[-empyre-] No. 3, Day 2, Week 2

Douglas Kahn djkahn at ucdavis.edu
Wed Jun 11 18:21:02 EST 2014

If you look at the expanse of Alvin's work you will see that his "the body"
does not play an overly important role. This does not necessarily include
the corporeal rigors that performers must go through to play his music.
Invoking his stuttering in the text of "I am sitting in a room" is an
obvious example, and much more candid than the passive relationship that
Cage had to his body invoked in the specialized scientific space of the
anechoic chamber, where it was last refuge for environmental sound in a
theoretical free-field where space was not locatable, especially in "a
body" let alone the socious of bodies. It's no secret that the Western art
music tradition is not immediately equated with trance-n-dance.

However, the role that Alvin's body or brainwaves plays in the overall
scheme of things is limited. I referred to it most importantly because it
was his first venture into what he called "natural electromagnetic sound,"
a class of sound that he understood to be occurring with a Cagean
imperative for "more new sounds." It turns out that his instincts were
correct on that count. But the fact that he deployed the speakers in Music
for Solo Performer according to spatial precepts that included the
landscape of New England and the space of a football stadium, and that his
next work in natural electromagnetic sound was at earth scale, would
suggest that his body was a waystation. It certainly was a waystation in my

My great privilege, besides being a student of Alvin's, was to have
interviewed Edmond Dewan, the physcist who offered Alvin many of his key
ideas (brainwaves, whistlers, Amar Bose's demonstration that transformed
into I am sitting in a room). Edmond too was focused, in my estimation
proportionally, on human consciousness as but one feature of a larger
spehere of physical operations. 

So, perhaps the melding that you heard/felt/experienced/thought about/wrote
about of inner and outer in Alvin's performance was the product of a
weighting in favor of the outer. The default is with expression; that
realization informed Cage post-1948. Cage's mistake was to equate
jazz/improvisation with self-expression whereas many of its most
interesting practitioners are in it precisley to abdicate self to the
inheritance, to the musical group, to the audience, to the environment and
cosmos. It's laid out in Anthony Braxton's Tri-Axium writings among many
other places. It is the sonosphere of Pauline Oliveros. 

Anecdotally, the proportions play themselves out differently in the
different places in the world. From my limited experience, when I presented
the material that went into Earth Sound Earth Signal on different
continents, questions about Alvin's brainwaves were more intense in nations
with lesser remnants of civil society. In the U.S., "the body" that could
host brainwaves becomes the reconstruction site of a familiar
individualism, preferably consumptive (of things, HBO series, innovation,
etc.). I often had trouble directing people to the main topic. Whereas in
Australia and Europe, where civil society is more extant, audiences have
questioned the material in the proportion in which it was presented. 

This is where the politics arise. The Nero-like antropocentrism of an
immediate default to human energies while the world burns; despite the
abdication of a traditionally expressive self among improvising violinists,
it seems to correlate to an eroded civil society, i.e., to a lack of
expressiveness within a state rather than purchases, fandoms, allegiances,
and debts to an economy. In Australia there is a broader consensus about
the environmental crisis than in the U.S. because of a persistance of civil
society (despite Tony Abbott's recent attempts to abolish both). So I
wonder about the ecological politics, in certain settings, of formulations
of "the body". Michel Serres has pointed out the oxymoronic state of
"ecological politics" since "polis" derives from the social behaviors
within a city state (elevated in the fortress of the Acropolis). It seems
to me that bodies, if they are to live within cities or anywhere else, now
require a politics that embody the finitude of the planet as the last
fortress. What does that sound like?





> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> I'm intrigued too by the role of Lucier in Douglas' book -- and how Lucier
> thinks about matters of body and psyche in relation to his work.  Did you
> get a sense of this at all when you were studying with him, Douglas?
> I was lucky enough to hear/see/feel a performance of "Music for Solo
> Performer" in NYC a while ago.  I think what remains with me of the piece
> is the sense of one interior (that of a brain, or a psyche) somehow
> projected onto an exterior, which forms another interior (that of the
> resonant performance space).  The confusion of the different inners and
> outers was really uncanny ... and it also triggered a sense that as
> listeners, we're also continually mediating these senses of inner and
> outer.  
> But that's where modes of transduction ... also tempos of transduction,
> which Douglas discusses in the intro to his book ... are important.

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