september 18, 2008.
Josh and Laura lent me a bicycle.
I took it with me on the PATH (Port Authority Trans-Hudson) train and from Jersey City's Grove Street station crossed over to the World Trade Center. From there I biked on; through Manhattan, up, over and down the Williamsburg bridge, to Brooklyn. Wherever and on whatever continent I am, streets - like my shoes - are in constant need of repair: there's no better way to 'feel' a metropolis than hobble-speed along them on an old bicycle. Its so very physical mechanics turns it into an interface with which you may transfer onto the streets of the city a rhythm: your rhythm. And sometimes the streets will work with you, sometimes they'll be acting against you. Last year's september Manhattan streets were the way streets are supposed to be: crowded, dusty, sunny and hot ... resisting me as much as they were inviting ... That's the way I love our city streets ...
In the u-Tube below (right) you see the streets of Brooklyn and their manifold textures speeding by under a bicycle's wheel. The video sequence was generated in real time on september 14th, 2007, during a short ride I made through the Williamsburg neighborhood on a tandem bike with Matt Roberts, who at Conflux 2007 presented his "Cycles for Wandering" project. In the picture (left) you see us 'ready to roll' ... Matt - of course - is the one in front. I'm the one on the back seat ... Behind me were installed the camera, a GPS and the computer, that used the information on our movements as gathered by the GPS to decide upon how to 'manipulate' the images taken by the camera ... Just click the arrow and watch it ...
I edited in the sounds that you hear as a soundtrack to Matt's automatically created sequence of images. They come - exclusively - from the discarded cassette tape that we picked up during our ride. We found it under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, at about the corner of Meeker Avenue and Union Avenue. It is the 508th item in the Found Tapes Exhibition. (Any hints as to what music this is, and as to the name (and language) of the singer and the track that can be heard (somewhat cut-up) in the u-Tube above, will be greatly appreciated ...!)
Matt Roberts' "Cycles for Wandering" was one among several works presented at the 2007 edition of Conflux which fascinated through their dorkbot-style combination of lo- and hi-tech. Some of it sometimes maybe was a bit too much of the gadgety kind, but hardly anything I found boring.
Walking in my opinion, after biking, is the second best way to move through a city. Its speed, of course, is different. It is more direct. When you walk, there's hardly anything between you and the city. But it somehow lacks rhythm, and is therefore more static. In a nice abstract way this - metaphorical, one might say - difference appears when you compare the "Cycles for Wandering" 'bike-road movie' with the pencil drawing above, generated - in real-time, just like the bike movie - while I was drifting through Williamsburg on foot, on that same sunny september 14th.
Canadian artist Sarah Cullen made a number of small wooden boxes
for her contribution to Conflux 2007: "The City as Written by the City".
They were all like the one I am holding in the picture to the right. You
slide open the front. One then covers the bottom of the box with a piece
of drawing paper. In the middle a pencil is suspended. It touches the square
sheet of paper (you can see that in the second picture, just below). Now
if you move while carrying the box, you will cause the pencil to
move across the paper, and draw on it: lines, curves, dots ... Thus the
wooden box et pencil ensemble constitute some sort of
a pendulum mapping device, which traces a map of your 'drift' through
I carried the box with me, while roaming for an hour or two around Williamsburg, looking for cast away magnetic tape ... Underway, Sarah's pendulum took me along Michael Dory's Concrete Crickets, in Hope Street ... [- Michael conceived of his concrete crickets as 'interactive sound graffiti': inside some specimens of the usual city street trash (soda cans, cigarette packs etc) he installed small sound generating devices that react to light, to passers-by and each other ... they were inconspicuous, low profile, low volume and sort of sweet, really -] ... before leading me on to two tape finds. On the corner of Grand Street and Marcy Avenue there was tape caught in the metal fence of a parking lot. That one turned out to be part of an english language course, probably addressed at chinese people: "Mister Lee wakes up at eight o'clock ...," a man says; and then a woman repeats it: "Mister Lee wakes up at eight o'clock ...".
Half an hour later my random walk brought me to another bit of cassette tape, wound around the pole of the 'one way' sign at the corner of Borinquen Place and Havemeyer Street.
Both finds, both instants, in some way are represented in the map of my walk that you see above and that upon returning at the Conflux Headquarters I pulled out of Sarah's box ...
It was a relatively short time that I spent foundtaping in Brooklyn, but thanks to the enthusiastic help of some of participants and visitors to the festival, I nevertheless flew back to Paris with a bag filled with as many as 25 different tape finds.
When I arrived at the festival's headquarters, Conflux founder and curator Christina Ray told me that some days before she had spotted a clod of tape on a corner in Roebling Street. We walked over there, and sure the tape was still there, firmly kept in place and half hidden by some weed growing on the pavement. Thus and there I harvested my first tape of the festival's first day: it came from a telephone answering machine.
Brooklyn based artist Molly Schwartz participated in the Conflux festival with "After you leave ...", a work that aims at documenting the war of city trees, as they persistently continue to fight in silence the city's ongoing attempts (by its officials, its builders, its inhabitants) at confining them, and restricting their living, breathing and growing space. Therefore Molly had been keeping a close watch on the Brooklyn trees, and when we met at Conflux, she remembered a tree on Grand Street, in whose branches she had seen a tape. That was a couple of weeks ago. We decided that in view of the important 'tangle factor' of un-spooled tape, it still had to be there ... And indeed it was, as if waiting for me to harvest it ....
For many of the day-to-day practical things the Conflux organizers had
assured themselves of the help of a team of capable and efficient volunteers.
On the first festival day, one of them, a pretty asiatic girl, asked me
about the tapes in the streets. She told me how beautiful she found the
photographs that I took of them. In the short time we spoke, she managed
to completely inverse my way of looking, so I'm really sorry that I forgot
her name. For sweet little miss nameless sort of pulled me through a mirror:
it was only after a while that it dawned upon me that she actually thought
that I was putting the tapes out there ...
But isn't that wonderful ?
Imagine me roaming city streets, carefully watching ... looking for suitable spots to drape strands of magnetic tape that I carry along in my bag ... around flowers, in fences, in gutters ... Oh, it would be so much better ...
I felt sad and as if I were disappointing her, when I told her that it was not me that put those tapes out there; that I only found them; that I did no more than looking ...
But I assured her that, yes, one day I would ... that one day I will ...
Sunday september 16th, on the last day of the four Conflux days in Williamsburg,
I biked over to the so very anachronistic Hasidic
Jewish quarters of Williamsburg, south of the Williamsburg bridge. If
ever the relation between discarded tape and the sociography of the area
where it is picked up needed more confirmation ... the three (big) lumps
of cassette tape that I picked there, all three turned out to be of evident
jewish origin. While the first
one was 'but' a tape with popular music, the second
one is the echoey recording of what must be a religious ceremony.
The last tape I found in Brooklyn early september 2007 has someone recording himself onto a cassette in a dictaphone, reading stories in yiddish ... (Again, if anyone can give me more details on what it is that we hear in these recordings, do let me know ...)
You can hear it all in the 87th found tapes montage, which lasts some 26 minutes, and contains fragments of the 25 tapes that I picked up in New York, way back then.
[ commercial break : Found in Brooklyn, NY is the fifth of our ongoing series of 'limited fotex editions' on cassette. You can buy it securely and quickly using PayPal or your credit-card by clicking the button to the right; you can also find it, together with the other editions in the series, in the Found Tapes Exhibition online shop ... ]
There is another, faster, way to go around the city that I like a lot, though mostly
it comes third in row, way behind the bicycle and the footing.
Except on summer evenings, that is ... Then the speediest way is also by far
my favorite way of 'getting around town' : driving - or being driven - with
windows open, in an old noisily rattling car ...
Every day I went up and down from Jersey City to Havemeyer Street on bicycle. Not on september 13th, though. That day I went with Joshua in his small 'n' old red truck. He told me how he had bought it from a musician. It must have been going for over 18 years and have run more than 200.000 miles. But it was a lucky van. It might even have been blessed, as its former owner sprinkled holy water all over and inside it. Josh smiled. Curious indeed that when he had come home with the van after just having bought it, and his Laura stepped in, first thing she said was that the car had a holy smell ... She didn't know about the holy water. But then of course Laura is italian, that might explain ...
The evening of the 13th, after the Intersection Play, a beer at Union Pool and some slices of italian pizza, we were five in Joshua's van to drive from Williamsburg back to Jersey City. After a big Brooklyn detour and a number of wrong turns on our way to pick up some stuff for Jairo (he's a student) and Diana (she's a filmmaker) who together were about to move from Brooklyn to Jersey City.
Next day, as we walked through Williamsburg again, Jairo told about how and why he'd like to return to the Dominican Republic, to be a farmer. And in the evening, again at Union Pool's, Diana sat with us and, absentmindedly it seemed, with a red pencil she drew a funny picture of my bespectacled head.
She gave it to me as a present.
I looked like Humpty Dumpty.
It was a perfect warm late summer evening drive. We laughed a lot. There was much talking and it all were great stories. The van's side windows were wide open.
Here is why I so much like these rides: at some point they always make me feel that gradually I come to a standstill. Until it is no longer me, but the city outside, that is speeding and comes rushing by ...
It was like that.
An awful lot of joyful singing went on inside.
And while it rushed onwards to the east, outside the city sang along.
tags: found tapes, psychogeography, Brooklyn, cassettes, New York, Conflux, movement, speed
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