VOICE: Vocal Aesthetics in Digital Arts and Media, a new anthology edited by Norie Neumark, Ross Gibson and Theo Van Leeuwen from MIT Press, takes stock of the voice’s various transformations in the arts in the wake of the technological innovations of the digital age, and the ways in which artists anticipated these changes. One might expect musings on Barthes, man vs. machine, hauntology, linguistics or body politics, and those are all here; but there is also a refreshing and suitably wide-ranging cross-section of pop cultural examples and namechecks (Wolfman Jack, Portishead, Winnie the Pooh, BioShock, Meshuggah). Beyond its interdisciplinary parameters, the more theory-oriented papers are counterbalanced by an experimental essay (Theresa M. Senft’s “Four Rooms”, which juxtaposes phone sex, cancer care tapes, a voice recognition program, and Alvin Lucier’s “I Am Sitting in a Room”), a poem (Mark Amerika’s “Professor VJ’s Big Blog Mashup”), and a meditation (Michael Taussig’s “Humming”). The multiplicity of forms and inclusion of writerly as well as scholarly voices create an appropriately reflexive resonance.
POWEr is a performance based on high-voltage electromagnetic perturbations, by Alexandre Burton and Julien Roy. Using an audio-modulated Tesla coil as a live instrument, electrical arcs are generated and transformed in an ongoing, realtime audiovisual process. Electricity is used as a subtle yet intense material, manifested as an instrinsically synesthesic phenomenae.
It's ironic that Jin Sangtae learned computer repair working at a mammoth South Korean tech market, since he eventually applied those skills to creatively destroying electronics. One of Seoul's most important audio artists, Jin Sangtae creates glitched noise improvisations by manipulating exposed computer hard drive parts.
Jin produces his initial signal in Clanger Theremin, a digital theremin available as freeware designed for use on PDA devices. Controlling pitch, volume and modular effects with a stylus, Jin leads the signal through several exposed computer hard drives, each fed to a separate track on a mixer, a process that methodically undermines his instrument.
Jin's impressive level of control over hardware errors does generally overshadow the theremin signal. A repeated series of staccatos resembling vinyl skips can be gradually protracted into a striated drone and then diminished into a paper-thin hiss. High-pitched sounds are emphasized; although harsh noise artists Otomo Yoshihide and Merzbow are certainly influences on Jin, his squealing feedback evokes scientific, mechanical imagery rather than a nihilistic anti-aesthetic. Although Park's improvisations are structureless, his decisions of which ideas to develop at length and which to briefly interject reward deep listening.
Professionally, Jin Sangtae runs an audiovisual supplies distribution company, but Jin's office doubles as a small experimental performance space called Dotolim. Along with a few other venues in Seoul like Park Chang Soo's Houseconcert and Lee Han Joo's Yogiga gallery, Jin Sangtae's Dotolim concert has made him central to Seoul's experimental scene. While Houseconcert emphazises acoustic free jazz and Yogiga is a freeform sprawl, the circle of musicians surrounding Dotolim concerts is an erudite group of tech-savvy electroacoustic noise artists. The Balloon and Needle label, run by noise musicians Choi Joonyong and Hong Chulki ...
The concept of networked art, or art which relies on exchange and collaboration across great geographical distances, has had a rich history prior to the Internet's first rumblings (and is now, fittingly enough, being archived, reappraised, and 'blogged' all over that same Internet.) Unlike the "one to many" presentational modes of the museum, shop, or gallery, networked art pieces were comparatively intimate "one to one" experiences, absorbed by one recipient at a time. Whether we call the collected efforts of this culture "mail art," "correspondence art," or simply "networking," its history is unlike other 'art historical' narratives, insofar as few people feel qualified to act as a spokesperson for the admittedly varied intentions of other networked artists: there is an almost universal reluctance to promote oneself as the "head" of anything in this culture. Especially on the European continent, where the most radical art collectives (e.g. Surrealism) have splintered into warring factions while under the mismanagement of paranoid leaders, no one is particularly eager to waste their otherwise productive time on internecine squabbling about whom deserves what title. So, in these situations, those who are just the most enthusiastic about their work, and its place in a larger creative milieu, end up becoming "ambassadors" by default.
One such ambassador, Vittore Baroni, is an individual who makes introductory biographical surveys like this one such a daunting task: his work spans every conceivable medium from rubber stamps and "artistamps" [mock-'official' postage stamps] and stickers to novel fashion items, and his tastes run the gamut from sublime atmospheric music to graphics exhibiting an exaggerated 'comic book' sense of humor and horror. Other than a general disregard for the taxonomy of art genres, the defining characteristic of Baroni's artwork is the nurturing of paradox and contradiction (he tells me that "[the term] 'paradoxical' is for me a great compliment, and a very positive adjective.") However, I may be getting ahead of myself here, since Baroni disavows the word "artist" entirely. In an early manifesto for his TRAX 'networking project,' co-founded with Piermario Ciani and Massimo Giacon, Baroni demurs "we are not artists, because art is a word that means everything and nothing," and proceeds to apply this to more clearly defined creative categories: "we are not musicians, but we create sounds. We are not actors, but every once in a while we get on a stage. We are not writers or publishing houses, but we can print our own writings." So what exactly is Baroni - and who are "we"?
Sound recordings from three glaciers in Iceland, pressed into three records, cast, and frozen with the meltwater from each of these glaciers, and played on three turntables until they completely melt. The records were played once and now exist as three digital films. The turntables begin playing together, and for the first ten minutes as the needles trace their way around, the sounds from each glacier merge in and out with the sounds the ice itself creates. The needle catches on the last loop, and the records play for nearly two hours, until completely melted.