to Artful Design • Chapter 1: “Visual Design”
October 16, 2022
Music 256A / CS476a, Stanford University
For this week’s reading, I will be responding to the discussion of “Strange Design Loops” from pg. 138-143 of Artful Design, specifically in the context of an artwork: Eve Beglarian’s From the Same Melancholy Fate. From the Same Melancholy Fate is an improvisational audiovisual work which narratively engages with the events following the death of a the Flower Man, a prominent figure in the Houston arts scene. Described in the book Painting the Town Orange: The Stories Behind Houston’s Visionary Art Environments:
“after seventeen years as a homeless alcoholic, he had a near-death experience in the gutter in 1983. Then, a divinely inspired vision of a whirlwind of colorful junk prompted him to devote the rest of his life to brightening his neighborhood and the lives of countless visitors with the deft arrangement of colorful refuse.”
The actual execution of this piece is described by Beglarian in the link above:
“The player is given a pre-recorded track which has as its base my reading of Louise Glück’s poem recorded and re-recorded in space so that it is engulfed by room resonance (a la Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room), along with additional layers of music and song. The performer records every performance of the piece, and each performance recording becomes the pre-recorded track for the next performance. Thus the original track gradually disappears into the new layers, the performer responds to his/her previous self as part of the counterpoint of sound, and every performer’s tape part is unique, a palimpsest of previous performances of the piece.”
One aspect that I think is compelling about the process of creating this work is that it is a strange loop of strange loops! The reading of the poem is interacting with the physics of the room it was recorded in - while simultaneously responding and iterating on I am sitting in a room. This recording then serves as a backing track that informs the performer's improvisation. Because the performer then takes this recording and uses it as the backing track for their next performance, the original recording both slowly gets lost over time as the other performances drown it out while having far-reaching consequences, as the recursively constructed backing track moves far away from its origins (while being shaped by the origins). This becomes both an interaction with the prerecorded strange loop (the original backing track) and a meta performance that refers to other past performances directly (with the re-recordings) and as part of the practice of realizing the music (where the performer builds and develops their interpretation of the work as they continue to perform it). There’s so many moving parts that interact in a really thoughtful way!