Alan Berliner

Intro from Jay Allison: Some people know Alan Berliner as a filmmaker. His documentaries, like "Nobody's Business," "Sweetest Sound," and "Intimate Stranger," have won awards all around the world, plus 3 Emmys. Other people know him for his video, photographic and audio installation art in museums like the Walker Art Center and the International Center of Photography. His two audiences don't cross paths much. That's one reason we invited him to come to Transom, to talk about the intersection. Alan is an image junky. And he's also obsessed with collecting sounds. You should see his studio. And hear it. Failing that, check out his elegant, Flash-animated manifesto: "Thirteen Ways Of Looking At Sound" (Note: This presentation was created with help from Transom Editor Viki Merrick and Transom alumni and Flashmeister Jason Rayles, with support from the Open Studio Project)

13 Ways of Looking at Sound

Alan Berliner’s Flash-animated manifesto, “13 Ways of Looking at Sound” :

Ben Shapiro’s video portrait of Alan and his large filing cabinet filled with sound:

Alan Berliner

About
Alan Berliner

Alan Berliner's uncanny ability to combine experimental cinema, artistic purpose and popular appeal into compelling film essays has made him one of America's most acclaimed independent filmmakers. The New York Times has described Berliner's work as "powerful, compelling and bittersweet... full of juicy conflict and contradiction, innovative in their cinematic technique, unpredictable in their structures... Alan Berliner illustrates the power of fine art to transform life." Berliner's award-winning experimental documentary films, The Sweetest Sound (2001), Nobody's Business (1996), Intimate Stranger (1991), and The Family Album (1986), have been broadcast all over the world, and have received awards and prizes at many major international film festivals. Retrospectives of his films have been presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and at film festivals from Norway, Finland and England to Spain, Argentina and Brazil. His films are in the permanent collections of many film societies, festivals, libraries, colleges and museums. A recipient of Rockefeller, Guggenheim and Jerome Foundation Fellowships, Berliner has received multiple grants from the NEA, NYSCA, NYFA and in 1998, won his third career Emmy Award (he has also received six nominations) from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. He was also the recipient of a Distinguished Achievement Award from the International Documentary Association in 1993, and was honored with a "Storyteller Award" from the 2001 Taos Talking Picture Film Festival. He received a "Cultural Achievement Award in the Arts" from the National Foundation For Jewish Culture in 2002. In addition to his work in film, Berliner has also produced a substantial body of photographic, audio and video installation works. In 2002, he was an artist in residence at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where he premiered an interactive multi-media installation, The Language of Names. His interactive video installation, Gathering Stones, was commissioned for the exhibition, "To The Rescue, Eight Artists in an Archive," which premiered at the International Center of Photography in New York City in February, 1999, and traveled to Miami, Houston and San Francisco. It was re-commissioned for the Holocaust Museum, Houston in 2002. Berliner was born in Brooklyn, raised in Queens and lives in Manhattan. He is currently a faculty member at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where he teaches a course entitled, "Experiments in Time, Light and Motion." His site is AlanBerliner.com.

Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Website

  • John Hibbs

    12.01.03

    Reply
    Thirteen Ways Of Looking At Sound."

    I loved, loved, loved this presentation. Alan, you are the "right guy" to help us reach millions of radio listeners world wide on Global Learn Day, now in its 8th year. You might look at our blog found from
    http://www.bfranklin.edu/blog – Section

    "Radio in all its Glory".

    You might also just write to me, or find out more about all this
    http://www.bfranklin.edu/johnhibbs

  • Susan Price

    12.01.03

    Reply
    13 ways: wow

    Thanks for a most TEXTURED presentation. In these days of digital perfection, I continue to be drawn into static and graininess — is it our longing for authenticity?

    Susan
    http://www.cosmopolitanproductions.com

  • Jackson

    12.03.03

    Reply
    Great stuff entirely

    A couple of questions:

    What did you do before computers? Collecting material (or, in your case, materials) demands a sensibility of order you seem to have by nature. I wonder if you now organize your collections via database.

    Do you find yourself relating to objects/images/sounds differently in the digital age?

  • Sydney Lewis

    12.04.03

    Reply

    How is it that you have not gone entirely mad? Not to get too personal or anything. It’s fascinating to me, your compulsion to accumulate sound, your difficulty ignoring sound, and your fondness for the “silence of interior empty spaces.” And you live in NY??!! I wanted the picture of you in your digs to blow up big so I could more clearly see what’s in that room and ask about it. But it doesn’t, so I’ll ask this, what kind of logic do you use to file all these different sounds? Spring-time tape of a woman yelling for her kids in a Central Park playground with ambulance sirens in the background and robins chirping would go where?

    p.s. I can summon up the scene-changing sounds of Nobody’s Business at will. They were so perfect. Did you come to these after trying out lots of other sounds or was it one of those ah-ha moments?

  • Robert Krulwich

    12.04.03

    Reply
    The thing i liked about the 13 thing

    You know what I really liked?
    It wasn’t the pictures, exactly, though the pictures were curious and tantalizingly not exactly about the quotations underneath….
    It wasn’t the sounds, exactly, though the sounds were good, not startling, but neat, especially the "last" sound of birds wings flapping..at least I think they were bird wings flapping…
    It wasn’t Alan’s narrative, though the narrative was haiku-ish and in more than a couple of cases very elegant.
    It was the dial thing.
    That projecting radio dial thingamajig that sits on the screen.
    What a superb design idea…
    I kept gliding my cursor toward it, very close, then back a bit wondering if it would make things louder or clearer or if new colors would pop on and when putting the curser right ON the dial made everything stop, I was…elated! Like I’d landed somewhere.
    I know it’s dumb, but that’s what I liked.

    And naturally, every time Alan unpeals another layer of his wonderfully strange self, (TWENTY YEARS of photo scissoring!?!?!) I think about how amazing it would be to discover his apartment when he was not there…like suppose i was a burglar that just happened to break through HIS living room window…slip in and find…what? Stacks and stacks of whatever it is that’s piled up behind him in that photo; a 30 foot cabinet filled with taped sounds, all labled, monster storage spaces filled with clipped photos, and who knows what else. It would be a Babel sized tower of Collections and if Alan weren’t there to explain them all, it would be like a crossword puzzle in apartment form: 51 Grozny photos across, 23 bird calls down, everything in perfect order, in its place, but none of it comprehensible. Not right away.
    He could sell tickets.

  • Jackson

    12.04.03

    Reply
    But didn’t you also like the way…

    the hidden button in the image would light up like some magical thing in an Indiana Jones flick? And then that radio noise as you wandered between points on the dial.

    Now, Msgr. Berlinr, do you look at all these various and sundry objects (audio and otherwise) as your possessions, or do you feel possessed by them?

  • Michael Joly

    12.05.03

    Reply
    Room Tone Thought

    Alan I’m wondering if room tone, unlike other categories of sound you work with, is sound never meant to be shared.

    Might it be a “ruminating space” – a quiet but highly detailed place that invites examination but not manipulation or distribution?

    And, are you ever conflicted over the urge to quietly collect/examine room tone and the urge to manipulate and distribute?

    I’m continually captivated by the beauty of a substance that is so hard to describe and nearly impossible to share.

  • alan berliner

    12.05.03

    Reply

    thanks jackson.

    I did what everyone did before computers — i wrote everything out long-hand on paper and then eventually got myself an electric typewriter (what people did before electric typewriters is also an interesting story) and created lots of paper lists and notebooks and cumbersome files, many of which still fill my shelves. i also made the companies that sold "white-out" very rich.

    in the end, it’s all about creating models for memory. about putting things in orbit around me so that i can use them — so that i can work with them when i need them — whether it’s a sound, a photograph, a piece of film, a newspaper article or even an old idea. it’s about being able to act at the speed of thought.

    the computer helps, especially when searching through voluminous amounts of material, but in the end, it all comes down to how you (and your biocomputer) enter your information in the database, so that one year, two years or even ten years later, you’ve created a system of enduring logic and elegance that grows and evolves with you over time. otto bettmann, creator of the bettmann archives (now that’s a good story waiting to be told) claimed that his archive was based on the principles of a Bach fugue!

  • alan berliner

    12.05.03

    Reply

    I don’t collect stuff just for the sake of it — for instance, there’s nothing here that’s worth any money per se — i gather sounds and other media information sources because i want to work with them, because i want to transform them into new things, new objects, new experiences.

    maybe my compulsion to give aesthetic order to the barrage of media flotsom and jetsom that surrounds me is, in essence, a way of coping with the inescapable information overload that accompanies living in a place like new york city; the only place i would (or could) ever live by the way.

    as for categories… there are hundreds of them naturally, mostly based on the obvious, but several that are idiosyncratic to my way of listening and understanding. private jokes. hints to myself. seeds planted. provocations.

    giving names to things ( i made a film about that a few years ago) is a very delicate process. "Spring-time tape of a woman yelling for her kids in a Central Park playground with ambulance sirens in the background and robins chirping" could go in several places, but for me, as i listen to it, the plaintive voice of a mother would foreground itself over the habitual urban soundscape in the background. i might put it with "mother and child." and probably cross-list it with "central park scenes."

    as for nobody’s business…
    editing for me is all about those "ah-ha" moments, and i try to have as many of them as i can all the time.

  • alan berliner

    12.05.03

    Reply
    twolas

    hi robert,
    thanks for weighing in. the way you describe your experience playing with — may i introduce an acronym for the piece at this point in the transom dialogue? — "twolas"… (the question is whether to pronounce it "toolas" or with a long o sound as in ((vic))twolas? either way, i’m happy to give it a nickname and save everyone a little time. thirteen is also an acceptable moniker i suppose.) …is exactly the kind of playful response that i’d hoped for. explore, discover, and let the piece teach you how it works. with some more time and additional funds, something like this could have many more layers of color, interactivity and depth. there are to be sure, countless additional ways of decoding and deconstructing these images, even within the focused lens of "looking at sound." this is only just a beginning.

    as for the notion of burglars:earlier incarnations of my studio have indeed been "trespassed upon," and from the trail of the mess they left behind it seemed clear that the intruders were more than a bit confused about what to make of the situation. on one occasion, many different boxes of papers, photographs, audiotapes and (peculiar) objects were strewn all over the floor, causing me a brief flash of merriment amidst the trauma of my anger and sadness, imagining the greedy frustration of my unwanted guests as they came upon box after box of unwanted and worthle$$ media detritus instead of the gold and silver they were after. and if i did have anything to hide, the elaborate array of boxes (all of them meticulously labeled) around here would certainly constitute the ultimate shell game.

    as for all my years of cutting out images from the newspaper (friends have both laughed and cried about it over the years), it’s become a kind of ongoing meditation for me by now. it’s the only way i know how to "read" the news, and in the end, it’s one important way that i process (and make sense of) the world. my archive of images is a pneumonic for both personal and collective memory.

    and robert, you are still more than welcome to pay a visit here anytime, but contary to your suggestion, i think it’s better if i’m here to give you the tour. free of charge of course.

  • Viki Merrick

    12.05.03

    Reply
    pictures schmictures

    when do we get to talk about sound? You make stories with just a few sounds – I’ve seen/heard you do it.
    your "sound files" which ,for those who don’t know, is an innoccuous looking file cabinet with labels like: full moon, nobody home, turtle soup, wits’ end. ( I made up turtle soup, but it’s a thought..) and each drawer has a tape recorder with a looping tape of a sound that kicks in when you open the drawer.
    At the Third Coast you showed a film of the file in action and I think you told a detective story and not a word had been spoken.
    Do you rely on common experience of sound when you play around with sounds ….was I one of thousands who heard a detective story or was it all in my own head.

  • alan berliner

    12.05.03

    Reply
    pictures schmictures sounds pounds

    turn down your radios everybody — the sirens you hear actually mean something good this time — the sound police have arrived.

  • Robert Krulwich

    12.06.03

    Reply
    Let’s go back to the picture…

    Can we go back to the picture at the top of the page?
    Maybe I’m crazy, but when I first looked at that picture the other day, it was cropped differently.
    THere you were, in the center, as you are still…but…
    There was a cabinet off your right knee. There was stuff (what? I wondered) in the cabinet and two perfect stacks of paper, one longish, the other shorter plus what appeared to be post-it notes perfectly placed on the cabinet top.
    There was another wall over your right shoulder with stacks of different stuff (what? I wondered)
    Then..
    Mysteriously..
    The picture changed.
    Did I dream this?

    What we have here, folks, is an utterly cluttered and at the same time, a perfectly ordered mind, undulating in this lanky frame of a guy who can’t stop exploring, noticing, gathering, framing, labeling, noticing again, noticing more…He notices so much, he is very, very close to out of control, so to save himself, he organizes furiously to contain it all.
    And the really fascinating thing, is when you hang around this guy, there’s no panic in the air, no sense of madness…just a very muscular librarian holding it all together.

  • Jackson

    12.06.03

    Reply
    It’s not just sounds, it’s not just pictures

    It’s the collection that’s the thing. Long ago, I used to edit books like "The Official Price Guide to Elvis and Beatles Collectibles" and Political Memorabilia and so on. If Alan Berliner is guilty of anything, it’s that boyo trait of objectifying things like newspaper photos and sound.

    Which leads me to a couple of other questions: Given the choice between a photo cut out of a newspaper or a clean glossy of exactly the same image, Alan, which one would you prefer to have?

    Meanwhile, back in the realm of systems of order in your collection, do you have a favorite? Chronological? Alphabetical? By decibel level? Liturgical calendar?

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    12.06.03

    Reply

    it’s nice to have a place where you can come to ask what you’ve been dreaming.

    actually, Alan’s presented a dream here, hasn’t he?
    dream time you can explore.

    Did I have the same dream? I saw text only under the towers.

  • alan berliner

    12.07.03

    Reply
    looking at room tone

    let’s first clarify. every room has a sound. a sound that’s underneath. that’s behind. that’s inside the space. every room has it’s own kind of "quiet."

    what does grand central station sound like without any people? or carnegie hall without any musicians or audience? or a supermarket at four in the morning? how about an elevator without the muzak? or your bedroom without the television, the hum of an air conditioner or the hiss of steam heat?

    what’s left is a impression of something we call "quiet," (and often describe as silence) — an acoustic space very often defined by the degree of insulation that succeeds (or sometimes not) in keeping the "outside" out. depending on the who,what or where, most interior room tones contain hints of traffic, birds, wind, and other subtle (or sometimes not) forms of "exterior presence" — not to mention the wildly unpredictable range of architectural features and acoustic anomalies, that control, contain and confound the "sound" of any silent space.

    as we all know (outside of a vacuum) there is no such thing as pure silence. and that’s what makes the sounds of interior "air" so interesting. anytime you’re able to re-frame something that’s habitual, when you’re able to foreground the background and make the invisible audible, when you can change one’s perceptual mode from just listening to really "hearing, then you’re on to something.

    each room tone is like a minimal abstract painting, each a variation on a simple color-field or monochrome canvas, within which all sorts of different kinds of *noise* — colors, forms, textures and shapes (can and often do) declare themselves when studied closely. they teach you how to listen.

    and… like minimal (abstract) paintings, room tones also teach you to re-adjust your experience of time. listening to "nothing" like looking at "nothing," requires patience and perseverance and a willingness to be surprised by the complexity often packed inside of simple things.

  • Jay Allison

    12.08.03

    Reply
    Furious Organizer

    God, I love Robert’s "Muscular Librarian" moniker. You should use that in your bio, Alan.

    Speaking of Robert, in his Topic on Transom, he wrote about how the characters in his pieces talk to each other and and tell him if they’re comfortable where he puts them and ask to be moved if they’re not. Do your images and sounds talk to each other and tell you where to put them? If so, what are they saying now? What are they telling you to make with them next?

  • alan berliner

    12.09.03

    Reply
    audiofile

    just to set the record straight, the interactive audio sculpture viki mentioned is actually titled, "AUDIOFILE."

    AUDIOFILE consists of four metal file cabinets, each containing 27 individual drawers. inside every drawer is a portable cassette tape recorder fitted with a continuous loop recording, electrically designed so that when any drawer is opened, the tape recorder activates, producing sound. when the drawer is closed, the sound ceases. at rest, the work is silent; when engaged, any number of drawers, from 1 to 108, may generate sound simultaneously.

    from gregorian chants to rap music, from water torture to crocodile tears, from a chorus of frogs to piano chords, the range of rhythms, textures, subjects and references contained within AUDIOFILE is diverse and eclectic. AUDIOFILE allows the participant to compose his/her own sound collage combinations using 108 unique sound elements — from nuanced and delicate concrete musics to wildly implausible, raucous cacophonies — that form the potential for an inexhaustible variety of narrative, abstract, musical, and philosophical auditory experiences. several people can interact with AUDIOFILE simultaneously, allowing for an even greater range of serendipitous, and accidental sound collages.

    every drawer has its own "name" — setting up another level of engagement, expectation and surprise. here’s the full list:

    All News Radio * Aria * Artificial Intelligence * Ascending * Basic Training * Boiling Point * Boing * Brick Oven * Broken Record * Canned Laughter * Carnival Atmosphere * Cherokee * Child’s Play * Chorus of Frogs * Cloud Bursts * Cold Front * Counting Sheep * Crack of Dawn * Critical Condition * Crocodile Tears * Cymbal * Dancing Shoes * Dead of Night * Descending * D Flat Major * Dr. Gusoff’s Office * Drones * Earth Orbit * Echo Chamber * Electric Chair * Fast Forward * Fifty Words A Minute * Finishing Touches * Four Quarter Time * Fourth of July * Friendly Fire * Full Moon * Game Point * Glissando * G Minor * Gridlock * Happy Hour * Hard Hat Area * Hard of Hearing * Heartbroken * High Holy Days * High Tide * Home Movies * In a Groove * Intensive Care * Japanese For Beginners * Joy Ride * Jumping Jacks * Les Fleurs du Mal * Light Breeze * Line of Scrimmage * Lord’s Prayer * March on Washington * Mood Music * Mortar and Pestle * Moving Target * Music Box * Nobody Home * Noisemakers * No Trespassing * Off the Hook * Open and Shut * Oral History * Out of Gas * Passing Time * Peace of Mind * Perfect Pitch * Perpetual Motion * Pounding Away * Quitting Time * Radioactive * Random Notes * Remote Control * Rest in Peace * Rewind * Round of Applause * Senior Citizens * Silent Movie * Singing Praises * Six Horsepower * Sleepless Night * Smoker’s Cough * Songbird * Song of Myself * S.O.S. * Sound Asleep * Soundings * Three Minute Egg * Time Bomb * Title Bout * Tossing and Turning * Touch Tones * Tuning Up * Twelve O’Clock * Twenty Two Caliber * Twilight Zone * Under Arrest * Utter Nonsense * Voice MaiL * Water Torture * Whale Watching * Winding Up * Wit’s End

    here are a few examples of drawer titles and the sounds you hear when the drawer is opened:

    no trespassing……..dog barking
    light breeze……….wind chimes
    wit’s end………….man screams
    all news radio……..live news radio ("wins" real time)

    by slowly opening the drawers labeled — mood music, dead of night, chorus of frogs, out of gas, no trespassing, 22 caliber, wit’s end and then critical condition — one after another in sequence, thus layering them over the course of a minute or two, a kind of horror scene narrative (what viki describes as a detective story) is eerily evoked. one doesn’t have to say a word.

    question…
    what sound would you put in a drawer labeled "turtle soup?"

  • alan berliner

    12.09.03

    Reply

    as a follow-up to jackson’s question…

    "Given the choice between a photo cut out of a newspaper or a clean glossy of exactly the same image, Alan, which one would you prefer to have?"

    …at this point in my process, i’d much much prefer to have the image in newsprint, cut directly from the newspaper. the very act of cutting connects me to the image, somehow sears it into my memory, links it to the events of the day, the month, the year, the decade and where i was/am in my life at the time.

    let me also say that i gladly (but sometimes and even often grudgingly) SUFFER THE PATIENCE to be, as robert put it, "a muscular (how i wish) librarian. it’s just that over the years i’ve learned that i’m someone who needs to take the world apart before (because it’s intrinsically interwoven with the way) i put the world back together. i think of my ongoing work as a life-long project, and maintain (despite the cost of time, sanity and money) this totally idiosyncratic collection of stuff (sometimes when i’d rather be doing a million other things) because i need to. it’s too late to change; i’m just wired this way.

    as for your question regarding systems of order…. there are many things here that are organized based on alphabetical order to be sure. at the same time there are some things that are color-coded, others that are size-based, others based on a simple but intuitive feel for the "feng shui" of the space and situation, yet others that are totally random, because i also want there to be some wackiness lurking in my midst. there’s control — but also lots of playfulness.

  • Viki Merrick

    12.10.03

    Reply
    turtle soup answer

    slurping

    or bubbles

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    12.10.03

    Reply

    Scusie,please. I’m still wondering whether I saw the whole thing. How many pictures in 13 ways had text under them? I saw text only under the twin towers. thanks…

  • alan berliner

    12.10.03

    Reply
    message to nannette

    there is text under each of the 13 images. beyond that, there is an audio essay — in thirteen parts — one part per image.

    one of the big risks in making interactive work is accepting the fact that different people will come to the "aha" of the experience in different ways and at different times. there’s no big secret nannette; play around some more and see (that is to say intuit) how you got text under the twin towers. the same method works for all of them. think yellow!

  • Sydney Lewis

    12.11.03

    Reply
    sound install

    Never had the privilege of seeing/hearing/being in one of your sound installations. The whole installation idea intrigues me — creating for a space rather than just using a space for your creation. Would you describe strikes your fancy about the process of working on one of your sound installations… One in NY, please, if possible.
    Thanks…

  • Nubar

    12.11.03

    Reply
    Stealth

    Alan; I LOVED this piece and would be only too happy to join Robert in visiting your place unanncounced with you not there…though I might suggest that we come with an invisiibilty cloak and watch you work. I’m wondering about the introduction of the computer in your work/life. You’ve address some of this. But as a photographer, I’ve noticed that the more photographers use digital cameras, the more their work looks the same. It’s like this designer friend told me recently that before Quark Express, where you can have an idea and see if it works almost instantly on the computer, designers had to cut and paste and do stuff by hand, forcing them to take TIME to do things. In his opinion (and mine in photography) the work was more interesting then. Yet somehow you are able to maintain a level of "rawness" to your work that is so soulful and entertaining and revealing all at the same time. It’s as if you have these ideas and the technology doesn’t get in the way of expressing them, but somehow you are able to use it in a way that keeps the process organic, letting the work lead you. How do you do this? (I also LOVED the fact that cutting out pictures from a newspaper connects you to the images. Is this your way of making personal investment in each image?)

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    12.12.03

    Reply
    yellow is the color of duh

    thanks
    I’d been quick to assume a download problem because of my lack of technical know how
    thanks for the reminder that learning and technical smarts come from playing

    viewers/listeners take risks, just as the artist does.

    Oddly, I hesitate to go back and get more text just yet. I don’t want to lose the simpler experience I had, which was satisfying as it was.

  • Jackson

    12.12.03

    Reply
    The choice of which program to use…

    Can we look for a moment at the potential for combining media? The Flash at the top had all of those engaging qualities — the radio dial, the ambient signal between the magic buttons.

    I wonder if there might be some advantage to exploiting the frailty of other multimedia programs. David Byrne claims to embrace the jerkiness of PowerPoint and its psuedo-religious tone — though Edward Tufte proclaims that PowerPoint is only a little more effective than Pravda at conveying information.

    Which leads me to wonder at the numerous balancing points you take into account: the first is giving voice to what you have in your collections. Are there others you’d like to talk about?

  • alan berliner

    12.12.03

    Reply
    it’s about time

    thanks nubar…

    in the end it all come down to process — how the mind (remember: mind is what the brain does) goes about making discoveries and decisions. the process of making things often involves a conversation between maker and the thing being made. in the days of analogue, that dialogue used to be slow and laborious but also had the potential to be wondrously elaborate — that is to say, intellectually and intuitively sensual.

    pre-computer models of creativity allowed for the mind to lose itself in thought, in trance, in daydreaming or in whatever creative space caught your fancy while you waited, while you did and undid, while you re-wrote, re-printed, re-typed, re-painted, re-edited, re-recorded and/or re-thought whatever it was that you were working on. i can’t overstate the importance of that. which leads me to…

    …the biggest advantage of the pre-computer analogue days was that i had many more and more better "bad ideas" — which by the way, as far as i’m concerned is the key to everything. getting lost inside of something gives you the time and the freedom to make wrong turns and maneuver around detours, all of which sets up its own kind of learning curve and the basis for the wide range of mysterious intuitive/rational problem solving dynamics we call "creativity."

    the immediacy of non-linear and digital tools and technology (of which i am in complete and utter awe) has the potential to take us where we’re going too quickly, and (sometimes) precludes us from going where we never imagined we’d end up. not always, of course, but one must always be diligent and on guard against the price of speed and the cost of efficiency.

    more later…

  • Jay Allison

    12.12.03

    Reply
    It’s also about space

    great posting, Alan!

    I often recall my analog days filling legal pads and index cards and wall charts with diagrams and other spatial representations of story — pizza slices, rivers with eddies, freight trains, paths through the woods.

    Now, I enter and leave through a screen. I know I have the power to keep to the old ways (Alan still clips and files), but I’m not good at the border between the analog and digital realms. I tend to inhabit one domain or the other, and the "space" of my work now resides mostly in the computer, for better and worse.

    By the way, Transom will soon feature a Quicktime video of Alan’s "Audiofile" in action, courtesy of Ben Shapiro. You’ll want to see this.

    Also, if you click on Alan’s picture now, it will blow up and you can see his world a little better.

  • Davia

    12.12.03

    Reply
    Seeing Sound

    Alan, Once again, you push me to the edge. In all the right ways. I am still straddling the realms and the knee bone appears to be connected to the thigh bone and I can’t flash without the stuff and so I’ve yet to look at sound your way. Ultimately, I will triumph and will ask more. Meanwhile, having visited you in your archive lair, I wonder about that urge to collect, to chronicle, to archive, to file, name and organize. How does that connect to the work itself? Could the work come outside of those surroundings, an empty room and table, and an editing station? Archive as installation, archive as inspiration. Digital or analog, I’m curious also about your relationship to your ingredients. Thanks for going on transom time…. Davia Nelson-Kitchen I

  • Nubar

    12.12.03

    Reply
    Time and Space

    When I’m working on my own projects (different from shooting an assignment for a magazine) I don’t want to know what I’m doing. In fact, I put the exposed film in the refridgerator to maintain the integrity of the "latent image." I only process the film when I reach 50 rolls or 100, depending on what I’m working on. This spaces everything out for me, creating possiblities that I might otherwise never imagine, avenues I may not have traversed. I too, love everything digital. But there is danger here, no? As you say so well, Alan, the fantastic tools the digital world provides are fun and interesting and offer other opportunities. But I’m interested in things I don’t know that I know. And technology tends to squeeze the psyche at this very juncture. I see this happening everywhere. It seems to me, Alan, that the technology has provided a medium which can actually keep up with your mind. Yes?

  • alan berliner

    12.13.03

    Reply
    towards a why of how

    perhaps it’s because i came of age as a filmmaker in the era of celluloid acetate, more commonly known as motion picture film, that i learned to make films with my eyes, my ears — and — my hands. every juxtaposition of image to image, sound to sound and sound to image was mechanically enacted with the help of a splicing block and a roll of splicing tape.

    but there was something about the experience of doing things by hand that not only helped define my aesthetic process, but also unconsciously helped shape it. for one thing, it made me take more responsibility for what i did. the "act" of doing things by hand helped me appreciate the direct and poetic connection between cause and effect, which in turn helped raise my cinematic "iq" if only out of necessity. faced with the burden of having to do something over and over again until i finally got it right, i was forced to clarify my thoughts, instincts and inklings just a few neurons clearer than i might have otherwise.

    after all, if i was going to go to all the effort of manually cutting this piece of film *here* on this frame, then cutting that piece of film *there* on that frame, then carefully lining up the sprocket holes of each, precisely fitting them over the spring taut metal registration pins on the metal splicing block, centering the two frames (one on each side) intended to be spliced together, and then eye-balling the pre-cut perforations on the sticky side of a small piece of 16mm splicing tape, before concluding the act by pressing down upon a small pressure plate with one edge literally razor sharp to both secure the splice and cut the edge of the splicing tape — ( i promise, once you got good at it, it took far less time to actually make a splice than i just took to describe it)… well then you’d better have your shit together and not waste too much time chasing ideas and strategies that weren’t at least a little bit intuitively worked through. but yes, it was time consuming, cumbersome, wasteful, and a bit messy. did i mention time consuming? not only that but i cut my hand on the damned razor blade all the time.

    many younger people reading this must think it all sounds rather quaint and endearingly old fashioned and/but, most likely, just plain dumb. but my point here isn’t to defend manual labor, antique technologies or even reminisce wistfully about the good old days. they’re long gone. but i’m inexorably and undeniably shaped by them, for better and, i suppose, also for worse.

    for me, some of the most meaningful metaphors i can conjur up about the process of editing (in general) still derive from analogies with things done by hand — pottery and sculpture (don’t get me started on music and architecture) — most notably tarkovsky’s expression "sculpting in time." when i start to edit something the clay is wet; as i approach closure the clay begins to dry.

    those of you old enough to remember cutting audiotape in a similarly archaic fashion — luckily for you without the sprocket hole alignment problem… speaking of which, who’s to say that splicing pieces of film and magnetic track together (for what felt like) a few million times over the course of two decades (i exaggerate not) wasn’t a daily exercise in precision hand/eye coordination, a skill and aptitude that comes in handy in sorts of other ways in art and life — you’ll empathize with and understand my claim about the intuitive power of developing a "feel" for the medium. a shot needs to be longer or shorter; a sound needs another beat, or one beat less. nowadays we use the computer to calculate and calibrate our decisions down to the microsecond.

    in those days, i rarely counted frames when i added or subtracted lengths of time. i (to use that word again) "felt" my way towards the solution by intuitively "knowing" the (or close to) the amount i needed to add or take away to make something work.

    most of the non-linear editing programs today were intially designed to mimic the mechanical and aesthetic processes of motion picture film editing. Even the universally appropriated words common to all editing systems — for instance, splice, cut, trim, extend, lift — are based on the tactile hands-on vocabulary of film editing.

    in pro-tools and other non-linear computer editing systems, one simply conjugates editing ideas with the click of the mouse. it makes perfect and exquisite sense; as i’ve said before, my entire process is geared towards being able to act at the speed of thought. i just thought i’d mention how patience then has made me a more careful speed demon now.

  • Jackson

    12.13.03

    Reply
    First choices…

    If it’s possible to set aside the fact that editing in the digital domain is not "destructive," there do seem to be some constant elements in the analogue and digital realms of creativity. For example, the word processor does not speed up so much the writing process as the re-writing process. Collecting an hour of sound to begin with will allows take far longer than an hour.

    Still, my sense — for that, read fear, anxiety or frustration — of the digital world turns on the inability of letting go. Just like the publicity for the godawful Final Fantasy computer-generated movie that paid more attention to the number of follicles in the "star’s" head of hair than it did to the sheer stupidity of the plot line.

    Alan, you’ve spoken about working in both the digital and "real" world. My question is this: Who are you armwrestling with?

  • Alan berliner

    12.14.03

    Reply
    odds and ends (to davia and jackson)

    over the years i’ve come to understand that (in many ways) my studio/archive has become a "work" unto itself. like a garden, it needs tending, weeding, planting, watering, harvesting, raking and (well, you get the idea). although at times it feels like a kind of albatross, it’s also a haven — a place for me to find my balance and my center of gravity amidst the sometimes overwhelming array of sounds, images, materials, objects and ephemera that i’ve gathered around me over the years.

    what for instance, do i do about twenty years of luscious life magazines that cry out for my attention each and every day?

    when do i reckon with hundreds of found (and anonymous) family photographs, gathered from around the world, not to mention all the "orphaned" photo albums that stare at me from ten feet away every time i turn and look to my right?

    what about all the room tones i’ve collected? when will i get around to the audio piece i’ve been contemplating for them over the past ten years or so?

    what am i supposed to do with the large cabinet containing every photograph ever taken of me throughout my entire life, neatly organized in chronological order inside 27 albums (and counting)?

    and then there’s the image bank, the sound library; the file cabinet drawers of circles, spheres and pyramids (to name a mere three); the hundreds of audio speakers; or the collection of photographic negatives taken from a survey of hotel rooms from around the world — when will they get my attention, my energy, my love?

    all of these things (and more) are always in orbit around me, each in its own way somehow gestating and evolving in small increments — day by day, week by week — in some cases, year by year. seen in its entirety, this place is a serene cyclone of "information overload," a subject that has always been a major aesthetic force in much of what i do.

    any one or more of these elements could have sparked their way into the alchemical equation that solved the challenge of my invitation to prepare a transom.org "manifesto." in addition to considering the history and mission of transom.org and its intended audience, i also decided to make "thirteen ways of looking at sound" because it coincided with a few things that are percolating inside my head at the moment — and — in ways that remain quite mysterious to me, felt like i was pushing and pulling a few other projects i have in mind one step closer to "ripening."

    as for jackson’s question…

    like most everyone else, i could claim that i’ve spent much of my life arm-wrestling with god… but no, in this case i’m in hand-to-hand combat with my father. the image is a publicity still from my film, "nobody’s business," which is part portrait, part landscape, part verbal duet, part boxing match, part dance of love with/about my cynical, stubborn and stoical father, oscar berliner, may he rest in peace. there are clips of it on my website http://www.alanberliner.com if you’re interested in taking a peek.

  • Jay Allison

    12.14.03

    Reply
    for starters

    >what about all the room tones i’ve collected? when will i get around to the audio piece i’ve been contemplating for them over the past ten years or so?

    Make it for us, Alan.

    (And for anyone who hasn’t seen "Nobody’s Business" you should just buy it. You won’t be sorry.)

  • Jackson

    12.14.03

    Reply
    There are room tones, and then…

    there are room tones. Starting with the practice rooms at the New England Conservatory. It’s not just the students practicing; it’s the sonic residue of all the notes that all the students have played there over the past 100 years.

    And one other room for room tone: the nave of St. John the Divine. Down by the main portal, looking toward the sanctuary. You watch as someone drops a stick.

    Then you hear it.

    It’s almost as if you can see the sound coming at you.

    Thanks to both Alan and Jay for the prompt to look at Nobody’s Business.

    But that’s for another entry later.

  • Michael Joly

    12.15.03

    Reply
    Room Tone call for entries?

    Jay,

    How ’bout a Room Tone show at Transom?

    Provide some context and editorial direction with a call for submissions. The lower-case-sound list people and acoustic ecology list people would probably be interested in contributing to a show introducing this very subtle genre of audio work to a well-informed and attentive audience.

  • Jay Allison

    12.15.03

    Reply
    extras

    I’ll be honest; we’re so overextended and out of money that we can’t venture in many directions that intrigue us. A call for submissions is very time-consuming. One of these days, I’ll start a topic about Transom sustenance for community brainstorming.

    In the meantime, I still hope Alan makes that room tone story.

  • Alan Berliner

    12.17.03

    Reply
    house of transom

    It’s gotten so quiet in here over the past 48 hours that i’ve actually been able to hear the quiet room tone of transom.org itself – underneath the beating of my heart, the hum of my hepa air filter set to level two (i live quite near ground zero; it’s been a fixture ever since) and the occasional rhythmic honk of a large truck backing up into the delivery bay across the street. of course the house of transom is quite noisy in other rooms as i write — other stories and guests are lost in conversation in the living room and main dining room. back in the kitchen, they’re busy as ever preparing for all the new guests yet to arrive. up here in the second floor guest room, we have about two more weeks before we get sent up to the attic.

    as my father says at the end of the prologue to “nobody’s business,” “so what happens now?" the film then cuts to an image of a boxing match. in this case, why don’t i invite you upstairs for a (happy holidays) drink…?

    1. although sound interests me tremendously, i’ve never “done” radio, primarily i suppose, because pictures also interest me tremendously. combining pictures and sounds together interests me even more, and the poetic potentials for juxtaposing and coaxing them into new meanings and metaphors that transcend the specificity of what you’re looking at and/or listening to (at any given moment) tantalize me to no end.

    2. i’ve done a fair share of interviewing over the years. i once overheard my mother tell my father (this was about twenty years ago when they were actually in the very same room together) – in a private conversation i wasn’t supposed to hear – that i was “always a very curious child.” please don’t laugh or rush to judgment, my sleuthing notwithstanding. she meant that i was always very inquisitive — always asking questions. and she’s right.

    I love getting inside of people’s minds — feeling the edges of their thought processes; their particular way of putting experience into words; learning what it is that they have learned and have to share; and fine-tuning my own empathy meter so that i can somehow make them feel they’re not only being listened to, but also understood and appreciated. that they’re connecting. there’s nothing like a good story, told by someone who feels the listener is creating and shaping its poignancy right along with them — word by word, moment by moment, image by image, pulse by pulse – into meaning. radio people know this all too well.

    3. i struggle with convention. like a foolish sisyphus, i try and reinvent the wheel every time i make something. i want to – strike that – i need to — make things that are unpredictable, that resonate with irony, humor and contradiction; that rely on an aesthetic of playful control (or controlled playfulness, take your pick); and that (when push comes to shove), i understand both totally and not at all. i would much rather fail in an interesting way than succeed somewhere in the middle. bottom line: i want the stories i tell to be as interesting as the way I tell them.

  • Regina Close

    12.17.03

    Reply
    Memory

    Greetings,

    I’m somewhat overwhelmed and intimidated by your collection of sounds and images. I have always relied on my memory–which is a dangerous thing. I use it as a filter. If it’s really worth remembering–if it really has value than it will make itself known .

    How do you feel when you don’t save something–or can you know that you didn’t? Does this inhibit your imagination? Do you find that since you have a wealth of references that you can skim them for inspiration when necessary? What role does spontaneity have in your work?

    Before leaving I must tell you how much I love "Nobody’s Business." It is one of the most memorable things I’ve seen(–see –maybe that’s a testament to memory as filter )

  • Sydney Lewis

    12.17.03

    Reply
    speaking through the heating vent

    Oh, Alan, you’re making us weep chilly coastal sea tears. You don’t have to go up to the attic. In fact, we won’t let you. The belfry, however, might be available. Seriously, your hearing is not hearing the insane bustle of arms gathering year-end everything, and wrapping paper rustling, corks popping, oil covering old leather boots, tinsel flying, and in my ears, from the Shapiro contribution, Alan conducting his sound box, that fantastic at wit’s end, or whatever it’s called. I’m off-line as I write, or I’d check. I loved that wee film. You’ve changed my life, because every time I throw a hissy (often as my co-workers know, and mostly at ill-mannered computers), I’ll hear that wit’s end scream and laugh to myself.
    Seriously, thank you for posting such eloquent thoughtfulness. I find myself mulling over and over your words about creation/time/technology. Even in prosaic day-to-day life, where I spend most of my time, I miss the rotary phone (and held onto my heavy black rotary till it collapsed of old age). Just the time it took, the sound, the connection of head to arm to event, the pause. On so many levels, our speed shrinks our connection to everything human, spiritual, mysterious.
    Your room, now that I can more clearly see it, seems a perfect antidote to this disconnect. There’s so much stuff to deal with, objects to be handled, things to open and close, shelves high and low to pull from, rummage through.
    I’m not going to take it personally that just because I left a verb out of my last post, you did not answer my question about your sound installation process. I don’t know nothin’ bout no sound installing. It seems a mysterious process to me. But if you don’t want to talk about it, well, okay, I’ll just go hang out on some other floor. Before I wander off, though, just at least name me one of the NY places you’ve sound installed.

  • Jay Allison

    12.17.03

    Reply
    Film

    What Sydney is referring to is Ben Shapiro’s video of Alan’s audio installation piece, AUDIOFILE, which you can now see here on Transom in QuickTime. It’s worth it. Click on the link below:

    http://www.transom.org/guests/specialguests/alanberliner_audiofile.html

  • helen woodward

    12.18.03

    Reply
    your guestly priviledges….

    grant you the run of the place! Please feel free to roam, rifle through draws, leave your thoughts on the walls so people know you’ve been visiting, treat transom like home, get comfy:

    For instance, you get to quiz the vast knowledge of our esteemed tools editor out in the workshop, on all things audio; you can visit with our eloquent former guests, in afghanistan for instance, or from your own home town; and you can peruse our very own archive of all the shows that ever were on transom (and there are at least 60 of them); best of all, you get to LISTEN, to people’s stories, the details of their lives.

    As you mentioned in your last post you love to connect with people, I was wondering if there is a recent transom show where you felt this connection? and if not, how can we encourage transomites (and the radio world) to do better?
    Thanks in advance

  • alan berliner

    12.19.03

    Reply
    labyrinths and empty rooms

    thanks regina,
    (that’s also my mother’s name)

    I save things because i have the patience to. i’m a “saver” because i “savor” the pleasure of coming back to things – images, sounds, letters, objects, ideas (i also have a lot of old friends; i try not to throw my friends away either) – months, years, even decades later, and experiencing the fluid rush of memories that they almost always trigger.

    elements of my personal, public and creative lives (“only three?” you ask) are not so much well documented as they are well preserved. the trials of my life are scattered around me (let’s call it an “organized” kind of scattering) like birdseed. it’s set up so that i can find my way back to any point along the path almost at will. it’s fun. it’s demanding. but in the end it all comes back to memory. i’m motivated to keep a record of where i’ve been and what i’ve done there. like the big picture frame of history, i keep imagining that knowing where i’ve been (the past) might help me better understand where i’m going (the future).

    I save things to preserve their potential as portals to the more distant spaces of memory — experiences (both inner and outer) that i might want, or need — to know — or use — one day. i’m rarely if ever focused on any one particular thing; at this point in my life the gradual accumulation of stuff has become rather daunting. but also very exciting. and that’s because i realize that i’ve become a kind of living laboratory in my own memory experiment, standing at the center of a labyrinth of information and (multi) media in virtually every shape and form (the detritus of a creative life) within which i am seemingly able to navigate through at will. until i find myself getting lost… (on purpose, that is)…

    and that’s because there’s no particular place i always want to go. in fact i let the winds of thought and serendipity and synchronicity and dumb luck take me where they will. this is where your question of spontaneity comes in. everything i do is based on the process of discovery; on the joy of making connections between things. it’s a responsive kind of relationship to the world, because i’m letting myself flow to an understanding of the relationships between things, not imposing myself upon them. for me, there is no greater pleasure than the poetry of uncovering and revealing connections between disparate, unsuspecting and unlikely things.

    anyone who has ever painted upon a blank canvas, produced a radio program, choreographed a dance, directed or edited a film (to name but a few things) knows that creation almost always starts out with a faint heartbeat and ends up with a strong personality. forgive the child-rearing analogy – more on that when i sign off later in the month – but my point is that as the work grows, it also learns how to talk. and the wise creative person learns how to listen. making things is about that dialogue with something you’ve created, which in the end, (if you listen carefully) tells you how it wants (or needs) to be made.

    and so it is with all the things that surround me. each one of them (in its own way) is constantly shouting or whispering it’s own potentials to me; reminding me, inviting me, inspiring me — into a dialogue. alas, there’s never enough time — speaking of which, it’s three thirty in the morning and i should be sleeping…

    the other day davia asked me what I would do in a room with nothing in it.
    hmmm…

    if i had a pencil, i’m sure i’d draw all over the walls.
    if i had a book and a pencil, i’d read the book, underline all the key passages and then draw all over the walls.
    if i had a book, a pencil and a pair of scissors, i’d read the book, underline all the key passages, cut out all the key passages and then draw all over the walls.
    if i had a book, a pencil, a pair of scissors and some glue, i’d read the book, underline all the key passages, cut out all the key passages and paste them on the walls. if there was any space left on the wall, i’d draw all over it.

  • Barry Wittenstein

    12.20.03

    Reply
    Uncle Charley project

    Alan

    Any chance you would reconsider getting involved in Asnin’s "Uncle Charley" project? The story of this professional photographer, starting at age 20, documenting his uncle for 20 years…and the wives, the lovers, the mental illness, foster care, the kids rejection of Charley…all documented thru Marc’s harshly stunning pictures. Charley and Marc’s relationship is fascinating. In a sense, they both used each other.

    Obviously, I’m a friend of Marc’s.

    Barry Wittenstein

    http://www.marcasnin.com

  • Barry Wittenstein

    12.20.03

    Reply
    Nobody’s Business

    Also…
    Wanted to tell you how much I loved Nobody’s Business (it has inspired me to propose an installation of found photos and poetry which I have presented to Queens Community College for their new art gallery).

    But the other reason I wanted to write to you was to tell you that upon seeing NB on POV a few years back, I made two VCR copies (sorry) and sent one to my father and one to my brother. Both brother and father are/were very internal and non-communicative. My sending your show to them was my reaching out to them.

    So, my brother lost the tape and never saw it. My father saw it but never got the not-too-subtle hint that maybe I was sending it to him for a reason.

    So it goes.

    Anyway, always wanted to tell you.

    I was sorry to hear about your dad’s passing. My father passed in 1999.

    Best,
    Barry

  • Andy Knight

    12.21.03

    Reply

    Audiofile doesn’t work for me. I click and I get a picture of a broken piece of quicktime film.

    Anyway, 13 Ways of Looking at Sound threw me. On launch the dial started moving along in time to the sound of the spinning dial. It wasn’t until the dial had scrolled all the way to the right that I realized that I was supposed to interact with it. So I started working my way backwards through the dial, pausing everytime the sound paused on a station– thinking I had reached something that I was supposed to hear. It was terribly frustrating trying to tune in to stations that, in reality, had nothing to do with what I was doing with the mouse. Eventually I ‘got’ it, but my favorite part of the whole thing is in that spinning dial, when someone (is that Viki Merrick?) says, "ok, I think we have enough of that. Can we put it on AM for a second? Did we already do AM?"

  • Jay Allison

    12.21.03

    Reply
    interactivity

    The interactivity thing seems to throw people. Maybe it’s the lack of instruction manual. did you click on the items in the picture that glow when you pass over them? Experiment some more.

    Not sure about why the Quicktime isn’t working for you. Email operations@transom.org.

  • Andy Knight

    12.21.03

    Reply

    >Maybe it’s the lack of instruction manual. did you click on the items in the picture that glow when you pass over them?

    Yep. That’s why I said :
    >Eventually I ‘got’ it

    Also, Quicktime would probably work for me if there was a direct link to the file, rather than that ‘click the image’ malarky. That, or if Quicktime was more PC friendly.

  • Jackson

    12.22.03

    Reply
    Well, now we know how you spend most evenings…

    and just when the neighbor’s about to pop a spring, just open up a little Wit’s End. (Have you thought about adding a little sachet of potpourri to the drawer? I mean, they are drawers, after all — maybe the odd sock as tribute to that nice woman who wrote about all those lost socks at the laundromat that have found their way to Jesus.

    Is Audiofile permanently installed somewhere?

    One of the things that kills me about what you do, Alan, is that you have discovered ways for your viewers/users/clients/whatever to experience for themselves the act of finding (or is it refinding?) the object. Part of the problem with "found objects" is just that: lookit/listento/see what I found. They’re already found, like shards from a dig. The installations allow us to dig.

    Which leads me back to the Audiofile thingee. Did you docment what people (no, I am not going to say "normal." What would normal people be doing opening up file drawers that weren’t their own, anyway?) did with Audiofile. Did anyone open a drawer and then slam it — oops! Not what I wanted.

    Also each drawer seemed to involve a loop. I wonder if in Wit’s End, for example, you wouldn’t have created a guy who just goes off on a rant like a little rocket that lasts a minute or so.

  • Tommy Trussell

    12.22.03

    Reply
    13 Ways of Clueless Solidarity

    It’s been several weeks so I can’t remember how many times I let the "13 Ways of Looking at Sound" needle slide back and forth before I realized how to get to embedded sounds.

    Between 1978 and 1982 I used to listen to a late-night radio comedy show that used the "scanning the radio dial" sounds between comedy segments. As "13 Ways" was playing I kept waiting for the pointer and sounds to stop at a meaningful segment, like the comedy program used to do.

    And then, of course, once I noticed the glowing images and started clicking them I was listening to the segments out of order….

  • Jay Allison

    12.22.03

    Reply
    and, quicktime

    To see Ben’s video about Alan’s AUDIOFILE, we’re hearing from a few sources that you need to download the latest version of QuickTime. There’s a link under the video still on the page:

    http://www.transom.org/guests/specialguests/alanberliner_audiofile.html

  • alan berliner

    12.22.03

    Reply
    genealogy

    a lttle history about "audiofile"…

    it took six months (of doing nothing else but) to make and was premiered in the lobby of the walter reade theatre at lincoln center here in new york city in january 1994. it’s been shown in several other exhibitions in the new york city area — i’m a little over-protective when it comes to letting it travel — (at sculpture center, anthology film archives, stephen gang gallery, the tang museum etc…) mostly in one-person exhibitions plus a few group gallery/museum shows dedicated to sound sculpture and installations"

    audiofile also has a cousin…named "aviary” — a 27 drawer file cabinet (one quarter the size of "audiofile"), each drawer of which contains a different bird call. the range of sounds is extreme on several levels. i chose bird calls that were especially gutteral, percussive, throaty, rhythmically peculiar or particularly sonorous. the result is what I refer to as an “impossible habitat” — a collection of birds from all over the world that would never — that could never — exist in the same environment.

    the thing about both "audiofile" and "aviary" is that they are both open-ended *forms.* i can always change the constellation of sounds in either of them to accommodate different exhibition situations and requirements, including (the sounds of) different site-specific contexts, and/or (the sounds of) different themes.

    as a wild for-instance, i once considered transforming "aviary" into a “radio.” each drawer would contain its own individual transistor radio tuned to a different station. if you want talk radio open this drawer; if you want classical music open this drawer; all news radio, open this one; rock music, religious, sports, “npr,” etc. etc….

    the twist is that by leaving more than one drawer open at the any time, you would be able to create layers and layers of sound cacophonies in real time. a true tower of babel. talk about information overload….

  • alan berliner

    12.22.03

    Reply
    back to barry

    thanks for your kind words barry.

    everything you say about mark, mark’s beautiful (your description "harshly stunning" is spot-on) photographs and uncle charlie is true. i’m just overwhelmed with my own stuff these days and can’t take on everything. but thanks for asking.

    as for your comments about "nobody’s business," which i also thank you for, please forgive me for telling you that the version of the film that aired on public television was edited (to fit their format), and hence is some five or six minutes shorter than the "real thing." i suspect there are many people out there who first saw the film on television, taped it, and only know that "abridged" version. i hope you get to see the whole thing one day.

  • alan berliner

    12.22.03

    Reply
    sound decision

    I resisted including a so-called instruction manual for "thirteen ways of looking at sound" and still believe in the "soundness" of my decision.

    while i certainly don’t want to confuse people, and wince every time someone hints at their annoyance with me or the work, i could not — i would not — allow myself to facilitate the equivalent of an "easy listening" or "paint by numbers" interface. part of the process of experiencing the work is learning the work.

    creating interactive work is about trying to anticipate how people will respond to and engage with a thought process. it’s about plotting a path of discovery for the visitor. before we put it up on transom, "thirteen ways…" was presented to a variety of different "testers" whose feedback was invaluable in helping to make things clearer, every step of the way.

    ultimately, in the course of making the piece, it was my commitment to new ways of seeing, listening and thinking that got tested. though there were occasional admonitions and suggestions that i try and make things more "obvious," i plead guilty to leaving the "combination" to the "lock" of uncovering and discovering the words and sounds that accompany the 13 images outside of the box.

    like all interactive work, "thirteen ways…" needs the visitor’s complicity and cooperation to complete the work. it requires that you be playful; that you be open to the touch of my intentions; that you let the work teach you how it works; to trust in its consistency; to trust me. in the end, once whatever has to be figured out is figured out, i think it’s fair to say that it all turns out to be rather (and relatively) simple. the way i see it, figuring something out is fun. learning is (or at least should be) fun. and both can (and some say and should) be their own rewards.

    finally, there’s a small part of me that also feels responsible to the community of people out there who also make interactive work. in small and incremental ways, each instance of interactive work that you — as viewer/visitor/participant — encounter, pushes the envelope just that much further, and makes you more open, friendly and responsive to other even more vexing interactive experiences you are sure to encounter in the future.

  • alan berliner

    12.22.03

    Reply
    fifty six

    56 is one of my lucky numbers. i couldn’t resist.

  • Jackson

    12.22.03

    Reply
    What about an online version of Aviary or Audiofile?

    At least, that’s the first thought, but then I think that part of the deal is the solidity of the object — the filing cabinet, say (which, forgive me, reminds me of a great Ian Brown quote from this weekend’s TAL, when he speaks of one of those "filing cabinet grey days" up there in the 51st, 52nd, and 53rd states).

    The problem, I realize, is that finding something involves the tactile (Alan, am I wrong on this? Your opening piece for your visit to Transom ((il puede entrar pero il no puede salir!)) suggested the tactile with the luminosity schtick.). The physical nature of pulling a steel drawer is simply not the same thing as clicking a mouse. (BTW, did anyone else catch the cover story of yesterday’s NY Times magazine? Gaming used to be, like, playing the ponies. Now look at what it’s become.)

    Ah me. The problem with free association? It comes at such a cost.

  • alan berliner

    12.23.03

    Reply
    found sound

    jackson…

    it’s interesting that you bring up this question about adapting a version of "audiofile" for the computer. back in 1998, (it just so happens), i was commissioned to do just that.

    and i tried. very hard. i worked with a graphic artist to come up with a two-dimensional representation ( an illustration) of a bank of file cabinets whose drawers would "open" when clicked. the main problem with this approach was that any animated representation of a drawer opening also made it appear “larger” as it moved forward in space — which unavoidably blocked part of the view of the drawers above, below and to the sides of the drawer being opened.

    one of the implicit requirements for playing with “audiofile” is that you have equal and unfettered access to (each and) every drawer (source of sound) at all times. the 2d/3d spatial paradox on the computer monitor made that impossible.

    my solution (i had no choice) was to came up with another strategy which didn’t adapt the “audiofile” concept so much as "transform" it into something else altogether.

    the new work, titled,” found sound” is a complete, stand-alone application you can download to your computer and operate with no extra plug-ins. once it’s on your hard drive, you can interact with it immediately and as often as you like.

    it can be downloaded from the site
    http://www.ntv-artbytes.org

    follow the links to "artbytes."

    it can also be downloaded from my website. perhaps the transom powers (that be) might make it available closer to home…

    fyi…
    download found sound for macintosh — 5.6 MB
    download found sound for windows — 3.8 MB

    check it out.

  • Marjorie Van Halteren

    12.23.03

    Reply
    digital time

    Dear Alan

    I live in France. Right now I’m outside of Detroit visiting for the holidays. I just wanted to say that I loved the piece 13 ways of looking at sound – was really impressed – then went to your web site, was impressed some more – now I want to say that I found what you said about analog vs. digital true and oddly reassuring. About the process, what we need…how sometimes you can’t really put your finger on what you have to do to do your best work but it is what you have to do.

    I have recently gone back to making audio when I realized that I could do it all myself in my computer. (I’ve done about five productions in the last ten years as commissions from the BBC or the US but largely I stopped)- this was such freedom! No longer did I have to raise a bunch of money, etc.

    But of course the terrible scarce commodity of all is TIME – which is worth more than anything in the world. True the digital is speedy – but it feels like an artificial push sometimes. It also feels strangely small in all its perfection – the palette feels expanded in terms of possibility and shrunk in grandeur and resonance. I’m working with young people here in France just as I fasten my seat belt for my own exploration and run the race against time to stay alive (while paying the mortgage all alone)long enough to go where I think I could go creatively (wherever that is) because actually that really is the main thing that drives my life and always has been – and I don’t think there will ever be anything I can do about that.

    I plan to look more at Transom – including the things written in your topic – when I bask in a few quiet days at the beginning of the year.

    Happy holidays! Best, Marjorie

  • alan berliner

    12.27.03

    Reply
    as my guest-ship…

    …slowly moves its way into port…

    perhaps some of you are wondering why i was invited to spend the last month at hotel transom in the first place? could it be because i collect so many sounds and sound-related “things” in my archives? is it because i make the occasional audio installation or audio sculpture? or that my films rely on sound in important and unusual ways? maybe it’s just that jay and viki knew I needed the money?

    I can’t even admit to having expedient (or overtly selfish) motives for myself here either; i don’t even have a new film or installation to publicize for the occasion. most of the work we’ve been talking about here was done well in the past. hell, “audiofile” will be old enough to be bar-mitzvahed in a few years!

    not only that, but most people here probably have never seen and/or heard (most of) my work. don’t get me wrong, i’m not complaining. hardly. but as our ship enters port here at year’s end, i’m feeling just a bit wistful, and have begun pondering whether there’s anything I still might yet say of interest to people who have committed their lives to telling stories through and with sound.

    i’ve no great words or epiphanies to insert here. just the smile that comes over my face when i remember how I felt when jay and viki first asked me to be a guest of transom, and how, when i said i wanted the freedom to proclaim my “manifesto” in any medium, way, shape or form — they said, “we’d expect nothing less.”

    so I put together — with much help from and enduring gratitude to jason rayles and viki merrick – this thing called “13 ways of looking at sound.” a bunch of images, some sound recordings, one sound effect, a short spoken essay, a little bit of text and lots of computer programming. if I’d had more time (and more money!!!) i would have loved to come up with something called “113 ways of looking at sound.” but in this little trinket of a — and what is “it” anyway? – a sound piece? an interactive computer work? a video game? an audio game? a photo-journal? a flash-animated manifesto? (notice i dropped jay’s effusive and generously quotable word “elegant” from my list)…

    …if you just tuned in…

    … i was trying to describe my little trinket of a “toy radio,” sitting quietly (or is it noisily?) inside of your powerful computer. i wanted to use “13 ways of looking at sound” as a means of telling you a little bit about my own personal (artistic) world, as a way of re-framing the larger world we all live in – and — as a metaphor for my love of the world of sound itself — that invisible flotilla (look it up: it also means “a large force of moving things”) of waves (fathom that!), tones, noises, voices, silences and other mysterious and meaningful energies that allow us to truly hear one another.

    happy holidays everybody.

  • Alexa Dvorson

    12.29.03

    Reply
    hommage to Stevens

    Forgive any redundancy, please…I’m at a computer unequipped with the right stuff to view the presentation. I’m a big fan of Alan Berliner’s films (saw "The Sweetest Sound" in Berlin, which gave it a special ring). I was just wondering if the title "Thirteen Ways.." was attributed somehow to the mysterious Wallace Stevens poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird." The loveliest verse speaks to sound as muse:

    V
    I do not know which to prefer,
    The beauty of inflections
    Or the beauty of innuendoes,
    The blackbird whistling
    Or just after.

  • Viki Merrick

    12.30.03

    Reply
    blackbird bingo

    I was wondering when someone would click into that – pity you can’t see the images….the last is a blackbird, the last sound – the flapping.
    In addition to being a "muscular librarian" – Alan is prince of recherche` in the finest sense. Like the best Italian dessert of "mille foglie" – rice paper thin layer after layer of innuendo or double entendre, carefully and deliberately placed. I didn’t know you could think like that on an everday basis, without imploding. It’s been a process to witness like no other.
    Ultimately, everything is connected: every thought to a picture to a sound. and round and round.

  • Jackson

    1.01.04

    Reply
    Everything connected… the Butterfly Effect, ver. 2

    Yeah, Viki, that is just one of the wonderful things in this discussion.

    Alan, as the old year draws to a close — Auld Lang Syne comes up in the mix — it feels like what you are offering is this: it’s just a matter of paying attention. Enough attention to cut a pic out of a newspaper instead of freeloading it off the web. Enough attention to give a meaningful name to a sound and place it within a gamut of other meaningful sounds.

    For all you old Procol Harum fans out there, Alan calls to mind that wonderful moment from Side 2 of Shine On Brightly, when the narrator of "In Held ‘Twas I" meets up with the Dalai Lama. I’m not sure, Alan, you wished for this to be considered a religious experience of any sort.

    I envy and admire your patience. What’s next on the horizon?

  • alan berliner

    1.04.04

    Reply
    wide awake

    hey jackson…

    back on dec 21, 2003 at 11:47pm est (#50 of 63) in your post titled, "well, now we know how you spend most evenings…" you put the string of my late night transom posting times together and discovered a key piece of my puzzle.

    truth is, i’m not much of a sleeper. that doesn’t mean i don’t need sleep — we all do. it’s just that i don’t get enough of it. i don’t get tired when i’m supposed to and i don’t (make that can’t) wake up when the rest of the world says i should. insomnia is nothing new to me; i’ve been this way ever since i can remember.

    i’ve learned to deal with lack of sleep, with chronic fatigue, and with the psychological and emotional contradictions of being out of sync, not only with my own circadian rhythms, but with just about every other friend and family member i know.

    so what’s on the horizon you ask?

    well, i’m finally facing up to and dealing with my sleeplessness in a film project. titled "wide awake" — a project about the frustrations, the struggles and the exasperations of insomnia and sleep deprivation, an affliction experienced (in some form or other) by more than 100 million Americans.

    as someone who has suffered from lack of sleep for most of my life, i want to portray the layers of urgency, obsession and insight that have impacted upon my daily battle with fatigue — how it feels and what it means to be awake all night and tired all day — while also laying to rest the pervasive set of myths and dysfunctional beliefs that currently surround insomnia.

    i’m also on the lookout for "fellow sufferers" to interview and chronicle (their problems and their solutions) as part of the film. if anyone out there knows someone who knows someone who knows someone…

    thanks for asking jackson.
    thanks for noticing.

    once again.
    a happy, healthy and acoustically transparent new year to all.

  • Jay Allison

    1.04.04

    Reply
    coincidentally…

    I was up late a few nights ago, sleepless, reading the poet Ed Hirsch, who evidently shares this condition. In his book For The Sleepwalkers, which contains a poem entitled Insomnia, there is another poem about his "old wars with sleep" in which he says: "Poets and children and soldiers know about the black trenches of moonlight on the ceiling."

  • Jackson

    1.04.04

    Reply
    Alan, you give me too much credit…

    Thanks, but I wasn’t joining the dots on your logging times; I was only admiring how much you do — and when else is there time to document the documents?

    As an occasional sleepless niter myself, I hope that in the course of your research you might discover what it is that sheep count when sweet Morpheus strays.

    I know that part of my worry about sleeplessness was at least in part prompted by a proactive new gatekeeper at the HMO. I haven’t been back for a year, but the mental image is still of a shouting mouth (complete with rattling tonsil boxing bags): YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE’S TOO HIGH! YOU DON’T GET ENOUGH EXERCISE! LOOK AT YOUR WEIGHT!

    And where, might you ask, is all the credit I deserve for giving up smoking? Not a hint of it. I’ll already accomplished that. It’s all behind me now.

    Not that I’m suggesting you have a recent graduate of the Heidelberg School of Doktoring, but it would be intriguing to know why sleeplessness became an issue? Can’t there be just a little touch of Napoleon in all of us without there being a complex made of it?

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    1.04.04

    Reply

    so glad to see Alan might still pop in, as I might wake up any day now to ask a question…

    Jackson! CONGRATULATIONS!!! APPLAUSE!
    {and so nice to see Alexa in from Berlin!]

  • Nannette Drake Oldenbourg

    1.05.04

    Reply

    about sitting, dancing or wrestling with stuff and making decisions to allow you to organize it efficiently and creatively…

    It sounds like it all started with one project that became the way you efffectively order your creative work and your general association with the world.

    Are you wrestling with materials at all? Was it always so clear where or how things go? Is it easy or hard to put things away, out of circulation?

    what is your decision-making process when you open up the newspaper or walk down the street with a microphone or …?

    Is what’s in this photo the height of your stuff, and everything else gets thrown away for calm minimalism and focus?
    or does the photo show the height of your organization, and other corners are more chaotic collections?
    What is your sock drawer like? your junk mail, events calendars, magazines, spices and tea or coffee selections….?

    just lookin’ for pointers, inspiration and camaraderie here, while I throw out and organize…
    passing on stuff and books representing possibilites
    making room for other possibilities

  • Jackson

    1.05.04

    Reply
    Thanks for the words of support…

    Nannette, but ALAS! TOO LATE!! (forearm swept tragically back to forehead).

    Anyway, if I’ve understood Alan at all here, his advice would be this: DO NOT THROW OUT!! Only organize!!!

  • alan berliner

    1.08.04

    Reply
    there but for the grace of god…

    (for jackson and nannette)

    NEW YORK TIMES
    December 30, 2003, Tuesday
    Metropolitan Desk

    BRONX MAN IS RESCUED FROM HIS OWN PAPER PRISON

    By ROBERT D. McFADDEN; Oren Yaniv and Michelle O’Donnell contributed reporting for this article.

    A Bronx man trapped for two days under an avalanche of newspapers, magazines and books was rescued by firefighters and neighbors yesterday in a small urban drama that recalled the macabre 1947 tale of the Collyer brothers.

    The victim, Patrice Moore, 43, of 1991 Morris Avenue, near Tremont Avenue, was found shortly after 1 p.m. in a 10-by-10-foot room crammed with paper and other detritus that completely filled it, except for a small corner where he slept, neighbors and city officials said.

    A reclusive man who lived alone and had been saving magazines, newspapers, books, catalogs and junk mail for a decade — and had apparently thrown none of it out — Mr. Moore was buried standing up under the collapse on Saturday, according to neighbors, who heard him moaning and mumbling through the door, which had been blocked by all the paper.

    The landlord broke in with a crowbar and neighbors began digging into the entombing piles of publications, communications and advertisements. Calls to the city brought the police, three companies of firefighters, health and buildings officials, and officials from the Office of Emergency Management.

    It took more than an hour to extricate Mr. Moore — 50 garbage bags of his paper had to be hauled out just to reach him — and he was taken to St. Barnabas Hospital with leg injuries, apparently the result of the weight that fell on him and the fluid that accumulated in his legs during his captivity. He was reported in stable condition last night, a hospital spokesman said.

    Deon Baitmon, 35, a next-door neighbor who was one of a few people who knew Mr. Moore had been living in a room filled with paper, said she had tried to persuade him to get rid of some of it, without success. ”I told him, ‘You’ve got to be able to get in and out,’ ” she said, ”but he didn’t really want to hear about that.”

    While it was hardly comparable, the episode echoed the strange cautionary tale of Langley and Homer Collyer, who lived for years barricaded in a 12-room mansion at Fifth Avenue and 128th Street in East Harlem with their legendary collection of stuff — tons of newspapers, magazines and books; 14 grand pianos, chandeliers, mirrors, bottles, rotting groceries and an automobile chassis.

    On March 21, 1947, alerted by a mysterious phone call, the police broke in and found the body of Homer, who had been blind and bedridden. After lengthy searching, they found Langley’s body under piles of junk. He had apparently died of a heart attack weeks earlier after triggering one of many booby traps set for burglars, and Homer had died of starvation several days later.

    While people who hoard obsessively are generally regarded as troubled, there is no agreement among experts on the causes of the phenomenon, which dates back thousands of years. Cases are uncovered from time to time, often after the death of a recluse discloses hidden wealth or troves of possessions behind an otherwise unremarkable facade.

    After getting a glimpse into Mr. Moore’s room yesterday, some neighbors recalled that almost every day for the past decade he had received a heavy load of mail: newspapers, magazines, books that he ordered with a variety of names and never paid for, and tons of unsolicited advertising and other mail.

    A cursory examination of the stacks turned up numerous copies of Sports Illustrated, Nascar racing publications, Vibe, Scuba Diving, Essence, skiing magazines, Savoy, Sound and Vision, Fitness magazine and copies of the Harvard Business Review.

    ”He got everything,” said John Thomas, a neighbor. ”You name it — he got it — except Playboy.” Bennie Jones, 62, the owner of the three-story brownstone, said: ”I knew he was getting a whole lot of magazines, but I had no idea there were so many inside. I can’t see how he had any space to move in there. It’s crazy. He had the place stacked up with magazines, and they fell on him.”

    Mr. Moore, who was unemployed and paid his $250-a-month rent from the public assistance money he received, lived the quiet life of a hermit, his neighbors said, rarely going out and never allowing visitors into his windowless room on the parlor floor, halfway down a dark, narrow corridor.

    ”His room is his private room,” Ms. Baitmon said. He opened the door to get his mail, which was addressed to people named Joe Smith, Pamela Cruise and other fictitious names, but bore his apartment number, 1-B. Occasionally, she said, she heard his radio or his voice, singing or mumbling to himself.

    Over the weekend, she heard his voice from time to time, but there were no cries for help, nothing very coherent. ”He was just talking through the door a bit,” she said, and noted that she had not been alarmed.

    The discovery of Mr. Moore’s plight was almost an accident. It happened that he had asked his landlord last week for a small loan, and Mr. Jones went to his door with a couple of dollars yesterday. He knocked on Mr. Moore’s door. There was no answer at first, but then he heard a voice inside. It sounded strange.

    It occurred to Mr. Jones that Mr. Moore might need help. The door was locked, but Mr. Jones got a crowbar and pried it open. Stacks of magazines and books had fallen against the door, and he had to get a couple of neighbors to force it open. They were astonished by what they found inside. The room was stuffed from wall to wall and floor to ceiling with stacks of paper. They also heard moaning from a corner, behind the stacks. ”He was trapped in a little corner,” said Mr. Thomas. ”We had to take books out just to get to him.”

    Mr. Jones called 911, and by the time the firefighters of Engine Company 42 arrived, the neighbors had hauled away enough material to create a path and to unpaper Mr. Moore nearly down to his waist. Another obstacle remained. A bookcase, apparently the only piece of furniture in the room, had also fallen, wedging Mr. Moore tightly in an almost upright position.

    The firefighters raised the bookcase, hauled away more loads of paper and eventually freed Mr. Moore, who was carried out on a stretcher.
    ”He couldn’t say much,” Mr. Thomas recalled. ”He was in pain.”

    Even as Mr. Moore driven away, the neighbors said, a postman was arriving with another delivery of newspapers, magazines and junk mail for him. ”He never threw anything away,” Mr. Thomas said.

  • Jackson

    1.08.04

    Reply
    Now that wouldn’t have happened if he …

    like you, had bothered to cut the photos out in the first place.

    Face it, Alan, he was only accumulating, he wasn’t actually curating.

  • Jay Allison

    1.20.04

    Reply
    Thanks!

    This has been a terrific topic full of Alan’s careful and creative thinking. It will be a grand issue of the Review, which we’ll have on the stands soon. A new guest (Brooke Gladstone) is showing up now. Alan, thank you again for this month… -Jay

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*