Sunday, November 29, 2009

The term reviews have provided some food for thought, both in my preparation and in reflecting on feedback from faculty and students. I look forward to responding to the questions and comments. Getting outside my usual thought processes is what is so valuable to me about being in this program. Getting a chance to see all the work presented by the other students has been quite informative and inspiring. I especially enjoy getting to become more acquainted with the work of the Studio Practice folks.

I also busied myself with scheming, engineering, drawing, arranging, and rehearsing for my brief spot at the You Who concert series at Kennedy School. After obsessive work there were technical gremlins derailing things at show time. Despite onstage disasters I really enjoyed the ideas, collaboration, and concepts that were produced. The scale of family art/music making involved was quite impressive as well. I really enjoyed having my son Henry assist with DJing and sound effects during our performance. I look forward to recreating our piece for video production. Perhaps the greatest thing is the execution of the thought balloon narrative technique Larry Yes and I employed. We are both very interested in refining these concepts in the future.

I have also enjoyed the research and image searching I have been finishing up with for my paper and presentation on Mark Dion for. The sheer volume of Dion’s work is daunting to present on. I continue to be fascinated by the intersections with other disciplines that are so deeply crucial to his work. The evolution of influence by other disciplines within Dion’s projects is especially interesting to review in a retrospective manner.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Busy, has been the art of this week. Paper writing, video making, and presentation assembly have kept me hoppin’ on the school-front. Our Saturday night, six and a half hour crit with Dan Attoe inspired some mighty fine dressing. Red doesn’t always mean stop. We powered through some excellent food and art, not to mention good company. It was such a treat to see everybody’s projects.

I have been trying to keep some time/brain space for my performance at Kennedy School with Larry Yes. Plenty of work left to pull together on that one. I am enjoying the chemistry and intention as well as the kick in the pants to try out some stuff live I have thought of for so long.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My time this week was spent on reviewing and selecting portions of work I’m engaged in to present at the end of the term. The process has been pretty fun, downloading photos, arranging slide shows, and watching video. The review process has certainly initiated self-inquiry into my process, motivation, and criteria concerning a few different endeavors.

One of the more compelling artifacts I have is an hour of video footage featuring me carpooling with six kids in a minivan in a collection of commutes to school. We have taken to calling the project Vancam. The evolution of purpose, participation of the kids, and repetition has left a curious document of a common practice. The strength of personalities and personal chemistry is quite distinct as well.

I also have been formulating a plan with collaborator, Larry Yes to perform at a children’s concert at Kennedy School at the end of November. Tomorrow we meet to start fabricating some visual performance components and experiment with the musical structure. Larry brought to the table a dual theremin routine with props. His original idea was to explore parallel motion in opposing orientation. I added a concept I have been hoping to use in puppetry but haven’t had the opportunity. After meeting tomorrow we will sketch out a script and create a number of 3D thought balloon and word balloon elements.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

This week has seen fairly disparate activities concerning art in social practice. I began video documenting one aspect of my life that seemed to be begging for attention. At the beginning of this school year I began providing a carpool for four neighbor kids that go to Creative Science School with my two boys, Henry and Milo. One of the big drawbacks of being enrolled in a special program Portland Public School is not having school bus service. I have an old Dodge Caravan that seats seven and is on its last legs that I have been driving these six children to school every weekday morning at 8:20 am. Often while looking at the amazing energy, chaos, and conversation in my rear view mirror I am stunned at what I have gotten into. This week after a particularly rowdy morning I decided to start videotaping the experience with a camera on the dashboard pointed back to the passengers. I figured the camera would at least bring a level of inhibition and quiet to the kids. By the third drive I let the kids start to run the camera themselves part of the time, adding narrative and direction to the exercise. I am interested in the results as the kids adapt to the idea and begin to provide their own editorial influence. I am curious where the process will lead after another week. No matter what, it is great to have documentation of a daily ritual I never would have imagined for myself.

I have also continued a discussion with my friend Larry Yes about collaborating on a children’s music series at Kennedy School he is involved. We began to think about potential approaches and repertoire utilizing the theremin for in kid oriented music. The two of us are meeting this week to develop ideas for a performance later this month opening for the band, Quasi. I am hopeful and curious about what we come up with.

I also spent some time developing ideas for the Puppy Bunny album cover that is long overdue to be finished. We are using recycled gape-fold album covers that have taken a while to collect. I am mostly trying to facilitate getting Amy DeWolfe’s art with a few vital textual elements to provide recording and contact information. This should be simple but the process has proved painfully democratic.

Lastly, I worked on a presentation from “Project Censored” featuring Peter Phillips and Mickey Huff. The perspective they relate about media culture and the subsequent “snowblind” effect of people saturated by information is very interesting. I was made aware of Ecuador’s implementation of Constitutional Rights of Nature. This story is of particular interest to me in its abstraction and far reaching potential ramifications. There is something intriguing in the confluence of holistic environmental science and constitutional protections. I imagine how different law would be if it observed scientific methods such as complexity theory or quantum physics.

Monday, November 2, 2009

My practice this week revolved around the preparation for, and presentation of, a set of theremin based music. The performance took place at the Cherry Sprout produce and grocery store in North Portland. The show was hosted by Larry Yes and also featured the bands the Cardboard Serenaders and Roller Ball. Larry Yes and I have a long history of collaboration and friendship and it was great to help out his event. We had time to discuss our current endeavors and make plans for future collaborations involving children’s concerts.

My own performance was based on the musical intervals and intentions of the Malkaun raga. Maulkan is a midnight raga that is concerned with the removal of negativity. I utilized analog electronic drones as a foundation and over-layed that with theremin with my customized Moog synthesizer controlled via a control voltage system. I felt the performance was successful in a technical sense and in conveying the mood of Malkauns. The connection to the audience was evident and particularly satisfying. The theremin can be a difficult instrument to utilize in live settings but I was pleased by my results. I followed with an encore based on improvisational technique, and inspired and informed by systems theory.

I also attended a recording at Mike Lastra’s infamous Smegma studios on Thursday. I felt our ensemble performed well with lots of variety and texture. The musicians present were myself on piano, percussion, and harmonicas; John Henault on guitar, log, and drums; Berendt ? on drums, synthesis, toys, and strange things, Amy DeWolfe on bass and violin; Ed Gibson on saxaphone and guitar; Mike Lastra on sampler, synthesis, and theremin. We play together pretty regularly with music being a major fabric of our friendship.

On November 1st I accompanied many members of the MFA program to the Oregon coast for Dan Attoe’s field trip. Some of us rented wetsuits and surfboards and others helped Hannah Jickling launch her pumpkin boat in Wheeler bay. I opted for swimming and surfing, spending about three and a half hours in the ocean. I love the ocean and in retrospect it was the ideal environment for The Day of the Dead. The weather was gorgeous, the company wonderful, and the conversations interesting. I arrived home in the evening way too exhausted to get my blog posted punctually.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

In the nineties I often performed improvisational music with songwriter Larry Yes in a variety of ensembles and styles. We both subsequently lived in different parts of the country for several years. Since both resettling in Portland I have played on one of Larry’s albums and enjoyed sporadic contact. Larry hosts a public art and music-making event in North Portland annually, which I greatly enjoyed this year. Larry has also worked with Social Practice graduate Avalon Kalin on a few projects.
Mr. Yes also has loaned me his tambura for the last few years to help out my Indian music studies. It is the traditional drone producing backbone of this music style. The instrument has been invaluable for developing skills and awareness for this difficult music form.
Larry asked me a month ago if I would like to perform a solo theremin set at a show he was putting together on Halloween. I decided to do a drone-based piece to reflect our shared interest in this type of musical approach. I spent the majority of my creative time this week developing a strategy for a Halloween performance with my theremin. I have settled on working within the scale of Malkauns, a raga traditionally performed at midnight. This temporal value works for when I often have time to practice. The scale has pleasant minor intervals in a pentatonic or five-note scale. Based upon a root of C the scale would be C, E flat, F, A flat, and B flat. I don’t make any pretense about actually playing the Malkaun raga but I do try to stick with the scale, drone tuning, and mood. My piece utilizes my theremin, moog synthesizer, and old analog organ for drones.

Monday, October 19, 2009

This last week has been focused on research and review.
I have been doing extensive reading about Mark Dion’s work. As someone who has explored the presentation of science and nature through an artistic lens Dion seems particularly accessible and valid to me. I also favor the recurrent presence of extinction and complex systems that are imbued in his work.

Dion’s work and writing have returned my thoughts to the field of bioacoustics again. In my undergraduate studies I experienced a “letting go” of plans of field research concerning biophonies (a term introduced by Dr. Bernie Krauss to describe complex aural signatures of functioning ecosystems) and their constituent elements of nature sounds. The rapid increases of habitat loss and the great proliferation of noise pollution made me realize that there were other ways to be involved with the subject than trying to capture more of these environments with field recording. I decided to instead look at how human’s physiological development might be altered due to anthropogenic noise as opposed to the more complex sounding ecosystems we evolved in. Generally speaking, industrial environments increase our innate ability to filter out and ignore sound. The ramifications of this can be explored through the proliferation of attention deficit disorders and sensory integration issues that currently plague youngsters in the modern world.

I have long been interested in creating sound installations that explore the complex beauty of natural soundscapes and the masking effects that occur from mechanical noise. Mark Dion’s work is re-inspiring me to pursue this type of installation.

Another art form I have studied for a while is Hindustani classical music. This week I have been reviewing ten scales from this discipline and considering how they relate to bioacoustics, the hemi-sync procedures developed by Robert Monroe, and principles of sympathetic resonance utilized by Nikola Tesla. I am struggling with how to incorporate all these elements into sound based installations and not belittle any of the individual elements.

I have also been reviewing a large number of video recordings of past public projects I have worked on. Scott Ray Becker spent a few years documenting the work of The Twenty Foot Man, a performance group I helped found eighteen years ago. Scott gave me his tapes to copy and use recently and I have begun the slow process of studying and organizing the footage to edit and disseminate. It is curious to look at the work in the light of my Social Practice studies. Many aspects of our work make much more sense according to these aesthetics of social engagement than traditional performance values.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

My aesthetic pursuits might be divided roughly into three categories:

• Music
• Inquiry into ecological, socio-philosophical issues and the specific role of our own biophysical enculturation.
• Visual/performance art leaning towards theatrical efforts historically with a large metal puppet.

There is tremendous interplay between these categories but they provide a good framework for examining a week’s activities.


Pursued my perennial practice of music making this week in a variety of ways. I enjoyed my usual weekly improvisation with Amy De Wolfe and my brother in law, John Henault. There are about four other characters that orbit around these musical evenings. Sometimes there is public performance involved, but for the most part it is the way we socialize. We do end up creating a huge archive of recordings, although they are rarely disseminated commercially.

I also regularly work with my son Henry in his studies of cello. He far outdoes me in terms of sight-reading but my big picture of structure and theory still give him lots of help. We also just fool around a lot with a number of instruments, especially piano and marimba. Before studying music formally Henry would always dive in and improvise. After getting more into formal reading he kind of became more hesitant but in the last few weeks we have had some pretty good improvisational collaborations using Balinese and simple pentatonic parameters.

In addition to playing with other people I generally spend time just practicing, studying, or writing music with a variety of instruments.


I spent eight hours running audio for a lecture and intensive featuring silent, mindful practices. It was a paradoxical event to be amplifying, especially as I had to keep a sound system powered up for silent meditation. However the concepts presented were interesting, especially through my ironic slant of electronic amplification. It was also interesting to be recording an event that was so centered on “the now”. The return to “the now” that recording provides has been a subject of interest to me as a recordist.


Towards the puppetry concentration, I spent some time collecting materials to reassemble some smaller and midsize puppets. Specifically I am fabricating a pair of wings and reattaching parts to a quasi-raven puppet. I also began experimenting with a broken globe to create a “talking head” character with a real global perspective.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

It was an exciting and somewhat chaotic first week of MFA in Social Practice program for me. Along with classes, music practice, artistic contemplation, and endless parental duties, I spent many, many hours at EconVergence at First Unitarian Church. I spent many hours setting up for presentations and nursing the Church’s media systems through a ton of presenters. The sixth epoch of extinction (and the first anthropogenic one!) has long been an influence on my research, writing, art, attitudes, and general approach to living. It is somewhat comforting to be in the company of so many people considering the seemingly simple connections between planetary devastation and the violent imposition of market fundamentalism that we all must contend with on a daily basis. It is the exponential rapidity of biodiversity loss that drove me from pursuing bioacoustical research and back to the artistic approach of disseminating information. Of particular interest was the in-person sentimentality of Derrick Jensen. Jensen and I seem to have much common ground as far as personal experience and he had a real cute sweater his mom made for him.