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New Sound, New York Takes Manhattan (and Long Island City, and…)

Talk about a festival living up to its name: New Sound, New York, presented by the Kitchen and Cooper Union’s School of Architecture with Time Out New York, is all over the city. Last month’s performances of electronic and interactive music at the Kitchen led to this month’s outdoor installations, with Cooper Union lectures and Harvestworks studio demonstrations helping to fill in any blanks. In mid-May, SculptureCenter’s sound and art exhibition Treble opens in Long Island City, and New Sound, New York continues making a resonant impression on our urban milieu.

NSNY embarks from a legendary starting point, the Kitchen’s 1979 New Music, New York. In that festival, Laurie Anderson, Robert Ashley, Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, Meredith Monk, and Philip Glass established the basis for much of new music and sound art. The 25th anniversary gala at Town Hall last month reunited those artists in a benefit for the Kitchen, with performances of Monk’s Dolmen Music, Reich’s Drumming, and new works by Anderson and Glass.

NSNY’s live series (co-curated by the Kitchen’s Christopher McIntyre with guest curators for each event) opened with composer and Diapason gallery founder Michael Schumacher’s Architects Design Music. ADM featured three pairings of architect/improvisers and a sound matrix of Schumacher’s design. “It was a beginning,” he said, “with two of the architects wanting to shape the performance over time, typically the musician’s domain.”

Coincidentally, Schumacher installed his first 12 channel permanent system in a private home in April, with pieces from Richard Chartier and Steve Roden in continuous mix, as well an inaugural performance for this installation by Kaffe Matthews. “The installation pieces direct attention to all edges and corners,” the owner, Tarra Cunningham, said, “and walking from bathroom to bedroom to Phill Niblock changes EVERYTHING!”

The Kitchen resembled a café theater for James Fei’s Feedback show, with Fei fully realizing the dramatic space in Alvin Lucier’s Bird and Person Dying. To a looping birdcall accompaniment, Fei moved through the space at a Butoh pace, seeking out resonant spots in the room with a pair of binaural mics. Jim O’Rourke fed an elaborate console with a tube from his mouth, while Ben Neill and Kato Hideki played work by Nic Collins. David Behrman’s mid-60s Wave Train revealed an early taste for aural mayhem.

“When I made Wave Train I knew nothing about technology,” Behrman said in a phone interview. “I had a piano, some guitar pickups, and this idea to raise the gain and surf the feedback waves.” Behrman, who around that time founded the Sonic Arts Union with Lucier, Ashley, and Gordon Mumma, thought Fei’s show “took the feedback principle farther than in the raw old days.” But having run Columbia’s Music of Our Times series, which produced and released experimental LPs by John Cage, Lucier, and Oliveros, he notes that “the funding situation was much better then. Money trickled down to artists, a situation that’s worsened, especially in the U.S.”

Behrman’s current work was among headset pieces broadcast for Tune (In))) by free103point9, the former pirate radio station that McIntyre called “absolutely the first thing I thought of for the installation/performance series.” Tuning among microbroadcast transmitters, listeners selected channels of Zeena Parkins, John King, Thurston Moore, Alan Licht, and others.

Tune (In))) was broadcast on radios as well as the Web, the collaborative playground for Anyware and the audio-visual network Share (“a true collective,” McIntyre said, “an organism, really”), with colleagues in cities from London and Berlin to Tokyo and Montreal. Massive video screens and a huge globe displayed interactive projections as global participants accessed “the internet as a tool for collaboration in real time,” in McIntyre’s words, “rather than just a broadcast medium.”

The Cooper Union lecture series Resonating Frequencies paired composers with architects (Glass/Thom Mayne, Anderson/Martha Schwartz, Moby/Bernard Tschumi). Charles Morrow Associates’ Sound Cube plays at the Kitchen through May, sequencing Shelley Hirsch, Phill Niblock, and Pamela Z spatial compositions, with Olivia Block moving from an echoing ship’s hull to a massed drone and Steve McCaffrey updating Schwitters’ Ursonate as disjointed comic syllables. The Kitchen’s Listening Room samples their new two-CD set of rediscovered seventies performances, including a convulsive Charlie Morrow chant and Tony Conrad piano flurries.

On Saturdays in May, Diapason has Carl Stone’s Kantipur (an “erythroblastic remix of the Tokyo urban soundscape”), which follows Amnon Wolman’s Low Ground Clearance. For LGC, the main space teemed with tidal sound as a solemn, ominous piece occupied the rear gallery, the two meshed with a sound quality that was complex, distinct and acoustically superb.

May finds NSNY blossoming into the open with street-level installations. (Christopher Janney’s interactive Sonic Forest played in Union Square for April’s final week.) Rock’s Role, at Art in General in June, has 20 works responding to John Cage’s transliterations of Ryoanji’s Zen rock garden. Curator Ron Kuivila chose composers including Stephen Vitiello, Barbara Held, and Bernhard Gal, then arranged works in space and time so visitors hear them individually or simultaneously.

Blue Moon by O + A (Bruce Odland and Sam Auinger) occupies the World Financial Center plaza through October, micing the Hudson to form a resonant outdoor environment. Outside Battery Park’s Ritz-Carlton until 2005, Shirazeh Houshiary and architect Pip Horne have their enameled brick tower emit vocal music from various religious traditions (recalling the Jim Conti/Ken Price Glowing Topiary Garden, which graced a Tribeca park in late 1997 with sound/light cones among trees festooned with Chinese wind chimes).

Then the aural picnic basket spills at mid-month, when SculptureCenter opens Treble, their group exploration of sound’s tri-part relations to drawing, sculpture, and architecture. From Austin, curator Regine Basha said that Max Neuhaus (a Treble participant she called “the quintessential sound artist”) spoke of the need to move on from the term “sound art.” “It was at a time when we’d seen many exhibitions dealing just with sound, from radio to kinetic art,” Basha explained. “The term had become medium-specific, segregating the work: No one would call Richard Serra’s work ‘steel art.’

“Then The User opened their Silophone building on Montreal’s docks to residencies and Web activity,” Basha continued, “and SculptureCenter undertook Maya Lin’s renovations of their former trolley repair factory, a space that doesn’t have a clean memory. Instead, it has a real memory, a sonic memory.” Dia:Beacon comes to mind, in a former Nabisco box factory up the Hudson, as does Engine 27, converting a firehouse into a sonic lab, or the Young/Zazeela Dream House when it was in the Mercantile Exchange Building. Basha added that she “wanted Treble mixed up, with low-tech next to high-tech, Mungo Thomson’s L.A. pop/rock then Stephen Vitiello’s minimal/conceptual work, rather than pigeonholing them in separate shows.”

In an email, Vitiello described his piece "Fear of High Places and Natural Things" as “suspending speakers in an arc into and/or around a large arch in SculptureCenter. Bass frequencies beneath our ears’ range move the speaker cones so they appear to pass information from one to the other. I was stuck on how to fit the overwhelming dimensions at SculptureCenter, then in a site visit Vito Acconci helped me picture the speakers out of a straight line and in a more open form.”

Vitiello’s “really looking forward to Steve Roden’s work. His are some of the most exciting ideas in the field(s) right now, his quiet audio pieces and visual structures. And to Terry Nauheim, whose work I curated in a Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition.” With 20 other artists on the loose among its sturdy arches, SculptureCenter has pulled together plenty to hone the eye- and ear-holes.


Alan Lockwood


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2004

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