Re: [rumori] just abstraction (not Bumble Cheeking)

From: Chris Stecker (
Date: Mon Sep 17 2001 - 08:59:13 PDT

On Saturday 15 September 2001 02:02, Steev wrote:
> Fri, 14 Sep 2001 found Chris Stecker writing:
> This is getting pretty far-removed from the original Hayward
> rant, but i just have to comment on some of this.
> ->process of pattern-making. Of course IMO, the juxtapositions must be
> TRULY ->thoughtless, not carelessly overt (e.g., as in the random mixing of
> popular ->images).
> is there such a thing as "truly thoughtless", where humans
> are involved? what you call the "random" juxtapositions of
> the Surrealists were dependent on their own subconscious.
> that's what they were all about. i suppose if
> thought=consciousness (as opposed to subconsciousness) then
> you may have said something. but even so where would the
> line be between "truly thoughtless" and "carelessly overt"
> (do you mean overtly careless?)?

And this is even farther removed from the Fremont rant, maybe even into San
Jose, but my point is just about the power of random. The method of
artmaking I alluded to requires two steps: random sequence generation and
pattern selection. It's the pattern selection which brings in the
"subconscious" [ a cleverly spooky term. I prefer "brain" ]. From among
the random juxtapositions, select what you like, select what seems important,
or whatever, select patterns that "have meaning". The random phase is the
seed, as it were, and my suggestion is that more powerful (to the active
listener) connections can be made by random ("truly thoughtless") seeding
than by composition. (in many cases.) Of course, I'm not making the point
that this is the only valid form of composition, just one that I'm very
interested in.

The story:

Composer R: "I shall compose a piece about the recent tragedy."

[composition pop's out of R's brain, fully realized and connected]

Listener 1: "Powerful! Can't you see it's about the recent tragedy?"
Listener 2: "Yes, quite obviously. How insulting!"

Composer A: "I shall compose a piece."

[A randomly grabs a fistful of records from disgustingly large collection.
Plays many at once. Edits together a piece using the particularly
serendipitous bits.]

Listener 1: "Powerful! Can't you see it's about the recent tragedy?"
Listener 2: "Huh?"

The moral of the story: If Composer R were a GENIUS, his approach would have
been undoudtedly superior to Composer A's. R would have come up with
artistic connections that far exceeded the capabilities of the listeners'
pathetic little minds, and hence produced a work to boggle art historians for
millenia. If not, well...

> ->have the least "critical-phase" manipulation by the artists, bringing us
> back ->to the potentialities of abstract art. Take as an example Reich's
> "Come out" ->or Lucier's "I am sitting in a room;" a simple acoustic
> process is repeatedly ->presented to the listener, who cannot help but have
> his brain rearrange the ->pieces into new and wonderful sonic images. Once
> the listener realizes that ->he is doing the artmaking, then the bridge has
> been crossed.
> Hmm, you may be right about the Reich piece, but "I am
> sitting in a room", to me, is a conceptual art piece, not
> abstraction. it's not about the object (the actual sounds),
> but the idea. The listener isnt making the art, he's having
> an interesting idea proven to him.

I think both pieces are fundamentally conceptual in the way you describe.
For "Come Out," the "interesting idea" is the presentation of multiple copies
of a sound that drift in their phase relationship. Like "I am sitting in a
room," a very simple electroacoustic process produces a complex and
intriguing sonic result. As an Experimentalist, this is one aspect of both
works that interests me, but it's not the aspect I think relates to this
discussion. Perhaps partly because of the conceptual composition style, both
pieces are minimal (in a sense) and repetitive. Coupled with the complex
nature of the sounds themselves, this produces are rich potential for
listener interpretation. (and by "interpretation" I mean sensory perception,
which I hope is not misunderstood by this group to be a simple data-driven
process devoid of "thought"). If you listen to these pieces and hear only
the process the artist has employed, then you may not get my point here, and
I may be mistaken in my belief that other people's listening habits are
anything like my own. However, for me the realization of actively making
connections myself, as a listener, as opposed to consuming an artist's
conveyed meaning, was (and still is) very powerful. I relate in this way
even to abstract/low-level/sensory art possibly because of my interest in
sensory systems, but the same issues hold for
higher-order/conceptual/language-mediated connections. (Take for example,
your higher-quality cut-up like "Over the Edge," especially in its more
random/absurdist moments).

[discussion of American taste for abstract art deleted]

Um, I did not mean to say that I like abstract art because no art critic will
tell me what to think about it, or to imply that Americans should like
abstract art necessarily. Just that, looking at or listening to pieces of
random origin, or where the conceptual meaning has not been
overly-constrained from the start, makes me feel good. Since there's no
"right answer," I'm not concerned that I didn't take more art history in
college, that I don't have time to read art commentary, etc. I also know that
I can view or listen to the piece again and see something TOTALLY different,
and that's okay.

> but anyway, most importantly, Momus recently wrote
> "Masturbation is to reproduction as abstraction is to
> representation." And I totally agree. I have less and less
> tolerance for abstract art every day. art for me is about
> conveying meaning. unfortunately music, traditionally, is
> the most abstract art form there is. so that's a problem,
> for me at least. but there's ways out of that. collage is
> one of them.

No. Music is not "the most abstract art form there is." Music's "meaning"
is more often tied to emotion than other flavors of thought. That's not the
same as abstraction. Listen to most classical music, for instance, and the
emotional reference is extremely clear. Add lyrics in popular music and it
becomes even less abstract, I mean you can make it "say" exactly what you
want the listener to hear. On the other hand, you may have meant that YOUR
music may be "the most abstract art form." Having heard your music, I won't
attempt to argure that point, though I will point out that you might have
some competition out there somewhere. ;-)

I guess art for me is not about conveying meaning but "altering
consciousness." I think there's some good in stimulating a thought in a
viewer or listener, even if as an artist you don't control the nature of that
thought. Before encountering your art, they were thinking one thing, and
now they're thinking something else, maybe something you'd disagree with.
"Different is better," or something like that.

Glad to be debating art not politics,

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