LINE_052 | CD + Digital | Edition of 500 | October 2011
LINE is proud to present Proximities the first solo recording by Steve Roden on the label since 2005’s critically acclaimed release, Airforms.
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.
Steve Roden is a visual and sound artist from los angeles. his work includes painting, drawing, sculpture, film/video, sound installation, and performance.
Roden’s working process uses various forms of specific notation (words, musical scores, maps, etc.) and translates them through self invented systems into scores; which then influence the process of painting, drawing, sculpture, and sound composition. These scores, rigid in terms of their parameters and rules, are also full of holes for intuitive decisions and left turns. The process allows Roden’s inspirational sources to become a kind of formal skeleton that the abstract finished works are built upon.
In his sound works, singular source materials such as objects, architectural spaces, and field recordings, are abstracted through humble electronic processes to create new audio spaces, or ‘possible landscapes’. The soundworks present themselves with an aesthetic Roden describes as “lowercase” – sound concerned with subtlety and the quiet activity of listening.
Roden received a BFA from Otis Art Institute in 1982, and an MFA from Art Center College of Design in 1989. From 1979-82, he was the lead singer of the Los Angeles punk band Seditionaries. He has been exhibiting his visual and sound works since the mid 1980’s, and has had numerous exhibitions internationally, including: Susanne Vielmetter LA and Berlin Projects, Studio La Citta Gallery (Verona, Italy), the Mercosur Biennial Porto Alegre (Brazil), Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris), MCASD (San Diego), UCLA Hammer Museum (Los Angeles), Museum of Contemporary Art EMST (Athens), and the Singuhr-Horgalerie in Parochial (Berlin). Performances include: the Serpentine Gallery (London), the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Walker Art Gallery, the DCA (Dundee, Scotland), Redcat Theater (Los Angeles).
Roden has also released over 20 cds of audio works on labels worldwide under his own name, as well as in be tween noise.
Recent & upcoming projects include: Steve Roden: in between, a 20 year survey at the Armory Center for the Arts (Pasadena California), curated byHoward Fox, a sound piece for the Palais de Tokyo website, a performance of John Cage’s Cartridge Music with Mark Trayle at the Norton Simon Museum, group exhibitions at the Sculpture Center and CRG Gallery (NY), an installation for Daniel Libeskind’s new building for the University of Hong Kong, and a book project, i listen to the wind that obliterates my traces, published by Dust to Digital.
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.
... 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, The Netherlands)
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.
Alvin Lucier sentó un importante paradigma creativo: I Am Sitting In A Room, su pieza más sonada, implicaba por vez primera al espacio como una piedra fundamental en el proceso de registro sonoro. En la obra, el músico estadounidense leía un texto que indicaba lo siguiente:
“I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have”.
Así, las repeticiones de lo grabado, en el espacio, creaban las disonancias suficientes como para enamorar e hipnotizar al escucha. El trabajo pasó de entonces a la historia.
Proximities, de Steve Roden, es un proyecto en consecuencia a lo planteado por Lucier. Con un sintetizador viejo se musicalizaron algunas piezas del escultor minimalista Donald Judd, registradas por aparatos distintos. Después, las máquinas fueron sonadas en el mismo espacio, grabándolas de nuevo. Todo sonido accidental fue incluído en la pieza única del disco, que ronda los 40 minutos.
Los resultados, si bien menos emocionantes y claros que los de Lucier, gozan de mayor hermosura; son tonos quietos y extendidos, creadores de ambientes muy básicos como los del primer Eno. En ningún momento se nota el ambiente físico en donde se grabaron (a menos que se lea la explicación del proyecto), y la meditación tonal lograda por Roden cabe recalcarse por la sencillez de sus recursos: es una idea sencilla, escueta, que nos dota mucho.
Por lo mismo, el disco cumple una función fundamental en el arte: economizar. Aquel que logra mucho con lo poco debe de celebrarse, el disco que tratamos como buen ejemplo. No cambiará de manera radical nuestra forma de escuchar otros ambientes, Lucien de por medio, ni revolucionará al mundo de la experimentación sonora, pero de un gesto muy breve y simple se ha logrado armar un disco bien hecho.
De ahí que la recomendación valga.
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.
J’avais aimé de Steve Roden Four Possible Landscapes et Angel High Wires, sa collaboration avec Martin Archer et Geraldine Monk, deux disques sortis sous la même étiquette (Trente Oiseaux). Depuis, je n’étais pas retourné à sa musique malgré d’autres collaborations alléchantes (My Cat Is An Alien, Stephen Vitiello…).
Est-ce d’avoir tant attendu ? Me voilà entré tout schuss dans Proximities, une installation accoucheuse de lignes sismico-sonores dont le temps façonne des tresses stupéfiantes. Au son, on croirait des notes de mélodica. En vérité, ce sont des litanies dont l’origine est impossible à déterminer. Pourtant on leur fait confiance et on les laisse nous bercer gentiment. Doué pour remplir n’importe quel espace de sons fabuleux, Steve Roden peut même s’attaquer à la décoration de votre intérieur, par musique interposée.
(le son du grisli)
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, Italy)
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... 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.
-Wherein Tietchens takes pieces he's done in the past and "recycles" them, subjecting them to some kinds of iterative processes and presenting the 10th iteration of eight works on this recording. He asks, "Confronted with the variety of the results I ask myself: Is it really necessary to create further new electronic music if only one piece as a nucleus is sufficient to derive hundreds and hundreds of different distinct individual variants?" Well, I've no idea about the general question and don't know Tietchen's prior work nearly well enough to discern whether the results here are as rich as the originals or offer glimpses that they didn't, so I can only take these at face value. The music ranges from pieces with echoes of 60s tape collage to sparer, spacier works like "p1" that contain (refreshingly) too many gasps to ooze into anything too Eno-esque. Elsewhere, one almost has a sense of reworked field recordings, which may well be the case. The music is slippery in an odd way, giving hints of form and structure but quickly evaporating. It doesn't leave a strong image in my memory, but a pleasant enough tinge, like a blurred photo.
(just outside, US)
Quarante-deux minutes pour un grand disque de drone/ambient. Il n’y a pas grand-chose à dire sinon que ce Proximities de Steve Roden fonctionne à merveille, et ce, dès les premières écoutes. Enregistré à partir d’un iPhone et de vieux dictaphones posés à même le sol d’une pièce à haute résonnance, cette unique pièce se décalque lentement en résonances cycliques et en mélodies épisodiques – quand ce ne sont pas des voix qui murmurent au loin. Un grain qui respire énormément et qui fait rentrer la lumière de manière progressive, toujours en s’assurant d’insister suffisamment sur des thèmes musicaux, une sorte de champ lexical en somme, cohérents. Histoire d’imprimer cette longue piste de manière définitive dans nos cerveaux. Un grand disque, qui se passe d’explications au final.
(Off The Radar)
A veteran sound and visual artist from Los Angeles, Steve Roden recently spent some time as artist-in-residence at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, where I assume the light is very big and very intense. Minimalist sculptor Donald Judd, an artist for whom site dictates form, began buying up property and buildings in rural Marfa back in the seventies, putting his stamp on the town and the town on the map. He eventually created the Foundation to oversee the works.
A sequence of tones is played and recorded on cheap equipment by Roden in an army barracks containing fifty stainless steel sculptures. As the sun comes up, it acts on both the light and the temperature within. Processes interplay with self, temperature – it actually sounds humid and stippled like an iguana's hide—space and the inanimate things occupying space.
As at-home listening, Proximities is an ambient companion with an authoritative presence. It's a patient piece which long sounds akin to Brian Eno's Neroli but slowly morphs into something quite a bit more layered and nuanced.