Saturday, January 23, 2010

Scene For Playing A Record 2008

An audio of de-tuned piano was recorded and pressed to vinyl. Before being played in public only once during the final presentions for the Master Of Visual Art Practices 2007/8 session.

It was eleven in the morning in a cold room on a cold day as final presentations began for the M.A. programme in Visual Art. Russell Hart was up first, talking us through his work before performing a live piece for seven minutes. This one-off track seemed to have a calming effect on the audible nerves in the room, as if both the music and the risk of presenting an entire piece instead of describing it, had knocked the solemnity out of the occasion. This track, two records mixed on the spot, is never to be replayed, an illusion then almost, an uncapturable event. Even now, writing a week, two weeks later, I struggle to remember it in its entirety. What is a musical memory anyway? How could I have a seven minute durational memory of this event? A month later and writing still about this, and all I am left with is a faint scratching of the dust and scratches of the record without a song, as it grew louder and eclipsed the other record. The scratches, cutting the air, crackling like a welcome fire, the faint scratching of the fire that still burns perhaps in the mind. This is not the musical memory of the jingle or catchy song that gets stuck in the mind, replaying itself involuntarily - for this to happen a certain amount of repetition (and lyrics) is usually necessary. This was no catchy tune, but more of a peaceful movement with a background of a series of small accidents, the sound of the scratches, markings on the record’s surface, a background drawing. And yet there is repetition, inside the track, as it ebbs and flows though different movements, and the magic of ‘you had to be there’.

Overhead a disc of concentric circles was projected (a mandala, the long circular path of a track, the circles of Hell?) which like the sun you couldn’t look at too long, or it began to cause visual disturbance as stripes are wont to do. When I looked away the shape filled itself in a light grey, as if only in looking away would it be rendered whole and solid, an illusion of course. It evoked Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema, a cinematic hypnosis with its swirling circles and words.

Against the scratches of the empty disc, beautiful stray notes rose and fell from the other record - and I wondered at their provenance, a Wagner opera, a string quartet, a keyboard in a bedroom - never-to-be-regained notes, and this piece reminiscent of a hidden track. Yet it is instead a lost track, as a hidden track can only ever be found whereas this can only ever be lost. Surely this is refreshing, political even, in an era where nothing, unlike life itself, can ever be lost, where everything is endlessly backed up, until we have a gigantic tip of memories inside a very small space. This is instead more akin to live art which is often documented rather than recorded. Or the live music event which is increasingly popular. And this piece of shadow writing is its mirror or documentation. This music too has been lost and found like the spiritual experience it seems to allude to. Hart mentions in his talk the Golden Record, an edition of two, located on deep space probes Voyagers 1 and 2 which feature songs and images, and which have been invented for a potential audience of extra terrestrials. This surreal and rather mystical idea seems to be what some of his work, especially the one-off event, aspires to. An attempt to reach the sublime capacity of music not just through its emotional capacity but through concept too, more like John Cage then or Matt Stokes’ Long after Tonight, a video of ‘Northern Soul’ dancers inside a church. An attempt to tend towards the condition of the Golden record which is also elsewhere in space as this is now in time.

Venue: Studio 5, The Lab, Dublin, December 2008.