Saturday, March 9, 2013

Radiophonic Abstract Expressionism: Amber Cortes’ “Signal to Noise” at Jack Straw Productions

I went to “see” this installation twice between the time it opened and when it closed, too soon, yesterday. I thought I should, finally, make a new posting in this blog and write about it…

“Imagine a space where all broadcasts are possible along a "radiophonic continuum," where voices and sounds mingle with spontaneous white noise, existing away from time and place, separate and uncontrolled and triumphant in their ephemeral power. This is the magic of radio. 4 imagined radio stations will be transmitted from four different radios, each station a testament to how freeform radio space can be reimagined, re-purposed, and revitalized.” - Jack Straw Website

Walking into the room, first one hears the “noise” – accumulations of static and fuzzy voices squawking from four radios placed on stands. At first I thought that they were simply recordings, with the “radio fuzz” added digitally. Speaking with Ms. Cortes, however, told me otherwise: these are actual “radio stations”, broadcast only into the one room, and picked up with the small radios, tuned out slightly.

The content of these “stations”? Looped, from CD’s in the other room. One consisted of old broadcasts from KRAB, the (real) station that was run by Jack Straw in the 1960’s through the 1980’s. “Random” pictures and program listings – all organized in a regular grid on the wall – emphasized KRAB’s eclectic mix. Another station was a punk rock amalgam, complete with the expected witty and vulgar digs at society, the broadcast media, and particularly the FCC (presented with altered initials). The third, broadcast from a speaker behind the shell of an antique stand-up radio, was the “internet ephemera station”, dedicated (in the year 2030 or thereabouts) to preserving old sounds from the early days of electronic communications. The old radio emitted dial tones, busy signals, dial-up modems, and “your call cannot be completed as dialed”, as well as a soothing female voice announcing the origin of each sound. Lastly, there was a CB radio, adding bouts of static and rougher voices to the mix.

The idea was, of course, that the radio media needn’t be as regulated and monetized as what is usually found on the FM dial (one of the placards of the installation said this), and it might be fun just to imagine the possibilities of what actually could be (and in some cases is) broadcast outside of the mainstream. Apart from this, though, is the experience of the installation itself. This experience is, in some sense, similar to viewing wall-sized abstract expressionist paintings. The “non-mainstream” stations don’t match up, either in programming or any type of synchronization. What one hears, then, is a continually changing collage of sound – a sort of Jackson Pollock splatter of tone paint. Sometimes the sound/color is as loud and strident as a track by Merzbow (or a De Kooning painting); less frequently, it settles into a quieter murmur, more reminiscent of late pieces of John Cage (or Mark Rothko paintings). I found it fascinating to just sit there and listen in exactly the same way I would sit there and look at certain visual art.

Note to readers of this blog: It appears that "Blogger" has changed their formatting, and it is no longer possible to insert graphics in the same manner as I had been doing before. My apologies to those who liked the little abstract "bullets" at the start of each post.

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