A Glimpse of Sleep

Setting up prints

The other day I set up some photographic prints and a video for an exhibition in Humppila. The photos present a brief early selection from something I’m currently working on, now known as Centennial Sleep (Satavuotinen uni).

Beyond the Wall of SleepThe moving image piece is called From Beyond the Wall of Sleep (Unen seinämän takaa), a video installation for 4:3 CRT TV.

I’ll leave further details offline for now. Those within reach, go and check them out.

5.-24.7.2016
Taidemakasiini ITU
Perkiöntie 13, Humppila

 

Emergence in Reverse

A little exercise in thought, following from the previous post.

Brexit will actually have a snowball effect, in which countries leaving the EU would only be the first step. There are already signs of it in Britain, with speculations of Scotland voting for independence. In Finland’s case it would go own, beginning with Lapland claiming independence. Next, provinces would leave Finland and claim for independence.

On and on, until we reach the individual human being, who claims independence from any groups or entities supposedly “governing” her. Individuality. There. Not a bad ending for such a horrific flick.

In the sequel, the individual gets what is due. We will see individual organs gaining independence from the body. Inside organs, cells would claim independence, then molecules, atoms, electrons, on and on until the quantum foam which, according to our current beliefs, forms the indivisible base layer in the fabric of the universe.

Down there… would we finally realise that all separation is essentially illusion and deep within us we are all one?

A universe-size monster in perpetual autoerotocannibalist binge! Face it, that’s what we are deep down and on the surface. Let’s drink to that.

And tomorrow morning, it’s time to wake up and clean up our act.

Midsummer Blues

I woke up this morning to hearing that Great Britain had voted for leaving the EU. Lots of speculations about what happens next is going on everywhere, but I won’t go into that.

My thoughts drifted along to wondering why people voted the way they did (both for and against). I figure it’s not much to do with reason or logic, but mostly emotions. Indeed, studies indicate humans tend to make decisions mostly based on emotions, and then find suitable reasoning based on those emotions to justify their decisions.

In this case, as well as with related recent events in Europe (and elsewhere), I think it’s all down to the philosophical question of what it is to be human these days on planet earth. As a human being, what kinds of groups you identify with, and whether you as a self-perceived member of a group favour integration or separation with other kinds of groups.

Personally I ‘ve always felt* being a citizen of the Planet Earth rather than a citizen of Finland or any other arbitrary splinter group. Such groups by definition seem too exclusive and restrictive to identify with.

(* See? This, too, is rooted in emotion and rationalised with the the kind of logic I find suitable.)

Nationalism was a project that, like all projects had its good and bad sides, but seriously, its time has gone. Our greatest problems are global, and they must be dealt with on a global level. We’ll never reach that goal with the current situation of nation states competing over diminishing resources, each measuring their success based on the misfortunes of their competitors.

Something suddenly relevant from a Tokmanni discount bin. Didn't buy, it was broken. #britain #brexit #found

A photo posted by Niko Skorpio (@nikoskorpio) on

Truth’s Protective Layers

This essay examines a speech given by Neil Armstrong at the Apollo 11 25th Anniversary in 1994. Certain things he said have caused a lot of speculation in the ufo conspiracy theory circles. I came across this speech while doing some research on the conspiracy theory culture. (For ViCCA, 29 April 2016)

The Speech

Video footage of the speech can be found on YouTube.com under the title ”Apollo 11 25th Anniversary” (see above).1  Besides Armstrong, the other speakers are president Bill Clinton and vice president Al Gore. I focus here on Armstrong, whose speech begins at around 2’05”.

First he addresses the people present, cracks a joke about parrots being the only bird that can talk but cannot fly very well (somewhat flawed but manages to make the excuse that Armstrong the astronaut can fly but not talk very well) and briefly reminisces the times of the Apollo 11 project. Things get interesting from 4’55” on when Armstrong addresses the students in attendance. I quote the whole passage:

“Today we have with us a group of students, among America’s best. To you we say we have only completed a beginning. We leave you much that is undone. There are great ideas undiscovered, breakthroughs available to those who can remove one of the truth’s protective layers. There are places to go beyond belief. Those challenges are yours–in many fields, not the least of which is space, because there lies human destiny.”

One of the truth’s protective layers?

This can easily be interpreted as Armstrong admitting that some things are concealed from public knowledge. Ever since he and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon in 1969, there have been speculations on whether it actually happened at all, or if it happened the public is not informed on the true nature of the mission. It was even suggested that Stanley Kubrick was hired to make the moon landing videos we ”know” to be real, in the studio! Furthermore, Kubrick’s classic horror film Shining has been interpreted as being a kind of ”openly secret” confession to faking the moon landing footage… This, among other interesting/amusing interpretations are featured in the 2012 documentary film Room 237 by Rodney Ascher.2

Back to the speech. Right after saying ”truth’s protective layers” Armstrong seems to look over his shoulders, as if checking out what president Clinton, vice president Gore and some members of the Congress present thought about his words. This is speculation, though, since the video zooms in on Armstrong, the others remaining outside of the view. Another speculative remark I made is Armstrong seems slightly hesitant, or emotional, at that moment, compared to his generally positive and relaxed presence.

Looking at the video’s comments on YouTube and elsewhere on the web, Armstrong’s body language can be interpreted in many ways. Naturally the online comments are not to be taken as expert views on body language or anything, but they do tell something about how Armstrong’s speech and performance can be interpreted.3

President Bill Clinton’s speech follows. Clinton doesn’t refer or react to Armstrong’s words but gives a pre-planned smooth celebratory speech, as expected.

The person

In his speech, Armstrong reminds us that the moon landing project involved a great number of people, according to him about one of two of every thousand Americans. Even though Armstrong happened to be the first man to set his foot on the surface of the Moon, it was a collaborative project involving thousands of people. He doesn’t seem comfortable about taking credit for the whole spectacle.

According to biographies, Armstrong was a humble, shy and private person. Since the Apollo 11 mission, he appeared reclusive, rarely giving interviews or doing publicity, despite his unique, celebrated status as ”the first man on the moon”.

Withdrawal from public can naturally be accounted for his personality, and drawing any other conclusions may be misleading. Still, his presence in the video and especially the words chosen inspire the curious to wonder, what exactly is the truth these protective layers conceal?

Is it too much to take these few words out of context of the whole speech?

Did they land on the moon at all?

Did they land on the moon but something – a technical issue, human error, alien spacecrafts or whatever – made the film unshowable and a fake footage (by Kubrick or someone else?) was made anyway?

We must remember this was deep in the Cold War era. Failure in such a crucial mission, or the mere failure in documenting the mission properly, would have been disastrous. It was all part of the space race, after all, the Soviet Union had made great advances in space flights and related technology. For America and ”the West”, the first person to set their boot on the moon would have to be American, otherwise the shame of being on the losing end would have been too much to bear…

Speculation on the scene

What to make of all this? We just have this video clip, several official sources stating their facts and then, endless amount of speculation on the Internet about various conspiracies, aliens, alternative truths and so on.

A curious observation needs to be mentioned. I’ve read and watched numerous books and documentaries about the ufo/alien conspiracy lore, and most of them sport this funny / frustrating mix of actual documented cases of assorted weird shit that makes one wonder, as well as stuff that is so obviously hoaxed that no one could take it seriously. The end results are almost always a mess among which even the credible bits appear ridiculous. Is this one of those protective layers?

The alien conspiracy scene is flooded with disinformation. There’s even evidence of the US government having been heavily involved in the creation of this whole ”culture”. A document called Mirage Men, directed by John Lundberg and written by Mark Pilkington (who also wrote a book with the same name) digs into the subject. They suggest that the whole thing was created as a smokescreen for advanced technology developed by the Air Force.4

It is very hard if not altogether impossible to make sense of what is actually true and what isn’t. The deeper you dig into the subject, the more confused and paranoid you get. Whether deliberate or not, the subject matter is so stained that if you even consider taking any of it seriously you are considered a loonie. Ufos, aliens etc. can only be addressed by way of fiction and entertainment. And so it has…

Alone or not

The entertainment scene is so thoroughly saturated with ufos and aliens that we’ve grown used to them. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a big thing anymore if we finally discovered some undeniable facts about advanced, sentient life elsewhere in space.

Some say we have no way of meeting alien life until we accept the possibility of such an event occuring. There is that.

There’s also the question, have we actually, seriously considered the possibility of being alone? That our very planet Earth would be the only rock supporting life in the entire universe? Once we as a species truly realize such a possibility, we must face the consequences and act accordingly. Would we finally start nourishing all life on the planet and glorifying its intense diversity, instead of being busy destroying it for quick profit? Could we end the cycle of fear and greed that currently control our thoughts and actions?

As Armstrong concludes his speech, human destiny lies in space. But for now, with our paranoia over territory, possessions and power, we are nowhere near that level of evolution. Let’s admit it’s time to overcome these obstacles within us. Let’s grow up!

References

2 Noel Murray, ”Room 237” – review of the film, http://www.avclub.com/review/room-237-95674

3 For example, comments on the article ”Did Armstrong & Aldrin receive death threats to keep moon secrets?” written by Michael Salla, Exopolitics.org, http://exopolitics.org/did-armstrong-aldrin-receive-death-threats-to-keep-moon-secrets/

4 Virginie Sélavy, ”Mirage Men”, article published on Electric Sheep Magazine, http://www.electricsheepmagazine.co.uk/reviews/2013/06/23/mirage-men/

 

The Art of Pilfering

A brief history of sampling in music and sound art, with emphasis on the author’s personal interests and influences on his own work in the field. (For ViCCA, 10 Dec 2015)

In Brief

Sampling, in context of sound and music, is the act of taking a part of a previously recorded sound and reusing it as a part of a new piece of music. This technique was enabled by the emergence of sound recording technology of the mid-20th century and the record industry that followed. Since then, sampling has become a common technique among composers across genres, yet it remains questionable in the eyes of copyright laws. This essay provides a cursory look into the theory and practice of sampling from my admittedly biased point of view as an artist (who employs sampling in his own work) and a general sound enthusiast.

What’s Hit is History

The theoretical roots of sampling can be traced back to the modernist art movements of the early 20th century. Collage was defined by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque around 1912.1 A couple of years later the dadaists cut and reassembled anything from text to images.2

In the 1950’s, Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs claimed that writing was fifty years behind painting and developed the cut-ups as a form of literary collage. Later on they on experimented with cut-ups also on film and sound recordings.3

The first sound collages were made by the inventor of musique concrète, composer Pierre Schaeffer in 1948, when he created the piece “Étude aux chemins de fer” by mixing together recordings of trains from vinyl records. In the 1960’s, sound collage was used on a number of pop music albums, perhaps most famously by The Beatles.


Pierre Schaeffer: “Étude aux chemins de fer” (1948)

The leap from sound collage to sampling as we know it nowadays happened in the late 1970’s, again via emergence of new technology: samplers. This new type of instrument allowed the user to record a piece of sound – a sample – and play it back by means of a keyboard, sequencer or another triggering device. Around the same time, new music genres – most notably hip hop, industrial music and electronic dance music – emerged, each suitably postmodern in approach and attitude to assume the sampler as a core instrument. Similar to what the electric guitar was to rock’n’roll.

The first commercial synthesizers such as the Synclavier and the Fairlight CMI were way too expensive for most musicians to obtain, but a number of adventurous artists made their own devices. Among them were Chris Carter and Peter Christopherson of the seminal Industrial group Throbbing Gristle, who built samplers of their own design from a bunch of cassette players. 4

Grandmaster Flash was one of the first hip hop producers to release records based on sampling, in 1981. Prior to this, sampling in hip hop was common practice but mostly done live by Djs in block parties. Grandmaster Flash developed a number of innovative DJing techniques and pioneered turntablism, the art of using the turntable as a musical instrument.


Grandmaster Flash: The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel (1981)

Money, Money, Money

In the 1980’s the new genres with their sampling practices entered mainstream consciousness, and along with popularity came controversy. As usual, the fight is about money. A million-selling record includes a sample from another, previously recorded piece of music. Who holds the copyright? And furthermore, who gets the money from the sales?

The British dance act M|A|R|R|S used an unauthorised sample of the Stock Aitken Waterman hit ”Roadblock” on their top ten single ”Pump Up the Volume” in 1987. The sample was so distorted that SAW didn’t realise they had been sampled until they heard a M|A|R|R|S co-producer mention it in a radio interview… but as soon as they did, their lawyers got busy suing M|A|R|R|S.


M|A|R|R|S: Pump Up The Volume (1987)

The same year another UK act The JAMs (later known as The KLF) were ordered to destroy the pressing of their album 1987 (What the Fuck Is Going On?) due to having an extensive amount of obvious sampling of, among other artists, ABBA. Pranksters as they were, The JAMs then released another version of the album, with all samples stripped, the result consisting mostly of silence and little audible content.5


The JAMs: 1987 (What The Fuck Is Going On?) (1987)

Usually these kind of disputes are settled out of court, with more or less substancial amounts of money exchanging hands. Often the writer of the original, sampled piece also gets a co-writing credit on the new work.

The music industry does not acknowledge a musical quote as anything else but theft. Even if the new composition clearly passes the threshold of originality, the composer may face legal trouble by using samples.

Nevertheless, the unwritten rule among artists seems to be that as long as you don’t make big bucks or big press, you can sample whatever you want and nobody cares about it.

Plunderphonics

There is a ”subgenre” in the art of sampling, more arty than popular, where controversy is inherent. The term plunderphonics was coined by Canadian composer John Oswald, describing ”a recognisable sonic quote, using the actual sound of something familiar which has already been recorded.”6 The difference from other sample-based works is that plunderphonics is deliberately blatant. Plunderphonics by definition requires the original, sampled piece to remain recognisable in the new piece.

Inspired by Burroughs & Gysin’s cut-up technique, Oswald had been composing in plunderphonic style since the late 1960’s. His 1975 composition ”Power”, which combines Led Zeppelin guitar riffs with a cut-up voice of a Christian evangelist, is the first known example of what has decades later become known as ”mashup” – a recording made by combining two previously made recordings.


John Oswald: Power (1975)

One Oswald’s most controversial pieces is ”Dab”, where the Michael Jackson song ”Bad” has been cut to pieces and rearranged anew. The companies holding rights to the original recording, by way of lawyers of the Canadian Recording Industry Association, demanded Oswald to cease distributing his derivation. Ironically, Oswald had self-financed his recording and distributed it for free.7

Another name commonly associated with plunderphonics is Negativland. This music/art group, founded 1979, has caused a lot of controversy by sampling/plundering U2 and other popular music. For Negativland, the media events and controversy are more important than their actual sound recordings.

Conceptually, plunderphonics deliberately explores, or attacks the grey area between fair use and copyright infringement. It uses any materials available in mass media – pop music, adverts, news and so on.9 Is it culture jamming, experimental music, media art, or conceptual art? Undoubtedly all of these and perhaps something else.


Negativland: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (1991 a cappella mix)

Walking in My Shoes

The vast majority of my work in sound and music in the last two decades is based on sampling. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of collage – taking pieces of something or other, combining them and see what happens. I did my first sound collages as a kid by recording random snippets from the radio on cassette tapes. I thought it was fun, but it took many years and plenty of musical exploration to realise it could be art, too.

With a handful of exceptions, my sampling was not particularly plunderphonic but rather alchemical. I’ve usually attempted to create something new out of the sounds I lift from others’ work. After extensive cutting, manipulating and combination with other mutated samples and ”real” instruments, the finished pieces may no longer show many clues to their origins. Whether the listener recognises what has been sampled and where is usually of no importance. I may not remember myself where a particular sound originates from, the fact I know the source bits are somewhere there is enough.

But that is all in the past. Some time ago I decided to put an end to the two-decade period of ”hermetic fusion musick” (as it was often refered to) and move forward to new areas. I felt the need to rid myself of my personal history which has become a kind of burden, even without the weight of popularity or overwhelming expectations from an audience. From now on I work undercover in classified projects only. I desire anonymity… It’s all in my head only, perhaps. But totally changing my ways of working and, especially, thinking about my work seemed like the only way I could move forward. Certainly every creator has their ways and traits they cannot escape, but what I mean is SHUT UP! SHUT UP!

Do it.

Don’t think about it. Just do it.

What’s (not) funny is that now I write about it, and since writing is mostly organising one’s thoughts, I’m again thinking about it.

Thinking about not thinking about it. Like the situation in Magritte’s La reproduction interdite reproduced as an endless mirror corridor. Loop it, loop it, loop it one more time.

So there, after a brief, passing signal of a nervous breakdown we’re back to the topic of sampling, more or less…

My latest sound works are completely constructed out of previously recorded music. Most of it is obvious and I’m not trying to conceal it, nor make a big deal out of it. The most important thing that has changed is the process. In the past, I used to sit long periods of time in the studio, creating rather elaborate, planned sound sculptures (or ”songs” if you will). These days I prefer to make things more on the fly. I’m quite fond of sampling random bits of music and voices from whatever radio channels I find and build something out of them instantly. A more spontaneous approach constantly gives pleasant surprises – and admittedly, quite some garbage (although occasionally garbage of the good kind, but I’ll write about sorting garbage some other time). Working this way, more intuitively, without thinking too much, and sharing selected pieces anonymously or under obscure pseudonyms, is most rewarding. The focus is entirely on sound, the piece of sonic or audiovisual art, while the maker remains out of the spotlight. Darkness is comfortable, liberating. All mirrors obscured, covered, shattered or just plain out of sight.

And so it is done. I will never write another word about making music/sound art. The next thing I’m going to do is go upstairs and turn my mind off. Exterminate all rational thought.

References

1 Hugh Honour & John Fleming, Maailman taiteen historia (Otava 1992), 663-665

2 Dietmar Elger, Dadaism (London: Taschen 2004), 6-14

3 William S. Burroughs, ”The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin”, accessed November 29, 2015, http://briongysin.com/?p=157

4 ”Coil: The Darker Side of Sampling”, Keyboard Magazine (San Bruno: NewBay Media 1987)

5 Ze Pequence, ”1987: The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu – 1987 (What The Fuck Is Going On?)/1987 (The JAMs 45 Edits)”, Tiny Mixtapes, accessed 9 December 2015, http://www.tinymixtapes.com/delorean/the-justified-ancients-of-mu-mu-1987-what-the-fuck-is-going-on1987-the-jams-45-edits

6 John Oswald, ”Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative”, accessed 5 December, 2015, http://www.plunderphonics.com/xhtml/xplunder.html

7 ”John Oswald (b. 1953)”, Ubuweb Sound, accessed 5 December 2015, http://www.ubu.com/sound/oswald.html

8 Matt Sebastian, ”Casey Kasem’s greatest hit: Negativland and ‘the letter U and the numeral 2’”, accessed 9 December 2015, http://www.slicingupeyeballs.com/2014/06/16/casey-kasem-negativland-u2-letter-numeral-2/

9 Thomas Bey & William Bailey, MicroBionic: Radical Electronic Music and Sound Art in the 21st Century (New York: Creation Books, 2009), 81-98

Further reading

Bey, Thomas & William Bailey. MicroBionic: Radical Electronic Music and Sound Art in the 21st Century. New York: Creation Books, 2009.

Burroughs, William S. ”The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin”. Accessed November 29, 2015. http://briongysin.com/?p=157

Elger, Dietmar. Dadaism. London: Taschen 2004.

Honour, Hugh & John Fleming, Maailman taiteen historia. Helsinki: Otava 1992.

Oswald, John. ”Plunderphonics, or Audio Piracy as a Compositional Prerogative.”Accessed 5 December, 2015. http://www.plunderphonics.com/xhtml/xplunder.html

Pequence, Ze. ”1987: The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu – 1987 (What The Fuck Is Going On?)/1987 (The JAMs 45 Edits)”. Tiny Mixtapes. Accessed 9 December 2015. http://www.tinymixtapes.com/delorean/the-justified-ancients-of-mu-mu-1987-what-the-fuck-is-going-on1987-the-jams-45-edits

Sebastian, Matt. ”Casey Kasem’s greatest hit: Negativland and ‘the letter U and the numeral 2’.” Accessed 9 December 2015. http://www.slicingupeyeballs.com/2014/06/16/casey-kasem-negativland-u2-letter-numeral-2/

Coil: The Darker Side of Sampling”, Keyboard Magazine. San Bruno: NewBay Media 1987.

”John Oswald (b. 1953).” Ubuweb Sound. Accessed 5 December 2015, http://www.ubu.com/sound/oswald.html

Heavy Meta

A speech about speaking and language, written for Experimental Theory Workshop (ViCCA), 2016/03/23.

Warning: This is going to be Heavy Meta.

*

What is my goal?
What do I want to tell you?
What’s the most important thing I want to share?
Thinking about this, I constantly hit my head against the wall of speech.
I’m interested in going beyond language, beyond spoken word.
But I don’t want to perform to you.
Not in this context.

So I couldn’t help thinking of speaking about speaking.
And now, it seems that’s what I’m doing.
Speaking about speaking.
And language.

Think of language as a combined lego puzzle chess game.
A power game to a few, maybe a way to spend the time and have fun to some,
and to others a compulsion to fill the void  between the moments, the void between you and me.
Think of speech as a live construction of a four-dimensional image according to a ten-dimensional blueprint that is constantly mutating.
What you get is a snapshop, or a screen capture.

*

Speech is slower than thought.
It’s like a drippling stream from a bubbling spring.
Or trying to push a snake into a pipe as they say.
(And, as you can see, I rely on pre-processed thought, written words.)

*

In the beginning was the word: the big bang of pixelated thought.
Words as pixels, and as such inadequate,
no matter how high the resolution.

*

What was before the beginning?
A world without words?
White noise of silence.
Feral,
unordered,
uncivilised,
unpredictable,
flowing freely,
unjaggedly,
beyond of the grid of words.
But now, as I clumsily speak of the unspeakable, you get a bunch of pixels,
from which we together form an image,
that may or may not make sense.

*

Nobody handles any language perfectly, not even their so-called mother tongue.
There are always dark areas, dead pixels, flaws in the grid.

English, as I speak, a kind of universal language or lingua franca,
generally speaking (no pun intended),
feels like standard definition compared to the full HD of one’s native language.
Still, that’s what we use now, to share these images from our minds.
And it’s ok, it’s still an image.
Shared.
From our minds.

*

Language shapes thinking.
While thought is originally fluid, the mind adapts to situations,
it gets used to bitmapping,
and we gradually forget that it’s just a crude approximation of reality.

*

So, this is all heavy meta, and nothing else.
Screen calibration, measuring resolution, scanning depth of color.
Let there be silence again.

Enter silence

It’s Good Friday. I’m in my home studio, tidying up the desks, organising piles of paper, sorting out possibly useful material from mere trash. Making room to work on new things. Banishing dust demons.

In Finnish, Good Friday is called “Long Friday” (Pitkäperjantai), and I wouldn’t mind this Friday lasting for a week or two. I’m not Christian; Easter has no significance to me, apart from allowing some extra time off from work and other busyness. In these hectic times I welcome any extra periods of relief, silence and calm I’m given. My current shuffling between making art (aka the Great Work), teaching and studying is fulfilling and gratifying in its diversity, but also burdening. Thus all opportunities of retreat and chillout are taken with pleasure.

Anyways, I decided to set up this blog, mainly to share writings related to my studies but also to keep a kind of record for the textual aspect of my work, whether essays, notes, scripts or sketches and whatnot. This, setting up a blog that is, is also part of the attempt to set things (an my thought processes) in functional order.

The commenting option is open, to invite any relevant comments, ideas and so on. Online discussion or arguing is not one of my primary interests, but any advice or attempts to dig deeper into subjects at hand are the most welcome.