The Spreading Ground
Unanswered Question

unanswered question at mountain school of art


you hear that?
whistling sound?
shall we tell them about it?
how many are you?
who is responsible?
who owns the air?
does capitalism erode all pleasure?
yes or no?
what does pleasure erode?
who is this person?
and who is this person?
and who is this person?

sun image
dark object
cease to exist

which is better
vision in motion
or discovering the subconscious ?

let’s back up.
did you see the beach?
did you know there are two species of wildflower that live on antarctica?
how quietly can you speak?
show me?
how far can you see?
questions for women?
yes or no?

image of the sun pendulum

observe the sky?

what is changing?
glacier in retreat or water in advance?
uncertainty or pattern?
(what is) the most beautiful word?
what are some variations?
can you be more specific?
Would you prefer not to?
ask me?

the possible
functions of machines?

inventing things
that can only be made
with tools that don’t exist?

are you an inventor?
have you met?
and have you met?
and have you met?

let’s back up.
what happened earlier?
do you agree?
how many agree?
how many disagree?
is this a good balance?

Actual Reality

Actual Reality

“Actual Reality” (2011—Present) is a serial multi-media work that develops over the course of many iterations and forms: a scored performance, an improvised response, a piece of software, a libretto text, audio recordings, a video-in-progress… Each new version processes and re-synthesizes previous Actual Realities.

I’ve had a google alert for the words “actual reality” for several years now, every day receiving an email digest of newly discovered instances of the phrase in context. It is a candid and democratic view of the internet. The term is used by diarists, pundits, analysts, self-help gurus and angry blog-commenters alike, as a lets-get-serious reference to the common background against which imaginary things come together momentarily. Everyone should be able to recognize actual reality, or to compare things against it, to measure when we’ve moved too far from it.

“Little by little it comes into view like a condensing cloud; from the virtual state it passes into the actual; and as its outlines become more distinct and its surface takes on color, it tends to imitate perception. But it remains attached to the past by its deepest roots, and if, when once realized, it did not retain something of its original virtuality, if, being a present state, it were not something which stands out distinct from the present, we should never know it for a memory.”

– Henri Bergson “Matter and Memory”

We experience sound moving from live utterance to processed signal, amplified and diffused into the room. We enact a translation, listening and responding to the processed signal, attaching new layers to it, simultaneously forging and following a wave of sound that condenses into patterns and disperses into clouds. Video images form for us an anchor in time, progressing slowly, with action that is hard to perceive until gradual changes are made apparent. A flute, a lily, a newspaper, a triangle, a mirror, a discharge of smoke—-these visual elements provide a medium through which to perceive a specific speed, a dilated scale of time passing.

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Actual Reality – The Sun Artist Takes a Walk

“The Sun Artist Takes a Walk” (2014-15) is a version of “Actual Reality” that borrows its shape from a series of workshops conducted by San Francisco-based artist, scientist, and educator Bob Miller. Beginning in 1975, Miller’s “Light Walks” led small groups of participants in the active noticing of sunlight resolving into images through naturally-occurring pinholes, shadows, and reflections.

“…what I used to think of as uninteresting diffuse white light turns out to be pretty damned interesting. If you think of every little area in space containing, in the light, all the information for a full-color, completely detailed image of things both nearby and far away—here in this little area of space, and here… and here—then it seems to me that we’re walking around all the time in an invisible sea of images. All you have to do to see one of them is to put your eye right “here” and let in one of those little specks of light. And on top of all that, you see it “out there,” projected on the real world. Wow!”

“Actual Reality” proposes, then, that all streams contain images. To play, and to pay attention, is to resolve these images, seeing them for a moment as reality.

Make a Baby

Make a Baby

“Make a Baby” (2004 – Present) is a synthesizer played by two or more people touching one another on the skin.

Make a Baby

“Make A Baby” can be described in its simplest form as sounds being played by touching one another on the skin. The functional structure of the piece has crystallized, more-or-less, over many hundreds of performances: control signals (tuned circuits) at very low voltage are picked up on the skin by audience members, who share the signal between one-another by transferring across points of skin contact. Different kinds of touch (gentle, forceful, sustained, momentary, etc) produce different results. Adding or bridging between additional participants also produces a change in the overall response. We have, through trial and error, developed a tuning system that is inherent to the piece, allowing it to function as a standalone musical instrument with a voice of its own.

How it is implemented—the social structure of the thing—is more slippery, highly contingent on context and audience participation. Our intention, and our measure of quality when comparing one version of “Make A Baby” to another, is to sustain a social space that has no fixed center, and yet forms a cohesive, purposeful sense of belonging to a group engaged in common action. From this essential balance, we can extract other criteria for success: each individual gesture should be perceptible within the group effort (a sense of transparency and agency); the boundaries of the group should be highly permeable—participants can easily shift from active (playing) to passive (listening or watching) engagement; the actions required for participation should be easily taught on a peer-to-peer level. Overall, there should be a sense of continuous playfulness that invites cooperation and innovation.

To these ends, the supporting technology provides unexpected possibilities for distributed control—every point of contact between participants generates some perceptible and significant change in the sound. The software component, with an architecture similar to that of a scalar network analyzer, learns about the structure and quality of connections between distributed nodes. As each signal, carrying a signature frequency, is passed between players, momentary networks are built and dissolved. The forms of these networks, when translated into sound, provide a shifting map of our engagement, the inter-penetrating sum of our individual actions.

Although the two primary modes in which one interacts with this piece are listening and touching, it is easy to describe the experience visually—the shapes made by a group of people finding points to connect across a room, a physical network of hands and arms, attention divided between so many simultaneous points of action. There is a vibrant relationship between the centers (every point of contact that seizes control for an instance) and the margins (frontiers and boundaries, a perimeter with global perspective). In terms laid out by Pauline Oliveros, it is experienced through “focal attention” (points of contact), and “global attention” (the result of all points of touch together). Does this vibrant oscillation, this quick mobility between individual and collective engagement, bring with it a certain awareness? At the very least, there is evidence of the possibility for communicating amongst ourselves directly, supplementally, the complex and ineffable experience of being an individual within a group.

17,000 Observations

17000 observations

“17,000 Observations” (2014) is a musical composition and sculptural installation developed specifically for the floodplain forest at Laguna Gloria, in Austin Texas. A mobile made up of circular mirrors is suspended between trees across a footpath, reflecting the forest in unpredictable ways, aiding and complicating each viewer’s line of sight. Field recordings made on-site over a 24-hour period form the basis of the musical composition: the songs and calls of migratory birds overlap, modulate, and give way to one another in sequence. Each audience member determines their own path through the performance, following the forest’s natural trails to collect fragments of call-and-response from an instrumental ensemble dispersed throughout the floodplain. “17,000 Observations” is an attempt to respond to—and reinforce—the sequences and transitions that accumulate to define a natural site, from all around, with no center.

‘[…] Laguna Gloria has one of the most active birding communities and one of the highest levels of species diversity in Travis County. Birders have submitted over 17,000 observations of birds in the Laguna Gloria and Mayfield Park area. 16,443 of those observations were at Laguna Gloria. Each observation represents the sighting of a particular species at a particular place and time.’ (Laguna Gloria: SIte Assessment and Natural Areas Guidelines Siglo Group, June 2013)
Wrong Spectrum

wrong spectrum

“Wrong Spectrum” (2008-Present) is a performance centered on the idea of overlapping and inter-related spectra: rocks collected at the performance site, or reflective materials placed in a beam of light, are used by audience members as instruments to interact with electrical fields, affecting changes in sound and light through the coordinated movement of participants’ bodies. From this basis in slippery interactive effects, the project’s scope expanded to explore the phenomenon of edge-color spectra, in which incremental variations in viewing conditions produce a range of spectral effects.

A Wave That Interferes

a wave that interferes

For “A Wave That Interferes” (2011—Present) two transparencies with simple black and white patterns are moved by hand to create visual interference – a moire effect – that is translated into sound as the changing shape of a waveform. As the visual pattern becomes more complex (diamond patterns emerge), harmonics are added, and the soundwave becomes a square. As the visual pattern becomes simpler (separates into lines), harmonics are subtracted, and the soundwave becomes a triangle.