It’s been almost exactly a year since I posted one of the brief videos of the artist Zimoun’s tactile, economical, kinetic sculptures, sculptures whose impact — humorous, touching, majestic — is so out of proportion with the modest material from which they are constructed. Here’s a new one, posted today. A short video such as this is how Zimoun announces a newly installed work. Its title, as is generally the case for Zimoun, is little more than a list of the components, here “51 prepared dc-motors, 189 m rope, cardboard sticks 30 cm,” followed by the year of production: “2019.” The footage is a view from the Museum of Contemporary Art MAC, Santiago de Chile. And it’s not even 40 seconds long.
Vimeo, unlike YouTube, doesn’t have an easy way to allow for looped, repeated viewing, but you’ll be drawn in and hitting repeat almost for certain. Watch as the tiny cardboard sticks dance around in circles, suspended like the most rudimentary conception of a marionette. Their balletic footsteps suggest Amazonian rainfall: cardboard drops on a cold concrete floor.
Part of the beauty of Zimoun’s videos is how the sound is and isn’t in sync with what we see. The video cuts from one view to another: a closeup, giving us a sense of the mechanisms, a fuller one to give a sense of scale, a room view for sense of scope. Throughout the cardboard raindrops fall.
Video originally posted at vimeo.com. More from Zimoun, who is based in Bern, Switzerland, at zimoun.net.
Awhile back I began collating a YouTube playlist of live ambient performances. The assortment, now numbering well over 100, quickly took shape as a collection of videos in which the techniques of the performer were evident to the viewer. The idea was to locate and celebrate instances of the action required by the performer to accomplish the seeming inaction — the stasis, the aesthetic limbo, the attenuated sonic pause — that so much ambient music telegraphs.
In time, the definition of “performance” expanded — well, it didn’t so much “expand” as that the word’s interior features became more detailed. Nothing as the playlist of included videos proceeded contradicted earlier interpretations of “live performance.”
This video, from an installation by Marcus Fischer, pushes the definition further, while staying true to the initial curatorial impulse. The audio is one take, while the video is a collation of elements. In other circumstances, that disconnect might be an issue, but here it makes perfect sense. The installation, titled “Multiples,” was set up at Variform in Portland, Oregon, last month, in a show curated by Patricia Wolf. The core of it is an array of naked speaker cones, each containing fragile little seed pods. The speakers both emanate sound and, as a result of the vibrations resulting from that sound, rattle the seed pods, each a tiny, nature-made maraca. We hear both the melty drone of the music and the waves of percussion that accompany it, and we experience the correlation between the two.
The causality between visual and sonic instance is less necessary here than in other sorts of live performance, because what we’re witnessing is more a system at work than a performance. If you watch a video of a train and hear audio of a train, even if the two weren’t sourced at the same time, you get that they are both simply moments in a much larger system, something that couldn’t be documented in full. Likewise, here we get the high-fidelity rendering of the audio, and the glimpses of the various facets that make it run.
As the video shows, there is still more at work than those speakers, including the reel-to-reel machine on which the audio is unspooling, and at least one additional seedpod hanging midair, still affixed to a branch, not to mention the full geometry of the work, which sets a visual stage for the sounds we are hearing. Above the speaker array is a series of parallel fluorescent bulbs, a grow-room aesthetic suggesting artificial light for artificial life.
A new glimpse of an installation piece by the artist Zimoun is always a cause for attention. His work often achieves a mix — a contrast, more to the point — of sizable dimensions and aesthetic intimacy. This balance is thanks to his frequent combination of inexpensive materials and the lulling repetition of speedy mechanical activities. The effect, as witnessed here, is a robot lullaby at an industrial scale.
This work, a video document of which appeared in the past week, consists of “99 prepared dc-motors, felt balls, 297 m steel wire, 2018” (such is, in effect, the title of the work — a plainness that matches the materials). The result is a mix of fierce geometry and sympathetic droning, of rapid motion amid an otherwise static field.
The vertical lines are like grid-minded painter Agnes Martin paying tribute to Richard Lippold’s wire sculptures. The base is like the structure of one of Bruce Nauman’s fluorescent bulbs — which emit their own drone byproduct — repurposed as a support mechanism. The video lasts just 46 seconds, seen from various angles. It’s intriguing to consider whether the audio perfectly matches the image, or if it even matters, given the mechanical nature of the proceedings and the extremely narrow — imperceptible, likely — range of variation therein. And then you hit repeat.
Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media
• February 5, 2020: The first session of the 15-week course I teach at the Academy of Art about the role of sound in the media landscape.
• April 15, 2020: A chapter on the Disquiet Junto ("The Disquiet Junto as an Online Community of Practice," by Ethan Hein) appears in the forthcoming book The Oxford Handbook of Social Media and Music Learning (Oxford University Press), edited by Stephanie Horsley, Janice Waldron, and Kari Veblen. (Details at oup.com.)
• December 13, 2020: This day marks the 24th anniversary of Disquiet.com.
• January 7, 2021: This day marks the 9th anniversary of the start of the Disquiet Junto music community.
• There are entries on the Disquiet Junto in the forthcoming book The Music Production Cookbook: Ready-made Recipes for the Classroom (Oxford University Press), edited by Adam Patrick Bell. Ethan Hein wrote one, and I did, too.
• At least two live group concerts by Disquiet Junto members in the San Francisco Bay Area are in the works for 2020.
• I have liner notes for a musician's solo album and an essay in a book about an art event due out. I'll announce as the release dates come into focus.
• The Disquiet Junto series of weekly communal music projects explore constraints as a springboard for creativity and productivity. There is a new project each Thursday afternoon (California time), and it is due the following Monday at 11:59pm: disquiet.com/junto.
Since January 2012, the Disquiet Junto has been an ongoing weekly collaborative music-making community that employs creative constraints as a springboard for creativity. Subscribe to the announcement list (each Thursday), listen to tracks by participants from around the world, read the FAQ, and join in.