Whenever I attend a Nameless Sound event, I find myself in a paralyzing quandary about where to sit. We all go through this to a certain degree when attending a concert, of course, but the stakes are higher when experiencing creative music. At the symphony, you want to sit in the center of the auditorium, at the fulcrum where the voices of all instrumentalists converge. But there are additional concerns for the listener of creative music, namely the interface between hearing and seeing, which exceeds a typical penchant for this or that instrument (such as the symphony-goer who likes to sit up close near the violins). Musical improvisers elicit sounds from their instruments that are often bewildering, and so I for one want—need—to be able to see what they are doing. There are also augmented and self-invented instruments, or common objects transformed by devoted curiosity and patience into astonishing noisemakers, which can require using one’s eyes to find the origins of an unfamiliar sound. Every improviser has an appreciable visual aesthetic to their playing, of a different quality than the rehearsed performer playing a fully scored piece. Simultaneously and in real time, we see them playing and deeply listening. Physical pauses and gazes, especially between players, can be just as pregnant with implied significance as any bone-rattling tone. I typically find myself alternating between open and closed eyes during these events. Eyes closed, the sounds automatically knit together into the scene of a shared time and space. With vision added, my heightened awareness of the distinct voice and activity of each individual player causes the whole to fly apart before my open eyes. I am confronted with the fact that I cannot grasp the totality, as the sounds seem to want to flee every which way from my desire to comprehend them.
Whether one looks to the practice of John Cage or Pauline Oliveros (as Nameless Sound does) as a model of postwar musical experimentalism, we find the aural and visual experience always-already deeply intertwined. Starting out as a percussionist, Cage incorporated everyday objects into an expanded idiophonic toolkit that developed into the visual theater of works like Water Music (1952) and Water Walk (1959). Concurrent with his most extreme experiments in graphic notation in the late 1950s, Cage taught his now-famous course on experimental composition at the New School in New York, which was attended by visual artists and poets who would go on to develop and transmit Happenings and Fluxus internationally. Oliveros, working in San Francisco in the early 1960s, adopted found objects as ad-hoc resonators (apple crates were a favorite), improvised on accordion amidst the liquid light show projections of Tony Martin, and collaborated with visual artists, poets, and dancers. By the early ‘70s when her book of sonic meditations was published, Oliveros’s attention had moved away from the creation of complex intermedia environments to focus on the praxis and philosophy of listening. Yet her pared-down textual instructions were still highly visual and imagistic, inviting listeners to construct mental visualizations and “sound images” and to modulate the light of their environment. For Oliveros, notions of both an external and internal gaze were integral components of the listening apparatus. One is often asked to adopt a “soft gaze” in Deep Listening practice. You do not close yourself off from visual experience but rather make it less discerning, more open and elastic. “Lift off judgment,” Oliveros would say. This goes for both eyes and ears.
The cross-fertilization of art and music that we see in the practices of Cage, Oliveros, and all the artists featured below is owed to a shared investment in experimentalism, which is really the primary term here. Many of these improvisers started out as visual artists before picking up an instrument, continue to make art, and/or draw their primary inspiration from visual media. To visual artists who may be reading this, I would say that what can be learned from these practices has everything to do with elevating process, embracing chance and failure, and placing value in collaboration. Particularly admirable to me is how this multi-generational cohort’s terms of engagement with art and music history seems to have changed from prior eras. Whereas under the terms of early 20th-century modernism it was the artist’s charge to “kill the father” in order to assert one’s own preeminence, these creative musicians utilize their heightened historical consciousness to honor, metabolize, and hybridize past practices in ways that future generations will surely benefit from. Their model is particularly important today, as the neoliberal hyper-professionalization of artistic disciplines threatens to push apart the worlds of visual art and music yet further and erase knowledge of experimental intermedia histories. In contrast, the Nameless Sound programming featured here teaches us that we should always be listening with our eyes and looking with our ears.
Keith Rowe and Loren Connors were associated with the paintings of Mark Rothko long before Nameless Sound invited them to play the Rothko Chapel as part of a two-day event that also included the Menil Collection in 2007. Both have professed to being influenced by the famous color field painter associated with midcentury American abstract expressionism; both attended art school and trained as painters, yet ultimately turned away from visual art in order to pursue musical experimentalism (although both still paint, and Connors is also a poet). In Rowe and Connors’s sonic worlds, Rothko’s paintings are a deeply integral, transmedial inspiration. Rowe has said, “I’ve always considered what I do on the guitar as an act of painting.” And Connors is, according to Jim O’Rourke, “an artist who happens to use guitar.”
Rowe co-founded the British free improvisation group AMM at a time when the project of modernist painting, practiced by Rothko and peers such as Jackson Pollock, clashed with an emerging generation of artistic and musical experimentalists inspired by John Cage and elder Dada statesman Marcel Duchamp. Rowe’s pioneering approach to the prepared guitar has attempted to reconcile these contradictory forces. In the manner of Pollock’s innovation of painting on unstretched canvas laid directly on the floor, Rowe separated his instrument from his body and placed it on a horizontal surface in front of him. Notably, this intimate yet decisive gap mirrors the ideal viewing distance of eighteen inches that Rothko recommended viewers of his works to observe. Rowe has also followed the path of abstract expressionism by treating each performance as a high-stakes, unplanned confrontation with his instrument, much like those painters regarded their encounters with the blank canvas. This approach was as radical within the context of music as it was to fine art at the time, given the disciplines’ common investment in traditional notions of virtuosity and composition. Rowe’s moves paralleled AMM’s radical philosophy (as described by Brian Olewnick): “no repertoire, no solos, no regular rhythms, no melodies, no fear of silence, 100% improvised.”
But Rowe credits as well the influence of Cage and Duchamp, evidenced by his use of found objects, including radios and the various implements with which he prepares his guitar: springs, tiny fans, metal rods, and other unnamable thingamajigs. In contrast to abstract expressionism’s directness and spontaneity, thought to index the authentic hand of the artist, Rowe’s use of everyday props and his position of remove from his setup indicates a disposition of indifferent conceptual judgment, a disavowal of affect and even expression itself. Perhaps it is the conflicting orientations of these two aesthetic positions—the gestural versus the conceptual—that produces the distinct sensation of terror that Rowe often mentions when describing both Rothko’s paintings and his own process, capturing in one word the seeming impossibility of the enterprise that one undertakes despite it all.
Knowledge of this aesthetic context makes listening to the recording of Rowe’s set at the Rothko Chapel all the more thrilling. Very quickly, the listener is immersed in a multilayered field of sound in which no tone or texture seems prioritized. Similar to how one appreciates the minutely varying, dark color chords of the chapel paintings, one’s ears adjust slowly over time. Radio static signals Rowe’s efforts to tune into the site, or dwell sonically in those areas of Rothko’s paintings where subtly dissonant colors overlap in inscrutable ways. We exist, for a time, in that fog. Like the two commonly reported, opposing experiences of the chapel itself, Rowe’s sonic landscape is at times transcendent, at times claustrophobic. The overwhelming sensation, ultimately, is that he has applied a contact mic to the room’s atmosphere.
With Nameless Sound’s release of Loren Connors’s 2007 set at the Rothko Chapel, we now have three recordings of the guitarist responding to the painter, beginning with Blues: The “Dark Paintings” of Mark Rothko from 1990 (reissued in 2015 by Family Vineyard) and bookended by the Whitney Museum’s footage of a 2015 performance that responds to a Rothko painting hung in the galleries. Connors’s 1990 album reflects the more distinctly bluesy improvisations of his early period, whereas the latest interpretation, steeped in reverb, comes off as ghostly, distant, and psychedelic. His Rothko Chapel performance, meanwhile, crystalizes a moment of uniquely close and immersive contact with the painter’s work that was not the case in the other two circumstances. Whereas in Blues the array of tracks evoke a skilled improviser looking at the aesthetics of Rothko’s work and translating it part-by-part into his unique sonic palette as if reading from a visual score, the 2007 Houston recording gives the sense that Connors is playing from the perspective of the paintings. Working from a place of earned observational knowledge of the compositional structure of Rothko’s works, Connors’s abstract, more sympathetic engagement does not approach the paintings as objects distinct from the conditions of his own performance experience. Each plucked tone paints a hue that hangs in the air for a time, interacting with other tones, before evaporating. By 2015 it appears Connors’s study of Rothko’s techniques has been fully internalized: He turns his back to the Whitney’s painting as he plays.
The work of Phantom Orchard, a collaboration between laptop improviser Ikue Mori and experimental harpist Zeena Parkins that Nameless Sound hosted in 2009, is rooted in a subsequent wave of artistic-musical experimentalism broadly defined as “intermedia.” The term was introduced by Fluxus artist Dick Higgins in the mid-1960s to describe the post-Cagean hybridizations of existing artistic disciplines that his peers had been exploring for almost a decade, such as graphic scores and object poems. Soon, artists began to invest in their own institutional homes for this unwieldy underground work, such as Elaine Summers’s Experimental Intermedia foundation and Hans Breder’s intermedia MFA program at the University of Iowa, both established in 1968. By the early ‘70s, the term intermedia had come to signify spectacular, multi-sensorial, psychedelic happenings that integrated not just visual art and music but also film and dance. Phantom Orchard channels this history through a combination of Mori’s entrancing video animations projected at large scale and Parkins’s ecstatic choreography on the acoustic and electronic harp—both signal components of the artists’ hyperconscious negotiation between the sonic and visual.
Mori’s sensitivity to the visual has long been evidenced elsewhere in her practice, such as in her graphic designs featured across Tzadik releases and her solo albums composed in homage to the turbulent imagery of early modern Japanese printmaker Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (2000) and the intricate visions of outsider artist Madge Gill (2005). Parkins’s highly gestural harp technique, meanwhile, draws from her training as a dancer. Alongside her ongoing work as an award-winning composer for dance, Parkins maintains conversations with the work of numerous visual artists including Matthew Barney, Dawn Kasper, Josiah McElheny, and Jay DeFeo, and is involved in an ongoing project to interpret fragments of lace as a form of graphic notation. It is no wonder, then, that she often speaks of her fundamentally intermedial work in the visual/physical terms of gesture, image, momentum, and force.
The video shared here is perhaps the best footage of Phantom Orchard’s fully developed partnership, as it comes on the heels of their second full-length release, Orra (Tzadik, 2009), from which many compositions are drawn. It is also among the earliest to include documentation of Mori working with visual animations. We are able to observe a study in brilliantly integrated sonic contrasts: the swirling, encompassing expansiveness of Mori’s layered soundscapes versus Parkins’s focused, athletic gestures and driving tone patterns. The carefully orchestrated, extended tissues of sound, light, and color created by Mori fashion a galactic cocoon for Parkins’s more theatrical performing; her movements are sometimes surprisingly sudden, even violent. Their set begins as two separate, complementary conversations that gently and gradually build into an integrated sonic structure that at its peaks is gratifyingly loud and raw. Motifs seem to migrate from performer to performer, sound to image, such as the chittering texture first introduced sonically by Mori, which is soon matched by stroboscopic dancing-insect imagery and then answered later in Parkins’s play with found objects, including squeaking and clanking metallic noisemakers and her attack on the microphone with a mass of crinkly gold foil (an unmistakable evocation of Fluxus affiliate Takehisa Kosugi’s score Micro 1 (1961)). By the end of the concert, there is the sense that we have spent the past hour exploring a sculpture in sound and image from multiple vantage points—a collaboratively crafted, intermedial crystal.
The ensemble Text of Light also crafts intermedia environments, though of a more focused quality given the group’s conceit of improvising specifically alongside films of the 1950s–‘60s New American Cinema movement. Their name is lifted directly from experimental filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s 1974 classic, an hour-long meditation on colorful patterns of light refracted through an ashtray. As a film, Text of Light is a most perfect distillation of Brakhage’s approach and philosophy, wherein his cinematic eye attunes to evanescent details of everyday life that verge into the extraordinary—whether gorgeous, bizarre, frightening, or magical. This mode of viewing demands a paradoxical skillset of both radical openness and hyper-focused observation, which Text of Light adopts as a manual for how to listen. Their project invites us to become connoisseurs of fine filmic and aural detail as we sift through Brakhage’s non-narrative visual detritus alongside crashing waves of electrified guitar and sax drones interleaved with the grit of percussive textures and recorded audio fragments.
Their 2012 appearance in Houston was co-presented by Nameless Sound and Aurora Picture Show, an organization dedicated to presenting experimental film and video that recently celebrated its own 20th anniversary. Text of Light members present that day included Lee Ranaldo and Alan Licht (guitars/devices), Ulrich Krieger (sax/electronics), and Tim Barnes (percussion), who played in simultaneity with Brakhage’s 16mm films The Mammals of Victoria (1994), Aftermath (1981), and The Horseman, The Woman and the Moth (1968). If Brakhage’s roving, color-saturated, hallucinatory cinematography is commonly understood as a medium-specific response to the unique optical and material qualities of film, Text of Light incorporates this auteurist vision into a broader matrix of sympathetic creative practices. Brakhage’s visual poetry is refracted, like the light through that ashtray, into the language of experimental music.
Interestingly, the premise of Text of Light’s entire enterprise contradicts the wishes of the very artist that, by its own name, the group seeks to celebrate. Brakhage once referred to sound as an “aesthetic error” that disrupted the inherent frame-by-frame rhythm of the moving-image medium. His films are deliberately silent. Rather than simply illustrating Brakhage, however, Text of Light sees the films as additional performers with which they are staging a meeting or conversation, and whose duration establishes a temporal framework for the otherwise improvised activities. The players’ strategy of juxtaposing their intuitive, non-narrative playing alongside films with similar qualities results in what Licht has described as a “live-action mixed media collage” that meets Brakhage’s aesthetic language on a common plane. Licht has further characterized the aural-visual dialogue this way:
"One thing that has reminded me of the relationship between the films and our improvisations is the moshpit. Slamdancing is not necessarily in time to music. It’s more a physical reaction to the energy. In a way, the Brakhage films are the slamdancers, and we’re the hardcore band. That’s also true of Merce Cunningham’s dance pieces with John Cage. The dances and the music have nothing to do with each other, and that’s kind of the point, that you don’t have to choreograph things exactly to anything in the music."
Licht’s description evokes both an important historical touchpoint for Text of Light’s chance-collage technique (the Cage-Cunningham axis) and, through the imaginary of the moshpit, the intense effects that the meeting of these visual and sonic forces can produce. Like a happening in the postmodern vein, it is at the point of reception that the work of Text of Light coheres, and there is not one privileged experience or interpretation of the multi-sensorial events that result. It may be more useful, ultimately, to focus on the experiential effects of their intermedia environments rather than offer any interpretive reading of them. If Text of Light is decisively not interpreting Brakhage’s work, then neither should we propose interpretations of the events produced from their meeting. What we can appreciate instead is the way Text of Light’s approach parallels and thereby honors Brakhage’s notion of filmmaking as a process of retreading the link between perception and conception, or what he called “moving visual thinking.” In other words, in his universe, filmmaking is an operation that mirrors cognition itself. Text of Light invites us to revisit this original provocation—of utilizing film as a tool of embodied meta-cognition—while adding a new layer of sonic input to the array.
Core members Ranaldo and Licht have recounted learning about Brakhage and his generation of filmmakers while in college and then, once in New York, furthering their education by immersing themselves in the programming of art-house cinemas like Anthology Film Archives. I note this because Text of Light may be best appreciated as a form of experimental pedagogy—a vehicle for transmitting awareness of avant-garde cinema to new audiences across the film, art, and music worlds without presenting the works as dead historical objects. Despite the ways in which Text of Light approaches Brakhage against the grain of his own intent, the packed house in Houston attested to the necessity, and success, of their endeavor.
The celebrated pianist Ran Blake’s lifelong obsession with film noir has likewise given rise to a unique form of pedagogy that joins creative music with cinema, which a Nameless Sound audience enjoyed in early 2019. Over the course of Blake’s many decades teaching “third stream” and then creative improvisation at the New England Conservatory, he has played concerts, made recordings, and taught courses that center on improvising in an attentive, structured way alongside classic films. Blake has in fact devoted a significant strand of his practice to translating noir’s cinematic language of suspense into a deconstructed jazz idiom. His playing is wittily capricious, as he offers fragments of recognizable melodies that move quickly in and out of quasi-composed, quasi-improvised passages. Blake also dwells in dissonance, to which he has developed a multitude of approaches: from a gentle creeping suffused with silence, mirroring the feeling of hairs just beginning to stand up on the back of one’s neck, to thunderous chords that evoke a sense of awe-stricken panic and fear as they echo palpably beyond the body of the piano in ways that exceed our expectations of the capacity of the instrument. In this way, Blake’s playing transforms the piano into a veritable sound effects machine, showing that one does not need to prepare it with external objects in order to expand its conventional sonic palette. Ultimately, Blake’s alternative film soundtracks amplify our awareness of the extent to which a film’s propulsive narrative and emotional drama is delivered through sound. Upsetting the perceptual hierarchy of visual over aural perception, he helps us experience and appreciate well-known films anew.
In Houston, Blake accompanied excerpts from eleven films, most representing the noir genre. Many of these he has responded to in other (sometimes multiple) recordings that offer an interesting means of tracking his shifting treatment of certain themes over time, such as those from Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922), Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944), Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), and Sidney Lumet’s Pawnbroker (1964). They operate for him like jazz standards. Appropriately, Blake began his Houston concert with Lang’s silent film, immediately transporting the audience back to an era in which films indeed would have been accompanied by a live player improvising and/or playing from cue sheets. In the documentation shared here, we can also hear audible reactions of audience members, simulating the in-person theatrical experience and influencing our perception of the event. Owed to Blake’s cunning moments of wit, we hear bursts of laughter between the gasps of surprise. These effects are more carefully planned than his mercurial playing may at first suggest. In advance of his Nameless Sound presentation, Blake explained his process in detail to film artist and curator Peter Lucas:
"I’ve either composed the music or I’ll be doing sort of a controlled improvisation, storyboarding where I get into the atmosphere, character, and plot ... I have some control—I plan things. I know there’ll be a chord at a certain place, but a lot of the re-interpretations are rather new. It’s almost a liquid composition ... This process has been formed a lot over the past 40 years. But it really comes from 60 years of film viewing."
A sequence in which Blake’s process of “liquid composition” is particularly admirable is his treatment of John Brahm’s film Hangover Square (1945). Blake uses his singular force to stage a complex musical conversation between a piano soloist and large chamber orchestra that we see onscreen. Miraculously, he embodies them both. When the pianist in the film becomes overwhelmed by murderous visions that cause him to seize up, unable to play, Blake pauses so that we too may be held by the intense visuals. Soon a fire breaks out, and Blake brings the tragic scene to a conclusion with a hellish march of dissonant chords that the pianist seems to pound out at his own keyboard as he and everything around him becomes engulfed in flames.
Blake frequently cites his early encounter with Robert Siodmak’s 1946 noir film The Spiral Staircase, also excerpted in Houston, as the origin of his love for the genre. At NEC he taught a class that spent an entire semester focused on the film as a framework for improvisation. Of note, the film’s original soundtrack works not only in the typical way of amplifying the melodrama, but it also communicates ideas and emotions on behalf of the silent protagonist, Helen, who lost her capacity to speak after suffering a childhood trauma. Even under normal circumstances of watching The Spiral Staircase, the importance of sound to the film’s plot demands that we pay closer attention to the interface between cinematic narrative and music’s role in driving, amplifying, and even sometimes subverting the visual story we see unfolding onscreen. Blake’s engagement with film as an experimental accompanist begins from this very idea. Arguably, it has come to define his entire practice as a musician, for his playing is cinematic and imagistic even when he is not responding directly to film. The original composition “Birmingham, USA,” for example, imagines and mourns the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. every time Blake plays it. “Even when I’m without a film, I’m seeing visuals or memories,” he has said. All music becomes the soundtrack to our lives in the moment we are hearing it.
It’s possible to trace the origins of my solo in the Rothko Chapel back to 25th February 1970. This turned out to be a day of very mixed emotions.
That Wednesday the 25th saw the arrival of nine Rothko paintings originally destined for the walls of the four seasons restaurant, now they were a generous gift from the artist to the Tate Gallery in London, any excitement and expectation linked to opening the crates to see these wonderful works was subdued, with news that Rothko had been found dead in his studio having committed suicide.
The arrangement with the Tate Gallery was that Rothko would join Turner and Picasso with works being put on permanent display, therefore the Rothko’s where always available, to be able to sit for long periods of time, in that Tate Gallery room, year after year, bit by bit absorbing the quiet brooding dark, deep maroon and black, after a while developing a sense of the room itself, the totality of the room, looking staring, focusing, then losing focus, exiting the room, re-entering, over and over again and again. Rothko remarked, “After I had been at work for some time, I realized that I was much influenced subconsciously by Michelangelo’s walls in the staircase room of the Medicean Library in Florence. He achieved just the kind of feeling I’m after – he makes the viewers feel that they are trapped in a room where all the doors and windows are bricked up, so that all they can do is butt their heads forever against the wall.”
The Four Seasons restaurant works are referred to as murals, where as the Rothko Chapel works are referred to as paintings, and are not murals, for my solo I attached some importance to this distinction, it is well documented that Rothko attempted to control in what context his works would appear, avoiding group shows, like the Whitney, he wished to circumvent unsympathetic surroundings, his accepting the Seagram Restaurant commission to paint 600 square feet of murals to hang on the walls of a restaurant, where he would have no control to the who and the why of the restaurants patrons is ever the more baffling, contrasted to an exhibition of his paintings, where he could dictate what was shown, how dim the lighting, colour of the walls etc. it seems to me for my solo the difference between murals and painting is clear.
Rothko is a night painter; he paints by incandescent electric light, European modern art was characterised by light falling on to objects, sun drenched landscapes, luminosity from above, Rothko by contrast blocked out the daylight, covering the studio windows, cancelling the natural light, he worked by artificial light, Motherwell says “He painted an inner light, not the light of the world” this blocking off of windows doors and exits, and lowering the light levels, can be seen in the Michelangelo’s Laurentian vestibule in Florence, and of course at the chapel in Houston. This leads to a solo from me that is claustrophobic, it can go nowhere, there is no exit, no development, a slight flicker of surface can be deducted but without decoration, a prolonged stare, a concentration of the stare, that is a stare so extended that it becomes listening.
For the performance at the Rothko Chapel, I made a list of about 150 words and phrases which I refer to as I navigate my way through the performance, these words and phrases were written on small pieces of paper, they are in no particular order:
experience of darkness
eyes become dark adapted
classical answering on opposing walls
perception of colour
disclosure and withdrawal
black as blocked vision
masking / unmasking
random horizontal streaks
degrees of opacity
horror of individual existence
intensity of gaze a form of listening
danger of effect over evidence
…….. and so on …….
– KEITH ROWE
Performing in the Rothko Chapel was an experience like no other. His (Rothko’s) painting has music in it, like Beethoven’s string quartets. It's the bigness of them.
Rothko painted spacious areas and didn’t try to rein anything in. As he said, there was no skull-and-bones. Nothing left over. No details or do-dads all over the place.
Rothko was more sparse than many of the abstract painters, and he is the hardest to understand. He doesn’t come all the way to you. You have to meet him halfway. The ones he did toward the end of his life, the dark paintings, had great subtleties. Mystery. The brushstrokes felt completely careless.
When I saw them, in 1985, I thought they seemed without ceremony of any sort. They did not solicit your attention with any form of outward sensual presence, and yet they had beauty.
A music writer, Jurgen Gothe, once spoke of "unsounded blues." That's what I sense in Rothko's paintings. – LOREN CONNORS
The call came out of the blue, fanning vague memories of past teaching when a former student reached out with an invitation to a forthcoming event at Nameless Sound. The caller, Justin Jones, had been my student in a film studies class I taught at the University of Houston. It had been years since Justin was in my course, but I was intrigued by the interests of this unpresumptuous but fiercely intelligent thinker. I still remembered that the essays Justin wrote for my exams were such models of analytic writing that I doubted I would have been able to do the same.
Now, Justin was calling me about Nameless Sound, a local arts organization with which he had been involved since graduation, and the forthcoming visit by innovative pianist and jazz composer Ran Blake. Blake, Justin explained, is known for improvising jazz performances in response to cinema, so Justin thought I might be interested in Blake’s forthcoming workshop in Houston. Would I like to see this process in action?
The relationship of sound to image is a fascinating subject, equally as intriguing to me as it is to Blake. Although movies depend on both—son et lumière, as the earliest films were called—my own writing on film focuses primarily on visuals, as I don’t play an instrument and am basically tone deaf. A musician-composer like Blake fascinates me because his aural gifts are matched by an equally developed appreciation of the visual. Indeed, although Blake is known for emphasizing the ear as the primary faculty of aesthetic response, the very fact that cinema plays an important role in his musical composition is a compelling example of multimedia synergy. Aesthetically eclectic artists like Blake who draw inspiration from one media while working in another are exciting examples of the reward of synaesthetic response.
At Nameless Sound, Blake shared his synaesthetic process by leading us through an interactive workshop, in which he screens film clips and participants are invited to improvise musically. The process isn’t meant to replace a film’s existing orchestration but rather uses the film clips for inspiration, much as twelve-year-old Blake had been transformed by 1946 psychological thriller, The Spiral Staircase. That film, in fact, was the first clip that Blake showed to Nameless Sound participants, on a large screen in the school auditorium where the workshop took place. Blake and his piano were positioned on stage in front of the screen, with Nameless Sound participants also assembled on stage in an orchestral semi-circle facing the screen. After naming a musical key and describing the scene’s mood, Blake invited the assembled participants to contribute.
The response, interestingly, wasn’t immediate. I was seated in the wings, partly because I was terrified I’d be asked to participate, but mostly because I wanted to see participants’ faces as well as Blake and the screen. For Blake the group’s initial reluctance to respond might have been frustrating, but I was transfixed. Because the musicians were not below Blake in a pit but instead on stage with him, the entire process was playing out for me—their curious audience—as high drama. Slowly however, someone raised an instrument and ventured a few notes, and soon sound was being improvised in a seamless exchange between individual participants. As each musician felt inspired to contribute, they would take the lead for a few bars, then gracefully cede the musical flow to a waiting colleague.
As someone who attends a lot of cultural and arts events, I still think of Ran Blake’s Nameless Sound workshop as one of the most interesting creative events of my experience. While I couldn’t contribute musically, my habit of live tweeting cultural events offered my own small way of participating, forcing me to find ways to describe what I was seeing and hearing. I didn’t always understand Blake’s musical instructions (as one person reading my tweets was quick to point out!), but it was obvious how imposing specific aesthetic touchstones can be creatively productive. I also had brought two good friends—a painter and her musician husband, with whom I sometimes watch horror movies—so between the three of us we brought to the experience a variety of different personal interests and expertise that also framed Blake’s workshop within our own eclectic circle.
Jazz is sometimes seen as a challenging music form, due to its fluid, spontaneous, and boundary-crossing nature. In traditional hierarchies of cultural status, jazz is both elite and outsider, due to its origins among African American communities while surviving today as a sign of connoisseurship. For the particular context of Nameless Sound’s Ran Blake event, moreover, jazz’s musical prestige also bears comparison to the relative status of image to sound, as centuries of aesthetic philosophy from Plato to the Romantics have long privileged music over image because its intangible, vestigial quality requires greater discernment.
Ran Blake’s synaesthetic musical production, by contrast, reverses that hierarchy. By using movies to invite participation, Blake avoids the potentially abstruse tendencies of jazz (and music more generally). I felt this sense of community both among the friends I had brought to the workshop, and saw it among the workshop participants, who watched their colleagues closely, biding their time for each person to finish their solo before stepping in to contribute. I am also grateful for the revelation, to me, of my former student Justin’s gifts: I nearly fell out of my chair when he opened his mouth and began vocalizing rich syllables in counterpoint with the notes.
We may not all have the multimedia sensibilities of Ran Blake, but his music is a powerful reminder of the rewards of aesthetic openness. When improvising, Blake said at the workshop, “camaraderie is as important as sound.” As a unique exercise in aesthetic eclecticism, Ran Blake’s Nameless Sound workshop also was an unforgettable encounter with the communities fostered by aesthetic creativity.
– KAREN FANG
For the past eleven years, Nameless Sound has presented experimental concerts at poet, sculptor, and performance artist James Magee’s The Hill, a land art site in the West Texas Chihuahuan Desert region of the Cornudas Mountains, aligning with the Nameless Sound’s goal of curating multisensory experiences that blend sound, art, and architecture. Though 2021 marks Nameless Sound’s twentieth year, it also signals forty years since Magee began the physical construction at The Hill. It is a place of contradictions: order and chaos, spiritual in specific ways but also agnostic, and a form of shelter in a harsh environment. Not unlike those land art works formed from local materials by Magee’s contemporaries in Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer, and also like those works from the 1960s and 1970s, it is something of a pilgrimage site. A Nameless Sound concert at The Hill indeed feels like an art field trip to a corner of the country unlike any other.
Situated on over 2,000 acres of land at the border of Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico (in reality, only about an hour and a half northeast of El Paso, TX), The Hill is comprised of four native rock rectangular structures hand-built by Magee and his tireless assistant Juan. The buildings seem to mark the four cardinal directions and face one another. A raised stone walkway connects the four structures, crossing at a center point. Three of the four structures are finished and house sculptures by Magee; the sculptures also use locally sourced and found materials and embrace the contradictions between orderly geometry, machine aesthetics (they are kinetic in parts), and the chaos of the natural environment. The experience of the built environment at The Hill is nothing less than profound and one immediately senses the connection between site, sky, and earth – a connection that deepens over the course of the experience.
The Hill, like much intermedial work from the 1960s, operates on a continuum that is both temporal and material. Ideas for The Hill germinated in different projects of Magee’s from earlier points in time. Magee emphasizes the fluidity of his practice, where sculpture, poetry, and architecture commingle almost seamlessly. For example, the titles of the sculptures at The Hill are themselves long-form poems that a lucky visitor may hear Magee recite from memory. Several parallels exist between The Hill and Donald Judd’s West Texas site-specific museum the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, but one of the most important links between the two is the emphasis on the experience of place. The key difference between the two artists’ approaches is that Judd meticulously sets up a viewing experience that is then mitigated by each visitor’s own acumen for looking, but Magee orchestrates a fairly rigid experience of The Hill that takes on a ritualistic flavor. That said, for the four occasions that Magee has opened The Hill as a site for experimental music in collaboration with Nameless Sound, that control has gone by the wayside in deference to the music. In fact, music was always intended to play a role at The Hill. The bylaws for the Cornudas Mountain Foundation state as goals both “to promote the occasional performance of new world chamber music events'' and “to commission a new piece of chamber music to be performed before an invited audience.”
It is critical to Magee that the music at The Hill be experimental and provocative. It needs to read to the audience not only as music, but as a form of sound art with an emphasis on the performative. One of the more unique aspects of the Nameless Sound concerts at The Hill is that three of the four of them have included duets, which have created interesting counterpoints to the site and architecture. 2010 marked the first concert, wherein Joe McPhee and John Butcher performed together on saxophones, including both duets and simultaneous solos from two different buildings at The Hill. In 2013, Peter Brötzmann’s concert featured the solo artist on tárogató, B-flat clarinet, and tenor saxophone; in 2015, Japanese artists Akio Suzuki and Aki Onda performed on handmade and found instruments on a rainy September day; in 2019, Phil Minton and Audrey Chen performed for voice and with a Feral Choir made up mostly of local artists and students. For the most part, the performers do their work outside: they are with and not merely within the structures of The Hill; though, for example, Suzuki and Onda made use of the building interiors while performing on a rainy day. Magee allows the musicians at least one rehearsal/soundcheck before a concert. They are soundchecks of a very literal variety since there is no electricity at The Hill, but rather, a testing of sound both against and with site, with architecture, and with nature.
Every single experience of The Hill is unique and, frankly, unpredictable. The slightest variations in sun, wind, and precipitation can alter the experience dramatically. The concerts are truly multisensory, engaging not only the ears and eyes, but the sense of touch (feeling the gravel and rock beneath one’s feet, or the spines of a cactus, or the sun and wind on the body), the sense of taste (water becomes a critical necessity), and smell, where even the briefest rain shower can enliven the creosote and desert sage. The land is unforgiving, not far from the famed Hueco Tanks, a series of natural rock aquifers that have collected water that has then been used by nomadic groups of indigenous peoples for thousands of years. The Hill is accessible only to vehicles with all-wheel drive, so many concert attendees choose to park about two miles away and hike to the site. That particular constitutional brings out one’s inner adventurer and gives the visitor time to reflect on the land itself, acclimate to its demands, and meditate on the events to come. The walk builds anticipation.
Sadly, I did not attend that first concert by McPhee and Butcher, but I have been fortunate to experience the other three concerts and to visit The Hill many times. Since photography is strictly prohibited, I have a pastiche of memories and sense impressions that weave together my own experiences of the site. My visit to The Hill for the Brötzmann concert was my first visit to El Paso. The concert took place late in the afternoon. I don’t recall any seating at that concert. Visitors perambulated. We stopped, we listened, we moved again, we sat gingerly on the hard ground, we ducked out heads to block the setting sun, and we listened again. I remember fondly that first drive back from Cornudas to El Paso, where the poet Ronnie Yates and I – both somewhat incapable of small talk – ruminated on sound and art and words and life under an unbelievable canopy of stars visible in the unpolluted night sky.
In my subsequent role as Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Texas at El Paso, I have collaborated with Nameless Sound on involving students from my university in the Suzuki/Onda and Minton/Chen concerts. For example, during their several-day stay in El Paso, Suzuki and Onda held a workshop on sound art for UTEP students through support from our Rubin Center for the Visual Arts. In 2019, I recruited students and faculty to perform in Minton’s Feral Choir, along with volunteers from around the state (and I lent my own vocal inexpertise as a member of the choir). We had rehearsals for several nights in a row at the Rubin Center and on UTEP’s grounds. This was at the very end of the academic semester and I remember embracing the feeling of freedom as we sounded our bodies against the sunset. This was not only a gift of improvisation, but also of the land. I am grateful for those gifts. – MELISSA WARAK, PH.D.
(Editor's note: Trost Records released Butcher and McPhee's concert at The Hill on the album, "At the Hill of James Magee.")
I started designing flyers in high school, for punk and hip hop shows–fundraisers hosted by community centers whose marketing budget was access to the copy machine. I didn’t have a computer and at that time there was neither internet nor cell phones. I did a lot of hand lettering.
Making flyers on a copy machine before the web often meant that, in addition to the text and graphics, you’d need to include the organizer’s home phone number, directions, a map–sometimes hand drawn, sometimes cut out of an atlas and pasted onto the bottom of the page. They were crammed. I’m still cutting and pasting, but now I use the printed material in tandem with the web. Very rarely will someone attend an event without using the internet to map it or research the performers or invite friends. In this sense there is a little breathing room design-wise.
The Nameless Sound posters comprise hand drawn elements, photography, digital interference, anything. I have tried to explore new avenues with each one and keep them unique unto themselves. A combination of digital and analog techniques gets results that neither could produce on their own and often my process is to pass the image back and forth between these two points. Although I use a multimedia approach to create the graphics, I create the final posters with a scanner and I consider it to be a lens based effort. I treat the scanner bed much like a microphone, taking advantage of the ways it can be used to create or crop, to document or deconstruct. Like a microphone, the lens is a pivoting point for me conceptually. It allows me to deploy gestures and choreographies from a visual arts toolbox in the sonic field and vice versa. This is where connections between the aural and visual aren't restricted to formal morphologies and might be better understood as operations or inquiries that can be used in either field. For me, the audio and visual are mutually constitutive and bring each other into clearer focus.
I listen to all of the musicians for whom I am designing. Some of them I know of and it's a chance to revisit their work, others I am discovering for the first time. To make a poster which represents the music and the musician without imposing one's own aesthetic on their project is challenging. I use abstraction to varying degrees as a way of ‘leaving space’ around the music. Sometimes that is done in an effort to create a design that allows the music to speak for itself, other times it is done in pursuit of distinguishing it from other posters. In the end, this 17 x 11 sheet of paper will be surrounded by a wall of competing design, it must arouse curiosity, force a pause at the coffee shop or record store and win the attention of a potential audience.
– GABRIEL MARTINEZ
I wish I had some elaborate way of describing my creative process. Music has always been an excellent source of inspiration for me in my line of work as a graphic designer. I find music helps give me inspiration and an outlet to express myself on paper. Most times I sit down and just draw and continue drawing. Maybe I will draw for ten minutes or if I am lucky, an hour. I continue this process until I get something suitable to begin working on the actual art. Sometimes I find the music of the artist/band that I am working on to be the inspiration to my creative process. I find improvised music/electro-acoustic music to be somewhat hard to design for. I often play music from that artist and just let the pen/pencil go on the paper and see where that takes me. The poster for SoundObservations was one such example where I imagined the sound waves in the music and designed the poster around shapes and forms.
Other times I will have something completely random playing as a way to distract or give me a different perspective on the creative process. For example, one of my favorite posters (AlanLicht-LorenConnors) was created when I was watching a copy of this weird western movie by Alejandro Jodorowsky called El Topo on VHS tape. I just got transfixed by the character that I started sketching the person who would be used for the poster art. I then created the type to neatly fit inside the character. Looking back on the poster, it seems like an odd design but it does resemble one of the artists performing (Loren Connors) so I consider it an overall successful piece.
I am including a few of my favorite poster designs here. I enjoyed working on the ICP Orchestra poster from the 2011 event. I started drawing and listening to various pieces of music from that collective until I had pages of artwork. Another piece that I like is the poster for The Thing’s 2004 performance with Joe McPhee. I imagined a thing, gave it a body and filled it with bones and the lettering for the event. – DAVID WANG
I contributed posters for Nameless Sound concerts for about a year from the fall of 2004 to 2005. To me, they are windows back into the transition from adolescence to young adulthood — awkward, goofy, earnest, rich. In trying to write about them in a way that goes beyond their merely personal significance, I think I've realized some things worth saying, about improvisation, about the intersection of art and music, about community and collaboration -- but its quite a tangle of backstory, so I'll try to be as short-winded as I can be.
Growing up, my mother kept a closet (or two) full of supplies for all sorts of different crafts and household projects. When my sisters or I had an idea, or something due for school, she would guide us to possible materials and even offer some recommendations for how to use them. We would spend countless hours, even as adults, making things sitting around the kitchen table. This remains a powerful part of my relationship to art-making and music-making if not many more general aspects of living. It made it so that the barrier between imagination and reality felt paper-thin. The MECA workshops and the ideas of free improvisation, I think were their own powerful echo of this same feeling, not only in the immediacy of imagination and creation, but also in the quiet social moment of collaboration. And it was, perhaps unknowingly, this very domestic art-making practice that comes through in my favorites of these posters and their unremarkable, often childish materials of ballpoint pen, cardboard, sewing thread, googly eyes, puff paint, glitter.
I remember my approach to the posters starting purely by choice of material. I felt no identifying connection to a certain medium and did not think myself adept enough at any one to make anything interesting through repetition, so it was always a bit of a game to choose something new and see what happened. Again, this reminds me of my wickedly clever mother and the ways she showed us how to make-do with whatever we happened to have at hand. And again, my favorites of these posters are the ones that I had very little clue what was going to happen when I started – tearing the cardboard to create depth in the portrait of Pauline because the paints were dull, having to be wary that the small postcard-size piece of paper might tear or bend from the tension of the thread and the number of holes in the portrait of Joelle. In this way, creating the posters felt similar to the processes practiced in improvisation – intention, attention, openness, response, and, of course, listening for an ending.
I had started attending MECA workshops in either late 2002 or early 2003, in the run-up to the Keith Rowe & Toshimaru Nakamura concert. I had only been playing guitar for a year, and while I could entertain myself at home, exploring this instrument as if it was some new material for domestic craft, coming up with little bits of songs for myself or my friends back home, I was wary of whether that private process could engage with the outside world. The barrier between home and world seemed much greater to me than the barrier between imagination and reality. I was a shy and, in hindsight, socially anxious teenager. Growing up in a pretty sheltered family in the suburbs of Dallas, I didn't feel a strong connection to a larger culture outside of the sphere of our home. I had had a rich enough introduction to music-making as a child – piano lessons, middle school band, the random discovery of MIDI composition software on one of our soundcard installation disks. But it wasn't until the end of high school that I finally started finding a connection to listening to music, to enjoying it as a part of life, due almost entirely to a wonderful group of friends and a certain chemistry teacher (shout out to Travis Day!) who made a point to open our minds a little bit at a time with journaling prompted by songs, film clips, etc. When I arrived in Houston for college in the fall of 2001, music was a compass that helped me find my footing in a new environment. I got a guitar for my birthday that year so that I might be a little less aware of the amount of time I was spending by myself. And I joined KTRU as a late-night radio deejay, putting my email inbox within reach of Dave, who co-hosted the jazz block on Sundays. After a few shows, I had already run out of music that I had heard of, so I sent an email to Mr. Day, that high school chemistry teacher I mentioned, and he magically, graciously sent me a shoebox full of mixtapes and a few VHS tapes and a list of artists he was currently into, including the name Keith Rowe. I can't remember whether it was Dave's email announcing the concert that came first or Mr. Day's, but the synchronicity was uncanny and I think in some ways probably what made me feel like my hands were tied, I had to do it. Dave's email had included an open invitation for musicians of all levels to attend workshops by Keith Rowe in preparation to perform as an ensemble in that concert. I bit. And then I immediately got cold feet and I still vividly remember to this day trying to inform Dave that I really had no idea what I was doing on guitar and that I should probably back out. His response was to invite me to attend a MECA workshop prior to the ones for the show. I was hesitant, but I went. It was a warm, welcoming group. I can't remember the first session with much precision, what we did, how it felt, but I know that the sense of community was there already because I can't imagine it coming later on. Juan Garcia, Sandy Ewen, Lucas Gorham, Jason Jackson, Maria Chavez, Kristilyn Woods, Ruthie Langston. Thank you to you all for being there already.
It brings me delight to realize that just a few years later, when Dave was looking for help getting posters done for the shows, it felt enough like that art-making feeling of home to be able to say 'I can give it a shot' without that same hesitation and wariness. I can't say I knew much more about poster-making than I knew about guitar. I remember really having to mind Dave's words over and over again that I couldn't just stuff the text all down in the corner where no one could read it. I had no idea what I was doing. Look at all those fonts!
There were visual artists who would participate in workshops and events alongside the musicians from time to time in those early days. I remember enjoying watching art-making as a time-based process alongside the improvisations. I remember envying the artifact that they could keep afterwards.
At the end of high school, in one of those backwards-logic decisions that makes so much sense, my mother took me to a music store to look for a graduation present, and, instead of an instrument, we walked out with the unboxed display-model of a digital 8-track recorder. I realize now that this was the instrument. I never liked photographs, but this was essentially my version of a camera. It created snapshots, there were tricks you could play in the developing process, and you didn't have to know how to play an instrument, you didn't have to be a model, you just had to know how to frame the scene in front of you, what to focus on, what to leave out, what to stage, what to catch unaware, what to just wait and see would show up. A lot of this made sense, later on, in the language of listening in improvisation, and in the basic assumption that it was not the quality of the individual sound itself that would be judged, but the constellation of the whole, its role in a larger context.
The group of friends I had made at the end of high school, we dealt with the disjunct between what we learned about the culture of the larger world, its art, its music, its history, its storytelling, and the seeming lack of those things around us, in the cultural vacuum of North Texas suburbia, by trying to fill the void. Not that we were great artists, or writers, or musicians (most of us did not have an instrument), nor that we believed ourselves to be those things, but we, I think, made artifacts by play-acting as if we were, creating a canon that felt like ours to discuss, to debate, to build on top of, or to tear apart and rebuild. Without really knowing what we were doing, we came up with a vocabulary of practices -- improvisation techniques, conductance techniques, constrained writing techniques, rules and games for collaborative art-making. And because the idea was a larger more anthropological idea, it encompassed the creation of an alternate universe not just of music and art and writing, but of picnics, parades, radio stations, nursery rhymes, mythologies, films, propaganda, bureaucracy. The overriding impulse was artifact-making. It was intensely bonding. And, at the same time, I suppose, ultimately isolating. No one else we would meet in our lives would have access to this history and the memories of the process of its creation. And while so much of this experience, the creative techniques and joy of collaboration, found its complement in the workshops and creative community of Nameless Sound, I think there was one big difference that I learned in a deep way -- that it was okay to just love the process, to be in the moment, and let go of the need for the artifact, the critical stance of the outsider. It felt safe there in MECA, as if judgment, self or otherwise, would wilt within its walls. It still does. I say all this, because, other than this archive (which I am very thankful now as the years add up), these posters are the main artifacts I have had of this time in my life.
I think my over-reliance on material to do the creative work for me was also present in my approach to music, not necessarily in the most mature way. Although I started with the MECA workshops on guitar (and I do still play guitar), it didn't last long as my instrument of choice for bringing to workshops. Lucas and Sandy had the guitar covered already and I wasn't breaking any new ground!
After seeing Toshimaru Nakamura, I started trying to play that 8-track recorder I had as a no-input mixing board. I'd bring whatever new instrument I happened to collect from a pawn shop or borrow from a friend. If I didn't have an amp, I would bring something else I could plug into, random parts put together from Radio Shack, or, for a minute, a small TV. At one point I believe I caused Dave (and Pauline) consternation by bringing a trumpet that I could barely play to a workshop of one of her long-tone pieces. Eventually I started to use my voice as an instrument. As I have gotten older, I think I am finally starting to understand my own responsibility and commitment to keeping at a specific practice. It's taken a while! And it's still shaky! One of the beautiful things about the workshops, both the regular MECA meetings as well as the performance-based and guest-led sessions, is that it was a direct experience of how others approached these same issues, not through wordy discussions, although that happened too, but by being in the moment when choices were being made, knowing the moment, and hearing and seeing how each person engaged, how they offered something, even if it was silence. I internalized this. I think I'm maybe starting to know now what to do with it.
Of all the many great visiting artists and deep discussions about music that Nameless Sound provided the chance to be connected with, the one that struck me most profoundly was a speech during a workshop by Roscoe Mitchell. I forget what was happening at that time in my life, but I was out of town for his performance and the other events of his residency, so the fact that this chance moment hit so hard, still catches me all the more off-guard. Mitchell was talking about the limits of group improvisation, that within all the countlessly infinite things that could happen within a group improvisation, there was also a long list of basic compositional ideas that, while not impossible to occur spontaneously, were just so statistically unlikely they might as well be if left to chance. At that time, my approach to visual and text-based art-making had become very much tied into algorithmic and computer-assisted practices and Mitchell's ideas spoke to that kind of thinking. It touched as well that conflict between love of the process, as-is, and a desire for the product to fit a certain shape, to step outside the moment, to control it. But it also spoke to the personal divide for me, perhaps the first and only time because I did not speak about home much, between the group collaborations with my friends growing up, which were much more compositional and product-oriented, and the processes and practices I had learned through the improvisation community in Houston.
Writing now, I think the real weight behind Mitchell's thoughts, though, was about an awareness and responsibility to another level of choice, perhaps preceding the process itself. Choosing to improvise freely could very well mean giving up on those moments of compositional beauty and leaving them behind, sacrificed. Or, choosing to improvise freely could bring with it a commitment to keeping awareness of the challenges it creates and choosing to face those challenges head-on. Mitchell was advocating for the latter. What a lesson in responsibility this now seems.
In the more recent years of my involvement with Nameless Sound, working off-and-on with Dave and the education team in a primarily non-musician role, I have quietly said that perhaps the most lasting impact from my participation in the workshops and community has been a deep instillation of a kind of practice of ethics, a structure of consideration and engagement that holds true beyond just sound and music. It is still seeping in, crystallizing. Looking back at these posters, it is a joyous reminder to me of my young self improvising with whatever was at hand. And my older self, now, wondering, how do I sustain that sense of wonder and joy in the one hand -- that sense of comfort and home, like MECA -- and, in the other hand, make the wholehearted choice to also be tuned to difficulty, to persevere, to fight for other beauty and meaning that might otherwise wash away in statistical noise of life. – DAVID FEIL
WE WOULD LIKE TO THANK OUR FEATURED ARTISTS, WRITERS, WORKSHOP PARTICIPANTS, AUDIENCE MEMBERS, AND ALL YOU LISTENERS. WITHOUT YOUR PRESENCE AND AWARENESS WE WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO PRESENT THIS STORY.
THANK YOU FOR LISTENING DEEPLY.
NAMELESS SOUND FOUNDING DIRECTOR: DAVID DOVE is a trombone player, improviser, composer and workshop facilitator. He is the Founding Director of Nameless Sound, which began in 2001 as a branch of Deep Listening Institute.
MANAGING EDITOR/UX DESIGNER: VERONICA ANNE SALINAS is an artist, writer, researcher, and Deep Listener. Her work explores performance, improvisation, site specificity, Tejana identity, ambient sensibilities and experimental narratives. She received her MFA in Sound from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is an editor at the sound-based publication, The Eaves and creator of the urban listening project, Chicago Land Sound. Currently she is studying Deep Listening at The Center for Deep Listening at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She has worked with Nameless Sound since 2014.
AUDIO ARCHIVIST: RYAN EDWARDS is a producer/recording engineer and improvising musician (guitar/voice/viola) based in Houston, TX. His work in recording is predominantly with classical and improvised/experimental music. Amongst many projects, he was mastering engineer for the Houston Symphony’s Grammy winning recording of Berg’s Wozzeck and many of his recordings of Nameless Sound concerts have been released commercially. He has worked with Nameless Sound since 2003.
VIDEO ARCHIVIST: DON WHITE hates writing boilerplate fluff about himself and would rather be editing video. A lifelong musical omnivore, he loves coffee, cats, Frank Zappa, and looks forward to being able to attend live performances again someday. He has worked with Nameless Sound since 2003.
NAMELESS SOUND ADMINISTRATIVE COORDINATOR: ANTHONY ALMENDÁREZ is an artist working in music composition, sound, noise, improvisation, performance, fixed media, and moving image. His work challenges the hierarchy between audio and visual stimuli confronting their respective stereotypes in relation to identity. Almendárez ultimately seeks to inject new modes of storytelling that are inclusive of histories and collective memories of those thriving along the margins of society. He received a BA in Music Education at CSU Dominguez Hills, an MA in Music Theory and Composition at Marshall University in WV, and is currently a candidate for the MFA in Sound Art at Bard College, NY. He has worked with Nameless Sound since 2018.
CONTRIBUTING ARTISTS AND WRITERS:
LOREN CONNORS is an American experimental musician who has improvised and composed original guitar music for over four decades. His music embraces the aesthetics of blues, Irish airs, blues-based rock and other genres while letting go of rigid forms. Connors, who names abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko his most important influence, also works with pencil, toner, computer software and other techniques to create evocative prints that arise from the aesthetics of music.
KAREN FANG is a film scholar and cultural critic who writes about the intersection of eastern and western aesthetics in global culture. Her books and publications span nineteenth-century British writing about exotic objects to twentieth and twenty-first century Hong Kong film, and explore how moments of modernization excite visual and narrative art.
DAVID FEIL began participating in Nameless Sound workshops in 2002. He has performed in Nameless Sound ensemble performances on numerous occasions, including three led by Pauline Oliveros. He has designed posters, manned the door, worked as a member of the Nameless Sound teaching staff, and co-presented with Nameless Sound on their education program at conferences. He now lives in Galveston, TX and works as a mental health counselor with survivors of trauma and abuse.
NATILEE HARREN is a scholar of modern and contemporary art history and theory with particular focus on experimental, interdisciplinary practices after 1960. She is author of Fluxus Forms: Scores, Multiples, and the Eternal Network (University of Chicago Press, 2020, winner of the Terra Foundation for American Art International Publication Grant) and Karl Haendel: Knight’s Heritage (LAXART, 2017). Her current research projects include a study of the early-career drawings of Walter De Maria and their relation to experimental performance, sculpture, and conceptual art of the 1960s; a critical history of listening practices in contemporary art; and a media-rich digital publication, forthcoming from the Getty Research Institute, that surveys and theorizes a range of 20th-century experimental notations from the fields of visual art, music, performance, poetry, and dance. She is on the faculty at the University of Houston School of Art.
HEATHER LEIGH was a graphic designer for the Pauline Oliveros Foundation Houston from 2001-2003. She now lives in Glasgow, Scotland where she works as a full-time musician. https://linktr.ee/wishimage
GABRIEL MARTINEZ is an artist, writer, and performer living and working in Houston. He graduated with an MFA from Columbia University and attended the Whitney Independent Study Program before moving to Houston as a Core Fellow and artist-in-residence at Project Rowhouses. Recent exhibitions include Everything Turns Away Quite Leisurely at the Blaffer Art Museum. He is the founder of Alabama Song, an experimental arts space in Houston. Alabama Song was awarded a Rauschenberg SEED grant in 2016 for its efforts in fostering the exchange of ideas across cultural disciplines.
KEITH ROWE is an English free improvisation tabletop guitarist. Rowe is a founding member of both the influential AMM in the mid-1960s and M.I.M.E.O. Rowe has achieved a level of relative notoriety, and since the late 1990s has kept up a busy recording and touring schedule. He is seen as a godfather of EAI (electroacoustic improvisation), with many of his recent recordings having been released by Erstwhile Records.Rowe began his career playing jazz in the early 1960s—notably with Mike Westbrook and Lou Gare. His early influences were guitarists like Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian and Barney Kessel. Eventually, however, Rowe grew tired of what he considered the form's limitations. Rowe began experimenting, slowly and gradually. An important step was a New Year's resolution to stop tuning his guitar—much to Westbrook's displeasure. Rowe gradually expanded into free jazz and free improvisation, eventually abandoning conventional guitar technique.
DAVID WANG is a graphic designer who enjoys drawing, screenprinting and cycles in his spare time (in no particular order). When he is not in a studio or working, he listens to all kinds of music, especially "challenging" music, as his friends and wife would like to call it.
MELISSA WARAK is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Texas at Austin and specializes in the relationship of music and sound to art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Her current research focuses on the ways that visual artists from the mid-fifties to late sixties employed musical models in their work and she is writing a book about contemporary sound art. Other research interests include science and technology in modern and contemporary art and art and disability. Her research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the National Portrait Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution, the Getty Research Institute, the Royal Music Association of the United Kingdom, The Menil Collection in Houston, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Kress Foundation, the Yale University Art Galleries, and the Tate Modern, among others.
PHOTOGRAPHERS: Audrey Chen, David Dove, Ryan Edwards, Karen Fang, Pete Gershon, Frank Rubolino, David Wang, Yuko Zama
POSTER DESIGN: David Feil, Heather Leigh, Gabriel Martinez, David Wang
NAMELESS: 20 YEARS OF SOUND LOGO DESIGN: Lillian Evans