01 February 2007

That’s How It Happened

Sometimes, it takes diving into obscurity to identify obvious things in plain sight. That’s what happened to me today. I thought you’d enjoy seeing both the obscurity and the obvious that was so plainly visible that I had never really identified it before now.

I use bloglines, a service that checks almost all the blogs I read for me. One of these is the official blog of the St. Louis Museum of Contemporary Art. They are about to host a concert, and asked a local grad student to write about the composer--Morton Feldman. Here’s what I read:

Beckett's radio play "Words and Music" attracts immediate curiosity with nothing but its dramatis personae: Croak, a master and moderator, and his two charges, Joe (Words) and Bob (Music). Croak and Joe express themselves through the customary words and nonverbal expressions, but Bob's "voice" is literally music, played by a small chamber ensemble consisting of two flutes, vibraphone, piano, violin and cello, its "lines" indicated in the script by vague directions as to mood and dynamics. The role of the score in creating the actual utterances of a dramatic character presents a fascinating and extremely difficult problem to the composer, as attested to by the ultimate failure of the original score (by Beckett's cousin) and Feldman's writings on his own trials and tribulations while working on the play.

So I was thinking about how I always mix up vibraphones and theremins in my mind, and how much cooler the play would be scored for a theremin. And then I was thinking about how enormous the idea is behind Beckett’s play, which caused me to reflect on my own inclination to judge anything “ideaful” as a thing of art. And that jogged my memory of an introductory visual arts class that I took when I was 17. They brought in new art stuff every week that I had never heard of, and most of which I can’t remember well enough to find further information on. One such “cool new thing” was an artist who had attempted to let the ears see and the eyes hear. I wish I had more information, but that is really all I could remember. I took that to google, and one advanced search later found an Artforum (great magazine with free online membership, which I immediately signed up for) review of a huge sound art exhibit in Berlin, which contained this paragraph:

Too rarely did the artists seem to be asking, “Why sound?” “Why sound in this work?” or “Why this sound?” If sound art is to end up being something more than a subcategory of visual art that makes noise, it will need to think through these questions and consider the auditory as a problematic field rather than simply as another sensory modality to stimulate. Perhaps within the next decade, those artists who engage sound will more fully make this conceptual turn, and “Sonambiente 2016” will showcase a vigorous and fresh (and not merely sustained) sound-art practice.

And that was where I had “oh, look what was right here in plain sight” realization. The idea of art as problematic: of course. Is art anything more often than problematic? What I find really interesting about art – truly engaging about art – are the problems inherent to representation. A great many of my Impart Art entries center on art’s problems, and a great many of western art’s recent masterpieces are masterpieces because they illustrate lingering visual problems (either by pointing them out or attempting to resolve them). Images and words and sounds and ideas and all of this can be engaged in a discussion of the problems of representation. At least, that’s what images and words and sounds and ideas do if they are going to convince me that they are art.


Josh said...

the review of the sound art exhibit.. when it says "(and not merely sustained)", i wonder if they were thinking about feldman? his music is generally merely sustained.

i kid.

but seriously. combining art disciplines is fascinating to me.

Dad said...

How can you think about all this stuff, write it down in an organized manner, and be a single parent at the same time. You should be going crazy and write in sentence fragments by now.

Mary Ann said...

Oops. When the review of Sonambiente mentioned the practice of sound art being "sustained", I think he meant that it has been consistently produced (and interestingly localized in Berlin) since the 70s. So, sound art hasn't gone away at all during those years. But interestingly, there are some really strange music/sound/art things going on in Germany in which notes are held for unimaginably long durrations. Have you heard that there is a cathedral in Germany that is playing Cage's "Organ 2/ASLSP" - going on right now and not finishing until 2639? 639 years might actually be as slow as possible. Anyway, cool fact is that I've been in the cathedral hosting this 600+ year organ piece. Wow.

Dan, having to talk in sentence fragments is quite enough, thank you.

Josh said...

i would love to go there, too