Time Warp

Above: Time Warp as published in Mousse #30.

Each issue, the editors at Mousse invite a contributor to select a text or a group of texts to be reprinted in the magazine as part of their section “Reprint.” The reprinted work may be an article, a short essay, a piece of narrative, or something else, but the original layout is always kept. The scans are accompanied by a text/introduction by the contributor. I was delighted when they asked me to contribute and enjoyed the selection process enormously. The simple act of choosing a set of things and then writing something that helps to connect them was a productive one for me. My thanks to them for the opportunity, and for making it look great. — RG


Lydia Davis’s compact story “20 Sculptures in One Hour" begins like a word problem from a long-lost math class: "The problem is to see 20 sculptures in one hour." We wait for more, but that is the entirety of the problem, which is a classic half-empty or half-full scenario — though this one comes with a twist, as it must account not only for perception but for the passage of time. Once the problem is stated, Davis’s prose quickly double-backs on itself, repeating the worry that although "An hour seems like a long time" it also seems like "20 sculptures are a lot of sculptures." If anxiety can be described as the reflexive condition of worrying about worrying, then you might know where the first part of Davis’s story is heading.

I love Davis’s story all on its own, but I had the desire to stretch it out, to make it last longer, to parse it more closely, to somehow freeze-frame each sentence in motion, like Muybridge’s famous photographic study of a galloping horse. Muybridge’s images were made at the behest of university founder Leland Stanford in order to prove a supposition by French naturalist and early photographer Étienne-Jules Marey that all four of a horse’s hooves left the ground while galloping. With the help of twelve special cameras, Muybridge captured “movements whose speed exceeded the perception of any painter’s eye,” writes Prof. Friedrich Kittler in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, and proved Marey correct.

By 1882 Marey had developed something better than Muybridge’s cameras for recording bodies in motion. Combining Gatling’s mechanized machine gun with a multi-chambered camera developed for capturing the night sky through a telescope, Marey introduced a “chronophotographic gun” that could fire twelve frames per second. “Shooting” film was born.

The chronophotographic gun was soon aimed at one of Marey’s assistants, Georges Demeny, who produced images of himself speaking common phrases in an attempt to understand the motor functions of the face and mouth in producing speech. He used his simulations to teach deaf and mute patients at the Hôtel de Ville in Paris. The 20 millisecond-long exposures shown here animate Demeny as he speaks a declaration of love, “Je vous aime.”

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Mental music and aural moiré

Highly recommended: this episode of the UK’s South Bank Show on composer Steve Reich. Reich talks about the development of his work and process in the most casual but fascinating way, it’s well worth a look. Also interviewed are composers like Michael Nyman and Brian Eno. Eno describes Reich’s tape pieces (like “It’s Gonna Rain”) as “aural moiré patterns.” He goes on, “[The pieces] take advantage of the fact that your brain is very creative. [Reich’s] tranferring the job of being the composer into the brain of the listener, saying to the listener, ‘Your brain is actually making this piece of music,’ because you knew what ingredients were, there’s nothing mysterious about how the piece works.” Perhaps that explains my love for Bruno Munari’s Original Xerographies.

A fine point

One of my favorite pieces by one of my favorite composers, here is Steve Reich’s Piano Phase performed on two pianos by a single pianist. One piano begins a simple melody and the other mirrors it, but over time the two pianos fall completely out of phase and then cycle back together again.

Here’s Reich on the piece from his classic book Writings on Music:

While this piece, Piano Phase, was later completely written out in musical notation with dotted lines between one bar and the next to indicate the gradual phase shifting, it was not necessary for us to read this notation while we played, nor is it necessary for any other musicians who play the piece. The musical material in Piano Phase may be learned and memorized in several minutes. […] I believe there are human activities that might be called “imitating machines” but that are, in reality, simply controlling your mind and body very carefully as in yoga breathing exercizes. This kind of activity turns out to be very useful physically and psychologically, as it focuses the mind to a fine point.

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The Wordless Music Series, which “pairs rock and electronic musicians with more traditional chamber and new music performers, to create an entirely new concert experience,” has announced its new fall season (thx, Ken). Listen to some of the previous concerts here on NPR. Buy tickets to some of the upcoming concerts here on Brown Paper Tickets (search for “Wordless Music”). I’ll be heading to Signal’s all-Steve-Reich program featuring “Music for 18 Musicians” and “You Are (Variations)” this Sunday night at Le Poisson Rouge. Seeing Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” at Carnegie Hall last year was absolutely one of the highlights of my concertgoing life. Very excited to see it again, along with the incredible “You Are (Variations).” To get revved up for even more Wordless Music madness, check out Stars of the Lid performing Arvo Pärt’s “Fratres” (a piece near and dear to my heart) in Utrecht earlier this year. Stars of the Lid perform on 21 November as part of Wordless Music.

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From Carnegie Hall’s “Sound Insights” Podcast comes a great quick interview with composer Steve Reich as he deconstructs his famous piece “Drumming.”