i'm sitting, watching......
"...Volume, color, and sound will be put back into their actual relationships, into their precarious balance which threatens to give way at any moment but which this new art, acting as intermediary, as an instrument of revelation, will constantly renew. Bodies and objects, dignified and seen in their fleeting but eternal significance. The reader-spectator present in a world that is at once his own and different. Symbols to be interpreted on many levels. Minute details suddenly becoming the essence..."
Claude Mauriac, The Dinner Party, 1959
"Perhaps every day is about the same because we need the time....to practice...what to see...and what to hear."
"As we observe the activity around us, we cannot help but become the activity for others to observe. We become the scenery against which their lives are played. We become the third person, human objects, no more important than the grass or the sky. We are both audience and prop.
But if we're lucky, we inadvertantly become part of an artistic event with the sounds, the sun, and everything that moves. And if they're lucky, they'll be looking in the right direction at the right time and in the right place to experience it."
"Perhaps we should focus our attention on the vast majority of time in which we live, those times 'in between' where nothing is going on- those empty spots, while we're waiting for what we believe are the events of our life."
By Kyle Gann
Henry Gwiazda doesn’t want to be thought of as a composer anymore, but I can’t stop doing it. Music composition as a field, he insists, is “a putrefying corpse.” Not only is the music composition world not interested in new art forms the way Gwiazda is, the movies and mass culture have made people impatient with the idea of merely listening without visual stimulus. So now Gwiazda, who used to play guitar and trigger sound samples, is - what? A video artist? Not in a way that most video artists would recognize. A maker of animated films? But they’re not films in the sense that they move forward through time and tell a story. And there are all those sound elements, the dripping faucet, the zipping zipper, the murmurs of strangers, the buzz of an airplane, whose sources we don’t see. They keep taking me back to the idea of Henry as a composer who has added images to the repertoire of things he works with, and uses them the way composers use sound.
To explain, it will be necessary to take a quick trip through Gwiazda’s extraordinary evolution as an artist. When I first heard him in 1989, he was making odd soundscapes by playing guitar and triggering samples on a keyboard. Cows mooed; potato chips crunched; exotic birds squawked; crowds made undistinguishable small talk; a violin played lithe, quick melodies, and sometimes there were chord progressions underneath. It was a music of life.
Next, he added space. Using software designed for airplane pilots, who need to be able to hear, through headphones, a multiplicity of simultaneous directives which can only be kept separate by placing them in different virtual spaces, he created a three-dimensional world of virtual audio that could operate with only headphones or a pair of speakers. Cawing seagulls flew from left to right overhead. A basketball fell to the ground and bounced toward you. A sneeze would suddenly explode from behind your left shoulder. In a more tactile way than VarŹse and Stockhausen with their rows of loudspeakers, Gwiazda invented the three-dimensional soundworld.
Then, in 2000, I saw an exhibition of Gwiazda’s work that was all videos, surrealist landscapes that looked like de Chirico paintings come to life. An enormous egg rose out of a calm sea; rocks changed color and dematerialized; geometric shapes exploded from the water. In counterpoint with all this were sounds: jazz drumming, gunfire, a baby crying, lunchroom chatter, fog horns, a harp glissando. The sounds and images led separate but equal existences.
And now, in these new works - another totally unexpected transformation. Instead of bizarre islands in extraterrestrial seas, the most mundane scenes imaginable: houses on a suburban street, a downtown outdoor restaurant, a guitarist practicing in the living room. As imaginative as Gwiazda’s surrealist work was, he felt that he could achieve more resonance by tapping details people would recognize. The ephasis is on the quotidian, yet he plays with our assumptions, our sense of space. Every now and then in she’s walking..., a hand appears in front of what one must suppose is the “camera” - she’s walking, and by extension, we’re following her. Likewise, the sounds add a three-dimensionality that we almost forget to notice: the out-of-view lawn mower in living is..., the drip of water while the two women are talking in she’s walking..., attesting to the presence of someone else in the house whom we’re dared to take for granted.
Some of the most thrilling moments are simple details. I love the way, in she’s walking..., the guitarist’s shadow rises on a background wall, informing us that we’re in the same house we saw him practicing in. In i’m sitting, watching..., I love the way the nostrils of the girl in extreme foreground suddenly flare and contract; you could almost miss it, but you don’t. We see these scenes from multiple perspectives, four at once, and different details are visible in different frames. Then we see them again, all put into one complete frame, and, despite ourselves, we start looking for those same details we’ve already seen. They’re the most trivial little happenings, and somehow Gwiazda makes us start eagerly anticipating them. What he hopes is, that once we turn away from his art and go back to our lives, we’ll take that same attitude to the sensuous details around us. It works for me.
Electronic composers have never considered Gwiazda an electronic composer because he doesn’t generate his own sounds - he takes them from sound effect libraries. Similarly, he takes his images from modeling software. For those used to, and attached to, 20th-century ideas of realism, this will seem a copout from the artist’s need to build his world organically, from the ground up. But what’s so musical about these films, is that this is the way composers started working after minimalism. Postminimalism gave up the illusion of organicism, and started working with the arrangement of elements, which ultimately were almost interchangeable. And Gwiazda is working in a postminimalist world of sounds and images.
We know that in fairy tales, for instance, the omission of details is deliberate and necessary. The prince who wakes up Sleeping Beauty isn’t described as having - although he might - a pencil-thin moustache, wire-rim glasses and a mole on his arm. Why not? Because the non-realistic, symbolic non-specificity of the prince allows each listener to the story to imagine himself the prince - the dearth of realistic detail allows us to put ourselves in the story. Similarly, the generic character of Gwiazda’s sounds and images is necessary for changing our perception of the world. It’s not necessary that the bird be a specific bird, the doorway a specific doorway. If it were, we wouldn’t, in response, start feeling the texture of our own doorway, watching the behavior of birds in our own yard, differently.
Modernism, Gwiazda says, is the premise that the world is too complex to be comprehended; postmodernism, the premise that our image of the world is always a construct anyway. But he’s decided that we need to know the world, and that the way to do it is a little bit at a time, the part of it that’s right around us. The amount of technology that goes into these films is impressive, but the result is amazingly simple. That’s why I find the work so powerful - because no art goes into our soul and grips it until all its techniques, its philosophical strategies, its finely detailed structures, have been boiled down and distilled and made simple. And Gwiazda has gotten to the essence.
Kyle Gann is a composer, new-music for the Village Voice since 1986, Associate Professor of Music at Bard College, and the author of The Music of Conlon Nancarrow; American Music in the 20th Century; and Music Downtown: Writings from the Village Voice.
Henry Gwiazda was born in 1952 in New Britain, Connecticut. He received degrees from the Eastman School of Music, The Hartt School, and the College-Conservatory of Music of the University of Cincinnati. He has received performances by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the New Britain Symphony, the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony, and the American Dance Festival.
Since 1986, he has worked with sampling and sound effects to create a unique musical language that is derived from the interior musical characteristics of noise itself. His recent work is concerned with creating immersive musical works and computer multimedia. Performing live with sampler, guitar, and tape, he has given concerts, workshops, and lectures throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. He has performed at New Music America (New York), Bang On A Can Festival, The Kitchen, Performance Space 122, the Knitting Factory, Roulette, iEar Studios (Troy), New Langton Arts (San Francisco), The Music Gallery (Toronto), Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), Stedelijte Museum (Amsterdam), Het Apollohuis (Eindhoven), De Unie (Rotterdam), Democrazy (Ghent), Cirque Diver (Liege), Monty (Antwerp), New Music Across America (Utah), and many more including colleges and universities.
In 1992 he turned his attention to virtual audio and created two works; buzzingreynold'sdreamland and thefluteintheworldthefluteistheworld which are installations for one listener alone, utilizing immersive technologies.
In 1995, he extended his interest of sampling natural sounds to include a sampling of all phenomenon that has movement-a comprehensive artistic approach that has resulted in work that is multimedia in nature. These new works; she's walking......, i'm sitting, watching......, and living is...... make use of new media to create a different realism.
He has received prizes and grants from the SUC Student Composers Competition (First Prize), the Jerome Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Barlow Foundation, the Bush Foundation, a Diverse Visions Grant (along with lighting designer Jeff Bartlett), 20 ASCAP Standard Award Panel Grants, as well as many Meet the Composer grants. He has also been guest composer at numerous festivals and universities. He was featured in EAR Magazine and had a special program on his music on John Schaeffer's "New Sounds" on WNYC in New York. His articles concerning his work have been published in Guitar Player magazine and the Contemporary Music Review (U.K.) His work is featured in AMERICAN MUSIC by Kyle Gann and A HISTORY OF AMERICAN MUSIC by H. Wiley Hitchcock and Kyle Gann. He has received much critical acclaim including the Village Voice and The New York Times.
Reviews for noTnoTesnoTrhyThms:
"Gwiazda is a musical poet in the truest sense. He understands the pure, sensuous allure, shapely contours, and contrasts of sound. Calculatedly stringing together a series of raw, unrefined sound effects while linking, layering, merging, and splicing them with both musical and other pure-sound elements, Gwiazda triggers with near-tactile sensation invisible environments of remarkable beauty. Each could be a miniature time-capsule; a concentrated, mysterious reduction of late-20th-century earth to be sent out to other galaxies...Gwiazda's work is groundbreaking..." Stereophile Magazine
"Gwiazda does something unique...he synthesizes a new time.. Open Space Journal
"To say that Henry Gwiazda makes collages is a bit like saying that Beethoven is a composer who uses tonality. Gwiazda makes the most elegant collage work I know. The quality of sounds used are stunning, the choices of when and where to place sounds, both spatially and structurally, are immaculate, and the works are both immediately engaging, and continually fascinating on repeated hearings" Chroma
"This release bears the rare distinction of containing a body of work that is compelling, well made, and seemingly without real precedent...the compostions on this disk are like nothing else this reviewer has ever heard." New Music Connoisseur
"Thus Gwiazda succeeds in making electronic music full of spirit, far from the coldness of pure technician-like constructions." Der Tagesspiegel
He has recorded on CRI, CCG, and Innova and is currently Professor of Music at Minnesota State University Moorhead, MN.