31 Places Revisited
In October 2003 I collaborated with my friend, composer Brian Parks, on a series of consecutive nightly public performances in the city of Atlanta; one performance every night of the month, and each in a different place. The series was titled, appropriately, 31 Places.
The majority of the performances happened out of doors, in city parks, in parking lots, on loading docks, on bridges, on the sides of major roadways, in or on abandoned structures, on the escalator of a subway station, in the bed of a moving pickup truck, and in other such marginal public spaces. The performances were site specific, and the geographical and physical particulars of each location were integral to and often directly responsible for the content and form.
While we often played our instruments – harpsichord and guitar – in standard fashion, we frequently devised techniques to expand the sonic palette of the instruments. The majority of the performances were musical and consisted of improvised material, but some were decidedly non-musical, being composed instead of prepared or spontaneous dialogue. Others were pseudo-musical; we used our instruments to create sonic representations of our surroundings. We imposed temporal constraints upon some pieces, for instance, predetermining the length or specific rhythmic patterns.
Documentation was part of our nightly process, though our approach to documentation was as spontaneous and discursive as the rest of the series. We primarily created audio recordings using the Sony MiniDisc format and a small, consumer-grade stereo microphone. Very little attention was given to the placement and operation of the audio gear- it sometimes sat on top of the harpsichord or guitar case, on nearby objects or structures, or on the ground in front of us. As a result, the range in recording quality from night to night is commensurate with the other salient elements of the series, which is to say, all over the map. Some nights were additionally documented with handheld digital video cameras, handheld audio cassette recorders and Polaroid photographs. As best I can tell from the surviving archive two nights were not documented at all.
The extant documentation has been graciously stored for the better part of ten years by our good friend, the artist, curator and archivist Andy Ditzler. Reviewing this material now, ten years later, I see a kind of zealotry in our choices, a devotion to a handful of themes and personal idols of the time: a pseudo-Cage-ian rejection of the distinction between musical and non-musical sounds; enthusiasm for the site-specific serialism of mid-20th-century conceptual art such as that of Fluxus, John Baldessari, Vito Acconci and others; an aesthetic crush on the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and the way he portrayed industrial landscapes- to name a few.
But I think more so than any aesthetic influences we were motivated by a healthy streak of contrarianism, feeling discontent with standard musical and artistic outlets, and deeply ambivalent and mistrustful of most of the art and music culture around us. It’s evident to me how seriously we took ourselves and what we were doing, and how much we wanted others to take us seriously. In hindsight that attitude seems very naive, but I also find it endearing. I respect what we did, messy and selfish as it was.
I’ve spent the last month or so combing through the material and making digital copies of what I think are some of the best examples, or at least my favorite examples, of what 31 Places sounded and looked like. Throughout the month of October 2013 I’ll post a daily selection from the corresponding performance in October 2003, on a blog I’ve dedicated to the project. I feel it is important to note that although we have corresponded about it, Brian Parks is not involved in this selecting and re-presenting, and that essentially I’m doing this on my own to satisfy my fondness and nostalgia for the project. I look forward to sharing it.