The Gamelatron


The Gamelatron at Galapagos Art Space March 2009. Photo by Gisella Sorrentino.

A laptop-controlled gamelan orchestra by Zemi17 aka A. Taylor Kuffner. See it in operation here. (Is it Gamelatron or GamelaTron? Their spellings differ…)

The GamelaTron is the fruit of a collaboration between The League of Electronic Musical Urban Robots (LEMUR) and the composer Zemi17: A. Taylor Kuffner.

Modeled after traditional Balinese and Javanese gamelan orchestras, the GamelaTron is an amalgamation of traditional instruments with a suite of percussive sound makers. MIDI sequences control 117 robotic striking mechanisms that produce intricately woven and rhythmic sound. Performances follow an arc similar to classic Indonesian gatherings, where stories from great epics, such as the Ramayana, are told and settings given in words that are continued in music.

Sounds overly-mechanical to my ears but then that’s probably inevitable given the way the instruments are being controlled. The classic Nonesuch Explorer recordings of Javanese and Balinese gamelan orchestras follow less rigid rhythmic patterns. And being recorded outdoors the Indonesian music is augmented by background atmospheres from birds and insects.

For more variations on the gamelan theme, there’s 23 Skidoo’s Urban Gamelan album (recently reissued) and the many chiming electronic exercises by Paul Schütze.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Paul Schütze online
Cristalophonics: searching for the Cocteau sound
Max Eastley’s musical sculptures
The Reactable
The Ondes Martenot

New things for July


In Spaces Between from The Great Old Ones (1999).

Some noteworthy pieces of news as the month draws to a rain-sodden and dismal conclusion.

• Frank Woodward was in touch this week to let me know that his excellent HP Lovecraft documentary, Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, will at last be appearing on DVD in October. This is a feature-length appraisal of Lovecraft’s life, work and influence, and includes contributions from Neil Gaiman, John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro, Caitlin R Kiernan, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell and Lovecraft scholar ST Joshi. A number of my artworks are included throughout and they’ll probably also be featured in a gallery section on the disc. The film was shot in HD so it’s being released on Blu-ray as well as regular DVD.

• Also Lovecraft-related, and also due out shortly, is DM Mitchell’s follow-up to the landmark Starry Wisdom anthology of Lovecraft-inspired texts and graphics. That volume was acclaimed in some quarters and condemned in others; I don’t doubt that this new work, Songs of the Black Wurm Gism, will manage the same. Contributors include David Britton, Grant Morrison and yours truly. The cover is Alan Moore’s splendid portrait of Asmodeus.

• Last but not least, Paul Schütze was also in touch this week with news that two more audio works have been added to his online catalogue. Soundworks 01 is his atmospherics created with with Andrew Hulme from the recent TV drama series Red Riding, while Tokyo/Osaka Live is two pieces of improvisation with Simon Hopkins. Both releases are available through iTunes.

Paul Schütze online


One of the drawbacks with recommending Paul Schütze‘s music lately has been a lack of availability, with most of his CDs being out of print. That changes this month with his back catalogue returning via iTunes sporting a range of impressive new artwork (above) created by Mr Schütze himself.

Schütze’s electronic music stood out for me in the mid-Nineties for a number of reasons: firstly, and most obviously, it wasn’t always tied to the rigid metronomic pulse which governed the rest of the dance world. There were 4/4 beats at times—and he even had an album on Belgian dance label Apollo under the anagrammatical pseudonym Uzect Plausch—but his music was equally subject to unusual time-signatures with chiming timbres borrowed from gamelan orchestras.

Those timbres and their attendant tropical atmospheres were a second point of distinction. Like Jon Hassell, to whom he pays homage on Stateless (1997), there’s an acknowledgement of non-Western music without any falling into pastiche. This realises one aspect of Hassell’s Fourth World concept, whereby a meeting of the First World and the Third World creates an exclusive temporary zone that nonetheless can’t exist without the contribution of either party.

A third distinction would require a detailing of Schütze’s notable collaborators—Bill Laswell and Raoul Björkenheim among them—and his inventive track titles, many of which sound like Surrealist paintings. But describing music is always a poor thing compared to experiencing it. If you want a place to start, I’d recommend New Maps of Hell II: The Rapture of Metals (1993; reissued 1996) or Abysmal Evenings (1996), two constant favourites.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Josiah McElheny
The Garden of Instruments

The art of Josiah McElheny


Island Universe (2008).

Island Universe is a new work by American artist Josiah McElheny at London’s White Cube gallery. McElheny’s recurrent use of glass and mirrors would be enough to capture my attention anyway—I particularly like the Modernity piece below—but Island Universe also features a specially-commissioned sound accompaniment by one of my favourite musicians, Paul Schütze.


Modernity circa 1952, Mirrored and Reflected Infinitely (2004).

McElheny collaborated with cosmologist David Weinberg for Island Universe to create abstract sculptures that are scientifically accurate models of Big Bang theory as well as illustrations of the ideas that followed the general acceptance of the theory. The varying lengths of the rods are based on measurements of time, the clusters of glass discs and spheres accurately represent the clustering of galaxies in the universe, and the light bulbs mimic the brightest objects that exist, quasars. Island Universe proposes a set of possibilities that could have burst into existence depending on the amount of energy or matter present at the universe’s origin.

I can’t help but compare that description of McElheny’s new work with another exhibition that opened this week, TH.2058 by Dominique Gonzales-Foerster which will be filling Tate Modern’s vast Turbine Hall for the next few months. Josiah McElheny extrapolates from documentary fact and creates something beautiful at the same time. Ms Gonzales-Foerster borrows from pre-existing works of written and filmed science fiction and has to rely on those works to sustain much of the interest:

It rains incessantly in London – not a day, not an hour without rain, a deluge that has now lasted for years and changed the way people travel, their clothes, leisure activities, imagination and desires. They dream about infinitely dry deserts.

This continual watering has had a strange effect on urban sculptures. As well as erosion and rust, they have started to grow like giant, thirsty tropical plants, to become even more monumental. In order to hold this organic growth in check, it has been decided to store them in the Turbine Hall, surrounded by hundreds of bunks that shelter – day and night – refugees from the rain.

A giant screen shows a strange film, which seems to be as much experimental cinema as science fiction. Fragments of Solaris, Fahrenheit 451 and Planet of the Apes are mixed with more abstract sequences such as Johanna Vaude’s L’Oeil Sauvage but also images from Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Could this possibly be the last film?

On the beds are books saved from the damp and treated to prevent the pages going mouldy and disintegrating. On every bunk there is at least one book, such as JG Ballard’s The Drowned World, Jeff Noon’s Vurt, Philip K Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, but also Jorge Luis Borges’s Ficciones and Roberto Bolaño’s 2666.

On one of the beds, hidden among the giant sculptures, a lonely radio plays what sounds like distressed 1958 bossa nova. The mass bedding, the books, images, works of art and music produce a strange effect reminiscent of a Jean-Luc Godard film, a culture of quotation in a context of catastrophe.

There’s a list of works used in the Tate installation, nearly all of which are far more stimulating artworks in their own right than the one which is hijacking them into its “culture of quotation”. I’m sure I can’t be the only person to think that the Tate would have been better served asking McElheny and Schütze to expand their work to fill the Turbine Hall instead. Those Island Universes could only get better if they were bigger.


Studies in the Search for Infinity (detail, 1997-1998).

A PBS feature on Josiah McElheny

Update: Writer M John Harrison reviews TH.2058 for the Guardian and fails to be impressed:

It occurred to me that the biggest disaster in that room is the disaster for art. TH.2058 seems to finalise the hollowing-out of everything into the shallowest of semiotics. Foerster’s reading list is more powerful and important than her installation. Every one of the books on those bunk beds will give you a frisson that you don’t get from the show, so you would be as well just reading them for yourself.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth
The Garden of Instruments