Blank Forms, Brooklyn, NY
February 27, 2020
Daniel DiMaggio, amplified objects, recordings
John Friberg, amplified objects, recordings
Matthew Friberg, amplified objects, movement
On Thursday night at Blank Forms, the intimate third-floor walk-up gallery space recently opened in Clinton Hill by the curatorial organization of the same name, the trio Shots played a brief show for a room filled to capacity with visibly intent listeners. What the group does is difficult to describe, but the summary Blank Forms provided neatly conveys the basics:
Their understated amalgam of barely-there object rustling—clanging metal, broken glass, running water, tempered feedback, timid drumming and strumming—could be mistaken for distracted dishwashing, a rusted fence squeaking in the wind, a raccoon in your shed.… Shots teeter, precariously, on a ledge between environmental and performed sound, but with a sincere carelessness and deliberate ineptitude more deeply rooted in hardcore than the bleached fossils of virtuosic improvisation.
Demand had prompted Blank Forms to add a prior performance on Wednesday. On Thursday the room was well filled but relaxed and comfortable, with listeners seated on the floor or standing along the peripheries. An exhibition of visual art by Graham Lambkin was hung around the space, the finely wrought, fantastical pencil and collage works subtly foreshadowing the balance of mundane and surreal qualities in the performance to come.
There's an intrinsic mystery of means in performances of this sort, wherein artists hunch over tables filled with electrical gear, patch cords, and contact microphones, and desperate critics cite "electronics" instead of enumerating specifics. A more diligent writer might have scanned the table at which John Friberg was stationed, scribbling an inventory of the black and silver objects it held. Likewise Dan DiMaggio, on the opposite side of the room with his own implements—one of which quite obviously was an old open-reel tape recorder.
But the make and model of each gadget employed seems less important than an elementary observation: what these two were doing essentially amounted to amplifying sounds – whether produced by some action or played from a recording – and distributing them throughout the room, not always in natural or intuitive ways. Between them, Matthew Friberg tapped and scraped objects – finger cymbals, painted rocks – on a wooden tray table, when he wasn't stepping away to perform choreographed gestures and steps nearby.
There's a lineage to this kind of performance, extending from John Cage, David Tudor, and the New York School through improvisers like AMM, Taku Unami, Sachiko M, and Jeph Jerman, and onward to disparate sound artists like Gabi Losoncy, Arek Gulbenkoglu, Vanessa Rossetto, and Graham Lambkin himself. There also are writers better qualified to discuss this lineage; an excellent place to start is the premiere issue of Tone Glow, a blog-turned-newsletter by Joshua Minsoo Kim, which includes revealing conversations with Shots and with Dan Gilmore, whose Careful Catalog label issued last year's brilliantly opaque Shots LP, Private Hate.
None of this is meant to suggest that Shots sounded like any or all of those forebears or colleagues, but rather simply to note that DiMaggio and the Fribergs are extending a fertile tradition of sonic practice in rich, provocative ways.
The low, indeterminate murmur that opened the performance sounded metallic and vaguely aqueous, something like being inside a ship's hull among drips and echoes. DiMaggio stalked around his bit of territory, nursing a beer bottle and occasionally adjusting some out-of-sight control. A recording of trucks or buses idling and rumbling forth seemed to emanate from his sector; other such outdoor recordings – human voices, honking fowl – surfaced now and again throughout the performance. But small, discrete noises, or bursts of them, punctuated the sound field with evidence of individuals performing.
The notion of intent came into question frequently. When John Friberg laid spent batteries from a handheld recorder aside on his tabletop, that minute action, and the sound it produced, seemed no less intrinsic to the performance than did the sounds the reanimated recorder might have produced—to say nothing of the more literal sounds he added with a snare drum, a suspended cymbal, or a stimulated metal plate. Likewise, when DiMaggio opened another beer on a window sill, abruptly and loudly, or when he allowed the wooden chair on which his feet were propped to fall with a clatter, those sounds, too, seemed performative. Chance also had its place: a roll of aluminum foil affixed to the window behind DiMaggio obviously was meant to flutter and wrinkle on rising gusts, but the specific rattle and crinkle produced, and how it interacted with other audible elements at play, clearly were beyond anyone's control.
The performance lasted only around 30 minutes. It felt complete, sufficient and satisfying; still, I'd gladly have stayed to listen a great deal longer. "Non-music" is a term that seems to have taken hold concerning the area of sonic activity under discussion here. But from my perspective, what Shots created in this live event was music, unequivocally.