utorak, 29. listopada 2013.

Steve Roden - I Listen To The Wind That Obliterates My Traces: Music In Vernacular Photographs 1880 - 1955 (2011)


Akademski obrazovan muzičar koji u svemu što radi ide uz dlaku i zanima se za rubne pojave i autore. Primjerice, prevodi poeziju s jezika koje ne poznaje. Objekti za njega nisu instrumenti podređeni autoru, nego suradnici, aktori koji te mogu odvesti nekamo gdje nisi bio.


Sound Propositions 04: Steve Roden (part I)

a big circle drawn with little hands was created from a box of things sent to me by sylvian, who runs the ini itu label. the box contained everything from newspapers, coins, wooden toys, pamphlets, plastic objects, plastic bags, broken airline headphones, notes, a bottle opener, a noise maker of wood, a small electronic toy shaped like a butterfly that offered tones and animal noises, cardboard, a fan, and other things. i also used a banjo in the first track, and my voice in the last track.
the lp was mastered by taylor deupree, and the cover design and photos were done by sylvain.
a number of people have attempted to “de-code” the song titles, but like the rest of the approach to the soundmaking, etc. the titles actually also came from one of the items in the box of stuff sylvain sent to me – a newspaper, and i used each of the photographs to determine the titles, based on the number of hands appearing in an image as well as the image’s narrative. the title of the lp was based on a drawing made by sylvain’s daughter.
I met Steve earlier this year at a workshop and public conversation when he performed as part of the Suoni per il Popolo festival in Montreal, and I find its best to let him do the talking as much as possible.  This is the first of a two part interview conducted  between June and December of 2012.  As it is already considerably longer than even my already-lengthy pieces, I’ll try to keep the introductory comments to a minimum, so we can get back to his words.
Steve Roden is an artist living in Pasadena, presenting his work since the mid-’80s.  The text above describes one of his most recent recordings, but the spirit conveyed by those words animates all his endeavors.  In contrast to a sort of radical openness suggested in each piece, Roden adopts a series of self-imposed rules or creates idosyncratic notation to act as a guide in which to execute create decisions.  A true bricoleur, this at times entails limiting the tools or resources at his disposal, often with no regard for “fidelity” or technical processes. Instead he embraces these qualities, not as flaws but as interesting in themselves.  In addition to making music, he also works in many different media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, film/video, sound installation, and performance. Throughout the ‘90s he released several records under the moniker In Be Tween Noise and coined the term “lowercase” for a music that “bears a certain sense of quiet and humility; it does not demand attention, it must be discovered. the work might imply one thing on the surface but contain other things beneath. … it’s the opposite of capital letters—loud things which draw attention to themselves.”  His 2001 release Forms of Paper brought attention to the term lowercase, which at the time united a wide variety of practitioners exploring silence and quiet, from lap top musicians, to electroacoustic artists to free jazz. As is the way with such things, the term took on a life of its own, though Steve still insists upon an openness in its interpretation.  You can read more about Steve’s thoughts on lowercase and the history of that release at “on lowercase affinities and forms of paper.”)  He has collaborated with Brandon LaBelle, Franscisco López, Jason Kahn, Machinefabriek, Stephen Vitiello,  Bernhard Günter and many others
Roden’s philosophy is very much in line with that of Sound Propositions, and A closer listen as a whole. We each, as listeners, must play a central role in shaping what we hear, bringing a sort of Zen-like acceptance while still attending to Rilke’s “inconsiderable things,” a reference Roden often mentions.   I can’t help but hear echoes of  Nietzsche,one of Rilke’s great influences, in Roden’s approach to listening, and his conception of the artist more broadly.  Nietzsche didn’t write for everyone, and certainly not for those who would cherry-pick his words.  He decried the equivalent of iTunes on shuffle, music as background noise.  No, Nietzsche wrote for those who would put in the effort, who could read slowly, carefully, and deeply.  Roden is a similar kind of artist, that is he who has no contemporary.  This can be a dangerous place to be, but for those who press on through this isolation, their work transcends the ebbs and flows of fashion.  Still, as the poet Hölderlin wrote, “where danger threatens/That which saves from it also grows.”  There is something creative and productive that comes from this place of risk.   Not hostile or coercive, not elitist or condescending, but rather quietly carrying on its own logic, rewarding patient and careful engagement.
Steve is a rare kind of artist.  One who has created a rich and diverse body of work that is uniquely his own, one who can work across media without losing his conceptual rigor, who can create resonate work and speak articulately about it, while speaking simply and without sacrificing nuance, and all the  while still remaining utterly humble and approachable. His work is patient and characterized by a level of restraint that is hard to match.  Rather than be confined he turns the limitations around him into that which generates the work.
Enjoy.  (Joseph Sannicandro)
A playlist of the pieces mentioned in this article can be found here.

Joseph Sannicandro:  I’ve heard you mention your early interest in the LA punk scene in several interviews.  In my experience, many of us who are experimental music, electro-acoustic music or music that in some way draws inspiration from the avant-garde or conceptual art,  have a similar background of being interested in more extreme music (punk/hardcore, or industrial music). This genealogy seems relevant to me, as opposed to those who come from the EDM/club background, or who are more formally trained in the classical tradition.  Can you maybe expand on this, how the ethic of the punk scene may have influenced your aesthetic, your attitude towards promoting concerts, releasing music, and your evolving material practice itself?
Steve Roden: I can’t really emphasize how lucky I was to be able to be part of that scene from 1979-82, especially as a 15 year old. A friend and I literally encountered the scene by accident… we rode our bicycles to the Whisky A Go-Go to see a Jimi Hendrix impersonator, and the show was so great… the guy came out in a coffin and it was like Hendrix was reincarnated! We had such a good time that we went back a few weeks later expecting another rock show only to be confronted by The Screamers!!! At that time, I had hair down to my shoulders and I was wearing a Hendrix t-shirt, but nobody gave us crap, in fact most of the people, who were older than us, were super cool. I had no idea what was going on, but I remember standing there with all this crazy energy on stage and after the show I went home and cut my hair, and painted a big red no left turn sign over Hendrix’s face on that t-shirt. The next day I wore the shirt to school and a few guys picked a fight with me because of the shirt, and I felt excited and different.
“122 hours of fear”
Haha, wow,  love this story and the imagery!
Yeah, I wish I remembered the Hendrix impersonator show a bit more detail… it probably was very close to Spinal Tap territory!
While the punk scene became very violent by 1982, those earlier years were fantastic, and a lot of people were very positive… we really thought we’d change the world. Yes, of course the music was very important, but even more so was the feeling of potential that came out of being part of a community. Certainly, there were a lot of drugs, a lot of angry people, and sometimes violence, but it’s clear now that for so many people who were part of that scene it fueled a very creative approach to life – as well as a strong sense of integrity: “no compromise”, etc. I have no musical training and I think half our band knew how to play their instruments and half could not. I was the singer and wrote most of the words – ridiculous songs like “kill reagan” and “jesus needs a haircut”. We were young and angry towards the government and religion, and society’s rules in general. Like every subculture, we were dreamers as well as fighters. But what was most important was that we didn’t want to be rich and famous. That was NEVER a goal. And that gave the whole thing a level of integrity that I have tried to carry forward in life… to do things the way that you want to, to find meaning in your own way, and not only to have integrity but to protect it. I don’t think I ever really felt the music or the scene was truly “extreme”, certainly not in terms of hearing someone likeMerzbow or Aube live. But the scene had a crazy wonderful energy certainly. In Los Angeles, not all of the bands offered an extreme experience  - although certainly early Black FlagFear and the Germs did – but if you think about the variety of influences upon bands like XGun Club, Fear, Black Flag, the Weirdoes, the Germs, each of these bands had their own sound and their own influences, so I would not really categorize them all as extreme in sound. Punk was loud, but only in certain cases was it truly extreme – such as live Dead Kennedy’s!
1980, seditionaries performance – yes, that is me singing!
Yes, these are all social scenes that I think have strong underpinnings, punk with integrity, hardcore with unity, club culture with a kind of hedonism.
This morning I was reading the newspaper and there was an article about Snoop Dog and how he re-tooled one of his songs “drop it like it’s hot”, to fit a commercial for “Hot Pockets,” which is some kind of sandwich. While I don’t begrudge anyone seeking a paycheck, it’s hard not to see that decision and not think about him as a sell-out or a compromise (for if nothing else, he is surely compromising the integrity of the original song by retooling it for an ad). I’d like to think the Clash would have been aghast at the idea of turning “white riot” into a jingle for soda pop… “rite diet, rite diet, rite diet, a flavor of its own
Can you imagine? That’d be some soda!  But still, even though Snoop obviously doesn’t need a paycheck, and not that “drop it like it’s hot” had much integrity to begin with, there is still something about making such a change that just doesn’t sit right.  I like how you deploy INTEGRITY here, it’s not just an abstraction but the literal integrity of the song itself, as such.
Last year I was watching a press conference with a baseball player from this area, and instead of testing the free agent market he re-signed with the team he’d been with for several years. His decision was rooted in his relationship with his teammates, living in Los Angeles and his family. In making the decision he left a few million dollars on the table, and on the radio, some fans criticized him for not trying to get the most money he could get… but after being asked the same question by a reporter he simply said, “how much money does a person need”, and it was kind of great to see a wealthy professional athlete take less money because there were other things in life that meant more to him… so I see this dude as having a hell of a lot more integrity than Snoop Dog!
steve_roden_01When we met back in June at the Suoni per il Popolo festival in Montreal, during a public conversation you had with Doug Moffat, you mentioned an album whose liner notes influenced you far more than the music itself, which was just speculative for so many years, until you found a copy and finally were disappointed a bit by the actual music, or at least it didn’t live up to the limitlessness of your imagination.  I’m blanking on the LP at the moment, but maybe it was German?  Anyway, this reminded me of something the writer Samuel R. Delany has said, in an interview with theParis Review.   Excuse the long quote…
You have suggested that the writers who influence us “are not usually the ones we read thoroughly and confront with our complete attention, but rather the ill- and partially read writers we start on, often in troubled awe, only to close the book after pages or chapters, when our own imagination works up beyond the point where we can continue to submit our fancies to theirs.”  What were some of your “ill-read” books?
Any book you have to work yourself up to read. …When such books influence you, if that’s the proper word for what I’m describing, it’s what you imagine they do that they don’t do that you yourself then try to effect in your own work, that, to me, is what’s important. What these books actually accomplish is very important, of course! But the whole set of things they might have accomplished expands your own palette of aesthetic possibilities in the ways that, should you undertake them, will be your offering on the altar of originality.
Before I read Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Conqueror books and stories, I really thought they would be the Nevèrÿon tales, or at least something like them. But I discovered that, rich and colorful as they were, they weren’t. So I had to write them myself. 
I wonder if you were maybe getting at a similar concept of the ill-heard album. Or really any work of art that can be more inspiring as a specter than as a proper engagement.  This sort of thing probably occurs less now that the internet has made it much easier to find out about things.  The mystique fades a bit, but that’s another question.
Yeah, that is great!!! I can’t tell you how many things I love were discovered through a bad review… and with the record, being unable to hear it (this was pre-internet), it just started growing inside of me, and the [liner] notes really offered me a path to start to make my own music. The LP was by the painter Jean Dubuffet [found of Art Brut], along with the Cobra [and Situationist] artist Asger Jorn, and they borrowed a bunch of Asian and exotic instruments and made all these reel-to-reel tapes. It’s really like noise music or free jazz without the jazz parts, but Dubuffet approached music in the same way he dealt with art brut, and the liner notes are so beautiful in terms of how he speaks of playing instruments without technique – and at the time I was working with instruments, making crude instruments, and working with them to make music and I was so affected by Dubuffet’s notes that it pushed me. When I heard the actual LP, maybe 10 years ago, it sounded so completely different than I’d heard in my mind and it never would’ve inspired me in the same way. It was lucky that I had no access to the content!!!
You can read more about the LP here, and read the liner notes and listen at Ubuweb.
What are some of your early memories or impressions of sound?  When did you realize you were interested in sound (as such)?
This is a question I get a lot and I never know how to answer it. Honestly, as a child I don’t remember being specifically attracted to sound as sound. Certainly there were experiences that I remember strongly, such as my first tape recorder which was given to me by my father when I was 10 years old. But I did not go out and make field recordings, in fact, I distinctly remember a friend and I sitting on the tape deck’s microphone and farting and giggling a lot (a story I have never offered in an interview before!)… but most of the actual sounds I remember were not natural sounds, like the ice cream truck songs, the sound of my father’s car, and my grandfather’s whistle. Honestly, I don’t really think sound was something I responded to at a young age, certainly I have no listening epiphanies that I can remember…
I would say that I really noticed sound – as sound – when I was 12 or so. I didn’t know it at the time, but in the mid-1970’s I used to hang out at the local Tower Records store with a few friends on Saturday nights. The store stayed open until midnight, and we became friends with some of the folks who worked there, and one night someone mentioned it was my birthday and one of the clerks handed me a copy of Eno’s Another Green World as a gift. At that time I was listening mostly to Hendrix – as his was the first music I was obsessed with, buying bootlegs, etc. so I had no context for Eno at all, especially the instrumental tracks… but I remember clearly listening to one of the ambient-ish tracks “the big ship” a million times. It wasn’t that I had any interest in that kind of music, but I loved that track (as well as to a slightly lesser degree, “In dark trees”); and I think what appealed to me was that they were atmospheres or moods – of course, I didn’t think about it as being important, but it was the first abstract music I responded to, and in particular, to the sound of those pieces, which are very warm. It’s not like I listened to the LP a bunch of times and became an Eno fan… that would happen much later, but every once in a while I would listen to it the LP, and try to make sense of it.  It’s kind of like the quote you offered about Samuel Delany, because I needed to keep re-visiting it because it confused me and while I had no context or language to understand where it was coming from, I still wanted to find my way in it…

It seems pretty unusual that as such a young person you actually made the effort to try.  It suggests a level of openness.  So, back to the sound of recordings…
People don’t talk much about the sound of punk recordings, and certainly there aren’t a lot of distinct approaches to recording with a lot of punk records, but if you listen to the first X or Gun Club LP’s – both on Slash, the sound is really different than, say, never mind the bullocks… the Slash recordings are full of energy, but sound somehow clean and kind of warm… it wasn’t until the post-punk scene where bands like PiLJoy Division and Bauhaus were experimenting with sound, that I started responding to sound itself – and it was the same with Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle. But PiL was especially influential – especially “Metal Box” – which had a HUGE impact on me – as well as the Clash’s Sandinista, just in terms of how the music was expanding and feeling less influenced by the scene… those two records are so different from each other stylistically – truly independent – both embracing experimentation and to different degrees influenced by dub – they both point to different potentials towards the future. I think even bands like FeltEyeless in Gaza and Orange Juice also had very particular sounds. One record that resonated deeply was Martyn Bates 10″ Letters Written, from 1982. It is mainly voice and, I think, a synth organ, and it is one of the most beautiful melancholy lonely records I have ever heard, and at that time in my life which was quite a disaster, I felt so connected to that music, maybe deeper than to any record I’d heard until then, and my response to that record was the beginning of moving away from punk… and I was kind of lost trying to find music to fuel my interests.
Public Image Limited – Metal Box “Memories”

Martyn Bates – “Letters form yesterday”
What stands out to me here is how you identify a move away from aesthetics being dictated by “the scene,” which I’m interpreting as the sort of social aspect.  Of course genre is often very much about community and sociality and exclusion as much as any formal aspects or  “the sound” itself, but it may also hint at why it’s so hard to talk about various strains of experimental music as having a coherent community at all.
I think what you are getting at is very important, because while the music scene generates the culture, at some point there is a split, and for me it was twofold, the culture of punk was getting violent and codified, and the music felt overly predictable (I’m generalizing of course)… honestly, I wasn’t looking for culture to be part of, feeling growth could come from isolation, and that’s really when i started making my own recordings – again without any context, but trying not only to find music to like, but also music to make.
Another monumental experience happened around that time, a friend’s dad had tickets to a Philip Glass performance and he couldn’t go so he gave us the tickets. Once again, we had no context and when the concert started – I believe it was a two piano piece or two organs, and all I remember was them starting and ending, but during the performance I was transported to another place… truly. I have to say even though that was a life changer, I’m not really a fan of Glass’s music, but it got me to Steve Reich, which was huge… also, around 1984, I discovered Eno’s Obscure label and I bought a copy of [Gavin] Bryar’s Sinking of the Titanic – not knowing how much the other  side   of the LP –Jesus Blood  ever Failed Me – would also be HUGE for me, this idea of using a “field recording” within the context of a work, and also the repetition. That record really opened the door to my working in a quiet way. (and if I can bring up integrity again, the version with Tom Waits singing really destroys the integrity of the original entirely…). then, in 1987, I was driving in the car with my mother, listening to the radio and the announcer mentioned the that [Morton] Feldman had died. I didn’t know Feldman’s work at all, but I remember telling my mom to go in the store to get what she needed, while I remained sitting in the car alone and listening to this music, which was a very quiet and seemed from another world, yet had en enormous impact on me.

It’s interesting to me how at that time media circulation was a bit more closed than it is today (though of course radio, portable tape recorders, cassette tapes and even xeroxed zines were huge innovations and contributed to new circulations not available to earlier generations) but that this closed-ness made possible the almost context-less encounters you had with Eno, Bryars, Glass and Feldman. In many ways, looking back from the present, these seem serendipitous, though I’m sure there were plenty of other kids who were into punk or classic rock or something who had or would have had very different experiences.  Or even the friend you went to see Glass with.
2011, performance at cafe oto (i use the laptop only for video, which is filmed the day of hte performance and used as visual/sound loops during the performance. offering documentation of private performances earlier in the day – i don’t love having a laptop on my table, but the use of video for me is awkward and quite difficult, and so it seems worth pushing)(photo by helen of sound fjord)
Yes, and I think if we had the internet we might’ve found out about things sooner, but the ease would’ve made
everything feel less special – and the important thing was that I was making connections between things, rather than “links” determined by a machine or someone else. All true subcultures start small, as do all alternative cultures – and I mean true alternative cultures. What was different was that you had to be in a certain location, and you weren’t able to mimic the dress style or the music unless you had been there in person – or at least were surrounded by physical things that were hard to find… records, zines, even t-shirts… we made Damned t-shirts because we could not buy them anywhere. I just searched “punk rock t-shirt” on ebay you g
et 27,644 hits!!!!! On one hand that is super cool, on the other hand how does one become part of a true alternative culture with virtual friends who form a virtual community, where everything you need to join the club is a “click”
away. I hate to sound like an old guy, and I’m not trying to make a value judgment, but I believe that such a path was different, both physically and emotionally, and I believe that it made everything feel a lot more important and a lot less disposable.
Hm, it’d be interesting to think this through further.  I don’t think virtuality necessitates an inauthentic community.  But certainly, in the sense of digital mediation, it is much harder to imagine cultivating anything that can be sustained over long periods of time.  Points converge and trends pop up and burn out almost as fast (particularly in the already fragmented space of electronic music, cf. #seapunk,  witch-house, PBRnB).  The obsession is with novelty for novelty’s sake, not with fixed identity or any sense of cultivating a style or craft. How did diasporic communities, like the Jewish people for instance, maintain a shared sense of identity across time and space without modern communication?  If I had to answer I’d say: Ritual.  Of course modern subcultures are far from having this sort of fixed identity, but it does but the coming together in a different context, a sort of spiritual and ritualistic beyond merely social, or at least at its best it is this. So then, I wonder, how does listening to music alone at home or anonymously via headphones impact this ritual?  It becomes very alienating.  Literally disorienting, people dip into and out of things in a shallow way, and even though some of us may treat the Internet as a godsend to delve deep into the archive, most people don’t seem to really explore and learn about what has come before. Anyway…
Sure, I understand what you are saying, but we all know that conversations via email, facebooking, etc. are quite different than humans in a room. There’s a freedom in the invisibility, and a willingness to offer information to others online that might be quite different than sharing in person – politicians sending phone pictures of their genitals without a worry, who would never pull down their pants in public…. funny, yes, but it also shows that there is a huge difference in being in a room with people and sending a text… and hence, I think there is an enormous difference in an online community and a group of people meeting every weekend at a club…
In terms of moving away from what I knew, the question became how can you determine your trajectory if you don’t know what you are after? I certainly didn’t know. When I got out of the punk scene I started listening to a lot of song stuff, again coming from the UK, with labels like Rough Trade, Cherry Red, Postcard, Factory, etc. a lot of that music had a melancholy quality that I responded to… and it wasn’t until maybe 1984 or so that I started moving outwards – discovering Steve Reich’s Desert Music (because I liked William Carlos Williams’ writings), which led me to Music for 18 Musicians, and eventually to Meredith Monk (because she was on ECM… ) and Stephan Micus(who was also on ECM), and just like everything else, I had no context for these  artists at all. And it wasn’t until maybe a year later that I heard about minimal music – finally contextualizing that Glass performance I experienced. Now, I don’t listen to any of those artists, but they all helped get me to where I am, and in one way or another felt sympathetic with my own responses to music (as well as the Chicago Art Ensemble)… and the list goes on, but it was all a game of telephone, for if I liked something on a label, I would buy something else, and then after 2 or 3 releases I found some kind of context. It wasn’t always right or good – there are a lot of ECM records I hated… but Meredith Monk’sTurtle Dreams was just as important to me as PiL’s Metal Box.

I almost want to ask about California.  The LA punk scene was pretty removed from what was going on in NY and London or even DC, even though later that scene became very well known and appreciated. But there’s something about California, maybe being so far away from Europe, that seems to have allowed room for all sorts of creative flourishing in the States, from avant-garde music to poetry.  You’ve traveled all over the world at this point, but has LA always been your home base?  Anything about LA as a city, or as a medium of sorts, that you might care to talk about?
I think there has always been a strong difference in west coast aesthetic and east coast aesthetic – in painting, music, writing, etc. and I consider myself very much aligned with the history of west coast art – looking at someone like Bruce Conner, who worked in a variety of mediums, never really exploited a consistent style, left the scene, returned, etc. I think the beauty of Los Angeles as opposed to NY, at least in terms of history, is that the scene here has always been smaller and much more casual, and hence less of this overriding feeling that everything is a big deal. You can disappear in LA without really disappearing, and there isn’t that feeling that you have to be at every opening or you will miss something. Painters like Lee Mullican and Gordon Onslow Ford made paintings with cosmic intentions, inspired by American Indian culture – and in NY, at the time, they probably thought it was hippie painting (although that was before the term hippie existed). I think about the Screamers in relation to DNA… it sounds like a cliché, but historically, the east coast has been more cerebral, and definitely more academic… of course, these are huge generalizations, but even the difference between jazz in the 40′s and 50′s between east coast and west coast, you can clearly see two very distinct sensibilities. Even with Hollywood, this is a laid back town. It is as a car culture, meaning you are generally alone and more disconnected from “noise”. A car is like a moving cave, the NY subway is like a moving crowd… I’m not sure about location, but certainly the way one lives life fuels their approaches to art making (and similarly, art also fuels one’s approach to life).  If you are in a place your whole life, it is not just a place, but an incredibly strong influence. People talk about the light in certain places, but it is more than that, it is how one lives in a location.
DNA – “Not Moving”
Of course you’re not interested only in sound, but you are also a visual artist, you work in many media, at Suoni you used sound and video together, and you’re also rooted in the academy, in your training and working as a professor. How did your sound practice begin, and how did it evolve related to your visual practice?  Do you have techniques or approaches that transcend medium specificity?  Or does the materiality of the medium (a lo-fi tape recording as it is, the interface of your cheap pedals, etc) steer the boat?  I realize now this question sounds almost naïve, there must be some of both, or maybe there’s no system underlying it at all.
Well, there’s no naive questions – nor any bad ones. My method is not exactly codified, so it is a very relevant question, especially as it is somewhat complex. But first, I must attend to the first part of your question about me being “rooted in the academy”… which is quite funny, as I’ve never been spoken of as such. My relationship to my education was quite contentious, probably for all the reasons I mentioned above. I was interested in pursuing personal vision, which is not always compatible with the goals of a program. I had a very difficult time with the readings of Beaudrillard and Deleuze – as I was mostly interested in Rilke, poetry and literature like Hamsun, Hesse, Mann, etc. and I didn’t fit in. At the time, the late 80’s, people were moving towards spectacle and I was moving towards quiet. I fought really hard against “the academy” in school, and was nearly kicked out of school for it. And this is where these ideas become important – because you don’t become an artist to please other people or to conform to the thing of the moment… at least in terms of what being an artist meant to me, so in terms of a student, I would say that in many ways I bypassed the academy, as I was able to succeed in doing what I felt was important, rather than what expected. it was quite a difficult experience that made me much stronger once I was out in the world.
2012, performance at human resources in los angeles, this is the first time i’ve used my father’s guitar in a performance. (photo robert crouch)
In terms of my being a professor, well, I really feel it is my duty to work with younger artists and to push them to think about these larger issues of integrity and fighting for what you want to do. Graduate school can suck the life out of a student, particularly if they are already thinking about being successful; so I feel it is my job to go in there and to help them empower themselves, so they can fight back and experience life in a little messier way, so that it becomes real. They seem afraid to trust themselves, and they want success without really understanding what success demands of you. And more than anything, I share my own career with them. I’ve been out of school for nearly 25 years, so I have a lot of experience behind me – both good and bad. In my own experience, teachers like to create distance, and I try to break that down.
In terms of my practice, well, I studied fine arts with a major in painting -which ridiculously meant I had one true painting class in 6 years of school! I had been working with sound since I graduated high school in 1982, but mostly writing songs. It wasn’t until 1987 or so that I started working with ambient sounds and electronics and abstraction. What took a long time was to acknowledge that the sound work was part of my practice – not something separate. In 1993, I finished a group of sound works and as I was about to drop the tape into a very full drawer of tapes, I felt like I had to acknowledge the sound was part of my work. It was a freeing moment, which opened the door for the work to continue to open up and to defy expectations. So eventually text, film, sculpture, performance… became part of the work as well. I don’t like being considered a visual artist or a sound artist… and tend to simply consider myself as someone who makes things in a variety of forms.
2012, video/sound installation titled “shells, bells, steps and silences”
Well, maybe ‘rooted’ was the wrong term.  But, still coming through graduate school and teaching, you seem to be much more able to articulate what it is you do, and think conceptually, than a lot of other artists I’ve encountered. (Not that every artist has some obligation to be able to really speak articulately about their work, I suppose.)
What’s funny about this is that I am teaching graduate school right now, and I just told my students to try to write like they speak… and I ended up writing them a manifesto for writing/speaking about their work, with rules such as: clarity, simplicity, honesty, etc. they are constantly griping because their other teachers are making them write in a very specific academic way, which I think is too detached from life, and which fuels distance, rather than intimacy. an artist statement isn’t to show how smart you are, it is to convey what your work is about, where it comes from, and why it matters.
So I create games for them, like Eno’s Oblique Strategy cards specifically towards a critique situation, so that they can begin to think differently – to break away from learned habits. They write the way they write because they’ve been told it has to be a certain way; so I believe it is my job is to tell them that what they are being told is simply not true. The purpose of articulating your work is not to baffle folks into thinking you are smart, but to articulate what you do, clearly. A statement is an opportunity to share, and that sharing should be as generous as possible. I’ve spent a very long time trying to to articulate what I do with enough clarity that my mother or my neighbor can understand me.
A lot of people who come out of academic culture seem to enjoy speaking or writing in ways that create distance, talking down to people; but I have no interest in making someone feel as if they don’t know enough. I’m interested in offering permission, so that anyone can respond to artworks or music on their own terms, rather than my own – so that their responses can fuel conversations – perhaps, them showing me something about the work. Of course, sometimes it helps to know context or histories, but sometimes you bump into a record like Another Green World and you don’t need an instruction sheet as much as you need to simply be patient and trust your ears and your insides….
In specific terms, a source generally dictates my engagement with it – as well as determining the tools. My recent LP for ini.itu was created through recordings and objects sent to me by Sylvain, who runs the label; and the stuff he sent me was pretty stubborn. At first I could not find my way to doing anything with the materials, and then eventually I created 3 or 4 tracks that utilized the material but the resulting tracks felt too familiar, and I felt as if I wasn’t acknowledging their characteristics. When you have been working for so long, you need to find ways not to get in the way of the material you are working with, so I threw those tracks away and started over, and finally we came to a meeting point – between myself and the materials, and slowly the tracks evolved into a record. What excites me is that feeling that I could never have made this record without these materials – so that it feels as if their voice is present as much as my own. It’s a different kind of improvising when you aren’t improvising with a person, but you still must find a place of sympathy. Sometimes this does come through scores or plans, but those aspects are usually collaborating with improvisation… no different than Cage pulling the I-ching or Eno’s Oblique Strategies or Fluxus scores… just words suggesting moves that would not have come about without them.
Part II of Sound Propositions with Steve Roden will be published next week, in which we talk about aesthetics, technique, and Steve’s relationship to technology.

 it seems a necessity, as active listeners, to become sensitive to these things in the world around us that the german poet rilke called “inconsiderable things” (the things from everyday life that most people don’t really pay sensitive attention to). standing on a street corner, listening to the sounds of cars approaching and then passing, the repeating crescendos resemble the sounds of ocean waves or the patterns of gentle breezes. these sounds do not only move around us; but also through us; and with sensitive ears, we begin to hear the world differently. we determine the possibilities of such “everyday” sounds for ourselves, and depending upon the depth of our attention to them, all sounds have the potential to evoke profound experiences through them.
-Steve RodenActive listening

This is the second of a two part  conversation between Steve Roden and I, conducted between June and December of 2012.  You can read the first part here, in which we discuss Steve’s influences, growing up in LA’s nascent punk scene, and his approach to creativity in general.  Below, we discuss his technique in more detail, his relationship to cheap technology, and his approach to live performance.
Once again, I find it most appropriate to begin with Steve’s own words.  As diverse as his body of work is, and as open to possibility as Steve is as an artist and thinker, there is a serious thought and philosophy uniting his work.  I think it would be too easy, and reductive,  to call this “lowercase,” though the metaphor is a compelling one. Lowercase is about not screaming for attention, but a self-awareness that one’s activities are for those who put in the effort.
In addition to his work as an artist working in multiple media, Roden has also written a number of essays that explain this philosophy.  He’s written about how he is not in anyway a technical person, but uses technology to his advantage by focusing on a restricted set of parameter specific to the medium in question.  These essays about his basic use of recording equipment, tape, his first foray into digital recording, and more can be found at his website www.inbetweennoise.  The actual techniques he employs are rather beside the point, so this interview dwells more on the concepts and ideologies, if you can call it that, and the systems he constructs and uses to guide his work, almost like scores.  The creative spirit animating his work is scene in the processes he sets up and the ways in which he navigates within these closed systems.
The figure of the bricoleur, or amateur handyman, perfectly encapsulates for me the nature of Roden’s talents.  Bricolage is the art of making do with what’s at hand, not settling for less but maximizing the potential within any circumstance.  In The Savage Mind Claude Levi-Strauss  describes the ‘bricoleur’ as “adept at performing a large number of diverse tasks; but unlike the engineer, he does not subordinate each of them to the availability of raw materials and tools conceived and procured for the purpose of the project. His universe of instruments is closed and the rules of his game are always to make do with ‘whatever is at hand,’ that is to say with a set of tools and materials which is always finite and is also heterogeneous because what it contains bears no relation to the current project, or indeed to any particular project, but is the contingent result of all the occasions there have been to renew or enrich the stock or to maintain it with the remains of previous constructions or destructions.”  When Roden translates poetry from a language he can’t read, or uses the indecipherable notation from Walter Benjamin’s notebooks as a compositional score, or gently coaxes inanimate objects into dialogue, I can think of no better description than that above.  His method foregrounds the act of production as production, a true love for creation itself that is both serious and playful all at once.
Architecture also serves as an important influence and inspiration for Roden, no surprise considering the scale of architectural development in the 20th century and its explicit acknowledgement of its influence on ordering social relations.  Goethe famously said “Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music.”  Perhaps it’s the ability to work within structural frameworks imposed by material conditions that draws this comparison, but Roden seems to take influence from the experience of physically navigating the space itself.  He actually lives in the last remaining Wallace Neff  “bubble house” in North America.  Neff is best remembered for his Spanish Colonial Revival style mansions built for LA’s elite, but he designed the bubble house as a low-cost solution to the global housing crisis. In a 2004 interview with the LA Times, Roden said “It’s a little like being the caretaker of someone’s project. …If someday someone found all my work at the flea market, I hope they would take care of it and read some catalogs and try to do the right thing.  This house is something Neff believed in. I feel so strongly about his dream of what this thing could have been.” Roden also has a special relationship to the work of architect RM Schindler.  Roden declared the Schindler house in LA to be his “favorite space in the world,” a space in which he made a special in situ performance and recording.  The modern design of the home is not just a question of aesthetics, but also how aesthetics and design influence social space.  Absent any traditional living room, dining room or bedrooms, the house is meant to be a collective living space shared by multiple families.  Both architectural works speak of a time in which our great thinkers hadn’t exhausted the dream of utopia, and understood how aesthetics and ethics intertwine, an understanding also reflected in Steve’s work.i-listen-to-the-wind-that-obliterates-my-traces-DTD-20  A recent blogpost on Roden’s site hints at this relationship as well.
Roden recently released a book [buy] entitled , … i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces  that compiles early photographs related to music, a group of 78rpm recordings, and short excerpts from various literary sources that are contemporary with the sound and images, all culled from his personal collection.  The accompanying CDs collect a variety of early recordings, including amateur musicians, long-forgotten commercial releases, and early sound effects records.  There is no explicit narrative connecting the parts –that would be too confining and linear-  but the implication is that our we collectively shape our culture as bricoleurs as well.  It’s a beautiful realization. (Joseph Sannicandro)
A playlist of the songs mentioned in these articles can be foundhere.

Are you familiar with (French sociologist) Bruno Latour’s concept of Actor-Network Theory?  The way you describe working with objects reminds me of this, in some way, it’s as if you are improvising with the (non-human) objects, as actors, rather than using them as instruments. Is this fair?   
 I don’t know Latour’s idea for acting, but yes, I view my work with objects as collaborative. I don’t force them to fulfill my needs as much as I try to let them lead me somewhere I’ve never been, so that the object maintains its integrity. I’ve often spoken about a review I got a long time ago about a CD I recorded at a space in LA, designed by the architect RM Schindler. It’s my favorite space in the world, and when the reviewer wrote about it he said the disc was great, but it could’ve been made with anything, which really stung me because he didn’t understand how deeply the space determined my approach, or the way my eyes, hands and ears collaborated in suggesting moves. These things are silent; they don’t offer themselves up nakedly as if porn – but they are determining the processes that occur behind the scenes. Because of my history with the house, I forced myself to arrive without a plan… thus the initial recordings came about through this conversation with the house; and while I could probably remake the sound of that record with a computer, hairbrush and a potted plant, my engagement with the space and its qualities, were what fueled all of my decisions, and if I had made recordings at the house next door, the piece would’ve been completely different.
Steve Roden live at the RM Schindler House

That reminds me of something I read by Michel Chion, probably from “Invisible Jukebox” feature in the Wire.  He said he felt that field-recordings were kind of beside the point, because at heart the sounds you’ll capture in Paris aren’t so different from the sounds of another city, unlike photography of its fabled roofs or streets or what have you.  I was really shocked, you know, because here’s this big critic and figure in sound studies, and he totally misses the experiential aspect of how recordings come to be made.  There is more to a recording then the physical, material impression or information.  Maybe he never encountered Dewey’s Art as Experience.
Yes, some people think that if an idea fuels a work and is must present upon the surface of the object. This is such a literal approach, like a joke, first hearing a set-up and then a punch-line and done… I’m not so interested in a kind of perfect resolve; in fact, I’m much more interested in open ended things that do not  resolve easily, as I feel that it allows meaning to be built through one’s experience with the artwork, object, song, etc.

Your work also seems to break a lot of the “rules,” or defy the doxa at least.
For instance, you improvise, but mostly against yourself, not in dialogue with others. (Though your duo with Seth Cluett was interesting to watch as a contrast to this).  You utilize cheap gear, don’t monitor when making field-recordings, translate poetry from languages you can’t read, etc, and manage through these practices to produce engaging work nonetheless.  You’re academically trained and currently a professor, but continue to go against the grain.  At the talk you have at Suoni in Montreal last year  you mentioned being inspired by artists who work on the margins.  Did you set out to do things your own way by choice or by necessity?
That’s an interesting question. On one hand I would say not many people would set out to work on the margins by choice, but on the other hand, if you want to be left alone to do your thing, the margins might be a haven. I look at someone like Harry Partch, and how his music is absolutely his own, and I think that because of how “other” it is, he has cemented his career as being on the periphery (and in some sense, Feldman did the same thing). For me, what’s important is being true to the work – which is very different than being true to the audience. Expectations are deadly, and both Partch and Feldman were unwilling to tuck the difficult parts away for the sake of being in the “center”. If Partch cared, he’d had turned to traditional tuning, and if Feldman cared, he’d have composed shorter pieces with more dynamics and narrative. I hate to keep going back to the same things, but I would never have made any of the works or had the approaches that you are asking about if I wasn’t part of the punk scene; because that moment was so much about pissing on talent and embracing the creative act – jumping in the water without needing to know how to swim. It’s all about ideals… and trust. so if I am unwilling to compromise my practice, then i must own my place on the margins. Honestly, I think it is highly unlikely for an artist to determine where their work fits in relation to the center or the margin, and there are certainly folks who get to straddle both at different times in their career… such as Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music and Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”… you never know where the work will land…
I use cheap electronics because they are limited in terms of options – so I have to really think or feel when I’m performing with them, because I don’t have a million choices or plug-ins. I have always wanted the live experience to be live – which means very little preparation and being in the moment of a potential disaster. I’ve played with people who literally open an iTunes file and press play. On one hand this is great – the sound is pre-set, the mix, etc. but it isn’t live music, and it doesn’t offer any of the tension of live music, nor the creativity of a live performance, it is simply sharing music.
The Wallace Neff “bubble house” Roden lives in.
Which can be great if the venue is really special and the audio-system is really unique and offers something quite removed from simply popping a CD in at home, but I will come back to this later.
Absolutely! I’m not making a value judgment between live performance and tape performance, but they certainly offer different expectations and experiences. Part of the reason I recently started improvising with video is that it offers more complications in a live situation and seemed to offer less control.  At the Suoni gig someone came up to me afterwards and criticized the performance for using low production quicktime files, but what he was really criticizing was that the films were not crisp clean hi-end production. For me, the medium – video shot a few hours before the show – offers the visual immediacy of improvised recordings, and it was important not to dress them up as “films.” The fact that they were crude and repetitive and of the moment – just like the sound – was indicative of the whole process of improvised performance. truthfully, he didn’t like how “crappy” they looked, but for me, they spoke in a language appropriate to the performance situation, and I’m not adverse to the vulnerability that such decisions offer.

You talked a bit earlier about ‘jumping in without knowing how to swim,’ and also about the tension that animated live performance, and I think improvisation in particular.  So, I think my follow up has to be, how do you reconcile your ‘studio’ practice with your live practice?  Not that you have to, but what I mean is, unlike painting or visual art/gallery art, where a ‘finished’ object is presented as something closed, generally, live music has a performative dimension, a temporal dimension, that the performer responds to in an open way.
My first live gig was a total disaster. I had just finished my first CD in 1993, and I had no idea what to do live. I knew very little about gear, and my recordings at that point were mostly multi-tracked, using mostly acoustic objects – Turkish flutes, homemade instruments, old toy instruments, stones, chairs, etc.  But it was all related to working in my home studio. So for that first live gig, since I didn’t even have a delay pedal, I brought a cassette machine with me, and I had some of the sample loops from the CD on the cassettes and I tried to improvise over the loops.  The problem was that it was kind of like experimental music karaoke… there was absolutely no life to it!  For many years my visual art practice was limited to painting – no drawings, no sculpture, no film, etc.  When I finally added drawing to my practice it was because I had finally discovered what I wanted from it – to experience an activity that drawing could offer me and painting could not.  This was a huge moment, because it was about the integrity of the medium and/or the situation of making. So I began to think that if I was going to do live shows they absolutely had to embrace the temporal, and they would have to be absolutely LIVE. So I got myself a delay pedal, someone made me a few contact mics, and I just started to mess around with this stuff.
I don’t like playing live very much, I don’t like being the center of attention and for the most part, I’m happier with the results when I make records – in fact, in 19 years of releasing stuff, I’ve never released a live recording (although I’ve posted some things online). Nonetheless, while I don’t “like” performing, the potential in that discomfort is kind of wonderful and a lot of things happen live because I’m so uncomfortable and I’m trying to make sure the thing I’m creating isn’t going to implode – it’s absolutely the most focused activity because there is an audience – which scares the hell out of me.  A risk in a live environment means so much more than a risk in the studio. So to answer your question, I don’t totally use the same tools in the studio and live, but even more so, I try to make sure that the activities are medium specific.
a recording session in the garage/studio working without electronics, other than some small cassette recorders (2011)
It seems to me that because, before recording technologies were developed, music was the only sonic art, with the possible exception of the complicated case of spoken poetry.  Recordings of music tend to be thought of as capturing something live. (Sure, there was ritual music, and folk music, music for entertainment and music for contemplation, music for work or for art.  But this is all still rooted in some sense of ‘liveness.’)   Even though this isn’t quite true (and was never true), in fact recording is always in some sense a studio practice- even in 1948 when Muddy Waters plugged in and sang into microphone we’re already playing and listening differently and recording responds to this- the baggage of music being a ‘performative’ art rather than a ‘studio’ art hasn’t quite gone a way. And I think a lot of sound art and experimental music is implicitly or sometimes explicitly challenging this, just by incorporating/instrumentalizing media that was conceived of as recording/playback, be it tape music or with a laptop.  I’ve seen a lot of folks trashing on guys like Skrillex for not being “real” musicians.  Not that I want to defend Skrillex, but its striking to me how much people seem to miss the point.
I have no musical knowledge or skills either, and I would never consider myself a musician – a composer, maybe – but never a musician. I don’t know Skrillex, but I find those kinds of arguments to be pointless. Some people would rather listen to a drunk singing his ass off out of tune, while someone else would rather listen to the band Rush… if you are looking for technique, that is one thing. If you are looking for something real, it might come from an amateur… I mean how does one define a “real” musician… it’s not like Son House learned to make music in a conservatory.
Son House – “Grinnin’ in your face”

But then, there must be something at work if even after half a century of tape/computer music, or hell, a full century after Russolo, people still can’t seem to distinguish between listening to something in your car and experiencing it with a room full of strangers, dancing and celebrating together, or sitting and contemplating together.  Who cares, on some level, what the guy on the stage is going?  Of course plenty of artists respond to this by playing out of sight, or in the dark, or blindfolding the audience.  You do have distinct practices that fall all over the spectrum from studio to performance, so I’m curious to get your perspective.  Maybe I’m wrong to draw that distinction at all, but I think there’s something to it.
Early on, I did some performances where I was behind a curtain, etc. But it tended to draw more attention to the “missing” musician than having one present. I tend to close my eyes when I hear music, but even with someone like Francisco Lopez, who demands blindfolds at times, I find that to be a kind of distraction from listening simply because of the vulnerability and the anxiousness the blindfold evokes. It turns the thing away from pure listening. I have seen laptop players sit in the audience, and I’ve seen them sit on stage, and again, I don’t think you can make generalizations based on someone’s tools. Carl Stone is one of the most energetic and engaging performer i’ve ever seen, and ever since he has downsized to a laptop his performances remain gritty, human and exhilarating!
Carl Stone –“Shing Kee”

In terms of “what’s he doing?” I think people respond to my performances because they can see that I’m doing things with my hands, and it is very intimate and somewhat primitive – so there is usually a disconnect for people in relation to how these poor materials are creating such sounds; but if you approach performance from a place of humility, I believe that people feel less distance from you, and perhaps the gentle nature of my live work offers an entry point into dissonance or abstraction that would seem aggressive if it were loud. I don’t think about live music as a narrative – more like creating a space… it is a building process, but I don’t have a plan when I start. Sometimes I have cards or cues to push myself away from comfort zones.
my gear and stephen vitiello’s gear for a performance at the rothko chappel, related to an exhibition called “silence” (2012)
I know your working method changes based on the project, the materials, the site, its architecture, who you’re working with, etc, but, can you walk us through a sort of typical engagement with your equipment?  I know you resist that fetish relationship, but at the same time you’ve developed a relationship with some pieces, with your two old delay pedals, with a particular type of mixer, and so on. Do you run an FX send/return?  You don’t monitor your mixing with headphones when you’re performing, is that right?  How about in the studio, do you mix on headphones?

Basically, my two biggest tools are my mixer (an old 8 channel Mackie) and two guitar pedals (both the same – a DOD dfx94 – I think it holds 6 or 8 seconds of sound, and it’s called a sampling delay. You can layer sounds in loops, but the oldest starts to degrade every time you add a new loop. You can also change the pitch of the loop by speeding it up or slowing it down. Both of these tools are very very limited, and that is what I like about them. When I do a gig and someone brings me a 16 channel mixer with multiple aux sends, etc. I am totally overwhelmed and generally it is a disaster, as I don’t understand mixers in general, I just know my own since we’ve been together for nearly 20 years… Recently, I purchased a couple of high end sampling delays and I realized they did too much… which got in the way of the simplicity and limitations. That’s why I consider these two my instruments, more than the things I make sound with, because they are the only pieces of gear I feel totally familiar with, as if they were extensions of my hands.
The other most important tools are contact mics. I use piezo buzzers to make them, and I use the ones in plastic housings – which means they don’t have the sensitivity of true piezos, but I like the way the plastic housing sounds, and you can dunk them in water or drag them along the ground, put them in your mouth, and the little hole in the plastic offers a ton of options.
recording in norway, contact mic in water (2007)
The variables can include a record player, pine cones, stones, recordings made in the space, field recordings, my voice, a lap steel guitar (rarely anymore), harmonicas, etc. One thing I NEVER use is reverb.  Live, I simply pick a sound or object to start with and move forward adding and subtracting, making decisions mostly improvisationally. If I feel like I’m running on the fuel of habit, I try to find ways to disrupt things.
In terms of headphones, I never wear them during performances – which would suggest that I’m hearing something entirely different than everyone else. That seems total detachment from the audience (unless they too are all wearing headphones!). For field recordings, I also rarely monitor what I’m recording with phones as well, as I am mostly interested in the document and how it can become “useful” regardless of what it sounds like – it’s more about capturing air than sound, to bring some of the landscape into the recording mechanism, like capturing the landscape’s aura. I know I’ll never be Chris Watson with my field recordings, but I am also not looking to capture nature as it is in life. I’m interested in how the recordings can trigger new experiences. Field recordings for me are mostly a cache of material to be used. Now I make a lot of recordings with my phone, and I think if I made super high quality field recordings I’d be afraid to play with them as freely as I am able to do with the sort of wonky recordings I make.
Even with your project on Walter Benjamin, it seems like you arrived and let the idea take root through a dialogue with the unknown.  I’m reminded a bit by artists like  Gabriel Orozsco, this idea of the artist who just travels around with nothing but a notebook and a toothbrush, his studio wherever he finds himself.  Does this idea of an “artist” resonate with you?
With this it is twofold, I get my inspiration just about anywhere or anyhow, might be a book a place an object a season a word a color, etc. and traveling around with nothing but a notebook and a toothbrush is basically, for me, a form of inspirational gathering and elaborating through writing… but the work generally occurs in my studio, and I am not someone who can really make work in hotels or on airplanes, etc. I still have that need for a studio space, mostly because I’m incredibly messy! So I feel somewhat in between an old idea of an artist slaving away in solitude in a studio and someone who travels a lot and who gathers a lot from traveling. Clearly, my work would be much different if I never left home (for better or worse).
studio wall
What advice would you give to readers interesting in experimenting with sound.  Rather than: the manual says this is how to do something,  these are the scales or modes to learn, or such and such a controller mixing together stems in Abelton, etc etc. Was it just trial and error, resourcefulness, getting to know the gear you had available?
Most important story: Eno on the radio talking about working with the DX7 synth, and how everyone was gathering sound files and trying to build libraries, and he decided instead to work with the presets – horribly cliché and boring sounds… because he was interested in how a dead end fuels creativity. That resonated with me very very deeply. What it emphasizes is not how great your gear is, but how you approach something creatively – a source, an idea, a form, a limitation, etc. so that it will unfold!
A lot of artist seek works that fulfill their expectations from the beginning – an idea appears and is realized. I have no issue with that as a method, but it is not for me. Certainly, I’m using physical material – say with Benjamin’s notebooks – but I don’t have a plan at the beginning for what will come out of my conversation with this material. I don’t want the sources to have to conform to my expectations as much as i ask the materials to open me up, initially to create difficulty, then to teach me something, and then to push me off onto a path… this is generally not an end point, but one of many beginnings. failure is a necessary part of the process, and I have no idea what will come out of it. working with Benjamin’s notebooks, I never could’ve conceived of a sound piece, a few video works, drawings, and now beginning to find a way towards paintings (nearly a year later). if I knew what I was looking for, I would not see anything else (like driving in a car and never looking out the window until you arrive at your destination – for me, the journey has the most value, in fact sometimes even more so than the result!. But of course, it is a slow process waiting for voiceless things to speak.
, recording the interior of edvard grieg’s writing cabin in oslo, norway (2007)

John Cage would have been 100 this year, and of course we’ve been presented with a never ending Cage programming lately.  Can you talk a bit about Cage and his influence on you?  I remember you mentioned something about realizing a score of his.
Without realizing this would be his 100th year, in January 2011 I began a year long project performing 4’33″ every day for a year. If I thought I knew Cage before then, this certainly took everything to the next level – for I not only performed the piece every day, but also wrote about each realization in a diary (which has been included in a few exhibitions already and which I hope will be published at some point). It wasn’t that different from working with Benjamin’s notebooks (and in fact while in Paris, I performed 4’33″ using one of Benjamin’s notebooks on display at the Jewish Museum as my instrument… so much of my thinking collided in that moment.)
My relationship to Cage’s work grew slowly. First, I knew him as this guy who made music with cactus and noise. I, like a lot of people, assumed his work was mostly situations where the musicians could do anything… but after realizing some scores with Mark Trayle for a performance of Variations II and Contact Music last year, I really learned a ton – and I think you never really know Cage until you’ve realized some of these scores where you have do some drawing and reading and dice throwing to create your own score. These are not free-for-alls at all… because the parameters that serve the improvisation are very fixed and very complicated to “play”. I don’t think I could break down how much that year of performances worked on me, but it was a really wonderful thing to do (and I recommend it to anyone, especially if you can maintain focus).

What’s so fantastic about Cage is that when he went into making visual works, he was so inventive, curious, and willing to try certain things – willing to fail. I think his genius was to maintain that curiosity, in all of his endeavors…
me and rob millis performing together at the stone in ny. (2012)
Lastly, many artists seem to cite you as an inspiration.  In my interview with Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek) you came up as an important influence. I’ve also heard Taylor Dupree mention you were an inspiration for him in moving away from the laptop.  Any reflections on being on a stage in your career in which you’ve been able to play this role? I suppose I should mention the whole phenomenon of ‘lowercase,’ which you seem to have your reservations about.  Labels are always problematic, but was this a rejection of the idea of seeing commonality between artists grouped under this heading?
Funny, this was the hardest question to answer… hmmmm…. how to even approach such a thing… I mean, it is so gratifying to even think that your work or your process has inspired others… its quite humbling. I’ve worked with both of them, and happy that people a generation younger than me find me relevant. I remember some early gigs with Taylor, and me being perplexed at how he could get those sounds out of a laptop and he looking at my table of junk and wondering the same. While he has moved away from the laptop, I’ve (surprisingly) found myself using the laptop in performances to work with video… so the best part of all of this is that we are all still evolving and our practices are allowed to be messy rather than neat and crisp.
In terms of lowercase, I guess you could see it two ways. One would be a bunch of like minded folks starting something (like punk!), but on the other hand you have people who want to be part of something so badly that they create work for the scene (which I’m sure did happen in punk rock as well). For me, I have always felt that it was important to do things your own way, to veer away from the center and to mine some deep personal territory. When we had the lowercase list, people would argue about which movie was lowercase, or book, and it felt like it was working towards conformity rather than experimentation, which drove me crazy. Now I’m waiting for the uppercase backlash!
Thank you so much to Steve Roden for taking the time to ramble with me and have such in depth and meaningful discussions.  It was truly an honor to have him take part in Sound Propositions.  Roden’s deserves all the acclaim he receives, yet like many unique voices who work in multiple media and don’t fit easily into accepted categories, his work is too often neglected by the mainstream critics and institutions. We certainly don’t have enough of an audience to make much of an impact as far as that goes, but are heartened as outsiders ourselves to have such dedicated practitioners like Steve quietly working away on the margins to look towards. 
And in case you missed it, Steve put together this fabulous mix for Secret Thirteen in December connecting 24 7″ records from around the world.
one of 6 sculpture/sound objects placed in various locations of the hong kong university’s new media building designed by daniel libeskind. (2012)


**Hardback book featuring "150 vernacular photographs, paired with 51 songs, field recordings and sound effects on 2 CDs. From the acclaimed sound and visual artist Steve Roden, and designed by the team that brought you 'Victrola Favorites' and the Grammy nominated 'Take Me To The Water'."** "... i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces brings together a collection of early photographs related to music, a group of 78rpm recordings, and short excerpts from various literary sources that are contemporary with the sound and images. It is a somewhat intuitive gathering, culled from artist Steve Roden's collection of thousands of vernacular photographs related to music, sound, and listening. The subjects range from the PT Barnum-esque Professor McRea - "Ontario's Musical Wonder" (pictured with his complex sculptural one man band contraption) - to anonymous African-American guitar players and images of early phonographs. The images range from professional portraits to ethereal, accidental, double exposures - and include a range of photographic print processes, such as tintypes, ambrotypes, cdvs, cabinet cards, real photo postcards, albumen prints, and turn-of-the-century snapshots. The two CDs bring together a variety of recordings, including one-off amateur recordings, regular commercial releases, and early sound effects records. there is no narrative structure to the book, but the collision of literary quotes (Hamsun, Lagarkvist, Wordsworth, Nabakov, etc.). Recordings and images conspire towards a consistent mood that is anchored by the book's title, which binds such disparate things as an early recording of an American cowboy ballad, a poem by a Swedish Nobel laureate, a recording of crickets created artificially, and an image of an itinerant anonymous woman sitting in a field, playing a guitar. The book also contains an essay by Roden." - boomkat




book w/ 2 cds
dust to digital 2011
… i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces brings together a collection of vintage photographs related to music, a group of 78rpm recordings, and short excerpts from various literary sources that are contemporary with the sound and images. It is a somewhat intuitive gathering, culled from my collection of thousands of vernacular photographs related to music, sound, and listening. The subjects range from the PT Barnum-esque Professor McRea – “Ontario’s Musical Wonder” (pictured with his complex sculptural one man band contraption) – to anonymous African-American guitar players and images of early phonographs. The images range from professional portraits to ethereal, accidental, double exposures – and include a range of photographic print processes, such as tintypes, ambrotypes, cdvs, cabinet cards, real photo postcards, albumen prints, and turn-of-the-century snapshots.
The two CDs display a variety of recordings, including one-off amateur recordings, regular commercial releases, and early sound effects records. there is no narrative structure to the book, but the collision of literary quotes (Hamsun, Lagarkvist, Wordsworth, Nabokov, etc.). Recordings and images conspire towards a consistent mood that is anchored by the book’s title, which binds such disparate things as an early recording of an American cowboy ballad, a poem by a Swedish Nobel laureate, a recording of crickets created artificially, and an image of an itinerant anonymous woman sitting in a field, playing a guitar. The book also contains an essay by Roden.
“a really cool unexpected book, that my wife gave me. there is great written material and extraordinary photographs. the book also has two CDs of early folk, blues and country.it is by a small press, dust-to-digital.”
richard gere, books i’m reading, in usa weekend magazine
  • reviews:
  • for full reviews, see the press section of the website,
    below are some excerpts...
  • All Songs Considered: What are you guys listening to these days? Anything you can’t get enough of?
    Jeff Tweedy: There’s a two-CD collection, it comes as part of a book, called, I think I’m gonna get the title right …i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces. It’s on Dust-to-Digital records. It’s just this incredible collection of photographs from the 1800s and early 1900s of musicians. And then the two CDs that come with it are recordings of 78s. Some of them are even archival, kind of retrievals of sound effects for movies. Like there’s this one of wind from the ’30s, just really an incredible collection.
    jeff tweedy, wilco
  • (excerpt) “… Both the images and audio were drawn from Roden’s personal collection. If you’ve ever spent time hunched over a box of yellowing photographs or flipping through dusty piles of 78rpm recordings at a flea market hunting for—What? That image or object that speaks to you even if you can’t precisely define why?—Roden is a kindred spirit, and traces is an invitation to get lost with him in this world of mysterious artifacts. In fact, halfway through my first listen, I wondered if I was more attracted to the materials themselves or to the care and commitment it seemed evident Roden brought to their assembly. In the end, I decided it was an equal measure of both. Taken all together, after all, it’s a mix tape of sorts—a revelation of a slice of a hidden past and also a gift from a passionate collector bravely showcasing what has spoken to his own heart.
    In an illuminating introductory essay, Roden speaks about the motivations of the collector, where questions of value and what belongs are incredibly personal and fluid, and where motivations, at least as far as music on the verge of obsolescence is concerned, might be traced to a desire to “give new life to voices lying dormant within the tiny confines of dust filled grooves….As the music becomes audible, I am immersed in distant voices singing through both space and time, and in the words of Alfred G. Karnes, I have found myself within ‘a portal, there to dwell with the immortal…’”
    molly sheridan, new music box
  • (excerpt) “The presentation is a delight from cover to cover and I whole heartedly recommended it as one of the finest, albeit unusual, anthologies of the year. Dust To Digital have done it again! (I hate to mention this but Christmas ain’t all that far off and this is book and CD set is just the perfect present. Drop a few hints or get it for yourself and look forward to Christmas morning!)”
    red lick website
  • (excerpt) “There’s something undeniably haunting in Listen to the Wind, in its garbled snatches of historical sounds and the unkempt, chemical strangeness of early photographs left to deteriorate. But there’s something almost overwhelmingly affirming in it too, in its procession of recorded or photographed characters who turned to music for whatever reason – out of desire, restlessness, hope, desperation. Or maybe just to bide the time.”
    andy battaglia, the national
  • (excerpt) “Does it all work?  Well yes it does, and I soon found myself sitting back and enjoying the anticipation of just what exactly was coming next.  If like me you are getting rather fed up with the sameness of recently issued ‘folk’ albums, then this is the antidote.  There are some glorious sounds here and, leafing through the book, I found myself wondering if any of the people pictured in the photographs had actually listened to any of these recordings when they were first issued.  I hope so, because this is music that brings a smile to the lips, and that is something that we all need, regardless of time.”
    mike yates, mustrad
  • (excerpt) “Roden’s box set seems closer in spirit to the spiritual designs of wonder chambers. The box set is less concerned with a total vision than the striking juxtapositions of incompatible parts, the haunting stories that emerge from the impossible coalescences.
    By contrast, anthologies that document a particular artist or genre or theme with rigor seem closer to curiosity cabinets. Like Roden’s collection, they are also interested in matches, but the complete recordings hope to make them rather than ignite something.
    What’s strange is that Roden’s wonderbox actually seems the more complete for the silent gaps it seems to include, while the airtight anthologies seem to have somehow left out the essence of a musician’s oeuvre or a genre’s magic or a theme’s subtleties.”
    culture rover
  • (excerpt) “The label’s latest release, … i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces, from the acclaimed Southern California sound artist Steve Roden, similarly defies conventional categorization. After finding an old flea-market photograph of a coyote howling between musicians playing a mandolin and clarinet, Roden set off on an eight-year quest to scavenge for abandoned black-and-white photographs of musicians and abandoned 78-rpm recordings. Presented in a beautiful hardbound book with two CDs of music and sounds (pre–WWII blues, birdsong, country yodels, wind, cowboy prayers, night noises, gospel sermons), … i listen is a haunted house of lost souls and disappeared voices.
    It is the project of an artist, not a historian. Roden doesn’t compile the past or even try to make sense of it. The subjects in the photographs are left unnamed; the recordings come with the bare minimum of information. The book is a pastiche of meditations on passing time from the likes of Rainer Maria Rilke, Herman Melville, and James Agee, who add an extra chorus of echoes to the sounds on the CDs. The individual objects Roden has collected—a disc of ’20s radio star Chubby Parker singing “Bib-a-lollie-boo,” an image of a young woman strumming a guitar in an empty field—are less important on their own than they are when taken together, artifacts rearranged into a collage of new worlds.”
    josh kuhn, american prospect

Steve Roden’s …i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces (music in vernacular photographs 1880-1955) is a multimedia package that attracts attention with a whisper and glance, rather than a bell and a whistle. Two CDs containing a total of 51 tracks of early American music (plus a handful of sound effects from the same period) are slipped into the front and back cover pockets of a cleanly designed hardback book. The interior heavyweight pages are bursting with scans of 150 historic photographs—a mix of unidentified music makers and listeners of many stripes. Though the fresh ink offers a solid dose of new-book smell, it’s admittedly tempting to blow the non-existent dust off the still-spotless cover, so evocative are the faded, scratched, and water-stained images. And even though all the music has been transferred to CD, the hiss and crackle of the original recordings remain and you don’t have to squint too hard at your stereo to see the Victrola.
Both the images and audio were drawn from Roden’s personal collection. If you’ve ever spent time hunched over a box of yellowing photographs or flipping through dusty piles of 78rpm recordings at a flea market hunting for—What? That image or object that speaks to you even if you can’t precisely define why?—Roden is a kindred spirit, and traces is an invitation to get lost with him in this world of mysterious artifacts. In fact, halfway through my first listen, I wondered if I was more attracted to the materials themselves or to the care and commitment it seemed evident Roden brought to their assembly. In the end, I decided it was an equal measure of both. Taken all together, after all, it’s a mix tape of sorts—a revelation of a slice of a hidden past and also a gift from a passionate collector bravely showcasing what has spoken to his own heart.
In an illuminating introductory essay, Roden speaks about the motivations of the collector, where questions of value and what belongs are incredibly personal and fluid, and where motivations, at least as far as music on the verge of obsolescence is concerned, might be traced to a desire to “give new life to voices lying dormant within the tiny confines of dust filled grooves….As the music becomes audible, I am immersed in distant voices singing through both space and time, and in the words of Alfred G. Karnes, I have found myself within ‘a portal, there to dwell with the immortal.’”
Though none of the included tracks exceeds three minutes and change, it’s quite a volume of material to consume, and rushing seems antithetical to the spirit of the project. The photographed subjects often stare out from their portraits, seeming to demand an invented history if their own can no longer be recalled. And the musicians, with a mix of styles and skills, offer an aural postcard from a voice dug out of the past: a bittersweet dance between the violin and singer Eva Parker in “I Seen My Pretty Papa Standing on a Hill” here, and a few tracks later an amazing jaw harp performance of “The Old Grey Horse” by Obed Pickard. The tunes leave us pinin’ in Hawaii, and caution us against kickin’ the dog around. None of it is junk mail.
With the volume of current media threatening to blot out the sun and yet still more created every day, there is a particular romance to these messages. While traces caught my ear, subsequent emails from Dust-to-Digital announcing new projects continue to turn my head and threaten to liquidate my bank account. If phrases like “the only known copy in existence” and “high-quality, cultural artifacts, which combine rare, essential recordings with historic images and detailed texts describing the artists and their works” get you excited, you’ll want to learn more about Lance Ledbetter’s impressive Atlanta-based label.http://www.newmusicbox.org/articles/sounds-heard-steve-roden-i-listen-to-the-wind-that-obliterates-my-traces/

ecstasy showered its petals with the full peal of its bells

3" cd
ferns recordings 2011
  1. .ecstasy showered its petals with the full peal of its bells
sound source: a single hand bell(the title is a quote from georges rodenbach’s book bruges la morte)
  • reviews:
  • This is not the first time that Steve Roden uses the deployment of harmonic bells. However it is more rare, as here, he should be the sole source of his play, concentration in a short composition possibilities of a bell given to the artist during a stay in Paris. Even before listening, format and approach situate remember the three mini-CD that Steve Roden was released on his own label he is a little over ten years, respectively, made from sounds taken from a leg wood, a lamp and a chair. Writing the poem just music, the sound signature of an object under construction harmonious then found in the work of Roden, if not around a single object, at least in its application compared with other . The bell is this return to something unique. Just like Francis Ponge where each p(r)oème each study (or almost) plunged to the bottom of something, Steve Roden plunges into his musical potential. The room starts spinning in a patient. Like many artists of the loop, one enters the circle grabbed by the hair from behind. It integrates perfectly curved gently. Here is a superposition of harmonic whistle of heavy and soft metal scraping. Obedient to the same solicitation, these two textures are like inside and outside the bell, subject to the same stimulus. One and one of these two drivers alternating movements exposure to the ear, after that audio camera focuses on the obverse or the reverse. Once this rate (almost one breath) installed, once rocked the ear, ringing appear festoon soberly, estampillent the poem sound of the bell. Other acts on the metal, just as “sweet”, as known to produce the delicacy of Steve Roden, gradually enter the soundscape, some reappearing then retiring, others are dissolving in the founding couple of sounds. Unlike the huge bells that are some empyrean, the bell turns singing the critical deployment of petals of a repeated form of ecstatic birth. Roden shown, not as it was said some years ago a modest form of genius (genius can not be modest, is absolute genius by definition), but a modest form of genius, one that he always referred to and often achieved, as was recalling Borges’ Ulysses, wearied of wonders, / wept with tenderness, seeing Ithaca / Modest and green. Art is the vast Ithaca / green eternity, not wonders.
    denis boyer / feardrop 15, spring 2010
  • With his latest release, California sound and visual artist Steve Roden has created a fascinating meditation on single sound source, which is in this case a small hand-held bell. Not content to just ring the bell in the typical fashion, Roden elicited sound from it in any way he could, including rubbing the surface of it and tapping the handle. Ultimately, all of the bell’s sounds were combined and electronically manipulated to form a cohesive and beautiful twenty-two-minute piece in which Roden finds the hidden soul of a seemingly common object.
    The most striking aspect of this piece is the variety of sounds that Roden was able to create and collect, keeping in mind their humble source. Everything from ethereal drones, scrapes, and taps to the light wind chime-esque sounds of the bell’s ring works their way into the mix. Really, its hard to believe that there were not scores of instruments put to use, as the piece simultaneously evokes the sounds of stringed instruments, synthesizers, tape effects, and percussion. It’s certainly worth listening to again and again to try and decipher the various sounds and also to fully absorb the beautiful music that Roden was able to produce. 9/10
    Matt Blackall/foxy digitalis

between yellow and white on one side, between blue and black on the other

steve roden
banned production
  1. between yellow and white
  2. between blue and black
these two tracks were specifically created for this cassette release, and are part of a trilogy of cassette related works that began with a piece i did for an online exhibition for ICA london in early 2012. all three of the works used my own 4-track cassette masters from the mid-1980′s as material for these new works.
each piece was composed using an old 4-track cassette-master of songs that i recorded in 1983/84 in my bedroom. because the 4-track cassette deck ran at double speed, the tapes played now on a regular cassette player run at half speed – with the left side running in reverse, and the right side running forwards. as i listened to the master tapes, i captured various snippets, and used them to build new works – bringing my past into the present.
the original 4-track recordings were made a year or so out of high school, as well as a year or so after leaving the “seditionaries”, the los angeles punk band that included me as its lead singer. the original 4-track masters were first attempts to move into a territory between the darkness of bauhaus and joy division and the jangly dissonance of early felt, gang of four, orange juice and josef k.
although i’m not entirely sure what wason these two master tapes (almost nothing was labelled), the weird slow recordings still managed to offer bits that sparked memories, yet at the same time most of what i heard was unfamiliar – feeling like new material.
i tried not to process any of the original sounds other than using some eq, so that the quality of the sound sources (a casio, my voice, guitar, drum machine), as well as my original sound making actions, were still able to “speak”. thus, none of the sounds have been dramatically altered.

a big circle drawn with little hands

steve roden
LP with full color insert
edition: 250 - numbered
  1. sixteen hands waiting for rain.
  2. two hand submerged in water.
  3. sparks from one hand on fire.
  4. two hands behind glass.
  5. one hand pressing a pencil against a tree.
  6. forty hands in anticipation of a word.
a big circle drawn with little hands was created from a box of things sent to me by sylvian, who runs the ini itu label. the box contained everything from newspapers, coins, wooden toys, pamphlets, plastic objects, plastic bags, broken airline headphones, notes, a bottle opener, a noise maker of wood, a small electronic toy shaped like a butterfly that offered tones and animal noises, cardboard, a fan, and other things. i also used a banjo in the first track, and my voice in the last track.
the LP was mastered by taylor deupree, and the cover design and photos were done by sylvain.
a number of people have attempted to “de-code” the song titles, but like the rest of the approach to the soundmaking, etc. the titles actually also came from one of the items in the box of stuff sylvain sent to me – a newspaper, and i used each of the photographs to determine the titles, based on the number of hands appearing in an image as well as the image’s narrative. the title of the LP was based on a drawing made by sylvain’s daughter.
  • reviews:
  • Individually hand-numbered edition of 250 copies for the world, comes with full colour A3 poster** LA’s Steve Roden has been exploring “lowercase” sounds both as In Be Tween Noise and under his own name, for a panoply of imprints including Line, 12k, Trente Oiseaux etc for the last 20 years. His latest lands on the worldly wise Ini.Itu label and utilises the kind of bric-a-brac you’d find in an old drawer at home – foreign coins, kids toys, wooden clackers – to create fragile and strangely absorbing little soundworlds. We’re assuming there’s a connection with Indonesia to ‘A Big Circle Drawn With Little Hands’, but it’s not made clear by the press notes; there’s just a quote in Malay on the cover and references on the insert to go from, but some of the voices and humid field recording textures would also point to that region. Over its course we’re reminded of lots of artists, from the haptic rustles of Bellows or even Kevin Drumm, to the solitary melodies of the Cotton Goods lot and Francisco Lopez’s electro-acoustic renders of location recordings, which basically hints at a well refined feel for density of space and nuanced texture. It’s an unpredictable music which absorbs and intrigues with wistful subtlety. Really strong label and album this, highly recommended.
  • On Steve Roden’s LP the ‘world music’ is entirely gone, but ini.itu is not a label to hand out open invitations, like ‘give me some music and I’ll release’. By no field recordings from far away countries or music from such countries, Roden was send a box of objects to produce sound with, and shown on the printed insert (which is a first for ini.itu, along with the LP by Mutamassik to have such inserts). We see a toy keyboard, coins, old airplane headphones, paper, wooden objects, some metal objects, a CDR. Just like his work with Machinefabriek this is not the result of file exchange but exchange of objects and in the hands of Roden turned into great music. By listening to this music, six tracks in total, its not always easy to recognize those objects. Roden creates a sound with it, records it and then loops it around, masses these loops and builds a fine piece of music with it. Usually quite linear in approach: Roden starts a sound, adds one more, adds another one etc, and all of this he does in a rather smooth and gentle way. And then at one point he takes away things, usually all of them at once via a fade out and then a new piece starts. Its, as said, all quite loop heavy, and Roden doesn’t use the long form of playing sounds by hand. Perhaps one could say that the downside is that he does whatever he does, but the good news is that he does this with great care and style. This album doesn’t shed any new light on the work of Roden, and fulfills whatever you have been expecting from him. Not his best, not at his most original but surely another fine addition to his vast catalogue.
    frans de waard / vital
  • We’ve got a new LP from Pasadena’s Steve Roden with six of his gentle, loosely improvised pieces. According to the press release, “His working process often uses a combination of idiosyncratic notations using colors or symbols, an association of self-imposed rules and openings for intuitive improvisations”, and the tracks on here have all been created using specific and unusual materials – coins, toys, wooden rattles, little bits of rock, etc.
    Opener ‘sixteen hands waiting for rain.’ has patient loops of dinking percussive half-melodies for a spacious, feel-good piece that’s making me think of a more minimal, highbrow Sun Araw, while the the lengthy piece which follows it, ‘two hands submerged in water.’ (all the track titles have this lowercase format, start with a number of hands and end with a full stop, presumably to mirror the “lowercase” genre the press release claims Roden has coined for a music that “bears a certain sense of quiet and humility; it does not demand attention, it must be discovered. the work might imply one thing on the surface but contain other things beneath.”), is full of hazy, sleepy and slightly sinister drones accompanied by some sort of intermittent creaking, grating sound. Very relaxing, kind of like a midpoint between Deathprod and Machinefabriek. Finally on the first side we’ve got ‘sparks from one hand on fire.’ with chirping crickets and a slow bass throb over some distant gliding violin drones, static clicks and glimpses of field recordings.
    Flip it and ‘two hands behind glass.’ has glassy high-pitched squeak-loops, ‘one hand pressing a pencil against a tree.’ is a crackling industrial rumblescape with distant-foghorn mid-end, and closer ‘forty hands in anticipation of a word.’ has barely-there breathy processed analogue flutters and sounds like a big scary monster having a nap. It’s often hard to place which of the weird objects is making which sound, but the delicate, measured way that they are constructed means it remains intriguing and relaxing throughout. Fans of weird ambient sound art will be sure to dig this.
    norman records
  • A poster shows up inside the Roden sleeve, too, though it’s a tad smaller than the Mutamassik image and photographic rather than illustrative. Even so, it’s a nice complement to the disc itself, which features six pieces the Pasadena-based sound artist produced using specific audio materials (in keeping with ini.itu’s initial proposition) that Roden supplemented with radio, old records, and other sound sources. The poster imagery isn’t unrelated to the musical content on “a big circle drawn with little hands” either as the items displayed—coins, a toy piano, can opener, etc.—are the unusual objects he used to generate the album’s micro-detailed soundworlds. As such, the placidly meandering “Two Hands Submerged in Water” actually conjures a wistful aura in its dream-like ambient flow. “Two Hands Behind Glass” likewise nurtures a meditative ambiance in the way its flickering tones and agitated percussive patterns arrange themselves into a chattering micro-universe. “Sparks From One Hand on Fire” sounds like a recording captured outdoors, seeing as how its musical tones are smothered in the nocturnal whirr of insects and distorted voice noises. A track such as “Forty Hands in Anticipation of a Word” suggests that Roden has used a minimum of source materials in a given setting but has exploited their potential resourcefully in order to produce a maximal range of sound effects. The song titles—“One Hand Pressing a Pencil Against a Tree,” a representative example—hint at the production processes involved in their construction, though it’s also possible that the titles are designed to serve a purely evocative end only; the cover note—“all sounds generated or organized by Steve Roden in The Bubble House”—only adds to the mystery. The recording’s enigmatic music draws the listener in with its unhurried and wandering spirit, and one comes away from the album generally charmed by its electro-acoustic curiosities.- texturra blog
steve roden
clear 10" vinyl
edition: 125
  1. hands. breath. feet.
  2. wanderer.
this super limited 10″ sold out in less than 10 minutes, so hopefully the tracks will find their way to a less limited release.
both of these tracks were created for a film/video work by artist/dancer flora wiegmann that was commissioned for the orange county museum of art in 2011. the piece takes as it source an early work by dancer mary wiegmann from the 1930′s. the installation involved not only projections, but live performance by flora. one side of the record contains my initial sketch for the piece, which was composed of processed piano sounds; while the other side contains the actual soundtrack, composed using an electric guitar.

Berlin Fields

steve roden
edition: 222
3 Leaves 2012
  1. Berlin Fields
liner notes:
dear akos,
i have now a piece finished for three leaves. germany was great, but my original plan was not so great… so i followed an intuited new path. the recordings were all made during my journey – some in public spaces, some in natural landscapes, some in airports, as well as carsten seiffarth’s apartment (where i was staying). as you know, i have never released a “pure” field recording – by pure i mean no manipulation to the recording itself. of course, i am not a nature recordist, nor a culture recordist, as much as i tend to use recordings as source material. so, your offer to make a work that was not processed or layered was quite a challenge, and i wondered what i could possibly offer to the field of field recordings that already exists. fortunately, your offer to do a record for 3 leaves arrived at a shifting point in my work, for i have been making recordings that are much more performance based – field recordings, so to speak – not only recording the landscape as it is, but the landscape as it hosts a human action. a lot of this came about while thinking about rolf julius’ work, and how he managed to situate sound into a landscape without disrupting it… sometimes an artwork overwhelms a landscape and sometimes a landscape overwhelms an artwork, but julius managed to always create a sympathetic relationship between the two. while i was in berlin last october, i performed at a memorial evening celebrating julius’ work, and i felt i should allow certain characteristics of his work to challenge me to do something less familiar and less comfortable… so i ended up performing with 3 small tape recorders and a harmonica – no pedals, no mixer, no processing and no actions other than facilitating an interaction between these elements with my hands and mouth. the field recordings that make up this work reflect such ideas – as some are the sounds of things discovered on site (such as a squeaking light in an airport); while others contain sounds that were activated through “performance” in sympathy within an landscape (such as moving jars on the surface of carsten seiffarth’s kitchen table). i don’t mean to make this sound more thought out than it was, as for the most part i simply wandered around berlin, paris and helsinki, and tried to acknowledge sounds or situations that moved me… and within such moments finding or seeking a small bit of reverie through listening and sound making. sometimes simply hearing a situation was enough, while at others i felt a strong desire to play along…
  • reviews:
  • Berlin may be the lucky city that graces the title, but Berlin Fields was also recorded in Paris and Helsinki. It’s an odd travelogue, 19 sonic vignettes captured as often by happenstance as by intention. One imagines the artist wandering through vast fields, or even city dumps, alone and intrigued. Oh look, a jam jar! I wonder what it would sound like on this broken tabletop. Hey now, a sardine tin! Jeepers, who would ever discard a perfectly good radiator? Birds, traffic and conversation provide a natural backdrop to his explorations. Roden’s childlike curiosity is akin to that of Diego Stocco, but without multi-tracking. In his hands, every object possesses an intrinsic appeal, a sound waiting to be coaxed out through interaction. In this sense, Roden becomes the “jar whisperer”, the artist who posseses the patience to woo the inanimate. As a child, it’s likely he filled glasses with different levels of water and tapped them with spoons, or used icicles as drumsticks on frozen ponds. The passive traveler asks, “What does this sound like?” The active traveler asks, “What could this sound like?”, and makes an effort to find out. A deep bass thump on an empty cylinder is the best example: an object noticed, engaged in conversation, and respectfully left intact. While the album is a solo production, it makes one wonder what a group of sonic strollers might produce: an improvised, site-specific concert of found sounds. Post-processing might accomplish the same thing, as would the blending of these vignettes into a single, break-free piece. But as appealing as these suggestions might sound, they would interfere with the purity of the recording, as well as with its purpose: to demonstrate the potential of hidden auditory sources. Those bottles might be worth tapping before recycling. The old muffler might sound better when removed from the car. The walls of one’s house may be richer sonic environments than one can imagine. Best of all, these noises are free. This egalitarian approach to music reminds us that sound art is not the territory of sound artists alone. As the prophet declares, listen, then, if you have ears.
    richard allen, a closer listen
  • Berlin Fields is a sonic journey not limited by national boundaries, city limits, or material limitation. Roden perambulates, recording as he goes with the immediacy and quirks that come from using both portable recorder (a Sony PCM-D50) and phone. Exploring intuitively, Roden brings together 19 sonic vignettes via “finds”: things discovered; and “activation”: objects performed on site.
    Using intuition as  a guide, Roden’s interactions and sonic interventions – “play” in every sense of the word – are both learning tool and platform for his creativity. Unearthing a vocabulary spoken by quotidian things, Roden coaxes tables, radiators, sardine tins and all manner of chanced upon paraphernalia into speaking their curious and complex language. Mindful of Rolf Julius’ artistic philosophy, Roden introduces performances that sit congruently within, and do not disrupt, the sites he happens upon on during his travels through the capital cities of France, Germany and Finland.
    The land- and cityscapes, formal architecture and informal spaces Roden explores act as host for his interventions.  Instead of  simply absorbing his bodily movements and thought process, such places create a consonant dialogue with his soundings, saturating their own particular sounds – indeed atmospheres – within Roden’s wanderings.
    Roden is both player and listener in a world sounding with music, and musical with sound. His actions are delicate insertions that proliferate: actions, soundings, reactions that spread into, echo, and synergise with the world. His performances activate the specific place, space and object with microscopic precision – the knowledge of a shaman. Ripples of tone singe the edges of a bird-filled landscape bestowing it a glowing aura; rhythmic motions on cavernous metal are “touched by hands”, jam jars are caressed across tables to intone chanting, a poetry of sorts. Such soundings act as a bridge, directly connecting body (and being) to location; a marker for experience.
    What is evident in Berlin Fields, is that Roden respects the sonic world around him. He is playful, mischievous perhaps, but most of all he listens with the ears of the ancient, the sacred. His motivation, simply, is to work with situations and sounds that move him – that teach him something new or different – that in turn drive him on to explore new environments, situations, objects and the places they inhabit.
    Ultimately, Roden brings one closer to an intimate world of reverie – an aural terrain that heaves, resonates, clips, scrapes, chimes and drips a mystical, ancient language.
    Helen Frosi
  • Steve Roden is an American sound and visual artist from Los Angeles. He rose to prominence in 2001 with the release of Forms of Paper, a work commissioned by the Los Angeles public library featuring the manipulated sounds of books being handled. It was with this work that Roden became known for an extreme form of ambient minimalism termed lowercase.
    In Berlin Fields Roden continues his exploration of the minute sounds which surround us in our global culture. Based on field recordings Roden made while travelling through Berlin, Paris, and Helsinki Berlin Fields presents a psychological account of what it is to feel displaced while travelling in foreign lands. The field recordings that Roden presents reflect the sense of dislocation we often feel when placed in an exotic environment, using our auditory faculties to while away the hours.
    Roden’s sonic journey throughout Europe is largely one of interior sounds. His field recordings reflect the slow passage of time for someone alone/isolated in their hotel room: feet on a ceiling, the drone in a bedroom, birds outside a window.
    At times Roden participates with the soundscape of these interior spaces through his manipulation of objects found within them: he moves jars on a table, he audibly touches a radiator with his hands, he plays a sardine tin.
    Whenever exterior sounds are presented, such as the bells of Notre Dame, they are often overshadowed through the amplification of the sonic miniature that surrounds him. Roden’s exploration of the lowercase aesthetic ensures that peripheral sound events become central to our experience.
    Roden’s interest in the sonic possibilities of domestic objects and spaces seems contrary to the expansive idea of travel. For the audience these recordings become as much about domestic and liminal interiors as they do an exploration of Roden’s own mind. It is here that Berlin Fields finds its subtle tension. We are moved to question if the subject choice of these recordings is the result of someone who has retreated inwards, someone unable to find a tangible connection with the foreign world outside. In this sense Roden’s field recordings reflect the reality of international travel for many of us.
    Berlin Fields is packaged beautifully by the 3leaves label. In a world of digital downloads it was refreshing to insert Roden’s c.d into the c.d-player and read the accompanying text on the inner sleeve. Here’s hoping that more labels will follow suit.
    jay-dea lopez
  • ”And you, you want me not to stopLooking, listening, seeing, hearing,You even have words to offerFor me to see further and know more. “-Yves Bonnefoy, Voix sur le fleuve.
    This is, above all, a story taking an epistolary form as the booklet contains a letter from Steve Roden to Ákos Garai, director of the label 3Leaves who released this disc. As usual, the artist took the time to explain his approach, adding to his letter a list of recorded places and objects. Not so much to give us a ready-made concept of how to think about his work, but rather to remove this question entirely and make us completely present as we listen to his creation.
    From this approach, Steve Roden offers us the fascinating sonic journey, sometimes stationary, sometimes moving, of his body amidst the recording of bystanders all around him. He alternates between contemplation and action while playing with and manipulating objects in his daily life. A feeling of serenity emerges from this approach, whith caresses, light touches, and subtle incarnations where the place becomes contextualized, where details and overall impressions are juxtaposed. The point, here, isn’t to disregard humanity within the soundscape. On the contrary, everything strives to live within the peace of objects found again, calling for the living and the dead in places loaded with memory (Walter Benjamin’s Archive Reading Room in Berlin, the Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation in Paris).
    Listening to the album becomes intense, as an intimacy is created through the process of field recording. We go along with Steve Roden in his wanderings, and find the silence, bordering on loneliness (the same solitude that is necessary for the listening process), revealing a much more populated place than we first imagined.
    And like a medieval alchemist, Steve Roden manages to deeply touch us as he brilliantly transforms the banality of everyday life into something infinitely precious; into sound images that will accompany us for a long time. A long time indeed.
    Flavien Gillié, translation by Rodolphe Gonzalès


CD + Digital
edition: 500
LINE 2011
  1. Proximities
Proximities was recorded in 2010 during my time as the artist-in-residence at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. I began by recording a performance of a series of tones played on an old battery powered Paia Oz, that were determined by the letters A-G as found in a text by minimalist sculptor Donald Judd. I recorded the tone sequence several times during sunrise, amidst 50 of Judd’s stainless steel sculptures in an old army barracks that has been converted into a museum. The performances were recorded with an H4 digital recorder, my iPhone and also a cheap Sony micro-cassette recorder.
During several of the performances these small devices were emitting the sounds of previous performances from their tiny speakers. At times I also hummed. All of the processing in the recordings was generated by the extremely resonant physical space. The occasional popping sound, which can be heard at the end, are the sounds of Judd’s sculpture expanding while the sunrise changed the temperature within the space.
Recorded in various spaces of the Chinati Foundation, 2010. all sounds generated and organized by Steve Roden.
This work was made possible through the Chinati Artist in Residence Program. Special thanks to Rob Weiner.
Mastering by Taylor Deupree.
cover photo: single frame from stop motion animated film by Steve Roden translating the vowel structure of a text by Donald Judd into overlapping transparent colors.
  • reviews:
  • … Apart from his recently compiled book there hasn’t been many releases with his own music. This new work was recorded in 2010 when Roden was an artist in residence at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. He started out by recording a performance of various tones on an ‘old battery powered Paia Oz’ amidst 50 stainless steel sculptures of David Judd from various points in the space using a variety of recorders. He repeated that a few times, every time using the previous recordings on tiny speakers to go along (talk about recycling!). Its a forty-two minute piece in the best Roden tradition. Minimal but expansive, poetic and rich. Like he usually does, he layers a great variety of sound events, of a slightly similar nature, and waves together an excellent piece. Tones wave and merge together, and field recordings leak in, like cars passing in the night or like a bed of tape-hiss… with the recent years of quietness, its always good to hear a new work from him, and then go back to an older one of his. Proximities is an excellent piece of haunting beauty, solemn and majestically played. Exactly the kind of minimal music I happen to like very much.
    Vital Weekly
  • Whether you decide to engage with the context or not, Steve Roden’s music has an effortless beauty to it. This latest disc, again on the Line imprint, finds Roden working with a series of tones from a battery powered Paia Oz. Each tone (from A-G) was played as found in a text from sculptor Donald Judd, and the sequence was recorded several times during sunrise in amongst Judd’s stainless steel sculptures. This makes for a great context certainly, but even without knowledge of its creation ‘Proximities’ is a disarmingly beautiful piece of work, with wavering, degrading electronic tones sizzling over the unmistakable sound of morning. It’s hard to place exactly why it has to be morning, but there’s something distinct and peaceful about the sounds, something meditative and bright that is impossible to put your finger on. Somehow I get the same feeling listening to these haunting repeating patterns as I do listening to William Basinski or Stephan Matheiu, that’s just how absorbing they are. A huge recommendation.
  • On Roden’s last work on Line, 2005’s Airforms, he used Wallace Neff’s experimental house designs as inspiration. Neff inflated balloons and then sprayed them with concrete, with the resultant shape organically formed by the pressure of air expulsion. Roden transferred this idea to his sound work, and recorded the sound of his transformed breath down an old wooden organ pipe; quite literally, Roden was breathing his own unique artistic interpretation into Neff’s work, and translating it into sound.
    In a way, Proximities is a similar process: implanting Roden’s unique artistic “life” into an existing idea and turning it into audio. Using a text by minimalist sculptor Donald Judd as a source (with the letters A to G as found in the text determining the tone sequence), and recorded in amongst 50 of Judd’s stainless steel sculptures, Proximities amplifies the sound of Judd’s artwork – sound that has essentially always existed, albeit laying dormant in silence.
    The piece pulls together a strange combination of the untampered (leaving both Neff’s idea and the sound itself to run its natural course) and direct intervention. From one perspective, Roden seems keen to render himself as absent as possible: the tone sequence is determined purely by Judd’s text, while the reverberant nature of the recording space (a large converted army barracks) is responsible for all sound processing. Any additional “pops” heard on the recording are the sound of Judd’s sculptures expanding as the rising sun changes the temperature of the space. Sound is ultimately left to be itself: the drones rise and subside like fleeting murmurs of microphone feedback coaxed out of the tiniest of molecular pulses.
    But actually, Roden’s fingerprints are everywhere. His choice of instrument (the Paia Oz synthesizer) and recording devices (H4 digital recorder, iPhone, cheap cassette recorder) fleck the end product with a distinctive character, while recordings of previous performances are left to spill out of the small speakers of these devices as the recording took place; Judd’s text is left to overlap and speak over itself, knocking the chronology of its narrative out of joint. And if that’s not enough to indicate Roden’s influence, he even hums on a couple of occasions during the recording. But he feels more akin to a ghostly presence round the edges of Proximities; those hums aside, Roden’s input is purely that of past tense, crafting a new context before stepping back to let Judd’s ideas unfold within it.
  • When listening to a conceptual sound-work or a work that had a strong visual element when it existed in a specific space in time – an installation or performance – it can be easy to become frustrated. Supposing a piece commissioned for a dance or film relied too heavily on its visual counterpart for it to succeed on its own. The act of listening and bonding with that piece can throw up potential difficulties as you try to bridge the gap between what you hear and what you’ve been told you would have seen ‘if you were there’.
    Similarly, a lavish description of the composer’s environment when creating a record can begin to mean almost nothing when your imagination cannot make the stretch. It paints a very romantic picture… the freak-folk odyssey you’re halfway through was recorded by an artist embroiled in a psilocybin warped reverie, during a twilight spent under a canopy of stars and gently swooning branches, on the kind of date that just sounds so wistful, like ‘May ’68′. And of course, if there really is such a magic to the music it’s wonderful to know these things. If the music is tragically nondescript and uninspired these facts are kind of redundant.
    For a short time it seemed possible that Proximities was like this, perhaps best enjoyed as it happened – during various sunrises in the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, and among an array of Donald Judd’s steel sculptures. In a space of that description there is little doubt that this slowly shifting, subtly evolving single track of over 40 minutes would have been a fine thing to experience. Fortunately as the piece progresses it becomes clear that home listening, in solitude, on a Tuesday afternoon also brings out the best of it.
    The electronic tones and mysterious atmospheres present on the recording provide enough character and effective transportation to work as audio pieces without the need for their initial environmental enhancements.  In fact, by around halfway through the feeling of being pulled into the work as the pads continue a lazy, vaguely minor sprawl is affecting enough to challenge certain ambient music created for this specific purpose. Once the timbres have established themselves the work seems to open out and remain static at the same time, offering not the journey or evolving nature that similar music might need to remain engaging but an endless plateau that is inviting in its rolling stillness. This is exaggerated by the lack of low frequencies present and no clear note to form a base drone; the lightness and airiness keeps things afloat and almost too delicate to become impatient with.
    Underpinning the musical aspects of the audio is a constant mechanical bed of machine noise – looking at the notes that accompany the disc it is likely to be part of the recording equipment – and hiss. Very quietly included are a small array of minute chirps and distant roars. These elements are gently applied and do not do anything to distract from the tones. Yet they aren’t superfluous either. They hint at a space where the performance is taking place, crucially linking the listener with the unseen and unrecorded aspects of the full work. This is most notable in the concluding moments where the sound of the sculptures expanding in the warmth of the morning sun has been captured.
    Returning to the above concerns with conceptual music or recordings that rely to heavily on that which cannot effectively be transferred to a released version, it is a pleasure to say this is not an example. Proximities may require a bit of time to work on the listener but in this case patience, maybe a small amount of imagination and focused listening unravels the elusive aspects of a specific time and place where this work once flourished.
  • Proximities is the result of a live synth performance recorded within a former army barracks, captured on a digital recorder, an iPhone, and an old microcassette recorder.  The sparse sounds were then layered and placed alongside each other, with a simple tone progression expanded into a complex whole.
    The piece opens with Spartan layers of sound: slowly rising and falling washes of synth tones mirroring the haze of the early morning, when the raw material for this work was recorded.  There is a slow build, eventually paring the fragile synthetic tones with a grimier, dirty underbelly, likely sourced from lo-fi audio detritus.
    The tones are slow and structured, and while they are somewhat repetitive, there is a constant flow: a river of sound that never stands still.  As the piece comes to its conclusion, there is an even greater sense of chaos and fluidity  While the basic tonal structure stays constant, everything around it disintegrates and eventually only the hollow environment in which recording took place can be heard.
    … While Roden may have begrudgingly entered the world of computer composition on Forms of Paper his proficiency in its use is obvious within Proximities. The careful balance of tones and ambience are compelling and demand close attention, with a satisfying payoff.
  • Armed with a Paia Oz (an out-of-production portable mini-organ) with which he recorded the basic superimpositions of pitches, and capturing environmental hues inside a former army barrack now containing 50 steel statues made by sculptor Donald Judd, Steve Roden generated Proximities during an artist’s residency in Marfa, Texas in 2010. As always, Roden’s music transmits a sense of inner quietness with its utter naturalness and delicate traits. The plainness of the structure, basically a constant ebbing and flowing of shifting organ layers, reminds of Eno with an added dimension of innocence. Sometimes the frail tones seem to hide amidst the rest of the soundscape, whose components are not detailed but appear as distant urban noises surrounded by a continuous flux of “something”, a watery presence that renders the whole experience as a walk across different stages of human evolution, fused in a single room. Towards the end of the piece one can distinguish the pops of the steel expanding for the heat (as explained by the artist, otherwise I would not have guessed them), preceding a gradual fade to silence. A beautiful conclusion for a record that inspires through its sheer existence, in itself a significant gesture by a still not-enough-sung creative being.
    touching extremes
  • I freely admit that it has been more than three years since hearing anything by Steve Roden; there were only vague memories of rather ambient/drone-y music and that I was kindly disposed towards its sound. So, I approached this new release by Mr. Roden with some curiosity.
    According to the information on hand, the music of Proximities was created by “recording a performance of a series of tones played on an old battery powered PAiA Oz, that were determined by the letters A-G as found in a text by minimalist sculptor Donald Judd”. Roden recorded “the tone sequence several times during sunrise, amidst 50 of Judd’s stainless steel structures”. Sound processing of the recordings was provided by an “extremely resonant space” in which the sculptures resided. For you gearheads the PAiA Oz is an eighteen-key, kit synthesizer from the 1970’s A pdf is available from the PAiA website (http:// www.paia.com/) of an article (http://www.paia.com/manuals/docs/oz-howto-article.pdf ) about the little analogue synthesizer. The result is one 40+ minute track of droning ambience, mastered by Taylor Deupree (an interesting artist in his own right). Between the kit and the process this recording sounds rather intriguing, does it not?
    Drone? Sound? Art? It’s always a question, at some point, with such recordings whether the music can be worthwhile as a listening experience with the not inconsiderable loss of the visual aspect. On listening to Proximities my answer would definitely be in the affirmative; the music stands alone as a satisfying experience. Admittedly, listening to this album one does experience a bit of deja-vu, in a pleasing way, in that this is somewhat familiar territory for ambient and drone aficionados. While the synth drones ebb and flow with an almost harmonium-like character, time loosens its grip upon one’s consciousness under Proximities’ influence. The experience is ephemeral, but it’s one that holds up with repeated listenings.
    After enjoying Proximities several times, I can say it is not too far away in sound from work by artists like Rafael Toral, Ryoji Ikeda or some Nurse With Wound (Soliloquy for Lilith?). It may even possess a few elements in common with dark ambient music, say S.E.T.I. or Galerie Schallschutz (HAARP?), but Roden’s music is not ‘dark’ in any obvious way. Roden’s music on Proximities may best be described as ‘neutral’ in that whatever emotions or images the music conveys to the listener are the product of the listener’s experiences and prejudices. Essentially, this is drone music that is whatever you want it to be; no programmatic rules necessary for a satisfying listen.
  • Steve Roden, old hand of a new wave of experimentation after Tietchens, brings his signature lowercase sound back into Line with Proximities, his first for the label since 2005’s Airforms. For the uninitiated, the LA sound artist’s works typically involve electronic derivations from singular sources—objects or spaces abstracted to throw up ‘possible landscapes,’ with source staying somewhere in sight as a kind of formal skeleton peeking through fleeting see-through moments in the resultant pieces. Roden’s creationist seed is typically sown into an existing real-world entity, here a text by minimalist sculptor Donald Judd (the letters A-G as found in the text determining the tone sequence), a an old battery-powered Paia Oz synthesizer recorded with an H4 digital recorder, iPhone and a cheap Sony micro-cassette among 50 of Judd’s stainless steel sculptures (n.b. during sunrise) (p.s. in an old army barracks converted into a museum). The devices emitted audio of previous performances, attenuated swells and billows compiled by Roden of his recordings of the shifting notes of his synthesizer emitted from their tiny speakers intermittently; he also hummed, and the effect of sunrise caused the sculpture’s expansion, producing the odd crepitation. Proximities thus potentiates Judd’s hitherto mute artwork with new voice, characterized by subtle melodic phrases and elliptical loopings. Liminal pedal to minimal metal, once established it opens out while remaining static, absence of low-end underpinning leaving these attenuated timbres to float like dust in light rays, the sight below a mechanical bed of machine noise and hiss, the gentle rise-fall of its spartan sound mirroring the early morning haze. A slow build leads to a loose coupling of thin tonal carpet with a grimier underlay, sourced from lo-fi audio detritus. As ending draws near, basic tonal vocabulary remains constant, though with a greater sense of chaos and fluidity, all around eventually disintegrating to leave only the hollow site of recording audible. A flat plain structure of ebb and flow—shifting layers of synth, faintly echoing early Eno. At times, the tones are long drawn out dwellings on a single note, while at others there are shifts between different notes, their resonance yielding an array of subtle overtones. The passages’ configuration overall is thematic, but not premised on recursion, with something else always stirring beneath. Frail shy sonorities peek out then withdraw into their soundscape shell, attended by remote room sounds—a continuous grainy presence. Minimal, expansive, solemn and poignant, wavering, disintegrative, a-sizzle like the morning’s breakfast rashers, it projects a meditative disposition of inner quiet, natural and delicate, a ‘neutral’ ground-field with a disposition to host whatever figure imagination might present the listener. In this sense, Roden engineers in Proximities a truly environmental music through his consummate mediation of space and its audio contents.
    igloo mag  

forms of paper (bernhard gunter remaster)

forms of paper remaster
Steve Roden
digital download
edition: unlimited
  1. forms of paper

Forms of Paper was originally released on LINE in October of 2001, the seventh release on LINE and the first solo release on the label by sound and visual artist Steve Roden. LINE is proud to reissue this work in time for its 10th anniversary. Forms of Paper has been lovingly remastered by Bernhard Günter.
Please download the accompanying 8-page essay “on lowercase affinities and forms of paperby Steve Roden to learn more about this release’s history and its reissue.
Forms of Paper was created for the “Art in the Libraries Exhibition” and installed in the Frank Gehry designed Hollywood Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library in August, the work was created with the quiet space of the library as a major consideration, amplified at a very low volume level. All of the sounds in the composition are the sounds of book pages being handled. This cd version has been expanded and re-worked into a one hour composition. Roden says of the CD “I imagine the work as something of a folded piece of white paper sculpture; where shadows, folds, and light enable one to see not only the white of the paper, but a full spectrum of grays as well.”
  • reviews:
  • Forms of Paper was released by Line in 2001, remastered by Bernard Guenter and reissued as a high quality download.  While it was one of the heralding works of the “lowercase” genre (a genre of which the boundaries and parameters I never fully understood), there is far too much complexity for it to be pigeonholed into a label that would imply that nothing happens in the recording.
    In fact, quite the opposite is true:  although the piece takes a while to make itself known, Roden’s processing of the sound of book pages becomes a world of subtle beeps and tones, with a greater focus on textures.  While there is a more significant shifting between busy and sparse, it is a more repetitive work in comparison to Proximities.  Not surprising since, in the accompanying essay, Roden points out that this was his first work utilizing Pro-tools rather than just analog tape, and that at the time he was quite fond of using copy and paste in composition.

  • Pour les dix ans de sa première sortie (déjà sur LINE), paraît une réédition remasterisée de Forms of Paper. Steve Roden y traite électroniquement divers bruits de feuilles de papier (ce qu’il explique ici). De son action naissent des événements : des 0 et des 1 apparaissent sur un écran blanc, un traîneau passe dans la neige, des puces à la voix tremblotante crissent et craquètent… Dix ans après, on comprend que le papier de Roden est la partition d’un orgue de barbarie muet et beau comme le silence.

    le son du grisli

stars of ice

edition: 250
New Plastic Music
  1. Stars Of Ice
All sounds generated and/or organized by steve roden at the bubble house, nov/dec 2008.
Sound sources: the chinese christmas carol “stars of ice”, from can old 7″ record; the song “snow” from the 78 set “songs from the first grade reader”; and various other objects and instruments.
The poem is the lyrics to “stars of ice”, with numerous words erased.
Cover photo : anonymous RPPC circa 1900.
Ice cubes lifted from “ant the bee”, by angela baker.

a slow moving boat

3" cd
edition: 1000
new plastic music
  1. A Slow Moving Boat
in april 2007, i made several recordings on a ferry in norway, of the engine resonating through the metal hull. later, i recorded my voice humming and singing to the ferry, using it as a harmonic guide or drone. i then erased the original ferry recording, and replaced it with a bowed banjo. the piece was created for the FM ferry experiment, and broadcast from the staten island ferry in ny. special thanks to jorgen larsson for the norwegian journey, and valerie tavere for including the piece in the FM ferry project.
  • reviews:
  • It must have been an odd sight, in April 2007. Steve Roden fits on a ferry in Norway and he is singing and humming along with the engine of the ferry. Later on he replaces the engine sounds with that of a bowed banjo, and no doubt layers his own voice in various harmonic constellations. Steve Roden has a relatively simple tool at hand – just a few sounds, but as before he very cleverly knows how to create a great piece of music with it. Minimal, refined, delicate. His humming in various shades and shapes, with the bowing of the banjo in the background, makes a nice piece of music that at fifteen minutes has captured the right length. What else can there be said? A mantra like piece. Elegant music.
    (FdW)/vital weekly
  • Steve Roden’s current output threatens to rival the prodigious release schedule of Machinefabriek, but his work is no less compelling for that. In this beatific 3″inch cd, taken from a special broadcast on the Staten Island ferry, he elects to build a piece from thread-bare sonic materials of bowed banjo and the looping traceries of his voice. Roden evokes a transcendental eulogy from an environmental recording of a simple ferry around the waters of Oslo fjord.
    Spatial and historical contexts are re-arranged, as the source recording of this piece was to be found in the motor hum of the boat itself, but Roden, to his intuitive credit, shuns standard acousmatic practice and removes the audio signature altogether to create a lovely 15 minute spectacle, in which human emotion is propelled to the fore. With the feeling akin to an 8th century Gaelic lament it takes precedence over the academic austerity that one finds in much of today’s sound art.
    (paul baran)/ myspace blog
  • Risalgono alla metà degli anni ’90 i primi esperimenti di Steve Roden con strumenti del tutto inusuali ed oggetti di design che nelle mani del poliedrico artista diventano vere e proprie fonti sonore: si pensi ad album come Splint (the soul of wood) (New Plastic music, 1997), Lamp (within/without the skin) (New Plastic music, 1998), e Chair (a subscape of resonance) (New Plastic music,1999). Visioni acustiche che sfidano i convenzionali approcci all’ascolto e che attraverso abili manipolazioni scolpiscono sfumature ed identità catturando l’essenza stessa dell’oggetto.
    Una materica fisicità che in A slow moving boat prende forma attraverso le incisioni che l’artista realizzò nella primavera del 2007 su un traghetto per la Norvegia, registrando il rombo del motore attraverso le pareti stesse della nave. Incisioni che diventano pretesto su cui comporre concretezze drones di un banjo che si reinventa a colpi d’archetto, per poi diventare guida spirituale di una linea vocale tanto mistica quanto incantata. Una linea vocale che si sdoppia lasciandosi alle spalle le frammentazioni in lettere di The Radio (Sonoris,1996), per focalizzare l’attenzione poi su simbolismi timbrici. Poesie per oggetti dimenticati che nel silenzio diventano chiave di lettura di personali rielaborazioni della memoria sonora.
    Miniature essenziali dalla tiratura limitata e dal formato tascabile (si tratta infatti di un 3”) per quindici minuti di sensibili intelligenti (s)culture sonore.
    Sara Bracco/sentireascotare website
 vester fields
vester fields
edition: 100 (oop)
  1. vester fields
Vester Fields was composed using a found postcard to determine the following sounds/instruments used to generate the piece: violin (an old handmade tramp art instrument), accordion (a very small children’s toy accordion from china), voice (my own), plant (a shiso branch), field recordings (from marfa texas and a glacier in norway), and a 1940′s home recording (in the form of a 7 inch 78rpm cardboard record).

dark over light earth

dark over light earth
Steve Roden w/ Jacob Danziger
edition: 1000
new plastic music
  1. dark over light earth
dark over light earth was created for the final weekend of the exhibition moca’s mark rothkos, which featured 8 rothko paintings from the museum of contemporary art los angeles’s permanent collection.
i initially made a list of every color in each of the 8 paintings, to generate a score. i recorded myself playing the score on harmonium and glockenspiel – the notes and their order pre-determined by my color notations; and the tempo, duration, and overall feel, improvised. some of these recordings were then processed electronically with filters.
i asked jakob danziger to listen to a recording of morton feldman’s rothko chapel on headphones and attempt to play along on violin.
the resuting piece was created by cutting up, layering, and re-organizing the harmonium, glockenspeil, and violin recordings. i wanted to let the conceptual ideas remain a skeletal structure, but also allow the piece to move beyond them… kind of like taking an early sol lewitt cube piece and absent mindedly wrapping twine around it until the original form is almost invisible.
  • reviews:
  • It’s been a while since I last heard something by Steve Roden. Perhaps he was too busy with his sound installations, but then much of his work was made with that intention anyway. Here he has one installation piece called ‘Dark Over Light Earth’ which he made for an exhibition of Mark Rothko’s painting at the Museum Of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. And if we think ‘Rothko + music’ we think of course of Morty Feldman’s ‘Rothko Chapel’, one of the contemporary highlights of modern classical music. For his piece, Roden divided the eight paintings in various color sections and thus made a score, playing harmonium and glockenspiel. He asked his friend Jake to play the Feldman piece on a pair headphones, while attempting to play the piece on his violin. Through layering and reorganizing Roden crafts a beautiful piece of music together, with a bare minimum of electronic sounds. Slowly changing, with the violin in a leading part, this piece moves in various directions, yet at the same time it doesn’t seem to move at all. It has the same contemplative beauty as Rothko’s paintings, as well as Feldman’s original piece. Overwhelming quietness. Great work.
    FdW/vital weekly #579
  • Accompanying the Rothko paintings on the final weekend of the exhibition was a sound work by Steve Roden entitled “dark over light earth”. Steve Roden’s sound piece enlisted violinist Jacob Danziger and added to the chapel-like feel of the space. While I was there, gallery viewers spoke in hushed tones. There was a spirit of contemplation in the room. I wished that the moment could go on forever, that we all could soak into the paintings – breaking the space between object and viewer.
    greg chadwick / speed of life (blog)
STEVE RODEN - Forms of Paper, Line


Forms of Paper
Format_dot_downloadMP3 Download // £6.99
Format_dot_download_flacFLAC Download // £8.99
Cat. Number: LINE053
Brand new for Richard Chartier's Line imprint from renowned visual/sound artist Steve Roden who resides in Los Angeles. ‘Forms Of Paper’ was originally created for the "Art in the Libraries Exhibition" which was then installed in the Frank Gehry designed Hollywood branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. This CD contains a 50+ min expanded version of the original ten minute sound loop. All the sounds in the composition are the sounds of book pages being handled. From this limiting source there is quite a wide canvas for the micro sounds to unravel. Designed to be played at a low, unobtrusive volume. Alluring.
STEVE RODEN - Forms of Paper, Line
STEVE RODEN - Proximities, Line
Featured Download


Format_dot_downloadMP3 Download // £4.99
Format_dot_download_flacFLAC Download // £5.99
Cat. Number: LINE052
Whether you decide to engage with the context or not, Steve Roden’s music has an effortless beauty to it. This latest disc, again on the Line imprint, finds Roden working with a series of tones from a battery powered Paia Oz. Each tone (from A-G) was played as found in a text from sculptor Donald Judd, and the sequence was recorded several times during sunrise in amongst Judd’s stainless steel sculptures. This makes for a great context certainly, but even without knowledge of its creation ‘Proximities’ is a disarmingly beautiful piece of work, with wavering, degrading electronic tones siz…
STEVE RODEN - Proximities, Line
STEVE RODEN - Proximities, Line
Featured CD


Format_dot_cdCD // £7.99
Cat. Number: LINE052
Whether you decide to engage with the context or not, Steve Roden’s music has an effortless beauty to it. This latest disc, again on the Line imprint, finds Roden working with a series of tones from a battery powered Paia Oz. Each tone (from A-G) was played as found in a text from sculptor Donald Judd, and the sequence was recorded several times during sunrise in amongst Judd’s stainless steel sculptures. This makes for a great context certainly, but even without knowledge of its creation ‘Proximities’ is a disarmingly beautiful piece of work, with wavering, degrading electronic tones sizzling …
STEVE RODEN - Proximities, Line


Format_dot_cdCD // £9.99
Cat. Number: ESR201201
"'Lichtung' is a collaborative project centered around an audio-visual installation. Sound artists Steve Roden and Rutger Zuydervelt (a.k.a. Machinefabriek) composed the audio, while the video element was provided by the German visual artist Sabine Bürger. The installations exhibition was part of a series organized by Galerie Vayhinger revolving around the German concept of 'heimat' - the area in which someone was born or had their early formative experiences. Considering the artists' far-flung locations it was decided that the gallery's locale should provide them with a 'temporary…
STEVE PETERS + STEVE RODEN - Not A Leaf Remains As It Was, 12K
"In 1995 Steve Peters and Steve Roden toured as a trio with singer Anna Homler; sometimes they would vocalize behind her, and they liked the way their voices blended together. They then spent about 15 years saying that “someday” they should record a voice-based project together. Aside from the physical distance between them, the problem was always: What would we sing? Neither wanted to write or sing lyrics. Inspiration came in the form of a book of Japanese jisei – poems allegedly written by monks on their death bed – printed in both English translation and Romaniz…
STEVE PETERS + STEVE RODEN - Not A Leaf Remains As It Was, 12K
STEVE PETERS + STEVE RODEN - Not A Leaf Remains As It Was, 12K
Featured Download


Not A Leaf Remains As It Was
Format_dot_downloadMP3 Download // £3.50
Format_dot_download_flacFLAC Download // £4.50
Cat. Number: 12K1069
"In 1995 Steve Peters and Steve Roden toured as a trio with singer Anna Homler; sometimes they would vocalize behind her, and they liked the way their voices blended together. They then spent about 15 years saying that “someday” they should record a voice-based project together. Aside from the physical distance between them, the problem was always: What would we sing? Neither wanted to write or sing lyrics. Inspiration came in the form of a book of Japanese jisei – poems allegedly written by monks on their death bed – printed in both English translation and R…
STEVE PETERS + STEVE RODEN - Not A Leaf Remains As It Was, 12K
MEM1 - +1, Interval Recordings


Interval Recordings
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Format_dot_download_flacFLAC Download // £8.99
Cat. Number: IL03DD
All dressed up with artwork from Svarte Greiner's Erik Skodvin, this album from Mem1 and friends looks as good as it sounds. The central Mem1 duo (Mark and Laura Cetilia) team up with a roster of microsound luminaroes for this release, working with Steve Roden, Frank Bretschneider and Jan Jelinek among others. Jelinek is up first, helping cast Mem1's electronics and cello in an understatedly abstract gloss. The piece flows across the stereo field with a warmth and major-key serenity that brings together artificial timbres, filtered bowed strings and what sounds like a variety of nocturnal environmental r…
MEM1 - +1, Interval Recordings
STEVE RODEN & JASON KAHN - Shimmer / Flicker / Waver / Quiver, Korm Plastics


Shimmer / Flicker / Waver / Quiver
Korm Plastics
Format_dot_downloadMP3 Download // £6.65
Format_dot_download_flacFLAC Download // £8.65
Cat. Number: KP 3013
Sound artists Steve Roden and Jason Kahn were brought together for a session at the Extrapool studio in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, with a variety of sound-making objects at their disposal. Roden would play contact mics and guitar while Kahn took up percussion, laptop and analogue synthesizer. Given the lowercase subtlety of the end product you'd never really know what (if any) instruments were used to fabricate this album, but the end product is exquisitely subtle and charged with warm, microsonic details that nicely fit alongside the grade-A minimalism these…
STEVE RODEN & JASON KAHN - Shimmer / Flicker / Waver / Quiver, Korm Plastics
STEVE RODEN - A Big Circle Drawn With Little Hands, Ini.Itu
**Individually hand-numbered edition of 250 copies for the world, comes with full colour A3 poster** LA's Steve Roden has been exploring "lowercase" sounds both as In Be Tween Noise and under his own name, for a panoply of imprints including Line, 12k, Trente Oiseaux etc for the last 20 years. His latest lands on the worldly wise Ini.Itu label and utilises the kind of bric-a-brac you'd find in an old drawer at home - foreign coins, kids toys, wooden clackers - to create fragile and strangely absorbing little soundworlds. We're assuming there's a connection with Indone…
Out of stock
STEVE RODEN - A Big Circle Drawn With Little Hands, Ini.Itu
STEVE RODEN - I Listen To The Wind That Obliterates My Traces: Music In Vernacular Photographs 1880 - 1955, Dust to Digital
**Hardback book featuring "150 vernacular photographs, paired with 51 songs, field recordings and sound effects on 2 CDs. From the acclaimed sound and visual artist Steve Roden, and designed by the team that brought you 'Victrola Favorites' and the Grammy nominated 'Take Me To The Water'."** "... i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces brings together a collection of early photographs related to music, a group of 78rpm recordings, and short excerpts from various literary sources that are contemporary with the …
Out of stock
STEVE RODEN - I Listen To The Wind That Obliterates My Traces: Music In Vernacular Photographs 1880 - 1955, Dust to Digital
STEVE RODEN - Airforms, Line


Format_dot_cdCD // £9.99
Cat. Number: Line_022
Back in stock! Are you sitting comfortably? Then let's get chatty. Steve Roden is (as you may well know) a knob-on sound and visual artist who first presented his 'Airforms' project at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Arizona. Inspired by a group of experimental house designers in the 1940's (led by Wallace Neff) who sprayed concrete onto inflated balloon structures, their intent was to examine the relationships and aesthetic possibilities offered by air in an attempt to create organic living spaces. Phew. So where does Roden come into this? Well, using an old wooden organ pipe and …
Out of stock
STEVE RODEN - Airforms, Line
STEVE RODEN - Light Forms (Music For Light Bulbs and Churches), Semishigure


Light Forms (Music For Light Bulbs and Churches)
Format_dot_cdCD // £10.99
Cat. Number: SEMI003CD
Here's one for you; I'll take a box of light bulbs, fondle them a bit whilst recording the minutiae of noises they produce, then I'll stick them in a computer and arrange them into something beautiful... "Will you bollocks!" I imagine you're thinking, and you'd be right. But only 'cos Steve Roden has beat me to it. Originally conceived as an art installation for various German galleries, Semishigure have collected the two extended pieces and released them as part of their ongoing series dedicated to the visual arts. Accompanied by a 12 page booklet featuring im…
Out of stock
STEVE RODEN - Light Forms (Music For Light Bulbs and Churches), Semishigure
STEVE RODEN - Forms Of Paper, 12k / L_ine


Forms Of Paper
12k / L_ine
Format_dot_cdCD // £11.99
Brand new CD for Richard Chartier's Line imprint from renowned visual/sound artist Steve Roden who resides in Los Angeles. ‘Forms Of Paper’ was originally created for the "Art in the Libraries Exhibition" which was then installed in the Frank Gehry designed Hollywood branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. This CD contains a 50+ min expanded version of the original ten minute sound loop. All the sounds in the composition are the sounds of book pages being handled. From this limiting source there is quite a wide canvas for the micro sounds to unravel. Designed to be played at a low, unobtrusive volume. Alluring.
Out of stock
STEVE RODEN - Forms Of Paper, 12k / L_ine
Lichtung is a half-hour piece featuring excerpts from an audio-visual installation currently being exhibited at the Galerie Vayhinger that sets filmed imagery of water surfaces (directed by Sabine Burger) to delicate and intricately detailed soundtracks by the prolific Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek) and the all too often overlooked Steve Roden. Visually, Lichtung is bewitching, taking a number of lengthy shots of water featuring various phenomena, including slow-motion rainfall rupturing the stillness of a pond, ripples moving through algae-covered pools and t…
Out of stock
STEVE RODEN / STEINBRUCHEL / VARIOUS - Graceful Degradation: Variations, Sourdine
New label Sourdine opens its account with this wonderful collection of microsound pieces from some of the very finest practitioners in the field. Steve Roden, John Hudak, Steinbruchel and Kenneth Kirschner are among the names contributing to this compilation, which virtually ensures the project's success. Steinbruchel in particular seems to be very much on the up in recent times, with every successive release reaching new creative heights for the Swiss electronics maestro. His contribution to Graceful Degradation, 'Shimmer' continues this upwards trend w…
Out of stock
STEVE RODEN / STEINBRUCHEL / VARIOUS - Graceful Degradation: Variations, Sourdine


Cosmic Debris: Volume II
Format_dot_cdCD // £11.99
Cat. Number: ASP23CD
Collaboration supremos My Cat Is An Alien branch out from their usual circle of avant-garde outsiders and team up with sound artist Steve Roden, far and away one of the most persistently inventive microsound composers of his generation. This second volume in A Silent Place's Cosmic Debris series is a CD issue of what was originally a vinyl-only release, one where each party had their own twelve inches to fill, with Roden on one side, MCIAA on the other. The two Steve Roden pieces are representative of his recent tendency toward higher volume explorations, based upo…
Out of stock

these are generally longer articles, mainly related to exhibitions.

Rabble: Steve Roden

Rabble: Steve Roden
upside down, the sky is ocean
the buddha wears a cloak of geometric design:
red, yellow, blue and black.
the buddha’s hand forms the vitarka mudra, suggesting deep contemplation and indicative of a sage. although it is commonly formed with the right, the buddha forms this mudra with his left hand.
the buddha’s right hand grasps a walking stick.
on an 8th century statue from thailand, the buddha forms the vitarka mudra with two hands, looking strangely reminiscent of a 1909 photograph of mondrian, his theatrical hands pointing up and down like david bowie on the cover of heroes.
  Rabble, an imprint of Insert Blanc Press, is co-edited by Holly Myers and Mathew Timmons. Rabble prints single author issues of critical essays of about 1500 words on a subject of the author’s choosing. The subject will be an artwork (or series of artworks), but broadly defined: could be visual art, literature, music, architecture, film, design; could be contemporary or historical. The essay will be printed in pamphlet form, with room for a couple full color images, and distributed at a reasonable price.
Rabble seeks to be a venue through which to interrogate the nature of criticism, a laboratory for prodding at the boundaries of criticism as a form. The idea is to begin with a framework that reduces criticism down to its two fundamental components—the thing that's been made and the person who responds to the thing that's been made (i.e., the art work and the critic)—and invite each writer to take it from there. We’re not looking for the average book or exhibition review, but something that tests out a new direction, whatever that means to the individual author.
We have great confidence in the potential of Rabble to make a lasting contribution to the cultural discourse on the West Coast and beyond. It is our hope that, in charting a path between the two prevailing poles of the genre—the ever-narrowing shutters of print journalism on the one hand and the ponderous obscurity of the academy on the other—Rabble will go some way in restoring the sheer excitement of criticism. 

Like a lot of people, I first heard about Stephen Vitiello’s work in 2000, in relation to his residency at the World Trade Center where he was using light sensors to generate sound. In 2004 we were both in the exhibition Treble at SculptureCenter. Regine Basha, the show’s curator, kept telling me that Stephen and I needed to meet, so we did, over lunch. Our respective works in the show were indicative of where we collide and separate in relation to sound. I’d spent several days in the basement using ice cubes and candles to trim the tops and bottoms off of 100 wine bottles that would eventually amplify the sound of 100 tiny speakers—as usual, my process was messy and far from precise. Stephen, on the other hand, had hung several speakers from long wires in an absolutely elegant formation—his piece felt like it would fit comfortably in a Brunelleschi dome. When I got close to his speakers, I could see them moving, and I realized that while I couldn’t hear sound, it was definitely moving through the speakers. I was blown away by the fact that his work put me in the situation of looking at sound rather than listening to it. Sound is simply one of many ingredients in my practice, but it is generally the focus and the primary material of Stephen’s work. Since we met, sound has played an enormous role in the conversations, performances, recordings, and installations we have worked on together, but most importantly, it’s what we have geeked out on together in hundreds of conversations like this one.  —Steve Roden

Steve Roden We both came to music and art via the punk scenes on opposite coasts—you on the East, and me on the West.
Stephen Vitiello Did your interest in music and art begin with punk rock or before that?
SR When I was 12, I was into Jimmy Hendrix. His was the first music I became obsessed with—my mom actually made me a Hendrix birthday cake! I scoured flea markets for bootlegs and rare releases. I was also into German Expressionism, particularly George Grosz, for his combination of cartooning and heavy-duty violence. (My dark angst settled in at age 13.) I’ve been infected by everything I’ve paid attention to, no matter how obscure. One strong memory is of a group of flying bees in the early Gumby animations called the Groobees. They were a riff on carpenter bees and would build crates around everything: people, cars, dogs… the forms were like that Magritte painting of a coffin sitting upright. While working on Bowrain (2010), a large-scale installation involving hundreds of pieces of wood wired together, I realized that my aesthetic is pretty close to the Groobees’: visual decisions arise out of necessity or limitation, rather than vision. How about yourself?
SV I was obsessed with the Rolling Stones. My mother took me to see them when I was 11. My best friend and I would listen to side three of Hot Rocks over and over. As I got older, there were other rock bands, but things changed most dramatically (at least in my memory) when I started listening to the Ramones and the Dead Boys, and then British punk bands like the Buzzcocks and the Clash. The one record from that era that I still go back to and enjoy just as much as I did back then is Television’s Marquee Moon. I started learning to play guitar with friends when I was 12 and then met The Stimulators, whose band members lived in that infamous building on East 12th Street. I’d go over for guitar lessons and could sometimes stay overnight if Allen Ginsberg, their roommate, was out of town.
SR Both of us managed to enter the punk scene at a relatively young age. At 14, I rode my bike to the Whiskey a Go-Go expecting to see a Hendrix impersonator and happened upon The Screamers. When I got home that evening I painted a “No Left Turn” sign on my Hendrix shirt and cut off my long hair—a few days later, I dyed it black. Then I started a band with some friends, half of whom could not play instruments. We called the band Seditionaries after Malcolm McLaren’s shop, where the Sex Pistols met. We never met anyone like Allen Ginsberg, but we did get to hang out with The Damned!
The early punk scene was positive and full of idealism. In many ways we were a cliché, being critical of the government, society, the army, and religion—I wrote a song called “Jesus Needs a Haircut!” Certainly we were naive, but for us there was value in making music that had no commercial relevance. Value for us was dependent upon integrity rather than the market.
SV For me, between the Stones and the Ramones there were lots of the predictable groups: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy. I always responded to texture and an impression of sound and production, and almost never knew the lyrics, even if I listened to a record until it was scratched beyond use. By the way, so cool that you met The Damned. I remember meeting them as well; I was sitting in their dressing room until they finally, and very politely, asked me to leave. There’s another flash memory of playing pinball with two of The Cramps. Being 14 or 15 made it easier for people to be nice to us. The first band I played in was called the Offals. Our first show was reviewed in the New York Times. The reviewer said we were either “Awful or funny, depending on your tolerance level.” I just came across two scrapbooks from that time filled with photos, flyers, and newspaper ads that I’d passionately collected and assembled. It feels like more than a lifetime ago, but I recognize a part of who I am in those books.
So while most of my references before my early twenties were musical, it seems like art was important to you from a much earlier age. Did you have any vision at the time that your future might be laced with both?
SR As a kid I always wanted to be an artist. On the other hand, I probably never would’ve started working with sound (or text, performance, video, and film) had I not been part of the punk scene. Starting a band without any technical knowledge of music offered us the freedom to just dive into a medium. When I made my first film in 1988, or released my first CD in 1993, So Delicate and Strangely Made, I didn’t feel that I was unqualified to work in these mediums. It wasn’t about being a genius as much as about being comfortable experimenting. I still can’t read music or play an instrument. When I was the lead singer of Seditionaries, all I needed to know was how to yell very loudly into a microphone.
SV I identify with punk leading to a future in art. Also, working with Nam June Paik gave me the sense that I could step out in any number of directions. In 1994, Nam June asked me to document a month of Fluxus performances at Anthology Film Archives. I told him I was a musician, not a video artist, and he replied, “It’ll make you a better musician.” That exposure did. It also suggested a much more interesting future.
When you and I first met, I proposed a fairly simple (maybe mediocre) idea: that we each record a mono track in our own spaces on the West and East coasts and then combine them into a stereo recording, with your sounds on the left (West) and mine on the right (East). Often starting with a simple idea leads to some better discovery along the way. We never made the piece, but we’ve definitely managed to find parallel moments. We got involved with performing music at a young age and have evolved into artists who function in-between music and art.
SR I talk a lot about the burden of a good idea when I teach. A good idea is complex and exciting, and generally better in your head than in its realization. Dumb ideas—or as you say, simple ideas—need to be mulled over, reinterpreted, redefined, and continually expanded upon until they begin to offer you multiple paths. A few years ago I taught a two-day workshop using La Monte Young’s 1961 Composition No. 1, a score with the single direction: “Draw a straight line and follow it.” It was fantastic to spend so much time trying to figure out how many ways one could follow the instruction.
SV I’m pretty sure I told you that at a collector’s dinner in Austin last summer, three different people congratulated me on pieces that were actually yours. Yet in fact we’re quite different. You work primarily with systems (for sound and for painting) and tend to begin with a clear idea of where you’re headed, whereas I often come to the conceptual elements of my work through experience. Also, the visual part of your practice is as important as the sound, while in my work, the visual component is a smaller part—and often an artifact—of the sound work. For example, photographs that come out of the experience of field recording, or the speaker drawings that were my attempt at a form of automatic drawing (and were inspired by William Anastasi’s Subway Drawings in particular). Or the visual frames I design around the sound, such as lighting for sound installations where I hope people will listen first and look second.
SR Brian Eno was an early influence, partially because he offered me a kind of primer for John Cage through his use of limitations, chance operations, and the “Oblique Strategies” to prompt creative thinking. This was before I knew anything about Fluxus, Steve Reich, Sol LeWitt, or text scores. Anastasi’s Subway Drawings were a big part of an aha moment for me as well, along with the discovery of Tom Marioni’s drum brush drawings from the 1970s and Terry Fox’s Children’s Tapes videos. After these discoveries, I made an early attempt to combine performance, process, and artifact: it was a painting for Eric Dolphy called Mouthpiece (1992) done by holding the brush in my mouth instead of my hands.
I arrived at Cage on my first day of undergrad art theory class. Wanda Westcoast, the teacher, played three long reels of Cage talking. All I remember was that they were impossible to follow. Over time, the words had no meaning, and we all sat there listening to words as sound. She didn’t give us any context. Talk about immersion!
SV Amazing, a teacher named Wanda Westcoast! Back in college, I also had those moments, like soft jolts of electricity that opened up future thinking for me. In a film studies class, my professor Tom Gunning was talking about the pre-cinematic “phantasmagoria,” a form of spook show with distant voices and magic-lantern slides projected onto moving surfaces. As he described it, I could see and hear glimpses of something wonderful. Four years later I did sound for an installation by Tony Oursler called Crypt Craft (1989), which was a mix of images and voices in a dark room. Tony Conrad’s voice came out of the mouth of a dragon, children trapped in small monitors hung from a chandelier, and a pirate sang songs about toxicity. In many of my installations I have strived for the immersive experience that I imagine the phantasmagoria performances offered. Hopefully they’re not as kitsch, and they create a space outside of everyday experience.
Another memory from French literature class: We read Friday by Michel Tournier, a retelling of the Robinson Crusoe story. There’s a scene where Friday wrestles with a goat and the goat dies. In the following passages, he is treating the goatskin, but we don’t know what’s coming. Then Crusoe is walking through the forest and hears what sounds like beautiful choral music. Every sound of the forest comes to life, amplified in his consciousness. When he emerges onto the beach, he sees that Friday has turned the goatskin into a kite: it has holes in it and has become an instrument being played by the wind. I was so emotionally struck by that section. It set something in motion that I still connect to many years later when I’m doing field recordings in incredible places.
As a teacher (at Virginia Commonwealth University), I bring to class a lot of the films, videos, and audio works that have inspired me. I plan classes as a form of curating to trigger sets of connections that will excite students. Every once in a while I recognize that someone is listening or looking in a new way for the first time.
SR Yes, probably the best part of my education was the things that people shared, rather than said. I mean, nothing really happens when you talk about Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou . . . You have to be confronted by its presence so it can really mess you up!
A required English class with Bernard Cooper, which I initially tried very hard to get out of since I had very little interest in reading and writing, absolutely changed my life. On the first day we read short stories by Kafka and Calvino, and we were assigned to write surrealist poems. Suddenly there was this huge connection between literature and the visual art I was interested in. When I did my third year of undergrad in Paris I didn’t speak any French, so I went to a bookstore and bought a copy of Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz and moved on to Thomas Mann, Hesse, Kafka, Borges, and Cocteau. Those books became my friends as well as my inspirations, eventually leading me to explore writing as a medium. My biggest writing project so far is called 365 × 433. For the entire year of 2011, I performed Cage’s 4’33’‘ every day and wrote about each performance. It started as a listening experience, but very quickly became a daily writing project. Each entry is treated in a different way, ranging from concrete poetry to essays, descriptions, and so on. So every time I run into Bernard I embarrass the hell out of him because I tell him that he changed my life.
I was also lucky to work with Mike Kelley and Stephen Prina in grad school. At the time, Prina was working on a project that involved making a watercolor for every one of Manet’s paintings to actual size. The way he conversed with his sources had an enormous impact on my practice. Mike I had known since undergrad; we connected because of the punk scene and our crazy taste in music. I’m pretty sure he had little interest in my work and was probably aghast at the things I was reading (Rilke, Lagerkvist, Hamsun). I wrote my grad thesis in the form of an early 20th-century German parable, and at my final committee meeting, the first thing Mike said was, “I don’t know why you didn’t write it in surfer talk.” It pissed me off. But he was good at making a snide comment that would haunt you for days, and once you dug beneath the juvenile veneer, you’d realize he was offering brilliant advice. He was kicking my ass for being too precious.
Stephen Vitiello, location shot at the New York Stock Exchange for A Bell for Minute, 2010, 5-channel sound and aluminum sound map. A commission of Creative Time, Friends of the High Line, and City of New York Parks and Recreation. Photo by Stephen Vitiello. Courtesy of the artist and American Contemporary, New York.
SV I didn’t study art in college. I was in the band Crazy Sunday with Gregory Crewdson and Tom Burkhardt, and almost all of my friends were artists, but I didn’t envision myself as an artist at the time. I think I ended up with a gallery—The Project, in 2000—because I wasn’t looking for one. After years of creating soundtracks for other artists, in the late ’90s I started to present installations and apply for studio residencies. Still, I wasn’t moving with any definite vision; I was just feeling my way forward. When Christian Haye from The Project came for my first studio visit, he was three hours late.
I was so mad when he finally arrived that I told him I had nothing to show or play for him anyway. Weirdly, that dysfunctional beginning led to nine years of representation. How did you first start to show in galleries?
SR I had my first solo show in 1985, while still an undergrad, in a record store called Texas in Santa Monica, CA. After grad school, I was in several artist-curated shows in places like empty storefronts or people’s living rooms. Representation came maybe five years later through a friend who knew someone who was opening a gallery. I was with them from 1994–1997 but I left under very bad circumstances. I thought I’d never work within a commercial gallery context again. I didn’t show for five years and no one in LA would touch my work. Then, in 2003, I was invited by Rebecca McGrew to do a show at the Pomona College Museum of Art. At the same time, I was offered a very small project show with Susanne Vielmetter, whom I’ve been working with ever since. Both shows were reviewed, and while my career didn’t really change at that moment, it was the first time that critics and the “in crowd” started to look more seriously at my work. More importantly, it was the beginning of my relationship with Susanne’s gallery, and that certainly changed the course of my career.
SV The first New York solo show I was offered was at a tiny gallery in the East Village called Gaga. Beverly Semmes introduced me to the gallery owner. He said he couldn’t spend a month listening to a sound piece, but I could have a show if I’d also be the gallery sitter. I said no.
I had my first solo show at the Texas Gallery in Houston. Fredericka Hunter, who runs the gallery, encouraged me to step carefully into the art world and suggested I stay as far as possible from making things that could easily be commodified. Soon after, someone at Creative Capital encouraged me to look to non-art spaces and avoid the gallery world altogether. It was smart advice, but back then I wasn’t sure how to make such a thing happen. That said, I was excited when I started to show with The Project, partly because it seemed to suggest a career path, but even more so because they had such great artists: Julie Mehretu, Paul Pfeiffer, María Elena González, and William Pope L., to name a few. It was like entering into a long-term, well-curated group show. But those early suggestions had a lot of value because the projects I’ve felt most fulfilled by in the last four years—at the High Line, MASS MoCA, and a project with John Kaldor in Australia—have been commissions about sound’s engagement with architecture. They still end up connecting to an art audience, but through a relationship with structures, rather than by my making things that fit into white boxes. I’m not critical of that way of working; it just hasn’t been the most successful for me. I favor unusual or problematic spaces. I feel most inspired when there’s something to respond to—it can be a room’s strange acoustic quality, for example. When faced with the clean slate of a traditional gallery or museum space, I find less to speak to than when given a triangular-shaped room or a place where sound needs to engage not only with a public but also with the potentially unpredictable interactions of nature or machines. Now I work with American Contemporary, but it’s been years since I did a show there.
I generally connect with your gallery work but it’s also often the ephemeral pieces that excite me most—the small speakers, cardboard, and paint. I’m thinking of when books are like butterflies (2008) and fulgurites (2004), or the architectural model where you crafted something from paper or cardboard and sticks as a sketch for a larger piece. Some of those works will probably be a nightmare for future registrars, but one feels and hears their fragility and experiencing that is important.
Stephen Vitiello, installation view of All Those Vanished Engines, 2011, 19-channel audio with text by Paul Park, open seasonally through 2016. A commission by MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA. Photos by Naoko Wowsugi. Courtesy of the artist and American Contemporary, New York.
SR I don’t really see these materials—cardboard, plaster wrap, or cheap speakers—as ephemeral, but rather as coming out of things like Arte Povera.
It is much more appealing to tinker with scotch tape and cardboard, since they are immediate. I want to be able to make work with whatever is at hand. I paint in oils on linen with aluminum stretchers too, and that stuff is not cheap. It’s more about which materials will function best in each situation. I want the work to feel human and vulnerable, so the materials should reflect that. In your case, the materials are truly ephemeral—light and sound—and therefore relatively unconventional for a commercial gallery. I have the opposite problem; the breadth of my practice has caused some confusion. My first painting show outside of the US was in Italy, but because in Europe I work with sound a lot more, the opening was packed with sound geeks. Some people were convinced that a different Steve Roden had made the paintings!
I’m still very excited about how each medium offers me a different experience as a maker. The ideas, resonances, or conceptual processes are not medium-specific. In 2008 I had a breakthrough when I used a musical score that I found in a box in my grandmother’s garage to develop an entire body of work. I figured out various ways in which the score might generate paintings, collages, a film, sculpture, several sound pieces, and new scores. My process is really about interpretation—I am constantly reinterpreting seemingly finite information. In this case, the seven notes of the scale and the order of those notes in the score determined color choices, lengths of lines, the visual application of collage elements, the number of parts and their colors and lengths, the speed of a hand-drawn film, etcetera. It’s not as rigid as it sounds . . . I’m using the score or rules as triggers for intuitive actions, and I break my own rules.
SV We were both in the Silence show at the Menil Collection (and then at the Berkeley Art Museum). We’ve both been in lots of sound shows where the common thread is technology. This show was based on Cage’s notions of silence and its connection to the visual arts. My piece translated light frequencies into sound, and used audible frequencies of light and occasional sounds from the environment outside the museum, to generate a very quiet ongoing composition. It’s my only interactive work. At the Menil, there were two solar cells mounted in homemade parabolas on the wall. On the opposite wall and in the floorboards, there were speakers. The piece was positioned next to a wonderful window. The sunlight affected the sound of the piece, as did the 120-cycle hum from the gallery lighting. As visitors came into the field of the solar cells’ vision, they also cast audible shadows: flutters and sonic bumps. An added factor was a Bruce Nauman neon piece in an adjoining room that would turn on and off. The reflection of light and the rhythm of the Nauman became co-opted by my system and added a buzz of electricity to the mix.
SR One of the best aspects of the show was that silence was very present—even in works like your own, which generated sound. It moved away from a white monochrome model to a much more interesting conversation. That I was able to show large colorful paintings, a sculpture with fluorescent Plexiglas, and 365 × 433 suggests that silence can be complicated and sometimes messy.
SV I used to try to cover so much when someone would ask, “What do you do?” Now, I just focus on one part of what I do, so that I’ll keep the person’s interest, and so my response might meet social conventions. Once a doctor asked me what I did and I said I was a sound artist. He misheard me, as often happens, and talked for the longest time with great enthusiasm about why he loved “sand art.” It was sad to have to finally interrupt and correct him. Then there’s the issue of visual consistency. I remember a gallery owner visiting me in the World Trade Center and asking, “What’s your thing? Christian Marclay does records. What do you do?” I was very proud to say, “I listen to buildings.” She wasn’t impressed.
I think of what our friend in Ireland, Mick O’Shea, once told me. He said that if he brings his gallery a drawing, they price it at 1000 Euros, but if it’s a drawing that comes with a sound element (a CD of sounds he created while drawing, for example), they price it at 400 Euros.
SR I might’ve told you before that every time I call my mom to tell her about an exhibition or event the first thing she asks is, “Is it art or music?” I keep telling her they’re the same thing.
SV The Silence show was a highlight, and also the concert with you at the Rothko Chapel in Houston. That was a case of listening to a building, listening to paintings, and also listening to each other. You initiated the discussions for that performance with the idea of playing with recordings of silence, and in particular, silence on vinyl records that would add the element of surface noise. In the end, the recordings we used varied from a recording of John Cage’s 4’33’‘ to a record of a Marcel Marceau performance. We were both affected by the way those sounds functioned in the Rothko Chapel, but we were also very aware of how the physical presence of the paintings alters one’s emotional interaction with anything that goes on in that space.
Collaboration comes up fairly often for both of us. In music it’s not unusual to consider collaboration, but for someone with a studio practice it’s not the obvious choice.
SR When you work with people with whom you have a history, like we have done, there is a pretty clear understanding of each other’s sensibilities. Then there is the random adventure of suddenly working with folks you don’t know very well. In that case the value lies in the actual experience, and the results seem to be less important to me. Our collaboration at the Rothko Chapel was an entirely different animal. It was a dream gig, which made it feel a bit overwhelming from the get-go. It was not so much about learning as it was about simply being in the moment, since that experience will never happen again.
One of the most important collaborations for me consisted of meeting with Simone Forti, and at times Rae Shao-Lan Blum, once a week for nearly a year. We never planned ahead nor spoke much, but we improvised sound with acoustic objects, and moved around the space— sometimes like animals, sometimes like dancers, and sometimes like people.
I came to know Simone as a kind of Zen master—she would suggest a simple action or idea that would provoke me. She has a knack for talking about something that seems relatively insignificant but which then slowly begins to grow inside you.
One afternoon, at the end of one of these improvisations, we were talking about writing and Simone casually invited me to do a reading with her and Anne Tardos. I thought, Are you crazy? You want me to do my first public reading ever of my own writing with you and Anne Tardos? A few weeks later, there I was in front of a small audience at Beyond Baroque, reading for 15 minutes in a nervous wobbly voice while sweat rolled down my face. Later, writing became an integral part of my practice. We all need someone to provoke us.
SV I had a similar experience. In 1998, I met Pauline Oliveros in Germany and asked if I could study with her. She said, “No, you’ll perform with me and Joe McPhee next week in New York.” It was a scary way to perform one of my first improvised concerts. Pauline and Joe are both brilliant improvisers who are uniquely perceptive to all of the sounds around them. To perform with them encouraged me to trust in the potential of spontaneity.
I like collaborating when, as you describe with Simone, someone pushes you to take chances. I’m careful, though, and try to understand the terms from the beginning: Am I making something with someone, or for that person? In the past I did a lot of music for visual artists. Often the sound was for the image, and thus, secondary. Julie Mehretu asked me to collaborate on a project in 2006, and I was happy that she wanted to work as equals. We spent ten days together at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. I brought some unedited sound elements with me and started to play them for Julie. As she listened, she began a large wall drawing. As she drew, I modified the sounds in response to her drawing, which had elements of a graphic score for me. We had a sculptural element too—a line of speakers that were suspended throughout the space.
Collaboration is also a social outlet for me. I moved from NYC to Virginia nine years ago. It’s harder and harder to retain friendships, partly because of distance, and partly because of age and circumstance. Collaborating with someone will put us in touch.
Most of my concerts and CDs in recent years have been collaborative, while the majority of my installations have been solo projects. But you and I created an installation in Marfa in 2008 (for The Marfa Projects, organized by Ballroom Marfa), and now we’re working together on Governor’s Island. This installation involves a journey for those who take the ferry out to get to the chapel where the piece is installed. We’ve created sounds in the space and amplified what many might consider ambient or incidental sounds.
A lot of the installations I’ve made are site-specific and, generally, not repeated. So many considerations go into the design that they don’t usually fit into another box. When I created A Bell For Every Minute for the High Line in 2010, for instance, I didn’t know if it would ever be presented anywhere else. The piece was there for a year. Recently Barbara London approached me about presenting A Bell at MoMA, as part of the show Soundings: A Contemporary Score that opens in August, and although I was thrilled, I didn’t think it would work in a museum black box. We spoke about various spaces and agreed on the Sculpture Garden. I’m hoping that there will be a similar harmony between the bells and the sculptures, the noise of 54th Street, and the timed interruptions of the bells ringing every minute.
You have two solo shows opening in September. Do you want to talk about them some?
Steve Roden and Stephen Vitiello, installation view of from perfect cubes to broken trains…, 2008, solar powered multi-channel sound piece and listening station, Marfa, TX. Commissioned by Ballroom Marfa for the Marfa Sessions. Photo by Stephen Vitiello. Courtesy of the artists.
SR Everything I’m working on now began in 2006 during a visit to Berlin. A friend invited me to see an exhibition of Walter Benjamin’s notebooks. Since I don’t speak or read German, the notebooks felt like drawings. As I began to notice various graphic decisions—symbols, colors, notations—the whole thing resonated deeply. I wouldn’t let my friend decipher what we were looking at, and I felt a need to spend time with this material. Initially, my research proposals caused a bit of anger because I wanted to work with the notes of one of the most important philosophers of the last century, and I was unable to read them. Amazingly, in 2011, the DAAD and Singuhr–Hörgalerie managed to get me a research residency for five weeks at the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, where the Benjamin archives are housed. I ended up looking at a lot of scribbly lines and built an archive of Benjamin’s various graphic decisions—the way he crossed out his mistakes or how he used colored ticks as a system and organizational principle, for instance. I looked at what was left of his childhood postcard collection and also the theme symbols from the Arcades Project notes. In early 2012, I created my first works from that research: an eight-channel sound work using the theme symbols as a graphic score, shown in Berlin, and a large three-channel video/sound projection at LACE in Los Angeles. The works for the upcoming shows are an attempt to continue to reinterpret that information and generate paintings, drawings, sound, and sculpture.
SV We began talking about the music we listened to when we were younger and how it’s informed the work that we each do now. I had an emotional connection to the bands and songs that I loved; they meant so much to me at the time.
I still seek out new music constantly, but the emotional connection comes more often from environmental sounds and the process of recording, often with friends. You and I shared an experience last week on the ferry back from Governor’s Island: as the ferry was idling, I had my recorder out. I was hoping I could get the sound of the ship’s horn when leaving port. The moment came and the sound was beautiful—loud and clear and resonant. We could hear the sound reflect off the water. Then a second ship surprised us by responding from somewhere else in the harbor. The call and response made the moment magical. - bombsite.com/

Watch a video of Roden and Vitiello’s 2013 collaboration on Governor’s Island.

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