All essays, reviews and collaborative work on music and art are listed here.
Art in America
Machine Séance: On Kevin Beasley at the Whitney
The air feels full of staticky fuzz. The synthesizers modulate the microphones’ live feeds. They are recombined in all their choppy, jagged variability, into a deep, consuming drone. Beasley programmed the black Midas digital mixer to manipulate, attenuate, pitch, and distribute the motor’s sound signature, its clicks and whines, at once foreign and familiar.
COVER STORY: An essay by Nora N. Khan considers Conrad’s vast creative output, the result of his dedication to challenging the boundaries between artistic categories. “Nearly every piece in Conrad’s oeuvre shows evidence of a shifted frame, from the instruments made from rusty Band-Aid boxes, coke bottles, tin foil, copper tubing, wire, scraps of wood, and tape, to the many hours of rangy, hysterical, buoyant, and strange video works,” Khan writes. “Creating new taxonomies by pushing the frame was a political act: not only the literal frame, but any attempt to frame, to position, to establish criteria that go unexamined… The choice of a frame was the moment of creating meaning.” Along with Khan’s text, musician and artist Charlemagne Palestine pays homage to Conrad’s memory by recounting their musical partnership — fifty years of what he calls “aural symbiosis.”
No Safe Mode
Designers of technology love to propagate the myth of a just world, in which people always get what they deserve. In erasing the messier and unsolvable elements of social experience that shape subjecthood, technology attempts to frame us as clean and uncomplicated. We become reducible, mapped by a programmable sets of traits with defined, singular meanings. Our digital choices and consumption patterns give a portrait of who we are. We are easily represented by our avatars.
While the jury is still out on the promise of virtual reality applications and devices in an artistic context, more and more contemporary artists in the last two years have been using augmented reality to compelling ends. Museums, even those famously slow at adopting technology, are commissioning artists working with augmented reality. Where virtual reality and game simulations are closely bound within the all-subsuming frameworks established by their technologies, augmented reality feels crucially different. Augmentation deploys lightness and play to highlight, reframe, and rearticulate visual narratives through subtle gestures and edits.
The baroque of In Tongues, comprising ten unbearably lush set pieces, goes further. On his new album, Chan displays his dizzying facility as an electronic producer, composing and sculpting a sonic architecture through obsessive editing of disparate materials. He manages to stage and crystallize the sublimity that experimental music generates inside the club, its brutal, transformative emotions. In Tongues recaptures those heady feelings, which, leaving the party, dissipate like smoke in the night air outside.
Art in America
Get Free: Music and Gender at MoMA PS1
Venus X summarized recurring themes of the day: that the expressive freedom that flourishes outside institutions is difficult to recreate within them, and that “free people,” having to come to terms with their gender identity, present it boldly, and for good reason. For members of marginalized groups, existence in a xenophobic society is a battle. To make a style from this struggle is a radical act. And sustaining non-binary identities involves creating spaces where the presentation of difference can thrive, if only for a few hours.
What’s in a Rave?
If there is one Youtube video I would give off my left hand to be in, it is this footage of Underground Resistance, the Detroit techno collective, performing in the foggy hours before dawn at a festival near Mt. Fuji. They are encoring with their famous anthem, Hi-Tech Jazz, full of outer-world melodic transmissions. The force of the crowd’s elation, optimism, and energy, is astonishing.
Defend and Protect
FRAMED AGAINST the dry, golden San Diego foothills, the man across the parking lot points a jet-black speaker at me. It looks like a bullhorn — light, even insubstantial. I signal that I’m ready. From the device, his voice booms.
Casey Reas’s Disconcerting Software Paintings
A software painting is generated from code that puts a set of ideas into motion. Artist Casey Reas, whose fourth solo show, “There’s No Distance,” is on view with bitforms gallery, describes this programming process as an aesthetic mode, in which he plays with code structure “as if it were a drawing — erasing, redrawing, reshaping lines” intuitively.
Meriem Bennani’s FLY, a video piece at MoMA P.S.1 that constitutes the artist’s first museum solo show, is, on its face, a collage of personal videos the artist shot on her phone during a recent trip to Morocco. It stitches together scenes of daily life in the old city quarters of Fez and Rabat (where she was born in 1988), interviews with family members and friends, and the frenzied pageantry of a wedding. The brilliant colors disorient: lapis and gold, deep black-blues, the crisp white of a man’s thobe as he’s silhouetted against the bright green of a soccer field. Manicured hands covered in jewels hold their iPads aloft to photograph a bride so beautiful she seems unreal.
Art in America
Perhaps some aspects of the creative mind can be stored in code, but all of it? While the analytical capabilities of artificial intelligence are recognized as “real,” many refuse to acknowledge that simulations of taste can be equally authentic. The common-sense consensus seems to be that aesthetic feeling is too complex to ever quantify, as it is generated by dozens of factors, from class upbringing and education, to social influences and pressures, to remembered and learned preferences.
Bad Corgi, a “shadowy mindfulness app for contemplating chaos,” subverts the user at every turn. It seems to have a mind of its own. As an eager player, my inherent inclination is to fix, to reverse the war of attrition through mastery. But I must accept the corgi’s—the system’s—self-destruction and ruin. This is a difficult proposition to allow. On some level, I think my hard work and skill should pull my corgi through to an unspecified triumph.
You’re a small triangle in flight across a screen, four pixels wide and eight pixels tall. Your lot in life is to be an (x,y) pair. Your velocity has a fixed range. After the chaos of your origin at a random point in this field, your path is wholly determined by the triangles flying closest to you, and your path influences them in turn.
You are both an instantiated object and a member of a flock, a class, a school. You follow three rules: separation, alignment, cohesion. These three rules collaborate to update your position—helping you avoid collision, target a collective goal, stay close to friends.
Faulty Inventory Control
Data barns loom like sublime cities in the desert, each housing a hundred trillion indexed points. We circle the colossus, dwarfed, drawn in by the mirrored candescence of inexhaustible machines performing calculations at a rate beyond imagination. Within, stacks of data, their lifetimes transient yet precisely accounted, pile furiously, and yet the machines continue to tame them. We suspect their mastery hints at our own latent capacities: for greater comprehension, for control.
In 2003, the Blaster Worm was a formidable security breach. A blended threat, rolling bad code into elements of various viruses and worms, it moved swift and ruthless across four hundred thousand Microsoft computers within two weeks.
Alvin Toffler’s seminal book Future Shock (1970) posited the modular man, the disposable person, as one of the fundamental units and products of an urban, post-industrial society. We interact with specific modules of a person rather than the full human.
Modular youth, then, is a play on modular man, and on Youth Mode, the title of a recent report by artists/trend forecasters K-HOLE and Box 1824 arguing that youth is not about age, but about endless adaptability…