Mark So Appreciations V: END ROAD WORK / NO PARKING / BOB LOVES BETTY (2011) for Liz

A tape plays in a room. The tape is mostly blank except for frequent, irregular interruptions--short spurts of recording.

The sounds suggest that the tape was made while on a walk, pausing occasionally to hit the record button. The reason for turning on the tape player at a given point is unclear--why here and not there?--but there is an overall consistency to the experience. Though no rule as to its construction is easily discernible, a sense of limitlessness is produced by even the implied presence of limitations.

As Mark So said of this work, "the field is always present;" it does not have to be created. It can be invoked with minimal gestures, such as interruptions--in this case, the sounds from the tape interrupt the sound of the room itself, thereby bringing it to awareness. Even a cut can elucidate the field. Akin to the "zips" in a Barnett Newman painting, the interruption provides a measure or a post against which to experience the expanse.

This is negative time. Just as positive space in painting is complemented by negative space, So has found a way to use stripes of negative time to produce an awareness of the vastness of positive time. Put another way, by foregrounding the presence of nothing So produces an awareness of being.

Other than the sounds themselves, the title is the only other information we have about the piece--END ROAD WORK / NO PARKING / BOB LOVES BETTY (2011) for Liz. Just as the sound does, the title produces an image (an awareness, an idea) with great economy, by utilizing absence as a descriptive tool.


The tape was created by So as a performance (or perhaps many performances) of his score nothing which can be used (As clouds reappear after rains) [for Eileen Myles]. All of the absences presented by the tape are present in the score as well. It is interesting that even without seeing the score, the listener can in a sense hear it in the work itself--as absence.

Like the music it produces, the score is elegant and spare. Part of his ongoing Ashbery series, So places a pair of quotations from John Ashbery's poem, "The Thousand Islands", which double as both epigraph and performance instruction.
A promise of so much that is to come,
Extracted, accepted gladly
But within its narrow limits
No knowledge yet


But your
Idea is not continuing—a swift imperfect
Condensation of the indifference you feel
To be the worn fiber and bone which must surround you
For the permanence of what's already happened in you.
The original poem--its language fragmented and decontextualized--is repurposed, swatches of Ashbery's words applied like torn paper in a collage: pieces of poem implying a whole.

So's own instructions--"an impulsive recording of nothing—/brief and fleet/[maybe repeated"--are situated between and to the right of the two Ashbery passages. Visually, it is nearly in the interstice between them, turning the ellipsis itself into a tacit instruction. And there is one further elliptical collage: the title is pieced together from fragments. "nothing which can be used" completes the dangling "No knowledge yet". The logic of the score is constellar, nonlinear.

Like the performance it is meant to prescribe, the score is a collection of ellipses, fragments and zips written with such economy that it makes a currency out of absence.

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