Friday, September 7, 2007

The Wire and the Track and the Universe

I generally abhor exercise. It always feels like preparing for an event that will never come, a wood-chipping of time that could have been used in something more fun. When I read Jasper Johns' comment that he decided to stop becoming an artist and decide to be an artist, it had a huge impact on me, and since then, I usually go into things as the Thing, not an Aspirer to Thinghood. This works great for the mind, but the body is a tough sell.

I've come to appreciate the grind of the track, its set cycles of 6 1/2 laps on the outer rim equal a mile, and while my daughter is at gymnastics, I have a perfect bracket in which I would otherwise not be doing anything else anyway. I am still a walker but one day I expect to hear a click in my head that says start running. Instead of aspiring to be a runner though, I am a dedicated occasional walker. Philosophy makes the best cop-outs.

What I do hear is the indulgences of the iPod, an hour of concentrated listening uninterrupted by "I should be doing something productive" since, well, I am. I like endurance test listening, extreme pieces, harshly minimal music, things to which one must submit, on the track. They blank out the errant dumb conversations of the others gathered there, like me, waiting out their kids in gymnastics classes in the adjoining gym. So, on my Alvin Lucier kick, I decided to sweat it out with his 1977 piece Music On a Long Thin Wire (wiki entry), described by the composer as such:

Music on a Long Thin Wire of a is constructed as follows: the wire is extended across a large room, clamped to tables at both ends. The ends of the wire are connected to the loudspeaker terminalspower amplifier placed under one of the tables. A sine wave oscillator is connected to the amplifier. A magnet straddles the wire at one end. Wooden bridges are inserted under the wire at both ends to which contact microphones are imbedded, routed to the stereo sound system. The microphones pick up the vibrations that the wire imparts to the bridges and are sent through the playback system. By varying the frequency and loudness of the oscillator, a rich variety of slides, frequency shifts, audible beats and other sonic phenomena may be produced.

On the recording I have, it consists of 4 variants, using different frequencies on the oscillator to create slightly different wavering sine waves, things humming along and then creating a sudden groan of the waves going out of phase with themselves. To get the real effect, I would expect that one should listen to this performed live in an otherwise silent room, as one's body would become a factor in the piece itself, but who has the time to set up all that equipment. I got shit to do Alvin, I can pencil in an hour.

The drones had to compete with the 60-cycle hum of the lights overhead, which became deafening once the inane chatter of humanity was excised from my consciousness, and made for a nice counterpoint to these 18-minute drones that rose and fell like a lukewarm tide in a dead lake. In the YouTube comments of the raga piece I posted the other day, somebody snarked about the tamboura player, the guy playing the bass-like thing in the middle, idly plucking what seemed like the same note as his two cohorts were displaying amazing instrumental prowess on the sitar and tabla. A more knowledgable poster responded by saying (sic)

Hello mates.

The guy in the middle may sound funny or useless, but he's a fundamental element in the performance. He's playing the tampura, producing a bee-like continueous vibration. If he stops playing, the sitarist looses reference notes for his raga, and the "meditative" effect of the performance immediately shatters.

The cheap noisy lighting LSU uses for its indoor track served as the tamboura to Alvin's relative soloing on Long Thin Wire, bouncing around the narrow frequency band to which its setup allowed. I'm relistening to it now in a coffee shop as I type this, but the mix of blenders, yammering sales pitch some realtor is laying out, the exasperated sighs of the guy at the next table, anguished over the uncracked class binder laying in wait behind the screen of his laptop, not to mention the lite jazz wafting in every now and then, overwhelm the piece. The meditative effect is indeed shattered.

But with that hum, and the preoccupation of the body, you feel like you are looking at deeper and deeper at things, either constantly focusing in or zooming out, the continuity of existence preventing you from realizing which way you are going. Maybe meditation works on a superficial way because its easy; a hum, a repetition is all it takes to push you into temporary timelessness. You won't reach Nirvana on the track or with humming wires, but you can leave the pavement.

1 comment:

  1. I lost all interest in exercise when I saw an ad on the bus one day that said every hour you exercise adds an hour to your life. Yeah... An hour you spend EXERCISING.