Category Archives: art

The Artist Stripped Bare by Her Models, Experimentum (Art and Scientism)

The Artist Stripped Bare by Her Models, Experimentum


(Art and Scientism)


Robert Edgar


There’s some old business that I feel needs attending. It’s the term “experimental”, as in “experimental film” or “experimental filmmaker”.

“It’s for this experimental film


Which nobody knows about and which


I’m still figuring out what’s going to go


In my experimental film




You’re all gonna be in this experimental film


And even though I can’t explain it


I already know how great it is” 1


TMBG usually seems on target to me, and their song “Experimental Film” is not an exception.  If I have students who say they’re going to make “an experimental film” I feel that the words have been passed on without enough consideration.
And if some kids dying of youth try to play in the higher-than-thou wading pool of art film, and pick up the swagger along with the DSLR, well, they’re just beginning anthropologists, who aren’t yet able to distinguish the magic from the process. And they’re all swimming looking for funding along with those with polished 15-second storyline-movie elevator pitches. So they’d better go ahead, wag their asses and swim.
However, I feel that there are questions that are absolutely fair to ask of those who say they make experimental films. First of all, are there really experiments that experimental filmmakers perform? Is this a field of science? Is there a kind of knowledge that artists pass on to each other that they are examining and developing through some sort of shared process? What kind of gold are we making here?
Ludwig Wittgenstein, in a manuscript he left titled “Remarks on Color”, commented on Goethe’s book “Theory of Color”:
“Goethe’s theory of the constitution of the colors of the spectrum has not proved to be an unsatisfactory theory, rather it really isn’t a theory at all. Nothing can be predicted with it. It is, rather, a vague schematic outline of the sort we find in James’s psychology. Nor is there any experimentum crucis (italics are Wittgenstein’s) which could decide for or against the theory.” 2
Wittgenstein, while not going on to devalue Goethe’s writings on color, makes that point that these  writings to do not describe an experiment that could be used to test a theory.  So, Do experimental films test theories? Is that what Hollis Frampton, or Stan Van Der Beek, or Mike Snow were doing? Is that what Frampton was writing about when he wrote that Eisenstein:

“”…was at once a gifted linguist and an artist haunted by the claims of language–and also, by training, an engineer. It seems possible to suggest that he glimpsed, however quickly, a project beyond the intellectual montage: the construction of a machine, very much like film, more efficient than language, that might, entering into direct competition with language, transcend its speed, abstraction, compactness, democracy, ambiguity, power–a project, moreover, whose ultimate promise was the constitution of an external critique of language itself.” 3

I love this paragraph by Frampton.  In it he is showing himself glimpsing that project, and sharing that glimpse with us as he does so. He seems to be laying out a foundation for something experimental: a structure (montage) that uses something outside of language to “critique” language.
What I see here is a practice, not a theory. Neither Eisenstein nor Frampton—both of whom both made films and wrote about the process—set up experiments that could be used to verify a theory. Without diminishing their importance at all, I’d say they were more involved in play than work.
When I think of art as a process, I prefer to think about what three- and four- year olds do when they are working through their scribbling phases. Do children make experimental art? There is a sense of conjuring in children’s art making. But that which is conjured is experiential to the child, not external and verifiable.  And if it could be verified, the process of that verification would not look like the child’s art making.
The artist becomes involved in the making, lost in the stuff and the moment, and often, at the end, has some object that has been produced. But an object in itself is not a proof, disproof, or verification. That still awaits an experimental—in the scientific sense—construct and procedure.
There’s a term for practices that imitate science but aren’t science: “scientism”. If art is bad science, then what has been called experimental film is probably exactly that. In the late 20thcentury, there were many practices that were thought to promise the eventual attainment of scientific method, including many anthropological, psychological and semiotic studies.  It was in the air.
The phrase “experimental film” is certainly part of that scientism. But that doesn’t mean that those filmmakers who were accused of being experimental were bad scientists. They should, instead, be approached simply as artists, who conjure experiences and in so doing, often leave art objects as the outcome.
There’s no shame in trying to do something you haven’t mastered. If only everyone believed that! If only our society supported that! Naked, without a need for the protection of scientism, without the need to be “right” when one makes art. It’s not that science—and the development of technology, or verification, or being right—isn’t important. It’s that art is also important, without the embarrassing armor of scientism. It’s not one of those, it’s one of these.

“The artist, when he encounters the present…is always seeking new patterns, new pattern recognition, which is his task.  The absolute indispensability of the artist is that he alone in the present can give the pattern recognition. He alone has the sensory awareness necessary to tell us what our world is made of.  He is more important than the scientist. 4”

1. “Experimental Film”, They Might be Giants
2. “Remarks on Color”, Ludwig Wittgenstein, University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1977

3. “Film in the House of the Word”, in October 17, p. 63-64, Hollis Frampton, Summer 1981, MIT Press.

4. Marshall McLuhan, in conversation with Normal Mailer, 1968
September, 2011
Sunnyvale, CA

Watching and Listening to Stockhausen

In the mail today received a DVD I’d ordered from Germany about a month ago, Stockhausen conducting Region III of Hymnen in 1986, my favorite section of my favorite piece of his. Great to see it performed live (which I otherwise haven’t); it was absolutely magical to hear the density of musical ideas in the piece, and hearing it l

ive after so many years of listening to the vinyl recording, it was like seeing something in 3D that had been a flat painting. I’m so glad it held up for me (or I for it?). So beautiful to have someone form the ideas of the tonal and overtonal elements of the notes themselves, and using such a balanced mix of acoustic orchestra and electronic sounds.


For all my musical friends, I include these recommendations from the person in charge of the Stockhausen archive. It is difficult to purchase Stockhausen recordings except through the archive (I couldn’t find them in stores even in Berlin, however Amoeba in SF has a small collection of them). Of course some pieces are more involving than others, and some time spent composing electronic using electronic components can help one create a door into a music which is usually both arhythmic and aggressively non-ambient.

If you are a musician and have not sat down in the evening and listened in a darkened room to one of his recordings on a good sound system, you should not yet feel world-weary. There is more awaiting you. He composes inside sound like no other composer I’ve heard. Along with fellow student Pierre Boulez, he studied under Oliver Messiaen, whose incredible percussion work and composition with bird song is with me whenever I travel and hear new birdsongs announcing the new morning in far off places. Really, this is mothers’ milk. That said, when Meredith was growing up she used to refer to this as “Daddy music”.  -RBE

Dear Robert Edgar,

thank you so much for your wonderful e-mail!

If you are interested in orchestral works, I can highly recommend the CD 100 with JUBILEE and Stockhausens last work for orchestra, which he finished on December 4th 2005 (he died on December 5th), which is called FÜNF WEITERE STERNZEICHEN for orchestra.

My personal favorite is INORI for orchestra also.

Electronic works which are a “must” are on CD 3 (GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE, KONTAKTE etc.). Just yesterday we received a notice that finally GESANG DER JÜNGLINGE will be performed at the Cologne Cathedral on April 30th 2013. Stockhausen composed this electronic work to be performed in the Cathedral in 1956 but up to date (!) they refused to perform it because of the loudspeakers. So The world finally cathes up after more then 50 years…

Later electronic works like OKTOPHONIE (CD 41), MITTWOCHS-GRUSS (CD 66) and his last electronic work COSMIC PULSES (CD 91) show that he continued being experimental and searching for new worlds.

I just finished mixing MICHAELION (4th scene of WEDNESDAY from LIGHT) which I recorded this year in Birmingham with the London Voices. This recordings is also amazing and will hopefully ready by the end of the year.

But I could write on and on as I am of course Stockhausens biggest “Fan” 🙂

Have a wonderful 1st Advent!

Mit herzlichem Gruß

Kathinka Pasveer

für die Stockhausen-Stiftung für Musik
51515 Kürten

I note that his last work was “FÜNF WEITERE STERNZEICHEN” or “Five Additional Zodiac Signs”. I remember reading Giordano Bruno’s text “Spaccio della Bestia Trioufante” (“Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast”) where Bruno replaces the constellations with new sets. Great thing to do.   

Last Mistake -> Next Content

Narratives are interesting because as we go through life, we’re always looking for navigational strategies… how do we move from what we’re doing to what to do next?

Narratives, and (with language) syntax, and (with painting) edges, and (with music) modal and rhythmic modulations–these are all models for how we can change our lives. They let us sample the feel of the change before we try them.
And so we look at the form and map it, and the map becomes the cognitive model–as well as the model in sensory memory–and we use the hints from those internalized maps to navigate the now time.
Of course, acting in the world isn’t entirely a matter of conscious choice. Even navigating using such models isn’t necessarily conscious, any more than a syntactical map is conscious, or our reaction to a sensory stimulus.
Art working provides an opportunity to consciously examine media for models of action that we can use outside of those media.
In his 1970’s book Beyond Modern Sculpture, Jack Burnham wrote about a goal of art being to make a model of what it is to be human. He noted that there had been a change in how that was handled, moving from an image/icon of a human, to a model that acted in the manner of a human. There was a shift, for a while at least, from picture of to art-as-process. This certainly extended to areas of robotics, and to algorithms.
I’d like to postulate an art-making  model derived in part from Burnham’s text. It’s this:
The artist models what it is to be human. The artist, through experiencing the piece and its reception in the world, finds a part of the model that didn’t work. That mistake becomes the subject of the next piece.


Go to 2nd Fridays site:

The music was fantastic last night.

Respectable Citizen started playing about 7:15. Michael Zbysznski on saxophones and electronics, Bruce Bennett on keyboards and their downstream modulation, and Byron Diel laying down one of the most absorbing 45 minutes of trap set drumming I’ve heard.

Like Stockhausen’s improvisatory group, Respectable Citizen starts with traditional musical instruments, feeding their output into a set of software and hardware modules to modulate and shape the sound. Unlike Stockhausen’s group, the musical source for R.C. is improvisatory jazz. However, after laying out some modal Coltrane-like sax riffs that established a musical base for the music, Michael set off in any manner of directions. Of the three musicians in the trio, he was the most continually balanced between music and noise, melody and raw sound, allowing your ears to get into a scale and feel how it provides identify to the notes and rhythms, then electronically modifying the output outside of that established acoustic space so that one saw it, fleetingly, from the perspective of a new sound and rule-set. In this way Michael traveled from acoustic gravity to acoustic gravity, compressing the distance of each journey through his ability to play within a perceivable rule set and immediately jump to another rule set, related by those sonic attributes that defined the edge between them (scale, rhythm, pitch, timbre etc.).

Bruce Bennett played his keyboard and other hand-based interfaces as if he had an axe–carving out rich, full sounds, doing high-definition shaping of timbre and volume that created sound shapes of particular clarity and presence. These worked particularly well in juxtaposition with Michael’s musical riffing and Byron’s shifting percussion patterns. Since between sax and drums rhythms and polyrhythms were already established, Bruce provides sounds and shapes that masterfully moved between being objects set against those rhythms, and a dark acoustic backdrop that surrounded them. It seemed to me what what Bruce provided was a forceful and ever-modulating sound set that morphed between being foreground object and background, providing the spatial basis for the trio’s musical cyclorama.

Usually I don’t like electronic music that has a single percussion track that is sustained throughout a piece. It seems to me mindless, the sort of composition exemplified by paintings of Elvis or matadors on black velvet. It’s not that it doesn’t’ have an effect, it’s that the chief problem of establishing background from foreground is already solved. and set This is one reason why dance music is usually snubbed by non-dance music musicians; solving nothing, it becomes the sugar in our water that rots our teeth as our invested years run out.

However, Byron Diel’s playing avoided that. His trap set playing technique was such that he was constantly modulating between time signatures, length of measures, and polyrhythmic juxtapositions, so that what seemed to be firmament was actually a shifting ground beneath you. While Byron occasionally slowed and sped up tempos, most of his playing did work against a steady tempo, but a steady tempo suspended above a continually re-parsed phrasing.

So what Respectable Citizen presented last night was a set of three musicians, each exploring different musical compositional strategies in parallel, in such a way that each complemented the other, and never became muddied or repetitious. At the California Art Institute/Sunnyvale, the majority of students in the audience were there from a sound design class offered from their Digital Film major. I can’t think of a better presentation of profound and intricate sound design, and I applaud Digital Film Director Christina Ri and Sound Design Instructor Andy Puls for their foresight in having the class attend the performance.

Following Respectable Citizen was “Toaster”, otherwise known as composer/performer Todd Elliot. Todd played a trio of pieces, moving from an ambient droning piece triggered through a MIDI-based instrument called an eigenharp tau, through a sequenced pattern piece, to a very nicely cinematic piece using movie soundtrack and acoustic piano samples (with the note samples either recorded from a distance in a live room, or processed to seem so).

Todd’s performance was recorded and is available on this website, so I’ll recommend listening to it first hand, rather than reading a long description by me. But I’ll recommend the first, ambient piece, which provided a nice example of woven sound textures that move in and out of focus. What sounds static to the unobservant is a constantly modulating set of sounds without sudden attack or decay, but with a gentle undulation not unlike a flag in a breeze, or cross-patterns of ripples on a pond. Similar to early Eno or Riley, it provides a fine and subtle texture for close listening.

Toward the end of Todd’s performance came a couple minutes that were quite unlike the others. The sounds slipped out from the triggered lockstep of the second piece, and the individual sounds away from the sharp definition of the filmic soundtrack spoken word samples. The few sounds slipping by became something of an emulsion, for what was for me a very compelling musical environment. I don’t know how this holds up in the recorded version, but in the acoustics of the room last night, it was a great way to end the performance.

Our next 2nd Friday will be on October 14th. Bring your ears and your heart.

Robert Edgar
September 10, 2011

Beefheart’s Wake and the Cultural API

Attended the Beefheart “symposium” last night. Enjoyed it. As one speaker said “This is really a wake”. Very few young people, mostly old men–except for Robin, who came along. Earlier in the week I’d asked my film students how many had gone to the SF Cinematheque, and no one knew what I was talking about. On the way home last night, out in the world, while passing bright new billboards for the Beatles, I had a sudden “Blade Runner” feeling. I had a kind of flash-backed premonition. Instead of buildings and physical infrastructure left in disrepair, there was a culture with so much of its vitality lost that the present couldn’t be understood, we are left with behavioral habits without knowledge of their cause. The Beatle billboards were the ads in Blade Runner, and Beefheart and Independent Cinema were the missing creators of the unmaintained architecture and infrastructure. Where are the counter-cultural inventors who construct truly new meaning from the new technologies? Who create art that is unsalable not because it is scatological, but because it is so radical in its form that it demands work from the viewer to perceive that it has an aesthetic source. There is absolutely no need for another Beefheart, or Beatles for that matter. But I look for more desperation to invent one’s self even at the cost of losing one’s self.

Or maybe invention maintains the same relation to the underlying culture as it ever did, and we just have less underlying movement to be reflected in new art. That seems hard for me to believe, with all the technological innovations present. And we can see those so clearly reflected in Egypt, as the people there are forced to reinvent themselves as free souls within a world community. Perhaps here we have too little need to reinvent the self as presently imagined by society.

Gary Lucas shared a Beefheart quote last night: “I think of music as primarily an irritant”. There is no understanding this unless you posit a disconnect between the form to which the society requires the artist to con-form, and the need by the artist to produce a form that differs from it. If the self-form that the artist/citizen requires matches the one enjoined by cultural infrastructure (the API calls work in both directions), you don’t get the desperation to reinvent the self. Note this isn’t at the social level (which is analogous to a digital “skin”), but at the cultural level (not directly available to the conscious, but sensed by the conscious as an emotional or physical/synaesthetic malaise). If that malaise isn’t present: no need to create a self reformed so that it can survive without the cultural API communications. The “irritant” is such not because the artist wants someone to feel badly, but because s/he is trying to invent his or her own albumin…one that because of its source and purpose is impermeable to the cultural API…and that creates a mirrored malaise between the albumin and the outside society.

So perhaps it is a good thing that it does not occur to youth to basically reinvent itself: as sign of alignment between the young individual and the surrounding culture. Either that, or there is no sensitivity left: no individual, no name, numb.

The Resonance Model of Communication, Ontic Experience, and Mirror Neurons

The Resonance Model of Communication, Ontic Experience, and Mirror Neurons

Third in a series

The worst communications model is the one that is used in almost all communications textbooks today. This is the “transportation” model, illustrated by a person’s head on the left, another person’s head on the right, and a double-headed dotted line arrow between them. The explanation is that one person has a concept, that through a medium this concept is carried to another person and deposited there. Noise is usually pictured within the medium, an element that distorts that which is transferred or transported.

This mechanical model is a major contributor to the misunderstanding of the art process, and leads to major failings in our culture as a whole.

In a slim volume published in 1973, Tony Schwartz criticized the transfer model, and suggested a model based on Marshal McLuhan’s “acoustic space”, wherein the person/recipient is within a circular field of center-moving concentric circular waves, moving from the outside in.

It should be obvious that the “transportation” or “transfer” model is just wrong. There is no physical transfer from brain to brain. The physicality is not realistic. Little object-units don’t get checked in at the station and sent to the brain where they are received. The blurriness of the human interface in this model is stunning in its ubuiquity.

I sent the following question to a number of friends:

“In experiencing works of art (and the rest of the world), there are sometimes phenomena that you find that say “I exist”. It can strike the viewer/listener/etc. that the phenomenon exists, and that because of that (goin’ down that old lonesome Cartesian road…), he (the viewer) also exists.

“Kant referred to the apperceptual, as the being conscious of one’s act of perception. But is there a word that refers to the sensed object/event that generates the moment of self-awareness?”

Rabbi Pinchas Giller: “Soloveitchik used to say ‘ontic’…?”

Soloveitchik has a text distinguishing between ontic experience and ontic proof:

The trouble with all rational demonstration of the existence of God, with which the history of philosophy abounds, consists in their being exactly what they were meant to be by those who formulated them: abstract logical demonstrations divorced from the living primal experiences in which these demonstrations are rooted. For instance, the cosmic experience was transformed into a cosmological proof, the ontic experience into an ontological proof, et cetera. Instead of stating that the most elementary existential awareness as a subjective “I exist” and an objective “the world around me exists” awareness is unattainable as long as the ultimate reality of God is not part of this awareness, the theologians engaged in formal postulating and deducing in an experiential vacuum. Because of this, they exposed themselves to Hume’s and Kant’s biting criticism that logical categories are applicable only within the limits of the human scientific experience.”
(The Lonely Man of Faith, p. 32, note)

To the extent that one accepts that the aesthetic experience I’ve described is a variety of (or analogous to) the ontic experience referred to here by Soloveitchik, one can understand the difficulty of referring to a personal experience that cannot be included in a text that refers to that experience. The artist, moving to experience this for him or her self, works to manipulate the medium to spark that experience. To explain the experience, or to prove that it exists, is not a terrible thing to do. But it is not in itself part of the experience.

From the photographer Robert Polidori:

“Hard to answer your question.
I don’t know “a” word.
But one phrase comes to mind.
M. Snow once wrote something to the effect

‘Do You see What I see?’

It’s about trying to share perceptions.

Some times when someone is explaining with words something- a concept
or the perceptive result of something,
the listener can sometimes respond…

‘I see…’ ”

Snow’s Wittgensteinian language game again separates the experience from a reference to it. That gap between the pointing and the invisible pointed-to.

From the writer Ethan Place:

The only word that comes to mind (that’s MY mind, thank you very much) is self-reflexive or self-reflection. This guy, though not discussing art, suggests intellectual intuition:

“At its most basic, intellectual intuition can be described as a subject’s self-referential, performative actualization (N Pepperell would probably say self-reflexive here, but I figured, Why not be different?). It identifies the self with the self’s activity and what this activity produces such that the self, which is to be understood as activity simpliciter, actualizes and becomes aware of what it means to be a self through its own activity. Intellectual intuition, then, designates the self’s immediate, singular awareness of itself as both a producer of meaning as well as the content of what it produces. It encompasses – and unifies – the twofold awareness of the fact that the self simply is the activity of producing meaning, and the content of this activity. Intellectual intuition is, in other words, the union of process and product.”

Alexei,, Process and Product — Or the Self-Reflexivity of Fichte’s Intellectual Intuition

Alexei’s process is a production of self-referential meaning. This reminds me of the sudden bloom of a feedback loop that occurs when you point a video camera into a monitor attached to it…at first, the image shifts a bit, then suddenly the camera sees itself seeing itself seeing itself and a rushing kalidescope pours through the video image. By spatially manipulating the camera, one obtains not only this exhilarating sudden flowing, but a continual variety of colors and patterns as the feedback continues. Big hit back in the ‘70s.

Neither Ethan Place nor Alexei are making the claim that this intuition is the aesthetic experience. It may be, or it may be a special case variation of it. The activity described does seem isomorphic with the aesthetic experience, although the perception that the self is both producer of content and the content may not be a requisite take-away.

Both media maven Dan Restuccio and Video Producer John Mabey suggested the Japanese word “Mu”. I Googled the word and found a reference that said it was derived from the Chinese word for “nothing”. This sent me digging into my wallet to find a disintegrating paper scrap on which my Chinese professor, in college, drew for me the Chinese hieroglyph for “nothingness”, or in Mandarin “wu”. This is not the “wu” character for the number “5”, but one that is similar to a purely negative adjective (with a radical character that refers to fire or burning)…hence “nothingness”. My understanding of the Japanese word is that it is the answer to the koan:

“A monk asked Joshu, “Does a dog have the Buddha nature?” Joshu retorted, “Mu!”

As the phrase is in Maine “You can’t get there from here”.

John went on to suggest the word “empathy”. For me, this hit home. It not only worked for the aesthetic experience, but also for the “resonance” model of communication described by Schwartz.

The next answer I received was from Peter Matussek, the aesthetics scholar presently living in Siegen, Germany. I quote from his response here at length:

“Dear Robert,
please excuse me for being late as usual.
Your question points directly into what I also do claim as being the essence of art: creating self-awareness – in German: Selbstaufmerksamkeit. I think I mentioned this also in my writings on memory theaters.
There is a poem of Rainer Maria Rilke that expresses very clearly what you describe:

Archaischer Torso Apollos

Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt,
darin die Augenäpfel reiften. Aber
sein Torso glüht noch wie ein Kandelaber,
in dem sein Schauen, nur zurückgeschraubt,
sich hält und glänzt. Sonst könnte nicht der Bug
der Brust dich blenden, und im leisen Drehen
der Lenden könnte nicht ein Lächeln gehen
zu jener Mitte, die die Zeugung trug.

Sonst stünde dieser Stein entstellt und kurz
unter der Schultern durchsichtigem Sturz
und flimmerte nicht so wie Raubtierfelle;

und bräche nicht aus allen seinen Rändern
aus wie ein Stern: denn da ist keine Stelle,
die dich nicht sieht. Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

The poem describes a torso and the process of the substitution of the parts that are not visible (esp. the head and the eyes) by the imagination of the recipient.

In the last two lines the direction of looking is immediately turned around: “there is not a single part / that does not see you. You have got to change your life.”

Kant may be a good reference insofar as he describes the perception of the perception of beauty as going along with the perception of an inner balance between mind and emotion (Verstand und Gefühl).

But even more I see a ground of explanation in the new theories that explain “empathy” not conventionally, as a vague psychic intuition, but as a coordination af gestures. If you have read about mirror neurons you get an idea of what I mean. This new founding suits to older theories of art history, for example Aby Warburg’s “Pathosformeln” , i.e. gestures in pieces of art that “live on” through the history of mankind, because they meet collective memories of the body (Warburg had some contact with C.G. Jung, but more important is his contact with Richard Semon who coined the term “ekphoria”: the process of recollection by feeling a similar bodily “energy”. The famous neuroscientist Danile Schacter has recently written a book on Semon as a “neglected pioneer”.)”

Mirror neurons are a class of cells discovered in 1990 in the laboratory of Giacomo Rizzolatti, a neuroscientist at the University of Parma, Italy. Dr. Rizzalatti observed the cells firing in macaque monkeys both when they perform an action, and when they see another monkey perform that same action.

In his findings, published in 1996, Dr. Rizzalatti writes “Mirror neurons allow us to grasp the minds of others not through conceptual reasoning but through direct simulation. By feeling, not by thinking.”

U.S.C.’s. Michael A. Arbib, Ph.D., writes

“For communication to succeed, both the individual sending a message and the individual receiving it must recognize the significance of the sender’s signal. Mirror neurons are thus the missing link in the evolution of language. They provide a mechanism for the sharing of meaning.”

While still using the “sender” and “receiver” language from the transport model of communication, Dr. Arbib provides an understandable mechanism for how one comprehends a message. Supporting the “resonance” model, the individual, through empathy, engages his or her own corresponding internal model. This model does not just work for visual sensing, but extends to words, sounds, sensations and metaphor (V.S. Ramachandran, Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego).

The existence of mirror neurons, and the continued study of how they work, allows for a model of communication that, rather than relegating concepts of empathy, synaesthesia, metaphor and the aesthetic experience to the outer edges of normal communication, place them squarely at its essence.

The case for art education can now be more clearly formed, from within this new model for communication.

Can you see what I mean?

Myth, Self, Art, Synaesthesia, Metaphor

– second in a series –

“In general it can be said that myth, as experienced by archaic societies…is always related to a “creation,” it tells how something came into existence, or how a pattern of behavior, an institution, a manner of working was established; this is why myths constitute the paradigms for all significant human acts; …that by knowing the myth one knows the “origin” of things and hence can control and manipulate them at will; this is not an “external”, “abstract” knowledge but a knowledge that one “experiences” ritually, either by ceremonially recounting the myth or by performing the ritual for which it is the justification; …that in one way or another one “lives” the myth, in the sense that one is seized by the sacred, exalting power of the events recollected or re-enacted.”
Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality, pp. 18-19.

“I know a lot about objects, how they get to be what and where they are.”
Michael Snow, Letter from Michael Snow to P. Adams Sitney, Film Culture No. 46, Autumn 1967.

The mythic way of knowing articulated by Eliade is not “knowing” the way we know a recipe for a cake, or the number of miles to the moon. It is a knowing that exists in time, and exists while it is part of the knower’s experience. It requires someone to know it.

Synaesthesia, or the triggering of one sense by another, has many similarities to Eliade’s mythic experience. Through it the person experiences one stimulus as another; a flash of color as a sound, or an odor as a tactile sensation. And similarly, this connection between two disparate elements requires a person to experience it, or it does not exist. Recent research into synaesthesia posit anatomical structures that may provide for it:

“In a fascinating theory Maurer & Maurer (1988) suggested that normal infants are typically synaesthetic, with subsequent neural and synaptic pruning leading to more segregated senses in most of us (see also Maurer & Mondlach, 2005). Those few who are synaesthetic as adults are, then, those whose cross-modal connections do not wither in the same way. This theory provides a developmental mechanism and behavioral correlate for the hyperconnectivity proposed in a number of the theories discussed by Hochel & Milán (2008).”
Alex O. Holcombe, Eric L. Altschuler, & Harriet J. Over, A Developmental Theory of Synaesthesia, With Long Historical Roots. Cognitive Neuropsychology, accepted 8 Aug 2008.

Like the mythic experience of knowing, the vanishing point of synaesthesia is within the person who experiences it. It does not present itself as an objective fact, independent of the person. It empowers the person with a sensory knowledge that is personal and meaningful, and that is self-evident. Having a synaesthetic experience provides a personal history that enriches a person’s relationship with the world, a relationship that supports one’s trusting one’s senses to provide meaning about the world through its own act of creation.

This world of inner meaning is one that children know well, and it is a world that is rarely nurtured by our educational and parental institutions and practices. Even our art and music education often avoid developing these experiences, focusing instead on the more measurable skills that lead to professions.

The relations provided by the synaesthetic experience are isomorphic with metaphor. Synaesthesia provides a mode of knowing that and how two disparate phenomena share an essence. Metaphor places one language object in the syntactical space of another, leaving the individual to make sense of the unexpected displacement. Often this making sense invokes internal sounds and images, memories and imaginings, meanings and humor.

With art making, the artist engages a medium and becomes more sensitive to it, more aware of its subtleties, What is it that the artist moves toward in art making? The artist navigates, through a medium, toward the mythic state of creation, in order to experience that creation, to cause it to be, and to sense it becoming. It is not an objective truth that the artist finds. The art work is not the final object. The artist is no more a factory than Warhol was.

It is the focus on consumable product that has anaesthetized the American culture from valuing or even knowing these related experiences: the creative moment in art work, the ritual re-enactment of myth, the sensory meaning of synaesthesia. It is as though these states don’t exist, as if they are meaningless.

The desperate need this culture has, as we head into this darkest of times, is for art practice.

The Rarified Art of the Individual

Here’s the kick: those people who stole your money? Under cover of the culture of illusion, and through the products they sold you that delayed your own self-creation, they stole your lives.

-First in a series-

With the deflation of the consumer culture that is happening all over the world today, Americans have a chance at adapting for the resulting environment.

Americans (and certainly other cultures, but certainly Americans) have for years accepted the practice of delaying the construction of a self, by spending their money—and lives—purchasing distractions. Art has been capitalized and made into objects for purchase, created by a small and distinguished tribe of specialists.

With the loss of purchasing power—so people have less ability to purchase distractions—preceded by a surge in the availability of low-cost media production tools (video and audio production, post-production and that folk-art distribution system the web) we have a corresponding surge in art making (with a lower-case “a”).

Younger generations who have grown up with computers create media easily, without a clumsy “always learn before you do” approach that was so helpful to the mechanical universe. Those at ease with computers jump right in and probe, trying one thing, learning its effect, and then trying another, burrowing into the web to find what it has to offer, or the software to find what they can produce. Alan Kay has rightly despaired of the loss of pre-planning, of an architectural approach to problem solving, in this dive-right-in approach. But the computer environment is one that rewards digital spelunking.

Instead of simply watching television for hours at a time like their parents and grandparents, a larger group is able to make their own and share it in online society. The online sites for displaying one’s own videos, or the thousands of sites for distributing one’s own musical tracks—these are the real killers of the music companies and movie theaters. That which had been the creative domain of Artists now have the floodgates open and the artists pouring their creations into them.

It is important to note that once someone has a minimal set of equipment and software, one can create for only the cost of one’s time. While every audio and video professional will argue that the quality that consumer and prosumer products can’t match that of the truly professional (and hugely expensive) equipment and software, it is absolutely the case that with today’s prosumer equipment one can produce media of higher resolution and lower noise levels than could be professionally delivered in the 1960s. Compare a HD video on with a playback of Bonanza on any CRT.

What is more important than the resolution of the new technology is the ability to produce in media iteratively. As a film student in the mid 1970s with a disabled father and a mother who was an art teacher in a public school, I didn’t have money for multiple answer prints. Filmmaking was a process of trying something, then trying something ELSE. Even editing in video, which could be done for free where I was studying, was a long and painful process involving grease pencils, two reel-to-reel decks and multiple reels of video tape that had to be wound and rewound to start points for each edit. I worked in film and video with every moment of my free time (and still do), but today the ability to revise as one goes is incredibly supportive of quick learning and quality improvement, especially when combined with a distribution and social review system that allows the creator to obtain informal and instant feedback on work in progress. And all work is work in progress.

What happened, though, was the domination of the culture of the specialist, the pouring of money into huge Hollywood projects where, by concentrating the work of hundreds of people into the production of stories of individuals, we have a slight-of-hand that further supports the unobtainable hero. Hundreds of minds and specialists are not one mind, and we addict society to watching the magical existence of screen stars to appear to make their own decisions, and overcome their own problems.

It’s not that I don’t like Benjamin Button or even Hollywood films in general. But the illusion that it has always used as its attraction has created the illusory economy and culture that is now, for a moment, shown its real structure. Here’s the kick: those people who stole your money? Under cover of the culture of illusion, and through the products they sold you that delayed your own self-creation, they stole your lives.

The aging generations who now have time but no money will logically experience mostly their loss. But a child who doesn’t have paints will scribble in the dirt. And before aboriginals were taught to paint on canvas, they painted on sand.

The desperate need this culture has, as we head into this darkest of times, is for art (small “a”) education.

Review: LSG New Music Series February 23, 2006

ReviewOutsound Presents: LSG New Music Series @ Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco

8:00 pmEmily Hay: Flutes, vocalMarcos Fernandes: PercussionRobert Montoya: Computer/softwareBob Marsh: electronically modulated vocal

9:00 pmMarcos Fernandes: PercussionRobert Montoya: Computer/softwareRent Romus: SaxaphonesErnesto Diaz-Infante: acoustic-electric steelstring guitar

Emily Hay, Marcos Fernandes and Robert Montoya traveled up from San Diego to perform with a couple of San Francisco locals for the February 23 2006 implementation of the LSG New Music Series. It made for a wonderful couple of hours of excellent, compelling music.
For the 8:00 show Emily Hay began by blowing her alto flute shakuhachi-like into her microphone. She progressed into including vocalizations with the flute blowing, and later alternating between the flute and vocalizations. Her vocal sounds ranged from english-like phonemes to sounds of laughter, but often coming back to a crystal-clear operetic voice, pitched and carefully articulated. Throughout the first set Emily alternated improvising between her flutes and her voice.

Bob Marsh seemed often to track Emily’s vocals, but did so by almost mumbling into a microphone which pitch-shifted and otherwise modulated his voice into pitches that did match, and timbres that almost matched those of Emily. While Emily was working hard to get volume, articulation and pitch, Bob kept up seemingly without effort, through excellent control of his electronics. The two played off each other, with Bob at times creating electronic loops, and Emily sometimes repeating.

Behind Emily and Bob, Marcos Fernandes had percussion instruments set up on and under a table, with a microphone picking up the sounds and feeding them into a Lexicon reverb module. occasionally with prerecorded sounds. The tabletop was recorded hot, with small sounds of rubbing a mallet across the face of a drum being picked up and amplified sometimes into the foreground of the sonic output. Marcos was well balanced between percussion and foley (sound effects) work, using pots, pans, drums, gongs, bells and other instruments and objects obviously chosen for their focused sonic qualities.

Robert Montoya sat in back with his computer, using Ableton Live software to loop a sound sample, select segments of that sample, and modifying its attributes in real time. his sounds were urban, percussive, often sounding like scraping metal, but never muddy.

After the first set, Emily sat down, and Rent Romus joined with three saxaphones, as did Ernesdo Diaz-Infante on guitar. Rent sent out saxaphone sound arcs and blurts, always sent into an opening in the sonic spectrum created by the others.

Ernesdo’s guitar strings were tuned down well below normal pitch so that when he struck them they were much more percussive than pitched. His right-hand work (strumming and picking) was his focus and was the most effective, setting up rhythms that provided tempos for the second set.

What struck me about this evenings’ music–other than the fact that it was among the most continuously compelling of the evenings I’ve heard here over the last few months–was that the instrumentalists often played musical roles different from those usually selected for their instruments:

Marcos’ percussion rarely provided enough repetition to create a tempo or rhythm. Rather, he delivered individual sounds that were each complex and defined enough to deserve attention on their own.

Ernesto’s guitar played no melody, nor did it provide a chordal harmonization. As I stated above, he provided the rhythm and tempo, using the detuned guitar as a percussion instrument, and drumming out a beat for the others to weave around.
Rent’s saxaphones provided phrases that rose from the bed of the sounds, arced above them and descended back into the source. Robert’s software provided a mostly arhythmic backdrop for the others, but filtered and pitched so that the overall sound was rarely muddy–always a problem for electro-acoustic performances.

Bob marsh’s electronically modulated vocalizations often approached the sound of a non-modified voice (though it always had just enough electronic artifacts to keep from sounding like it intended to imitate one). And Emily’s flute and vocal work were almost electronic.
What I think made the night for me was that the acoustic elements were so carefully modified toward the electronic, and the electronic was so carefully modulated toward the acoustic, that what was accomplished was a masterful blending of the two. It was not electronic, and it was not acoustic, nor did it alternate between the two: it was sonic. And for me, that worked wonderfully.

I continue to look forward to what the next week brings this series.

CDs Available from these groups: WE ARE on Publiceysore (Emily Hay and Marcos Fernandes)REVERBERATIONS FROM SPRING PAST on Pax Recordings (w/Rent Romus)