If you are in London and you like beautiful prints and it is still May if/when you happen to see this, then you should pop along to Jane Chandler‘s Prints exhibition. She is a dear friend and dearly talented. Details on the flyer above.
Matt Wellins was one of the artists I interviewed for my feature on the resurgence of visuals in live music for the January issue of Dazed & Confused (see the full feature here). Based in Pittsburgh, Matt is also one of the custodians of UbuWeb’s electronic music resources (more on that below). I was struck by the sensitivity and eloquence with which he discussed his practice, especially his image of wishing to dismantle the “tyrannical supremacy that sight holds over our senses”, and with his kind permission publish the full interview below.
Could you tell me a bit about what you do and your background?
I work in a couple of different areas at the moment, but I’m most interested in work that is designed for a particular live situation, rather than relying on recordings and the internet to provide meaningful immersive experiences.
A large portion of my work involves designing and performing on homemade analog electronic musical instruments, primarily as an attempt to find aperiodic sounds and chaotic states that counteract traditional methods of synthesis.
I’ve also worked with computers – particularly Max/MSP and Jitter – to do generative work, creating thinking systems that produce video or sound.
The practice of arranging small objects in analog electronics and working in an object-based programming language has also developed into decidedly theatrical work, creating juxtapositions against and interactions with everyday objects.
My recent performance at VIA loosely fell into the “object-performance” category. I used a video camera, so the audience could see what was being done off-stage, but the imagery was all generated by household items such as shaving cream, talcum powder, dish soap, and tin foil.
What drew you to working with visuals and music?
Historically, the performance of music has always been theatrical and visual. It’s only since the advent of recording technology that people have had to confront an abstract, disembodied experience of sound.
I would venture to suggest that disembodied sound is the primary influence on the language of “visualized” music, responsible for everything from the complex geometries and colors of Oskar Fischinger and Harry Smith to iTunes algorithms based on the cold facts of amplitude and frequency.
I’m not necessarily interested in this relationship – where the image is the ultimate realization of a sound. I think that these elements can coexist in a live environment without necessarily exerting authority over each other. I’m more concerned with the tyrannical supremacy that sight holds over our senses and am interested in dismantling that process.
Also, the larger part of my background is as a musician and I am drawn to areas where that language can be applied in different contexts. Certain aspects of feedback, information systems, and “loaded” material are examples of possible cross-disciplinary interests.
How would you describe your visual style and practices?
I’m interested in decentralizing foci. I like a dense field of action with no clear hierarchy. I like things that act of their own accord. I like immersive experiences, but I also like economy – not just finding affordable and available materials, but expanding their possible applications.
Which music artists have you worked with and is it a collaborative process?
At VIA, I’ve worked with Oneida, Walls, and Raw Blow. Those were not directly collaborative, but I did listen carefully to their records and took them into consideration for the performances.
For these sets, I did collaborate with other visual artists. My good friend Sarah Halpern did a selection of double 16mm projections at the Oneida show, Thomas McConnell and Kenneth Painter assisted me during the Walls show.
Also, I’m really interested in your work with UbuWeb – I am especially excited about getting my teeth into Daphne Oram’s book. How did the archive come about and what are your future plans with it?
Very glad to hear that you’re enjoying it! The Oram book is a really excellent introduction to electronics, but also reveals a good bit of Oram’s personality and charm.
I saw Michael Johnsen perform with his homemade analog electronic instruments in 2005, at a point when I was very cynical and arrogant, and it had a major impact on undoing that kind of thought. It was one of the most purely visceral experiences I’d ever had. I felt my entire nervous system in overhaul, straining to follow the sounds. Shortly thereafter, I asked to learn about building analog electronic instruments.
Over the years, Michael has accumulated a lot of amazing materials from his private research. As a recent initiate, I was finding it hard to locate resources; many of important texts on analog electronics are both out-of-print and removed from library circulation, since they are considered obsolete. Even more to the point, a majority of the scholarship in electronic music has been highly based in aesthetics and history, rather than concerned with technical details. The Ubu project is an attempt to bring those things into a larger discourse.
As far as future plans are concerned, we’re aiming for a large addition – rather than short, periodic updates. Due to copyright issues, I’m hesitant to talk about the full extent of what we’re hoping to include in the immediate future. We do hope to further develop an international perspective to the work, rather than limiting it to English language documents. I think there is also an emphasis on primary research – locating work and ideas that otherwise evaded public consumption.
I can say that since the archives went live, we’ve been fortunate enough to come into contact with a number of scholars and enthusiasts with unique items in their collections. We are always looking for more submissions, though!
First published in Dazed & Confused, January 2012 issue
There is a blister on the sole of my right foot. It doesn’t surprise me; looking after feet is boring. Then I check my left foot: another blister, in the same spot. Why that surprises me surprises me. After all, my two feet have endured the same experiences: the same late nights, the same new shoes. It took the same pressure, the same heat, the same friction to create the same blister in the same spot on my two soles.
It’s not that different with people. Two souls can share the same spirit, divine twin responses to life, pursue a parallel path – moulded by mirror circumstances.
Today I am devouring Patti Smith’s Just Kids, a memoir of her formative years with Robert Mapplethorpe. It’s setting my imagination on fire.
It’s been a big week. Lots of stuff happened. Decisons, dancing and, oh, I can’t think of another thing beginning with d. You get the idea. These are my three highlights.
1) Field Day / Cable afterparty. The rain couldn’t, erm, rain on my parade. Plugs set the tone for a day of rambling around Victoria Park with friends clutching cans of cider. The xx made me weep then Skull Juice, Aeroplane, Erol and Casper C made my head go all funny at the Cable afterparty. Beyond words good. Best dance I’ve had in a hell of a long time. Very special and just what I needed. You can check out pics of the party people on Dummy.
2) Primary 1. I first caught Primary 1 at Glasgow’s Hinterland festival. He makes intelligent pop that talks to your head as well as your body. A jolly nice fella and probably the most reluctant pop-star-in-the-making I’ve ever met. You can read my interview with him for Dummy here.
3) Beautiful Losers. This came out last year I think but I just watched it last night at the ICA. Phenomenally inspiring in a totally un-wanky way. It’s a documentary about a group of artists, film makers and graffiti kids including Margaret Kilgallen, Harmony Korine and Mike Mills who partied together, dreamed big and refused to stop doing what they loved. Fuck conforming, make stuff and find another way of living in this world instead. Find out more about the film here.
Last night I had my hysteria diagnosed (worst case the doctor had seen apparently), helped stitch an abortion tapestry, created a perfume that smelled like my mum (dried roses, lavender and freshly baked bread if you’re wondering), observed a nipple casting (in chocolate) and visited a lipstick museum featuring the various lip stains of Lady Di, Eva Braun and Mother Teresa. Oh Gay Shame, we’ve only just met but I’m going to miss you forever.
Gay Shame was originally created by Duckie – incidentally one of my favourite places to dance – as an Arts Council funded alternative to the corporate overkill of Gay Pride. Now Pride is “a nice little community celebration run by volunteers,” said producer Simon Casson in last week’s Boyz magazine, “we don’t really have any big problem with it, and therefore there’s nothing really to kick against. I think the theme has run its course.”
Going out with a busty bang, this last hurrah was a glorious celebration of femininity. Brixton Academy was transformed into an Alice in Wonderland funfare of sideshows, music, magic and mischief. The inimitable Readers Wifes provided the soundtrack, local dance group Stylinquents impressed on stage and headliners Saint Etienne took us all on a nostalgia trip. Only love can break your heart indeed.
The real stars of the show, however, were the artists and performers running the lovingly created sideshows. Each one was a work of art in itself, an intricately detailed bubble of exploration and adventure. The lines between performer and observer blurred at every turn, each stall inviting participation in spontaneous and unscripted bursts of group theatre. Not that it felt anything as definable as that. What did it feel like? Freeing, actually. Pure play instead of the tired daily roles and routines we ascribe ourselves. Duckie, I salute you.