Mark So Appreciations III

"I think that painting is a permanent part of art, just like drawing is, because we have the kind of hands that we have, because we have the kind of eyes that we have. We’re always going to have drawing, and by extrapolation, painting. It’s a consequence of what we are as organisms. Painting and drawing cannot disappear from serious art, cannot 'die,' as they say. They can go through all of the complex changes and developments that they have gone through because they are permanent. And therefore drawing is a kind of touchstone for all pictorial art, regardless, because it won’t and can’t be replaced with anything else. Painting as a medium and form can't change very much. So that makes it very interesting and very open too. If it were not so simple and flexible and beautiful, it would be changing technologically, but it’s too right just as it is to change, and so, it’s going to stay there. I’m very involved with painting, always have been and always will be, not particularly because I want to paint, but because it is the most sophisticated, ancient practice." -- Jeff Wall

And we will always have music, performed by people in front of other people, but it may not sound like music, it may not look like music. But it will be music because of its form and because of its effect. Music asks us to use our ears and our body differently than when we speak, when we read or when we watch a film. Music puts our ears in our body and allows sound to open directly onto the body, bypassing the verbal mechanisms in our brain--or if not bypassing, than amplifying them to the extent that they undergo a fundamental transformation. This is why, for instance, Bob Dylan's lyrics on a page are less powerful than they are in his songs. On the page they are only words, but as music, they are words that open onto the body.

Poetry is language approaching music, but there is a limit. And like a mathematical limit, it can be approached infinitely, but it cannot be surpassed. If it is too musical, it is not poetry. But what is the limit for music? Rhythm is not a limit. Harmony is not a limit. Even the intentional making of sounds is not a limit.

Music is a listening situation, a situation where we listen, even to words, with our bodies. How far can that situation be extended? Can we listen with our eyes?

I believe that in some of his newest pieces, Mark So is asking us to listen with our eyes. He is writing music, but it doesn't look like music. Just as painting, for Wall, is the only thing stable enough to register the changes of history without transforming as a medium, So's music is the only thing stable enough to register his radical changes. Mark So does not make installations or sound sculptures or happenings or any other hybrid art; he makes music. That is, he creates listening situations by having people perform in front of other people at an appointed time for a certain duration, etc. But the performance may not be the making of sounds, the performance may be a directing of attention to sound that is present, or to light or to sound and then light, sound and then sound--a stratification of perception, a musical experience of being.

"The philosophy of the work is implicit in the work and is not an illustration of any system of philosophy." -- Sol LeWitt, in "paragraphs on conceptual art"


Mark So Appreciations II

"I'm surprised when the work appears beautiful, and very pleased. And I think work can be very good and very successful without being able to call it beautiful, although I'm not clear about that. The work is good when it has a certain completeness, and when it's got a certain completeness, then it's beautiful." -- Bruce Nauman

"between transparency and white opacity there exists an infinite number of degrees of cloudiness... One could call white the fortuitously opaque flash of pure transparency." -- Goethe, as quoted in Gilles Deleuze, Cinema I, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1986) 95.


Mark So Appreciations

I would like to write about Mark So's music, but I’m not sure how to do it. I have written and rewritten many things over the past two weeks, trying to find a final form for an essay I would like to give to him as a sort of gift, an appreciation. Mark's music is important to me, and I would like to tell other people about it, to start a conversation about what it does and how it might be doing it. I want to try to understand it without diminishing it. I want to elucidate my appreciation of what I have come to realize is an enormous accomplishment without closing the window on further thought.

But like a backwards film of foot steps in the sand, I keep picking up my traces as I go. I am writing, rewriting and unwriting my appreciations and have little to show for it—and less to give to Mark.

So, instead of a finished essay, I would like to present my appreciations as they evolve, to continue to change them but leave a trace of my meanderings as I wander through the gossamer labyrinth that is Mark So's music.

Below is a letter that I wrote to Mark which I am putting here with his permission. It is the beginning of my thinking about his compositions.


Montage Theory