UbuWeb Sound

Music Overheard edited by Damon Krukowski

CD 2 : Curated by Kenneth Goldsmith

[ CD 1: Curated by Bhob Rainey ]

An audio response to the exhibition Super Vision at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, December 10 2006 to April 29 2007

1. "The Problem With Bodies" - Gregory Whitehead (01:19)

Track 1: All voicings and voicalisms originated from the inside of Gregory Whitehead's own larynx. "The Problem with Bodies" originally appeared on The Pleasure of Ruins and Other Castaways (Staalplaat, 1993).

Gregory Whitehead is an internationally acclaimed audio artist, radiomakerand playwright. He is the co- editor of Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio and the Avant-Garde, and the writer of numerous essays on subjects relating to media technologies and the body.

2. "Marilyn Monroe" - Language Removal Services (00:55)

Language Removal Services is a pioneer in the arena of language removal for vocal applications. Our laboratory is, we believe, the only one of its kind in the world. LRS facilities include our state of the art vocal observation chamber; a special storage facility for our archives, including the world-famous Raymond Chronic Static Language library; and the laboratory, which houses the latest developments in both Static and Ecstatic language development platforms.

3. "Le corps est une usine à sons (excerpt)" - Henri Chopin (05:19)

Track 3: Henri Chopin: voice, body & electronics. "The Body is a Sound Factory" was featured on an LP of previously unpublished pieces accompanying the box set, Revue OU published by Alga Marghen.

Henri Chopin (b. 1922) is one of the pioneers of sound poetry, both with his own works and with his work as a publisher. Since the 1950s, Chopin has explored the amplification of the voice and the body, the vibrations of the larynx, the labial snaps and the hiss of bodily systems. He pioneered the use of the tape recorder in sound poetry, extending the purview of Musique concrète developments in France after the Second World War. He edited the magazine Cinquième Saison from 1959 to 1963, and then the magazine-with-record series OU from 1964 to 1974. Chopin lives in England.

4. "Memento Mori" - Matmos (07:32)

Track 4: Matmos "Memento Mori" (Professor Ping Publishing). Composed entirely from samples of human skull, goat spine and connective tissue, and artificial teeth. M. C. Schmidt: Human Skull, Goat Spine, Teeth, Mix. Drew Daniel: Sampling, Sequencing, Digital Editing, EFX. Courtesy of Matador Records.

Matmos is M.C. Schmidt and Drew Daniel, aided and abetted by many others. In their recordings and live performances over the last nine years, Matmos have used the sounds of: amplified crayfish nerve tissue, the pages of bibles turning, a bowed five string banjo, slowed down whistles and kisses, water hitting copper plates, the runout groove of a vinyl record, a $5.00 electric guitar, liposuction surgery, cameras and VCRs, chin implant surgery, contact microphones on human hair, violins, rat cages, tanks of helium, violas, human skulls, cellos, peck horns, tubas, cards shuffling, field recordings of conversations in hot tubs, frequency response tests for defective hearing aids, a steel guitar recorded in a sewer, electrical interference generated by laser eye surgery, whoopee cushions and balloons, latex fetish clothing, rhinestones on a dinner plate, Polish trains, insects, ukelele, aspirin tablets hitting a drum kit from across the room, dogs barking, people reading aloud, life support systems and inflatable blankets, records chosen by the roll of dice, an acupuncture point detector conducting electrical current through human skin, rock salt crunching underfoot, solid gold coins spinning on bars of solid silver, the sound of a frozen stream thawing in the sun, a five gallon bucket of oatmeal.

5. "Keening (excerpt)" - John Duncan (07:35)

Track 5: Excerpt from "The Keening Towers," John Duncan, Gothenburg Biennial 2003. Curated by Carl Michael von Hausswolff. San Pietro Elementary School Children's Choir conducted by John Duncan. Soloist: Timoti Toniutti. Audio system designed by Giorgio Tomasini. Towers provided by E.D. Knutsen, Gothenburg. Thanks to: Giuliana Stefani; Peo Karlsson for E.D. Knutsen; Lennart Pettersson and the tech crew at Göteborg Konstmuseet; Cecilia Borgström-Fälth, Elisabeth Rees, Åsa Nohlström and the Gothenburg Biennial staff; Luisa Tomasetig and the children of San Pietro Elementary School; Massimo Toniutti for the recording of Timoti's voice.

John Duncan was born in the United States, and currently lives and works in Italy. His events and installations have recently been held at Eco e Narciso in Turin, MUTEK in Montreal, The Compound in San Francisco, Teatro Fondamenta Nuova in Venice, Teatro Piccolo Jovinelli in Rome, the Noorlands-Operan in Umeå, Fylkingen in Stockholm, the Watari Museum of Art in Tokyo, the Gothenburg Biennial, Quarter in Florence and Galleria Enrico Fornello in Prato. His audio releases The Crackling (1996, with Max Springer), Tap Internal (2000), Palace of Mind (2001, with Giuliana Stefani), Fresh (2002, with Zeitkratzer), Phantom Broadcast (2002), Infrasound-Tidal (2003), The Keening Towers (2003) and Nine Suggestions (2005, with Mika Vainio and Ilpo Väisänen, a.k.a. Pan Sonic) are considered by critics and composers alike to be benchmarks in the field of experimental music. His work in performance has been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles; the Osterreichisches Museum für Angewandte Kunst (MAK), Vienna; Museu d'Arte Contemporani, Barcelona (MACBA); and Museum of Tokyo (MOT).

6. "About Face, Part 1" - Caroline Bergvall (05:00)

Track 6: Caroline Bergvall, voice. The written piece of "About Face, Part 1" is featured in full in her recent text collection FIG (Salt, 2005).

Caroline Bergvall is a poet and performance artist based in London, England. Books include: Goan Atom (Krupskaya, 2001), and Eclat (Sound&Language, 1996), rethought as an online book for ubu editions (2004). Her most recent collection of poetic and performance pieces, FIG (Goan Atom 2) was recently published (Salt Books, 2005) and her CD of readings and audiotexts, Via: poems 1994-2004 (Rockdrill 8) is available through Carcanet. As an artist, she has developed text performances as well as collaborative pieces with sound artists, both in Europe and in North America, including the installation Little Sugar for TEXT Festival (Bury, 2005) and Say: "Parsley" at the Liverpool Biennial (2004). Her critical work is largely concerned with emerging forms of writing, plurilingual poetry and mixed media writing practices. She is co-Chair of the MFA Writing Faculty, Milton Avery School of the Arts, Bard College (NY).

7. "Lips Is" - Paul Dutton (03:49)

Track 7: Paul Dutton: voice. No electronic effects or processing, no feedback, overdubs, or fades. "Lips Is" appeared on the CD Mouth Pieces: Solo Soundsinging (OHM editions, 2000). Engineered by Steve Lebrasseur, Avatar Sound Studios, Quebec City. Rights for "Lips Is" are administered by SOCAN.

Paul Dutton is a writer and soundsinger who began publishing and performing in 1967. A member of the groundbreaking poetry performance group The Four Horsemen (1970-1988) and the free improvisation band CCMC, Dutton continues to tour throughout North America and Europe, solo and in ensemble. The most recent of his six books is the novel Several Women Dancing, and the most recent of his five solo recordings is the CD Oralizations.

8. "Marcel Duchamp" - Language Removal Services (00:47)

9. "Thirst (excerpt)" - Lauren Lesko (05:09)

Track 9: Excerpt from "Thirst" by Lauren Lesko. Producer: Connie Kieltyaka. Engineers: Brenda Hutchinson, Jonathan Duckett. Recorded in 1995 at Harvestworks, New York. Edition of 12.

I became friends with Lauren Lesko in New York in the early 1990s when we were both staples on the Soho art scene. At the time, Lauren was focusing on very strong feminist-oriented, body-centric works made of diverse mediums. In the mid-90s, she hit her stride as a poster-girl for the seminal Bad Girls show at the New Museum. Around the same time, Lauren also began to assume a larger role as a curator of feminist art shows around the country. In 1995, she handed me her audio work "Thirst," one of an edition of 12. I had never heard anything like it before or since. I had her give another copy to WFMU, where it received extensive airplay (and continues to do so). Over the years, the piece has become somewhat legendary, discussed in chatrooms, forums and journals. In the late 90s, Lauren headed off to India on a spiritual quest, ceasing her activities in the art and sound worlds. - Kenneth Goldsmith

10. "Crackers (excerpt)" - Christof Migone (05:00)

Track 10: "Crackers" (excerpt) taken from track 3 of the CD Crackers (Locust Music, 2001). Source: cracking knuckles, knees, wrists, jaws, toes, ankles, backs, necks, elbows, hips.

Christof Migone is a multidisciplinary artist and writer. His work and research delves into language, voice, bodies, psychopathology, performance, video, intimacy, complicity, endurance. He co-edited the book and CD Writing Aloud: The Sonics of Language (Errant Bodies Press, 2001) and his writings have been published in Aural Cultures, S:ON, Experimental Sound & Radio, Musicworks, Radio Rethink, Semiotext(e), Angelaki. He obtained an MFA from NSCAD in 1996 and is currently a PhD (ABD) candidate at the Department of Performance Studies at the Tisch School of the Arts of New York University. He has released six solo audio cds on various labels (Avatar, ND, Alien 8, Locust, Oral). He has curated a number of events in the sound and radio arts: Touch that Dial (1990), Radio Contortions (1991), Rappel (1994), Double Site (1998), stuttermouthface (2002). He has performed at Beyond Music Sound Festival (Los Angeles), kaaistudios (Brussels), Resonance FM (London), Nouvelles Scènes (Dijon), On the Air (Innsbruck), Ménagerie de Verre (Paris), Experimental Intermedia (NYC), Méduse (Québec), Victoriaville Festival, and in Montreal at Radio Canada, Quinzaine de la Voix, Musiques Fragiles, Galerie Oboro, Casa del Popolo, Théâtre La Chapelle. His installations have been exhibited at the Banff Center, Rotterdam Film Festival, Gallery 101, Art Lab, eyelevelgallery, Forest City Gallery, Studio 5 Beekman. He has collaborated with Lynda Gaudreau, Martin Tétreault, Tammy Forsythe, Alexandre St-Onge, Michel F. Côté, Gregory Whitehead, Set Fire To Flames, and Fly Pan Am. A monograph on his work, Christof Migone - Sound Voice Perform, was published in 2005. He currently lives in Montréal and teaches at Concordia University.

11. "Ritual with Giant Hissing Madagascar Cockroaches" (excerpt)" - Miya Masakoa (05:00)

Track 11: "Ritual with Giant Hissing Madagascar Cockroaches" was performed by artist with thirteen Madagascar Cockroaches triggering the insects' amplified hissing while crawling over performer's body. Courtesy of Miya Masaoka.

Miya Masaoka resides in New York City and is a classically trained musician, composer and sound/installation artist. She has created works for solo koto, laser interfaces, laptop and video. She has also made works for sculpture installations and written scores for ensembles, chamber orchestra and mixed choirs. In her pieces, she often works with the sonification of data, and maps the behavior of brain activity, plants and insect movement to sound.

12. "Straight Razor" - Jim Roche (09:20)

Track 12: Jim Roche: voice. "Straight Edge Razor" is from the LP Learning To Count (Morgan Gallery, Kansas City, 1983). It is currently available as a double CD, Jim Roche Early Works (Mary Brogan Museum of Art, Tallahassee, 2004).

Jim Roche was born 1943, Florida. Exhibitions include: Solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1974; 37th Venice Biennial in 1976; and the 10th Biennale de Paris in 1977. Movie appearances include: Something Wild (1986), Silence Of The Lambs (1990), Philadelphia (1993), Beloved (1998), and The Manchurian Candidate (2003). Roche's audio performance "Fight It Out" was used for the movie Slacker. His work is archived on UbuWeb and WFMU. A DVD, A Jim Roche Experience, was recently issued.

13. "William S. Burroughs" - Language Removal Services (00:56)

14. "Hayfever" - People Like Us (02:36)

Track 14: Dedicated to Loretadine, without whom, this track would be much longer.

For 16 years Vicki Bennett has been making CDs, radio, and A/V multimedia under the name People Like Us. By animating and recontextualising found footage collages, Vicki gives an equally witty and dark view of popular culture with a surrealistic edge. People Like Us does an ongoing experimental arts radio show on WFMU, called "DO or DIY," and is currently Artist in Residence at the BBC Creative Archive.

15. "P" - Christof Migone (01:00)

16. "Zzz... (excerpt)" - Leif Elggren and Thomas Liljenberg (09:33)

Track 16: Leif Elggren and Thomas Liljenberg: voice. Published by Firework Edition, 1996.

Firework is the name of the group that Leif Elggren and Thomas Liljenberg founded in 1978 and under which they have put on several exhibitions and performances. As a result of the philosophical discussion engendered by the underlying essence of this work, a small publishing company, Firework Edition, was started in 1982. It has since then brought out many books and other printed matter, multiples and records and put on a number of exhibitions, not only by the founders, but also as a result of collaboration with various other artists.

Track Notes

When listening to Henri Chopin's music (3), it's hard to tell that it's body-derived; instead it sounds like much of the Musique concrète of its day. It's only after reading the liner notes that you learn that the source for a composition was, say, Chopin banging a speaker against the side of his head. Chopin's direct bodily engagement has inspired younger artists: listen, for example, to Matmos' Memento Mori, (4) where an abstract composition gradually morphs into a surprisingly rich-even pleasant-piece of music. It's only after we learn that it was composed entirely from samples of human skull, goat spine and connective tissue, and artificial teeth do we listen in a different way.

Similarly, on first listening, Miya Masaoka's Ritual with Giant Hissing Madagascar Cockroaches (11) sounds like any number of contemporary electronic compositions, yet again, once we learn of its methodology-sounds triggered by the movement of cockroaches on the performer's naked body-our relationship to the work drastically changes.

On first listen to Christof Migone's Crackers (10) you might think you're listening to a garden variety of computer glitchwerks until you become aware that the source material for the piece is the cracking of human bones. In all three pieces, the procedural knowledge is not contingent on the success of the piece, for they are all gorgeous; rather, once you know, another layer of complexity is added.

While Chopin was busy exploring the sounds of his own body, composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen were seeing what could formally be done by manipulating existing voices ("Gesang der Jünglinge"). Whereas Stockhausen was a formalist-seeing how far he could push the acoustic technology in the work-the younger composer John Duncan takes a radical turn toward subjectivity and emotion for his installation The Keening Towers (5). Using audio systems mounted at the tops of enormous steel towers, the source of the piece is a 30-voice Italian children's choir. Duncan states that, "The personal motivation for this project is to make a small gesture to give something back to kids, especially infants, that I've seen in my life who were victims of abuse by adults... I don't think it really matters whether 'The Keening Towers' communicates this aspect to anyone else-I'm satisfied that it works on this level for me whenever I hear the whispers, screams, etc., all made by kids having fun with their voices, moving as if they're coming down out of the wind, at times whispering directly into my ear, at other moments morphing into sexual groans that for several seconds sound as if they're being made by an adult couple hidden behind the museum façade." It's hard to image Stockhausen making such a statement.

People Like Us's Hayfever (14) is an audio vérité piece in the tradition of R. Murray Schaefer's World Soundscape Project which attempted to theorize acoustic ecology in the 60s and 70s. But Vicki Bennett (who records under the name of People Like Us) personalizes and embodies the devastating consequences of our untheorized polluted environmental space- using an odd mix of hayfever, pollen and ambient media-giving us a something that's closer to Julianne Moore in Todd Haynes' Safe than to the lofty aspirations of Schaefer.

Lauren Lesko (9) also favors a vérité approach and by using a contact microphone, gives us access to the sounds of the insides of her vagina. It's remarkably graphic, but not in ways that one might think: calming, warm and aquatic, and not surprisingly, womblike. The sensation produced in the listener is similar to the aforementioned Viennese Actionist films: jarring yet calm, art not porn.

A more staged approach is used in Leif Elggren and Thomas Liljenberg's Zzz...(16) which is an hour-long performance of two gentlemen snoring. At the beginning of the piece, it simply sounds like two people sleeping, a snore here, a cough there. But as the piece progresses, the snoring gets more theatrical and obnoxious until, about half way through, it turns into a snoring opera, with the two protagonists taking turns belting out twisted arias of snorts, yawns and honks. It's a hysterical and self-reflexive take on the more sober documentary durational performance works of an earlier era, say, Chris Burden, as well as a response to a work like Lesko's.

Another strain of body-centric works found here is language and its constituent parts: the sounds of the mouth, spoken descriptions of bodily functions and sensations, philosophical questions of corporeality, and the power of the sheer absence of language. Gregory Whitehead's The Problem with Bodies (1) sets the philosophical tone for the linguistic aspect of the disc. In it, a disembodied voice (the voice of media) is asked to repeat a proposition first without using a tongue, next without opening the mouth, and finally without using the larynx, reducing the philosophical proposition to a series mere glottal clicks.

Language Removal Services (2, 8, 13) takes Whitehead's directive literally and removes all language from recordings of famous personalities, leaving us not with their jewels of wisdom, but rather with the peripheral detritus between the words. For this disc, I selected three tracks using figures as source material whom seemed to me particularly invested in corporeality: Marilyn Monroe, Marcel Duchamp and William S. Burroughs.

Paul Dutton moves in a similar direction of linguistic non-sense. Lips Is (7) is comprised entirely of labial sounds. In it, the lips-conventionally thought of as our primary delivery system of linguistic communication- are used to create anything but conventional language. Instead Dutton makes an astonishing array of lip sounds including babble, breath, salivation, kissing, and electronic music; think of him as Henri Chopin unplugged.

Christof Migone brings a technological sense to bear on the body's urinary function in P (15). Migone states of the piece: "I said / shouted / whispered (depending on the context) 'P' every time I went to pee until I reached 1000 times (took 149 days). The playback of the Ps is in accordance to the timestamp of the original P (it's hard to discern a variance in spacing in the 1 minute version here, there's a 60 minute version where that's more obvious)." The rhythm of the piece is determined by the clicking on and off of the recording apparatus reminiscent of the stop-click tape recording experiments of Anton Bruhin, while the self's examination through technology gives an eerie aura to the work, reminiscent of Coppola's The Conversation.

Cresting on the border between conventional language, deconstructed words, and glottal stuttering is a piece from Caroline Bergvall, About Face, Part 1 (6). Prior to a reading in 1999, Bergvall, a Norwegian / British / French poet had a tooth removed yet decided to go ahead with the reading anyway. The result was a series of unintentional linguistic gaffes-stutters and hesitancies which added another layer of complexity to Bergvall's already complex relationship to her stew of "native" languages. As Bergvall says of the piece, "The sutured pain and phantom bone made it difficult to articulate the text to the audience. Speech fluency is an articulatory feat. It presupposes the smooth functioning of speaking's motor skills. It is a choreography of the physiological mouth into language."

Moving back toward a more conventional narrative is Jim Roche's Straight Razor (12), where he gives a graphically hypnotic accounting of what feels like to be cut with a straight-edged razor. Circuitously chanted in a Steinian way, Roche articulates an almost slow-motion account of the incident. Recorded in 1972, the piece grows out of a series of improvised performance works that Roche performed in galleries. By throwing himself into a trance and adopting characters of his native South, Roche's audio works are remarkable documents which still have the power to provoke and stun some thirty-five years later.

The Body as Sound Factory
Kenneth Goldsmith

""No matter which way you flap them, all openings into the body, above all those that open into the head, invite the risk of foreign particulate invasion -- the reason for antibodies. In a world without lips, let's consider the proposition proved." - Gregory Whitehead

There's a series of Vienna Actionist films made in the 1960s that I've recently been hosting on UbuWeb. Made by artists such as Otto Muehl, Otmar Bauer and Kurt Kren, it's wildly disturbing, yet somehow very sexy stuff. There's endless amounts of explicit sexual action, S&M, bondage, genital close-ups, enemas, foodstuffs, animal sex and animal slaughter, and so forth. They've got the underground quality and graininess of, say, Super-8 stag films that your dad might've watched at a bachelor party in some wood-paneled suburban basement. Yet the films are undeniably art not porn: jittery, quickly cut, out of focus and fast-paced, the camera never lingers long enough on a body part or action to trigger a scopophilic reaction, rather, its formalism keeps us on the outside. There is no typical porn narrative beginning with the unexpected encounter, leading to foreplay and culminating in the cum shot; instead, due to its essentially structuralist nature, we witnesses choppy Dionysian orgies of epic proportions with which we are never permitted to engage.

There's a strong dialogue with 1960s art world trends in these films, be it the jump-cut editing typical of the New York underground film scene of the time or the obsession with the materiality of paint, albeit with foodstuffs rather than oil or enamel; there's also a deep connection to the everyday performance works of the Judson Church, Happenings and Fluxus. But checking into all my avant-garde film history books, nowhere do the names Kren, Bauer or Muehl appear: these films have been, by and large, ignored. Too risqué to be shown in galleries, dismissed by the avant-garde cinema community, and kept out of theatres by blue laws, they are lost documents.

Yet somehow, looking at them today, they seem so prescient. It's hard to imagine Matthew Barney's Vaseline-fueled fantasies without them. Likewise, the works of mainstream art world figures like Chris Burden, Vito Acconci, Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley, Bob Flanagan, Kathy Acker, Karen Finley, Tracey Emin and Vanessa Beecroft all bear the mark of Viennese Actionist cinema. It's a hidden history-long relegated to the margins-whose relevance is now speaking to the center.

In the history of music and sound, a similar migration has occurred with the body-centric concerns of sound poetry. Unrecognized in the eyes of the official art world (Kurt Schwitters is more famous for his Merzbau or collages than for the "Ursonate"), its legacy is cropping up in a vast amount of audio works by younger artists.

Beginning in 1913 when the Russian Futurist Aleksei Kruchenykh put forth the concept of Zaum, a transnational language which focused on non-sense rather than sense, our relationship to language was forever altered. Non-verbal and non-linguistic sounds could now be included within the scope of language. By extension, labial mouth sounds played a large role in Zaum. Kruchenykh's manifesto seems to predict the Viennese Actionists a half-century later: "wild, flaming, explosive (wild paradise, fiery languages, blazing coal)." Kurt Schwitters "Ursonate" (1922-32) along with many other Dada and Futurist sound poems brought this tendency into normative practice during the first half of the century. At the end of WWII in Paris, Pierre Schaeffer began distorting human voices using Musique concrète techniques, which opened the floodgates for altered, amplified and micro sounds of all types as sources for compositions, including those of the body.

The French sound poet Henri Chopin, in particular, applied Musique concrète's principles to the body. By the 1960s, he coined a term for this practice: Le corps est une usine à sons (the body is a sound factory), a slogan which reverberates to this day. Chopin took his directive literally-his own body was the site of sound. Compare this with the famous John Cage story of his visit to an anechoic chamber at Harvard in 1951 where he "heard that silence was not the absence of sound but was the unintended operation of [his] nervous system and the circulation of [his] blood." It's curious that Cage-self-admittedly Apollonian in his musical tendencies-never worked with those actual body sounds he heard that day. Thankfully, Chopin did.

These MP3s are the legacy of Kruchenykh, Schwitters and Chopin. They're the stepchild of the Viennese Actionists: at once sensual, sexy, and Dionysian, yet at the same time structural, rigorous, and gridded. From the dance floor, to amplified body cavities, to more conventional forms of narrative, this disc surveys the variety of ways younger artists are using the body as sound factory.

UbuWeb | UbuWeb Sound