february 10, 2011.
[ Esther et Pierre | Did Captain Beefheart sell Filter Queens? | Why the Bells in Maastricht did not ring this winter | Esther confides she'd sell me anything I want | A QR Code | The Unbearable Fleeting of Time | The Best Things in Life are Utterly Useless ]
On my continuing to-and-fro during the first month of this new decade I made several stops in Maastricht (my hometown, in the south of the Netherlands), where the Stichting Intro in situ presented two sound installations as part of the Resonance network.
It is difficult to imagine two artists that, in their approach to the use of sound in and as art, are more different than Esther Venrooy and Pierre Berthet. Whereas Esther went about building and constructing her work (that uses an inclined wooden plane made from a collection of differently sized panels, designed by architect Ema Bonifacic) in a near to scientific manner, meticulously calculating proportions and frequencies, Pierre's approach (with its persistent use of always the same & seemingly 'junk' materials like rusty tin cans, water drops, broken loudspeakers and vacuum cleaners) presents more of a retained but controlled punk/rock attitude.
But they also have quite a few things in common. Both proceed with a similar near to obsessive stubbornness, that is rooted in a strong intuition about what they feel is the right way to use sounds and what their work should be about. Also, both have a firm background in music. Esther Venrooy started out as a saxophone player, and Pierre - still - is a highly accomplished percussionist.
In Maastricht I had a couple of encounters with both of them, that you can read about on the Resonance website. Esther Venrooy explains her installation 'A Shadow Of A Wall' in Sound creeps into a space's every little corner.... Pierre Berthet talks about 'Extended Drops' and many other things in Caught in the Flux of History.
Of course I also talked with Pierre Berthet about his vacuum cleaners. I had always imagined Pierre to be collecting vacuum cleaners the way I do trashed tape. What I didn't know, and was surprised to learn, is that Pierre only uses one specific model of one particular brand of vacuum cleaners, that goes by the wonderful name of Filter Queen. This in turn then led us to express our mutual admiration for the recently deceased Don van Vliet, who in the younger years of his lifetime for a while was working as a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. This particular fact from the Captain's colorful career is widely known. But apart from the often repeated anecdote that the young Don managed to sell one of his cleaners to Aldous Huxley, by pointing to the little monster at his feet and telling the author: "Sir! This sucks!", little more details are known. What Pierre and I particular would like to know is what brand of vacuum cleaners Captain Beefheart was representing. Could it be that he was selling Filter Queens?
Pondering this serious existential question lead me to Frank Zappa, who - as many of you will know - was at high school with Don van Vliet and produced the Magic Band's third album, Trout Mask Replica (1969), which I am far from alone in considering to be one of last century's uncontestable musical master pieces. Many of you will surely also remember the prominent role of (a) (industrial sized) vacuum cleaner(s) in Zappa's work, especially around the time of his 200 Motels. And his The Perfect Stranger (a piece commissioned in the early 1980s by Pierre Boulez, with strong references to 200 Motels) opens with a doorbell's ring announcing the arrival of a door-to-door vacuum-cleaner salesman. I do not know whether any of this even remotely is related to Beefheart's involvement with sucking machines, or merely emblematic for Zappa's highly ironizing view of the preoccupations of the American post-WWII middle class. Needless to say that, if some specialist on the subject happens to see this and has something to add, I will be eager to hear about it. I guess that, once again, there's a fine thesis for one of your more adventurous students lurking in here somewhere ;-)
The two pictures below are stills taken from the fabulous 1971 Frank Zappa documentary made by Roelof Kiers for the Dutch VPRO television. They show the vacuum cleaner that in the early 1970s was used in Zappa's Los Angeles dwellings, at the corner of Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Lookout Mountain Drive. I sincerely doubt it is a Filter Queen. Looks like a Hoover to me. But what do you think?
To complete A Shadow of a Wall, as sort of a finishing touch, Esther Venrooy had arranged with Frank Steijns, Maastricht's city carillonneur, that during the last two weeks of the exhibition the town hall carillon would play every 15 minutes one of a series of specially composed short melodies, mingling the sound of the city with the sounds of her installation at Intro in situ's. It had not been possible to do this already in December, because the town carillon had to play Christmas tunes all along the holiday season. And then Frank had been on tour in the United States and Canada with Maastricht superstar André Rieu's orchestra.
He had just returned to Maastricht, when on Tuesday January 18th Frank took me and Esther all the way up to the monumental carillon in the town hall's belfry.
You can read all about our climbing the tower on the Resonance website, and watch a short uTube that I made up there with my iPhone: The Bells are the Sound of the City. If you do, you will learn that, eventually, the Maastricht carillon could not join A Shadow of A Wall. For at the end of our excursion Frank found out, to his dismay, that the computer interface, responsible for the bells automatic playing, had died. He told us this must have happened because of the freezing weather around Christmas: the hammers got frozen stuck, while the computer diligently continued to try to have them hit the bells.
What struck me about this in hindsight, is that the Maastricht town hall bells must have stopped ringing already long before Frank found out about it that afternoon. It was only a couple of days later that I saw the local newspaper mentioning the fact, along with the announcement that repair would take a number of weeks. Did nobody notice before that the city carillon had stopped playing?
On the evening of the day of our visit to the carillon, at Intro in situ we
had the first edition of the monthly Café In situ. We did
a tour of the installations, guided by the artists, and Esther and Pierre
recounted their Werdegang. Esther told us how her parents were
convinced that their daughter was an artist already when she was but a baby
girl aged 2. Pierre, on the other hand, recounted that he picked up the
guitar all by himself when he was about 11. Because he loved the Beatles.
And then he mentioned the unforgettable experience he had in 1969, when
he was living for six months with his parents near the Lake Michigan in the
United States. "Every day the black community of the neighborhood would
meet around the lake, and play the drums. All these drums
on the lakeshore... for me that is a fantastic sound art remembrance. It
was an amazing sound to experience..."
As an example of her earlier work Esther played two of her first, very concise and condensed, computer compositions. And Pierre had us listen to the recording of a duet that he performed with Arnold Dreyblatt in Groningen, in the late 1980s.
Towards the end of the evening we came to talk about the current gradual penetration of works of sound art in the big world of commercial galleries, museums and on into the homes of collectors. I asked Esther whether she would sell me (a version of) A Shadow of A Wall. And I asked Pierre whether he would come over to install Extended Drops in the small castle that one of these days I will acquire in a warm & deep southern part of Spain...
Now Esther was categorical about it. "Yes, of course!" she told me, with a malicious smile. "You can buy my car, you can buy anything you want ..." Pierre had to think a little bit, and seemed to wonder what would be the interest. But then soon enough he told us that if someone really insisted and cared that much, he would be happy to come over and install his Extended Drops. For free...
Now that was a telling conclusion to an interesting evening. You can listen to a short lo-fi audio report of this first Café In situ over on the Resonance website.
Last December during the Obsolescence event at La Générale, I met a Dutch girl. She had been living in Paris even longer than I had. Maybe she even was born there, I cannot remember. On the last day of the event she gave me a small notebook. It was a very simple thin notebook, with ruled pages and a black plastic cover. The kind you can buy for next to nothing in any convenience store. She told me it had been given to her by a Dutch artist. He had asked her to hand it to on to someone else, and ask that next person to hand it on to a third one, et cetera.
I accepted the black notebook. There is little more that I can tell you about it. It was almost completely empty, except for the fact, that onto two of its pages a print-out of a QR code had been glued. A big one somewhere in the middle, and a small one onto a page at the back.
I scanned the codes with £PcM's iPhone4.
Both codes led to a (same) webpage, with this short text in French:
"Au sol je trace, mes pas graphent, paragraphes par un chemin qui vient à mes pas à pas, recouvert par un soleil qui fond sur la neige et la fait disparaître en même temps qu'il fut tracé."
I had wanted to hand on the notebook to £PcM, but I forgot. So the next evening I gave it to another friend in Amsterdam.
It was only today, writing this entry, that I came to realize that in a couple of days it will be a full year ago that I started this 'tweeting business'. It is likely that before the week is over, the 1000th SoundBlog tweet will be unleashed upon this world. Last month there were some 130 of them, spewed out, looked and laughed at, and then sinking... Tweeting really is like doing web graffiti, don't you think?
OK, just a couple more, to wrap this month up ...
By sheer coincidence I happened to be in Brussels on the day of a Tales for Tapes event in the Traffic Art Gallery in the Rue Egide Walschaerts, just around the corner of the Rue Crickx in Sint-Gilles. Of course I hopped in, be it only for a short while. But long enough to meet the friends and fine cassetteurs that from a-near or from a-far had descended upon Brussels. Here's three of them, together in a single Triumvirat zschnnapp. From the left to the right: Rinus van Alebeek, Blenno Buckwürst and Anton Mobin.
Some ten days later, in Paris, I performed with Jean Bordé, Anthony Carcone and (for the first time) Jaka Ropret (on Persephone) at the Galerie G in the rue de Lilas.
I particularly enjoyed the fact that the Persephone's sounds floating over from Jaka's side were in the same league as the controlled feedbacks I produced with one of my dictaphones, and the Theremin sounds of my iPhone's BeBot. It was at times pretty difficult to tell who was doing what in that particular register, also for Jaka. But this, of course, was all in that evening's particular game...
Regularly we had #eartwits ('the
loud deep ringing sound of churchbells I heard this morning on the noisy
avenue actually came from construction site machines', ...). There were
great events to go to, fantastic recordings, films, books and papers to
download, articles to read, more new & old theory to digest, photographs
to look at, u- and other Tubes to watch. Again an awful lot of music got
stretched in time, and I auto-generated
a concise artist
biography for Jan Harsman, my alter-ego.
Sadly, but inevitably, also last month a number of fine artists died (Trish
Barry). They will be remembered by some and forgotten by others. We
learned a whole new range of curious facts, like how slot
machines play in the key of C, and stumbled upon a whole range of fascinating
collections & projects (Captch
mutated lab worms starring in microscopic opera, music
from falling mushroom spores, NYC
subway net 'string music', ...).
The marvelous, utterly useless, 'fold it yourself' Andy Warhol paper doll, though, was by far this month's best.
Almost all things one better forgets. Though not necessarily in this order. (OK, I'll let you think about that for a while :-)
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