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.