I’m back from Providence where I enjoyed an action-packed day with some old and new friends (in fact, I’m already in Phoenix, this post being a combination of a couple of days’ sporadic writing in spare pockets of traveling time). I had two ‘commitments’: guest speaking for Aya Karpinska’s Electronic Writing II class at Brown University, and the performance with Cris Cheek and Angela Veomett at the Firehouse 13 venue in Providence.
The Electrronic Writing II course, currently taught by Aya (and apparently to be taught by Justin Katko – a genius of similar magnitude to Aya’s fantaschtick) was a wonderful experience for me, since I don’t get many chances to sample the functioning and discussions happening in other courses centred on experimental writing.
The students in Aya’s class, despite having been on the course for just a few weeks, clearly had the focus, enthusiasm, capacity and open-mindedness to produce fascinating work. As it happened, the assignment for today’s class was to increasingly fragment through anagram a paragraph of text written originally by that student. Clearly all of these students, in one way or another, are already ‘good writers’ in the respect that each original was a well-crafted piece of ‘narrative’. The reason I point this out is to reiterate the capacity of these students to then take interest in pulling these pieces of writing apart using procedure without somehow feeling precious about their work. The spirit of experimentation was rife in the class, and was backed up by incredibly thoughtful and intelligent approach to what was happening to their writing and why this was of relevance and interest to them.
It was really fun to give them a brief overview of my work. Fun but odd, since I’ve never really surveyed my work in a way where I connect pieces like Version 1 (2003) with new works-in-progress like Ideas on Oedipal Bitstreams. As usual, I over-prepared and overstressed myself about it. And, as usual, once I got going I barely used the notes next to me, which turned out to be little more than a reassuring mascot for me going my own improvised way. This is probably a much healthier way to deliver my work (and hopefully more useful and accessible to those listening) and the students seemed interested, again asking pertinent questions. These days, I actually look forward to QAs, which are fantastic opportunities to gain fresh perspectives on my own work which all too easily becomes dulled by my over-familiarity with it.
Cris Cheek was also guest speaking in the class, and showed the class a Flash movie produced in collaboration with Kirsten Lavers (under their collaborative idenitity Things Not Worth Keeping) which was textual / visual / sonic investigation into abstracted virtual locations (for example, Silicon Valley) using the bizarre-but-actually-real-I-shit-you-not-this-is-fact location of “Silicon Fen” as its focal point. The movie fits together incredibly well and stands the test of time well too, without looking too shabby for its years. One thing I’ve always found very difficult is trying to get a Flash video which incorporates photography, sounds, texts, to fit together as a cohesive whole. The video – deliberately non-navigable – perhaps represents the un-navigable psychogeography of Silicon Fen ideally. Conspicuous by its physical absence (or perhaps through its existence solely through abstract name-allocation), Silicon Fen’s repeated textual assertion reduces (elevates?) it to the level of hyper-representation, foregrounding the kind of absurd construction trajectory imposed on this physical space (or so I felt when I was watching).
After class, we met up with John Cayley and others, had some dinner and moved on the the Firehouse 13 to finish setting up. From what Justin told me, this was pretty much the most ‘multimedia’ of these events so far. The space itself was great – wonderfully restored (no fireman’s pole, however – which Cris tells me was removed due to fire hazard issues) and before long we’d created a sort of makeshift projection space which accommodated all three of us nicely and, incredibly, obstructed neither the bar nor the toilets.
Angela and Justin at setup
Angela and an exit
I was on first, which can be tricky in terms of getting the crowd on your side, but that wasn’t a problem given the present company, who were up for it. It seemed to go well. Or, I should say, the crowd at least seemed receptive (the farting and burping boy excepted. He was either voicing his displeasure with my reading or his body was voicing its displeasure at his greeding).
Sudden digreshun: I’m updating this section of my blog post from Philadelphia, where I’m waiting for my two-and-a-half-hour-late flight to Phoenix. On the enjoyment scale, and even by the already plunderous baseline of airports, this place is Sucky McSucklington. And I have to spend at least 2 hours here before the gate opens. At least there’s an “Irish” pub.
Next up was Angela, whose 5 videos fell into 2 distinct styles, the first 3 using a documentary-style presentation (I think these were all from the Chernobyl Generation vignettes). However, these transcended straightforward documentary, inflecting the ‘narrative approach implicit in this genre by subtle use of chopped, filtered and re-tempoed visuals, and fragmented audio reminiscent of something Gregory Whitehead might do. The final 2 films were more abstract. Both of these – My Head is a Basket of Apples, and, in particular for me, Communal, were simply beautiful pieces of work especially enjoyable on such a large projection with audio filling the room.
Cris Cheek’s work was pretty predictable in the sense that it was awesome. He showed several pieces of work, including a wonderful video of some of his collaborative work with Sianed Jones. For anyone who has heard Songs from Navigation, it will come as little surprise that both fit together vocally very well in this video. But there’s more to collaboration than this, and the video confirms, as does Songs from Navigation as a whole, the true collaborative compatibility of the pair. Sometimes it’s words. Sometimes sentences. Then it’s fragments and then it truly is music. Personally I thought that seeing the two face to face in a kind of brutalised Smith & Jones feature added an interesting dimension, mesmerised as I was by the mouth movements of the pair, and the facial expressions and movements in general.
Cris performed some textual palimpsests from paper and projection:
performing the surface of the work, which also illuminated the hand-held material he read. It was great to hear, and visually striking. Along with “Dear Bob Cobbing,” a realtime projection of Cris writing and performing improvise, err, writing. On paper!
My thanks to:
John Cayley for organising my brief detour to Brown and giving me a wonderful opportunity to take part in the class and local scene.
Justin Katko for having me on the Firhouse bill, for putting me up, for putting up with me, for scouting out a place to drink a beer at 12:30am in pouring snow, for introducing me to a rather handsome young ladycat who lives with him, for lending me a brightly coloured towel, various books, and for watching me sleep.
Aya Karpinska and students, for listening, probing, producing.
Cris Cheek for picking up on my throwaway comments on Amy Winehouse and not letting me get away with them, and for generally being very nice
Angela Veomett for the gig share and interesting vids
All those people I met whose names I can’t remember, I’m sorry.