Sunday, December 09, 2007

Klaus Schultze on Stockhausen

Several people have mentioned the death of Stockhausen, I think, because lot of people (including me) are/were under the impression that Stockhausen was a seminal figure in the history of electronic music. Klaus Schultze (one of the old members of the German 70's synth group Tangerine Dream. He eventually left the group and produced a number of solo albums) thinks different: he acknowledges that Stockhausen was certainly among the first to use an oscillator in a composition, but that this act was a minor experiment that Stockhausen abandoned almost immediately in a career dedicated to exploring NON-electronic music.

Below is an excerpt from an interview given by Klaus Schultze. The rest of the interview can be found

KS: Everytime a journalist cannot cope (pun intended) with a certain music, he mentions "Stockhausen" as a kind of synonym. Have you ever checked Stockhausen's output? About 5 (five) compositions that could be called "electronic", and they were done 30 to 40 years ago, made with an oscillator or something like this. He did over hundred of other compositions that have no relation whatsoever to electronic music. Besides, what I heard meanwhile, sounds awful to my ears and to most other people's ears and hearts. Stockhausen is maybe a good theorist. Who's listening voluntarily to his actual music, who "enjoys" it? I also had and I have nothing to do with Cage or Riley. Neither with their music nor with their theories and philosophies (if they have any...). I have nothing against it, but this is simply not my world. When I started to do my music, and before, I was listening to Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd, before it was the Spotnicks and the Ventures, but not to the names you mention. Nobody in my surrounding and in my age did. This was a kind of "culture" that just did not exist among us. Only many years after, and because every second journalist asked me about "Stockhausen", I finally bought his theoretic books and I read them. Interesting stuff, I must admit, but the musical results are still not my cup of tea.

(From another interview, two years earlier:)

I'm really tired of hearing this name: "Stockhausen". Have you ever checked how many "electronic" compositions he did? For the last 20 years not one. This friendly religious man does not even own a mixing desk (Which is no crime, of course. But it shows some things), not to mention that he never searched seriously for synthetic sounds. What he did before, in the fifties and sixties, was not at all "electronic", in the sense we understand it since Robert Moog and Walter Carlos' profound works. I have nothing against Stockhausen and his theories, but his music was and is of no big interest to me, not to mention: influence. ...There is no "myth" behind Stockhausen. It's just that one inept writer copies from the other this magical word: "Stockhausen". An Italian friend recently told me: There are many journalists who don't know much about a certain music. If those writers try to give a name to a kind of music which is beyond their understanding, they call it "Stockhausen". There are many of these writers.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Fuck Lomography

The question is not so much what the hell lomo is or what the hell
lomography is, as how the hell is lomography different from nikonography,minoltagraphy, leicagraphy, etc.

Lomo is not the name of a new technology and lomography is not the name of a new discipline/practice/art. They are marketing words cooked up by fuckbrain marketers.

The lomo is an instamatic camera made by the lomo corporation. Period. The answer to the question. "What the Hell is Lomography" is therefore "The art of taking pictures with an instamatic camera made by the Lomo corporation. "

If there is such a word as lomography, then the following words also exist:

kodakography the art of taking pictures with Kodak film
fuijigraphy the art of taking pictures with Fuji film
vivitagraphy the art of taking pictures with Vivitar lenses

etc. , ie: repeat for every corporation in the world.

Further, EVERY POSSIBLE COMBINATION OF THESE WORDS WOULD EXIST, so that, for example, there would be such a word as:

nikonokodakovivitalevisairjordanography, which would be the art of taking pictures with a Nikon camera using a Vivitar zoom loaded with Kodak film while wearing 501s and Nike cross-trainers.

So fuck "lomography"

Friday, October 26, 2007

Stupid Question

I despise it. It is, in my opinion, an act of speech whose vapidness is comparable to asking an earthquake victim, "How do you feel?" when a 30 story building has fallen on said victim's house and family. I hate it because it is undefined, pointless and wasteful and because of the fake respectability that cloaks its emptiness, pointlessness and wastefulness. It makes the asker of the question APPEAR serious and thoughtful, when he is not being anything of the kind. I refer to question whose general form consists of the formula:

"Is the Philippines Ready for X?"

"The Philippines"
"ready for"
"X" (Not because "X" stands for the unknown, but because the terms usually inserted here refer to new/emerging/poorly understood art forms.)

To ask people about their opinion about the likelihood of X happening in the world is to accumulate information about people's opinions, not about X or the likelihood of X.

Parable: Someone asks 5 lovers of alligator sausage, "Do you think there is a Philippine market for alligator sausage?" One guy says yes because a, b, c, d. Another guys says no, because e, f, g, h. At the end of the discussion, there are 5 opinions and 20 reasons, none of which have been verified as accurately describing anything in the real world. For the question to even begin to have the shadow of a point, it would have to be reframed, critically and specifically, as a statistical question. However, a statistical question can only properly answered by a statistical survey.

It is a waste of time and spit to ask this question of an enthusiast/artist/maker, because you are in effect asking him what he thinks OTHER people think, or worse, what he thinks other people WILL think. Listen: He doesn't know, and his opinion is an enthusiast's opinion, meaning that a positive answer is probably colored by his enthusiasm anyway. An enthusiast or artist might have some expert knowledge about X. He has no expert knowledge at all about what other people think about X.

On the other hand, there are endless SPECIFIC questions that an enthusiast with his store of personal experience could USEFULLY answer. Questions which actually are questions of fact, or useful guides to personal experiment/investigation like: What are the different kinds of sausage? What are the different ways you can prepare alligator sausage? Are alligators farmed, or are they just hunted in the wild? How is alligator sausage different from pork sausage? from beef? Does the alligator's diet affect the taste of the sausage, and so on and so on and so on.

Can we just put a stake through this question's heart? I propose that we should all publicly recognize this question for the piece of emptyheaded fluff that it is and herefter suspect all framers of it to be emptyheaded and fluffy by association and therefore to be just and proper targets for our concerted hilarity and disdain. Kh!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Then again...

Was thinking about what everybody including me were saying at the Daily Disclosures forum re video art necessarily excluding narrative, mtv, documentary (etc). Just realized that my work Eisenstein's Monster (still showing at the Lopez Museum until March of 2008) is roughly narrative (as it can fairly be described to be the account of Frankenstein's Monster's creation as told from the viewpoint of the monster) and, as the sound track contains the entirety of Tony Bennett's "Stranger in Paradise", can also be classed as a kind of MTV. Yet it doesn't seem to NOT be video art...

One possible moral of the story is that if the limits of any genre are pushed far enough, the specimen becomes extreme/outside/weird/puzzling/engaging enough to persuade us to call it art.

Another possiblity is that I was/am mistaken, and that Eisenstein's Monster is not, in fact video art. Or that it is, in fact an MTV. (This could eventually be judged to be the case. Some artworks start out in one category and wind up in another, according to the flow of history. Some of Nam June Paik's looped pieces (eg "Button Happening") used to be called films.)

Another possibility is that the "No MTVs, Narrative etc" rule is equivalent to insisting that a work must somehow transcend/exceed conventional boundaries for it to be considered "art". Perhaps our search for "art" is a search for the strange, the uncontained, the transcendent, the new, or maybe even just the unfamiliar.

At any rate, for this idea to have completely slipped by me for a couple of months illustrates how creation and criticism/analysis/philosophy can SOMETIMES proceed apparently independently of each other. I prefer to make stuff naively, following the trail of fun or whatever, but everything made, (however it was made) should be fair game for analysis, after it's made. Just because it was made in the absence of rational analysis doesn't mean that it should be immune from rational analysis. Evaluation doesn't have to parallel the creative process.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Spinning Jimmy

This is a video of the work I contributed to the Daily Disclosures show. The title is "Spinning Jimmy", which is a play on James Hargreave's "Spinning Jenny," an iconic invention in the history of automation. A lot of artists sort of play on the difference between the virtual and the real, by putting props next to a TV. I wanted to make a virtual image definitively enter the real world by making it perform work. So I made this photosensor-activated crank thing that wound thread around an old VHS spool. Every time Jimmy lifts the sandbag over his head, he winds a little thread on the spool. Heh heh.

Visual Pond, the curators of the show, maintain a blog at

They have more documentation there. Check it out. ;-)

2 Faces of Video Art Part 2

Another sign how conceptual art has somehow co-opted (or seems to be in the process of co-opting) video art: Ringo Bunoan, a curator and conceptual artist identified with the group surrounding Roberto Chabet, was complaining that the one-minute limit was improper, because video art unfolded over a long period of time. Now, from the standpoint of an experimental filmmaker or experimental video maker, it is completely reasonable to make one-minute works, or even works that unfold in a matter of seconds. Hell, commercials run for 30 seconds. Ringo has apparently equated the scale and motifs associated with conceptual video art (prolonged duration, looping, relative static frame, repetition, incremental change, minimalism) with all art made with video.

I have to say I don’t like the co-optation of the term, but let’s lay that aside for a moment. I’m thinking: that the field/technology of the moving image appears to present two main problematics, or areas of exploration. On the one hand there is the problem of alternative sequential meaning: how can you sequence images if you leave out narrative, documentary,mtv? Then there is the problem that the kind of conceptual video art Ringo is familiar with seems to tackle. As it doesn’t seem to be concerned with the problem of shot sequence, I’m thinking that it’s concerned with the shot itself. Using film terminology, perhaps we can say that its problem is the problem of alternative shot meaning. What else/how else can the shot mean? This seems a likely way of putting it, as it appears to be one of the major problems the conceptualists address, ie: what/how else could a painting (ie a single image) mean?

In short, I'm thinking that although the one-minute video pieces and the video installations are both art and although they both use video, they are two different kinds of video art, in the sense that they require different kinds of viewing attention, address different problems, and that you need to use different sets of conceptual/critical tools to talk about what they are doing.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Notes on the Daily Disclosures Show

Dammit, really falling behind. Although it's pretty clear in my mind that it's the artist's job to infect the culture with his ideas and that he should therefore put some effort in documenting ie publicizing his works in order to spread said infection, it's really quite difficult to make stuff and publicize it at the same time, especially if, (as in my case) the making part primarily consists of ironing out mechanical/logical/electronic/physical glitches in the damn things. After a long day of bughunting, the LAST thing I want to do is stare at a computer screen. Anyway. This show ran from 2007 Oct 12 to Oct 16 in a corridor of the 5th floor of the EDSA Shangrila Mall. It was produced by Visual Pond, a group of very young, very intelligent curators who have decided to dedicate a major portion of their activities to curating video art. As even Time magazine knows, and most of the art writers and critics here still apparently do not, video art is very nearly the new mainstream in all the big art biennales, accounting for over half of all submissions. As usual, it's taking a while to catch on in the archipelago, but hopefully the increased speed of gossip/communications in the 21st century (blogging, text, etc) and the cheap video equipment made in China or smuggled in at the pier will shorten the process of culturo-psychological penetration.

For those of you on multiply, you can check out the documentation that the Visual Pond girls uploaded there here: There are photos, and mp3s of two talks. One was a primer on copyright law by Atty Louie Calvario of the Intellectual Property Rights Office, and the other an open forum in which I, Jun Sabayton and Teddy Co were speakers.

Anyway: The show featured works that basically fell into two categories: a bunch of one-minute video works for the One-Minutes Foundation, and a bunch of video art not bound by that limit. Those video works that were not part of the one-minute video series included both "pure" (simple?) video pieces that existed primarily as DVDs that could be displayed on any video monitor, and video installations, which incorporated physical hardware aside from the video monitors and DVD players.

Although the visual artist and curator Ringo Bunoan grumbled that an exhibit in a mall corridor did not do justice to the works, there is something to be said for the virtue of sheer mainstream accessibility. Shoppers with probably no previous acquaintance with video art stopping to furrow their brows even for just a few minutes, without having to commit to the act of entering a gallery's front door...I dunno. I like it. That aside, the show had a bright, contemporary feel overall, incorporating pop furniture from Cubao X and huge flatscreen monitors on grey pillars, all cables neatly tucked away inside.

The show reflected the dimly-lit and groping nature of cultural digestion, not only in the presentation and content, but also in the curatorial process: judges from divergent fields, (film, academia, visual art) struggling to find common criteria by which to judge the works, submissions that were NOT video art (documentaries and MTVs among them), artists themselves wondering whether they had actually made a piece of video art, and all looking for some kind of positive definition of what the hell video art is to light the way. Even Ringo demanded a definition, but tellingly stood at a loss for an answer when I asked her how she knew HER stuff was video art: what was her definition?

For a practitioner of her history and stature to have no definition should be enough to make one suspect that such a definition will NOT be forthcoming. Nor will it. As was eventually thrashed out in the highly vocal, SRO open forum held on the 16th, video art (and very possibly all emerging art forms) has to be defined NEGATIVELY, ie by what it is NOT: It's not animation, it's not MTV, it's not documentary, it's not narrative. The apparent unavoidability of a negative definition seems to be a logical consequence of the fact that "video art" is the current name for the project of finding alternatives to known ways of sequencing images. In other words: we currently know how to sequence images in order to make narratives, MTVs, documentaries and animation. Video art (and it's previous incarnation of experimental film) asks: HOW ELSE can we sequence images? To ask "how else" is to begin by knowing what you DON'T want to do, ie to explore by knowing the negative of the answer. In short: we have a negative definition BECAUSE we explore in a negative space.

(An interesting logical consequence of this idea is the possibility that we will ONLY be able to arrive at a positive definition once video art ceases to be an exploration in negative space, ie when it has died. ;-))

I am a bit disturbed however, with the current identification of the entirety of video art with the motifs and concerns of conceptual art. When did the two terms become synonymous? Although I am attracted to the conceptualist approach myself, surely there must be video art that is NOT conceptual? There was a work there that was essentially a big pink particle animation explosion. Ringo insisted that it was not video art, that it was only "a special effect." I was watching it myself thinking "this is very pretty, but yes there is no concept behind it..." when it occurred to me that there are a lot of pretty, ie decorative paintings, paintings that have no concept behind them, but we don't refuse to call them paintings. For a moment there, I thought I saw a possible turn the future could take: a new, defiant rejection of the conceptualist valorization of ideas. The rebels would call their stuff New Eye Candy and insist that revelation proceeded from sensuous and preverbal intuition. Heh heh. Will this future arrive?


Monday, September 24, 2007

Nietzche on simplicity

“Young people love what is interesting and odd, no matter how true or false it is. More mature minds love what is interesting and odd about truth. Fully mature intellects, finally, love truth, even when it appears plain and simple, boring to the ordinary person; for they have noticed that truth tends to reveal its highest wisdom in the guise of simplicity.”


Friday, August 24, 2007

The Two Faces of Video Art in the Philippines

Below is an essay I wrote in 2005 for Digital Paradise, a new media exhibit and held at the Daejeon Museum of Art and associated galleries in Korea. It was subsequently edited and republished by Lisa Chikiamco for the first End Frame Video Art exhibition held in Rockwell in 2006. I figured I'd park it here for ready access. It should be noted however, that recent exhibitions of videoart have tended to exclude the maximalist works in favor of the minimalist/conceptualist works, a narrowing of curatorial focus which Lisa Chikiamco herself has played some part in bringing about. Perhaps this is the way transitions take place in the Philippines. New stuff is made by friends of the old guard, which the old guard happily and uncritically show alongside of their stuff, unmindful of the visual disjunction. As the new stuff proliferates, so do its supporters. Finally, the old scene "buds" another scene, which focuses primarily on the new stuff.

The Two Faces of Video Art in the Philippines

As of the present, video art in the Philippines has roots in two traditions. One is the tradition of experimental film, which mainly radiate from the Mowelfund Film Institute (MFI), and the tradition of conceptual art which radiate from the teachings of the conceptualist Roberto Chabet. This essay attempts to sketch and describe the work and motifs of the two camps. For this purpose, I will delineate the motifs of the MFI/experimental film camp through a discussion of certain works by filmmakers Lyle Sacris, Elvert Banares and Ryan Vergara and the motifs of the conceptual camp by discussing works of Ronald Anading and Gary Pastrana.

The Face from MFI/Experimental Film

MFI director Nick DeOcampo (himself a filmmaker and film historian), asserts that filmmakers with a (non-Conceptual-Art) Fine Arts background simply saw the camera as something else to paint with. He further asserts that the sheer technical and economic difficulties of making a synchronized sound narrative on film or video in a third world country in the 80's (before the advent and proliferation of desktop editing) forced young filmmakers to create alternatives to a structure that made such impossible demands. However, it is also impossible to discount the influence of the Goethe Institut, which not only screened whole programs of experimental film, but also sponsored hands-on experimental film workshops at the MFI by filmmakers like Helmut Berger and Christoph Janetzko in the 80’s. Janetzko in particular, is famous as a teacher and advocate of experimental film all over Asia. It is primarily through Janetzko, and the Goethe Institut’s sponsorship of Janetzko’s workshops, that the memes of experimental film have spread throughout this continent.

Naturally, the death of film (especially the Super-8 and 16-mm gauges—the traditional, low-budget film gauges of alternative cinema) has made it inevitable that experimental filmmakers would turn to video. This transition/connection between film and video is the most obvious characteristic of Elvert Bañares' work "Gemini," in which he digitally reprocessed footage he originally created with the Mowelfund J&K optical printer. The film footage lovingly reprises familiar motifs from experimental film: found footage, the physical assault on the celluloid, (scratched emulsions, celluloid soaked in various chemicals, burnt, buried in the ground, and so on) and so on, producing a strange nostalgia in the viewer. Inside the computer, the work becomes further manipulated by digital processes. Bañares composites pieces of the original footage, multiplies it, changes the color and so on. That he has transformed his single channel work into a 2 channel installation is also indicative of the way experimental film in the Philippines slides between film and installation.

The filmic pedigree of Banares, Sacris and Vergara, is also immediately visible in the conventions they use to frame the “content” of their works. They include a title card, a list of credits, and, in the case of Banares, even a dedication. They show the filmmakers’ faith that all material on the screen outside the opening and closing shot can be experienced by the viewer as something apart from the actual content of the work. They are perhaps also more used to thinking of the work as pure information, and consequently also as something very likely to spawn copies with illegible, damaged, or nonexistent labels. In contrast, those artists from the Fine Arts/Conceptualist camp often avoid shooting credits, preferring that no text interrupt the video. They tend to see the physical monitor as the frame, and trust that a suitable label will accompany the work wherever it is exhibited.

The works from the experimental film tradition are often somewhat “maximalist,” with a kind of Rauschenbergian inclusivity. They are marked by a kind of hyperkineticism, filled with movement, noise, and jarring transitions. The artists generally view their art in the light of ideas elucidated by the Romantics in the 19th century: that works of art are highly personal expressions of the artist, the unruly manifestations of unruly spirits that are impatient with rules and tradition. This strain is particularly evident in Videotron. Vergara, a flamboyant and androgynous figure, shows himself using spray paint, focusing cameras and editing on a computer, amid a welter of images from the city and from television. The video presents a quixotic figure, dizzied by the modern city, cataloging it, manipulating images of it, turning it, by the magic of digital manipulation, into something part of him. The camera is the means by which he comes to grips with the city.

Of the three, Sacris has the slickest images, not surprising for a man who used to direct music videos for a living. Sacris, has previously asserted that although his images are representations of personal sentiments, these sentiments themselves are not for public consumption, and that the viewer is absolutely free to make what he will of the images. As a result, his previous work has suffered from a kind of hermetic quality. In contrast, Reincarnation’s dual structure of video and poem provides the viewer with a more limited space for interpretation, which turns out to allow the viewer to find more, not less meaning in the work. The mind, shuttling between the two structures, weaves a deepening tapestry of meditation, circling the issues of life and limits that have been staked out as the work’s subject-matter. His eight-channel work is designed to work with the structure of a ceiling and a floor, thus weaving the architecture of the exhibit space into the digital content of the work. Dancers run upward, flowing across the eight monitors, only to be turned back by the ceiling. The monitors flicker with extreme closeups that quote the lighting of the eerie animated shorts of the Quay brothers, the London-based directors of the live-action feature Institute Benjamenta, famed for eerie, atmospheric shorts like Street of Crocodiles, and The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer. Sacris paints the world as a jumble of abandoned relics. Humanity seems to wade through a junkyard of mementos, striving upwards, constantly turned back by an impenetrable ceiling.

The Face from Conceptual Art

Opposed to the maximalist-romantic orientation of the artists who come from an experimental film background is the minimalist-self-effacing aesthetic of the artists with a Fine Arts background associated with the circle surrounding the grand old man of Philippine conceptual art, Roberto Chabet. These artists see themselves primarily as visual artists who sometimes also use video. Ronald Anading and Gary Pastrana, both paint and build objects aside from creating video installations. Ronald Anading (Or “Poklong” as he is called by his friends) is also responsible for curating Interruption at the Big Sky Mind Gallery in 2001, the first all-video art show in the Philippines.

The works of this tradition are governed by a kind of “anti-prettiness,” inherited from the Dadaists by way of Fluxus. They reduce rather than accumulate. They substitute repetition for variety. They avoid micromanaged cinematography in favor of video shot in available spaces with available light. Their whole aesthetic is drenched in a kind of visual monasticism, a Calvinist preference for plain, unadorned appearances. This overt plainness overlies a covert aspect that is the true “content” of the work. Quite a number of artworks use video to illuminate an object as an indexical sign. The philosopher Charles Pierce defined the indexical sign, or index, as the sign which is causally related to its referent, like a footprint is an indexical sign of human presence. Typically, an ordinary object is juxtaposed with video that reveals something covert about the object. This covert aspect need not be something large or grandiose. It is often simply some fact about the how object was created: the point is the relationship between the video and the object. Gary Pastrana’s work Gravity Builds A Poem is especially elegant in the way each half of the work is so ordinary apart from the other half. In this work, a shelf at eye-level is messily piled with toy alphabet blocks. On the floor below the shelf, a video monitor displays the image of the artist lying on the floor throwing blocks upward, out of frame . The video, in short, simply documents the process by which the blocks arrived on the shelf. The work rejects the expressionist idea of the role that the artist’s personal labor and emotion play in the making of something recognized as a “work of art”. The arrangement of the blocks are arbitrary, but at the same time absolutely sacred: it is impossible to move anything on the shelf without destroying the nature of its relationship with the video. And while it is also impossible to prove that this relationship has not been disturbed, one also senses that the site has somehow been imprinted, or sanctified, by this idiosyncratic, arbitrary process.

Anading’s Found Object is strangely hypnotic in spite of the high speed of the images (produced by time lapse, a visual device usually associated with the maximalists) and the crashing noise of a concrete drainage pipe being demolished with sledge hammers. Again, the overt aspect is one of pure ordinariness. Lighting is utilitarian and camera movement nonexistent. However, the sped-up humans lose their separate identities even as we watch, and become part of a clanging, flickering, slowly changing landscape. In this case, the covert and overt elements are presented sequentially, unlike in Pastrana’s work, wherein they are presented simultaneously. The covert element, the noisy and destructive party organized by Anading is presented onscreen. But because Anading has reversed the video in addition to speeding it up, the destruction becomes an act of slow creation, wresting a kind of industrial poetry from the drainage pipe. At the end of the work, the overt object (the drainage pipe) stands whole like a witness to all we have seen before: a mute, impenetrable, yet deeply pregnant icon, reminiscent of the monolith from Kubrick’s film 2001.

Really Two Faces?

Film and Conceptual Art: From what I little I know, read, and been told, a similar duality exists in other countries’ art traditions, but that the stylistic/aesthetic divide between the two traditions corresponds to social and curatorial divisions: the two camps often do not mingle, and see the art of the other camp as a hostile tradition with which they have nothing in common. The young turks of the Videoart Center in Tokyo view the old guard of the Image Forum with suspicion and it seems that the attitude is reciprocated. No such divisions inform the Philippine scene. Makers of hyperkinetic experimental films exhibit their works alongside minimalist, conceptual video installations and toast the makers of these installations as fellow “filmmakers.” For their part, the loop-minimalists do not contest the label, and seem content with the curating of the shows. All seem united in the view that they till a common field.

It would be easy to claim that the Filipino artists don’t really get it, or that they’ve got it all wrong; to claim that their easy inclusivity indicates that Filipino video artists misunderstand that conceptual, loop-based video works are as much a rejection of assumptions and values of “traditional” experimental film as they are an exploration of areas this tradition does not explore. This would be the easy conclusion, and so we refuse to make it, and instead choose, at this time, to indicate that we are looking for another conclusion, and that we haven’t found one yet.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Mothra song in Tagalog

Bit of Pinoy Trivia: This is an extract from Mothra versus Godzilla (1964). You can hear the tiny islander girls played by twin sisters Emi and Yumi Ito (the singing duo called The Peanuts) singing in Tagalog:

Naiintindihan mo ba?
Mayroon ba doon?
Pumunta ka lang dito.
Halika't maupo

(Do you understand? Is there something over there? Come over here. Sit down.)

The phrase "Halika't maupo" is kind of an old-fashioned, or literary way of speaking. Makes me wonder if this isn't a straight rip from some old kundiman. Would appreciate it if anyone could say for sure. The composer is Akira Ifukabe, who composed the eerie music of the Mothra movies.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Media Art Histories

I'm currently reading MediaArtHistories a brilliant compilation of essays that link current computer/sensor/VR etc art to various phenomena/movements etc in the past. Needless to say, I adore the book. Haven't read anything like it. It's something that ought to be bought (especially by libraries) and read (especially by teachers, critics and writers). Not just because it would make my life easier when I tell people that I make media art, but because the world is not about to become LESS technological, which means that media art is a coming juggernaut. But, as the writers point out, a lot of historical threads are present in media art's themes. (For instance, Peter Weibel traces Mediaart motifs like virtuality, programmability, haptic interactivity and algorithmic process to Kinetic and Op art!)

For an overview of the kind of writing that the book contains, you can check out this site:

It's the archive some of of the papers (in pdf) that were presented at the conference that eventually spawned the book.

About 40 u$ and not locally available as far as I know. (No whining please!) You wanna get it, go to Amazon here or MIT Press here.

Note: I've exchanged a few emails with the editor Oliver Grau, and yeah, he does have a vested interest in getting the word out, but I don't get anything for doing this. I'm just glad for some perspective on what otherwise seems like a forest of alienware (even if I make some of that alienware myself ;-)). I've also checked out Grau's own book Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion on Googlebooks (see here ). The bit where he says that Virtual Reality is an expression of the desire to "enter the picture" and then uncovers that drive expressing itself in a whole-room fresco in Pompeii painted in 60BC (!!!) is almost like criticism porn. Will have to get that one soon. Haven't been this excited about a book since I found a pirate pdf of Lev Manovich's The Language of New Media on the net. Mwahahah!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Ka Elmo Death Anniversary

It's been one year since Ka Elmo, old gago, tireless stalwart of Pinoy independent films, packed it in. This photo was taken by Peter Marquez, the sound recordist and still photographer for my short film Local Unit. I designed his costume and built the eyepiece prop out of a magnifying glass, a cheap pair of headphones from CDR-King (the kind with a microphone and two minijacks) plus a couple of green LEDs. I ripped it off the Bladerunner-in-a-blender art direction of the comic Transmetropolitan that Lyle Sacris lent me as reference. The prop is a real migraine machine and KE really didn't like it the first time I wrapped it around his head. At first he'd take it off every chance he got, but then he wound up keeping it on for longer and longer periods as he sort of rode the costume to an idea of the character. He really had great instincts under all that craziness. The idea of using it for the post observing his death crossed my mind, but I'm glad for the little voices that shot it down. The wide lens isn't gonna win anybody a modeling contract, but this pic really makes the case for image distortion as a possible form of truthtelling.

Friday, August 03, 2007


Brilliant essay about John Cage and 4'33" here

Really like this bit:

During the 1940s, when Cage was writing percussion and prepared piano pieces, he became concerned with a new change. He noticed that although he had been taught that music was a matter of communication, when he wrote a sad piece people laughed, and when he wrote a funny one they started crying. From this he concluded that "music doesn't really communicate to people. Or if it does, it does it in very, very different ways from one person to the next." He said, " No one was understanding anybody else. It was clearly pointless to continue that way, so I determined to stop writing music until I found a better reason than 'self expression' for doing it."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Notes on the Motzkin Gangan Ensemble performance

Some notes on Happy Tengal Day performance at Magnet Bonifacio July 24. (photo by L.A. Peralta)

The Piece

SABAW organizer and composer Tengal (aka Earl Drilon) was invited to stage a SABAW gig at the Bonifacio High Street branch of Mag:net for the opening of the art exhibit Galleon Trade, and decided to name the performance Happy Tengal Day in celebration of his birthday's occurence the previous day. To this end, he came up with the piece which he initially referred to as Rotation of Nine, basically a scheme to schedule the overlapping performances of 9 improvisors. As Tengal has a thing for the number 9, he wanted to set as many parameters as possible to 9. Thus: nine players, each playing for 9 minutes then resting for another nine; players' entrances staggered 3 minutes apart, repeating as necessary to play a piece exactly 90 minutes long. He asked me to conduct the piece, whose concept/algorithm was straightforward enough to be discussed via text/SMS. After the preliminary discussion, I mapped out a quick and dirty score using Microsoft Excel, which I emailed Tengal. He was a bit concerned that the logic of the piece led to it ending prematurely at minute 87, three minutes short of the 90 minute duration he desired. After some back and forthing, I proposed bringing in the players at 20 second intervals after minute 87 in order to execute a full-company crescendo and stop at minute 90. He liked the idea and we went for it.


1) Lirio Salvador on a self-made touch-modulated synthesizer
2) Inconnu ictu on Alesis Airsynth
3) Ria Munoz on Kaoss Pad and contact mic
4) Chris Garcimo on Roland SH-101 keyboard
5) Caliph8 on MPC Sampler
6) Erick Calilan on self-made circuit-bent devices
7) Jonjie Ayson on a scrapmetal bass made by Lirio
8) Blums Borres on electric guitar
9) Tengal on drums, panart, kulintang, interactive computer

Atom Bomb Concerto

I was a bit doubtful about the idea, because sound artists (a term here used to indicate artists who primarily work with sound textures without using scales and generally in free rhythm) most often play solo, and at very loud levels. With noise as their palette, augmented with feedback, delay and amplification, it's as if every one of them owned an atom bomb: each one has the power to blow up the soundscape in pure white noise and most of them don't have much experience jamming with others as a sound artist. But it worked, partly because Tengal's score ensured that maximum density would consist of 6 players, but mostly because people actually knew how to lie back and leave space for other people. This space could consist of actual silence, (e.g. the silence between two drumbeats) but more often consisted of frequencies they chose not to output. With the possible exception of Lirio, whose whose homemade capacitance synth seemed to be outputting looped bass lines along with the usual robot cat squeals, people generally worked in very tight frequency bands. I was surprised by the amount of tact the musicians displayed.

The Sound

Aside from the expected dominance of metal machine music, there were times when the sound veered jazzwards, and melancholy parts where bits of melody would come and go, although the ensemble never actually played even moderately softly. I enjoyed listening to it for the entirely of the 87 minutes during which I only had to stand up and do something once every three minutes. Tengal, who selected all the players and assigned the positions had the great idea of placing the 2 drummers of the ensemble (himself and Caliph8) three positions apart at positions 9 and 6 respectively, which meant that they never played at the same time. This allowed the two of them to alternate using hard cuts, picking up exactly where the other left off. Another good choice was putting Lirio and Lirio's bandmate Jonjie at positions 1 and 7, which meant that they entered and exited in concert twice during the piece. Although they were positioned at opposite sides of the stage, their shared rapport transformed their simultaneous entrances into tight, dramatic, musical events.

Cuing System

As most of the band members would be seeing the score for the first time on performance day, Tengal and I spent a good bit of time working out a simple and unambiguous way to cue the players. First, we gave each musician had a written schedule of when to play. (So Player 1 had text that told him to play from minute 0 to minute 9; minute 18 to minute 27 and so on.) I also set up a laptop running a stopwatch connected to a monitor visible from the stage. This gave each player a copy of the big picture, and allowed him to watch out for his own entrance points. Aside from this, we broke down the score into a set of 29 cue cards (one for every 3 minute interval of the first 87 minutes) showing which player was supposed to start/stop playing. I had thought of doing this with hand signals, but we figured it was better to be safe and explicit. The last three minutes were the busiest, as it required people to come in every 20 seconds. Another thing I was concerned with was keeping everybody playing softly so that there was enough headroom to get loud during the crescendo. We decided that it would be simplest for me to just do this last bit with hand gestures.

Not-Conducting and Not-Playing

As the score shows, my conducting consisted mostly of reminding people when to start and stop playing, something that only happened every 3 minutes. In fact, Tengal's initial text request asked if I would act as "timekeeper". I was really only busy during the last 3 minutes. I hadn't actually thought about how to behave, but I felt an immediate inhibition against chatting during the 3 minutes of "dead time" I had between cues. Even if I "didn't have anything to do," any behaviour that looked or felt casual, or "not on" was out. This idea quickly led to the task of finding a kind of ritual, seated pose of attention, which I found after a few surprisingly difficult minutes. The English director Peter Brook speaks of an audience's "active silence," and how this attention shapes a performance even in the complete absence of positive action. I instinctively felt a barrier against casual or careless behaviour, a barrier I only violated twice, when I went to the bar to order another beer, and when I stole a puff from Blums, who took a cigarette break on the balcony. I think it was a kind of rebellion from the left brain, which was going crazy insisting that I "wasn't doing anything anyway," or maybe that it wasn't cool to take it so seriously, but it felt wrong, and it is interesting that the musicians also felt the same need to stay in their places. Inconnu ictu was the only other one who ever left his post (he went to chat with someone during one of his rest periods) and he seemed positively relieved when I went to fetch him back.

Avenues for Future Exploration/Adjustment

Dynamic Control: The lack of dynamics made the piece feel overlong to some. Local sound artists seem to think that noise has to be loud. Either most are still unaware of the dramatic possibilities of silence and/or sudden volume shift, or some may (consciously or unconsciously) equate improvising with soloing or domination, a possible consequence of primarily performing solo. In the absence of a shared vocabulary of dynamic effects, the next performance should incorporate structures for cuing volume levels. I once created an animated video loop to the cue performance dynamics of the (now defunct) noise gamelan Volume Control, but a video doesn't incorporate changes easily and graphic design perhaps ought to be left out of the picture at this point. It would be more elegant to do the cuing as flexibly and with as little technology as possible.

Increased Readability: The audience often had trouble knowing who was playing/making what sound. This is a fundamental problem with electronic instruments, whose sounds are not easily correlated with the player's physical behaviour. Tengal is thinking about using lights in some form (perhaps blinking LED necklaces, if they are still available in Quiapo) to mark the players. In addition, there perhaps ought to be an introductory section (like the Alap of Indian Raga performances) during which each player basically showcases his instruments' range of sounds.

Performance photos here and here

Monday, July 23, 2007

Cinema and Redemption

...we’d sit through hour upon hour of Indian squaws being eaten alive by fire ants, debauched pagans coughing up blood as the temples of God crashed down on their intestines, and naked monstrosities made from rubber lumbering out of radiation-poisoned waters to claw the flesh off women who had just lost their virginity. When three hours were up we would leave the theater refreshed and elated...

--George Kuchar---

"Dimestore Integrity"

Lust for Ecstasy is my most ambitious attempt since my last film. The actors didn’t know what was going on. I wrote many of the pungent scenes on the D train, and then when I arrived on the set I ripped them up and let my emotional whims make chopped meat out of the performances and story. It’s more fun that way and then the story advances without any control until you’ve created a Frankenstein that destroys any subconscious barriers you’ve erected to protect yourself and your dime-store integrity. Yes, Lust for Ecstasy is my subconscious, my own naked lusts that sweep across the screen in 8mm and color with full fidelity sound.

--George Kuchar--

I was really struck by the bit about "dime-store integrity." Electronica composer Malek Lopez recently introduced me to Genshiken, a discontinued anime about the sentimental education of a Japanese otaku, and Kuchar's phrase resonates with one of the anime's themes of the necessity of acknowledging and exploring one's impulses/loves/drives/preferences, no matter how disreputable they are. "Dime-store integrity" simultaneously characterizes and dismisses certain kinds of moral/aesthetic objections as cheap, mass-produced artifacts; the sort of taste Picasso was thinking about when he said "Taste is the enemy of creativeness."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Conceptual Protest Art

When Soviet-bloc tanks rolled into Prague to repress the emerging Czechoslovakian democracy (in 1968), they were unable to find the city center because partisans had taken the street signs and switched them all around. Milan Kundera tells this story in his novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

This sign-switching was a quintessentially poetic act—a heroic, improvisational playfulness with the truth in a moment of dire seriousness. The event even has the interpretive openness of a good poem, because it can be read in different ways. You could say that the partisans destabilized language to reflect the perversion of justice. Or perhaps they meant, metaphysically, "If you don't know where Prague is, no sign will tell you." Or perhaps they were saying, "The center will continue to be moved until your relation with the truth is correct." But what a story it is: As they were being invaded, knowing it would not save them, they made a delicious joke. It reminds us of the bravery and tragedy of the comedian—often a small man sticking a pin into a fat man's behind, just before being sat upon.

--Tony Hoagland--

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

from the Macchinismo manifesto

The machine must become a work of art! We will discover the art of machines.

-Bruno Munari, 1952-

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Dissecting the Monster

Another post where I go into the ideas/obsessions/processes behind the creation of a specific work; in this case, Eisenstein's Monster. See previous post and also Making Sausage (14July06)

The Invite

Below is an excerpt from the brief for the Dime A Dozen exhibit. It was written by Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez, one of the show's two curators. She showed it to me in early February 07, and asked if I thought I could do something with it:

How does an artifact, a motif, a fetish make the jump from elite item to kitschy icon? And are they able to make the journey back in reverse?...Dime a Dozen hypothesizes on how rarities... slip into the domain of pop and the banal—rarely able to regain pristine cult status in their original form. Artists working in a variety of media will be asked to virtually take iconic Lopez Museum (and other known museum) pieces on this potentially perilous journey...

So: the theme of the exhibit was the decay of iconic artwork. I know nothing about Philippine art history, and would probably be the worst person to comment on the field. Even up until a month ago it was not absolutely clear to me that Luna the painter and Luna the general were two different people. Also, I am not really into making art about art. I would have passed on the theme, except that I had been thinking about the process of meaning decay a few weeks earlier and had even blogged a paragraph on the subject. (Boredom As A Work of Art, 20Jan07)

...the fact must be faced: art can die. The energy an artwork contains for the viewer is a product of energies and cultural tensions/issues that the viewer's milieu have engendered in the viewer. The English director Peter Brook tells of a magical moment in a bombed-out basement in London in the 1940's: a clown on a stage recited the names of dishes he yearned to eat. According to Brook, the clown reduced the starved and rag-swaddled audience to tears. Then the war ended, and grocery lists lost their power to induce lachrymal reactions (in English audiences, anyway). An artwork is a wire between concentrations of social energy. When the distribution of social energies change, the artwork becomes a wire in a vacuum. (This is also the same process by which old art might reacquire power/relevance)

So I thought I'd give it a shot. As I said above, decay is one form of change, but change can occur in the opposite direction: things can grow, multiply, and renew. I decided I would try to instigate a process of growth by growing new meanings in the drawings of Hidalgo.

The Why

Why Hidalgo, and why the drawings? Well, I liked the way the drawings looked, first of all. The rough sketches had a spontaneousness and a power of suggestion that the finished oils didn't have. Second, a drawing that had two sketches of an arm in slightly different poses made me think that I might be able to animate the drawings, a technical idea/problem that excited me. Lastly, the fragmentary images of human body parts made me think of the story Frankenstein's Monster, a story about new life being created out of fragments which resonated with the enterprise of growing new meanings.

I've always loved the myth of Frankenstein. I got hooked on the myth as a kid, probably through TV or comics, and plowed through the novel --in all its turgid, 19th century phraseology-- at a very early age. As a science geek, I immediately identified with Victor, while Shelley's warnings against scientific hubris went in one eye and out the other. The myth inspired me to try to electrically revive a dead dragonfly once I discovered that the turntable of my father's stereo was badly grounded, and delivered powerful electrical shocks (I must have been around nine). Frankenstein's Monster was one of the reasons I decided to study biology.

Accordingly, I shot some drawings and cut some studies. It didn't take more than a couple of passes with Photoshop and Aftereffects to conclude that there was not enough material in the drawings to create an animation made solely from the drawings, at least, not enough to transmit the information that I wanted to transmit. It was at this point that I got the idea of recreating some of the drawings in 3D with the eFrontier program called Poser.

As I mentioned in the post about making Sausage, I generally cultivate a kind of tame, controlled paranoia when making art. I look out for signs and portents, parallels and corroborations in the universe; what Carl Jung called synchronicities. When I was about halfway through making the soundtrack, I discovered that Hidalgo's middle name was Resurreccion. Bingo!

Hypermodels and Hyperreality

The director of the Lopez Museum, Cedy Lopez, said she was having trouble describing the work to journalists, especially the part about the 3D figures. Was there, she asked, a term for the process of creating 3D analogs of 2D art? Something like animate, or morph? Well, no, there wasn't. Which meant I was free to dub the process myself. I decided to call the process hypermodelling. It's a good word, for several reasons.

1) It makes reference to hyperreality, a word coined by the writer Umberto Eco, which describes the state when a copy becomes indistinguishable from --or more powerful/fascinating than-- the original. Better than the real thing. Glamour photography is all about hyperreality. A photograph of Sharon Stone embodies sex incarnate. Sharon Stone in the flesh is just another blonde with bad skin.

2) It echoes the words hyperspace and hypercube, which refer to 4-dimensional space and the 4-dimensional analog of a cube, respectively. The two words come from multidimensional mathematics, and so lend a kind of mathematical glamour that is appropriate for the computationally intensive process of 3D hypermodelling to possess.

3) It contains the word model. Hidalgo would have used human models as references for his drawings and paintings. A 3D hypermodel can be thought of as somehow returning to, copying, exceeding and replacing the human model that the drawings copied.

4) It is grammatically versatile. It can be used as a verb: "The artist hypermodelled the drawings," and as a common noun: "The artist created a hypermodel of the drawing".


The primary element of the soundtrack is a processed version of Tony Bennett's cover of the song Stranger In Paradise. I processed the song through a bandpass filter to make it sound as though it were playing through a radio or gramophone, and created an audio layer composed of the song lyrics spoken by a text-to-speech program.

The 20 monitors are playing 5 layers of synthesized audio that I thought of as the sound of the resurrection machine. In fact, I saw the physical being of the work as a resurrection machine-- as a big black, monolithic THING that was processing Hidalgo's drawings.

Parable and Action

What I like most about the work is how it walks what it talks about. It presents a parable about the creation of new life, this is what it "talks" about. At the same time, it is actually creating new life, ie creating new meanings in Hidalgo's drawings: A visitor who has seen the work is now highly likely to be reminded of Frankenstein when he sees Hidalgo's drawings. Heh heh.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Eisenstein's Monster

Gotta a new video work. It's called Eisenstein's Monster, 20 monitors and 1 projector, 5 channels of audio and video, in a roomful of drawings by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo! It's part of a groups show called Dime a Dozen, which features me, Gerardo Tan and Alwin Reamillo. Lopez Museum's Rosan Cruz shot me standing in front of it with her phone and posted it on youtube here:

I'm kinda in silhouette but at least you can see (and hear) the work doing its thing.

The show will run till September 22. 8-5 M-Sat at the Lopez Museum, which is on the ground floor of the Benpres building on the corner of Exchange Road and Meralco Ave. It's about 2 buildings down from the Mandaluyong Stock Exchange. Be forewarned that there IS an entrance fee of 80 pesos though, as there're a lot of Lunas and Hidalgos in there.

The most straightforward way to get there by public transportation is to take the MRT (EDSA line) and get off the Shaw Boulevard station. Walk to the jeepney terminal behind EDSA Central and take the jeepney bound for Ugong. This jeepney will pass directly in front of the Benpres building/Lopez Museum.

Alternatively, you could walk to the museum from Megamall. Must be a little less than a kilometer away (see map).

Thursday, June 21, 2007


The seductive opacity and manifest uselessness of art

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Themes and Islands

Never quite put it this into words: art movements are best defined/seperated by their themes. Most high art these days takes its themes from French Philosophy. The Spectacle, Simulacra, Hyperreality, etc. In the eighties, there was a lot of huffing and puffing about Race and Gender. (There still is, but there is less of it, I think), also filtered through French postructuralist ideas about Deconstruction, bricolage, etc. In the 60's up to the 80s there was a lot of conceptual art that took it's cues from language philosophy. Surrealism took a lot of cues from Freud, and so on.

In spite of occasional historical intersections between high-art and pop-art (EG when it seemed that collage, William Burroughs and hip-hop were all on the same page, it is more likely that they do not intersect. Electric guitarists generally think about sound texture and more or less take diatonic harmony as a given, in direct contrast to the early Serialist composers, who were all about destroying diatonic harmony, and took the timbres of acoustic instruments as a given. It is more the natural state of things for there to be many islands.

Archipelagos. Islands of themes and isolated histories. As I said, Museum-based High Art these days is most often about themes elucidated by French philosophers, a set that includes Guy deBord, Foucault, Beaudrillard, Derrida, Deleuze and Guattari, among others, as elements.

However, there are other islands. In particular, there appears to be a kind of pop-art that takes its cue from the large, vulgar, playful, antiminimalist playground aesthetic that marks the stuff made in the Burning Man festival.

Then there is the new media stuff. While there are islands where media art is underpinned by French ideas, there are probably just as many that aren't. Nor should they be. The French-drenched stuff is the most rarefied and respectable, backed by the guns of the art establishment, suffused with an otherworldly glamour that is is perpetuated both by the obscurity of the ideas and the turgidity of the writing that cradles them. The obscurity of the meanings is like a mist that glamorizes a distant view. But technology can spawn its own themes.

Admittedly, not all of these themes are going to remain exciting/fruitful. For a while, a lot of media works pivoted on juxtaposing real and virtual objects. Ants mingling with virtual ants.
Empty rooms filled with information that could only be accessed using special machines that acted as "windows" into the virtual world that coexisted with the physical emptiness. One could describe this art as efforts energized by a sense of being scandalized by the idea of the virtual. This sense of scandal is probably growing weaker by the day, making it less and less likely that art will be made in its name. An early death for a shallow theme.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Art of Buzz

Magnet gallery/bar on Katipunan road in Quezon City, April 20, 2007. The conceptual artist Ronald "Poklong" Anading paired with sound artist Inconnu ictu, who used to play with Lirio Salvador, the Filipino sculptor who makes all those chrome-plated guitar-things. Tengal, the producer who matched the two up for his Conductors of The Pit event, where selected sound artists and video artists perform together, describes Roger (Inconnu ictu) as “the Philippine Merzbow.” Roger uses oscillators stripped from old drum machines etc, which he processes through various effects boxes. Bass, white noise, distortion orchestrated (that night anyway) very “musically:” with dynamics, contrast, tension and release. I found the performance very listenable, except for the parts consisting high-frequency noise at extreme volume (cymbal patch?), which I preferred to hear from the vantage of the gallery on the first floor.

Poklong slotted a DVD consisting of a single, tripod-mounted, out-of-focus shot of some club. He doesn’t VJ. Teddy Co thought the image might be coming from a live camera and kept waving his arms to check if it were so. People wondered out loud if the club was in fact Magnet Katipunan, and some asked Poklong directly, who genially evaded the question. I suddenly remembered him telling me what he intended with regard to the footage he created for F-stop, Yvonne Romulo’s fashion show produced and conceptualized by her husband Erwin.

Poklong’s video for F-stop was basically 4 shots of near-identical landscapes, across which the near-transparent image of a female model would sporadically run across. He said that he wanted people to be unsure whether they had actually seen the model or whether they had conjured her out of their (bored) imaginations. Although I still think that the idea didn’t work in the theatrical context of a fashion show where a million things are happening in front of the screen, the juxtaposition of the remembered conversation and this blurred video click together, and I begin to figure out the shape of the ball that Poks has his eye on, and I’m surprised it’s taken me this long to get it.

Galleries often host people milling around an exhibit, silently having adventures in their minds, none of which have any relationship to any another adventure. Someone thinks painting X is political, somebody else likes the tarry consistency of the paint, somebody else thinks it’s about language, most others don’t think anything in particular but are happy to be there. Now, it may be that most artists are fine with the idea of conjuring such a disparate set of reactions to their work, but I find the idea of a work producing such a chaotic forest of impressions both boring and distasteful. Infinite meanings collapse to zero: Something that can mean anything is no different from something that means nothing.

I think Poks wants to do the bare minimum that will create a buzz. Not buzz as in stoned/drunk/happy, but buzz as in people talking. People's minds going round and round thinking about something. He might or might not want that thinking to take the form of questioning (Did I really see the girl? Is that Magnet Katipunan?) but questioning IS the most self-perpetuating form of thinking. An unanswered/unresolved question/enigma is stable in that it just keeps going round and round. Of course, that is nothing new. Every artist says that he wants to make people think. Where Poklong demonstrates mastery is in the radical simplicity of the questions he poses. The issue of whether a room is in fact a shot of Magnet Katipunan or not is trivial (compared to, say, the issues of poverty/debt/global warming/gender/digital culture/life, the universe and everything) but getting a roomful of people to go home wondering about it is an act of singular elegance. It is like a microscopic version of that prank/work by Andy Kaufman dramatized in the movie Man on the Moon, where Kaufman got an entire primetime audience to think there was something wrong with the reception and pound on their TVs. The simplicity, even triviality, of what the buzz is about means that the art is about buzz itself.

The Art of Buzz! The point is that if the point is to get people to argue about something, they have to have differing opinions about the same question -- a question they all understand -- which means that the question must be concrete, easily grasped, perhaps about something immediately at hand and certainly something about which each person can confidently have an opinion about. By which standard the question “Is that Magnet Katipunan or not” is manifestly superior to something like “Where is the Philippines going?” One wonders whether Poks would go so far as to assert that the social reaction thus engendered is the actual work, the actual thing accomplished. It's certainly exciting to think of it that way.

So it appears that the minimalist, conceptual work actually managed to affect a rowdy club audience. I do have to say however, that the work and Inconnu ictu’s stuff didn’t add up to a greater whole. I liked Roger’s noise/music and I like what Poks pulled off. I even liked the image of the out-of-focus club, but: There was no synergy between the two elements. Either Poks and Roger never really talked, or Roger didn’t really know what to do with the image, or he didn’t think it was his responsibility to follow its lead, or he felt hemmed in by the non-dramatic, La Mer/Music for Airports dynamics it seemed to demand. (I am reminded by an incident involving Brian Eno in which he “orchestrated” a jam in Laurie Anderson’s loft by asking only that the musicians make sounds that harmonized with the view of the New York harbour outside Anderson’s window. ) At any rate, any time Roger’s music became tense or active, sound and image parted ways completely.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Notes from the Pit

Although Tengal was pretty explicit about having no preconceptions regarding the outcome of the Conductors of the Pit performances, it doesn’t follow that they can’t be taken as demonstrations. Something created without preconceptions can be milked for concepts.

We always talk about artistic experiments, experimental art and so on. I would like to take the adjective more seriously. Experiments uncover principles, properties, existential facts. Throwing together flour and yeast can yield insights into processes that can be used to make bread. Generalizing about the chemical action of yeast can lead us to speculation about its suitability for producing alcohol, and so on. In short, I want to learn something from the damn experiments, some principles that might intelligently guide future behavior/expectations instead of always just slamming the disparate together in the inchoate hope of something.

Our minds are sunk in conventions, most of them being invisible. I think that one of the most valuable results of artistic experiments could be making these conventions visible. Just as a patient can reveal a mental structure (eg an obsession) by a slip of the tounge, or an unexpected inability to perform a simple act, unexpected observations can lead to new insights into the structure of the aesthetic object. The most valuable observations are observations of failure, because it is failure that marks the limit of a function, the limit of a territory.

I don’t want to talk what is beautiful versus what is not beautiful. I want to talk about what is comprehensible versus what is not comprehensible

We have all seen performances in which musicians, poets and dancers square off, struggle to dominate and top one another. It does not seem unreasonable to think that sound and video artists might do the same. However, the panoply of the Conductors of the Pit performances (COPP for the purposes of this essay) seemed to indicate that they could NOT in fact do the same. At every instance where the paired artists deviated from trying to work in harmony, I got the feeling of something losing bouyancy, something falling to pieces. This is, I think, a perception that pretty much everyone shared. We have to take it as an experiential fact.

After the scientific method, we could now proceed to speculate (hypothesize) on the possible reasons/mechanisms behind this fact. However, I think it will be worth something to assemble a collection of successful and unsuccessful encounters.

2 boxers fight -- successful

a boxer and a wrestler fight -- unsuccessful:

(This in fact happened: Muhammad Ali was paired with Antonio Inoki, a Japanese wrestler. The match ended in ruins: Inoki immediately got down on the mat. He wouldn’t box, and Ali wouldn’t wrestle.)

2 saxophonists jam -- successful

If the sound artist were to play music and not noise; the VJ were to play shots instead of graphics, I could imagine a struggle for dominance. The sound artist (SA) begins a melody, let’s say a melancholy melody. The VJ responds with an image from a soap opera, thereby accusing the SA of being overly sentimental. The SA responds by playing something serial and threatening, transforming the soap-opera image into an image from a horror film. In doing so, the SA has topped the VJ by transforming the meaning of his image into something completely different from what the VJ had intended it to mean. The VJ thinks of putting up an image of the Cookie monster, but wisely refrains: it would be in bad taste to play the parody card twice in a row. Instead, he-

And so on. I believe that these incidents map out a readable constellation. I will call it Ali’s Law:

Ali’s Law: All combat is ritual. This means that the combat has to take place in ritual, convention-filled context. A struggle for domination can only take place in a world of established conventions, where the meaning of a vocabulary of moves has been pre-established in the minds of the combatants and the audience.

This is because a striking a blow involves a violation of equilibrium, a breaking of a balance. But where there is no consensus as to what constitutes a balance, it is impossible to know what a strike is, just as it is impossible to make a joke, unless all parties concerned know what is not a joke., ie what is normal. The saxophonists can fight because they swim in the universe of tonality, harmony, and jazz convention. Their battle is like a game of chess: every move leads to a readable situation/equilibrium. The boxer and wrestler move in different universes of rules. They have nothing in common, and hence cannot transact aggression.

In the case of the COPPs, the artists were not moving in pre-established universes of conventions. Thus, they could not orchestrate strikes against one another. Apparently however, they COULD enact unexpected harmonies, unexpected parallelisms. And so we appear to have unexpectedly flushed out a corollary to Ali’s Law:

In uncharted territory, harmony is only possible form of interaction. In a situation where there are very few conventions, the default relationship between elements is one of unrelatedness, ie chaos. Against the background of chaos, the only comprehensible move is to create relationships/parallelisms.

It is instructive that my short thought-experiment of a successful joust between VJ and SA already contains three references to the language of film and television. Soap opera. Horror film. Sesame Street. It is not proper to say that Language is like chess. Rather, Chess is a language. A language is like a huge mansion where every step brings us into a new room, with floors and ceilings, and curtains, and moldings, and joists and mantels and floorboards, etc. Inside the language of film, my thought-combatants strike at each other by overturning/violating cinematic conventions. They move from the room of Melancholy into the room Melodrama, to the room of Horror, and so on. Once they step outside of the mansion of cinema and move into noise and graphics, the joust becomes impossible. Cooperation (the dance) remains as the only possible aesthetic gesture. This is why, when one artist chooses to abdicate his part in creating harmony, he drags the both of them to the ground. We do not perceive it as a strike against his partner, but as an evisceration of the performance itself.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Phone as a computer

Am having a lot of fun with my phone: a Nokia 6600. It's an ancient model by the lightspeed standards of the market, but very interesting in that it supports Flash Lite, a stripped-down version of the Flash player that drives so much of modern web design. While Flash is well-known in the filmmaking circle as an animation tool, the fact that it also supports actionscript --a proprietary programming language with the power to create interactive graphics-- is not as well known. So far, I've coded a little ping-pong scorekeeper, a simple egg timer, and a phone version of Brian Eno's Oblique Strategies: Press a button, the phone screen flickers, and the oracle speaks: "Honor thy error as a hidden intention" and so on. The same program could be altered to make a version of the I Ching, but I confess to finding Eno much more readable.

I put the Oblique Strategies swf (shockwave file) on Divshare. Those who are interested can download it here:

Making these little utilities has made me aware of how generally unfriendly our phones are. "Personalizing" a phone is essentially an act of digital scrapbooking. And yes we can make calls, chat, play games and shoot video, but think of this: Most phones these days have more power than the computers on board the space shuttle. They are in fact, very small computers, equipped with wireless capability and multimedia peripherals, yet they behave as though they were hardwired appliances. There must be any number of tools/functions that would handy or fun to have in a computer the size of your wallet, that are within the coding powers of a resourceful high-school student. (Phrasebook, remote control, flashcards, custom calculator, map, beatbox) And yet something as simple as creating a macro is a major, major deal for most existing phones. Google tells me that there are sites devoted to developing the open-source phone, but Flash Lite is the small room in a user-unfriendly phone universe that makes it possible to program existing phones today.

If anybody is interested in what phones support/are preloaded with Flash Lite, Adobe (which now owns Flash) has a list here:

Most phones listed support Flash Lite, but do not have it installed. You'll have to do that yourself, ie by finding a copy of FL and downloading it into your phone via something like Nokia's PC Suite, (which you should already have anyway, if only to back up your phone book). Flash Lite-compatible SWFs can be created in Flash 8.


Shameless plugs

Like the title says: I'll be performing video against Blums Borres' sound at Tengal's SABAW sound art night at Katipunan Magnet. The event starts 9PM on April 20, and is billed as "Conductors of The Pit: Sound Artists vs Video Artists." Drop by if you can: buncha other people will be performing, including Poklong Anading, Caliph8, 110, Merv Espina and Arvie Bartolome, and Inconnu ictu. Am curious as to what Poks will be doing, as Pok's stuff tends to a kind of minimalist, small-changes-in-a-large-blank-space aesthetic. Am curious how well he can integrate that into a club performance environment, which tends to favor rowdier textures. Blums will also put on his video hat to play against Elemento.

Am putting together a new machine for the occasion: found some old stuff in my lab that together, should allow me to digitally process live, dirty, analog video. Dirtvision! (dirTV? Ermitronics?) My latest stab at incorporating bad TV into digital video performance, as well as adding some other way to create images aside from triggering sample playback.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Plagiarism as Thought

Most artists, being obsessed with being original, police their little kingdoms of creation to keep it clean of any overt signs of influence. So many conversations about tracing the date when X saw this, Y saw that, in order to deduce whether or not they came up with the idea/concept on their own. Whether Raymond Red was aware of Borges or Kafka before he made Ang Magpakailanman (He was not, which, according to Art's traditional grading system, makes his film more original, and therefore more excellent.) whether Z painted like that before he saw A's copy of Juxtapoz etc, etc, etc.

This is not an exceptional state of affairs, of course. The entire idea of art as it is presently conceived, with all its Renaissance-to-Romantic era notions of genius etc, enshrine originality as the foremost criteria of quality. When originality is gold, it is no surprise that so many people obssess over it.

The rise of sampling and appropriative art methodologies have put these old assumptions/metaphysics in question, but probably no one has summed up the alternative viewpoint quite so powerfully as Jonathan Lethem does, in the article found here:

Check it out.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Maw of New Media

As of this writing, it is still possible to think of Art as something that is the opposite of Science, the opposite of Technology. Never mind that this was an illusion from the start. (What are brushes, paints, chisels, and violins?) It is still possible to find people who delight in confessing that they fled to the arts because they couldn't handle trigonometry, physics, etc. As the years pass, this conceptual division is going to become harder and harder to understand. It's going to sound like that ancient Chinese taxonomical text that Borges said Franz Kuhn unearthed, which divided the animal kingdom according to a scheme we find manifestly nonsensical. (1. Those that belong to the emperor. 2. Embalmed ones. 3.Those that are trained. 4. Suckling pigs....)

Art historians say that the rise of photography and mass-media technologies caused the world to be flooded with images to such an extent that photographic images now constitute a primary element of our environment, which is why so much art takes off from media iconography. Now: The world is not going to become less technological. Microchips will continue to burrow into every available surface, probably including human skin. Microcontrollers and programs will become a basic stratum of our environment. Their presence/stimulus/fact/irritant will demand response and critique from art, meaning that what we now call "new media" and still hold at arms length from "traditional art," will become coextensive with all of art. It will become art itself.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Imahe Nasyon at Robinson's Galleria!

Imahe Nasyon, the omnibus digital film that includes my SF short "Local Unit," is showing at "Indie-Sine" i.e Cinema 3 of Robinson's Galleria, starting today Feb 21 till Feb 27. A one week run at a real theater. Though who knows? If enough people show interest, it might show at other places. I will of course, post here when and if that happens.

Imahe Nasyon (Image Nation) is a digital omnibus film, 20 shorts by 20 directors.
The project was inspired and occasioned by the 20th anniversary of the EDSA revolution, which does not mean that all the films deal directly with the revolution (or citizen-backed coup, if you prefer) itself. The shorts range from experimental to MTV to narrative. Watch it and take away what you can.

I naturally have favorites and anathema among the films, but as part of a team, I can't be expressing them here, punk critic or not. You guys are on your own on this one.


Raymond Red's Camera Obscura

Just saw Raymond Red's installation Camera Obscura at the NCCA gallery. It's up till the end of the month, which means about a week from the day of this posting. In theory, it is not a conceptual coup: it's essentially a room-sized pinhole camera, something that used to be set up regularly in the 19th century. It's said that one Ibn-al-Haitham built one as early as the 10th century. That Leonardo Da Vinci described one in the Codex Atlanticus is a matter of public record, and so on. Still, everything is obvious once it's been done, and the fact remains that no one living in the current art/filmmaking/photography scene remembers of one ever having been set up. Second, several artists and filmmakers who saw the work remained under the impression that the image was being created with a video projector until suitably enlightened, in spite of the hole being clearly visible, and the hypothetical projector being clearly INvisible. Third, it's a whole different thing to experience the damn thing.

Who knew that a pinhole camera would produce a black-and-white image? Some time ago an unconventional photography teacher had the idea of getting his students to make pinhole cameras out of Nido cans, and stick photo paper in the things. I think Jerry Tan or Roberto Chabet had the bright idea of displaying the prints in Megamall. Of course, it is chemistry lab hell to hand print color prints, temperatures have to be maintained, it involves at least thrice as many chemicals as black-and-white printing, etc etc etc. In short, that the prints were in black and white was no indication that the the live image produced by a pinhole camera would actually look black and white to the human eye.

Of course, the light on the wall contains all the colors of the rainbow. The reason that the image is in black-and-white is that we have 2 kinds of cells in the eye: cone cells and rod cells. The cone cells can process color information, and require relatively large amounts of light to do so. The rod cells can only process brightness, work at low levels of light. In fact the photoreactive pigment used by the rod cells -rhodopsin- breaks down under high light levels. It takes time to re-form. The amount of time it takes for rhodopsin to stabilize is the amount of time it takes for our eyes to become adjusted to dark environments. Now, the light levels in Red's camera obscura (Latin for "dark room") is so low that only the rod cells can work. This is why we cannot perceive color in the image it produces. This also means that it is highly likely that you will not be able to see anything at all upon stepping into the room. Be patient. Enter, close the curtain and wait.

It is a calming, meditative space. The image of the street outside is (aside from being black-and-white) upside-down, and spread out not only upon the wall opposite the hole, but upon one the wall on the left as well. Cars speed up when they cross the adjacent wall, an effect of the keystoning/foreshortening produced by the tilted projection surface. Street sounds are muffled. This inaudibility, coupled with the black-and-white aspect, can give the impression of looking into some fragment of the 19th century, an impression which the passing cars do not dispel, and which the odd calesa* (remember we're in Intramuros, the old walled city. ) heightens. I wouldn't mind having a room in a house dedicated to such a view. Maybe a motel ought to set up a bank of camerae obscura, for lovers of a melancholy bent.


* Horse-drawn carriage

PS Although "obscura" means "dark" in Latin, "obscure" of course means "hidden from view" in English, an etymological detail that seems to resonate with the fact that this installation is located in the NCCA. For those of you in topographical darkness, the NCCA gallery is the lobby of the NCCA building, and the NCCA building is in Intramuros, on General Luna Street (the street on the right side of Manila Cathedral) between Sta Potenciana and Victoria. Camera Obscura is inside the glass-partitioned space to the left of the Main entrance. There are ancient cameras on display inside said glass-walled space and a looping display of Raymond's contribution to the full-length digital omnibus film Imahe Nasyon (see next post). Unfortunately, the NCCA is only open during office hours on weekdays. Cheers!

PPS Raymond says that if you see it at the brightest time of the day, ie late morning till late noon, enough light enters the room for the eye to make out colors: the blue of the sky, greens, (trees?) and bright reds.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Boredom as a Work of Art

I think it was John Cage who said something like "every object hides another." The reason why much new art can bore is because the artist is removing something in order to reveal something behind it. The audience comes to a work of art with a set of expectations, looking for something that they believe the artwork should contain, melody, plot, climax, perspective, figures, humans, harmony, whatever. The history of modern art is filled with stories where these expectations are violated by an artist, who thereby reveals a whole new world of pleasures, and instigates a flurry of investigations into the territory he has discovered/revealed.

If you come to a work looking for something that never comes, you can react with anything from puzzlement to fury, but if the artwork involves duration, (music, film) then it is much more likely that much of your reaction will consist of boredom. The thing is, this boredom often due to the fact that the artist wants to show you something ELSE, a something else that the artist finds interesting/fascinating/enthralling. The good artists are not TRYING to bore you. They are trying to show you something interesting SOMEWHERE ELSE. Boredom is an accidental, and ALWAYS regrettable side-effect produced during the period of initiation/familiarization. (That or art death. But more on that later.)

The idea sounds obvious, but it apparently isn't, judging from the number of times I've heard fellow artists (some of them jawdroppingly brilliant doing what they normally do) tell me that they want to do something new, something that will BORE their audience, wouldn't that be great? I tell them that the deliberate production of boredom is territory that should be reserved for the mediocre and talentless. Boredom is the easiest thing in the world to produce; it's about as rare as vacuum in the universe. How is it that people can actually mistake producing more of it as a good idea? What is it in the logic of our culture that makes it possible for even good artists to contemplate such an act with anticipation? I suspect the following as making up the two premises of a disastrous (and logically fallacious) syllogism:

1) Catholic anhedonia. Pleasure is bad and discomfort is good, or at least more serious.

2) Many boring artworks are praised by critics and historians as serious/brilliant/revolutionary /seminal.

There is a famous illustration that appears in psychology textbooks to illustrate how perception relies on distinguishing foreground from background. It appears to be an extreme closeup of the silhouettes of two people about to kiss. After a while the people become the background and you see the space between them as a wineglass. The notions above are like the silhouettes. The idea "Therefore boredom is high artistic practice" is like the wineglass. It is the what the notions imply.

Criticism and aesthetics are silent on why and how art dies, ie becomes boring. Either it is a non-issue, or it is assumed that the bored person simply lacks the proper education/perspective. I agree that a little background can go a long way to making the boring comprehensible, but the fact must be faced: art can die. The energy an artwork contains for the viewer is a product of energies and cultural tensions/issues that the viewer's milieu have engendered in the viewer. The English director Peter Brook tells of a magical moment in a bombed-out basement in London in the 1940's: a clown on a stage recited the names of dishes he yearned to eat. According to Brook, the clown reduced the starved and rag-swaddled audience to tears. Then the war ended, and grocery lists lost their power to induce lachrymal reactions (in English audiences, anyway). An artwork is a wire between concentrations of social energy. When the distribution of social energies change, the artwork becomes a wire in a vacuum. (This is also the same process by which old art might reacquire power/relevance) Criticism refuses to put the following into words: that although an artwork can galvanize entire generations, that same work can become a boring curiosity. This silence has had the apparent effect of enjoining the viewer to construe the tedium that history deposits around "great works" as content. It is why we confuse creating serious art with creating serious boredom.

PS: The article I mentioned in the last post, in which I wrote about my experiences at the 2006 Ogaki Biennale, is out. The magazine is called MANIFESTO, and features, among other things, a brilliant and outrageously romantic article by Erwin Romulo. The magazine is technically free, but you have to buy a copy of EVO to get it. In theory, anyway. I asked the tindera in Magnet SM about it and she said that the delivery boys had taken her stash of Manifesto back, who knows why. I don't know how they're going to market the next issue, due out "sometime in April." I'll post here when it materializes. I should have an article about Lyle Sacris' short film Self Portrait in it. Cheers!