It’s my fault this is a Late Edition. -ed
First, two points of contention.
What happened to Thanksgiving? I certainly remember elementary school lessons on Pilgrims and Native Americans, crafting a paper mache cornucopia and celebrating the power of a shared meal to create friendship between strangers (that is, before manifest destiny and smallpox). Yet it seems that now Thanksgiving is no longer a holiday, it just marks 31 days until Christmas. Now I know that Black Friday is the first day of the shopping season, but I was hearing carols on the radio and jingle bells on commercials days before. It's just wrong. Also wrong- how Continental can think a Swiss Cheeseburger, potato salad, and potato chips is a balanced meal? How about instead of dogfood and the 2 servings of starch, you give me that half-ripe fruit salad with one strawberry I used to scoff at?
Anyway, on to the art. If you have never heard of Walter Kitundu
I suggest you take some time to check him out. I had the pleasure of seeing him open for and collaborate with Matmos
at the Great American Music Hall. Kitundu is a one man machine: photographer, writer, visual and sound artist. I was most impressed by the instruments he has created and the concepts behind them. The stylus glove
, for example, looks vaguely like a Tim Burton creation. With a needle on each fingertip, the composer can play four parts of the record at once, creating melodies and chords.
My boredom with the art I've seen lately is because so much is focused on aesthetic instead of meaning. I'm not discounting that work, particularly work in a buy-and-sell driven market, should be attractive to consumers. But often times I think the true art is sacrificed in the face of marketability. Kitundu combines beautiful craftsmanship
with musical innovation which is increasingly realized when these projects are put to use to create an amazing soundscape
. Realizing that record players can sense vibration even when it is not coming from a record, Kitundu is pushing the limits of "sonic vocabulary" by harnessing the potential of the turntable. By attaching strings
to the turntable in the case of the Phonoharp, he can exponentially increase its musical possibilities. Plucked or bowed, the strings resonate through the platter and to the stylus. So imagine… I was watching a man take a sample, use looping pedals to continue the melody, then play on two handmade instruments. The Blues String Phonoharp sounds like a lap steel guitar while the Phonombau
uses a small thumb piano attached to the turntable. Weaving each instrument with the records, drumming on the equipment which vibrates through the record player, and changing samples with different albums, Kitundu seamlessly transforms the ideas in his head into pure sound. And if all this isn't jaw-dropping enough, Kitundu has never had formal music training; his work is created through boundless creativity and perseverance.
With residencies in the past few years the Exploritorium in San Francisco and the Gunnar Gunnarssonn Institute in Iceland, Kitundu has further pushed the sound technology he uses by exploring natural elements. The Geologic Sound Casting Project
is a combination of geology and community building. By recording local poets, storytellers, and singers, he aims to create 5-foot in diameter record positives that would be filled in by volcanic eruptions. The "sound stones" molded into giant records could then be installed on large acoustic turntables to reveal "historied sounds molded by the earth itself". Other projects like rain activated acoustic turntables
propose public installations of turntables activated by paddles harnessing rainwater flowing down the street. Kitundu's use of fire, water, wind and earth promotes self-awareness of the land we occupy. And that, my friends, is what I suggest when I say "meaning".
* Be sure to check out an interview with the artist in the next issue of Alarm Magazine
and potential performances with Matmos or Kronos Quartet.