Robert Barry looks back at the work of Experiments in Art and Technology from art pavilions to discos with its veteran director
From 13–23 October 1966, the 69th Regiment Armory building in Manhattan was host to one of the most ambitious events in the history of modern art. 9 Evenings: Theatre And Engineering brought together artists and composers including John Cage, David Tudor, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg and Lucinda Childs, with engineers from Bell Labs such as Billy Klüver, Max Mathews and Fred Waldhauer. Over the course of its run, over 13,000 people attended and several now familiar technologies were employed for the first time in the course of the performances, including closed circuit television, fibre optic cameras, and portable wireless FM transmitters.
The collaboration of several key players continued under the banner of a new organisation called Experiments in Art and Technology, dedicated to bringing artists and engineers together. Julie Martin worked behind the scenes at 9 Evenings and later became one of EAT’s first employees, initially as the editor of the newsletter.
Now, as director of the organisation, she’s working with sound artist Jacob Kirkegaard to document some of the history of the organisation, including the release of new vinyl editions of Cage’s Variations VII (from 9 Evenings) and Monobirds by David Tudor. I spoke to Martin via a Zoom call to her home in New Jersey about the origins of EAT, its utopian promise, and the time David Tudor performed in the hottest disco in New York.
Your first involvement with 9 Evenings was through your work with Robert Whitman, is that right?
Yes, exactly. I was in New York very busy not getting a Masters in Russian Studies at Columbia. I met Bob Whitman through a friend and was kind of free that summer. So I began to help him on pieces that he was doing, [the film] Prune Flat and then a piece out on a swamp in Long Island. So then when the 9 Evenings came about, I continued to help him out. I was finding films for him and things like that.
As you became more involved in the event as a whole, what kind of things were you doing?
One of the things I was doing was wiring tiny plugs. Although the engineers had developed what they called the TEEM – Theater Electronic Environmental Modular system, a wireless system for both transmission of sound and also sound as control that each of the artists could use in his or her performances – they realised they needed a lot of cable for audio. So we spent last-minute time wiring tiny plugs. And also I helped on the catalogue, which is what led to Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer asking me to join EAT a little bit later, as editor of the newsletter.
In November 1971, design legend Barney Bubbles produced a typically audacious promotional item for Hawkwind’s recently released album X In Search Of Space.
Across the centre spread in an issue of underground paper IT, Bubbles worked with Hawkwind lyricist/vocalist Robert Calvert to create a cut-out-and-keep tarot card pack using titles and lyrics from In Search Of Space tracks. The pack of cards was also thematically linked to the 24-page Hawkwind Log booklet the pair produced for ISOS, and there are references to newer songs including Silver Machine, which would provide the west London space-rock collective with their breakthrough hit the following summer.
Such playful methods of engagement were hallmarks of Bubbles’ work, particularly in this period.
For example, Bubbles’ design for the debut album by Chilli Willi And The Red Hot Peppers a few months later featured a colour-yourself sunset and a cut-out bowtie insert. There were also inserts incorporating a self-assembly paper geometric dome and a silver laminate pyramid in spring 1972’s Glastonbury Fayre triple-LP package.
Around that time, Bubbles used a Hawkwind feature for another underground paper, Frendz, to create a series of layouts with photographer Pennie Smith which comprised the cut-out panels of a kite. Much later, of course, he instituted such exercises as the build-your-own-poster music press advertising for Elvis Costello’s 1977 LP My Aim Is True.
- A1 Cathing 8:02
- A2 Solo For Voice 45 (From Songbooks) 13:30
Arranged By [Realized By] – Joan La Barbara Composed By – John Cage
- Thunder 22:59
Electronics – Joan La Barbara Timpani [Tympani] – Bruce Ditmas, Warren Smith
Recorded at Downtown Sound November 1977.
Bookmat: "Joan La Barbara’s prism-pushing avant garde opus Tapesongs (1977); a pioneering work of extended vocal techniques, electronics and tape cut-ups, which also includes contribution by John Cage and tympani performed by Warren Smith and Bruce Ditmas.
Joan’s voice is still the original instrument on Tapesongs, but it's not the only voice on the record. We’re talking about her “burning take-down” of Cathy Barbarian in Cathing, which perhaps requires the listener to add an “s” to the title in order to reveal its cunningly punny intent in context of the piece.
Taking a broadcast sample of classical American soprano Cathy speaking in reference to “these people… who dedicate their whole existence to developing a technique”, recorded during an intermission of Joan’s 1977 Holland Festival concert, and followed with the snide remark “I doubt many of these singers can sing in the true sense of the word”, Joan is very well justified in flipping Cathy the bird with a brilliant cut-up demonstrating the range of vocal possibilities that clearly lie beyond the establishment’s comprehension, and better yet by showing that Cathy can actually do it herself, albeit with a little (probably a lot of) processing.
It’s fair to say that pieces such as this have laid the bedrock for reams of explorative artists of all genders, but particularly the experiments of Kate Bush, Björk or Katie Gately in their shared predilection for high register flutters, glissando and perception warping sonics.
Likewise, Joan’s performance of Solo For Voice 45 - taken from John Cage’s landmark theatre piece Song Books - places challenging, rigorous concepts in a delightfully playful context, with rapidly fleeting, calligraphic strokes of vocal determined by aleatoric (“chance”) methods and interspersed by pointed lacunæ, whilst Thunder occup[ies the entire B-side with 22 minutes of roiling tympani and Joan sounding like a flock of demented seagulls angling for your chips."
Unknown Artist — Ishiya Bushi (Ethnic Folkways Library)
Itaru Oki Trio — Papilio (Jazz Creaters)
Masayoshi Urabe / Chie Mukai — Part 1 (excerpt) (Siwa)
O Yama O — Namekuji (Les Album Claus)
Masayuki Takayanagi New Direction Unit — We Have Existed (April Disk / Blank Forms)
Albedo Gravitas — ⾎ (An'Archives)
Fushitsusha — さしだされたまま (Heartfast)
Masahiko Togashi Quartet — Speed & Space #1 (Union)
The Taj-Mahal Travelers — Between 7:03~7:15P.M. (CBS / États-Unis)
No No No — In Denial (KiliKiliVilla)
Prolific drummer and collaborator Valentina Magaletti marks the release of Tomaga's finest album by telling Jennifer Lucy Allan about her favourite 13 albums, from The Cure to Miles Davis, Art Blakey, and Can to Deerhoof, This Heat and the Art Ensemble Of Chicago.
The Group/The Feed-Back – The Feed-Back
Last month I bought a box set – I had to because I have a problem – [Morricone and Bruno Nicolai’s] Dimensioni Sonore and it's all outtakes of the Gruppo [di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza], all the experimental drum stuff. It comes in a box of ten vinyl, ten CDs, a huge poster of Morricone I’ve framed, a tote bag, a book of the RCA session. It's so incredible. The sound of the drumming here is the one.
If you listen to the productions of Malcolm Catto for Vanishing Twin, and how he tried to make me sound, it’s this record. And the bastard has a fucking original of this album! You'll never find it for less than £1,000. I have a shit reissue and I’m Italian! I have a lot of Italian originals because years back I was in Rome and Florence and I got to go to the warehouses. He has impeccable taste, and he produced my drumming album with Julian Sartorius. If you want an amazing professional sound, you go to Malcolm, and where it comes from, is Gruppo!
In a 2020 Rolling Stone interview, musicologist and classically trained vocalist Rhiannon Giddens observed that Black artists are being written out of folk and country music history, adding that "folk festivals were thinly-veiled attempts to recast (traditional folk and country) music as white mountain music, as part of a project to create a white ethnicity."
However, Black musicologists, musicians, and songwriters have claimed their space in the record bins and on festival stages. Yola wove gospel and 1970s glam influences into traditional country songwriting on her kaleidoscopic debut album Walk Through Fire; Kaia Kater's quicksilver banjo playing has limned traditional Appalachian and Caribbean folk songs, and Alabama Shakes frontwoman Brittany Howard brought blues to a contemporary audience with her guitar heroics and raw songwriting. Many blues women like Tracy Chapman and late Sister Rosetta Tharpe have been cited as influential by up-and-coming artists. But as the country once again reckons with white supremacy, and as a new generation of Black artists finds traction in the Americana movement, perhaps it's time to revisit one of the most overlooked but deeply resonant pioneers of folk music: Odetta Holmes.
Born in Birmingham, Alabama on New Year's Eve, 1930, Odetta Holmes didn't start out as a folk singer. According to music Ian Zack, who published the first biography of the singer, Odetta: A life in music and protest in April of this year, Holmes' interest in music began when she and her family would listen to Saturday morning broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera. This love of classical music eventually led her to join her high school's glee club and take singing lessons. Opportunities for Black classical singers were rare, however—even Odetta's hero, Marian Anderson, had to wait until 1955 to sing at the Met.
Farida Amadou recorded at les ateliers claus for Suoni Per Il Popolo - spring 2021 Directed and edited by Rik Chaubet Filmed by Thomas Verijke Recorded by Leslie Gutierrez
Alex Pelly is a Canadian filmmaker and video artist based in Los Angeles.
She has worked as a director, editor and motion designer, and has extensive experience in music and branded content, working with companies such as Spotify, BuzzFeed, Super Deluxe and Fullscreen.
As a video artist, Pelly’s work incorporates multiple generations of video technology, both analog and digital. Frequently collaborative with musical accompaniment, her work serves as a reflection of and muse to the music simultaneously. She has designed tour visuals for legendary drag queen Trixie Mattel in 2020, noise duo Telecaves from 2014-2019 and synth pop band ESP from 2011-2013. She is resident visualist for music series, Perpetual Dawn and Perpetual Dune and designed projections and TV installations for industrial dance club Das Bunker from 2017-present.
After graduating from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts in 2008, she found her beginnings within the creative community surrounding internet radio station DUBLAB. She continues to perform live video art for their events in addition to hosting a monthly live-streamed audiovisual show called PELLYVISION.