curt cloninger
Since the beginning
Works in Canton, North Carolina United States of America

Curt Cloninger is an artist, writer, and Assistant Professor of New Media at the University of North Carolina Asheville (US). His art undermines language as a system of meaning in order to reveal it as an embodied force in the world. By layering, restructuring, hashing, eroding, exhausting, and (dis)splaying language, he causes language to perform itself until its "meaning" has less to do with what it denotes and more to do with how it behaves. His work has been featured in the New York Times and at festivals and galleries from Korea to Brazil. Exhibition venues include Digital Art Museum [DAM] Berlin, L'Instituto de México à Paris, Living Arts of Tulsa, and The Art Gallery of Knoxville.

Cloninger has written on a wide range of topics, including new media and internet art, installation and performance art, experimental graphic design, popular music, network culture, and continental philosophy. His articles have appeared in Intelligent Agent, Mute, Paste, Tekka, Rhizome Digest, A List Apart, and on ABC World News. He is also the author of seven books, most recently "Fresher Styles for Web Designers" (New Riders). He maintains, , and in hopes of facilitating a more lively remote dialogue with the Sundry Contagions of Wonder.
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chinese musak always sets me free

Last night the fam and I ate at a Chinese restaurant, and as usual, I
was unable to keep from concentrating in minute detail on the
background music, however insipid. This particular Chinese
restaurant was playing a real whopper of a soundtrack. It started
out as Top 40 songs circa 1982 played in that pseudo-Asian musak pop
style -- cheesy drum machine beats, and that twangy "doing doing
doing" stringed instrument replacing the vocal melody. Michael
Jackson and Paul McCartney's "The Girl is Mine," Willie Nelson's
"Always on My Mind," -- it was as if the producers of the musak
simply taped a random hour of any US Top 40 radio station in the
early 80's and used that as their set list.

Then the musak got weirder. It entered an extended medley phase.
The medley began with Jennifer Warnes' "I Know a Heartache When I See
One," but then it proceeded into a fairly accurate version of
Santana's "Oye Como Va," followed by The Ventures' "Walk Don't Run,"
followed by some Western movie theme song like "Hang 'Em High."
Although the medley was totally non-sensical genre-wise (pop to
calypso to surf music to TV cowboy soundtrack music), it hung
together perfectly melody-wise. And since the music was all
re-recorded in the same Chinese musak style, the differences in genre
were no longer audibly apparent.

Here was a medley compiled by someone listening to pure melody
outside of any historical or cultural context, and she had found true
melodic connections that no American music critic would have
discerned. American music critics are programmed to recognize subtle
genre differences based on production value, tempo, instrumentation,
and historical context. But as I listened to that Chinese musak
medley, what I literally heard fit together perfectly. The only
cognitive dissonance I experienced was based on my own personal
historical knowledge of each tune. My wife (sheltered from the radio
growing up, for better or worse) experienced no such dissonance.

All this got me thinking about the wack-wack-wacky world of
contemporary art criticism. Do we accept certain art because of the
way it's presented, its production value, the genre-awareness of its
accompanying statement, its context? Do we dismiss other work as
non-art because it doesn't jump through our expected art hoops?

Should we be studying the Flaming Lips instead of studying Karlheinz
Stockhausen? Should we be reading Steely Dan instead of reading Alan
Ginsberg? Might be more important than ?

Are we missing the true "melody" of the art?



Re: chinese musak always sets me free

>Wow. Firstly, do you take notes during these meals?

no. that would be dorky.

>'the nausea' is the authentic.
>Roquentin keeps seeing the world as it 'really' is (he hears the melody?)
>and by god it scares him. Sartre's theme is that we won't live
>authentically, that we run from the authentic.
>So, if you can see the melody in art, is this a nice experience?

"nice" in the Shakespearean sense means "small/trite," so I hope it's not nice.

I don't know whether "seeing the melody in art" always drives you mad
or scares you or makes you sick. It just depends on the nature of
the particular melody I guess.

The art world (as in the learned meta-system) is like religion, and
art (as in the stuff proper) is like true faith. Religion is always
found buzzing around true faith, but you can get a whole lot of
religion without ever landing on true faith (cf: most Episcopal
seminaries for details). Likewise, you can get a whole lot of the
art world and still miss the melody in the art.

People get together and play church, the living God fails to show up
on their terms, so they declare God dead. People get together and
play art world games, no actual passion/melody/substance shows up in
the work, so they declare art dead.

meanwhile, elsewhere, the beat goes on.

"you better pray when the music stops and you're left alone in your
mind / i'll be hearing music till the day i die."
- richard ashcroft




He was a heating engineer, and he was good. He was in it "for the action."

At 7:14 PM -0400 7/31/02, wrote:
>Wasn't the plumber in "Brazil" the bad one, the terrorist?
>Robert de Niro, terrorist plumber.


Re: chinese musak always sets me free

>I have gone thru little monk-phases, for example, I refused to go
>see Terminator 2 or listen to Nirvana in 93. I also had no tv and
>did not watch Beavis and Butthead. (since then, I've seen them all).

I haven't gotten TV into the house in like 10 years. Also, I've
never worn Izod clothing. That was my big stand in middle school.

>I had to re-learn classical music

I had to unlearn it from Road Runner cartoons. Brian Eno claims to
hate all "classical" music.

>"Annandale" is on a mix tape I have.

That is at the bottom of their repertoire. You can get all Steely
Dan CDs (except the new one) in a box set for like $45. It's one of
the major cultural advantages of our dumb century.


Black Mountain College anniversary festival

For a major program September 19-22, 2002
in Asheville, Black Mountain and Cullowhee, NC


Under the Influence: Celebrating the Legacy of Black Mountain College
A collaborative festival on the 50th anniversary of John Cage's multi-media
"Theatre Piece No. 1".

In the summer of 1952 amid the creative ferment of Black Mountain College in
North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains, John Cage created an unscripted
presentation incorporating music, dance, spoken word, visual art and
projections. Later titled "Theatre Piece No. 1", the event achieved renown
as the very first multi-media "Happening". On the 50th anniversary of this
historic event, the Black Mountain College Museum & Arts Center and its
collaborators are presenting Under the Influence: Celebrating the Legacy of
Black Mountain College.

Revolutionizing the American arts and sciences in the first half of
twentieth century, the influence of Black Mountain College faculty and alums
such as Josef and Anni Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster
Fuller, Walter Gropius, M.C. Richards, Alfred Kazin, Willem and Elaine de
Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Robert Motherwell, Charles Olson, Robert
Rauschenberg, Stan VanDerBeek, Robert Creeley, Jonathan Williams, and many
others continues to be felt to this day.

Festival programming will consist of performances, installations, workshops,
poetry readings, film screenings, and roundtables showcasing contemporary
artists, performers, and theorists whose ideas and work bear the distinctive
influence of Black Mountain College. Festival participants and contributors
include musicians Pauline Oliveros, Tony Conrad, Mark Hosler, and John
Cobb, poets Patrick Herron, Michael Boughn and Lee Ann Brown, installation
artists Yoko Ono and Jack Dangers, educators Sue Riley and Greg Ulmer,
filmmaker Craig Baldwin, dancer Ray Eliot Schwartz and many others.

The festival will occur September 19-22, 2002 at various venues in
Asheville, Black Mountain and Cullowhee, NC with related events throughout
the month. For detailed and up to the minute information, see the festival
website at

Alice Sebrell (828)299-9306 /
David McConville (828) 236-9777 /