TwERK  as part of the ongoing Free Verse literary series (copresented with Rain Taxi Review of Books). She’ll be making a return to the Twin Cities next month when her piece muscle memory (a work in progress) will be performed at Pillsbury House Theatre.

Benjamin Patterson, A Penny for Your Thoughts, 2012 Performance at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, January 5, 2013 Courtesy the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo: Max Fields.

Benjamin Patterson, A Penny for Your Thoughts, 2012 Performance at Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, January 5, 2013
Courtesy the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Photo: Max Fields

“The explicitness of the black body, the explicit body’s blackness, is not only about the way a certain lived experience can be said to bear the traces of bareness; nor is it encompassed in what is it to bear the only black body on-site or onstage or in the room or in the frame.”

                                                                        —Liner Notes for Lick Piece, Fred Moten

To have your own style is to crystallize.”

                                                                       —Bruce Lee

 

Admission: I heard a brief mention of his name years ago but was slow on my homework. So on March 31, 2011, when Ben Patterson did an evening of chance operations, scores, and a talk at the Studio Museum in Harlem, the first embarrassed, muffled utter from my mouth was “He’s black?” Sitting there sandwiched between artists Mendi + Keith Obadike and composer/pianist Courtney Bryan, it was difficult to not hide my personal joy in his playing and toying with how art, poetry and performance are defined. And despite my personal exploits in innovative poetics and deconstructing “the reading,” I was not ready for Patterson.

I sit. Watch Patterson do Patterson. He orchestrates with our bodies. Our feet. We shift forward, backward, right and forward again. He scores our bodies. Then there is a fish bowl and a small fishing pole. He’s smiling. As he instructs and addresses, a whole new vocabulary is being gifted to me. The poet/performance artist Edwin Torres wrote that “poets are creatures of awareness; receptive beings that embody transition.” Before experiencing Patterson in action, a handful of artists I’ve encountered embodied Torres’s words. And now,  Mr. Patterson has sent me home with a puzzle of sorts. How would I approach my own scores, and how might I play with instruction to express my curiosities/concerns by employing mundane objects?

Water Score Front Back Cover

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Water Score #1

LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs, Water Score #1, 2011

In 2013, at the Roulette in Brooklyn, I, along with the Obadikes, are now participants during his retrospective concert. I am one of several people wearing Victorian paper masks, offering him a rose to be blended and drank, shooting confetti into the air and playing a multicolored party horn as I would my first clarinet in grade school.  And thinking in the car ride back to Manhattan, how I composed before was now pleasantly warped. Patterson altered my appreciation of Br’er Rabbit, of Coyote, of Raven, of Èṣù, of shape-shifters. And then there is his linear timeline. His proficiency at shape-shifting within the creative realm (as well thrive as an arts administrator) was a template to move me forward in my ventures as a novice of the avant-garde, the experimental, the curatorial.

Back to 2011. A slide comes up. There is a photo of a performance where Patterson digs a hole. His audience: a handful of white onlookers.  I am perplexed by this footage and action. A black male body digging into the earth for hours. The action conjures up sharecropping. It even invokes death. For whom is not explicit. Enter the coyote god again. To play upon hard labor as something of ease. To present accessibility when historical action is far more complicated and unnerving.

Program leaflet from the Studio Museum Harlem, which includes an image of Patterson's Methods and Processes (detail), 1962.

Program leaflet from the Studio Museum Harlem, which includes an image of Patterson’s Methods and Processes (detail), 1962

I read:

and think garbarge man, boogy man, Eichmann, etc.”

                                                 Methods and Processes (details) 1962, Ben Patterson

I see:

James Earl Jones in Claudine, The Spook That Sat By the Door, COINTELPRO.

 

When someone rings a bell, we conjure and call upon spirits. When we light a candle, we keep our ashé strong.  These are actions I’ve come to understand as ritual. Should I see Patterson’s work as a bell? As a candle?

 

Paternity

(Performed to “America the Beautiful” as performed by Ray Charles.)

  • Paint ten Darth Vadar masks in various shades of brown from brownish black to beige.
  • Place in 10 manila envelopes one sheet of blank paper.
  • With 10 volunteers, have each place the mask on their face.
  • Give each of them an envelope.
  • Instruct the volunteers to stand in a semi circle behind a chair center stage.
  • Sit in the chair.
  • Have each volunteer walk toward you, reveal the paper and announce one of two statements:
  1. I am your father.
  2. I am not your father.
  • After they have announced the results, volunteers will hand over the sheet of paper to you.
  • Volunteers rejoin the semi-circle.
  • Tape the sheets of paper together and swaddle yourself.

 

82 Combo 28 Straight (in 2 parts)

Materials for action

  • 1 Box of TNT Bang Its
  • Roll of Brown Paper
  • Jar of Molasses
  • Brita/Pur water filter pitcher (32-64 oz.)
  • Sharpie Marker

Part 1

  • Make a doll in the shape of a boy out of brown paper.
  • Leave it faceless.
  • Place the paper doll on the pavement.
  • Smash and trample the doll.
  • Proceed with throwing meticulously 1 bag of bang-its at the doll.
  • Leave paper doll on pavement, near a gas station for 7 days.
  • On the 7th day, carry the doll to the ocean.
  • Pour molasses on the doll and place it in the ocean.
  • If it sinks bid it farewell.
  • Take a picture.
  • Press [enter] to continue.

Part 2

  • Fill up a water filter pitcher with water.
  • Allow the water to go through the filter.
  • Carry the pitcher with water to the ocean.
  • Once you arrived at the ocean, empty the pitcher into the ocean.
  • Refill the pitcher this time with the ocean.
  • Wait for the ocean water to go through the filter.
  • Pour the ocean water back into the ocean.
  • Repeat this process until you’ve cleansed the ocean of all impurities.

Drawing Club at #Catvidfest

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People came to the picnic tables on Open Field and were prompted with cat-themed phrases to encourage them to draw the many cats on their minds and in their imaginations.

Some of these phrases included: Fat Cat, Leonardo Di-Catprio, Catastrophe, Digi C@, Cat Burglar, Live Long and Pawsper, and many more. People also took liberty and drew cats unprompted, because… well, why wouldn’t you?

Here are some of the wonderful drawings made at the Internet Cat Video Festival.

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Attending An Internet Cat Video Festival: A How-To Guide

In just over 48 hours, the Walker Art Center’s backyard will become a haven for cat video lovers, cat lovers, amused bystanders, reluctant participants, and everything in between at the Internet Cat Video Festival. Mostly, it will become a place for all of us to come and watch 70 minutes of internet cat videos together. […]

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In just over 48 hours, the Walker Art Center’s backyard will become a haven for cat video lovers, cat lovers, amused bystanders, reluctant participants, and everything in between at the Internet Cat Video Festival. Mostly, it will become a place for all of us to come and watch 70 minutes of internet cat videos together.

To help communicate the full range of fun and delight we have planned for you, and, more importantly, to help you plan for the event, we have compiled this guide that will hopefully answer your questions and make your Thursday as enjoyable as possible.

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This event is free and open to everybody.
That’s right – this is an all ages, no tickets required, totally free event. Everybody can come, from your baby to your grandma.

Everybody… including my cat?
We strongly encourage you not to bring your cat. Maybe some cats have a lot of experience hanging out in a crowd of thousands of people, but we’re willing to bet that most of them don’t. So please, for the comfort of your cat, please leave him/her at home. If you do decide to bring Fluffy, be aware that the field has no shade, and we have no facilities (litter boxes, water bowls, cardboard boxes) for animals. (That means dogs, too. If you absolutely want to bring your pup, please be aware that if any cat fights break out, we’ll have to ask you to leave.)

What time do the videos start, though?
The actual cat videos will start at dusk (approximately 8:40 pm). Come early! Activities start at 6, and Jack Klatt and the Cat Swingers, a cool band with an even cooler name, will play from 7-7:50 pm.

In addition, the event  will be ASL interpreted. We also have an area that will be roped off for ADA access.

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Getting Here
You may have heard that it was super packed in 2012, and yes, we had a full hillside. But the hill is big enough for everybody, and the act of watching cat videos together will make you feel that much closer to your neighbors, literally and emotionally.

However, we encourage you to plan ahead. Please bike, walk, or take public transit to Catvidfest. It’s easy!

1. Bike – We will have 35 bike racks set up on site. Half will be at the top of the hill on the south side of the Walker (Groveland Terrace) and half will be along Vineland Place (between the Walker and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden). Lovely volunteers will be at these locations to greet you and your bike and direct you to the racks. We also have a NiceRide station!

2. Bus – Metro Transit has offered free bus rides to anybody heading to Catvidfest! Simply fill out this brief survey and download your passes. Be sure to have them in hand when you get on the bus. You can reach the Walker on lines 4, 6, 12, and 25. Download your pass here. Map your route here.

3. Walk – It’s going to be a lovely evening. Stretch those legs!

4. Drive – If you’re from out the area, the Walker has an underground parking ramp available on site. We expect this to fill up early in the evening, so please plan accordingly. Event rate parking is $7, and CASH ONLY.

Event parking is also available at St. Mark’s Cathedral on Hennepin Ave. for a $10 flat fee. There are two parking lots available to attendees, either at the cathedral at 15th Ave and Oak Grove St or at 1730 Clifton Place. Information and maps can be found here.

Cat-iquette

  • No reserved seating is available; all space is first-come, first-served. Bring thick blankets to sit on, as much of the field is currently covered in wood chips.
  • Please don’t bring lawn chairs, as it makes sightlines difficult for your new friends behind you.
  • No shade is available on the field, so bring proper sun protection.
  • No outside alcoholic beverages.
  • Pack it in, pack it out: Please take any disposables you bring on site back home with you.

Screenings in the Walker Cinema

If you can’t make it this Thursday, not all hope is lost! We’re screening the new program of videos in the Walker Cinema on Thursday, September 4 at 7 pm (preceded by Cat Poetry) and Saturday, September 7 at 2 pm. Tickets go on sale on Friday, August 15.

flatearthco

Now for the Fun Stuff

– Dress for the event! There is a lot of stylish cat gear out there in the world. You can also get catted up at the event by donning a brand new Catvidfest T-shirt for 2014. Then you can head over to the Walker’s booth and apply a special edition artist-designed cat tattoo to help you show your devotion (at least for a couple days). After that, if you feel like you’re still missing something, head over to Animalist’s booth to apply some whiskers with the help of a team of face painters. Then, to document your new look, you can head to Animal Planet’s animated GIF photo booth for a digital keepsake.

– Eat and drink at the event! There will be two cash bars on site. We’re working with St. Paul’s Flat Earth Brewing Company to provide their special cat-themed beers: Hep Cat and Tabby Cat (pictured above), both refreshing summer ales. Prefer something fruity? Try the Sourpuss Cocktail, a blend of  Prairie Organic vodka, sweet and sour, lemon juice and soda, garnished with a lemon wedge and a cherry. (Other non-alocoholic beverages will be available as well.)

For sustenance, grab a salad or sandwich from the Garden Café inside the Walker, or a treat from one of the three food trucks parked outside: AZ Canteen, A Cupcake Social, and Gastrotruck.

– Meet two real engineers! Paul and TJ from “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats” (and current People’s Choice Award nominees) will be here, and they’d love to meet you and talk about cats or engineering (but probably more so cats). You can catch them at the Feline Rescue booth from 6:30-7:30 pm.

– Grab a seat at Cat Drawing Club with local artists Todd Balthazor, Alyssa Nassner, and Shannon Joyce. Draw from several catty prompts, including “Live long and pawsper” [see: engineers], “Meow-na Lisa,” and “Cats with laser eyes,” among others.

 

bub

Oh, and BUB.
Lil BUB, “the most amazing cat on the planet,” will be making a special guest appearance on stage as a guest of Animal Planet. You can meet her at a ticketed event in Minneapolis on August 15.

 

That’s all for today. We can’t wait to see you, and most importantly, we can’t wait to watch cat videos with you.

On the day, share your photos and your fun using hashtag #catvidfest. Questions? Hit us up on Twitter (@catvidfest) or Facebook.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Play Ball

A dugout conversation, a rented organ, a baseball game, and 90 lemons: sound artist Chris Kallmyer visited the Walker Art Center in June to make a plan for his July residency on Open Field. Earlier this month Chris Kallmyer met with two Minneapolis experts to map out his project, Baseball Day to Day, a sonic exploration of […]

of2014baseball-days-marketing_003A dugout conversation, a rented organ, a baseball game, and 90 lemons: sound artist Chris Kallmyer visited the Walker Art Center in June to make a plan for his July residency on Open Field.

Earlier this month Chris Kallmyer met with two Minneapolis experts to map out his project, Baseball Day to Day, a sonic exploration of baseball in the spirit of Fluxus. You may recall Kallmyer’s 2011 Open Field piece, the american lawn and ways to cut it, in which he invited members of the public to bring their reel lawnmowers to cut the shaggy field in concert. This year the everyday sounds of Americana take a sporty slant.

Chris Kallmyer and Larry DiVito discuss groundskeeping.

Chris Kallmyer and Larry DiVito discuss groundskeeping.

Field Day

On a baseball fact-finding mission Chris Kallmyer, Sarah Schultz and I had the pleasure of meeting with the Minnesota Twins’ Head Groundskeeper, Larry DiVito, to ask his counsel in the matter of building a regulation pitcher’s mound on Open Field. We met in his office, a dugout overlooking Target Field, with his crew dutifully grooming the pristine paradise beyond. DiVito is a baseball Zen master of sorts. He is kind, generous with his knowledge, and seems entirely at peace in the literal landscape of his making. In the end, plans were modified in scope to build a functioning baseline instead of a pitcher’s mound, but what we learned in that meeting has forever changed the way I think about baseball. I can’t share all of the details here but I will say that it involved lasers. The 40-foot baseline will be built on Open Field as part of the project Live Action Groundskeeping and will be mindfully tended to by Kallmyer and open for public play from July 9-17.

Target Field Mower

View of field maintenance from the bullpen at Target Field.

Larry DiVito showing Sarah Schultz pitcher's mound clay.

Larry DiVito shows Sarah Schultz the pitcher’s mound clay.

(more…)

Golden Kitty 2014: Cast Your Vote for the #catvidfest People’s Choice Award

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It’s time to cast your vote in the most important People’s Choice competition of the entire year. The coveted Golden Kitty Award for the internet’s best cat video is now on the line. You may know its short but storied history: During the first Internet Cat Video Festival, Will Braden’s Henri 2: Paw de Deux took home the Golden Kitty statuette. Last year, Grumpy Cat was awarded the top prize for her work in The Original Grumpy Cat. (FYI: We talked to Braden about winning the award and the process of choosing the nominees in this recent interview.)

Who will it be this year? After a year of watching hundreds of cat videos, reviewing your nominations, and considering the invaluable feedback of our panel of jurors, we present the five nominees for the 2014 Internet Cat Video Festival People’s Choice Award (in alphabetical order):

8 Signs of Addiction by Sho Ko

An Engineer’s Guide to Cats 2.0 – The Sequel by klusmanp

Gotcha! (Попался!) by ignoramusky

Jedi Kittens Strike Back by FinalCutKing

Milo Wanted Attention by jahzyoga

How to vote: There are two ways to vote for your choice for the Golden Kitty. You can either vote in the poll below OR you can vote on Twitter!

Follow @CatVidFest and use hashtag #goldenkittyaward, plus the name of the video to cast your vote! Try it!

Example: I vote for Henri 2: Paw de Deux #goldenkittyaward #catvidfest
(Obviously, Henri is not up for the award again this year.)

Voting closes on July 18 at midnight. The winners will be revealed at the 2014 Internet Cat Video Festival on Thursday, August 14.  And remember, just because you may not see your favorite video on this list, doesn’t mean that it’s not in the reel or we don’t have something special planned for it.

Until then, watch, deliberate, and vote!

Winter, we bid you farewell with a song

Track 1: Cabin Fever Winter is lingering on like a bad cold. While this will definitely go down as one of the worst subzero spells in recent history, there were some really fun moments in January and February that made the season more bearable. I’m referring to our series of Thursday night programs called Cabin […]

Lexa Walsh

Lexa Walsh and Jerry Brownrigg

Track 1: Cabin Fever

Winter is lingering on like a bad cold. While this will definitely go down as one of the worst subzero spells in recent history, there were some really fun moments in January and February that made the season more bearable. I’m referring to our series of Thursday night programs called Cabin Fever that invited artists to design and host events that were social, participatory, and slightly idiosyncratic—including a poetry and printmaking party, butter-making aerobics, B-movie bingo, and a collaborative song-writing session about the long northern winters called Fever Songs.

Oakland-based artist Lexa Walsh and local music hero John Munson (Trip Shakespeare, Semisonic, The New Standards) hosted Fever Songs, with support from artist Chris Larson who supplied the rustic cabin, musician Jerry Brownrigg, and sound recording engineer Richard Medek. It took a talented team to pull off a one-night-only recording studio and an engaged audience willing to put some time into composing a song. The lyrics people contributed were fantastic and covered a range of  emotion, from hostility to humor. Lexa, John, and Jerry were masterful composers as they instantaneously interpreted the texts into sound, choosing a punk flavor for one or a folky melody for another.  Enjoy the resulting tracks—proof that our creativity cannot be suppressed by a long Minnesota winter.

(Note: all songs were sung and performed by Lexa, John, and Jerry with help from some of the songwriters. Track 14, “Ukulele” was sung and strummed entirely by the songwriters, Anna Marie Vu and Dave Kaminski.)

Jerry on drums John Munson on vocals and guitar

Jerry Brownrigg on drums, John Munson on vocals and guitar

Track 2: Cold Outside

Baby it's Cold Outside

A group of students from Duluth surrounding Chris Larson's cabin

A group of students from Duluth surrounding Chris Larson’s cabin

Track 3: Days Are Getting Longer

Nights are Longer

Track 4: Dead Frog

Dead Frog

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Track 5: Die Right Here

Frostbite on my nose

Sound engineer Richard Medek busy recording tracks

Sound engineer Richard Medek recording tracks

Track 6: Fed on Potatoes

Potatoes

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Track 7: Frankie Boy

Frankie Boy

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Track 8: Hate Mix

HATE

Track 9: Minnesnowta Territory

The Cold Weather

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Track 10: Polar Vortex Polka

God Damn Polar Vortex

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Track 11: Sexy Long Underwear

Sexy Long Underwear

Track 12: South Pitch

South Pitch

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Track 13: Stinging Piggies

My Toe is Frozen

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Track 14: Ukulele

Tonight

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Track 15: Winter is My Favorite Season

I'm a Rebel

I'm a Rebel-1

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Track 16: 24-Hour Nurse

Nurse

 

Cat Call: Nominate Your Favorite Videos for #catvidfest 2014

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shamrock_cat
It’s St. Patrick’s Day and we have an exciting announcement (in limerick form, obviously):

Since last year you’ve watched so many cats
We know, we’ve seen the YouTube stats
And now it’s your turn
To share faves or to spurn,
And we’ll post photos of kitties in green hats

Have a favorite cat video? Have a lot of favorite cat videos? Nominations are now open for the 2014 Internet Cat Video Festival, which takes place August 14 as a free community event at its original site, Open Field. Take some time to reflect on all the cat videos you’ve watched this year and select your favorites by May 1 to be considered for inclusion in this year’s event. Voting for the Golden Kitty (People’s Choice) Award begins on June 1, so we’ll be looking for your votes then as well!

You can find the nomination form right here.

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Photos found searching for “cat shamrock” and “cat leprechaun” on Google

#catvidfest

Feel the Churn in Style

Photo: Gene Pittman

Winter is in full swing, we ache for sun and dream of warmth while bundling in layers of clothing in an attempt to build a private sauna to protect against the cold. It’s the season of cabin fever, seasonal depression, and a time when whatever tans gained over summer are shamelessly gone, seemingly forever.

But at least this year we have the Olympics. Winter exercise might actually make this season manageable.  Except that generally when the Games are playing we don’t have to be outside, or exercising at all for that matter. Just a couch and a hot drink, perhaps, to stave away the weary cold days. It’s time we joined the Olympians with a little winter activity of our own, enjoying some aerobic exercise to ward off the winter blues. Thanks to Jimmy Fusil and Mike Wait of the art duo PopSoda, exercise isn’t just about burning fat, but also about making fat.  Enjoy those treats you guzzle down whilst gasping to the figure skaters who actually land a triple axle.  You churned it yourself!

2014 Olympian Opening Ceremony Outfits. photo credit: Ralph Lauren

Photo: Ralph Lauren

In preparation for this Thursday’s butter-making aerobics workshops led by PopSoda and amusingly titled Feel the Churn, I have decided to examine some fitness fashion because it turns out that workout gear has changed dramatically and it seems that exercise (and life for that matter) is a little bit more fun with some flair. With Olympics on the mind let’s start by being grateful for the fact that our athletic costumes have developed radically from the Ancient Greeks. Instead of competing in the nude, the U.S. Olympians have a magnificent cardigan designed by Ralph Lauren to parade in the opening ceremony.

Ancient Olympic Racing

Photo: http://schoolworkhelper.net

Thanks to some athletic clothing research, it turns out that we owe the 1950s thanks for synthetic fabrics like elastane, spandex and lycra. These fabrics began to alter clothing dramatically. No more itchy wool and cotton! Hello to breathable, stretchy fabrics. Yet, despite these new fabrics exercise wasn’t even that popular, especially when fat-jiggling belts were believed to inspire weight loss. Why sweat?

fat jiggling machine. photo credit: http://www.mariadicroce.com

Photo: http://www.mariadicroce.com

In response to the poor fitness of many army recruits, Dr. Kennith Cooper M.D. released his book Aerobics in 1968 which outlined the many ways to help increase fitness through aerobic exercise. Yet it wasn’t until the 1980s, with inspiration such as Olivia Newton-John’s music video for Let’s Get Physical that many Americans decided to take exercise more seriously, start sweating and don their finest leotards for some calf-burning action.

Dance Aerobics. Photo Credit: Oaks at Ojai

Photo: Oaks at Ojai

From step aerobics to dance aerobics, exercise became a fashion in and of itself. With Jane Fonda and Richard Simmons leading the nation, aerobic exercise took over. The leg warmers, the glitter, the skin tight leggings and leotards… it was all there. The images are classic, the looks undeniable.

Jane Fonda aerobics. Photo Credit: sportsphoto ltd./allstar

Photo: sportsphoto ltd./allstar

Richard Simmons Aerobics. photo credit:  Air New Zealand

Photo: Air New Zealand

Now it’s the 21st century. How does aerobics fit into today’s fashion trends? How do people decorate themselves for physical activity? It turns out the look is eclectic, with bright colors from the 80s to newfab running shorts and advanced micro-fiber technology to undeniably hipster throwbacks and more. Athletic outfits are as diverse as ever. Just check out what various individuals from the Walker chose to wear for their first attempt at churning butter.

photo credit: Gene Pittman

Photo: Gene Pittman

Aerobics with a contemporary twist. Get creative and come to Feel the Churn with some of your most ridiculous gear while sweating away the winter blues and making your very own sweet butter and find inspiration by watching Pop Soda’s butter aerobics somewhere much warmer. We’re excited, are you?

Written by Sheila Novak, artist and aerobic adventurist

 

Listening, Online and Off, with Sound Designer Mike Hallenbeck

The sonic power of phone books. The realm of the acousmatic. Binaural bicycle rides. These are a few of the concepts that came up in my correspondence with sound designer Mike Hallenbeck. With the Walker’s public observance of World Listening Day about 1 week away, my investigation into aural attention continues. As I gather insights […]

World Listening Day 2013 at the Walker Art Center

World Listening Day 2013 at the Walker Art Center

The sonic power of phone books. The realm of the acousmatic. Binaural bicycle rides. These are a few of the concepts that came up in my correspondence with sound designer Mike Hallenbeck. With the Walker’s public observance of World Listening Day about 1 week away, my investigation into aural attention continues. As I gather insights on listening from professional listeners in our community, I appreciated the opportunity to bend Hallenbeck’s ears for a few questions.

Mike, your writings and audiocraft emphasize sound’s profound variety, its function as a wordless language, and its influence on the imagination. Reflecting on your experiences, what listening prompts would you propose for World Listening Day to facilitate discovery through listening?

I suppose the thing is simply to ask oneself: “What do I hear?” Learn to break down what you’re hearing. What’s happening in high frequencies, mid-range, and lower frequencies? What’s tonal, what’s rhythmic, what’s harmonic? (Any soundscape, from a symphony to a forest to a racetrack, will usually include these elements.) How dense is it? How sparse? Where are things located in the stereo or surround field? What’s happening that you like, and what do you wish was different? This sort of question—”What does it sound like?”—might sound overly simple, but I find it to be central in sound practice. It helps determine how to appreciate and improve sound/music that you’re creating or evaluating, and helps one to respond to the world at large.

But the obvious rejoinder—and one I agree with—is that this isn’t an approach exclusive to sound, or indeed to any sense. Lately I’m asking myself more about the conversation between sound and vision, and to tell you the truth that’s something I’m still exploring in a very elemental sense. I work more and more with sound that responds to and collaborates with visual and/or narrative elements, so these days I’m far more concerned with the interaction of the senses than with sound on its own. To me the important thing is to cultivate a sense of awareness that involves all the senses, incorporating listening into one’s overall practice of mindfulness.

That makes sense—the integration of sound and sight are key to your work as a Foley artist. Like trompe-l’œil for the ear, Foley artists add sounds to recorded media that seem naturalistic but are in fact an artifice. Can you describe a surprising method or material you’ve encountered in Foley art?

Lately I’ve been pondering the unexpected sonic power of the phone book. When I did one of my first Foley assignments for film, I looked up some how-to videos online to figure out how to fake the sound of a punch. I found a video made by an eleven-year-old where he demonstrated how to replicate a punch sound by closing a phone book really hard. It didn’t work for the entire sound—I wound up mixing in a vocalization to add a little sharpness—but it got me pretty far along.

Recently I attended a panel discussion by some Foley artists where two of them shared techniques on how to simulate bodily impacts on a floor surface (other than throwing yourself on the floor, which I can confirm gets old real quick). Both suggested an article of clothing (one a leather jacket, the other some coveralls), but both recommended filling said clothing with—that’s right—phone books. So the idea’s got legs.

I’m looking forward to furthering my phone book savvy soon. I just hope they don’t stop making them, or else I’ll have to start using Henry James novels.

Speaking of books, your “Audiobook” posts on your Synching Ship blog resonate with me. Would you be able to suggest a reading along those aurally attuned lines for World Listening Day?

Sound is really hard to describe using language, but it can be done. Usually I’ll come across a deft description of sound only here and there in books, and the “audiobook” feature is a way to share it with others and (just as importantly) to remember it myself.

Something that comes to mind is “Cold Mountain” by Charles Frazier. The descriptions of music performance (the stuff performed by Jack White and company in the movie) are some of the most eloquent I’ve ever encountered. I recall “Company” by Samuel Beckett having some nice descriptions of quiet, subtle sounds, but that’s kind of a vague memory.

In your day-to-day appreciation of all things aural, especially environmental sounds, have you been earwitness to sounds that might be disappearing from our soundscape?

My own day-to-day is fairly banal, so I wouldn’t say there’s much change there. But the demands of consumer society appear to be destroying habitats of many species at a pretty rapid clip, which will silence a lot of creatures’ calls as they go extinct. Bioacousticians like Bernie Krause have demonstrated how nature’s sonic identity has been altered as human-made sounds intrude on the frequency spectrum.

I’m doing what I can to address the problem by typing a bunch of words on a computer screen.

The impact of human noise on the wild soundscape is a fascinating topic. In the Sculpture Garden, for example, birds might be developing an urban dialect and the chattering red squirrels are absent since their extirpation in 1909. Take a sonic snapshot of your environment right now. What sounds are you perceiving and are there any special meanings you make of them?

Unfortunately right now I’m listening to Pandora; I’ve created a station that will generate music choices extrapolated from the music of The Shadows. So far I’ve gotten The Esquires, Junior Brown, Link Wray, The Blue Stingrays, and Santo & Johnny (it turns out their track “Sleep Walk” is something I’ve wanted to know the name of for years). I imagine that’s not the kind of answer you were looking for though…

You’re right that I was “looking for” environmental sounds, but your answer aptly demonstrates the contemporary listener’s condition. We are constantly toggling back and forth between mediated and unmediated sound worlds, awash in a mix of “original” and “reproduced” sounds. For me, this calls to mind the work of R. Murray Schafer, the sound researcher whose birthday is honored by World Listening Day. Schafer examined how the Industrial and Electric Ages revolutionized our relationship to listening. He coined the term “schizophonia” to describe the split between original sounds and their copies. From your perspective, what is the delineation between original sounds and electroacoustic reproductions? Could there even be sounds that don’t easily fall into one category or the other?

The light rail train offers a nice example of schizophonia—the train emits electronically sampled sounds of the warning bells at a railroad stop, and—if memory serves—the whistle of a steam locomotive. It’s easy to assume these sounds are produced by actual physical processes, but in fact they’re “fake”. All that matters is that we get the message to be careful in the train’s vicinity.

Yes, a sort of sonic pastiche. The signals’ function is to be interpreted without hesitation, but when we pause to listen, there’s a more complex story behind them.

I guess what we’re talking about here is the realm of the “acousmatic”—an experience of sound merely as a reproduction through speakers, especially when it’s something created electronically in the first place (as with synthesizers, sampled drum loops and the like). The auto-tuned voice comes to mind—it’s gotten to the point where it’s not just an effect in pop and R&B anymore, but just, you know, kind of how voices are expected to sound, like it’s something singers learn as part of their vocal training. It makes me wonder how many people have portrayed Alvin and the Chipmunks over the years—since all you have to do is speed up somebody’s voice, it could be anybody.

It’s odd how technologies like that lose their novelty as we assimilate them into our sonic vocabulary. I’m curious if you can you offer some ways that the Internet has changed our relationship to listening? (For one thing, without the Internet, we’d never have your riotously funny (and schizophonic?) Rickroll chronicle.)

The Internet is a huge topic, since it manifests itself in so many ways. The first thing that comes to mind for me is that it’s ratcheted down appreciation of sound quality. Lo-fi is a new standard in video, and there have been studies that show younger people often prefer mp3s encoded at degraded bit rates to high-resolution audio. Ick.

However, the Internet has been huge in terms of transforming sound practice for the better. I’ll focus on the community-building aspect, which is pretty much universal for any group but has dovetailed especially nicely with sound art. Back before I did anything “practical” with sound, I had no idea just how many people out there were also interested in capturing audio signals “in the field” and curating concrete sounds as art. When I became aware of resources like the phonography listserv I discovered all these other folks out there who were into the same kind of stuff, all over the world—a small community, but a vibrant one. This led to the discovery of all this history, methodology, theory, technical advice, opportunity to share work… you name it. The floodgates opened. It was really transformative.

Your blog curates and draws attention to the language of sounds, sometimes foregrounding sounds produced for effect such as the blat, the beep, the artificial water tank, or Google-translated beatboxing. But you also unplug from time to time and listen to the world of “unmediated sounds.” Along those lines, how would you explore the Twin Cities to get a sense of its sonic texture?

I’d recommend a bike ride around Minneapolis in the summer. One of the things I like about biking is that while you’re traveling relatively quickly, which can be exhilarating, you’re not encased in anything and you’re traveling slowly enough to experience sensory intimacy with your surroundings. I like the crunches and crashes of the recycling stations I pass on North Second Street. When I pass the Metrodome there are sometimes kids skateboarding, and I love all the pock-crack impacts skateboards make. And generally speaking, the tactile crunch and grind of the bike tire against the street is pleasing to my ear as well.

Sure—like a soundwalk but on wheels rather than foot! One of my favorite Synching Ship posts was your binaural bike ride from Easter 2011. It’s delightful and demonstrative of how sounds ground our awareness in time and in space.

Mike Hallenbeck Photo: Amy Myrbo

Mike Hallenbeck is a composer and sound designer active in a variety of media. He adopts sounds both hither and yon, brings them home and helps them decide what to be when they grow up. He blogs at synchingship.blogspot.com and maintains a home page at juniorbirdman.com.

Scores for Art by Lightsey Darst

A dance critic, poet, and author of Find the Girl (Coffee House Press, 2010) and the forthcoming Dance (September 2013), Lightsey Darst was the first writer selected to participate in The Writers and Readers Library Residency Program, an initiative presented by Coffee House Press through a grant from the McKnight Foundation. Darst spent her residency in the Walker’s library for […]

A dance critic, poet, and author of Find the Girl (Coffee House Press, 2010) and the forthcoming Dance (September 2013), Lightsey Darst was the first writer selected to participate in The Writers and Readers Library Residency Program, an initiative presented by Coffee House Press through a grant from the McKnight Foundation. Darst spent her residency in the Walker’s library for several weeks in June and on one Target Free Thursday Night initiated an in-gallery writing experiment for visitors.

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We had a simple idea: let’s let viewers come up with new captions for the art. The idea morphed a bit, we added typewriters, and Scores for Art was born—an experiment in creative art captioning. Below, some of my favorites. Here are the instructions everyone saw. The reverse of the card gives a prompt; you’ll see there were a variety of these.

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I have no idea what work of art inspired this, but I want to wander around the whole Walker now with this phrase in mind.

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When’s the last time you played with a typewriter? Love the improvised punctuation here.

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I can’t read this at all, but isn’t it beautiful? Also, I love the idea that this is what the art does. Pure typewriter art.

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Some people took this prompt as an opportunity for critique. But I like thinking about what absences a work of art brings to mind. What artwork do you think prompted this?

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I almost suspect this person of playing to the house. But it’s the restart in the last few lines that gets me.

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This was me, I have to admit, testing one of the typewriters. I couldn’t figure out how to get the typewriter to go farther across the page. I was looking at Gary Simmons’ Us & Them.

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Doesn’t make sense, but we get it all the same, right? I love how art leaps these gaps.

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Slant rhyme on history/tenacity. Also, that last line.

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Wouldn’t this make a great caption? Also, I enjoy how the typewriter’s irregular strike made at least one of us briefly think this said “us” instead of “u”.

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e. e. cummings would be proud.

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Let’s!

 

 

 

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