E/I/C is a 7-hour long cycle of sound installations that meditates on notions of exchange, patterning, place, and the interactions between self and other, self and technology, self and place; and self with self. In the course of each hour, the listener is met with an immersive sonic ambience that is embodied by unique media and modes of interaction, each of which adds colour and grain to an accumulating storehouse of perspectives. The Austrian composer Gustav Mahler once said about his 3rd Symphony, that he wanted it to “contain the whole world.” I make no claim to such an achievement, but I feel in the immensity of this task, a similar desire: to make a desperate grasp at at wholeness, out of the smallness of self through the generosity of others.
Always lurking in the background for me is our present collective moment – a time of dissembling, of tribal separation, suspicion, maniacal selfishness, insecurity, borders / boundaries; a time of the heedless devaluing of the foreigner and of the Other, the years of Ego and Ego and only Ego. The world has seen these moments before. I made this set of pieces in the spirit of exchange: I give something, you give something, and rather than a “giving up,” this mutual generosity and togetherness creates a wholeness out of our separate, singular selves. We may yet create something together than no one of us could have created alone. Musicians have always known this. May this spirit be revived in our time.
The full installation is for 5.1 surround sound. The following excerpts from the cycle are stereo mix downs. They lack the full sense of spatial presence and directionality, but give some idea. There are 3 other hour-long phases that are not included here [Vibraphone Shepard, Spin, and Winter Music].
Listening through headphones is recommended.
DIAMOND SUTRA [WALL OF HARMONIUMS] Diamond Sutra features little horizontal diamonds [of overlapping, complementary dynamic swells]. I recorded 5 musicians holding a single sonority on 5 harmoniums for 15 minutes. The sound of eah player breathing together on the harmonium, filling the space with the beautiful, complicated sound of this instrument so intrinsic to much of the music and scenery of India, was itself a kind of transcendent experience for me. The sound had such a profound effect, physically and mentally, as if it had slowed down my pulse and emptied out the electrical intensity and jangle of my nerves. I felt as if I had taken some sort of drug.
However, it’s not merely the “meditative” nature of this piece that sends my mind to the Diamond Sutra of Buddhist tradition. But the notion that the surface of your experience is always maya – an illusion. So much more is going on inside of our daily experiences, and the people that we meet, than we could possibly know. While I sat in the middle of this “harmonium circle,” I began to notice the vivacious and magmatic inner life of these sounds, and the ways that they acoustically interact with each other [or in which I imagined that they did]. Like a monochromatic painting, “mono-sonic” music asks us to look beyond what is apparent on the surface. We might “zoom in” to hear and contemplate the inner life of sounds, as if we had been shrunk to the size of an atom and shot into the middle of a single pump of the harmoniums’ bellows. Then we might “zoom out” and notice the emotional, physical, mental impact that an encounter with something so immense and singular, something that is in its way both the presence and absence of all sound simultaneously.
MUSIC OF EX/CHANGES [FIVE ~UN/PREPARED PIANISTS ON ONE PREPARED PIANO]
Machine guns, dripping faucets, fake jazz, factory bots, Bach; luminescent stabs of manic Morse code, scratching, scraping, scribbling, and twerking with Britney, sparkling fairy dust over sharks, gongs, hummingbirds, Ravel and cascading flurries of counterfeit Messiaen; and the occasional silence in memoriam of St. John [Cage].
I asked four colleagues to join me in a sonic exquisite corpse of one-hour-long improvisations on a prepared piano, based on descriptive “scores” with timings decided through chance procedures. The personalities, experiences, and tastes of each pianist – mingling with the whole in free-association – creates parsimonious moments that are [accidentally] humorous, beautiful, nonsensical, surprising, irritating, and intense. Each speaker features the voice of a single pianist.
I’ve long been inspired by punk music and its history of D.I.Y. It’s community of makers, and its diehard fans. When I think about what it means to be an artist trying to create in the always compromised and difficult conditions that we find ourselves, I am inspired by the punk determination and intensity, with which they built their own world. Pop music has often been the true space of counterculture. Rock has often been the place where resistance and self-determination has worked itself out in society. It has been everything from the unofficial soundtrack of the Velvet Revolution, provided by the Plastic People of the Universe, to the transgressive action of the Russian post-punk avatars, Pussy Riot, that landed some of them in prison.
In this piece, I honour one of those creators: “Polystyrene,” leader of the short-lived band Ex-Ray Spex. I and four of my colleagues recorded our voices spelling out the first stanza of the band’s song “The Day the World Turned Day-Glo” in different styles of speaking. The fragments of the text were then plastered across the hour like a tattered DIY poster, undergoing various transitions and transformations through time. Our voices have been atomized and dispersed throughout the 5-channel array, giving dimension and space to the text. The text is unhoused from what might be its natural metric flow [as spoken letters], and placed in a neutralizing 4/4 [the ever-present meter of popular music]. It becomes almost a mantra, repeated so incessantly that the letters fight our desire to congeal them into words, allowing them to make the leap over into meaning. They become instead, other things: individualized expressions merely of voice, neutralized sounds, or even motives; as if played on percussion instruments that, when struck, return A’s B’s and C’s.
ASSIMILATION IMMERSION [T-NAGAR SOUNDMAP]
On a Tuesday night, 9 of us went to T-Nagar, with 5 portable digital recorders. The idea was to represent a place not through visual media [like maps, or photographs – not even selfies], but through sound. What does sound tell us about where we are, or about the paths we walk?
It’s not enough to stand in one place, or to point your microphone in a single direction. Space engulfsyou, swallows you whole, wraps around you and flows through you. So, meeting in the middle [Nalli Silks, beneath the flyover] and in pairs, we began recording. We split off from one another and walked in opposite directions. What you are hearing represents an ever-expanding sonic net capturing the whole neighbourhood. As we walked, we responded to the space. Some of us sought refuge from the ever-present sound of honking horns – a quiet place in a playground, or a side street away from the action. Others found their way into a busy veg market abutting the train tracks. Snippets of conversations, footsteps, clacking pans, the calls of vendors, voices of children, the squeaks and creaks of swings. To turn the microphone is to turn the ear, to choose what you hear, to search out and to contemplate sounds. To listen actively is to paint the world…