Brave New Music
Looking at and listening to different ideas about sound and music, INSTAL 09’s collection of artists included Tetsuo Kogawa, vocalist Joan La Barbara, Phil Minton (and his Century FC feral choir), Austrian Actionist Hermann Nitsch, Steve McCaffery and many more.Read
It’s a world leading 1 , once a year collection of events that looks at different ideas about sound and music.
It includes some of the most inspired musicians (and artists from many different artforms) 2 in the world, in Glasgow, for 3 days.
Maybe you’ve not heard of some of them, maybe you have. It doesn’t matter. Come along, no prior knowledge needed. 3
It’s over a weekend, and has a bunch of different performances, talks, workshops, extras and so on…
Introduction to Instal 09
One of the more objectionable aspects of the 20th Century Western avant-garde was that certain strands of it violently opposed dialogue and engagement, they didn’t want you to feel involved in what was going on. It was a standard assumption that an authentic work of art should shock an audience immediately out of their stupor and into a new kind of understanding (almost always called some kind of rupture) FN 1 (I.e. no back and forth, no conversation, just shock and awe.). People theorising about avant-garde art would often suggest that it was for some kind of ideal audience, and if that ideal audience does not yet exist, well then art should remain for the current cultured elite. If you don’t believe me, get this FN 2 (“Nobody understands art but the artist” David Smith (abstract expressionist sculptor)), or this FN 3 (Try and guess which major American painter said this: to send a painting out into the world is an “unfeeling act”, “how often must that painting be permanently impaired by the eyes of the vulgar and the cruelty of the impotent.” That’s you they’re talking about, by the way…). Although I have experienced these kinds of moments, where something exceeds all expectation, I’d still like to disagree with this idea of rupture as the only way for art to communicate.
Art need not be a mystery nor a monopoly of experts and intellectuals FN 4 (That’s lifted from Orlando Fals Borda, a seriously interesting sociologist and activist who defined peasant politics in Colombia. I doubt I could turn such an elegant phrase.). And it need not always be so violent; it can in fact be convivial, or even gentle. So this booklet will try not to talk in the (sometimes) uptight and violent language of the art world/ avant-garde. I’ll try not to impose a ponderous style but just be kind of honest and readable. I won’t apologise for music that is experimental, but I’ll also say that this music can be for a large audience and is of itself wholly understandable through a process of dialogue, exchange and conversation.
I’ll try and explain that Instal simply asks that a) you don’t trust elitist versions of history/ culture/ music/ commerce which obscure great art under more dominant/ commercial forms, and b) that you be receptive to counter-narratives, to alternatives and to different opportunities. And so but then, here’s some ways we try to think about the fest this year. This first bit is about art as experience. To slightly alter a very nice summation of John Dewey’s FN 5 (He’s an American philosopher/ pragmatist. In 1934 he wrote Art as Experience, which sets out to “restore continuity between the refined and intensified forms of experience that are works of art and the everyday events, doings, and sufferings that are universally recognised to constitute experience.” Way ahead of his time. ) thinking about art, maybe we should aspire to “…the artistic life that is lived in the context of a situation, by means of the resources found within the situation, and for the situation.” I very much like this as an approach to art. It suggests that art is just a heightened form of experience, which we should be able to relate to our own experience, in the moment and with only the tools we personally bring to that moment. That art is not only (or even) an object, a building, a book or a painting, but something more like the relationship between objects/ events/ ideas and human experience. This is a way of thinking about form: does a situation have form – is it a discreet entity made up of interdependent relationships FN 6 (In the way that a teapot has form: it is a thing in itself, which is exactly the way it is because of all the different functions it serves. It is made of what it is because it needs to keep tea warm, it’s the size it is because it holds a certain number of cups of tea, it has a handle so that it can be picked up and a spout so as to better pour your tea, and etc and so on… maybe its shape also serves some aesthetic function.
What functions should artistic forms serve: aesthetic, social, moral…?) that is understandable in and of itself? This bit is about thinking and truth and commitment. The great French philosopher Alain Badiou FN 7 (“Badiou is perhaps the only serious rival of Deleuze and Derrida for the meaningless but unavoidable title of ‘most important contemporary French philosopher’, and his major work (Being and Event), is certainly the most ambitious and most compelling single philosophical work written in France since 1960”, says everybody’s favourite wild-eyed Slovenian, Slavoj Žižek. I’m really into Badiou at the moment.) has set out a super rigorous mixture of Materialism and mathematical formalism FN 8 (A school of thought which works to understand maths via a set of axioms (statements) that describe mathematical truth and from which it’s not that big a leap to think that mathematical truths are not about numbers and sets and triangles and the like — in fact, they aren’t about anything at all other than multiplicity. And so then in being the one realm of human thought not about anything other than the addition/ subtraction of multiple entities, maybe we can say they are about the essence of everything: a pure Materialism.) that allows a Marxist understanding of being, truth, the event and the situation.
Stay with me, as unfashionable as it may be to talk about Marx in the UK these days this does have a relevance to art. I’m going to try and paraphrase one of Badiou’s main ideas (and how it might apply to art) in under 400 words: things are FN 9 (Ontologically speaking: A doughnut is many things: round, with hole in the middle, tasty, difficult to eat without licking your lips; but is also just is. Ontology is the study of what it is to be: being as being.); they exist in a world, and in this world things happen (events). An event happens for this world, not in this world, but for this world. And when it happens we can say that an event is “like a cut in the continuum of the world”. Following on from this, a subject is “exactly what happens when as the consequence of an event in a world we have a creation, a new process, the event of something”. Here’s Badiou again: “Every singular truth has its origin in an event. Something must happen in order for there to be something new. Even in our personal lives, there must be an encounter, there must be something which cannot be calculated, predicted or managed, there must be a break based only on chance” Because events happen don’t happen in the world but act as a cut or operation on the world, they have no objective content.
So truth (with it’s origin in the event) can only persist through the actions and statements of people who maintain fidelity to that uncertain event. Simply put, truth comes from the identification with an event. Something ‘you can be true to’. It takes a commitment to a cause. To become a subject, you need to declare a commitment to a cause. Art is a direct means by which we elicit new subjectivities (attitudes, perceptions, commitments, ways of understanding the world). And so successful art will be that which either creates a new event, (and thus truth and subjectivity) or which maintains a truthful fidelity to artistic causes that the artist and audience have already committed to. Because so then in terms of art or music, what this does is open up a room for discussion that is not about whether something is good or bad art (which is a bit old fashioned, isn’t it?) or even whether you personally like it or not. Rather, is the art true to an event, or indeed act as a new event? An easy way of engage with this is to think about whether an artist makes clear their own thinking in their work, and then whether and to what degree this thinking is true to something you already are committed to, or creates the ground for you to be true to something new. Something ‘you can be true to’. Which seems to contradict that quote from John Dewey above: but I hereby submit that it’s actually complimentary. Because in asking the question “is this musician’s thought made clear”, you can only ever filter that through your own thought process and experienced knowledge (make truth judgments’ in relation to events and truths relevant to you).
So you place yourself in the situation. I mean, of course you insert yourself in any situation, you bring your own resources to it. If that artists thinking is clear, and if it maintains a truth to something you believe in, or allows you to believe in something new, then a new subjectivity has been created. For example: this is one way to try and fit in the great epiphanies of the avant-garde mentioned above, and to relate them to ongoing art. Some truly great works of art are events which do in fact state a new thought that I can commit to, a truth that hadn’t previously been articulated; a corny example here would be John Cage’s 4’33” FN 10 (In case you don’t know it, the score of 4’33” instructed the performer (in 3 movements) to effectively do nothing, opening up ‘silence’ to consideration. The original performance took 4min 33 sec.), which definitively announced the truth and variety of musical silence. The truth of this thought can then be developed and furthered, examined and refined by future generations of artists who have fidelity with this thought process, this truth. Badiou calls this the event’s truth procedure. In the case of 4’33” you can then situate the work of anybody who uses silence in their music along the continuum first opened up by the event of 4’33”, or maybe at the intersection of this continuum and others, as new musical events comingle.
So seriously, I’m asking: can you think about music and art in terms of the truth it displays in relation to the your commitment to artistic causes, (rather than value art in terms of ‘quality’, ‘beauty’ or even personal preference)? Barry Esson – Arika Oh: disclaimers FN 11 (As with anything you read, you don’t have to believe this: it’s just one man’s opinion. And it’s important for people to be able to disassociate themselves from their own statements too. These notes are just by way of background: we hope might be of some use, even if it’s just to disagree with. ) and caveats FN12 (And I’m assuming that your reading this during or after performances, as we’re handing this booklet out on the day, so I’m not going to spend too much time saying what it might sound like: just listen.).
Instal 09 was previewed in the Wire which included a feature with Joan La Barabara by Julian Cowley here and an interview with Seymour Wright by Nick Cain here. The event was reviewed by David Keenan for the Wire here; Euan Andrews and Stewart Smith for PlanB here; Ali Maloney for the Skinny here and Phil Miller for the Herald here
- Other people say stuff like that, not just us: The Wire, Plan B, The Guardian, The Scotsman and the like…(some more trustworthy than others)
- A few e.g’s: minimalism, sound poetry, performance and live art, fluxus, political activism and organising, conceptual art, sound art, radio art, aktionism, choral singing, software development, sculpture, auto-destructive art…
- It’s not like you have to sit an exam to dig artists trying out new artistic things.
Eva-Maria Houben Fritz Welch Hermann Nitsch Jean-Luc Guionnet Jean-Philippe Gross Jerome Noetinger Joan La Barbara Klaus Filip Michael Pisaro Mico Nikos Veliotis Otomo Yoshihide Phil Minton Radu Malfatti Rhodri Davies Sachiko M Sean Meehan Seymour Wright Steve McCaffery Taku Unami Tamio Shiraishi Tetsuo Kogawa Toshimaru Nakamura
Greek TV company Onos Productions came to INSTAL 09 to document the festival and report on Nikos Veliotis’ Cello Powder performance.
A simple hands on workshop with micro-radio theorist and pioneer Kogawa.
Klaus Filip Radu Malfatti Sean Meehan Taku Unami
Quartet improvisation by Klaus Filip – laptop, Radu Malfatti – trombone, Sean Meehan – snare & cymbals, Taku Unami – rice and dish.
Solo organ performance by German composer Eva-Maria Houben, which focuses on ‘nearly nothing’ to expand the way we listen.
Jean-Luc Guionnet Toshimaru Nakamura
Brain boiling duo improvisation by great Japanese no input mixing desk pioneer Toshi Nakamura and french organ philosopher Jean-Luc Guionnet.
A specially commissioned performance for organ. “The course of the stars were to be put to sound.”
A public gathering that brings together local artists, musicians, activists, and community organisers.
Performing with hand built radio transmitters, which react to interference in the atmosphere and the electrical impedance of his hands, his radio art is a form of social practice; a statement in opposition to mass media.
Klaus Filip Radu Malfatti
Radu plays a trombone, Klaus creates pure sine waves: they sound on their own, or sometimes together and often with considerable space and silence.
Aileen Campbell Dylan Nyoukis Phil Minton
GIO’s bottomless throat, Blood Stereo’s slobber gobbler and the Mouth Of The South tangle tonsils over Steve McCaffrey’s Carnival
Nikos played every note that it’s possible to play on the cello, all played back as a one hour drone, while the cello was turned to powder and bottled.
Ali Robertson Euan Currie Fritz Welch
Dead Labour Process drool-tape farmer, squeaking/creaking Usurper brother and Peeesseye’s yodelling traps-man hold a real OUT splutter party.
Leading language/ action/ sound poet performed his groundbreaking concrete poem, a dizzying mandala of text, symbols and rubber stamps; a kind of book as reading machine.
Aileen Campbell Eva-Maria Houben Jean-Philippe Gross Jerome Noetinger Klaus Filip Michael Pisaro Neil Davidson Nikos Veliotis Radu Malfatti Seymour Wright Taku Unami Toshimaru Nakamura
From really simple, open instructions, An Unrhymed Chord creates a kind of half-way point between composition and improvisation.
Ruaraidh Sanachan Karen Constance
Polly Shang Kuan Band coven leader and Sick Head’s psychedelic shaman Nackt Insecten make hex ritual to birth a new astral being….. Smack Insecten.
Joan La Barbara
Joan La Barbara presents works exploring the colour spectrum of a single pitch resonating in her skull, an evocation of bird song and circular singing.
Fritz Welch Mico Tamio Shiraishi
A trio of Tamio’s screaming and immovable slabs of sound; Mico’s dance/ performance/ piano; Fritz’s absurd, flailing percussion/ voice.
A 100 strong Feral Choir of people who’ve never improvised with their voices before, conducted by composer Phil Minton.
A saxophone. Handheld fans. Shrill squeaks. Splutters, gargling. An incredible diversity of sounds, intensely focused by an inventive musician.
Grant Smith Jean-Philippe Gross Fraser Burnett
Droner responsible for Fordell Research Unit, Muscletusk’s murk manipulator and Metzian concrete-mixer cement international relations and yr heids.
Julius’ “small music” features simple snatches of found sound, played back through small speakers, often set in bowls of pigment and dirt which shimmies in the vibrations.
Ben Knight Hannah Ellul Neil Davidson
Two-parts Helhesten spit strangled shanties and cracked reeds from under a net of the Glasgow Improv Orchestra’s six-strings and one moustache.
Sean Meehan Taku Unami
Sean and Taku share an interest in structure, space and time. A spartan, abstract, considered and surprisingly musical set.
Ali Robertson Malcy Duff Seymour Wright
Usurper luddite twins’ disabled instruments play a game of pick-up-sticks with the deconstructed horn of a young Derby opponent.
Jean-Philippe Gross Jerome Noetinger
Duo performance by two great French musique concrète improvisers using feedback, contact mics, tape, an old Revox tape machine, a vintage synth…
Otomo Yoshihide Sachiko M
Sachiko’s very simple, pure sine tones and structures. Otomo on double pianos. Filament’s music isn’t composed and it isn’t improvised: it’s a hybrid of the two.
Jean-Luc Guionnet Taku Unami
Simple maths and stringent scored instructions move precise frequencies and clicks to create a dense, fluctuating environment of standing waves and physical sound.