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“The body is a sound factory – Interview with Christof Migone”, Glissando Issue 33-24, 2018, by Antoni Beksiak.
“Editorial Introduction” (excerpt), discussing the Soundfull: A Wall Speaks, A Door Shakes, A Floor Trembles intervention done with Marla Hlady as part of the Recounting Huronia project, Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, Vol. 6 No. 3 (2017), by Jen Rinaldi, Katherine Rossiter, Liza Kim Jackson
We end with Marla Hlady and Christof Migone’s piece Soundfull: A Wall Speaks, A Door Shakes, A Floor Trembles, which describes the sound amplifying interactive installation that they set up in the rooms of the Huronia Regional Centre during a site visit in October 2014, which was attended by survivors and researchers of the Recounting Huronia project. As professional individualist artists, Hlady and Migone brought their sound expertise to bear on the physical architecture of Huronia, where the memories absorbed in the walls reflect and speak back . By creating an audio apparatus by which survivors could, in turn, speak back to the walls of t he institution and tell their stories of pain and trauma, Hlady and Migone took on the role of creative guides. As moments unfolded of walls and survivors speaking through the sound equipment, feedback loops occurred which amplified and distorted the sound, pushing the limits and bringing the audience/participants into a crisis moment, channeling the intensity of violence that had occurred within this building and thus evoking the survivors’ calls to tear the place down. Here, again, survivor testimony is inscribed into space, reverberating against and off walls that held the life stories erased from social memory.
Commissioned essay, “Christof Migone: Sound Art With And Without Sound”, to accompany the Press Play exhibition, by Jim Drobnick
While primarily known as one of Canada’s most accomplished sound artists, Christof Migone’s practice is not limited to sound per se. Noises, thuds, scratches, language-defying vocalizations and somatic rumblings certainly echo in his installations, arise from his recordings, and resound in his performances. Yet the artist also addresses other, non-aural, aspects of sound, in particular its fulsome variety of visual, tangible, and material presences. This diversity reveals Migone’s versatility as a creative agent; he occupies roles such as artist, performer, curator, writer, theorist, educator, historian, producer, and more (1). Such range also reflects sound’s protean nature: as much as it seems ethereal and invisible traveling from source to listener, it causes visceral affects upon bodies and objects. Sound art exemplifies the postmedium condition whereby artists are no longer compelled to concentrate on a single style or medium and instead devise multiple intersections between materials, techniques and practices according to the specific intentions of every project. A driving force behind Migone’s investigations is that sound exists simultaneously as a method, a type of content, and an overall mindset. The end result is that sound art does not require actual sounds, for it is an approach to the world as a whole.
This exhibition, Press Play, fulfills all of the traits of an expanded sound art practice by employing photography, sculpture, multiples, and interactive, process-based works. The plenitude of media on display here provides an engaging cross-section of the artist’s interdisciplinary practice. Even the title of the show bears a multiplicity of meanings. It first refers to the ubiquitous start function of analog and digital audio devices of the past half century. The title also voices an instruction to “press play” — addressed to no-one and everyone — and implies a form of audience engagement that will be realized in some of the works in the gallery. “Press” also refers to the method of printing records, and the kind of intense physicality music depends upon to get manufactured. “Play,” too, is important for signaling the artist’s ingenuity and sense of humour. In two words, then, Migone hints at issues about technology, sociality, materiality and process before visitors even step into the gallery.
Two sonic artifacts predominate in the works comprising Press Play — microphones and record albums. Both have a “mass” dimension. Microphones were instrumental to the formation of the mass media of radio, television, and public oratory, and records revolutionized the widespread distribution, consumption, and collecting of music. For over a century, these technologies have epitomized the broadcasting and dissemination of sound. Beyond their functionality, the two artifacts serve as symbolic touchstones in Migone’s practice, for they show how he works with, against, and through popular sound paradigms. Sometimes common idioms are taken literally, such as in the artist’s multi-part publication Greatest Hits (2016), which features a CD of his Hit Parade (2007+) performances that pounded microphones against pavements and floors a thousand times each. The violence of rendering “hits” as actual, physical hits evidences a punk/critical attitude towards the popular and its corporate power structure encoded in passive consumerism. Yet in destabilizing the hegemony of mass culture, Migone also manifests a belief in the potentiality of sound — a generative ethos that considers any material or situation to be an occasion for sound (2).
Microphones tend to be overlooked as part of the functional apparatus of recording and amplification, things that spectators ignore when concentrating on the singer or speaker (3). In Migone’s works, however, microphones take centre stage to become pre-eminent performers and soundmakers themselves. The largest photographs in the series Micro (2014) magnify the faces of microphones and endow them with the detail and importance of portraiture. The torn foam of windscreens, the dented lattice of steel casings, and the exposed transducers all reflect the damage inflicted upon the mics during Migone’s Hit Parade and other performances (some mics were pummeled until they no longer worked). Indifferent to the quality or brand of the mic — whether cheap, standard or Shure — their fragility is revealed as much as an aging human face or injured body. To musicians or sound engineers, the trashing of the mics must seem like sacrilegious acts; to those familiar with the history of audio art, the attacked mics continue a defiant theme and critique of mainstream music (e.g., Nam June Paik’s smashed violin or Gustav Metzger’s destroyed piano). But the anthropomorphization found in Migone’s photos elicits a surprising poignancy conveyed by their respectful monumentalization. Like athletes or heroes who have sacrificed their personal well-being for the higher goals of spirited competition or saving lives, Micro affixes attention upon the neglected workhorses of the recording and broadcast industries and empathetically documents their destruction.
Records form the other main constituent of Press Play, and Migone riffs upon their material, symbolic and relational aspects. Firstly, Record Release (12-inch) (2016) presents twelve wooden displays holding twelve recycled record sleeves, each with a customized photo organized by themes such as arrows, shadows, circles, hands, or rocks. The photos are more than just formal, however. Each shows the “release” of a pellet of vinyl — the petrochemical raw material used by the industry to produce records (4). Secondly, the limited edition Greatest Hits contains a grooveless record struck with a microphone by the artist 1,000 times to impress a unique, if nearly imperceptible, set of indentations (5). Thirdly, Record Release (7-inch) (2014+) consists of seven pristine plastic discs that the audience is invited to scratch — their efforts approximate the lathe that cuts vinyl, though the playability is questionable. Contrary to the supposed obsolescence of vinyl, audio artists have maintained an attachment to the record format for its sound quality, cultural history, and iconicity as a multiple. Yet all of Migone’s works in this show defy the ostensible purpose of records (for sound production); instead, they foreground the record’s material reality, its format for visual expression, and its possibility for interaction (either by setting up a quasi-record store display or engaging viewers as groove-makers).
As much as my title for this text includes the phrase “with and without sound,” in Migone’s practice the distinction may be one without a difference. Press Play incorporates pieces that emit sounds – visitors will hear the ambient thumps of Millionaire (machine) (2015) and, if they are lucky, the ringing telephone of Publick (2013) (6)¬– but all of the works, even the soundless ones, depend on an imagined, metaphorical or historical engagement with sound. For instance, the neon sculptures of 4 feet and 33 inches (2014) translate the temporal parameters of John Cage’s watershed “silent” performance 4’33” (1952) into linear measurements of lines, arcs and circles, creatively misreading the single and double quotes indicating minutes and seconds as feet and inches (7). Such a transmodal shift from time to space is indicative of the intersensory equivalencies and morphings that inflect much of Migone’s oeuvre. “With sound” and “without sound” turn out to be side A and side B of the same record, so to speak, for visual, tactile, spatial and kinaesthetic phenomena can be just as sonic as sound itself. The potentiality of sound that Migone so wittily demonstrates not only draws upon the richness of audio art as a medium, but also on sound’s complex intertwinement with objects, experiences and everything else.
Jim Drobnick is a critic, curator and professor at OCAD University, Toronto. He has published on the visual arts, performance, the senses and postmedia practices in recent anthologies such as The Artist as Curator (2015) and The Multisensory Museum (2014). His books include Aural Cultures (2004) and The Smell Culture Reader (2006), and in 2012 he co-founded the Journal of Curatorial Studies. His curatorial collaborative, DisplayCult, foregrounds performative and multisensory projects (www.displaycult.com).
1. Recent highlights of Migone’s diverse practice include his book Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body (Los Angeles and Berlin: Errant Bodies Press, 2012), his curated exhibition Volume: Hear Here (2013), and its catalogue Volumes (Mississauga: Blackwood Gallery, 2015), co-edited with Martin Arnold and containing a 10-inch record. The artist also has constructed a comprehensive website: https://christofmigone.com.
2. Interview with the author, October 5, 2016, Toronto.
3. Exceptions to the mic’s invisibility occur when it becomes a romantic stand-in for crooners who “make love to the mic,” a symbol of authority identifying the holder with an enhanced power to speak, and a dramatic prop for rappers and comedians to gesture expressive finality (mic drop, thud!).
4. For a sense of scale, one 180-gram 12-inch record is composed of over 6000 vinyl pellets.
5. Greatest Hits also comes with a CD, two prints, and foil-stamped lettering on the sleeve.
6. Millionaire (machine) is a collaboration with Marla Hlady and features two microphones animated to alternately hit the gallery’s front window — one counts up to a million, the other counts down. Publick comprises two dial-free telephones that ring intermittently; when the receivers are picked up they transmit the sounds of licking.
7. The lights in each version blink on and off in a time sequence appropriate for the three movements (33 seconds, 2:40 minutes, 1:20 minutes) of Cage’s original score.
Ear Room (pdf), interview by Mark Peter Wright
Centre for Imaginative Ethnography, interview (pdf) by Ely Rosenblum
Background Noise: Perspectives on Sound Art (Second Edition), chapter “Word of Mouth: Christof Migone’s Little Manias” (pp. 133-146) (pdf) by Brandon LaBelle
Tempo, Vol. 69, No. 271, January 2015, pp. 97-98, (pdf) review of Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body by Stacey Sewell
Record Release (pp. 71-72) and Quieting (pp. 152-156) discussed by Seth Kim-Cohen in his book Against Ambience
[…] As with Yeh’s Bad Ideas, The String and the Mirror also includes multiple instantiations of Christof Migone’s Record Release (2013). Each consists of circular piles of PVC pellets on the floor. The subtitles of the three works supply information about what these pellets are and how they might be used. The first subtitle is “(12″ black)”; the second, “(10″ transparent)”; and the third, “(7″ white).” The pellets are the raw materials for the production of a 12-, 10-, and 7-inch vinyl record. In this version of the work, Migone initiates a process of imaginative assembly. Viewing the piles of pellets, the spectator mentally constructs the three records referenced in the subtitles. Simultaneously, or perhaps, alternately, the spectator deconstructs the experience of handling and playing vinyl records, reatomizing the fecund platters into the raw, inert materials set upon the gallery floor.
An earlier version of Record Release, dated 2012, involves Migone distributing the number of pellets required to make a 12-inch vinyl record. Intermittently, over the course of many months, he personally hands one pellet to a friend or an acquaintance, photographs the pellet in the palm of the recipient’s hand, and supplies the recipient with a card certifying ownership of a portion of Record Release and bearing the number of the pellet. Migone is now making an iteration of Record Release, subtitles (7-inch), which makes the previous versions feel like studies for the final, complete work. In this version, Migone will occupy a particular site for a few days. He suggests sites including, “a museum, a city block, a road, a record plant, a printing press, a refinery, a prison, an archive, a science lab, a hospital, a TV station, an airport.”77 At the site, during the allotted time period, he will distribute the number of pellets required to make a 7-inch record, handing each one, personally, to a visitor, a passerby, a resident, an employee. He will videotape each exchange. The audio from this video will then be assembled into an audio work to be pressed on a limited-edition run of 7-inch records. Migone imagines working at sites that contain two distinct types of space: public and off-limits, or above and below ground, for example. The audio from each type of space would be presented on alternate sides of the record.
The previous versions of Record Release comfortably accommodate non- cochlear precepts. They reference sound without producing it. They function discursively, asking the spectator to produce a narrative or a history that connects the material of the work (the pellets) to a familiar object of cultural conveyance. The 2012 version enacts a social interaction between Migone and pellet recipients. It also implies a subtle critique of market conventions such as collecting and the numbered edition. Yet, these versions stop short of closing the circuits they initiate. The new version of the work provides a return path for the project’s charge. Conception and reception are linked in ways that complicate each along the chain of dissemination. The work now generates and distributes productive forces through its nodes. By activating the record as a platform for the reproduction of recorded sound, Migone revives the most vital aspect of the project. The record itself is both the work’s substrate and the location of its semantics. To sublimate the record, as in the previous versions, is to muzzle the work. By putting the record back in play, Migone reattaches the material to what’s being done with it. As a result, what’s being done with it begins to do something itself. The pellets are no longer inert matter, merely suggestive of that active experience of listening to a record. Where, once, they simply signaled “record,” they now become the record’s signal. At the same time, the “record” is now a record of social exchange, of site, of time, and of the exploded, diagrammatic construct of its potential for signification. As Migone writes of the project, “the act of disseminating the record produces the record.”(78) This version of Record Release productively engages the nested senses of distribution that ride the literal and figurative surfaces of the vinyl record.
[…] And . . . then there’s Christof Migone, the rare artist working with or in sound, who actively engages an aesthetics of intensity. For a couple of reasons, I will focus on his CD, Quieting.(11) I want to take the opportunity to engage Salomé Voegelin’s reading of Quieting in her book, Listening to Noise and Silence. Since both Salomé and Christof are here, this will be a great opportunity to engage in a kind of applied, collective theorizing focused on a single work.
Quieting consists of thirty-six tracks ranging in duration from sixteen seconds to three minutes and twelve seconds. Seventeen of the tracks are digital silence—no audio has been recorded or encoded. Of the remaining nineteen tracks, most consist of very quiet environmental recordings that read for all intents and purposes as silence. But three of the tracks have more identifiable content:
— Track eighteen is the temporal and thematic centerpiece of Quieting. The track is twenty-eight seconds long. At twelve seconds, a cannon is fired. This particular cannon is fired every day at noon in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
— Track twenty-two is sixteen seconds long. It uses audio from the video recording of Burden’s iconic Shoot. Importantly, the audio Migone uses does not include the gunshot of Burden’s title.
— Track thirty-six, the final track, is twenty-eight seconds long and is silent for all but the last six of those seconds.
The final six seconds consist of  audio taken from First Contact, a film recounting the story of Australian gold diggers entering the interior of New Guinea in the 1930s, using guns to subdue the aboriginal population.
I recount these stats, as if taken from the back of a baseball card, for a reason. The total duration of significant audio on this forty-two-minute CD amounts to thirty-eight seconds. Those thirty-eight seconds all refer, in one way or another, to ballistics. Yet Salomé Voegelin focuses on the thirty-three tracks of silence and near-silence. She writes that Quieting “composes silence.” She is interested in the “zipzipzip of the CD-player,” “faint hushes, bubbles, voices and crackles,” that may be part of the CD’s audio, or may just be sounds in her own listening environment. She compares the firing of the cannon to the “Zen master readying you to fight.”12
The fight is the phenomenological focus of listening to the work as a sensory-motor production. The canon [sic] brackets the silence and reveals the intention of the work: to make you listen, to quieten yourself and hear your own process and location of engagement.(13)
The equation here of Zen with phenomenological modes of listening is not an uncommon move in sound art and its discourse. Voegelin seems to want to rescue a kind of primal subjectivity from the clinical methods of phenomenology. But Quieting expressly evades such a phenomenological- subjective reading. In the instances of the three tracks mentioned above, the listening experience is expressly directed back to the sources of the audio—not just the guns, but the guns’ contexts in the histories of art and colonialism. In hewing fundamentally to her subjectivist phenomenology, Voegelin never acknowledges the ballistic thread running through Quieting. Instead she focuses on her own sonic-somatic experience of listening:
I am bound to the sonic materiality produced in my own listening imagination.(14)
I hear myself in this quiet soundscape, I am the centre of its weightless sounds.(15)
[It] becomes material through my fleshly encounter: hooked inside my body its silence tugs on the surface of my skin to hear it as a whisper all over my body.(16)
Voegelin’s experience seems to be self-generated and to exist independently of Quieting’s content and means of presentation. At times she claims to have produced or coproduced the work, its effects, meanings, and intentions, in her act of listening: My contingent signifying practice of listening to Migone’s composition.(17) Migone composes his silence that enables mine.(18) This is a claim that runs throughout Voegelin’s book: what we might call “authorship-via-listening.” And I’m certainly post-Death-Of-The-Author enough to be on board with a bit of listener empowerment. But I also think that listening has an obligation to work with what it’s listening to and to attend to its particularities. Otherwise, what need have we of specific works? Indeed, throughout her book, Voegelin derives the same listening experience from a varied set of sonic works, as if listening is what’s important and not listening-to.
To the extent that Migone’s Quieting is “about” anything, it is about gunshots. It is about cannon shots used to defend cities, rifle shots used to pierce flesh and subdue native peoples for economic gain. The silences that weave in and out of these shots on the CD are not Zen-inspired invitations to contemplation or phenomenological objects intended as focal points of heightened perception. These silences are the pressurized befores, in-betweens, and afters of colonialism, of oppression, of conflict, of power, as signified by the cannon shot at the heart of the CD. The 17 silent and quiet tracks before the cannon shot are set-ups, each track persistently pushing forward to the next. Why not one long track of silence? Because these moments tick by with the persistence of a second hand: tick-tick-tick; with the persistence of a ticking bomb: tick-tick-tick. These silences are the methodical set-up before the punch line. They are the ruse that allows the con. They are the complacency that precedes the moment of violation. The 18 tracks of silence after the cannon shot are the ticking emptiness of conscience in the aftermath of trauma. Both the firer and the fired-upon ask questions that cannot be answered: and . . . and . . . and . . ., why . . . why . . . why? The silences after the cannon shot are the never-to-be-answered questions. Tick-tick-tick. The quieting of the work’s title is not a Zen quieting of the mind, but the oppressor’s quieting of the oppressed. It is also the oppressed’s  quieting of herself in a vain effort to go unnoticed, to evade the gaze and grasp of the oppressor. The quieting of the title is the sound of the victim erasing himself in the shadow of mounting threat, an erasure is undertaken because, as horrible as it may be, it is still preferable to what the oppressor, the colonizer, the man with the gun, has in mind. Tick-tick-tick.
And . . . in 2000, the same year he released Quieting, Migone published an essay, tellingly titled “Ricochets.” The essay presents a series of befores and afters of modern enterprise and its calamitous endgames:
Past the vessel/shipwrecks, train/derailments, automobile/car crashes, electricity/electrocutions at the end of the corridor we find ethnography/ . . . . Perhaps an elliptical silence is the only possible response on the other side of that slash. Perhaps silence is the ultimate catastrophe. We can’t be silent anymore. “Silence is complicity.”19
The intensity of Quieting is produced by the pressurized persistence of its silences. But this pressure is motivated, inflated, so to speak, by the peak moment of the cannon shot. Without the cannon shot the silences do not produce intensity. Likewise, the silences charge the sonic content: charge them like a current and like a judge. The silences are neither innocent nor bystanders. They are complicit. The tracks of identified audio resist simple decoding. Both include what is apparently language, but neither is easily parsed. These tracks are pressurized by the differential values of the information Migone provides in the liner notes and the frustratingly recalcitrant audio. We are told these tracks contain crucial information regarding peak events. Yet we are unable to extract either the information or the peak.
Overall, the persistence of the silences, track after track: sixteen seconds, nineteen seconds, thirty-two seconds, one minute sixteen, one minute twenty-two . . . the persistence of these silences mounting up in anticipation of the cannon blast generates an intensity of anticipation. The persistence of the silences in the wake of the blast generates a different kind of intensity. The listener is compelled to confront the implications of the aftermath of the blast. The silences after the cannon shot are the silences of history, the silences of moral certitude in which all questions and doubts and explanations dissipate into muteness. These silences are inhabited by the firer and the fired-upon, by the onlooker, and by those of us who come afterward, mercifully unwounded by the blast itself. As Migone writes in “Ricochet,” Silence without agency. Silence as the sound fear makes when at the end of the barrel, the suspension of time after the shot, “the monstrous atrophy of the voice, the incredible mutism.”20 Quieting is a work of persistence and resistance. By surrounding the cannon blast, the audible imprint of power, with more than forty minutes of “silence without agency,” Migone requires the listener to contend with both conscience and consciousness, with both self and other, with the undismemberable entity that we and they form in the crucible of history. The voicelessness of Quieting is the voicelessness of the victim. But it is also the voicelessness of these questions and silence as the only answer we have a right to expect.
The Senses & Society, Vol. 8 – Issue 3, p. 354-358, pdf, review of Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body, “Exploring Unsound Noises”, by Nathan Heuvingh
Neural, review of Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body, Errant Bodies Press, 2012
The theory of sound art often finds its references in the realm of music. But there are other possibilities: concepts, or references to literature, theatre, cinema, or any other field of culture/knowledge. Sound art in a way qualifies itself to use sound as a medium to make art, but there is no compulsion to conceptually equate sound with music in all situations. In this book Migone writes about sound art in a double role: both as an artist and a theoretician. The composition of the four chapters (three consecutive words whose first is always sound) legibly defines the boundaries of his discourse. For example the first chapter on “unsound” gives us headings such as: Soundmutesilence, the symbolic performances analyzed in Soundbodymouth; Soundtimeslanguage, which looks at the pivotal role played by language; and Soundspacebeyond, which considers different types of spaces/places. This is a prolific study, supplemented by a good number of exemplary (and sometimes lesser known) works. The author also deals with archetypes like Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room, or Satie’s Vexations and Cage’s 4’33”, but he uses them to engage and constantly interweave in wider territories. The aural perspective of many performative pieces and having the countless expressions of the body as a focal reference, guides the reader in a conceptual trip full of new perspectives (including discovering plenty of artworks), hinting at further original explorations.
Musicworks, No. 116 – Summer 2013, p. 62, review of Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body (Errant Bodies Press) and Fingering 2xLP (Squint Press), by Chris Kennedy
It comes as no surprise that the first word of Sonic Somatic is “Merdre!” Migone has long been a purveyor of bodily functions, putting out recordings of knuckle-cracks (Crackers, 1999), collected bottles of spit (Spit, 1997-1999), and crassly named music projects (Fingering, 2012). However, he is extremely capable of intellectualizing this rudeness into a legitimate body of knowledge, one fully on display in Sonic Somatic. Migone takes the vibrato of the extra “r” in the above Merdre– pronounced as it is by Alfred Jarry’s Ubu– as an entry point into his discussion of the body as a punctuation point for language and sound– the body as both a generator and resonator of many of the variety of sounds, silences and noises discussed in the book. For Migone, the body is key to sound art because it leaks; the purity of sound is always disrupted because of our shuffles, stutters, farts, and coughs. For an art form still trying to define itself, this porosity allows for a multivalent approach to its possible definitions and an allowance for some of the underbelly to seep in. The text manages to balance a strong throughline– from silence, through sound, language, space, and then death (back to silence)– with a densely layered series of art-and-sound historical reference points. At one point, as just one example, Christian Marclay shares a paragraph with Aristophanes, Artaud, and Pujol the Pétomane. Migone carves digressions into interesting arguments, allowing the weight of mounting evidence to create a dense case for the intrusion of bodily functions into the sound-art terrain. Despite its subject matter, it is hard to describe this book as irreverent, because Migone very deftly writes transgression into the history books. For all its excesses, it is very tightly wound.
In contrast, Fingering is live, loose and lurid. It’s a two-LP set culled from Migone’s live solo performances over the last dozen years. His instruments of choice have been gutted-and-reworked reel-to-reel tape recorders, the reproductive equivalent of a prepared piano. He “plays” them with contact mikes, sticking them into the cavities of the machines’ bodies as they run, creating a live collage out of a searching, textured noise and the slips and slurs of the machine. The results are very tactile. The titleFingering implies a certain embodied application; perhaps even a borderline explicit one, and the sound recordings share similar tawdry textures. The recordings are surprisingly intimate, despite the fact that they document live performances. One senses by the audiences’ stillness that they sit rapt in the erotic charge, likely aided by Migone often utilizing a live video-feed in his performances to amplify his actions. The slurpy, tetchy noise of Fingering makes it the perfect audio companion to Migone’s book. Migone is somehow able to make the machine sound fleshy and alive, creating a borderline disturbing listen (a special accomplishment for a noise record that isn’t mastered at the usual extremely high volume). But it is the last side of the two-LP set that connects most directly back to his book. A series of words (fingers and in) are edited down to just the sound of saliva forming on lips and tongue, before and after the word is stated. At each point, a voice is trying to speak, but only the absence of language and the presence of body is heard.
Volume: Hear Here exhibition review, Musicworks, No. 116 – Summer 2013, pp. 59-60, by Jason van Eyk
Sound artist, theorist, and Blackwood Gallery director Christof Migone has a vexing sense of creative association. The twenty-four very diverse works that he assembled from nineteen Canadian artists for the recent Volume: Hear Here exhibit formed what at first seemed like a confounding collection: drawings and artist’s books; kinetic and static sculpture; multimedia and interactive installation; diffused and head-phone-based audio; screen-based and projected video; and live performance art were barely contained within the Blackwood and Justina M. Barnicke galleries of the University of Toronto.
Migone’s artistic assemblage appeared as perplexing as each work was in itself. John Oswald’s Whisperfields, a nonsynchronous film soundtrack to the DVD Arc d’Apparition was diffused without its video component. Alexis O’Hara’s speaker fort-igloo was equal parts cozy space for communal soundmaking and ear-threatening feedback trap. Dave Dyment’s Untitled (Headset) offered a frustrating set of earphones that would only perform when unworn; his inaudible and barely even noticeable ultrasonic tone-cluster sculpture Nothing (for Robert Barry) was almost as unnervingly inaudible. Ian Skedd’s video piece displayed a choir signing what they should have been singing. Neil Klassen’s tar-encased trumped was rendered forever unplayable. Ryan Park’s silenced copy of John Cage’s Silence rubbed out the whole book from cover to cover in a beautiful buffed graphite; Chiyoko Szlavnics’ three-layered line drawings grew out of a series produced for musical compositions; and John Wynne’s box of his dead father’s old hearing aids played bewildering feedback in accompaniment to an intimately projected photo of the Atlantic Ocean. And that was only the half of it…
What was the attendee to take away from all this slippery sonic territory? The clues lie in the exhibition title, which Migone had very carefully crafted. Pick up a copy of his 2012 book Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body and read the following entry about volume, and you get an initial sense of what is theoretically at play here: “Volume: a measure of a space, and volume: amplitude of sound. Consider volume as the variability of that space in sound. Consider volume as something within but wholly separate. Consider volume as the invisible and unmarked presence of sound. Consider volume as the intertwine of the spatial and the sonic. Now, consider sound as lost in space, more intent to illimit that delimit. The volume of sound art is immeasurable, deafening. It can overwhelm with silence just as well as it can blast with noise. By playing with the volume dial here we shall consider the place of sound art. Exhibiting sound art poses challenges to the white cube, sound epitomizes leakage, sound confirms porosity of space. Sound art’s presence in museums is increasingly prevalent but remains problematic for spaces conceived for viewing instead of listening. Wide, open, reverberative galleries are not generally conducive to focused listening. Even prior to an intentional sound entering the equation, every space has its own soundtrack, its room tone. Every space is sonorous, every space has a breath…we shall weigh the propensity for sound to displace, multiply, heterogenize place, site.”
If volume problematizes the “gallerization” of sound art, then the questions of “here” (the essential presence or absence of the listener in the space where sound art is sounding or not) and of “hear” (the nature of reception and presentness of the listener in the space where sound art is) only further complicate the relationship. That is to say, if the very nature of sound-art exhibitions are already problematic, then why shouldn’t the work itself challenge these same notions in its very concept and content? At least that seems to be what Migone might be asking us to consider. Although, like sound itself, the fixity of his curatorial intent slides along the same slick lines between silence, sounding, and sonic interruption- indirect, unframed, oblique paths to meaning; destabilizing resonances that speak to some pluralized truth that takes shape and reverberates as quickly as it escapes and dissipates.
C Magazine, No. 118 Summer 2013, pdf, review of Volume: Hear Here exhibition, Blackwood Gallery and Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, by Shannon Anderson
The National Post, January 6 2013, “Three Metro Toronto unsung art galleries that deserve a hallelujah chorus” on Blackwood Gallery, by Daniel Baird.
Vital Weekly, No. 869 Week 7, review of Fingering by Frans de Waard
A double LP that comes with two inserts with two punched holes in it a ‘tear’ in the paper. You know this has to be the work of Christof Migone, who has provided us with more conceptual weirdness in the past few years, but for now his music is actual less concept based. Here we have Migone as an improviser, like he did with Alexandre St.Onge in the duo undo, but also with Set Fire To Flames, l’oreille a Vincent, Fly Pan Am, Klaxon Guele, Mecha Fixes Clock and with people like Tim Hecker, Martin Tetreault, Sam Shalabi and others. His instrument in all of these occasions is ‘gutted reel-to-reel machines’. This double LP documents his solo performances since 2000. He plays the tapes by using his fingers – or so I assume. Speeding the tape up, slowing it down are the only two I can think of, but then I don’t play this. I am not sure if Migone prepares his tapes in any way, such as recording it with his own sound material, punching holes in it, covers it with dirt (as some people do), but based on these nine pieces it’s safe to say Migone has learned a few tricks over the last fifteen years to play some varied music. Noise is never far away, which is perhaps not odd, but especially when he cuts down in volume, an interesting sonic depth arrises from the music in which electro acoustic music, field recordings and pure electronics melt down in real time sound collages, such as ‘Gignrifen’ and ‘As Smoke’. When the noise hits the van, it hits hard and loud, but it keeps bouncing off in all directions, like the rawest of musique concrete sound collages, which have been buried in gravel for about fifty years. Two heavy slabs of vinyl, a great documentation of a fine craftsmanship. Would be great to see this in concert.
Landscapes Events Reproducted, curated exhibition, Blackwood Gallery, by Amy Gaizauskas
Landscapes Events Reproducted (pdf), curated exhibition, Blackwood Gallery, by Leah Sandals
No More Potlucks, Issue 22: Record (pdf), “Listening to Ray Bradbury’s Mars: A Conversation with Christof Migone” by Marc Weidenbaum
The WIRE, August 2012 #342, review of Sonic Somatic: Performances of the Unsound Body , book, Berlin, Errant Bodies Press, by Daniella Cascella
On page 75 of Sonic Somatic, a new collection of texts by Toronto based artist, writer and curator Christof Migone, you will find a photograph from the turn of the century depicting a medium with ectoplasm oozing out of her mouth. Is she emitting something, or choking on it? On the book’s cover, you see a detail of Concrete Tape Recorder Piece (1968) by Bruce Nauman: a tape recording of a scream, silenced by the concrete block around it. At the end, the collection sees you off with a photograph taken from the back door of the Maverick Concert Hall, Woodstock, New York, where John Cage’s 4’33” was first performed in 1952 – a view from an uncommon vantage point, gaping in. Sonic Somatic takes shape among these pivotal marks: choking on its own material while oozing it out; where a scream meets a block of concrete, between literal meaning and bodily utterance, between the aural and the unheard.
“Sound art is unsound,” Migone argues. This is the first of many puns and neologisms such as “taciturntablism”, “depth charges”, “sound art for the hard of hearing” and “utter the stutter” through which he articulates his thoughts; his painstaking attention to language and his flair for deadpan word combinations glue the book together and make up a singular reading experience. Migone’s writing defies the long-winded traits of sonic theory by exhausting them, filling up and emptying out any reasoning, again and again. If sound art is unsound, then the discourse around sound is theoretically bulimic, and Migone captures this noxious state, scrutinising all the words devoured and expelled in the process.
Throughout these pages, words are excited or numbed by repetition until there seems to be no more to read or say. Is this book trying to push its readers away from its textual grip? Sonic Somatic is apparently focused on sound art, and yet its strength lies in keeping ‘sound art’ out of focus: the book exists on the edge of performance, installation art, sound works, literature and poetry, pursuing their sounding in absentia and seeking to achieve “a sonic state of silence”. Ultimately, the book operates as a critical prop for Migone the performer, the unseen taciturntablist; rather than trying to encage sound art in core definition, he engages with the peripheries of sound. Likewise it does not prescribe a given set of works in order to define a canon: instead, it is through these that Migone offers his hearing, his silencing, his writing and thinking. From pieces by Alvin Lucier to performances by Adrian Piper, from texts by Antonin Artaud and Samuel Beckett to Herman Melville’s Bartleby, any preconceived ideas of sound art are thwarted by Migone’s words into an anticipation or recollection of their bodily other, into emblematic tropes such as stutters, saliva, bodily emissions, loops and silences.
“Every time, [art] takes a new breath with the same old lungs,” Migone writes, and the circularity inherent in this book prompted me to metaphorically hyperventilate though its pages, hearing inner voices in reading, phantom voices in listening. At first I ignored them and read Sonic Somatic as a linear text: it eluded me. I tried to reason through it and I was stuck at a dead end. Finally I looked again at the photograph of the Maverick Concert Hall on the last page. I looked from the outside at a place I did not belong to; I struggled to figure out the space between the sonic and the bodily; I was fully aware of its transient yet vital substance. This book moved me away from itself and left me in the space of my own listening – I found myself shaping it as I read. It is an uneasy space, constantly under siege by words: a space of conflicted recognition. The moment I stopped trying to sort out Migone’s words in a conclusive manner and experienced them instead as a bodily presence, as a form or as a cut, Sonic Somatic disclosed its inner functioning and finally revealead itself: not as a book on sound art, but a work of sound art – as stuttering, fickle, provoking and unsound as that might be.
CBC DNTO, feature on Crackers by Sook Yin-Lee
Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui, No. 23, pp. 153-155, on Foursome in “Transpositions de l’œuvre de Beckett dans l’art contemporain au Québec”, by Carla Taban
L’œuvre d’art audio/radiophonique Foursome que Christof Migone a créée pour le programme Intermedia Art du musée Tate en 2007 (Web) se veut une transposition auditive, en quatre épisodes, de Quad. L’artiste a employé des sons et des bruits de nature différente dont il a altéré les qualités (volume, ton, timbre, durée, rythme, etc.) et qu’il a agencés dans un site sonore ‘dé-centré’ où la pièce télévisuelle de Beckett fonctionne, à l’instar du centre dans Quad, comme principe générateur mais inatteignable de l’œuvre. Migone a demandé à quatre femmes chorégraphes de regarder Quadrat I et II et de décrire, interpréter, voire exprimer, par la suite de mémoire ce qu’elles se rappellent avoir vu, entendu, pensé et/ou ressenti lors du visionnement. Les tuent la composante sonore ‘humaine’ de foursome, composante qui est exploitée non seulement dans sa dimension verbale, en tant que médium de la parole, mais aussi dans sa dimension vocale, en tant que médium de la parole, mais aussi dans sa dimension vocale, en tant que médium de production: i) des sons articulés autrement que linguistiquement (notamment musicalement), d’une part; et ii) des bruits inarticulés, d’autre part. A part les voix, Foursome inclut des composantes générées par des instruments musicaux acoustiques et électroniques, voire des synthétiseurs audio, ainsi que des bruits animés et non animés enregistrés du monde réel. L’œuvre configure ainsi un espace sonore complexe qui confond les habitudes auditives de l’écouteur, en réorientant son attention du verbal vers d’autres dimensions acoustiques, grâce principalement à deux procédés: l’interchangeabilité du verbal et du non verbal comme ‘figure’ et ‘fond’; et la décomposition-modification du verbal au-delà de toute compréhension sémantique possible.
Bien que l’autoréférentialité de Foursome opére le plus explicitement dans la dimension verbale de l’œuvre, elle affecte toutes ses composantes et leur configuration. Verbalement, les chorégraphes non seulement discourent sur Quad, mais elles méta-discourent aussi sur la difficulté de mettre la pièce en mots, autrement dit sur les embarras du processus de discursivisation lui-même. Leurs interjections expriment, à la limite du linguistique, cette même difficulté et assurent la transition vers des éléments vocaux – tels que des bruits inarticulés ou des constrictions respiratoires – qui connotent, dans le contexte établi par Foursome, l’impossibilité de verbaliser Quad. En fait, les dimensions auditives non-verbales et non-vocales de l’œuvre se voient pourvues à leur tour d’une fonction autoréflexive, non seulement parce qu’elles finissent par attirer l’attention sur elles-mêmes en tant que phénoménes sensoriels/ sensations sonores, mais aussi parce que leur soidisant ‘cacophonie phonique’ (donc littérale) pointe simultanément et contradictoirement: i) vers la métaphorique ‘cacophonie discursivisante’ de Quad et ii) vers la possibilité que la pièce de Beckett se laisse transposer auditivement autrement que discursivement. Cette possibilité d’une transposition sonore ‘autre’ de Quad, qui contourne la discursivisation, semble être sérieusement mise en doute par le fait qu’elle est explicitement énoncée, donc méta-discursivisée (autrement dit, circulairement ramenée au discours), par Migone lui-même, à un niveau autoréflexif qui emboîte les précédents. Encore est-il que Foursome continue à connoter la probabilité de la possiblité citée par le fait que ce nouveau niveau autoréflexif non seulement emboîte méta-discursivement les autres mais les miroite aussi performativement (donc par son faire), dans la mesure oú l’artiste traite sa propre voix exactement de la même manière dont il traite tous les phénomènes phoniques de Foursome, c’est-à-dire en en faisant ressortir en tout premier lieu les qualités acoustiques qui, dans le cas de toute voix articulée verbalement, sort d’habitude obscurcies par nos automatismes d’écoute ‘pour le sens.’
En travaillant sur son matériau sonore disposé ‘autour’ de Quad, Foursome fait et défait, autoréférentielles dans un processus théoriquement sans fin, dans une ‘mouvance signifiante’ analogue au mouvement incessant connoté par les quatre figures de Quad. L’œuvre de Migone n’explique point celle de Beckett, mais finit par en souligner encore plus les caractéristiques formelles et médiatiques qu’elle suggére responsables du conditionnement interprétatif du spectateur-écouteur, de sa propension à vouloir discursiviser Quad (même si seulement ou principalement sous le mode interrogatif), done à vouloir spéculer que ce qu’il y voit et entend doit signifier en fait quelque chose d’autre que ce qu’il y voit et entend.
Performance Research, 15(3) issue: On Listening, “Listening Inside Out: Notes on an embodied analysis”, p. 60-65, pdf, discussion of Crackers by Stacey Sewell
Art Papers, May/June 2010, pp. 56-57, pdf, review of Location!Location!Location! exhibition by Amish Morell
Globe and Mail, October 2, 2010, M3, pdf, “Christof Migone: Nuit Blanche curator” by Micah Toub
Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art, including section on Quieting, pp. 88-91 (London: Continuum) by Salomé Voegelin
Christof Migone’s piece Quieting, created from and around a canon that is fired every day at noon from the Citadel in Halifax, Canada, composes silence. The work starts with utter stillness that bids you into its quiet materiality, 34 tracks thereof, through the sounds of its mediator: the zipzipzip of the CO-player. That is all the proof I have at first that something is actually playing. From there I listen to the tiny sounds soon heard that extend what I hear to all that is present to listen to. This is the fullness of silence that grasps everything as it goes along: the zipzipzip of the CO-player, the humming of the road outside, the faint ticking of a clock, a distant siren, all get embedded in its tracks.
At track 18 the canon is fired. Its shot snaps me into the readiness of listening, and I become aware retrospectively of the intention- ality of the faint hushes, bubbles, voices and crackles that punctuated my soundscape for the last 15 minutes. The canon shot is like the clap of the Zen master readying you to fight. The fight is the phenom- enological focus of listening to the work as a sensory-motor production. The canon brackets the silence and reveals the intention of the work: to make you listen, to quieten yourself and hear your own process and location of engagement. Within this intention the work is not arbitrary but full of rhythmic and purposeful encounters with the material on and off the tracks.
Quieting reduces sound to the core of its experience. It produces a shiny surface of little trickles of tiny sounds and small tactile rhythms that mirror my listening and show me my own expectations. Sound is percolating, bubbling up under this surface of quiet that covers my walls horizontally floor to ceiling. I am bound to the sonic materiality produced in my own listening imagination. The reciprocity is reflec- tive, sharp and fast. Unlike in noise this is not a reactive intersubjec- tivity; the material does not digest and fragment me or make me bear its heavy weight. Instead I hear myself in this quiet soundscape, I am the centre of its weightless sounds: called by its faintness to listen and recognize nothing but myself in the heard.
Silence is at once reflective and encompassing: taking into itself all that is audible to echo back to me my own listening engagement. It provides a thick surface in which I hear myself listening to my sur- roundings, to gain a knowing about these surroundings from myself within them. Silence binds me into its sensorial materiality, and I start to build my own narrative between the heard and the anticipation of what there is to hear next. This next is not transcendental and certain, always already there before hearing it, but experiential and doubtful, produced now in my contingent signifying practice of listening to Migone’s composition.
His work is not slight but bare. He bares sounds in silence to pro- duce the force of anticipation that produces the work. Quieting makes the condition of sound audible by taking away the soundings and quieting the space as well as the listener, inviting him to hear. I am still listening when it is all gone, and my surroundings have become his tracks. In the spell of the canon shot I have attained a sensibility that lasts at least for a little while. There is a silent after-sound that vibrates the room for a moment after it has passed. It is a silence you have to write about with a soft pencil in order not to erase the quiet sounds and come to write about the motion of writing rather than the sounds of listening.
Silence frees the work to embrace the soundscape and make it resonate in its composition. Composing silence is to build an infinite frame around the experience of these sounds. However, this frame is the contingent act of listening rather than a particular instruction to hear. It happens on the composer’s wish but the desire of the audi- ence to hear fulfils it. The composer of silence composes not only auditory materiality but also stages listening as the invention of sound. In this sense silence places the composer and the listener in corresponding locations: he is the composer as producer and I am the composer as listener. This equivalence explains the responsibility of the listener and his centrality in any exchange about the heard. And thus it renders silence critical in respect to aesthetic discourse, since it shifts the focus of writing about the work to writing about its production in perception.
Migone composes his silence that enables mine. The sensorial material however is not the same at all. What we share is the canon shot as a call to listen. It is our moment of understanding in the midst of a much more solitary and personal production. The work is realized as the aesthetic moment of my subjective silence. It is ideal in its contingent ephemerality and becomes material through my fleshly encounter: hooked inside my body its silence tugs on the surface of my skin to hear it as a whisper all over my body. We share listening, not however the heard. Our meeting point is more poetic, fleeting and full of misunderstandings. Our silence is fragile, passing around a canon shot in Halifax. Communicating what we hear in this silence is like talking about thin air. It is to discuss something that is invisible, ephemeral and fleeting, but substantial in its consistency, surround- ing us all the time.
This embedded parity between Migone and me has a more general application however, since it is at least the conceptual starting point for any composing and listening, even of a noisier piece.
Talking about the silent snowed-in night feels like groping for words in the dark to describe what I hear, and when I am talking the very thing I am describing is erased by my voice. This makes for a very tentative sensibility. I start to speak with the knowledge that I obliter- ate what I talk about with every word, and that my meaning is as fleet- ing and microscopic as the sounds I am trying to discuss. ‘It made a certain faint ticking sound’ I insist, trying to explain my fear and inability to sleep. ‘I definitively heard a quiet creak in the empty house, listen. . . there. . . ‘ My partner in communication despairs. ‘You are mad’ he shouts, chasing away the silence monsters. As it gets quiet again I start again, trying in whispering tones, afraid to chase away the tiny sounds, to narrate what I think I can hear, so he would hear it too.