TEXT by a non-writer
The word is not my garden but it’s close to sound.
The Written Word
December 9, 2018
I need writers. My need to read began to grow in the fourth grade. I'm sure many people experienced this in school at around this period of their lives. It helped that one of my best memories of my late Father was seeing him reading in the living room or seeing a book on the table that I knew he was reading. These books were always in Japanese and often had a bookmark built into the binding. These bookmarks were thin ribbon like strands that would ware as the read would progress. He never made a big deal about it, he just read. We were not close. We didn't speak the same language and he was almost always at work. Our relationship was built through my Mother and observation. He worked really hard. He and I conversed maybe three times in my life and he did all the talking. I could sort of understand him but at the time I didn't have the skills to converse back to him. Reading was his intellectual solace and so it became mine's as well. We both needed writers.
I enjoyed learning. It was a way to get the inside scoop; like the backstage pass, like watching a rehearsal, reviewing the floor plan, unfolding the handwritten map. Books were access to things outside of my environment, although my environment was rich; Los Angeles' Koreatown.
Reading took a quantum leap in Middle School or Junior High School as we used to call it. Alternative thoughts and new points of view through the written word were like stepping stones up a steep hill. I discovered new worlds; Mayan folktales, Shakespeare, Machiavelli and Rousseau. I was a fan of Thomas Jefferson's writings and always studied history through that democratic idyllic lens.
Is there anything more satisfying than the magic of the written word and how it affords the mind to build a world, a time and newness. The Watts Prophets said "Be New". Writing has often made me feel new; the pulse of a brand-new love or rediscovering how nature is not parallel to life but steering time.
I have never seen myself as a writer nor do I strive to become a writer. I have no hesitation or insecurity in expressing myself. I've been trained to express myself, actually. I am an artist but not a writer. I know writers. They are different. They create from a different part of the brain. They see the world differently. Their legacy is not my legacy. I have much respect for writers. I am attracted to writers. Certain works of writers have changed my life and influenced my art but I am not a writer.
When I go to a Writ Large Press event, my favorite literary community here in Los Angeles, even though I've been participating for years and was even featured once, I still feel like an outsider. I like being the other in this context and I suspect this segregation is partially self-imposed but absorbing their creativity and comradery, helps me get closer to understanding what it takes to master writing and in turn makes me a better reader. Reading is the action that benefits my creative process (the challenge of comprehension) and I'm convinced that the better I become at it, the stronger my art will be.
What I rely on is how writing offers discovery, through that other part of the brain, and then that discovered element helps me expand my art and then hopefully expands my audience. I've even titled works after books, passages or poems that inspired me. The creative muscle writers make possible for me is paramount and integral. They are doing the hard work that I get to benefit from. They access the place where they practice their voice and that inspires me as if it loosens the muscles around my muse.
Often, I am asked to write a description of my work, my mission statement or the thought process behind the making of my work. Early in my career, I would argue that if I could explain it in words, I'd be a writer. However, my perspective has changed. I understand now that writing about my work is not to define it but rather create a bridge to the work. We demarcate the transaction of concepts with words. For instance, the exchange of words between two people are usually the arrowhead of social choreography but not the arrow. So, it makes sense that the writer has a powerful role in society. They are the mind’s eye of community.
I met poet Nina Puro in 2015 at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough New Hampshire, the U.S.'s oldest artist residency. The first time I met her, she had just arrived and was sitting on a bench just outside the library. Nina had her laptop on her lap and when I walked out, she looked up and said hello. I hope I said hello back but there was already something about her that was spewing out of her presence that I could tell was unique. Several weeks later, we got to hear her recite her poetry and then I was hooked. Nina is able to form words and navigate the act of reading so that we can participate in what I would call the mysterious psycho-dance. I can explain it this way. Sometimes, for reasons I can't access, I fear the dark. I sense there's something there but I also know that this reflex is ancient and part of our survival mechanism. I venture forth into the dark anyway. That place between fear and fortitude; the rational and supernatural is where her work takes me; truthful and relentless. I told her once that, "Congratulations, you've captured the danger of solitude. It's (the poetry) devastating"
Chiwan Choi and I met through poet/writer Mike Sonksen and artist Nathan Ota, so naturally, part of my attraction to Chiwan is as a fellow Los Angeles Native and specifically Koreatown. I had met him and heard of him in reference to Writ Large Press, which he co-founded with Judith Ogden Choi and Peter Woods. It wasn't until I read his book of poems, Yellow House, that it clicked. Here was a work that captured Koreatown in sensory illustrations that were exactly what I internalized. I had never seen anything so accurate, personal and thorough. Yellow House is one of my most favorite works.
Mike Davis is a legend. Once described as a writer who wrote million dollar sentences, his opus on Los Angeles, City of Quartz, is still one of the most quoted books on anything under the topic L.A.. I first met Mike in 1996 when he co-taught at the Southern California School of Architecture with Adobe L.A.. Hearing him speak about a diverse array of topics from immigration to the old money of Los Angeles is like evaporating into time through anecdotes in a hailstorm of facts. I also enjoy hearing him talk about his life as a truck driver or his childhood. He exemplifies the idea that life is a continuum and non-linear, that is to say, ideology is a culmination not dogma.
Eva Cockroft was a muralist, organizer and writer. I met her in 1990 when we both worked at the Social and Public Art Resource Center in Venice CA. While I was there, she worked on her book, Signs From The Heart; California Chicano Murals. She was very encouraging about my art, which I was finding difficult to sustain while balancing a family and the job. I learned so much about what it took to publish a book, hearing her experiences almost daily. It was an amazing introduction to publishing but the broader implications where so much more important.
In 2017, David Bell invited me to have a solo exhibition at his gallery, Visitors Welcome Center, L.A. CA.. As we developed the exhibition, he said he would love written information about what i was thinking about. I know now he was asking for a project description but I used it as an opportunity to write down a journal of ideas. This was the fourth of four diary-like entries;
article 4; MENTAL LOOPS
I was about five (1969-70). I was in the playground. It was a blue sky day in L.A.. We were kindergarteners in Mrs. Brown's class at Wilton Place Elementary School.
By myself for the moment, I kept looking up at the sky because I was playing with the multitude of frequencies I was hearing. This was the moment I realized it was not from outside but from inside my body. I heard these often before when I was falling asleep at night or during nap time but for the first time, I realized they were actually inside me and not only that but that I could in fact control which pitch was louder, playing it, in matter of speaking, like an organ. There were four to five frequencies or pitches, high notes and low notes, not much in between.
The late Oliver Sacks writes about this ability in his book Musicophilia. Apparently, we are the only animals who have this ability to focus on a certain sound, much like how we can visually zero in on an object or a person in a crowded room. Dogs can do it with their scent, evidently.
As I am typing this (6:05 AM, 12-27-17) I hear them. It's a quiet morning and there's no music or radio on yet. There's a low sort of rumble that's at center, if you will, as if it were coming out of my forehead. The higher pitches are also constant but don't rumble, rather they are sustained and coming out of more the ear or from the sides. Right now, there are three distinct pitches.
As the day moves on and I get busy; listening to music or the radio; the rest of the folks in the house will start to move around and turn appliances on; and the outside world will begin to move, masking the pitches in my head, becoming unnoticeable.
There was a very brief time in my life that I could also see a kind of color swatch or wave-like movement in connection somehow to sound and objects. It wasn't an aura per se but a kind of after movement. It was during a three-year span in college when I was a vegetarian and then a bit afterwards. Once I began to eat meat again, this ability slowly evaporated. I also recall that some of the colors, I could not describe. They did not exist in the real world.
I also had this ongoing obsession with "3" and corners.
Anything that came in three or the number three was suspect. I would equate it with a kind of premonition and often something negative. My biggest example is in High School, I was traveling with the school hand bell choir (that's another story) and on a meal-stop at a cafe off the highway, somewhere between Oakland and Los Angeles, we ordered food. I was given my tray and an order number, one of those small bent one-piece plastic number signs, and it was "3". It seemed to stare at me and grow large. I distinctly remember it getting big, almost saying like, "here it comes". Within minutes, John Lennon was murdered. Today, I can see this as a mere coincidence but at that moment, it seemed really connected.
I also used to see what I can only call ghosts. There were a number of moments, where I think I saw something or something came to visit. Today, I know there are certain gases emanating out of the earth that can cause one to hallucinate or that there are natural phenomena our brains are quick to personify but back then, I seriously considered the existence of a spirit world. So much so, that I created a system called the Ladder Theory.
The Ladder Theory used the system of dimensions much like what is taught in basic drawing. The 2-D of shadows, for instance is manifested by light and dark created by objects in 3-D. 3-D sees the 2-D. Can 2-D see 3-D? Can 4-D see us? The Ladder Theory proposes dismantling the hierarchical system of dimensions. If the dimensions are like steps or rungs on a ladder, let's take them off their place on the ladder, a vertical plane, and suspend or float them in space so as to lose the verticality and numbering system; 1-D, 2-D, 3-D etc.. So, as they float in space, they may periodically bump into each other, attach themselves or overlap, or never connect to each other. Sometimes the connections are ongoing/ constant, as in shadows and sometimes they are occasional, periodic and/or momentary, as in seeing ghosts. In this theory, there are infinite amounts of steps or dimensions.
Corners; another obsession; I would imagine that every corner, where a plane meets a plane, was shooting out a line; where the corners connect, a line is generated. I imagined that these lines could become solid, which would most likely result in the death of every living thing on the planet. It was a physics concept with a rather dark outcome. It was my fatalist-geometry theory.
Audio recording; a pivotal encounter took place one evening while I was helping at my family's restaurant on Olympic Blvd. I must have been around fourteen or fifteen. My aunt's co-worker, Cecilia Tapscott, brought her husband to our Japanese restaurant on Olympic Blvd and Norton Avenue. Horace Tapscott was a renown pianist and composer and the founder of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. He detested the term "Jazz". Cecilia had prepped Horace that I was studying Bebop and Swing drums. I suspect my parents were prepped that he was coming and that's why they let me sit with Horace and Cecilia, instead of busing the tables and washing the dishes. The two times this happened were like life lessons for me. I learned so much about the ethnic history of African Americans and American Classic Music, which is what Horace called Jazz. Horace introduced me to Langston Hughes' writings and the importance of African drumming. A couple of years later, in high school, he would invite me to a recording session of the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra. I agreed to go but honestly, I had no clue what a recording session was. My Aunt drove me there and we walked through the doors of the Sunset-Gower Recording Studio, a legendary place in Hollywood. I would spend the next hour or so sitting quietly in front of the mixing counsel in the sound room watching Horace discuss his composition measure by measure on the sprawled-out sheet music with the producer and engineer while fifteen or so musicians waited patiently on the other side of the double pane window. I didn't say anything and no one spoke to me. I soaked it in like a dry sponge to water and as my Aunt drove me home I lit up like a bonfire, AHA! that's how the music I listen to on the record gets recorded. It had never really occurred to me that there was a process to recording. Within a couple of years, I would purchase my first multi-track recorder, a TEAC 3340S reel to reel four-track with remote, starting my obsession with audio recording.
In college, I learned about the cochlea and that changed everything. Here was a shell-like object inside us, a great symbolic shape. It's how we hear. Having been born and raised near the ocean, the connection of this shape seemed meaningful. Who doesn't love to put a seashell next to their ear (which is less about hearing what's inside the shell than it is actually reinforcing what is being heard in your ear) and it brought me closer to understanding my tinnitus.
At Otis Art Insitute (1982-86) we had a science teacher named Nick Warren. His courses were geared toward artists. I loved those classes. From the study of sound waves via Newton to color frequencies via Goethe and there was Wucius Wong' and Josef Albers studies, he showed us the similarities between soundwaves and light-waves. For the first time, I had a vocabulary to explain my attraction to recording. I was especially inspired by the work of Michael Brewster (who I would later be introduced to via Thinh Nguyen during the Ear Meal Webcast productions), who had created sound installations that utilized the physical characteristics of frequencies and interiors.
In graduate school (UC Irvine, 1986-88), I was able to meet an audiologist for the first time at the UC Irvine Medical Center. She gave me a brief introduction to hearing and our hearing apparatus. It was an experience I have never forgotten and it inspired a series of art work at the time.
In 2008, I experienced my first sound bath at the Integratron in Joshua Tree CA. That inspired all of the vibratory sound work I've been presenting since, often utilizing my Sound Beds; large aluminum beds with speakers in them. During this period, I was introduced to the work of Royal Rife, a 1930's scientist who allegedly created a machine that could generate frequencies through a reverse x-ray technology. He had figured out the anti-soundwaves of the frequencies of pathogens and documented the elimination of certain cancer-causing cells in patients. I discovered these frequency clusters online and began to use them as a micro-tonal vocabulary for my music/ sound work.
I curated the weekly online show Ear Meal Webcast (2010-2016), which documented the L.A. sound art and experimental music community. This afforded me a kind of Masters course in experimental sound creation, much of which inspired my work. In addition to these influences, I became a member of the Southern California Soundscape Ensemble, a field recording orchestra, which prompted me to use field recordings in my own work and this led me to the three point recordings of interiors I have been working in since.
What all this led to, in my mind, was the residency at the Smithsonian Museum of American History, where I researched the history of the hearing aid and the House Ear institute where I studied the cochlea and organ of corti, the mechanism for our hearing processes. What are usually airborne sound waves are changed into electrons through the organ of corti. Electronsa are the language of the brain; like our voices are translated into electrical current when we speak into a microphone. This revelation was incredible to me and has been a root inspiration for my work these past few years.