Acoustic Books At The Beginning And End Of The World
by Karl Young


I made quite a few acoustic books, simple to elaborate, for my own use and for use by other performance artists between then and 1984. I then ceased making them for a period of about five years. I had ceased performing my own work at the end of the 70s, though I continued performing in other artists' work until 1983, when I ceased all public performance, and in 1984 ceased writing and producing book art. By 1988, I had new ideas to try out. Among other things, I wanted to try books meant for private performance, books that could be played contemplatively in a study or living room or garden.

In one of his anthologies, Jerry Rothenberg set up a passage from the Psalms as a performance score:

...make a joyful noise...
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world, and they that dwell therein.
Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together.

My first impression of this suggested something very loud - the sea, after all, is said to roar in it. But by 1988 a completely different set of sounds suggested itself. I had made some exceedingly loud books, such as one for The Four Horsemen performance group that could make windows rattle when played at full volume, and I could have figured out a way to roar even louder, but that seemed inappropriate to this text. The poem may include the roar of the ocean and of all creatures on the land, but this poem does not roar. Its celebration of the world seems a contemplative rememberance of sounds rather than a recreation of them. Even the sea's roar seems more like its echo in a seashell than the crashes it makes to someone in a boat in a storm. The lines suggested a great variety of sounds, a sort of acoustic compendium, subdued to a gentle clapping of hands - perhaps hands with bells on them - hands playing a stringed instrument, hands playing a small tambourine. For the sonics of this book, I decided to try to get all the sounds I could manage into a book that could be played without much difficulty or training - a book to approach as an exploration of acoustic possibilities as well as one that could make music. To achieve this, I built the book with resonating chambers, sympathetic vibrating strings, and chambers for objects that could rattle, ring, or make hushed rasping sounds - depending on how the book was played. The book makes five distinct types of sound, with many possible combinations. Imaging followed the sound patterns: I used bright colored grounds and painted the texts in near- compliments, so that each would interact brightly and vibrantly with the others, but not produce a harsh appearance.




  Openings from
  Collection of Ruth an Marvin Sackner

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