about those engines

A few years ago, one of the new media brats made fun of this blog for "not liking recommendation engines."
The blog probably didn't call them that but instead something like "that thing where amazon or netflix thinks it knows the inside of your brain and makes shitty suggestions based on your past consumption."
"Engines" is too fancy a term for this. Engines generally work.
The brat's assumption here is that "engines" deserve consideration -- that they might be just as good as critics, even.
The societal problem isn't algorithms, per se, it's a loss of belief in criticism.
It's a Catch-22: one would have to have critical faculties to perceive that critics do a better job of choosing artworks.
Schools don't really teach that anymore (right?), hence faith in "engines."
Another way of asking this is "who designs the Turing Test for the critic AI?" If it's a software engineer what do they know about art criticism? Are the tech schools turning out polymaths lately?

Notes for "Orff Mix"

[Update: "Tom Moody - poMo Classical & Jazz Fission" aka "The Orff Mix" streams Thurs, Aug 19, at 9 pm Eastern on ffog's Myocyte show on tilderadio and anonradio.]

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I am working on a mix for (open source) internet radio streaming. Below are notes explaining my choices. The mix is tentatively scheduled for this Thursday. I'll post again when know more. My thinking here is closely tied in with music I am making in the studio at the moment.

This mix explores the power of the simple, primitive, incantatory riff in postmodern classical and "jazz fission" music (Kodwo Eshun's term for the brief period of poMo experimentation in the late '60s/early '70s, which eventually jelled into more codified -- and bankable -- "fusion" jazz). My touchstone composers here are Carl Orff and Eric Satie, and their music is interwoven in the mix with experimenters on the "rock" side (John Cale, Frank Zappa, Penguin Cafe Orchestra) and the "jazz" side (John McLaughlin, Ralph Towner, Eberhard Weber). My aim is a musical conversation where common themes, differences and "sidebars" are all considered.

The mix begins and ends with a version of "Something Spiritual," a piece attributed to Dave Herman, who may or may not have played with Glenn Miller (Discogs sometimes mixes up artists with similar names) and appears to have written only this one tune. It's a bifurcated composition, with a wistful, soulful beginning that breaks into a repeated 7 note riff (da da, da da, da da, da) that is very "rock and roll." The piece keeps switching back and forth between the soulful part and The Riff, trying to make up its mind. At the beginning of the mix, John McLaughlin plays it on acoustic guitar(s), showing off his speed and technical skill. At the end of the mix it's played by The Tony Williams Lifetime, a towering group of the fission era, with McLaughlin on electric guitar, Larry Young on Hammond organ, and Williams intricately flailing away on drums. Here The Riff takes over the song, and is played by McLaughlin and Young ad infinitum, with subtle variations in timbre and syncopation, allowing Williams to go off into outer space with metric variations and polyrhythms on a standard drum kit. The loud guitar and pulsating organ are rock, not jazz -- were it not for the drums, this could be Steppenwolf.

Going back to the beginning of the mix: McLaughlin's acoustic version is followed by Penguin Cafe Orchestra's "In the Back of a Taxi," which has a upbeat folk-like Riff played on bass, piano, and ukulele that you could listen to all day. But then a zany quasi-mariachi band comes in with trumpets and breaks the hypnotic groove. This happens twice in the song but the Riff remains constant throughout.

Next comes the first of several pieces by Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman from their "Schulwerk" series, a decades-long compilation of pedagogical music for children (or students of all ages). In "Diminution Schrei," an infectious stew of bubbling xylophone and wood block percussion suddenly erupts into shouts and Native American "hey-ya"s -- from a German boys choir, no less. It's fun and pretty wack. This short piece takes us to Eric Satie's score for Rene Clair's film Entr'acte, which ran during the intermission of the ballet Relâche in 1924. This is my favorite Satie piece, an example of his modular "furniture music" -- a concatenation of simple Riffs ranging from circus music to melancholy strings -- which could be repeated or shortened as needed, to keep the score in sync with the film cuts. This was way ahead of its time.

Next up is Moondog's wistful piano tune "Sea Horse," which could be a continuation of the Entr'acte score, followed by Ralph Towner's solo guitar piece "3x12 (2)." Towner riffs, too but his mind is so musically inventive the motifs never settle into grooves but, instead, serve as links in chains of free association. Then it's back to Moondog, with his most famous work, "Bird's Lament," for reed instruments, including a honking baritone to die for. For this mix I used a version without percussion, from The German Years 77-99, sped up to the same tempo as the better-known version from Moondog (1969) on Columbia. This seques pretty nicely to Carl Orff's "Dance (arr. Wilfried Hiller) for Violin and Cello" from the Schulwerk series, with short sections that could be a sequence of stately folk dances.

This is followed by a threesome of piano works from my blog playlist hatin' on Haigh -- -- which presumed to find some better examples of solo piano (more fun, more tuneful, more diverse, more emotional) than those offered by Simon Reynolds favorite Robert Haigh in The Wire a few years ago. Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin (I. Prelude)" receives a lightning fast treatment from David Korevaar. I owned the orchestral version of this for years and only on hearing the piano version realized what Ravel is doing with a Baroque composition by Francis Couperin -- unstiffening it and making it more romantic, more obviously French. You can still hear the Baroque trills and mathematics but with syncopating pauses and lush sweeps of cabaret expressiveness: a truly amazing reinvention. Then Gertrude Orff's haunting kids' music piece "Kleiner Klavierstücke, Heft I, No. 2," suggesting another quiet court dance. Then Philip Glass' Spanish-flavored "Modern Love Waltz" (performed by Amy Briggs), a machine-like arpeggio workout. You can almost see punched rectangles on a player piano going by, even though it has a human player.

Back to Orff: "Tun Ma Gehn, Rösserl Bschlagn," a children's piece featuring claps and a spirited mezzosoprano voice, precedes Sandy Bull's version of Carmina Burana -- played on a banjo! I owned this years ago, on a vinyl compilation of Bull's music, and can't imagine why I forgot this was on there -- it's completely memorable. Carmina is so familiar from horror movie scores it almost sounds like hackwork today. The banjo strumming puts us back in touch with its roots in the Jungian meme pool that Orff was tapping into: elemental strummed notes that are part folk, part medieval, part "world," touching something deep and primordial. This is followed by another Orff-penned children's piece, "Dance 1 (Piano Exercise, No. 29) for Violin and Cello" (1933), which seduces with its counterpoint between bowed and plucked strings.

Another short, frenetic Ralph Towner solo, "3x12 (3)," leads into John Cale's "Days of Steam," from his mostly classical third LP, The Academy in Peril (1972). This rhythmic piece for piano, viola, and tambourine (with trumpet scales and recorder at the end) presciently resembles Simon Jeffes and his Penguin Cafe Orchestra, which appeared a few years later. It's followed in the mix by Penguin Cafe Orchestra's "Yodel 1" (1981), a strummed acoustic guitar riff with piano and bongo accents. The simplicity and transparency of the instrumentation puts it very much in the Orff "Musik Für Kinder" ballpark, even though it's a 4 minute jam rather than a short structured chamber work.

Next is "Aybe Sea," one of the Mothers of Invention's prettiest pieces, from the Burnt Weeny Sandwich LP. A trio for piano, harpsichord, and Zappa's pedal-inflected guitar, the piece conjures a kind of deranged Renaissance dance number, before settling into a long piano coda. Eberhard Weber's "Silent Feet" is notable for Rainer Brüninghaus' liquid, exploratory piano intro, reminiscent of Ralph Towner's music in its improvisational complexity, rippling through a series of twists, turns, and key changes in a completely Western tonal framework (there are a couple of flubbed notes about 2/3 of the way through, which he recovers from brilliantly). This type of playing would resurface as the Windham Hill "new age" sound a few years later, without Brüninghaus' edgy melodic poetry.

The Ralph Towner acoustic guitar solo that opens Weather Report's "The Moors" is the stuff of legend, another freewheeling journey that resembles pure thought, turned into sprays of 12-string notes. The story goes that Joe Zawinul gave guest-instrumentalist Towner a chair to sit on in the recording studio and let Towner warm up before playing with the band. Unbeknownst to Towner, Zawinul had the tape recorder running and the warm-up session became the finished intro. "The Moors" then continues in Weather Report's early controlled free jazz style (coming off their years with Miles Davis) which had largely disappeared after their next LP, Sweetnighter. The mix then ends with the Tony Williams Lifetime version of "Something Spiritual," discussed above.

retro computer art and the aesthetic of the shift: 2. Marc Augé

A previous post discussed artists' use of the "just-past" to question the eternal new of Western commodity culture ("where there is always the new and it is always superseded by the next new"). Dan Graham had some interesting things to say about this, citing Walter Benjamin's research on the Paris Arcades. [1] Marc Augé is another theorist who has tackled this topic, in his essay L'art du décalage (The Art of the Shift) (2005), [2] which we'll discuss in this post.

In my own thinking about computer limitations back in the 2000s, I wasn't aware of Augé's writing but came to it recently by way of Pierre Verville's essay on my art and music. [3] Augé isn't concerned with computer art per se; he's mostly interested in how an artist who lives and participates in the modern world of global capitalism can somehow "shift" an audience to see outside this continuum.

Augé obliquely discusses Antoni Muntadas' installation in the Spanish Pavilion at the 2005 Venice Biennale. I say obliquely because there is very little physical description of the artwork: I had to find that elsewhere. According to Michèle C. Cone in The Brooklyn Rail:

...Muntadas showed details of his research on the history of the pavilions in the Giardini, the lovely grounds of the Biennale. His intention was to make perceptible the fact that the “Giardini” in 2005 looked quite different from what they had looked like earlier, especially during the era of Mussolini when, for example, the Italian pavilion was reconstructed to suit the Duce’s taste, and then rebuilt again after World War II. Much had been lost in translation since the first Venice Biennale, much had been added, but it took a Spaniard to unveil the less than transparent history of an Italian landmark. The project was named On Translation: I Giardini. [4]

Art historian Reesa Greenberg gives more descriptive detail: "On one side of an angled freestanding wall, he arranged same-size archival and current photographs of the façades of the pavilions in rows, similar in structure and glow to arrangements of images of real-estate properties for sale or hotels for rent. Viewers could learn more by picking up the attached phones." [5]

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This grid of photos appears in a sort of airport waiting area, along with another series of photos of people standing in line to get into various cultural events. According to Greenberg, the room also had a kiosk with "rolling aphorisms and statistical facts taken from the world at large ... information about the number of tourists to Venice in the last year, the number of dead and wounded in a Buenos Aires nightclub, the number of hits a day on Google, the number of Colombian soldiers killed in an ambush, and so on." [6]

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Augé writes about all this [machine-translated from French]:

A place and an institution rooted in time: this could well be the definition of the Venice Biennale. However accurate it may be in a sense, this definition raises many difficulties, at least today. The institution celebrates contemporaneity, but it endures. The place celebrates the spirit of the present time, but it consecrates the frontiers of the past. From then on, the contradictions are revealed and made visible. It only takes a little (but this little is everything) to bring them to light: contradiction between a recurrent celebration and the claim to embody the avant-garde, contradiction between the very idea of avant-garde and the representation of an eternal present that dominates contemporary representations, contradiction between the traditional organization of the Biennale (national pavilions, rivalries, competitions, prizes) and its ambition to express the state of artistic research in a globalized world, contradiction between the reference to Venice and the extra-territoriality of the Biennale...

Muntadas summarizes this set of questions by questioning not only the current status of Venice, but also that of the Biennale's setting, the Giardini, and that of the works presented there. The contradictions that jump out at us are no longer contradictions from the moment the artist... put[s] them into shape in order to question them. [T]he contradictions are always there... but change status by becoming the object of the artistic reflection.

We have to rely on Greenberg, Cone and others for descriptions of how historical photos of the Giardini "put into shape" the contradictions of the Biennale. Presumably the kiosk and telephones visible in the photos don't offer Cone's politically-tinged history of the Biennale grounds above. How are we supposed to know this? Augé writes:

[A]rtists have the difficult but essential task to signal to the public of the consumers, of which they are also a part, that they are, as artists, external to the system of production / consumption... This signal, to be perceptible, can only be the product of a ruse. If the classic putting at distance is impossible today [because art-making is part of a commodity system --tm], it is nevertheless possible to put the accent on the [inconsistencies] and tensions of a system which sacralizes the present and the image. By attacking the heart of the system in this way, we translate its spirit. Because it is less a question of attacking, here, than of "translating", as Muntadas says. The art does not aim primarily to subvert, but to show. It is up to the society or the public authorities to question, if the fact of showing takes in their eyes a subversive character. But to succeed in seeing, in order to show, it is necessary to find angles of view, to experiment, to displace the admitted limits, to shift the observation in time and space.

Ultimately, it seems, viewers have to puzzle it all out -- why does this pavilion look like an airport? what is the content of these photos? why are they placed here? -- and make their own connections. Augé implies the artist must "show" rather than tell.  We don't know how many Biennale viewers came to the same conclusions about the work as Augé, Greenberg, and Cone in their essays. Probably very few? At best we can say the ingredients for a shift in perception about the Biennale and its own agendas and contradictions are here.

NOTES

1. Dan Graham, "Legacies of Critical Practice in the 1980s," Discussions in Contemporary Culture, Hal Foster, ed., Dia Art Foundation, 1987.

2. Marc Augé, L'art du décalage, Multitudes, vol. 25, no 2, 2006, p. 139-147.

3. https://leparergon.org/index.php?title=Tom_Moody (French) https://www.tommoody.us/archives/2021/06/08/le-parergon-tom-moody-bio/ (English)

4. Michèle C. Cone, Antoni Muntadas and Translation, The Brooklyn Rail, Nov. 2014

5. Reesa Greenberg, The Currency of Time: Muntadas and I Giardini, Ciel Variable, Fall 2007

6. Id.

 

retro computer art and the aesthetic of the shift: 1. Dan Graham

A previous post discussed the use of recently outmoded technology to critique technology.
This post and the next delve more into theories that might support such a practice.

In thinking about "contradictions in the computer aesthetic" back in the 2000s, I wasn't aware of Marc Augé's writing [1] (cited by Pierre Verville in his essay on my artwork). I came to Augé's idea of the "aesthetic of the shift" (more about that in a later post) by way of artist Dan Graham, whose essay in a Dia Foundation symposium, "Legacies of Critical Practice in the 1980s," made a strong impression:

I believe now that the task of the artist is in part to resuscitate the just-past -- that period in time made amnesiac by commodity culture -- and to apply it as an "anti-aphrodisiac" (Walter Benjamin's phrase). The Rolling Stones song "Yesterday's Papers" -- "Who wants yesterday's papers? Who wants yesterday's girl? No one in the world" -- makes this anti-aphrodisiac aspect of the just-past clear. [2]

Like Augé, Graham wasn't talking about computers per se. He gave two examples. One was Walter Benjamin's Paris Arcades research. The arcades were glass-covered walkways that turned city streets into indoor shopping malls.

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These were an early-1800s idea of modernity that were mostly torn down in a later-1800s renovation of Paris by Baron Haussman.

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Some arcades still lingered, jarring the traveler out of the dream of the "renovation" by exposing a substrate that was actually more modern.

About this, Dan Graham wrote:

According to Benjamin, "progress," the 19th-century scientific and ultimately capitalist myth, is expressed in commodities, fashion goods which "produce a sense of eternal newness." This makes progress a mythical goal, never to be reached, for there is always the new and it is always superseded by the next new. For Benjamin, then, progress is actually a state of stasis. And yet it is the very stasis that makes the recovery of the just-past potentially subversive.

Graham also mentions Gordon Matta-Clark, [3] who famously chainsawed out sections of buildings to expose their inner structures. Often this revealed a tree-ring-like history of the building's renovations, including design assumptions of earlier eras. Once again, the presence of this older, perhaps better-constructed, world jars us out of the eternal now of our modern cities.

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The Arcades Project is a bit of a critical tabula rasa. Benjamin never finished the work so people project meaning into it. It has led to at least one awful-looking New York exhibit. Graham doesn't explain well how the arcades of the past critique the present (in the absence of a focused artwork). He mentions dreams, as if dreaming of the Arcades would jolt anyone out of the static continuum of present-day Paris. Graham's evocation of Matta-Clark better buttresses his argument: here at least is a physical thing an artist did to force recognition. In the next post, we'll discuss Marc Augé, who articulates "the aesthetic of the shift" bringing the past into the present, with reference to a contemporary artwork, Antoni Muntadas' pavilion in the 2005 Venice Biennale.

NOTES

1. Marc Augé, L'art du décalage, Multitudes, vol. 25, no 2, 2006, p. 139-147.

2. Dan Graham, "Legacies of Critical Practice in the 1980s," Discussions in Contemporary Culture, Hal Foster, ed., Dia Art Foundation, 1987

3. Frances Richard, Spacism: Gordon Matta-Clark and the Politics of Shared Space Places Journal, March 2019