Cycling around Midlothian on Sunday afternoon, pondering how I might go about writing up this review, I wondered if my problem is that conceptual modern art is just a foreign language to me. And not one like Swedish or Spanish, where I have some hope of working out roughly what is going on from its Latin or German common roots. But Tagalog. Truth be told, I don’t actually remember ever visiting an art gallery of any kind before I was in my early 20s, which is a little odd given that two members of my family make a living as artists.
So what I’m about to say comes with the proviso that, even more than is usually the case, I don’t know what I’m talking about. But I couldn’t help thinking of PJ O’Rourke’s observation that
“…modern art is…a product that turned ugly because its producers thought art should constantly change. Art quickly ran out of things to change into that weren’t stupid.The modernists believed that artistic creativity—like the manufacture of kitchen appliances or flint spear points—should progress. This is like believing that sex appeal should progress. Sandra Bullock has a marvelous behind. Now if only she could grow a third buttock.”
Because while Alvin Lucier’s ‘I Am Sitting in a Room’ may be an interesting experiment, I don’t think I’d want to actually listen to it.
Up to now, I’ve tried to be diligent and stick to the rule of playing every album through at least twice. Even that dreary Alex Parks record with the overwrought covers of Imagine and Everybody Hurts. But I’ll admit I… sort of… cheated with this one. Not least because I couldn’t find the original 18 minute 1969 recording anywhere, and the thought of listening to all 45 minutes of the 1981 re-recording really didn’t appeal. For the uninitiated, it consists of Mr Lucier reading the following four line monologue
“I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.”
Maybe the problem is that my flat doesn’t have a bath. Standing in the shower while this is being played probably wouldn’t have the same trance-inducing effect and 45 minutes would be a very long time to stand in the shower.
Yes, I suppose I get that this is all about entropy, about the way that something slowly decays to the point where its original form is essentially destroyed, but (and here’s a facebook reaction button we could all do with from time to time) so what? As a sonic demonstration of the third law of thermodynamics, it’s sort of neat, but did people actually go to record shops and pay for this? Now I’ve done my own sonic experimentation. Some years ago, as part of a ‘post 30 songs meme’, one of the themes was ‘a song you can play on an instrument.’ And so I uploaded this proof of claim, which features similar sonic buggering-about (bonus points if you can work out what the instrument I’m playing is and, perhaps rather more difficult, what the song is). It’s an experiment in slowed-down multi-tracked, pitch-shifted recording. With the dictaphone mic on my mp3 player. And you might scratch your chin. But you probably wouldn’t want to listen to it all the way through, and it’s only 5 minutes long.