Archive for March, 2014

Sexting and the Threat of Technology

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 by angelarovak

Yesterday afternoon I attended a great lecture on campus by Profssor Amy Adele Hasinoff of Communications at the University of Colorado Denver titled “Sexting and the Politics of Privacy and Consent.” As we have discussed many of the new technologies she covered and the concepts of privacy, I wanted to share a few moments from her talk.

Most of the talk revolved around her argument that the legal ramifications of sexting, defined as creating or distributing a sexually suggesting or explicit personal image via text by mobile phone or other electronic means, should be abolished for the consenting participants. The logical conundrum that in many places in the U.S. two 17-year-olds can engage in sex acts but it be illegal for them to photograph these sex acts seems bizarre, to say the least. Also, Prof. Hasinoff pointed out how people of color and queer couples are disproportionately targeted by these laws, often serving jail time for creating “child pornography” of their own bodies. The trend to engage in this risky behavior speaks volumes about how different populations privilege, or don’t, privacy.

Now on to the interesting points about technology. I was particularly intrigued by the argument that, even though the technologies of sexting are recent, the discourse is quite old. Throughout history the conversation on how each new technology is related to or can be exploited by female sexual deviancy arises. A great example is of the telegraph, examined in an article “High Tech or High Risk” by Cassell and Cramer, where young women operators caused anxiety after stories of illicit love affairs beginning over the wires circulated in society. How the technology is blamed along with the female can be seen through many of these stories, showing yet another narrative we can consider when thinking about media development over the past few centuries.

Prof. Hasinoff hit may great points about how to change social conception and legal ramifications of sexting. I was curious about one of her suggestions to limit the privacy violations of circulating intimate images. She proposed that cellphones offer the option for user-controlled DRM on devices which would inhibit any recipient from forwarding on the item. I am curious how we all react to this? Is this an inhibition of media and technological devices? Do we believe the files and images shared between devices should be “free” to circulate? She also mentioned SnapChat as a move in the right direction for consent and privacy issues surrounding digital file sharing, but agreed that the servers which hold all images could be considered as harboring child pornography under the current laws. My intent in sharing this watered-down version of her lecture with all of us is to consider yet another aspect of the relationship between people, society, and technology. How new media change the public perceptions of consent and privacy seems to be a site ready for more reflection.


My Experiment with Self-Obliterating Text

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014 by lasu9006

Last week, I went to the lab and tinkered with the Xerox 6016 Memorywriter, and I became completely consumed with a mini-project that I came up with on the spot. My idea for the mini-project came about when I discovered that the machine was able to actually erase text with the push of a button. Like other typewriters, too, the machine is able to write letters on top of one another, thereby obfuscating the letter beneath. I began to experiment with the machine, with the intent to capitalize on its ability to obscure the very text it creates.

I began to write a single sentence, without spaces, over and over again: “themediumobliteratesitself.” Each time I rewrote the sentence, I would obscure a letter by writing the next letter on top of it. Finally, at the end of the experiment I wrote all of the letters on top of each other, until the entire sentence became a blob of ink. But then, here’s the part that got me really excited: I hit the backspace button, and the machine erased the entire the little blob, with plenty of satisfying noise for accompaniment. I took a video of the entire process, and intended to speed up the entire video. Unfortunately, I started to have some technical difficulties with my phone, so the videos weren’t consistent enough to build a coherent, accelerated video from them. Iff I were to attempt the project again, I would have to take a much better video, and I would also change the repeated sentence to “themediumobliteratesitsmessage.”

This week’s reading from Niebisch’s Media Parasites in the Early Avant-Garde was quite illuminating in identifying yet another way that media can be manipulated and complicated. Niebisch’s articulation of the Dadaists’ and Futurists’ different parasitic relationships with media—relationships that emphasized “irritation” as a means toward generativity and productivity—got me thinking about ways that media can be used and abused toward new productive ends. While I by no means think that my trivial experiment with the Memorywriter constitutes the avant-garde, I do think that my project, in its humble way, shows the ways in which media can be used against itself, in order to create a new way of using that media. 

I intend to include some video of my mini-project, but I’m having a bit of difficulty doing so! I’ll keep fiddling around with the videos and see if I can post them as a comment to this blog post. 

Temporal limits of the media parasite

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by dparker90

If early 20th-century avant-garde poets exploited contemporary media practices in order to undermine the technologies that determined their situation, as Niebisch claims, does that mean that media parasites necessarily operate within the technology of their present? Since Marinetti’s work was primarily concerned with subverting newsprint, film, photography, and other media that shaped the early 20th-century, it would seem that in order to “be” a media parasite, one needs to infiltrate the media of one’s moment. If so, can we practice media parasit-ism(?) on dead media that no longer “determine our situation”?

Thinking back on my recent trips to the MAL, I’m inclined to believe that it’s impossible to subvert dead media – to draw attention to it as media, as Niebisch explains – because my unfamiliarity with older technologies means that I can’t ever see them as anything other than media. Does that make sense? Because they’re not part of my mediated world, they stick out to me as media. So, if the goal of the early avant-garde was to make consumers aware of the media ecologies they inhabited, we need to focus on the technologies that compose our own media ecology. Not to mention that I have enough trouble learning how to operate dead media for its intended purpose, much less subverting it.

And yet, we know there’s something new in the old. Maybe learning to infiltrate dead media could give us better sense of our current media ecology? Can media parasites transcend the ecologies in which they originated?

(Ab)using ASCII in the Apple IIe

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by kylebickoff

I wanted to talk about the layering of text in Zelevansky’s Swallows. Although this was a work we covered a bit ago, I wanted to be sure that I concurrently make sure I study physical objects in the lab for the course. Moreover, I wanted to take this chance to work with a piece of software which runs on a computer that existed pre-WWW. What I noticed when interacting with this text was the ‘layering’ inherently embedded, and nested, in the media. I want to consider this text on multiple levels, engaging in a critical course of study that avoids the fallacies inherent in ‘screen essentialism.’ If we consider Niebisch’s Media Parasites In the Early Avant-Garde: On The Abuse of Technology and Communication in relation to Zelevansky’s Swallows, we might consider how exactly, beneath the surface level  of the screen, Swallows is able to subvert traditional uses of Apple II systems.

Niebisch notes that the ‘abuse of media’ requires one to “(ab)use media technologies … in the system in a way note intended by hegemonic powers.” In the history of computing on Apple systems, the Apple IIe is released in 1983, while the apple Macintosh is released in 1984. If the Apple II line represents the open, DIY intent of computing, the Apple Macintosh line represents the blackboxed, proprietary, worst option for Apple (aka Jobs vs. the Woz). In Swallows, what Zelevansky engages in is a non-traditional representation of text and image for the system. Specifically, text represented alone typically makes use of the ASCII character-set on the Apple II, using text in Applesoft (Microsoft BASIC for Apple computers). When image is represented on the top portion of the screen, and text is represented below (like a caption), the text is also displayed with the Applesoft character-set. But, when text is represented atop (layered over) an image, then text is represented in a non-Applesoft ASCII character set. In this case, the words are represented either through an undefined font, or in a font intended to imitate ASCII font through image. In such imitations, the borders of the characters lose their sharpness and some of their contrast, becoming slightly blurry. Whether intentional or unintentional, I notice that the text repeatedly follows such a pattern. Would the author (and programmer) have embedded text differently if Applesoft supported alternative character-sets and character displays? I suspect font would have been used differently. In this case, image indeed subverts the ‘hegemonic power’s’ desire to define how a user will both enter and display text. This work is quite early in using the Apple II in this unintended way, but I would argue, indeed, subverts the intentions of text display on the Apple II line of computers. My further notations on subversion are go on, but I shall stop here.

A question for Niebisch

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by sdileonardi

Would it be fair to press Arndt Niebisch to differentiate between parasitic subversion and the general laws of intertextuality and borrowing that have governed art and story telling since the beginning of the spoken word? My concern is that he paints the accomplishments of the early avant-garde with a fairly broad brush. That is, in the ecological rhetoric that Niebisch adopts, doesn’t all representation find a host in the spatio-temporal context in which it resides? A burgeoning generation of artists generally galvanize through its attempts to resist previous conventions by augmenting and building upon accepted practice. I’m not sure if this can be characterized as “abuse” or “parasitic,” particularly since subversion is not always an aesthetic movement’s modus operandi. However, it seems to me that Niebisch’s use of the parasite is simply a new metaphor to describe the age-old phenomenon of artistic experimentation by pushing the boundaries of one’s current form. One might say, however, that his argument is unique in its adherence to communication technologies. In the spirit of Kittler, Niebisch is aware of how networks of media systems produce hegemonies, which he extends to draw attention to the ways in which the avant-garde attaches to these hegemonies in order to distort and manipulate them. My hesitation, however, also takes a page from Kittler, who dilates the scope of media studies to include all systems of communication, including the postal service and the pony express. To that end, oral and vernacular traditions, folklore and mythologies, all inherently contain the makings of a communication system and thus a media form. And therefore, the very formation of the modern novel (whenever we want to argue that took place) represents the distortion and manipulation of such oral traditions. The novel could neither develop without these past forms nor could it ever fully replace them, but it could borrow, extend, alter, and in some sense, “abuse” the preexisting conditions surrounding it. I don’t discount Niebisch’s entire argument, and I’m sure several folks in class will commend him for returning agency to the artist by challenging Kittler’s media-determinism, but I do believe it would be worth our while to clarify the limits of his scope and the necessary implications of what he calls parasitic media manipulation. 

Variety Theater as the (Anti-)Archive

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by asobol

Is the Variety Theater an (anti-)archive? I had this thought reading over Marinetti’s manifesto. I can’t quite put my finger on either side of this divide—in some ways it feels archival, and in many ways it seems to try to destroy some of the ideas behind an archive. At the very least, in doing both, it gets to be a little Dada. So there’s that.

“Futurism,” Marinetti claims, “wants to transform the variety theater into a theater of amazement, record-setting, and body-madness.” Record-setting suggest that his variety theater is trying to make sense of something. For all its claims for disposing the original logic of the theater—perhaps introducing a new logic is a better way to put it—there is a desire to retain the old works, albeit in new ways: “Systematically prostitute all of classic art on the stage, performing for example all the Greek, French, and Italian tragedies, condensed and comically mixed up.”

In this hypothetical performance, the classic (western!) tragedies would be juxtaposed, remixed, interrupted by one another. They wouldn’t, I assume, be played chronologically. The effects of this would be to show the similarities and differences between these works. They’d be performing a kind of archaeology on stage. It wouldn’t be a narrative of progress—Greek tragedies influencing the Italian then influencing the French. Having them played simultaneously condenses time and space into one room, changing the audience’s experience of history and tradition.

The manifesto’s second goal, “Prevent a set of traditions from establishing itself in the Variety Theater,” is an attempt to escape a prevailing ideology. It wants to create a new logic out of cultural mainstays. I find it curious that Marinetti wants to disrupt, but is always using terms like “system” and “logic” and “type.” His method is not random, not entirely. (And what is a manifesto if not a declaration of an ideology?)

In the aforementioned hypothetical performance, the archive would be made up of western tragedies. We have parameters to work with. We have selected works to think about. No matter how random it may appear to the audience, someone must direct it.  But eventually we hit the problem of the Futurist’s tinkering: at what point does reconfiguring and restructuring these plays create a new piece of art? When does the archive stop collecting and start creating? Is it an archive of the moment? These are performances, after all, so they would only exist for one night. No matter how closely the next night’s performance came, it would be a new experience for the audience, for the actors. It’s couldn’t be a permanent archive. Can such a thing exist?

If we take the claim that the archive is actually interested in us, what do we make of all the pranks played on the audience? It’s a little on the nose, but the audience becomes part of the performance, part of the archive. The variety theater isn’t so much concerned with what’s happening on stage, but with how it challenges, prods, pokes, scratches, and frustrates its audience.

At the very least, the variety theater presents one view of what an archive could accomplish, if it were allowed complete freedom over its subjects. It may not be academically productive, but it opens up new avenues for consideration.

Concrete Poetry and Freeing Oneself from the Grid

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by eadodge

Last class, Devin made a good point that Kittler doesn’t take certain factors into account in his section about the typewriter, like print culture in previous centuries. I also noticed that with the concept of concrete poetry, some of Kittler’s assumptions about the typewriter also come into question, with regards to what it can represent. Kittler notes, “The typewriter cannot conjure up anything imaginary, as can cinema; it cannot simulate the real, as can sound recording; it only inverts the gender of writing” (183). I disagree.

During my last trip to the MAL, I tried out the big blue Olympia typewriter. I thought back to an art project I had undertaken as an undergradute, shortly after reading T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” My favorite lines from the poem were:
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

As an undergraduate, I wrote these lines on a blank sheet of paper and began to paint on the sheet. I created a red, gold, and black city, with figures like ants scrawled across the bottom of the page.

When I sat at that typerwriter, I thought of those words again, that picture again, and finally of “Pope Leo.” Whether I would create a scene from the lines or something different altogether, I started typing part of the poem, and as I did, I recognized the separation of my hands from the final result, connected only by key strokes. It felt no different from typing on a digital word processor, at first.

But then, as I struggled to feed a second sheet of paper into the machine, I realized that I could move the page however I wanted. I could type over letters, overlap them in a different line. I could change the orientation of the page and start typing in whatever direction I wanted. The grid structure that I had felt for so long from word processors was mostly gone, and the result was suddenly freeing. The representations in Writing Surfaces returned to mind, and I started to let the words drive themselves into corresponding shapes. The page that resulted is not one that I can share easily through this post. My wireless printer/scanner is not recognizing my computer on the network, and the ink is too light to be faithfully captured by a photo. But I’ll be sure to bring both versions to class. I’m even considering coming back to that typewriter in a future visit to the lab, in order to make something even less structured than the second page I produced.

Between examining the more established strain of concrete poetry that is out there and my own experience trying to reproduce it, I recognized that the page carries the baggage of certain concepts of ‘page.’ And language is still a set of arbitrary symbols that can combine and recombine. But with the ability to ‘break’ a typewriter so that its written standardization remains only in its character size and font, one can create something imaginary — something even like Swallows, which I think of as concrete poetry in motion. There could be some materiality aspect about concrete poetry which makes the comparison less than perfect, but what I am trying to convey overall is that Kittler’s argument, while it remains thought-provoking, is missing a few more creative elements.

Thoughts on Typography from ‘Undergrad Lola’

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by lola192

I’ve been awfully pressed for time over the last week – one of those weeks where everything that could possibly be assigned is all due on the same day – so for my post, I would like to share two extracts from my undergrad paper on typography in digital poetry. I realise this is cheating somewhat, but I found it relevant and it remains true to my thoughts on poetry as a digital medium. i have also included the links to the three kinetic typographies mentioned in the conclusion. Be warned, they aren’t necessarily PG-rated as some are peppered with rather colourful language! Below are the introduction and conclusion from my paper titled, Typography: Digital Poems and Interpretative Closure.

“Even for a more sophisticated reader, the very label ‘poem’ may arouse many expectations that the text will not fulfill”

– Claus Culver

“Early Modernists, such as the French Symbolist poet Mallarme and Italian Futurist Marinetti, played founding roles in directing poetry away from its purely literary traditions by using new and innovative methods of typography to change the face of conventional poetry. By relying on similar typographical techniques and applying them to new mediums, today’s digital poets have further altered – and are continually altering – the way in which poetry is presented. However, in doing so, are they ultimately alienating poetry from the traditional reader? Furthermore, are contemporary techniques serving to push digital poetry so far away from a definition that it is becoming unrecognisable as something literary? Traditional poetry relies heavily on one’s ability to perform a close reading of a work in order to reach a comprehensive understanding of what the text is trying to communicate. However, as Dana Gioia asserts in Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture, due to the rising popularity of electronic mediums as a platform for poetry, “the orthodox views of contemporary poetry no longer are either useful or accurate in portraying the rapidly changing shape of the art”. Taking Gioia’s notion of orthodox views of contemporary poetry into consideration, one could posit that existing uses of typography in digital poetry function, albeit sometimes involuntarily, to make it somewaht resistant to, what Bernstein calls, “interpretive closure” as a genre. Consequently, the method of analysis that is integral to how traditional poetry functions is made especially difficult to attain. Such resistance further proves problematic for digital poetry insofar as it appears to cross boundaries that dictate what is to be accepted as ‘poetry’ versus what is not.

As poetry and poets alike become immersed in the advantages the Digital Movement has to offer the art form, the way in which digital poetic works are interpreted shall undoubtedly have to change in order for them to be sufficiently critiqued and appreciated. In order to garner interpretive comprehension of digital poems, such as the kinetic typographies of Fight Club, Pulp Fiction, and V for Vendetta, a reader who is accustomed to analyzing and interpreting conventional poetry needs to adjust their expectations and analytic methodology. Readers must disregard previous ‘training’ and any attachments to specific poetic genres that they may possess, as well as attempt to overcome any desire they may hold to somewhat maintain the academy or poetry as it exists within the paradigm of academia. With an inability to readily and concretely define what poetry is becoming within the digital age, there comes a fear that poets will begin to favour non-verbal means of communication, rendering language simply sound void of meaning. As poetry progresses within a digital framework, what remains to be seen is whether or not such a fear is a legitimate one.”

Fight Club:

V for Vendetta: (Beautiful part of the film for we English nerds)

Pulp Fiction:

Deep Alchemy of Words

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by willm2

Marie Osmond (yes, *that* Marie Osmond) performing Hugo Ball’s “Karawane”. Poem begins at 1:33.

It was with great pleasure that I heard recitations of Hugo Ball’s poetry on UbuWeb. Simply reading the sound poems – as one would expect – did them absolutely no justice. While the poem ‘Gadji Beri Bimba‘ was composed consciously, when it was performed in 1916 by Ball, it devolved (evolved?) into an improvised dirge:

“…the dragging rhythm of the elements had permitted me a last crescendo, but how to continue to the end? I then noticed that my voice, which apparently had no other choice, was assumed an ancient cadence of sacerdotal lament in the style of the masses sung in the Catholic churches of the east and west. I do not know what this music inspired in me, but I began to sing my sequences of vowels in recitative liturgical manner. (”

This liturgical drone of glossolalia ( was not only Ball’s purview. Some of the Maori songs included under Tristan Tzara’s Dada poetry also come across as sound without meaning, or sound for sound’s sake. The typographic collages we looked at this week could also be said to be glossolalia on paper. As I read and listened to this nonsense given shape, I began to wonder about nonsense as a form of resistance not only in Dada, but in modern media. If glossolalia indeed represents a kind of ‘ur-language’ as some have suggested (novelists Paul Auster and Neal Stephenson to name a few), then does it also represent a space of expression that is unshaped by discourse? Following from Foucault, Kittler is famous for stating that technology uses us, rather than the other way around. The entire breadth of our expressive capabilities are dictated by machines and media which have circumscribed the discourse in which we exist as subjects. Dada poetry, speaking in tongues, automatic writing, can any or all of these give us an alternative to media-dictated experience?

While all three of these techniques appear to be nonsense on the surface, I would offer that what we think is nonsense only comes across that way because of its complete freedom from discourse. This leads to the question: can nonsense be commodified? Can media incorporate nonsense into something that no longer exists outside of discourse-networks? Do we see an example of this in the baffling video I embedded above? Or, perhaps, in the Talking Heads’ adaption of Ball’s ‘Gadji Beri Bimba’ for their fantastic song ‘I Zimbra’ (embedded below). Does the grafting of Ball’s sound poem onto comprehensible rhythms place it out of the realm of nonsense, or does it bring the original’s power into sharper relief?

Thoughts on the Working Machine

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by brandontruett

There seems to be a trend forming around my experiences in the MAL. My fumbling attempts to operate a machine are sometimes thwarted by its inoperability but more likely my own technical ineptitude. Last week I walked into the MAL with the goal of loading a cassette game onto the Commodore 64 of 1982. Before Lori told me, I had no idea that a cassette could load information besides music. After about an hour of loading five different cassette tapes, I nearly gave up. The machine would flash colored horizontal bars that danced down the screen, giving me hope that the game would soon appear. However, the pirouetting bars would eventually give way to the command prompt, alerting me to the game’s inability to “work.”

While my last posts that derived from lab research focused on the concept of user-friendly, I am now more interested in the notion of a machine that “works.” What does it mean if it works? How do we determine it doesn’t work? I began to notice the yellow post-its placed on some machines in the MAL that read “this works,” but in my experience, especially in the context of my family’s one desktop computer that was a hallmark of my childhood, the machine might work when someone else uses it. Working, then, might inescapably depend on who’s using it even though we’re quick to pass judgments on the machine when frustrated.

The Commodore 64 obviously powered on and correctly processed my commands, but the various cassette tapes (software?) posed problems. I eventually was able to see the colorful title screen of Max Headroom (see image below) yet after ten excruciating minutes of no progress, I concluded the cassette didn’t work. I began to ponder the notion of a correctly working machine, which inevitably must satisfy the user. There certainly are degrees to which a machine will work, but we will say the machine doesn’t work when it doesn’t satisfy our needs. Indeed, I couldn’t load the cassette game, Sherlock, so I concluded that the Commodore 64 didn’t work. This of course is faulty logic, but I think it reveals an interesting aspect of our relationships to machine––that we place demands on the machine that far exceed its feasible operability; that is to say, the machine probably “works” in the abstract sense, but we define its operability based on our experience, how it works in relation to us. It, then, follows that our ability to understand object-oriented ontology, how the machine itself experiences being, might have a limit. I may be assuming too much about the general user, but based on my own experience with machines, the frustration that builds to the point at which I nullify its being, I am hesitant by the prospect of fully understanding or theorizing an object-oriented ontology. As we have discussed in class, these theorizations, which have been borne out of or perhaps have arose in tandem with posthumanism, predictably return to the status of the human. In short, my frustrations in the MAL complicate my own ability to understand the machine on its own terms, as I affix my own affective responses onto the machine when it doesn’t do my bidding. I feel better to conclude that the machine doesn’t work rather than perhaps more likely declaring that I as a user do not work.


Futurism and Sound Noise

Sunday, March 16th, 2014 by contromal

Futurism. Well, I really want to insult those who vested their creative lives in futurism. It was hard enough for me to get past their blatant genderism and pointed misogyny, let alone brilliant statements in manifestos like:

“9. We will glorify war – the world’s only hygiene – militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.
10. We will destroy the museums, libraries, academies of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.” (Marinetti 198)

I think what bothered me most were the obvious ironies and contradictions that were woven into tenets of a futurist’s philosophy, seemingly unnoticed and certainly unacknowledged. For example, in Marinetti’s The Variety Theater Manifesto, he compelled his reading audience to “2. Prevent a set of traditions from establishing itself in the Variety Theater” (208). I am certain that this is obvious, but this statement establishes a tradition of not establishing traditions. Not to mention that such a type of theater seems to be taking place in an physical theater, which one could argue would be destroyed under tenet number ten, mentioned above. It seemed to me that the type of art, “stress on invented languages, simultaneous performances, & audience-bashing & provocation (glue on seats, vegetables to throw back at performers),” celebrated in the futurist manifestos have themselves earned scorn (215). Perhaps I am not understanding the purpose of art, if one assumes there is a purpose to it, but this seems more like an exalted clown college or fraternity playbook, than art that might make an individual think… about anything… or question… something.

In spite of these shortcomings, I found the futurist agenda interesting with regards to Russolo’s take on noise and music.

“First of all, musical art looked for the soft and limpid purity of sound. Then it amalgamated different sounds, intent upon caressing the ear with suave harmonies. Nowadays musical art aims at the shrillest, strangest and most dissonant amalgams of sound. Thus we are approaching noise-sound. This revolution of music is paralleled by the increasing proliferation of machinery sharing in human labor.” (5)
The Art of Noise (futurist manifesto, 1913) by Luigi Russolo

Now, I may be a woman, but I know a LOT about music. I listened to Luigi Russolo’s “Risveglio Di Una Citta, 1913” and I really think I get it. Essentially, Russolo criticizes orchestras for not being interesting anymore, because man’s taste has evolved alongside the development of the machine, his ally in accomplishing labor. He wants to replace the noises instruments make (which are also machines – Russolo ignores this) with the noises machines, cities, and crowds make. Russolo states that “musical sound is too restricted in the variety and the quality of its tones,” that “The most complicated orchestra can be reduced to four or five categories of instruments with different sound tones,” and that “We must break at all cost from this restrictive circle of pure sounds and conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds” (6). Now, I am not opposed to the idea that composers need to “shake it up” to push the limits of sound, noise, and music. I have played The Planets by Gustav Holst and used my violin bow as percussion, I have hummed a kazoo (with virtuostic passion) to a performance of some Star Wars piece, and I have played an orchestral arrangement of Jurassic Park, in which a guy screeched the part of a raptor. Russolo warns that “Some will object that noise is necessarily unpleasant to the ear” and I am not one of these people (7). I believe that noise can decidedly enhance the quality of a musical performance for the composer, performers, and audience (take for example the gun shots, weapon being cocked, and cash register cha-ching in M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” However, I think Russolo takes his argument too far.

First of all, his assertion that “all contemporary composers of genius tend to stress the most complex dissonances” is obviously biased to support his agenda (11). Although composers like Brahms and Stravinsky incorporated and depended upon dissonance, they did not forsake the entirety of harmonic form. Their pieces, in some way, find resolution. So, while their pieces may work with dissonance, they use this technique of to progress the music. Something I felt lacking in Russo’s work was a complete lack of affect and direction. As the audience shouldn’t I be moved in some way? Whether it’s revulsion or joy or confusion or even apathy? I would say that I wasn’t even motivated enough by Russo’s work to feel apathetic. And if the point is that his music was pointless, then at least that came across.

My second issue with Russo is this idea that the old or traditional lacks so entirely that Russo’s idea of music must completely exclude their presence from new, machinic, music-making. He says “we must replace the limited variety of timbres of orchestra instruments by the infinite variety of timbers of noises obtained through special mechanisms” (emphasis added 11). Replace? Really? I think that music made on instruments designed specifically for the purpose of making music appeal to a human audience in a way that the music stolen from machines cannot. When the human mind bridges the gap between representation (I’m thinking Peter and the Wolf – the human must decide what instrument is Peter, which the Wolf) and creation, it somehow bonds in a way that is different that recognition (I’m thinking of Russo’s recordings of automobiles). Sure. Broaden what qualifies as music. But remove traditional noise makers, because their noise is too purely musical? I do not agree that this allows for the unpredictability the futurists preach against. Rather it limits the infinite quality of noise. Occasionally, could an oboe be incorporated with a beautiful melody, because that is what oboes produce when a human manipulates it as a machine?

My recommendation calls for the orchestration of noise (although I’m not certain it can be considered noise, if it is repurposed in music… but that’s another discussion), musical instruments, and musical instruments manipulated in new ways.

Because I don’t care who you are… that’s not boring.


Quak-Quak Goes the Frog

Sunday, March 16th, 2014 by angelarovak



Written language, even when incomprehensible on the basis of semiotic understanding, still represents the possible noises achievable through the human instrument. The vocal cords and distortion of the face can produce a remarkable array of sounds, but this mode of expression remains limited. Much of the analysis of Futurist and Dadaist poetry seems predicated on the sounds a human can make, and I was most interested in Niebisch’s analysis of onomatopoeias per Marinetti in Media Parasites in the Early Avant-Garde. Niebisch argues that the “reason for the extensive use of onomatopoetic expressions is that they are not conventionally determined. They refer directly to material pre-verbal sounds” (53). While this appears sound in theory, I pause at the assumption that onomatopoeias are not culturally determined, invested in a common linguistic system even if they are “not established as lexical items” (53) as Niebisch argues Marinett’s use of onomatopoeias is not. The symbolic representation of written noise still connotes particular representations within a language system. This becomes glaringly obvious when considering the onomatopoeias from across languages and cultures, all which presumably represent the same thing but only come into interpretive meaning when applied in the proper language system.

The phonetic reading of “quak-quak” and “quack-quack,” to the English speaker, is undeniable the same. But the first, in Greek, would conjure images of a frog, while the second, in English, draws to mind a duck.

With this consideration I find the argument that, for Marinetti and other such poets, the onomatopoeias “constitute linguistic expressions of non-lexically coded sensations and compress these sensations in just one term” (53) to be unconvincing. In order to understand the intention of Zang Tumb Tumb the reader must have an understanding that “tumbtumb” represents the auditory experience of bombings. Any semantic communication is lost otherwise.

This interrogation of the more authentic experiential representation of written sounds and syllables applies to much of the Futurist and Dadaist poetry and even the sound poetry assigned for this week. While there is a strong argument that this artistic expression is meant to aestheticize pure noise disconnected from semantic linguistic reasoning, there still remains an imbedded ideological reliance on language systems. In this manner, I agree with Niebisch’s critique of the “optophonetic” quality of Dada visual poster poetry, a concept applicable to most visual poetry. While the size, typeface, and other visual features represent a particular acoustic impression, that “the aesthetic quality of the letters corresponds to a certain mode of acoustic utterance” (76), it is a limited system. Non-phonetic written representation cannot be read in such a way. Just as the kazoo-like sounds, ringing bells, and other non-human vocalized features of the sound poems would be linguistically impossible to represent in written form. The visual and acoustic manipulation of the poem’s parts seems to get us as close to the intention of pure communication, but still falls short as long as the poet and reader remain embedded in a conventional linguistic system.