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Listening, Looking and Performing in 2007

by Thomas Gaudynski


01/01/08 11:20AM

Introduction – Part One

Listening and thinking about sound art/music and related ideas as well as performing throughout 2007 lead me down a variety of paths. Some of these preoccupations occurred because they are related to my occupation (earning a living through consulting and teaching) while others are part of my avocation (making, performing, learning about, and critiquing sound-related art works). Please note that all errors and omissions are my own.

To begin with teaching, during Spring semester 2007 I wanted to connect some of the young designers and artists at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) with the social, technical, commercial, and historical origins of the computer technology that most of us use everyday for our creative efforts. How did we come to have these wonderful and accessible tools for our educational, communications, and entertainment needs?

Wanting to explore the origin of and issues related to computers as tools for thought and creativity, I developed a course called From Utopia to Today. In this survey, I introduced my students to the scientists, designers, artists and think-tanks from the early part of the 20th Century through today whose utopian visions drove the concepts, media and products we all take for granted. From Alan Turing, John von Neumann, Norbert Weiner, and Vannevar Bush to Douglas Engelbart, Ivan E. Sutherland, Alan Kay, and Ted Nelson, we covered the theoretical, scientific and commercial development of computers.

It was fascinating listening to each student early in the semester describe their first experience with computers, video games, cell phones, music playback systems, and all the technologies that have converged and are now miniaturized and fit either in their pocket or backpack. Unlike people of my generation who grew up rooted to place (think land line phones, console TVs, stereo systems, and those first enormous desktop PCs), my students are a mobile generation carrying their world with them where they go. When you realize how much computers as we know them came first through the efforts of technicians engaged in war and later from the visionaries who never considered commercial development but wanted to empower human thought, it is amazing that today it is business, commerce and fashion that drive the development of computers. I hope the class was a wake up call for the "look through any Windows," iBook, iPod, iPhone generation.

Fall 2007, I presented a class called Hi & Lo Tech Art in the Sixties. My intention was to look at art from that time period through the lens of the technology used to produce it, rather than the list of movements and "isms" usually used to describe art of the time––Happenings, Fluxus, Pop Art, Op Art, Minimalism, Kinetic Art, Conceptual Art, Earth Art, etc. Underlying the art history survey component, I wanted to explore with my students various questions: whether the technology used was a neutral tool or a McLuhanist carrier more powerful than the content, or how deeply could you define technology––everything that human's used to produce artifacts, or just the results of post-industrial society, etc., and ultimately what impact that had on both the conception of art and the resulting artifact. While not as successfully conceived as the From Utopia to Today material, it allowed me to range over a variety of sound art and music examples and themes, always an underlying drive in my teaching. More on listening to music in that context below.

In February, I collected three hours of music I downloaded, principally from myspace sites, and curated a program of downloaded music for Hal Rammel's Alternating Currents program on WMSE 91.7 FM. (You in turn can download or stream his program from February 18, 2007 at In the spirit of "information wants to be free," I followed the practice that if it was available for download, I was granted permission to do so. Some artists featured included Tim Perkis, Kyle Bruckmann's Wrack, Scott Burland and Frank Schultz's Duet for Theremin and Lapsteel, Susan Alcorn, Christian Munthe, Mazen Kerbaj, and Nick Didkovsky's Swim This with Gerry Hemingway and Michael Lytle. I was just passing the music on to another group of listeners trying to extend the life of these great examples of contemporary sound art.

Also in February, Rammel released Like Water Tightly Wound on Crouton Music. The recording is a 10 inch vinyl disk in an "antiqued-themed 78 record package," featuring two works performed by him on his self-design and constructed "Sound Palettes," (wooden painter palettes that contain various rods mounted perpendicular to the surface and amplified through a contact microphone). This is a concentrated sound experience and compilation of some of the more subtle techniques and sounds available from these instruments. I rarely hear this level of clarity and subtlety when he plays in a live situation. The recording quality shows off all the light tinkles, warm resonant tones, and deep roars capable with these instruments that at times sound like percussion at others cello or bass, but with an intimacy as if he were playing in the room with you, rather than in a large hall or gallery. Like Water Tightly Wound extends the work from his Lost Data series of the previous year.

At the end of March, composer/performer/computer installation artist George Lewis gave a lecture at University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee called "Living with Creative Machines." Lewis, an active improviser, has been a pioneer in the use of software-based interactive instruments beginning with his work Voyager from the mid-1980s. Besides auditing the survey of his work, and hearing him astutely answer questions from both university show-offs in the audience as well as people who clearly had no clue about his work or milieu, my main take-away was his remark that, "improvisation is the ubiquitous practice of everyday life." Well there you have it.

In preparation for the tenth anniversary celebration for the Audiotrope trio
(Hal Rammel––invented instruments, Steve Nelson-Raney––soprano and sopranino saxophones, and myself––guitars, voice and electronics mostly) to be held in May, I facilitated a "self-interview" with intention of publishing a commemorative book for our celebration performance. We met and discussed origins, influences, working methods, and surprisingly, a number of aesthetic differences. A feature of our work over the last decade has been the avoidance of discussion about the music, other than brief observations, usually following one of the 60 plus concerts during that time, like "well you guys sounded really good," etc. So, some of the items or issues laid dormant waiting for an inevitable outpouring. I transcribed the interview, passed it to Hal and Steve, who made minor changes and suggested edits. Independently, I solicited contributions from a number of others, most of whom obliged, and Marly Gisser and I put it into form as a small book published by Necessary Arts.

Steve Nelson Raney,               Hal Rammell,            Thomas Gaudynski

Audiotrope celebrated the anniversary with a concert at Woodland Pattern Book Center in May. There are still some copies of the book available for those who weren't there or didn't get a review copy. Let me know if you'd like one.

Also in March, Gary Hassay, saxophonist from Allentown, PA, who I first met in 1982 when the trio Diana David, Paul Gaudynski and Thomas Gaudynski (DG&G) performed there, asked me to write liner notes for his forthcoming album Beauty. I spent a few weeks listening first to all the pieces recorded with this trio including Dan Dechellis on piano, and Tatsuya Nakatani on percussion––about 120 minutes of music. (Nakatani played in Milwaukee in November at Woodland Pattern Book Center recently with Swedish guitarist David Stackenäs as part of Alternating Currents Live. See below.) Then a few more weeks to the final cut list before putting fingers to word processor. Rather than describe the music specifically as in a review, since I knew the reader would already have made their purchasing decision, I determined to take a more poetic approach to the concept of beauty, and how the trio had channeled it during their work. The album came out this past fall.

From the intro of my Meditation on Beauty:

Much of what goes for beauty today is arbitrated by commerce and is reinforced by advertising and media. We have been warped and turned aside by the enemies of beauty. Tempted to worship false appearance. Who needs that?

It only takes a little effort to shut off that influence––for us to strip our individual humanity to its essence opening our selves to nature. True beauty, undetermined by human greed, can only be found there. Lest we forget, we are part of nature.

Our senses are the doors to beauty. Opening, we can take in the wholeness of form, balance, and harmony of the natural order. Although nature is not pretty. Nature is our terrible and grave home. True natural beauty fills us with awe.

Necessary Arts client Bel Canto Chorus presented a fascinating aural event of choral music in May at the Sisters of Saint Joseph Chapel all revolving around the theme of light. The Chapel is a long narrow room with high arched ceiling that sat about 400 listeners squeezed into high-backed pews and folding chairs along the walls. The risers for the chorus were set in front of the alter in effect shortening the length of the room and leaving a large resonant cavity above the chorus. Beginning at the back of the room behind the audience, the chorus began with Gregorian Chant. Then, holding candles in the darkened space, they filed into the aisles, stopped and sang O Nata Lux by Thomas Tallis. Finally they took their places on the risers in front and finished the evening singing works by Rachmaninoff, Holst, John Rutter, and Morten Lauridsen. A very effective use of the space throughout.

In June, I wanted to try something new for a planned performance in August with Audiotrope. I pulled my first guitar, a KAY archtop, out of the basement after twenty-five years, dusted it off and spent some time exploring what I could do with. Understand, this instrument, given to me by Paul Gaudynski for Christmas in 1978, never was playable in the usual sense of the word describing an instrument––it had a warped neck, slipping tuning pegs, etc. But for an improviser without preconceptions, it was a great resonant box with strings. The initial results of my exploration were quite different from anything I might have tried when I first acquired it, but perhaps related to the exploratory approach heard on Solo 99. I worked with the instrument through June and July recording solo pieces, and then, while mastering, I overlapped some solos simultaneously and created a few sound constructions. I also raised the action on the neck and tuned KAY to DADFAD. I completed the project in time for my 57th birthday and Necessary Arts published KAY, A new listen to an old guitar in September in an edition of 75. I dedicated it to Paul Gaudynski, for accompanying me on some of my musical journeys and gifting me with KAY, and to Eugene Chadbourne, for inspiring me to play guitar ultimately in my own fashion.

July saw the initial performance of Milwaukee Laptop Orchestra (MiLO) at Hotcakes Gallery. Brainchild of Chris Burns, MiLO is an evolving group of aural and visual laptop artists with visiting acoustic and electro-acoustic musicians. The first performance included two screens of mutating and evolving projected images mixed live with accompaniment or juxtaposition of sound works improvised by various laptop performers and a pair of saxophonists. Although it was a great beginning, there were times that I wished Stockhausen or someone was in the back of the room with a mixer adjusting levels through out. I thought the ensemble sense of its own mix was not as articulated as I would have liked, but this was their first performance. The group has performed twice since then, including accompanying the 1927 film by Walter Ruttmann, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, and I regret missing them. Burns assures me not to worry since he has plans for many other events.

Part Two:
01/01/08 11:24AM

Listening, Looking and Performing in 2007 – Part Two

Introduction – Part Two

Listening and thinking about sound art/music and related ideas as well as performing throughout 2007 lead me down a variety of paths. Some of these preoccupations occurred because they are related to my occupation (earning a living through consulting and teaching) while others are part of my avocation (making, performing, learning about, and critiquing sound-related art works). Please note that all errors and omissions are my own.

In September Hal Rammel organized a performance of the Lost Data Project, named after his composition and recording project from 2006, along with Jon Mueller and Jim Schoenecker. The performance with Rammel on sound palettes and turntable, Mueller on feedback resonated percussion, and Schoenecker on synthesizer and turntable, took place at the Haggerty Museum of Art in conjunction with an exhibition of Gina Litherland's fine magic surrealism paintings. The music centered around slowly evolving textures rather than call and response or "squeaky-bonky" improvised interplay. The music suited the resonant space of the museum. You can hear a sample of the performance at

In October I listened to Rae Armantrout and Jane Hirschfield read their poetry at Woodland Pattern Book Center––an interesting pairing that made for an eclectic evening. Both read short works that they introduced with contextual comments and stories. Each poem read seemed to expect an "uh-huh" moment at the end––here's my poetic object about this or composed of that; audience response, oh "uh-huh." Comparing it to a musical event, I was surprised that the rhythm of the performance was composed of such short events, with such typical end results for each piece or movement. More like a pop (or song-form) music recital than jazz, chamber music, or electro-acoustic music concerts.

Jon Mueller of Crouton Music organized a visit by the trio Konk Pack (Tim Hodgkinson tabletop guitar and electronics, Thomas Lehn analog synthesizer, and Roger Turner drums and percussion) in mid-October at the newly remodeled Cactus Club. Mueller graciously invited Audiotrope to open for them. I had heard a few of Konk Pack's recordings, found on-line, and was familiar with the work of the group's members as individuals and in other contexts, so I was excited that a group of their caliber was visiting. As the promotion materials described, "each concert is legendary." The club has a backroom that allows a level of subtlety in performance since it is removed from the noisier bar section. Audiotrope took advantage of that space to move from quiet to loud, spare to complex in a brief opening set. Konk Pack however seized the opportunity to blast with high intensity and frenetic energy throughout their entire set sweeping everything away in their path. Turner could not rest and kept the music moving with unbounded rhythmic energy. Lehn uses his tiny synth to noisy advantage and employed such great body language.

And Hodgkinson, spurred on by the other two, with his pixy grin, ripped it up with his plucked strings and pedal effects. It was a great, nay, legendary concert.

During much of 2007, I spent working with my client the Urban Ecology Center on marketing planning. The Center is a fascinating organization that works to connect young people, primarily, with nature in an urban setting. Through its educational efforts in our neighborhood on Milwaukee's East Side––they bring students from neighborhood schools to Riverside Park daily for science-based experiential learning about nature––they have helped reduce crime in the park and help protect the natural areas along the Milwaukee River. Visiting the Center and the park often, I came to appreciate listening to the urban environment with perhaps more attention than usual. I began taking sound walks and attending to the interplay of natural and manmade sounds. I'm working on developing either some listening exercises or suggested sound walks for visitors to the area. Perhaps helping auditors with checklists of sounds, not unlike the bird lists that birders compile. For example, walking into the park from the Locust Street Bridge, you move away from the intense sound of traffic to the micro-sound environment of song birds, crickets, and wind in the trees. Moving towards the river, you experience both the sounds reverberating beneath the bridge span and contained in the river valley. Walking deeper into the park, you might almost imagine being in the country, but still hear the sound of a passing plane or the low distant rumble of Highway 43 two miles to the west.

2007 was a lean year for discretionary spending on new recordings. I counted only seven CD purchases––most made with financial gifts for birthday or holidays, plus a few exchanges with other artists, and of course internet or radio listening. This, however was offset to a degree by the amount of music I brought up from the basement where my LPs are stored.

Much of this listening to older recordings was driven by teaching. In Spring, I needed to play examples of computer music and so brought up Hiller and Isaacson's Illiac Suite for String Quartet, Milton Babbitt's Philomel, and Charles Wuorinen's Time's Encomium. In Fall, I need to play various examples of music created with low technology and so brought up David Behrman's Runthrough, David Tudor's Rainforest, John Cage's Radio Music and Cartridge Music. I also introduced students to voltage-controlled modular synthesizer music and played them Wendy Carlos' Switched on Bach and Morton Subotnick's Silver Apples of the Moon (although I had to borrow both of these from the Milwaukee Public Library.) And I needed to contextualize these last examples from the sixties with The Beatles' Tomorrow Never Knows and Frank Zappa's Uncle Meat. For my two classes I went through the painstaking process of digitizing my brief examples from LPs without really the proper equipment or software.

Then in October, Jim Cogan invited me to guest lecture during his History of Sound in American Media class at Beloit College. In specifying the equipment available in his class room he said there was a turntable. After trying to teach aspects of musical history, specifically from the sixties and seventies, at an art school where everything is either completely digital or of the most antique processes available with no middle ground––think printmaking or painting––this was a wonderful opportunity to present the music in the form it was designed for: vinyl records. Focusing on aspects of electronic music, I played excerpts of Terry Riley's A Rainbow In Curved Air, Steve Reich's It's Gonna Rain and Violin Phase, as well as the library copy of Switched on Bach. Both Cogan and I passed around the sleeves and handled the disks like holy relics from the past.

Unfortunately during Q & A I made a remark apparently denigrating Frank Zappa's music as pop, and the students immediately challenged my characterization. I'm sorry I used the term "pop" and not "commercial." No matter how masterful or enjoyable Zappa's music is, I don't believe he ever conceived it in terms of art––that rarified form of hot house flower. His music was intended to be heard through the mechanisms of commercial music no matter how much he may have lampooned commercialism and his own work's lack of commercial potential. A sly fox that one.

Capitalizing on the honorarium that Cogan secured for me to teach the class and the end-of-year need to find tax deductions for Necessary Arts, I bought a new USB, S/PDF turntable. The first thing I did after figuring out how digitize files was make a copy of the long OOP Columbia Music of Our Times LP The World of Harry Partch for my friend and colleague Paul Krajniak.

Since then, listening to out of print LPs also drove me back to hear things a diverse as Anthony Braxton's New York, Fall, 1974, Gavin Bryars' 1,2,1-2-3-4, Christopher Hobbs' McCrimmon Will Never Return, Olivier Messiaen's Fete des Belles Eaux (for sextet of ondes martinot), the CCMC 3 record set of Larry Dubin and the CCMC, Jacques Bekaert's A Summer Day at Sony Point, and Alvin Curran's Fiori Chiari, Fiori Oscuri.

Marly Gisser and I had a chance to catch the Milwaukee Dance Theatre production of Spaulding Gray: Stories Left to Tell just before the run ended in November. Gray's widow, Kathie Russo, collected materials from Gray's monologues, letters, and unpublished journal entries which are read/recited throughout the performance by five performers––often with a rotating cast of "stars" taking one of the positions. Co-directors Isabelle Kralj and Mark Anderson blocked the performers––representing love, adventure, journals, family, and career––throughout the space as they presented what became a mosaic of stories and information that ultimately coalesced into a funny and touching portrait of Gray. You could have sat back, closed your eyes, and experienced the performance as hörspiel, but I had to think of the production through my Brechtian filter. Rather than a continuous narrative interrupted by "situations," the entire production consisted only of "situations." I had to wonder if the order of the material needed to be, or if it was indeed, set to provide a specific dramatic result, or could the elements of the mosaic be presented in any order in a more Cagean presentation that still had a desirable impact. I'll have to tease that question out with Isabelle and Mark next time I seen them.

On the subject of Bertolt Brecht, I again spent some time with his work during 2007 after finding used copies of his Poems 1913-1956 and World Dramatists: Bertolt Brecht by Karl H. Schoeps. Then during a conversation at Thanksgiving with Tom and Zach Aries in Chicago about music and art, Tom asked, "Why do you like Brecht?" At first I was taken aback. Was this one of those questions like, "Why do you like Ezra Pound (when you know he was an anti-Semite fascist)?" Mixing art with politics. But I forged on and replied that his appeal for me continues to be both his dramatic and poetic work and concepts of theatre as well as his life and times––what was the music like then? What did the art look like? How did people dress and act? It's just the historian in me. I also realize that the Brechtian model of theatre with its intention of promoting critical thinking is out of favor in our digitally networked, game-laden, reality-TV soaked culture, but we got interrupted before we could pursue the conversation further.

November held some interesting opportunities to observe the interplay of video and music. Artist Catherine Ross had two works exhibited over a period of four weeks at MIAD. The most successful for me was her piece Trilling which consisted of looped close-ups of hands gesturing wildly and the loop fragments passing from right to left. The sound track was a series of trumpet figures that followed the visuals aurally in space. Unfortunately, the gallery didn't post any information about the work so I begin first looking for the logic of the visual images and seeking the loop structure, then trying to understand the sound to image relationship. Later I discovered her website ( and according to her artist's statement, Trilling "recombines footage from the early 80s sitcom 'Three's Company' into a sequence of traveling gestural loops. Trumpeter Taylor Haskins composed the music, creating a unique improvisational response to each clip." I thought the work had the elegance of a Steve Reich tape loop piece. Take a look at the excerpt Ross has on her website.

The Colloquia in Conceptual Studies from UWM presented a performance by Tom Recchion and Jonathon Rosen as Radio Nurse in November billed as "live audio-visual contamination and disintegration." I knew of Recchion's work from his Los Angeles Free Music Society (LAFMS) double LP from the mid-1970s. And unknowingly, I was familiar with Jonathon Rosen's illustration work through its appearance most recently in a Science Times special on Sleep from the New York Times. Their performance of live improvised music and visuals was one of the more satisfying sound/image events I've experienced recently––while sound and image were not precisely coordinated, the flow and interplay of each worked quite well together. During performance, Recchion sat with his back to the unfolding images while Rosen faced the screen looking over Recchion's shoulder. The pair described how they shared materials long distance for the few weeks in advance of the performance so had familiarity with other's approach and intentions and consequently they weren't seeking a one-to-one match of sound and image. Later they described their improvisatory method as a "non-linear way of working because stories are hard." Recchion reminded us that there are different free improvisation languages and that for him, he like to have all musical languages available within the context of "free improvisation."

A final performance observed was the duo of Tatsuya Nakatani and David Stackenäs presented as part of Alternating Currents Live at Woodland Pattern Book Center on November 4. (You can stream or download the broadcast from November 11, 2007 at I wanted to see/hear Stackenäs after hearing his work on WMSE 91.7 FM previously. How did he play those double set of picked figures on the guitar? (He placed a drum stick under the strings mid-way up the neck and finger picked on both sides of the divided string simultaneously.) And I wanted to revisit Nakatani's work after listening to his playing on Beauty all Spring. Both played solo pieces––Nakatani building up a droning tour de force that began and ended with double bows on a large tam tam; Stackenäs presenting his signature picking. Then they both put similar language together in duets. I wrote in my notebook about Nakatani, "undisciplined but ferocious."

As I get ready to face 2008, I'm looking forward to teaching the third iteration of a class I call Sound + Art + Language at MIAD––an incomplete and eclectic survey exploring the intersections between the auditory, visual and literary art beginning with Guillaume Apollinaire, Italian Futurism, Hugo Ball, and Dada, threading through concrete and sound poetry, and ending up with Lawrence Weiner, Barbara Kruger and Laurie Anderson. But my mind is turning towards something for Fall 2008 tentatively called Ethics
and Aesthetics of Sampling and Appropriation. I can't wait.

I hope this whirlwind of listening, looking and performing experiences from 2007 is of interest. Time to put on new ears, eyes, and fingers in readiness for another year of sound art and music.

© 2008 Thomas Gaudynski