Dr Alexandros – The Future of Sonic Arts – credo

Dr Alexandros started his lecture by comparing an orchestra to machines in a factory. The orchestra was conducted by Leonard Bernstein and they played a piece from Beethoven’s Symphony No 5. He stated the orchestra was old and very much like the mechanical machines in the industrial revolution and that the arts are very close to science and technology.

I was very interested to learn that many of the sound artists/composers had also maths or science backgrounds.

Dr Alexandros introduced John Cage who was a famous composer but who was also a painter, with a keen interest in art and design. We were shown a YouTube clip of John Cage performing ‘Water World’ in 1960. He produced his ‘music’ using many weird and wonderful everyday objects (e.g. party popper, water in a bath, steam from a boiling pan etc.) It was a good example to show that you do not need musical instruments to make music.

Iannis Xenakis was an architect and composer who used mathematics formulas to make music.

Pierre Schaeffer ‘etude aux chemins de fer’ 1948, was mixing recorded sounds like a modern day DJ.

Karlheinz Stockhaussen invented electronic music

Max Matthews was the first person to use a computer to make music. Dr Alexandros showed us a clip showing Max playing ‘Bicycle built for two’, which was easily recognizable.

Jean-Claude Risset was interested in physics and composition when he produced ‘Mutations’ in 1969.

Brian Eno has written music for airports but most famously the start-up music for Windows 95, which is all of 3 secs long.

Dr Alexandros also went through a time line of how music was produced, starting with a music score, the computer, a theremin (which is an electronic instrument), the computer again, moog modular synthensizer (which I remember being used on one of my brothers LP’s from the 60’S), a filter, and a yamaha X7

Music is now more accessible to everyone as it can be ‘cut and paste’ almost in a Photoshop for sounds. You can edit/copy/paste/pitching up/bass line etc.

Dr Alexandros likened music to art;

• additive synthesis (adding sounds) is like building
• subtractive synthesis (removing parts of the sound) is like sculpture
• synthesis by distortion (stretching waveforms) is like throwing a pot
• algorithmic composition (repetitive patterns) is like a textile pattern

Today there is Ardunio which is trendy and writing code which influenced music making.

Dr Alexandros then showed us some examples of Sonic Art;

• sound net (sensorband) 1999
• the hands (Waisvisz) 1985
• Imogen Heap – gloves
• Peter Vogel (Sound Wall) 2009
• Nicholas Bernier (Frequencies A)
• Mark Hansen & Ben Rubin – Listening Post
• Nicholas Collins (Daguerreotypes) 2006
• Cort Lippe (Music for tuba and computer) 2011
• 21 Swings – swings making music
• Richie Hawtin (Fireworks @ Awakenings)

Out of the above examples I enjoyed was Imogen Heap as she was wearing gloves that responded to different movements. This is an interesting concept, as I have an interest in ‘Smart Textiles’ with regards to light, but this also shows the possibilities of sound too. Also I liked Peter Vogel’s sound wall as it had a sculpture element that I could relate to. However my favourite has to be the 21 swings and I think this is because for me it was a piece of interactive public art. People could play on the swings and create sound.

This was a very different lecture than I was expecting and my first impression was that it was not relevant to me and my practice. However on reflection I think it shows that every aspect of the world is affected by technological advancements, even the arts. I will endeavour to embrace new technology and ideas and although I have no immediate plans to use sound as part of my work, it is definitely a possibility for the future.

Prof. Jeff Jones – William Morris

Prof Jones showed us an image of William Morris throwing Roman Abramovich’s yacht into the Venice Lagoon; an artwork by Jeremy Deller, that was part of his installation at the Venice Biennale in 2013. He said that it was called ‘As we sit starving amidst our gold’, which is also a quote by William Morris. He then went on to explain how Abramovich had sailed his yacht (the most expensive in the world) into the Venice lagoon, at the time of the 2011 Biennale and upset a lot of people. It was felt that he didn’t really have an interest in art but was showing off his power.

Prof Jones explained that Jeremy Deller agreed with the views that William Morris held over 100 years ago, so posed the question “why is William Morris still relevant to us?”

He explained that William Morris believed that it was not possible to disassociate art from politics and religion etc. At this time the artist James McNeill Whistler believed that art should be independent of all that claptrap. Art should be for Arts sake. These artists produced very similar work but held very different views.

Prof Jones told us that William Morris had not liked what he saw, with regards to the Industrial Revolution and the conditions people were working in. William Morris set up workshops and brought people in to produce art in a more humane way. He wanted people to have the satisfaction of making things by hand and gave people credit for their contributions. It was very important to know who worked and collaborated together. However there was contradiction in what Morris was doing, as many of the people working with him could not afford what they were making.

Jeremy Deller comes under criticism as he doesn’t actually make anything. He has his work fabricated by other people, but he believes this gives people a sense of collaboration and he gives credit to those who have contributed.

I found this lecture very interesting and have only touched on some of the main points discussed. It is a difficult argument that is obviously still continuing today. Personally I find myself in the middle of these two views. I like to think there is a place for purely aesthetic art, but my art is also motivated by social events.

Dr Jon Clarkson – Making

In his lecture Dr Clarkson said that when talking about ‘Making’, we have to consider physical making and making sense of things.

He stated that perspective was invented in the 1500’s and showed us a famous painting ‘The Art of Measurement’, 1538. This painting shows how the artist was painting his subject, as he viewed her through a grid and transferred what he saw onto a similar grid on his paper.

Dr Clarkson showed us various slides of different artists that dealt with the multiplication of views and view points, including Eadweard Muybridge – ‘A woman getting into bed’ 1887. I particularly liked ‘Analysis of the flight of a seagull’ 1887 by Etienne Jules Marey. Although these are still images of the seagull, Marey has captured the flight of the bird frame by frame and displayed them in order which gives the impression of movement to the viewer.

Dr Clarkson then showed us some more modern examples, which included techniques in post-perspective by Clive Head. They were ‘Rebekah’ 2008 and ‘Leicester Square Tube Station’ 2011, which are painted in a realist style, with no pre-determined vanishing points. Also these paintings show more than a normal camera angle, they represent the entire environment.

I had not seen work by Clive Head before this lecture, but I liked these two paintings very much. I was impressed that they were not photographs, but there was something about them that ‘drew me in’. It had not occurred to me that I was presented with a broader view than normal, but after Dr Clarkson had pointed out the various vanishing points, I could clearly see the technique used.

I have been guilty of being accepting in the past but this has made me realise that I need to question what I am seeing. I also intend to look at other work by this artist.

Dr Clarkson also talked about Angela Palmer’s ‘Unwrapped: The Story of a Child’, which I have seen at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Palmer has used the latest medical technology to scan a child mummy from the Egyptian section of the museum. She has produced 111 panes of glass that she has drawn a single layer of the CT scan on each pane. Placed together they produce a 3D image of the child, which is a beautiful piece of contemporary art. However during this process they learned a great deal about the child’s health before death. It certainly opens your eyes to the possibilities of using modern technology, for purposes other than those that were originally intended.

We then looked at the adoption of a non-human viewpoint. Some of the examples we were shown were taken from images that had originated from Google Earth, so giving an almost aerial view. The examples given didn’t appeal to me in the same way as those by Clive Head and I wonder if this is because it was hard to reference the image, the view just looked like just gravel tracks etc.

The next area we looked at was doubling and repetition. One example of this was ‘Eternal Forest’ 2008 by Charles Avery; a simple painting at first glance but then you can see how balanced the view appears. Each side looks the same and the repetition of the image into the distance, as if it is going on into eternity. It leaves you feeling that you are in a nightmare and that you will never get out. Dr Clarkson compares this to landscapes by Constable, which lead you down country paths and the scenery is changing the more you view the painting. Many a time I have imagined the view further down the river or over the hill.

The final area that was discussed was historical perspectives and we were shown a photograph of Diana the Princess of Wales by Hiroshi Sugimoto taken in 1999. It is only when Dr Clarkson points out that Diana died in August 1997 that you question how was that possible. The photograph is not actually of Diana but of a wax model of her. When you know that you suddenly look at the image very differently.

I found this lecture very interesting but it made me realise how much I take for granted. It has given me a lot of things to consider and I will certainly try and question things I am presented with more carefully.