Saturday, August 08, 2009

The next version of "you"

Here's an excerpt from an early version of my contribution to The Grain of the Voice in Digital Media and Media Art, a book that will be published by MIT Press some time next year. This blog actually works its way into the experimental artist essay title (Professor VJ's Big Blog Mashup) and P-VJ becomes a kind of pseudo-autobiographical / fictional persona who is at once performer, philosopher, and professor.

As always, just the fact that I am engaging with the concept of remix made some of the readers question the originality of my text (is that irony at work or a simple case [again] of mismanaged expectations?). What to say about the concept remix in relation to contemporary, theory-driven yet practice-based research? Maybe it has something to do with difference and repetition. Maybe not -- or both, simultaneously, at will.

Still, I cannot help myself and am still remixing everything from emails to hallucinatory encounters with the dead (and I don't mean death's simulacra either).

Artists experimentally inhabit their (intuitively?) selected data sampled from the Source Material Everywhere all the time, as do the most fluid of theoretical fictioneers...

The Performer

Remix this, remix that

We've heard it all before

It doesn't take long for buzzwords
to lose their usefulness as reference points
especially when challenged by an activist
new media intelligentsia

But what happens when the new media artist
becomes a kind of "mashup filter"
sampling data from a variety of sources
who then consciously (with intention)
manipulates this data with their own
signature-style effects
and the experiential residue of a life
lived on Planet Oblivion?

When it comes to translating your own
experience as part of a larger relational aesthetic
is there an implicit politics involved in
the act of remixing?

Who controls the experiential opacity
the crunchy altertones
the asynchronous assemblages

that tremble at the touch of a keyboard?


While she was visiting Boulder in the mid-90s
Kathy Acker and I were invited for an interview
on the local public radio station KGNU
and the show’s host though very sweet
was quite unfamiliar with Acker’s work
and so asked a very general question

“Where do you find your voice?”

which is a joke for a pirate hacker
like the late Kathy Acker
who would publish books with titles
like Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream
Blood and Guts in High School
and Pussy, King of the Pirates

and so without being rude she replied
“What voice? I just steal shit”

which was kind of funny given the fact
that shit is one of the seven words
the comedian George Carlin made fun of
when talking about The Seven Dirty Words
The Federal Communications Commission
ruled you can never say over the airwaves

(KGNU did not lose their license over this)

remixologically inhabit -- / -- the social voice -- / -- signature style

For the live A/V artist who is continually
remixing found footage with personal video
with computer generated imagery
with memories of various location shoots
with metempsychotic flashbacks of
images never rendered before

meaning has a way of smudging
into the experiential event itself
and is as difficult to cherrypick
as it is to waft through endless
tracks of performance writing
in hopes of locating the artist’s voice

Where is the artist’s voice?

(“What voice? I just steal shit.”)

I first came into contact with my so-called voice
when I was in an experimental sound art
ensemble whose name said it all:

Dogma Hum

(listen to the GRAMMATRON soundtrack
for early hints of what would emerge)

Dogma Hum had a rotating crew of
about five or six members of which
I was considered the group’s lead vocalist

although back in the day
we may have referred to my role
as performance poet or spoken word artist
but these terms do not adequately describe
my contribution either since I was also
resident novelist and theory-slut
as well as budding net artist (soon to bloom)
always sampling from and mixing in ideas
if not exact words and phrases
from other artists who were influencing me
at the time of my improvisational talking

I say talking because I could not sing
not in the way Frank Sinatra or Ella Fitzgerald
or John and Paul and George could sing
(Ringo could never sing either, could he?)
and so this talk-rock sound art ensemble
that was embodied in the group dynamic
known to some (not many) as Dogma Hum
was not really being led by my vocals

My so-called voice was just more data
more live and totally manipulable source material
ready for digital effects processing
and whether it was the grain of the sound
or the gram of the potential meaning
or the rhetorical quality of grain and gram
remixed in the measure of my delivery
no longer mattered

What mattered was the matter itself
(that trajectory of nervous energy
where the source of readiness potential
encountered the physiological matériel
and the persuasive quality of grain and gram
spasmodically improvising
method over madness
would project my unconscious buzzing
even as the madness would break free
through porous metaphors of structure
and deliver the occasional prophetic illumination
in its stead)

My fascination at the time was not words
although I needed some data to play with
and had endless scraps of paper
with anarcho-existentialist markings on them
somehow capturing the lossy bits of
(what Acker once referred to as)
this other world within the dream
that my body language was circulating in

(these almost hieroglyphic drawings
masquerading as meaning-laden words
could trigger unexpected noise performances
including the most popular track we composed
the title of which referred to these mental jottings
as "Somnambulistic Chickenscratch")

My real fascination was with the digital effects processor
that would change the so-called grain of my voice
into something other than I knew it to be
and that when remixed with my own supposed voice
the one that we would generally call “natural”
but that is really a pigment of our imagination
(one instrumental data stream among many
ready for instantaneous postproduction)
created a new processual version of “me”
just like writing my novels created
new processual versions of “me”

which then led me to unexpected questions
like “What am I when writing my fictions?
Some kind of digital effects processor?”

(Maybe the remixologist is a contemporary
version of Whitman’s “body electric”
but loaded with customized artist-apparatus filters
never quite put into use before now)

Especially given the fact that my forte
if you can call this sort of a thing a forte
is my ability to selectively sample
from the sea of source material
I am biologically swimming in
and spontaneously discovering new uses for
in my on-the-fly remixes no matter what medium
I happen to be working in (fiction, photography,
film, dance, performance art, spoken word, etc.)

Keeping this in mind
could it be said that my voice
has nothing to do with the sounds
I make while vocalizing
but rather has everything to do with
the unique way I remixologically inhabit
the source material I appropriate
while unconsciously projecting
the next version of "me"
in whatever new performance event
I happen to be activated in?

No – you'll never hear my digital voice

You'll feel it as it finds its way
into your own body language
in hopes of unconsciously triggering
the next version of "you"

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Innovative Fiction

One of my publishers, FC2, "an author-run, not-for-profit publisher of artistically adventurous, non-traditional fiction," has recently announced two major prizes that include book publication plus cash awards:

The FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize
$15,000 & publication by FC2

The Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize
$1,000 & publication by FC2

For more information:

If you have the goods, do it to it.

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