Saturday, December 07, 2019

An Intricate Ensemble: the Art-Science of an Ecological Imaginary

On Monday morning I will be defending my thesis for Rhode Island School of Design's brand new MA program in Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies alongside four other women who have been part of this inaugural cohort.

For those paper is basically a manifesto, a call to develop and deploy all manner of creative tactics that can challenge and subvert any and all "logics" that allow for exploitation, oppression, and destruction of the Earth and its inhabitants.

It's about undoing undue dualism and the joy of paradox. I plan to post the whole project on-line as soon as possible. Meanwhile, here is a short summary:


Some early-to-mid-20th century avant-garde artistic movements, notably Dadaism and Surrealism, came out of a wholesale rejection of a “logic” based in European Enlightenment philosophy that could result not only in the slaughter of billions during World War I, but in the destruction and enslavement of people and the other-than-human world in the name of a “progress” from which the most powerful disproportionately benefit. Declaring the right to determine what should be considered an acceptable reality, the Dadaists and Surrealists developed methods by which to tap into the “irrational” – techniques including collaboration, improvisation, and chance operations.

Approximately 200 years prior to the Surrealists, the Romantic Naturalists also expressed misgivings about the mechanistic, positivist, dualist modes of thought their countrymen had been bringing to prominence in Europe since the dawn of Scientific Revolution – humans (some far more than others) were coming to see themselves as separate from, and superior to, an externalized conception of “nature.” Science, heralded as an unbiased form of inquiry based on “natural” laws, was being used to justify hierarchy, competition, and exploitation. The Romantic Naturalists countered with the view that sustained appreciation of the qualitative does not diminish the value of the quantitative; in fact, sensations that transcend reason and logic may provide an ethical basis from which to develop fairer and more just social and ecological frameworks.

Today, in a spirit akin to that of the Romantic Naturalists, Dadaists, and Surrealists, paradigm-challenging artists and philosophers are working to bring about an “ecological imaginary”…the view that, to quote feminist-philosopher Karen Barad on the central lesson of quantum physicist Niels Bohr, <<"we are a part of the nature that we seek to understand">>.

Work emerging from fields related to the Environmental Humanities invites science to examine a paradox inherent within itself: science’s esteemed objective stance, while undeniably useful as a mindset for the purposes of research, by distancing the observer from that which is being observed, tends to reinforce an impression that humans and nature are inherently separate.

While science can, and very often does, provide elegant evidence that “we are a part of the nature that we seek to understand,” supplementary qualitative practices may help to instill in its adherents a sense of what this feels like in practice; the arts are particularly well-equipped to foster experiences of the sublime. Vacillating between – or the simultaneous holding of – states of objectivity and subjectivity, individuality and collectivity, direction and improvisation – may be of use in the collaborative formation of an ecological imaginary, a constructive image of oikos, our shared home, regardless of one’s primary discipline.

Dualisms and paradoxes abound, but we do not need to remain bound to them. It is possible to imagine an “intricate ensemble” in which beings and/or constructs can exist as separate and together <>.

Friday, March 15, 2019

The Notational Shift at MUSAC

The Notational Shift exhibition opened at Spain's Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y Léon on January 26, 2019 and runs until September 15, 2019.

It's truly an honor to have work in this wonderful exhibition of alternative forms of musical notation alongside so many friends and muses, including Pauline Oliveros, John Cage, Cornelius Cardew, Barbara Held, Benton Bainbridge, and others.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

10000 Things - Mass Recognition - Vernal Equinox 2019

Frottages, Providence River Oysters, 2019

In mid-February I received an invitation to participate in a project conceived by some friends on the west coast, including composer/sound artist Brenda Hutchinson (noted for, among much wonderful work, her Daily Bell Project).

This is the original call for participation:
Equinox: Emergency of Joy 
Bringing together the 10,000 Things to a moment of poise
How do we as artists recognize each other in community? What does this community do, in its union, and how? How may we rehearse our strengths so that we are ready to serve emergencies of grieving and celebration? 

The challenge at hand is for individual artists or teams of artists to generate ten thousand things each, and, as possible, to bring them together in a live encounter on the occasion of the Spring Equinox, gathering, balancing, and releasing them, at a focus on joy, recognizing an urgent need, born of compassion, for creative elation and expectancy during heavy and tangled times. 

MARCH 20th, 2:58pm 
Sharing of the work throughout the day, as forms suggest 
Food to follow 

“Ten thousand” is rooted in the Buddhist concept of the ten thousand dharmas – an image for all observable reality. We are meant to recognize, and ultimately move through this reality, to a state of levity – a surpassing of fact, a merciful gaze on it, a move into light. 
We bring everyone together, with everything we have, and set our tens of ten thousands free at a given moment. The character of that moment is joy. Any moment realized by art is compound, we match vulnerability of change with precision of purpose (vibratory, sonic). Joy includes expectancy, and joyful expectancy is hope; hope is a kind of woundedness – admission not only of uncertainty, but also of a willingness to anticipate the good despite uncertainty. We gather to affirm a manifesto of joy in all its precarity.

This is my response:  

Invitation to a Week of Mass Recognition 
(or: A Mass of Mass Recognition. A Mass Recognition Mass)

13th century Japanese Buddhist philosopher Dogen wrote:

That the self advances 
And confirms ten thousand things 
Is called delusion 
That the ten thousand things 
Advance and confirm the self 
Is called enlightenment

A group including some Surrealists in mid-20th century Britain organized a peoples’ ethnography practice called Mass Observation Days; all were invited to record ordinary (or non-ordinary) events that occurred during an agreed-upon 24-hour period. 

Poet Allen Ginsberg advised, "Notice what you notice.” 

Upon noticing a thing, a dynamic relationship is formed. Whatever is observed becomes a known extension of the observer. Even science now agrees that there is no such thing as objective reality. (What we don't everything an extension of the observer too...but that's another story...).

In other words: when we notice something, we recognize a part of our "self" in the "other"..but with this realization comes the awareness that there is no "self"...or "other".

A quick calculation reveals that there are approximately 10,000 minutes in a week. All are invited to participate in a "mass recognition” beginning on March 13, 2019 at 2:58pm, one week prior to the Vernal Equinox, and ending at the same time on March 20. On the evening of the Equinox, those in geographical proximity are invited to gather to share some of the things which you recognized (and in which you recognized yourself).

A very important part of this project is the in-person (ie: non-social media) aspect. Please be in touch if you would like to gather in Providence on the evening of the Equinox. Several artists and groups who are contributing to 10000 Things in this and other ways are planning to meet at a downtown location. More info TBA.

Monday, April 09, 2018

March for (Not Just Any) Science

Earth From Space, collage, Alyce Santoro, 2017

When the public sector is at the service of the private sector, the economic interests of the few are bound to trump the needs of the many. In places throughout the world – regardless of political framework – Earth’s inherent elements have been utilized by humans[1] in ways that are gravely shortsighted.

Indeed, it is now amply evident that practices that have prevailed around the globe for eons have caused cumulative harm, putting at risk the continued viability of all life on Earth. While it could be argued that many humans are complicit by (wildly varying) degrees, dependence on current systems is often by carefully orchestrated design; continued concentration of wealth and power depends upon it.

While we can speculate on the extent to which figures throughout history have been aware of the damage they were wreaking, specific examples of full awareness can now be easily sited. Of one thing we can be certain: on the path to domination, awareness, however acute, could always been justified away through dehumanization and abstraction of those and that which require oppression, exploitation, and extraction.

Given overwhelming current data, it is impossible for anyone acting today to not know.

#ExxonKnew #ShellKnew #AlexanderVonHumboltKnew #BuckminsterFullerKnew #RachelCarsonKnew #TrumpKnows, #EverybodyKnows

“…we can make all of humanity successful through science's world-engulfing industrial evolution provided that we are not so foolish as to continue to exhaust in a split second of astronomical history the orderly energy savings of billions of years' energy conservation aboard our Spaceship Earth. These energy savings have been put into our Spaceship's life-regeneration-guaranteeing bank account for use only in self-starter functions.” – Buckminster Fuller, Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, 1968

“The most alarming of all man's assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials. This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; the chain of evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life but in living tissues is for the most part irreversible. In this now universal contamination of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world – the very nature of its life.” – Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962

“By felling the trees which cover the tops and sides of mountains, men in all climates seem to bring upon future generations two calamities at once; want of fuel and a scarcity of water.” — Alexander von Humboldt, Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of America: During the Years 1799-1804

In the interest of keeping the wheels of progress greased, theses voices and those of many others who espoused similar sentiments have been meticulously avoided, shunned, and marginalized.

Not knowing is no longer a valid excuse (if it ever was).

Coal mining, alternating current, fast food, commercial airline travel, plastics, factory farming, nuclear power, the atomic bomb, the internal combustion engine, vaccines, antibiotics, Agent Orange, hydraulic fracturing, petrochemical agriculture, weapons systems, rockets to Mars. Are these technologies good, evil…or some of each? While we may at least be able to agree that scientists (people with specialized expertise, interests, and expectations) used science (a system designed to remove bias to the greatest extent possible) to create these technologies, science cannot tell us whether its products are ultimately constructive or harmful or how, when, and whether to use them. Science and its revered “objective” method do not contain ethical components. It is the people practicing science who are now, and who have always been, responsible for determining what research questions are appropriate and worthy of exploration. What is considered conscionable may change over time. The debate about what forms of research are moral and just must be an earnest, ongoing, and inclusive one.

There is not now and there has never been any legitimate question as to whether science as a tool for gathering knowledge is necessary and important. In light of recent data (produced by science) and our growing awareness of the direness of current circumstances, science as an instrument can and will be vital in crafting solutions to problems that science itself, when wielded with a lack of emphasis on possible consequences, had a hand in creating.

Said another way: if we are using science to further our “progress”, and our definition of progress is problematic, science as a vehicle is bound to deliver us to an undesirable destination (case in point: Earth’s biosphere circa 2018).

As we gather to march for science, this can be an opportunity to become clear on our collective definition of progress and unified in our vision of the kind of science (humanitarian, ecologically sound, and just? Or devoted to profit over people and planet?) we are marching for.

Whether and when “science” is revered or reviled and by whom has everything to do with that entity’s interests (self or otherwise). If those interests are primarily economic, then any science that hinders financial gain (i.e.: anthropogenic greenhouse warming; sea level rise; water, soil, and air contamination by toxic effluent, etc.) will be vigorously opposed. At the same time, any science that furthers the entity’s agenda (i.e.: fracking, offshore drilling, weapons development, etc.) will be embraced, promoted…and well-funded.

In the case of the current administration and its advocates: it is not science per se that is being attacked; rather, these groups seek to quell any challenge to the top-down social and economic paradigms upon which their radically self-serving agendas depend. 

As scientists, we can take into consideration the impact of our efforts, and ask ourselves to what extent our skills and resources are being devoted to humane outcomes. We can, like Buckminster Fuller, imagine what an anticipatory design science would look like.

As concerned citizens and advocates, we can be discerning about the kinds of science we defend.

Richard Levins, geneticist/ecologist and prominent member of Science for the People, suggested the following rule of thumb, “…all theories are wrong which promote, justify, or tolerate injustice. The wrongness may be in the data, its interpretation, or application, but if we search for that wrongness, we will also be led to truth.”

May our shared love for science and the world it examines lead us to truth.

[1] The Anthropocene is being proposed by some scientists and philosophers as a term to define the current geological epoch. While the word accurately identifies humans as profound influencers of our planet’s biogeophysical systems, it must be constantly stressed that not all humans are equally complicit.

Saturday, July 08, 2017

All contributors to SOURCE: Music of the Avant Garde Magazine by gender

Eleven issues of SOURCE: Music of the Avant Garde magazine were published from 1967 - 1973 at the University of California Davis. This is a list of all contributors by gender. As far as I have been able to discern, only one person of color was featured: Anthony Braxton. I would be grateful to any readers willing to offer comments/corrections!

WOMEN (12)

Kira Gale
Allison Knowles (not featured or mentioned in table of contents, but included in an article)
Annea Lockwood
Mary Lucier (photography)
Eva Lurati
Dora Maurer
Maria Michalowska
Charlotte Moorman (not featured or mentioned in table of contents, but included in an article)
Pauline Oliveros
Jocy de Oliviera
Marilyn Wood
Zorka Saglova

MEN (107)

Dietrich Albrecht
Charles Amirkhanian
Eric Anderson
Robert Ashley
Larry Austin
David Behrman
Mario Bertoncini
Joseph Beuys
Boudewijn Buckinx
Anthony Braxton
Eugen Brikcius
Jacques Brodier
Earle Brown
Allan Bryant
Harold Budd
John Cage
Cornelius Cardew
Barney Childs
Giuseppe Chiari
Phillip Corner
Lowell Cross
Alvin Curran
John Dinwiddie
Peter Donath
Manford Eaton
Robert Erickson
Morton Feldman
Robert Filliou
FLUXUS (women were involved in the movement, including Allison Knowles, mentioned above)
Ken Friedman
Lukas Foss
Peter Garland
Gentle Fire
Tony Gnazzo
Victor Grauer
Gyula Gulyas
Joel Gutsche
Olaf Hanel
Jon Hassell
Sven Hansell
Lejaren Hiller
Dick Higgins
Lejaren Hiller
Stu Horn
Nelson Howe
Jerry Hunt
Toshi Ichiyanagi
Image Bank
Carson Jeffries
Ben Johnston
Bengt Emil Johnson
Zdzislaw Jurkiewicz
Allan Kaprow
Udo Kasemets
Per Kierkeby
Paul Klerr
Milan Knizak
Ed Kobrin
Jaroslaw Kozlowski
Alcides Lanza
Daniel Lentz
Arrigo Lora-Totino
Alvin Lucier
Stanley Lunetta
Janos Major
Tom Marioni
Ken Maue
Stanley March 3
Stuart Marshall
Richard Martin
Harvey Matusow
John Mizelle
Robert Moran
Gordon Mumma
Keith Muscutt
Naked Software
Max Newhaus
The New Percussion Quartet
Nam June Paik
Harry Partch
Portsmouth Sinfonia (in photograph 2 women depicted out of 13 members)
Scratch Orchestra
David Reck
Steve Reich
Jock Reynolds
Roger Reynolds
John Paul Rhinehart
Mark Riener
David Rosenboom
Frederic Rzewski
R. Murray Schafer
Gerald Shapiro
Nicholas Slonimsky
Barry Spinello
Andrew Stiller
Karlheinz Stockhausen
Allen Strange
Alvin Sumsion
Endre Tot
David Tudor
Bertran Turetzky
Jiri Valoch
Don Walker
Christian Wolff
Arthur Woodbury
Wolff Vostell

Saturday, June 17, 2017

"Possibility of Action: The Life of the Score" nine years hence

By chance I recently unearthed materials from Possibility of Action: The Life of the Score, a wonderful exhibition curated by Barbara Held that opened 9 years ago today at MACBA Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona.

A dress made of the striped edition of Sonic Fabric (woven from cassette tape recorded with a collage of looped and layered sounds) was included. Each of the colors in the pattern represents one of the 12 tones in the Western scale, with two additional colors representing rests (silence). 
Ensemble created for Experimental Musical Instrument Day at Lincoln Center, 2005

The pattern in the fabric was composed visually; I didn't know what it would sound like until it was notated, which happened later. I didn't think of using this method of composition again until recently...and even then, I didn't initially connect it to the sonic fabric stripe pattern...

In 2015 the Tonal Relativity project began to take shape...this ongoing series of works started out as a way of illustrating modes and intervals in a 12-tone musical system using a language of shape and color. The first set of sketches – scrawled in pencil on a 3x5 card – were created for my own use, as a reference tool that could be drawn upon in improvisational settings. A logical next step was to experiment with composition using the set of 12 colors. Any color can be used to represent any tone, with all other colors/tones in the spectrum being relative.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Performance of Wayne National Forest by Brian Harnetty

Early this year I downloaded Notes from Sub-Underground, a collection of music, sound, and assorted aural ephemera contributed by 50+ artists and compiled by Object Collection, with all proceeds to benefit ACLU Nationwide.

One of the tracks on the album – Wayne National Forest by Brian Harnetty – particularly struck me. In doing a bit of research on the composer, I came upon a series of articles at NewMusicBox about Brian's engagement with the coal mining and fracking industries in Ohio.

I learned that Wayne National Forest is under threat, and that this piece had been inspired by the struggle to preserve it.

I hoped there might be a way that this spare, sublime work could be included in a concert program I was developing to augment Imagining Sound, an exhibition of my 2- and 3D illustrations of tonal relationships at Central Features Contemporary Art. I wrote to Brian to inquire about the performance possibilities – he very generously provided us with the score and encouraged us to arrange it according to the instrumentation we would have available.

Wayne National Forest was truly a joy to play. Thanks so much to musicians Julian Mock, Elizabeth McNutt, and the Death Convention Singers, and thanks to Brian Harnetty for composing this moving work, and for the opportunity to perform it.

Complete concert program here.