Since my PhD research is broadly concerned with feminist, or at least female, digital media production, I’ve been trying to track down documentation (other than the rare anecdotes in books & articles) on women doing cool shit. Assuming I had watched all the doc’s available on electronic music OHM+: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music popped up. It’s a DVD collection of excerpts of interviews, performances, short films by some interesting pioneers in electronic music, perhaps not “gurus” but I guess this shit has to be marketed somehow. The experimental film Mutations definitely stood out. Mutations is a 1973 film done at the Bell Labs by computer art pioneer Lillian F. Schwartz with music by French composer Jean-Claude Risset, based on his Mutations I, also done at the Bells Labs in 1969 using Max Mathews’s Music V. Mutations I was completely computer synthesized & the first work to include FM synthesis. It was commissioned by Office de Radiodiffusion-Television Francaise. But for my purpose,s I want to focus on the film & the woman who made it happen.
The OHM+ booklet states: “Schwartz used computer-synthesized images animated by computer, along with speeded-up crystal growth filmed in polarized light, and laser beams difracted through transperent plastic volumes (the heat from the laser distorts the plastic, causing the beams to move).”
I wonder how the crystal growth was filmed to achieve these colours? Using some sort of microphotography? The taupe, pink, purple tones are incredible. I want a dress in this pattern! They work so well with the computer synthesized proto-pixel-art that looks like cells forming and dividing, that I’ve researched is actually The Game of Life.
Schwartz is a still a prolific artist and scholar of visual perception & sound, among other endeavours, and has become my new obsession (being a VJ — I am always looking for bizarre experiments before the ease of pre-written computer software). She has also been instrumental for the use of the computer in the philosophy of art. Her artistic catalogue is going to take me weeks to get through. Basically, she is a fucking bad ass who everyone should know about. I’m surprised I never came across her work before.
At 41, in 1968 she took computer math at The New School in NYC & subsequently became an in-house artist and researcher of color & perception at the Bell Labs for the next 33 years. She started working with scientists who were thrilled at the idea of an artist wanting to reconfigure the linearity of computer programs at the time, and wanting to add color to push the boundaries of animation. This was also a huge draw for Max Mathews, who never worked with an animator as part of the process of computer programming sounds before. During her time at the Bell Labs in the 70s and 80s, Schwartz invented a variety of computer system techniques for artists to use.
The enigmatic and effervescent Mileece is performing at MoMA on 26 Feb & I will be documenting her practice & performance, with the DoP magic of Martin Reisch.
If you are in New York, I urge you to come out. Mileece is one of the most unique artists I have encountered with rare knowledge of sound & code. She works with SuperCollider, an object-oriented programming language, and foregrounds the handicraft of her work, that goes beyond letting software “do its thing”. Her work as a composer and installation artist “promotes ecology through technology and the arts”. Recently, she has created her first interactive Aesthetic Sonification installation with hand-made sensor based instruments and initiated the design and development of TreeWeaver™, a technology platform enabling Human/Plant communication through sound.
In 2011, I visited Mileece in her LA home where we had hours of conversation. She had some cogent ideas about listening & the worldly soundscape:
Listening is an art, and we have to learn how to listen. That’s a major problem, we don’t listen. The only thing we’re really told to listen for is cars when you’re crossing the street! No one is ever like, “make sure you listen to the evening chorus!” No one ever says that, but we should probably say that because it would keep us sane. It’s been proven that when people listen to bird song they calm down — the brain waves cycles slow, the heart rate slows. We are related to our sonic environment.
The art of listening is something that we develop and I hope that whatever reason my interest in listening and in sound has led me to be able to siphon out from nature, things that can be put into a musical context and blossom into something new and exciting, but yet very much connected to the environment with which it came. A bird from Costa Rica, or a cricket from France — who is really interested in a cricket from France? But when you put the two together and some other music and some other interesting things, like the subway from New York and all of a sudden there is this cacophonous sound of our environments and we’re more aware. “Oh that’s the screechy sound, that’s us, that’s our sound and there’s these other sounds and they are nice!” I hope to blend these things to make space where we can reflect on our existence, because I like tripping out and thinking about existence and I like to use sound as a way to create realities and dimensions in existence that we can’t get to. I began to call this album [upcoming album in production] a sonic film. It should take you on a journey that’s beyond music, it’s a space and a visual experience in itself. I hope through my listening I can make these sounds more interesting and therefore give them more weights.
In conjunction with the installation of Wolfgang Laib’s Pollen from Hazelnut in the Museum’s Donald B. and Catherine C. Marron Atrium, join PopRally for a performance by London-born, Los Angeles–based sonic artist Mileece, who presents “live generative music” integrated with compositions from her forthcoming album. This lush, harmonious music combines unique compositions with Mileece’s self-developed concept of “aesthetic sonification”: a real-time synthesis of sounds from the bio-electric emissions of plants and handmade gestural instruments. The performance combines live cello; wildlife recordings and soundscapes from Mileece’s travels in Canada, Costa Rica, and other locales; and live visuals generated by plants, along with other video material. As part of the performance involves light projections, the artist encourages guests to wear white.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Performance begins promptly at 8:00 p.m., with a cocktail reception to follow. Guests are invited to view Wolfgang Laib’s Pollen from Hazelnut during the reception, which also features a DJ set by Maria Chavez.
There’s a blog post inside me about all the amazing women I met on my 5 day trip to UK last week. I spent as much of my time as possible with determined and ambitious women that know all about taking risks. The energy of unabashed women lights me on fire. Our movements taking over space.
FOR NOW songs I am obsessed with:
MUSIC MADE BY WOMEN BECAUSE WOMEN MAKE AWESOME MUSIC.
Bérangère Maximin is a French electro-acoustic composer. She is a student of Denis Dufour’s (a member of the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM)). She is one of the women featured in my upcoming documentary, microfemininewarfare. Please buy her albumTant Que Les heures Passent (As Long As The Hours Go By). It was released on John Zorn’s Tzadik Records label in 2008. I discovered her while staying at my friend’s house in Paris last year while working on the project’s proposal (serendipity yo!) while he was on the typical gone-south, Parisian vacation with his wife and daughters. I think music really defines a person (many people consider this childish of me) and I went through his music collection and this album caught my eye. I liked the name of it, and put it on to listen on his stereo system not too loud because it was a small residential building in Saint-Cloud.
I like when an artist can sweep me up into their world, and she was able to immediately. It is a strange vibration of musique concrete and an aesthetic of a woman filled with darkness. I can’t really say – I don’t appreciate the ‘music critic’ language so I will stop, but maybe you can be surprised by her melodic arrangements too!
It was obvious I would ask her to participate in my project because I was so fascinated by the narrative in her music. Bérangère and I spoke a lot about the music creation process and how difficult and painful it is, but I will leave that for later. One thing that surprised me was her attitude of wishing to bring together groups of electronic and electro-acoustic and jazz musicians together; something she is having difficulty with in Paris, because some people part of these groups are vocally exclusive and dogmatic. It is not surprising after meeting her, and that most of the women in my documentary discussed their desire to merge communities, and to create communities and collaborations of support networks that aren’t based on stylistic aesthetics. I hear many people mention this, but I don’t think as many people go through with it. Music politics; they are overbearing sometimes! OK, I will leave you with some out-takes from the photo shoot. Bérangère was quite generous, and I hope I served her well. The documentary, photos and interviews will be available sometime this year. They have to be.
After being in the Lab at Ryerson til about 3:30am editing last night (as has been every night the last while), I woke up at 7am and met up with J at York, hand-processing my 16mm film for almost eight hours in the darkroom, then I went straight back to my Lab and worked on Final Cut with my other movie until now, and it’s nearly 2am. We didn’t take enough breaks or drink enough water and my head is feeling pretty fried from all the chemical fumes. I can’t wait to see what I shot on Wednesday. A large portion of it was underexposed, so I messed around with the bleach and made crazy streaks, washing out many frames, because I didn’t realize that you have to dip bleached film into water immediately or else it keeps eating away at the frames. Seems obvious! I’m making mistakes all over the place and it’s really helping me learn (like actually take in information and process it into knowledge, not this half-ass skill acquisition that I usually do when learning new tools because I get sidetracked by …. the Internet!!). I love that working with analog there’s nothing to be distracted by like when working on a computer, because you’re in this dark room with lots of chemicals, time constraints and your work on the line & when you get into a groove & the fumes start kicking in, it gets proper meditative. We did listen to a lot of jungle to keep us going though. Next up is in-camera edits and superimposition. I really want to have enough material to incorporate it into our Bangface Weekender performance. I am addicted to the Bolex.
I can’t seem to work on video unless it’s dark out. Do you get that too? I don’t think I’m sleeping until I get to London next month, and then it’s all VJ, documentary shooting and RAVE.