Meet Yan Jun

I was so pleased to have a good friend from China, the Beijing-based sound artist Yan Jun 颜峻, visiting us in Boston for a few days last week. He had stayed with me before in Shanghai, and I think he’s about the sweetest houseguest I’ve ever had. He’s in the US for a few months doing a residency in New York and a bunch of other shows across the nation, and he had a few days to pop up to Boston to perform with me at Outpost 186 (part of the Living Room Music series organized by saxophonist Michael Dobiel) and Whitehaus Family Record. Some documentation is up on Flickr.

Yan Jun at Outpost 186

You can check out Yan Jun’s busy concert itinerary on his blog. He recently played a bunch of shows in the Bay Area with the likes of Fred Frith (they had previously played together at the Sally Can’t Dance festival at Beijing’s D-22 last year) and Bob Ostertag. Next month he heads to Illinois and Ohio, where he’ll be joined two other veteran experimental Chinese artists on select dates. Li Jianhong 李剑鸿 is the organizer of the 2Pi Festival in Hangzhou, which I played in 2006 (and I am always happy to draw attention to the arduous translation I did of his account of his 2006 Japan tour). Wang Fan 王凡, one of Chinese underground experimental music’s earliest pioneers, was part of the Fuzhou leg of the Mini Midi Festival in which I also participated last May.

Afterall recently published this interview with Yan Jun, describing him as “the invisible glue holding together the Chinese experimental music scene,” and I’d say that’s pretty apt. In addition to his own performing, he’s an active organizer of events (at venues including UCCA, D-22, the long-running Waterland Kwanyin weekly event at 2 Kolegas, and the Mini Midi experimental stage of Beijing’s sprawling annual Midi Festival) and publisher of CD’s (Waterland Kwanyin, Subjam). He’s also an accomplished writer, with several books of poetry and a fair amount of criticism to his credit. He used to write about experimental music for Rolling Stone in China; a long time ago, to help me with my Chinese study, I set myself the task of translating his review of a new Ronez CD, and I developed a firsthand appreciation for his dense and literary style. (My post also includes my brief history of Rolling Stone magazine in China, if you’re curious.)

YanJun & Ben at Outpost 186

These days he often plays with feedback in his live sets, pointing a shotgun mic at small speakers with objects placed on them, running the signal through an array of stompboxes. I’ve also seen him incorporate spoken word, field recordings, and found objects into his performances and recordings. He’s done a bunch of installation work, too, including a piece called Wormhole Trip at The Shop in Beijing about a year ago (discussed in this Wire article), which involved contact micing all the pipes and ventilation in the space, with rich, resonant results. While he was in Boston, he gave me some of his new music, including a beautiful group recording called Big Can 大罐 made in a huge, abandoned cistern in Zhujiajiao (just outside of Shanghai), Deep Listening Band style, featuring Yan Jun, Hong Qile 洪启乐, Otomo Yoshihide 大友良英, Sachiko M, Yang Ge 杨戈, Xiao Qiang 小强 (Yang Ge’s wife), GOGOJ, Zhao Junyuan 照骏园 and others.

For more on Yan Jun, check out his blog and SoundCloud pages.

I think I first met Yan Jun at the 2Pi Festival in 2005, the same time I met Marqido (now of 10), Li Jianhong, and my good pal Yang Ge, among others. I don’t actually remember if Yan Jun performed that year, but I do remember that when we all went out to dinner afterwards, he was the natural leader, ordering food for two tables (note that ordering food for a large group of people is as refined an art form in China as calligraphy), and providing my first opportunity to taste warm Chinese yellow wine with ginger slices. As I recall, the first time we ever performed together was in early 2008, when we were both attending a NOIShanghai show at the now defunct Live Bar in Shanghai. Organizer Junky (of Torturing Nurse) asked if we wanted to do something, so we responded with an impromptu vocal duet, partially documented below. Since then we’ve collaborated on a performance of Christian Marclay’s Screen Play at the Shanghai eArts Festival, and Yan Jun invited me to join in the 2010 Mini Midi Festival tour he organized in Shanghai, Zhujiajiao, and around Fujian province.

Both shows last week were musically successful and a lot of fun, with good audience turnouts to boot. At Outpost we set up a 4 channel system so that I could present Lukou 路口 and the concert debut of the audio component of my Self-Portrait installation. To keep people on their toes, I also did two Jay Chou 周杰伦 songs, with Michael Dobiel joining in on saxophone. Yan Jun and I also reprised our vocal improv duet, which has become a staple of ours whenever we do a show together.

Veteran Boston area performer Vic Rawlings (cello and electronics) joined us for the Whitehaus show, and his duo set with Yan Jun was the week’s highlight for me, a perfect combination, subtle, austere, serene. Whitehaus resident Atom opened with four miniatures involving spinning jar lids, harmonica, coins, and bowed metal. I presented Kaleidoscope Music, probably the best rendition I’ve ever done live; wish I had recorded it! The original installation version uses a live microphone feed, but I generally find that problematic in live performance due to the risk of feedback, so here (as at Opensound last month) my solution has been to record some sounds from around the venue prior to the show and use that as the basis for my real-time filtering. In this case I captured some pre-show chatter about Stockhausen’s late work, and my set ended with my voice pronouncing the word “awesome” in sextuplicate.

Yan Jun, Vic, Atom, Ben @ Whitehaus

It was also wonderful spending time with Yan Jun between gigs. I’ve barely been in Somerville four months now, and this was my first chance to play tour guide in my new environs. We checked out the Olafur Eliasson show going up at Harvard GSD (where Jutta’s working on her master’s; I’m not sure if I’ve made this clear in previous posts) and browsed various Harvard Square book and CD shops (I restrained myself from making any purchases, but Yan Jun picked up Ligeti’s string quartets, part of that Sony Classical series). I took him to see John Luther Adams’s Veils and Vesper sound installation at Harvard’s Arts @ Garden 29, the fantastic Stan Vanderbeek show at the MIT Media Lab (he picked up Nic Collins and John Cage books at the MIT Press bookstore), and then we hopped across the river to the ICA (unfortunately the fantastic Mark Bradford show had just closed, but there was enough of their collection on display, plus Gabriel Kuri, to keep our attention, not to mention the fine Diller Scofidio + Renfro building itself, on a fine, cusp of spring day). For our hardcore sonic diversion one evening we checked out one of the fine, free NEC concerts, a program of Britten, Nielsen, and Sibelius. I cooked him burritos and Brussels sprouts and omelets. But mostly it was just good to catch up, to hear what our friends are up to, to kick the tires on my Chinese, and to see a familiar face from my former home of six years. Who knows where, but I hope our paths cross again soon!

Departure from The Point of Departure

As I’m getting settled in on the other side of the planet, I’ve had a little time to upload some documentation of my ongoing (through Dec. 5!) show at True Color Museum in Suzhou.

First, in case you missed it, here’s the original press release and various placards and annotations. See also my original treatment and mockup.

The show got a lot of good notice in the press. Check out Tom Mangione’s feature in the Global Times on my residency at True Color and recent work, Jake Newby’s near eulogy that kind of made me cry a little bit, and these fond farewells in SmartShanghai and Shanghaiist.

I’ve also got a bunch of pictures from the show, the opening party, and my residency up on Flickr.

And I’ve got some video of the main installation itself up here, but be warned that a video clip doesn’t do justice to the scale and spaciousness of the final work.

Self-Portrait, Dusk, at the Point of Departure (live footage) from Ben Houge on Vimeo.

It’s my largest installation to date, and to a greater extent than any previous piece, it relies on a large space for its full effect, so the experience of watching a small, single channel video can’t describe the impact of the piece on-site. When you’re there in the very reverberant room, you’re enveloped by resonant sound. The screens are spaced out such that you can’t easily take them all in at once. You have to kind of unhinge your eyes a bit, so that you’re not looking at the image on any particular screen so much as the relationships and changes across screens; this multiplicity is an integral aspect of the piece. In addition to the technical breakthroughs (at least for me), which included a real-time color correction system and a scheme for networked troubleshooting and balancing, this piece marks a milestone in my use of video as a sculptural element in a larger composition, rather than serving as the totality of the canvas itself.

Most of my pieces are of an experimental nature (“What is the nature of an experimental action? It is simply an action the outcome of which is not foreseen.” –John Cage), which means they necessarily evolve quite a bit from original idea to final outcome. What’s striking to me about this piece is how close it turned out to my original conception, below.

Self-Portrait, Dusk, at the Point of Departure from Ben Houge on Vimeo.

In the process of escorting the piece from concept to final installation, some additional ideas and associations emerged. One is the format of the piece, originally intended to evoke the banks of departure monitors at an airport, but which of course also evokes a bank of security monitors, all somewhat unsettlingly trained on the same subject. Feeling the piece in its final form, I was really struck at how much it really creates a portal to another space, like there’s a magical wormhole connecting southern Suzhou and suburban St. Paul. A visiting artist friend also pointed out that the tree branches standing in stark silhouette cannot help but evoke traditional Chinese ink painting in a city with a history like Suzhou’s, where the many gardens are full of literati in training, sketching away.

The exhibition’s opening event went great. Basically, I invited all the musicians I wanted to hear one last time before leaving the country (Yao Dajuin 姚大钧 performing his rich, slowly cresting Dream Reverberations; Wang Changcun 王长存, with a masterful set of algorithmic counterpoint; and Xu Cheng 徐程, exploring modulating oscillators), and they all played exceptional sets. The same day, there was an opening at the I. M. Pei-designed Suzhou Museum of works on loan from the San Diego Museum of Art (a fine show I had a chance to check out a few days later; John Sennhauser’s Syncrophormic #18-Horizontal Duo blew me away!), but the museum chairman Chen Hanxing 陈翰星 said that the turnout at our show was better!

It’s possible that I will look back on this time in Suzhou as some of the happiest days of my life. For years I’d been longing for just the kind of hermetic retreat this residency afforded me, to be isolated in an environment where I could focus on work and study. In addition to putting this show together and constructing my Self-Portrait installation, I worked on songs for my upcoming CD release Shanghai Travelogue (next step: taking the stems to my pal Mike’s place near Seattle in early 2011 to mix!), getting caught up on Chinese study (now I’m just shy of 3000 characters), and other miscellaneous writing, reading, composing (sketches for at least two future pieces), and documentation. It was a productive, peaceful, and idyllic time; if anything, I wish I could have taken better advantage of the situation, without having to pop into Shanghai so often or taking most of the month of August to tour Germany.

Here’s a very informal tour of the museum and my exhibition that I recorded in the fleeting moments before I left Suzhou:

The Point of Departure/True Color Museum Tour from Ben Houge on Vimeo.

My friend Maya Kramer was the first foreign artist to do a residency at True Color (and I am in awe of her fortitude; she came in cold from the US, first time in China, not speaking a lick of Chinese, immediately sequestered to the outskirts of Suzhou, and totally thrived). She warned me that it would be lonely sometimes, but I remember several weekend evenings realizing that I was the only person in this huge building, and feeling nothing but contentment in my rooftop retreat. The only kink was when, about halfway through my residency, the cook who had been providing me with 3 square (if somewhat homogenous) meals/day got fired, and from that point on foraging for food became a challenge in this remote location; for the last 3 months of my residency, I subsisted on bananas, mooncakes (the Chinese equivalent of fruitcake, very solid food), and green tea.

The museum’s commitment to art is serious. The previous big group show last summer at the museum was vast, and really good. I don’t know how many people saw it, but almost certainly fewer than should have. The show was called “中国性 Nature of China: Contemporary Art Documenta.” Maybe it’s a little goofy to review a show that’s already been taken down, but I thought I’d go ahead and post my notes from that exhibition, quick blurbs about artists whose work I dug, or who at least provoked me in some way.

王岩 Wang Yan
Big, polluted, industrial landscapes
Dark and Kieferesque

施慧 Shi Hui
Big papier-mâché (or some such technique) stools/drums
Nice environmental installation, with a dialog between some drums arranged haphazardly on the ground and others suspended from the ceiling

马晗 Ma Han
Went to construction sites and ground sand from various kinds of rubble
Affixed this sand to canvas to make earth-hued, Barnett Newman-style horizontal zips, nice texture
Sand was also lined up in jars, perhaps overly documented with photographs, but gets the idea across
Same artist also did a huge flock of starched black and white shirts hanging from the ceiling
Also did these weird candied bonsai trees, dripping, lumpy texture, lit from beneath, all made out of tiny people and rice

贺丹 He Dan
Several large paintings, depicting throngs of people in realistic detail, contrasting the stark formal composition of the canvases
Big plane was my favorite, looming ominously and menacingly over the crowd, an alienating display of power and technology
Another painting of crowds carrying red flags was less effective, perhaps a bit jingoistic? Or maybe that was the point

马良 Ma Liang
B&W photographs of miniature figures in fantastical pastoral scenes, evoking historical painting
Incorporating dead fish and chicken, surreal, decay
Chinese calligraphy inscriptions

王强 Wang Qiang
Hollow, woven, suspended clouds, nice effect
Not sure what these were made out of, but some super light material that traced the clouds’ outline
I had a nice view of this piece through the skylight from my quarters upstairs

梁绍基 Liang Shaoji
听蚕 Listening to the Silk Worms
A big dark room that housed several incubators in which silk worms lived their life cycles
Additional pillows with headphones to listen to them, and some videos near the roof, as I recall
Great sound and smell, sad they tossed it after a few days

郑达 Zheng Da
虚拟的肖像
OK, this was the one piece I hated; if you’re going to do a piece that evokes videogames in any sense and fails to achieve excellence, prepare to incur my wrath!
Everything about this was poor
Concept was dumb and blunt: you run around a virtual world with your avatar and click on the things you “want” (material goods, big assumptions), and they explode
Explosions only make sound part of the time, and the sounds are terrible
Explosions are ugly, particles don’t disappear, just hang in space
No life in environment, just some easy flowing water
There’s no game here, it just arbitrarily ends after a while
Bad ergonomics/interface (mouse on a low table in the dark, makes your wrist hurt after a minute)
Bad music loop
Terrible, terrible

王剑 Wang Jian
欲象 Phenomenon of Desire
Abstracted grayscale paintings, bodily forms, ephemeral, evocative
I’m told this guy used to have my studio!
Gestural clarity

幸鑫 Xing Xin
吾与浮冰 Meditation on Floating Ice
Performance event, commenting on carbon emissions, among other things
Head to a glacier at the head of the Yangtze River near Tibet
Collect a piece of ice and take it to the East China Sea to melt
“We hope the audience could try to understand such boring guys like us!”
Car plate issue (had to bypass Shanghai, one of the many ridiculous restrictions on Shanghai life imposed by the Expo)
Accompanying video of him floating down the Yangtze on a bed is cool, though!
More at http://blog.artintern.net/xingxin

杨福东 Yang Fudong
半马索 (2010)
Videos of guys in suits leading donkeys through canyons
Nice, elegiac, typical Yang Fudong
BTW, like me, Yang Fudong also used to work for Ubisoft Shanghai!

Huge sculptures outside
隋建国 Sui Jianguo’s big suspended metal block
Also a car with a rock garden in its hood; didn’t see who that was by

金锋 Jin Feng
Printed scrolls of etched graffiti
Same guy I exhibited with at OV Gallery’s “Make Over” show earlier this year!

刘建华 Liu Jianhua’s large sheets of blank paper, slightly bent, that turn out to be porcelain upon closer inspection
These were super cool

孟涛 Meng Tao’s big canvas of peacocks are striking
He hired some master silk embroiderers to reproduce his painting and suspended them side by side, very nice presentation, stretched out on a loom
Performative documentation unnecessary, as is the fact that he did the original painting in one 24 hour session
(like that Icelandic guy at the Venice biennale…when did painting become performance? Why can’t it just be a practice or a discipline? Are painters feeling so marginalized that they feel they must subject themselves to this awkward artistic rebranding?)

汪建伟 Wang Jianwei
Not sure about his big video: 时间•剧场•展览
This was the weird historical thing, period costumes, bunch of scenes, no dialog, odd nonsequiturs very theatrical (no real set, just presented in a big, dark, black box type space)
But it was projected on a heck of a projector, which I was happy to later use for my Transportation video!

曾晓峰 Zeng Xiaofeng
Creepy dark portraits, faces of animals, weird pseudo-scientific scribbles and props

Farewell for now, True Color!

The Point of The Point of Departure

[中文版本在下面!]

I suppose now’s as good a time as any to unveil the pieces that will be included in my solo exhibition The Point of Departure, which is opening this Saturday, Nov. 6. I just finished finalizing all the text for the placards in the exhibition last night, shared below; there’s a little explanation of each piece and a brief discussion of the point of the departure for the show itself. Enjoy!

I also just added the Chinese translation of the show’s press release to the bottom of this post; sorry not to have that up sooner!

Four days out, and I’d say we’re in pretty good shape. We’re constructing the frame for the big Self-Portrait installation, which I can now confirm is up to 18 channels from the originally advertized 15. I tweaked the sound component of the software yesterday and added some real-time color correction (at first I thought this would be cheating, but I checked, and no it’s not). The rest of the gear should show up later today, and then we just plug everything together and see what happens!

I also pulled my synth-pop set out of mothballs two days ago for the first time since my June 5 show at D-22 in Beijing, and it’s surprisingly rust free. “口口口口口口口口” always gives me some trouble, but I’ll have the kinks worked out by Saturday.

See you then!

OK, here are those promised placards…

The Point of Departure
Ben Houge Solo Exhibition

Where to begin? In addition to its strictly geographic connotations, the phrase “point of departure” indicates a conceptual transition. For an artist, “point of departure” is another term for inspiration. It implies a connection, perhaps one that didn’t exist previously. For years, the focus of my work has been to underline connections between seemingly unrelated ideas, disciplines, and people. This has led me to a diverse practice that encompasses classical composition, videogame development, performance, pop production, video art, and sound installation.

The point of departure for my gallery work is sound. Sound is where I started; I grew up singing in church choirs and writing pop songs, and my university studies were in classical music composition. Perhaps music, historically the most abstract art form, lends itself to thinking primarily in purely structural terms. Over time it seemed only natural to attempt to apply my sonic structures to other media.

For twelve years, until about two years ago, my full-time job was designing audio for videogames. Early on, I observed that the challenges of creating organization in this inherently indeterminate medium were prefigured by the aleatoric works of composers like John Cage, Earle Brown, and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Ideas from their work, as well as from my own experience in videogame development, have in turn served as the point of departure for much of my recent music and installation work, in which I write software that incorporates real-time, algorithmic techniques to generate ambient, evolving environments.

This exhibition marks a transition in the physical, geographical sense as well, as I arrive at the end of my six month artist residency at the True Color Museum. I would like to extend my warmest thanks to Chen Hanxing and all the staff of the True Color Museum for generously supporting my stay here.

-Ben Houge

起航
霍杰明个人展览

从何说起呢?除了它严格的地理学意义, “起航”一词象征着一个概念上的过渡。作为一个艺术家,“起航”在这里代表着另一个含义—-灵感。它暗示一种关系,或许先前本不存在的关系。多年来,我的工作重心是让表面上好似毫无关联的意见、原则和人,加强彼此之间的联系。这种行为让我的艺术创作呈现多元化的特色,包括传统的艺术模式,电子游戏开发,行为艺术,波普艺术,录像艺术及声音装置等。

声音是我的艺术创作的起点。歌声,是我生命开始的地方。小时候,我是在教堂唱诗班长大的,后来,也会学着写流行音乐曲。我在大学里学的就是古典音乐创作。从历史的观点看,可能音乐是最抽象的艺术形式,它让人们从纯粹的结构关系去思考问题。后来自然的,我对声音的严谨把握渐渐延伸到其它的艺术媒介。

有十二年,我都是全身投入到为视频游戏设计声音的工作中,直到两年前才停止。早期的时候,我注意到在这种本来就没有什么固定媒介的创作组织中工作是一种挑战,一些前辈人物,比如John Cage, Earle Brown,和Karlheinz Stockhausen等都在挑战这样的尝试,他们工作的灵感结合我自己在电子游戏方面的工作经验,成为我近年来音乐及装置作品的创作源泉。我运用我所学到的知识,去编写软件程序,把真实时间和算法技术合并到一起,去建立一个不断发展变化的周边世界。

这个展览是我结束在本色美术馆6个月驻馆计划的一个过渡性总结,不管在身体上或地理上都是这样。在这里我对陈涵星先生和本色美术馆全体同仁致以诚挚的感谢!

-Ben Houge

Self-Portrait, Dusk, at the Point of Departure 起航黄昏的自画像
Real-time audiovisual installation for 18 channels of video and 4 channels of sound
2010

Self-Portrait, Dusk, at the Point of Departure suspends a poignant moment in time and makes it last forever, in a way that is unique to the digital medium. Unlike a photograph, which freezes a moment, or a looping video, which repeats a moment, this work uses non-linear deployment techniques borrowed from videogame design to layer and offset a moment in such a way that it can never be said to be starting or stopping, ending or beginning. The rich texture that emerges from this multiplicity of independent images serves to homogenize the source video into a new aggregate that provides an ever-changing vantage point on that captured time.

Much of my work is meant to “emulate nature in her manner of operation,” to quote John Cage. Here, the complex patterns that result from 18 independent video channels evoke falling raindrops, the growth of cells, or the slowly shifting tree branches that are the video’s ostensible subject. The motion of the hand-held camera exposes the movements of the person attempting to hold it still, which can be seen as a metaphor for the effort to hold back time. The source video was filmed in St. Paul, MN, USA, last January, on the lawn outside my brother’s house, in the ten minutes before we got into the car, and he drove me to the airport.

Self-Portrait, Dusk, at the Point of Departure is dedicated to Nate, Jodi, Lydia, and Elsa Houge.

《起航黄昏的自画像》让一个时刻凝结并永生,在某种程度上,它比数字介质还要独特,不像照片,冻结了某个时刻,也不像循环短片,它重复着一个时刻。这件作品用非线性部署技术借用视频游戏设计层偏移片刻。它无所谓开始,也永远不会结束,她丰富的内容让很多独立片段的影像重叠复制,在瞬间产生动态的积蓄力量。

引用约翰凯奇的话来说,我的大部分工作是为了“在她的运作方式下努力赶超自然”在这里,从18个独立的视频频道中得到的复杂图案,所表现的主题是下雨的雨滴,细胞的生长或者树枝的缓慢移动。手持相机的动作暴露了持有人的企图是仍然想把镜头抓稳,这可以理解为一种想留住时间的努力。源视频是拍摄于圣保罗,明尼苏达,美国。当时是去年一月,在我哥哥的房子外面的草坪上,在坐进轿车之前的十分钟,他才开车送我去机场。

作品《起航黄昏的自画像》献给Nate, Jodi, Lydia Elsa Houge。

Transportation Is Getting a New Look 交通战线换新貌
Real-time, single channel video installation
2010

Transportation20100517184635

Transportation Is Getting a New Look is a continuous, algorithmic reconfiguration of a 1970’s propaganda poster entitled “Safeguard the Orderliness of the Revolution: Transportation Is Getting a New Look 革命秩序维护好,交通战线换新貌”. It suggests the kind of public collage that emerges when posters are anonymously applied to a city wall. Old posters are covered up or torn down, images fade with time, and the present becomes a canvas for the future, depicting the process history. As the original poster disintegrates, its pieces give way to a formal play of rectilinear forms such as one might find in a Soviet propaganda poster by Kasimir Malevich. The work thus creates a tension between two different modes of meaning: one is representational and textual; the other is structural and experiential.

该作品是对1970年代一个流行的宣传海报“革命秩序维护好,交通战线换新貌”的持续的解构和重塑。老海报预示着一种未来,也记录着历史的进程,这件作品试图表达两种含义,一是代表性的,文字性的,一是框架性的,实验性的。

Shanghai Traces上海轨迹
Real-time, single-channel video installation
2010

Shanghai Traces 2010119120335

Shanghai Traces was a response to the massive beautification campaign that the city underwent in preparation for hosting the World Expo this year. The falling objects are the colorful wares of Shanghai street vendors, a reminder that every person who passes through a city leaves a trace, however fleeting. The resulting patterns and combinations evoke the movements and exchanges of city dwellers, in the same way Merce Cunningham once explained what his choreography was about by pointing out a window at busy Manhattan traffic and saying, “That.”

《上海轨迹》是对上海为了举办世博会而进行的庞大的城市美化工程的一种反映。画面中坠落的物体都是上海街头小摊的颜色,它寓意是每一个从城市经过的人都留下了痕迹,大家看到的动态图案反应着城市居住者的生活动态。某种程度上类似于Merce Cunningham对他舞蹈含义的描述他指着窗外曼哈顿街头繁忙的交通说:看吧,我的舞蹈就是这样的景象。

Giraffe 2009791224 长颈鹿 2009791224
Algorithmically generated digital print on archival paper
30.5 cm x 30.5 cm, edition 3/20
2009

Giraffe 2009791224

Giraffe 200971712495 长颈鹿200971712495
Algorithmically generated digital print on archival paper
30.5 cm x 30.5 cm, edition 2/20
2009

Giraffe 200971712495

Giraffe 200971315148 长颈鹿 200971315148
Algorithmically generated digital print on archival paper
30.5 cm x 30.5 cm, edition 1/20
2009

Giraffe 200971315148

Giraffe 2009628223541 长颈鹿 2009628223541
Algorithmically generated digital print on archival paper
30.5 cm x 30.5 cm, edition 1/20
2009

Giraffe 2009628223541

Giraffe 2009714105550 长颈鹿2009714105550
Algorithmically generated digital print on archival paper
30.5 cm x 30.5 cm, edition 1/20
2009

Giraffe 2009714105550

Giraffe 2009719145217 长颈鹿 2009719145217
Algorithmically generated digital print on archival paper
30.5 cm x 30.5 cm, edition 1/20
2009

Giraffe 2009719145217

The series I eventually dubbed 29 Giraffes was my first foray into visual art, a process I quietly investigated over a period of more than two years. In the initial tests of my software, I used as source material a photograph of a giraffe I took in Kenya in 2006, but in the prints I finally exhibited for the first time in August 2009, the source material was a set of photographs of neon lights I took along Shanghai’s Nanjing Dong Lu pedestrian walkway. The resulting images are reminiscent of the compression of the urban experience Kurt Schwitters achieved in his Mertz collages, conveying something of the disorienting and exhilarating overstimulation of life in one of the world’s largest and fastest evolving cities.

这组叫做《长颈鹿》的作品是我首次影像艺术的尝试,整个过程大约两年多。在最初的软件实验中,我使用的是我在2006年肯尼亚拍摄的长颈鹿照片。但是用照片来展示这种艺术形式的时间是2009年,那时的原材料已经换成了我在上海南京东路步行街拍摄的霓虹灯照片。这些图片表达着这个世界上最大最繁忙的都市的城市景象的压缩。有点类似德国艺术家Kurt Schwitters表达的对城市快速发展的疏离感。

Grisly Death by Shanghai Cab

Here’s a song about riding bikes and falling in love in Shanghai (right click and “save as…” to download MP3).

Grisly Death by Shanghai Cab

It’s not connected at all with my upcoming exhibition, but last night as I was practicing the piano for my performance at the show opening (Nov. 6!), I finally solved the puzzle of the harmony of the middle section of this song, which has been nagging at me for months. So I ran out and grabbed my H4 Zoom audio recorder and got it down quick, and I love the idea of something being available for download about 12 hours after it’s finished, so here you go. If you want a setting, imagine a dark auditorium (I don’t know how to turn on the lights in there, but I really don’t mind playing piano in the dark, although it wasn’t so practical for recording, but I managed) on the top floor of the True Color Museum, big windows onto the quiet outskirts of Suzhou, about 10:30pm at night.

I started this song about six years ago. It’s becoming an unfortunate pattern for me to work on a song for five or six years. The last one was “Go,” which I posted on NeoCha about a year ago, and the next one is “Cross Ocean,” which is about half recorded, pending completion of an unnecessarily complex algorithmic breakdown section. (Most of my songs, including “Go,” were posted on Chinese social networking site NeoCha, which despite my unflagging support was shut down a few weeks back, which is a bit annoying, so I currently have a lot of broken links on my site. If you need an interim fix, check out my Last.fm page, or NeoCha’s hardier competitor, Douban.)

Anyway, the title and main hook just came to me, as these things do, about six years ago, as I was getting accustomed to life in Shanghai. At the beginning I was simply amused by the incongruity of such a dark lyric with what I imagined to be a bouncy, Burt Bacharach style musical setting (the melody and irregular phrasing certainly have some Bacharachian countours, if it’s not too immodest of me to say so). I always planned, and still do, I guess, to arrange this for chamber orchestra; there’s an intro/outro flugelhorn figure in my head, not represented in this recording.

So for a long time I just had this title/lyric and few other ideas that started to casually conglomerate around it usually while walking or biking around Shanghai. But after I’d been dating Jutta for a while, a more complex narrative started to emerge, associated with this idea that basically the more you start to care for someone, the more you worry about them; the two come hand in hand. And Jutta bikes like a maniac, and there have been times when her phone’s been out of battery or she doesn’t pick up and I’ve found myself rather distraught. It’s a little bit of the idea from the film What About Bob, where if you walk down the street yelling things like “turkey tits!” pretending to have Tourette syndrome, you must not actually have it. By imagining the worst, somehow the worst feels less likely.

I was trying to finish this song as a birthday present to Jutta in 2009, but this has proven to be one of the trickiest songs I’ve ever written. I almost completed it in time for her birthday this year, finishing the last lyrics on the train from Frankfurt to meet her in Cologne last August, but these last tricky chords still eluded me. I was trying to convey the idea of working oneself into a worried frenzy, imagining increasingly implausible scenarios, and I found this difficult to reconcile harmonically with the rest of the song.

Here’s the solution. The bridge pops down a whole step to a new, but closely related key area, signifying a new mental perspective. It starts out with a simple pattern (though also ambiguous, hovering mostly on the subdominant), twice transposed through a little twist up a minor third (F-Ab-B), getting higher and louder, then an irrational leap up another minor third (skipping ahead in the twist) to D, then this alternation of Bb minor 7 (implying melodic minor, raised sixth scale degree) with an octatonic scale also based on Bb (starting Bb-Cb-Db), trying out different scale degrees as a root (D, G, and F, kind of directionless pacing or flailing, not leading to harmonic resolution), before finally using F to slip into a FmM7 as a weird kind of resolution to something that’s still not quite settled, then eventually continuing through a more conventional cadence, gm7, d9, then to a kind of BM7 (which I voice as just an F with a Bb in the bass, although I guess I stuck a D in there, too, so whatever you want to call it). Then slipping into this thinner, ambiguous quartal set of G-A-C-D, which, since A is in the bass, allows us to fall, exhausted, back into our familiar e minor in a kind of plagal fashion. It took me many, many drafts to arrive at this! BTW, the high notes that I’m not quite hitting 3 times in this recording are Ab’s, way out of my range, but hopefully fitting in the context of the song.

OK, interlude over, I’m testing some computer configurations for my installation this morning, then I’m off to Shanghai to tackle printing for my show. I guess if I were more marketing/branding-attuned, I would, you know, stay more on message through Nov. 6, but such is the fickle nature of inspiration. Get it while it’s hot!

Now see you on Nov. 6 in Suzhou!

The Point of Departure

My solo show is confirmed, so stoked, here’s the full press release…
中文版本在下面!

The Point of Departure: Ben Houge Solo Exhibition
November 6-December 5, 2010
http://www.benhouge.com/news.html
True Color Museum 本色美术馆
219 Tongda Rd
(at the intersection of Jiushenggang Rd, near Guoxiang)
Wuzhong District, Suzhou, China
苏州市吴中区通达路 219 号本色美术馆(近郭巷)
0512-65968890
http://www.truecolormuseum.org/

Composer and digital media artist Ben Houge presents the culmination of his six-month residency at Suzhou’s True Color Museum with a solo show entitled “The Point of Departure.” The focal point of this exhibition is a new, real-time 18-channel video installation entitled Self-Portrait, Dusk, at the Point of Departure, an ambient work that applies concepts from videogame design and granular synthesis to video, to make a poignant moment last forever. Also included in the show are selected videos and digital prints providing a survey of Ben’s visual output over the past two years.

An afternoon-long digital music festival will celebrate the opening of the exhibition on Saturday, November 6, from 1pm until 7pm. The lineup includes performances by Hangzhou-based digital artists Yao Dajuin 姚大钧 and Wang Changcun 王长存, as well as Shanghai’s Xu Cheng 徐程 (of Torturing Nurse). Ben’s live performances are known to vary widely in style, and he will celebrate this diversity by performing three different sets of music: an ambient electronic set, a synth-pop set of original songs, and an acoustic set of favorite tunes by artists including John Cage and Jay Chou 周杰伦.

Long active in new music circles in China and the US, Ben Houge has been increasingly visible in galleries in recent years, with work exhibited at Art+Shanghai Gallery, OV Gallery, and [the studio] in Shanghai, as well as at the Today Art Museum in Beijing. His video Shanghai Traces, originally exhibited at OV Gallery’s Make Over show last spring, was shortlisted for the Guggenheim’s YouTube Play Biennial and has recently been acquired for permanent installation at Shanghai’s Glamour Bar. Ben has performed around eastern China and at all of Shanghai’s primary live music venues, as well as at the Shanghai eArts Festival, the Mini Midi Festival, Hangzhou’s 2Pi Festival, the Zendai Museum of Modern Art, the Shanghai Conservatory, the South River Art Center, and several NOIShanghai events. This summer he toured Germany with trumpet player Justin Sebastian. Prior to embarking on a full-time career as an artist, Ben spent twelve years designing audio for videogames, most recently serving as audio director of Tom Clancy’s EndWar (Xbox 360/PS3) at Ubisoft Shanghai. The concepts of non-linear, real-time, algorithmic and procedural structure he honed as a videogame developer serve as the point of departure for his more recent work in a broader cultural arena. Much more information about Ben is on his website: http://www.benhouge.com.

This exhibition and music festival mark Ben’s final public appearances in Shanghai for the immediate future, as he relocates to the USA for much of 2011. The artist would also like point out that a train from Shanghai to Suzhou takes less than half an hour these days, and a round trip ticket is less than 100 RMB. So don’t miss this unique opportunity to experience the various facets of Ben Houge’s evolving oeuvre in one idyllic setting!

In an ancient city renowned for its cultural heritage, True Color Museum is Suzhou’s key destination for contemporary art. Founded by the intrepid music business entrepreneur Chen Hanxing 陈翰星 in 2008 as one of the leading privately owned art museums in China, True Color Museum has exhibited artwork by leading artists from China and around the world, most recently in the acclaimed “Nature of China: Contemporary Art Documenta” exhibition last summer and in Taiwan’s Hsiau Jungching 萧荣庆 solo show (ongoing through November 11). The beautiful museum compound, designed by Chen Hanxing, is a destination in itself, and the museum’s active artist residency program has nurtured the careers of many established and emerging artists. Additional information is available on the museum’s website: http://www.truecolormuseum.org/.

《起航:霍杰明个人展览》
二零一零年十一月六号至十二月五号
苏州本色美术馆
苏州市吴中区通达路 219 号本色美术馆(近郭巷)
0512-65968890
http://www.truecolormuseum.org/
http://www.benhouge.com/news.html

个展《起航》是作曲家以及数字媒体艺术家霍杰明(Ben Houge)作为在苏州本色美术馆六个月驻馆经历的浓缩。这次展览的焦点他新作的18个频道录像作品影像装置——《起航点黄昏自画像》, 把电子游戏和粒状合成的概念融合并应用到作品中以营造令人长久感动的氛围 。另外,本次展览中另外一些数字媒体作品是霍杰明过去两年中对此方面的研究。

为庆祝展览开幕,11月6日星期六,将有一场从下午1点持续到7点电子音乐节。会有来自杭州本土声音电子艺术家姚大钧和王长存,以及上海的徐程(来自Torturing Nurse乐队)进行表演。 霍杰明的现场表演一向风格广泛,他将有三次不通风格的表演体现这样的多样性:一次是电子环境音乐,一次是合成器流行歌,一次是我最喜欢的周杰伦和约•翰凯奇歌曲集合。

由于长期在中国和美国新音乐圈活跃,霍杰明的展览的已经越来越多:上海“艺术+上海”画廊、OV画廊、[the studio],以及北京的今日艺术馆。他的录像作品《上海轨迹 Shanghai Traces 》,去年春天参与OV画廊的”Make Over”展览,入围的古根海姆的YouTube播放双年展,最近永久的成为了上海Glamour Bar的室内装置。 霍杰明在中国东部地区和上海所有的主要现场音乐场所表演过。以及上海电子艺术节,迷你迷笛音乐节,杭州二皮音乐节,上海证大现代艺术馆,上海音乐学院,南岸艺术中心等等 。今年夏天,他和小号手贾斯汀塞巴斯蒂安去了德国。 作为一个全职艺术家,霍杰明之前的十二年为视频游戏设计声音,最近在上海的育碧游戏软件开发商担任 Tom Clancy’s EndWar(Xbox 360/PS3) 的音频主管。他作为一个视频游戏开发商磨练出非线性,实时,算法和程序结构的概念,让他在一个更广泛的文化领域工作有一个新的出发点。更多关于Ben请链接:http://www.benhouge.com.

在这个古老又富涵文化底蕴的城市,苏州本色美术馆因当代艺术而闻名,是一所成立于2008年由企业家陈翰星开办的私人美术馆。本色美术馆展出了来自中国和世界各地的先锋艺术家的作品,近期有今年夏天的“中国性:当代艺术文献展“展览,以及台湾萧荣庆的个展(展出至11月11日)。 美术馆由陈翰星设计,外观造型独特,而其本身就是一个目标:美术馆的艺术家留驻计划为很多知名或新兴艺术家建立了良好的平台。更多关于苏州本色美术馆的消息请链接:http://www.truecolormuseum.org/.