Improv musician sounds off at KWH lecture

Alan Licht performs, promotes new book during visit

The Daily Pennsylvanian
November 30, 2007

Guitar pedals, Buddha machines, book promotions and art-history lectures make up just another day for musician and composer Alan Licht, who finished his visit to Penn yesterday with a presentation at Kelly Writers House.

Licht, known for his experimental free-form improvisations with partners ranging from Sonic Youth's Lee Ranaldo to a huge rotating metal cylinder at the Institute of Contemporary Art, spent two days at Penn.

His lecture yesterday focused on the history of "sound art," a topic of interest given the ICA's current exhibition, called Ensemble and curated by artist Christian Marclay, which features some of the most important works in that genre.

Licht performed there Wednesday as part of a series of events called Whenever Wednesdays in which renowned artists add new layers of sound to Marclay's exhibition.

In Licht's case, this meant using a Buddha machine - essentially a pre-programmed iPod that loops "ambient sounds" - and interconnected guitar pedals to create a mixture of rhythm and noise that interacted with the sounds already occurring in the exhibition.

"The overall effect is something you might hear in a group improvisation project," Licht said in the lecture. Only in this case, instead of people, the partners were machines.

"I really felt like I couldn't have a conversation with machines or sculpture, but I tried to pay respect to the work," Licht said.

Marclay's exhibition and Licht's performance tie into the larger history of sound art, something that Licht covers in depth in his new book, Sound Art: Beyond Music, Between Categories.

Licht is captivated by the accidental component of art created when uncoordinated works in different mediums are exhibited together.

He argues that such works like Karlheinz Stockhausen's Soundhouses or Licht's own Text of Light prove that art doesn't have to be preplanned to work together; Marclay's exhibition is just another example.

"Synchronicity, not synchronization; motion, not film; sound, not soundtrack; action, not concert," is something that sound art in general, and Marclay's exhibiton in particular, have accomplished: "It just becomes a matter of interaction itself."

The exhibition Ensemble is open at the ICA until Dec. 16.