Damon Krukowski

  • picks March 02, 2020

    Christine Sun Kim

    I first encountered Christine Sun Kim’s drawings in the Museum of Modern Art’s “Soundings” exhibition in 2013, where she was showing poetic, gestural works based on the movements of American Sign Language and the visual language of musical scores. Equally impressive was the artist’s statement in the catalogue. In a vocabulary as economical as her drawings, Kim made a series of observations on sound that were both eye- and ear-opening, describing it as “a form of authority” with its own “social currency”and outlining what it’s like to “feel my voice internally”: “Only my body can produce sounds

  • music October 16, 2018

    To Hat and To Hold

    THE LIGHTS DIM, a slight figure in a huge plumed hat emerges from the wings, walks slowly across the stage and sits down at the piano. The lights do not come back up. “Don’t hurt me,” speak-sings Annette Peacock, launching into her first tune of the evening.  

    She might be addressing the audience. Although Annette Peacock’s career is long and distinguished enough for her to be called a doyenne of song, she remains a reclusive mystery even to devoted fans. This performance, for the 2018 October Revolution of Jazz & Contemporary Music in Philadelphia, is likely the first time anyone in the room

  • Nam June Paik

    The Harvard Art Museums recently received a substantial gift from Ken Hakuta, Nam June Paik’s nephew, of art by Paik along with funding for a postdoctoral fellowship devoted to his work. The first fruits of both came together in this rich exhibition, “Nam June Paik: Screen Play,” which was dominated by Paik’s later work from the 1990s and 2000s but animated by ideas fundamental to his life’s project. Cocurators Mary Schneider Enriquez and Marina Isgro, the institution’s first Nam June Paik research fellow, emphasized Paik’s interest in the surfaces of his well-known sculptural work with televisions

  • Cult Classics

    Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968, by Ryan H. Walsh. New York: Penguin Press, 2018. 368 pages.

    WHEN MY FRIENDS and I started a band in 1980s Boston, we weren’t just influenced by the Velvet Underground—we studied their first three albums like a code to be cracked. (The fourth album, Loaded, served to separate true acolytes from false. Bands covering “Sweet Jane” might as well have been shouting “I don’t get it!” into the mic.)

    What I didn’t know then was that our liturgical attitude toward the Velvets was rooted firmly in a local tradition. As Ryan H. Walsh points out in his excellent new


    THE FIRST TIME I saw Hito Steyerl’s Liquidity Inc., 2014, I didn’t actually see it—I could only hear it. It was opening night at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, which acquired the piece in 2015 but took it out of storage for the first time this past December. You know what it’s like to try and see anything at an opening, especially a thirty-minute video. The room was buzzy with chatter, and the viewing area was crowded with people lounging on beanbags, networking, posing, and making images of their own.

    So I wandered into the next gallery, which was empty. It is almost always

  • “PlayTime”

    On paper, the Peabody Essex Museum’s “PlayTime” looks like an innocent exhibition of fun contemporary art for the whole family to enjoy—ideal for this Salem, Massachusetts, institution known for its allergy to pretention and its enthusiastic outreach to as wide a community as possible. And curator Trevor Smith’s dramatic opening gesture seemed to fulfill that promise: The museum’s oldest, grandest gallery is occupied entirely by Lara Favaretto’s Instagram-ready Coppie Semplici, 2009, an installation of colorful car-wash brushes spinning in pairs. It seems to be a cheerful photo op until

  • “Mutations/Créations: Ryoji Ikeda”

    Ryoji Ikeda first came to prominence as a musician associated with the “glitch” school of digital minimalism, creating electronic compositions out of the errors on CDs and other devices used in the 1990s. Since then, Ikeda has expanded his palette to include both audio and visual work based on data streams and other algorithmic relationships: In 2014 and 2015, he even took up a residency alongside the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, the particle-physics laboratory in Geneva. The results of Ikeda’s data-intensive studies can take

  • music March 30, 2018

    Major Scale


    On one hand, festivals solve financial problems of presenting live music by scaling up—what if, says the ambitious promoter in Tennessee, instead of eighty shows selling a thousand tickets each, we put on one show that sells 80,000 tickets…? And thus Bonnaroo is born, with an astronomical budget to work with. (Tickets this year are $337.50, which means a sell out will gross $27 million—before merch).

    But on the other hand, festivals create entirely new problems for music by shifting scale like this. Not all live music—not any?—is made to be heard by 80,000

  • Christian Marclay: Festival

    Christian Marclay never got too hung up on the music pressed onto records, and thus was free to work with all their other attributes...

    Christian Marclay never got too hung up on the music pressed onto records, and thus was free to work with all their other attributes. Since his early pieces in vinyl, such as Record Without a Cover, 1985, Marclay’s palette has expanded to include instruments, instrument cases, speaker cabinets, magnetic tape, CDs, film, and seemingly any and all other conveyances of sound. For “Christian Marclay: Festival,” the focus will be on the score. Watch for daily appearances within the galleries by such downtown luminaries such as Alan Licht, Butch Morris, Elliott Sharp, Ikue Mori,

  • Source Records 1–6

    IF WE COME TO A MUSICAL SCORE with rigid ideas of what is required for its interpretation—years of practice, a concert hall, black tie—to whom can we ascribe these notions? The score may specify an instrument to be played, notes to play on it, and (an approximate) tempo. But anything else is—like Oral Law to the written Torah—precisely what is not in the text. The score on its own remains an invitation: to inhabit it, and make of it what you will.

    The magazine Source: Music of the Avant Garde worked to place that invitation directly in its readers’ hands. Published under the direction of composer

  • Musica Elettronica Viva

    MUSICA ELETTRONICA VIVA are a collective that dates from that brave era the 1960s, when art was made unabashedly in the service of the revolution. As Frederic Rzewski, the pianist and composer who has served most often as the group’s spokesperson, explained in a 1969 interview:

    We are making the first steps now toward an actively revolutionary music, a music which will not be an instrument of ruling-class “culture” . . . but rather a force in the hands of the people, a special language belonging to everybody. When this happens, the “concert” will come to resemble other liberated forms such as

  • Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers’s Bloom

    “YOU REALLY HATE MINIMALISM,” sighed my friend Wayne, as he looked over the latest stack of CDs I had brought in for trade to his store. Do I? I had never formulated such an opinion. But if anyone knows your musical tastes better than you, it’s the buyer of used CDs at your trusted local record shop. I looked at the stack he was busy sorting: Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams, as well as a group of less famous, but equally influential, minimalist and postminimalist composers championed by excellent independent labels like XI Records, Table of the Elements, and Lovely Music. Could I deny it?

  • Damon Krukowski


    1 Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies Eno and Schmidt’s set of instructional cards for solving creative problems—originally printed in 1975—is now available as an iPhone application. Instead of checking messages, you can draw one of its “worthwhile dilemmas” to direct your next move, such as: “Fill every beat with something.”

    2 1970’s Algerian Proto-Rai Underground (Sublime Frequencies) In the pre-synthesizer days of rai music explored by this album, every beat was filled with driving hand percussion, passionate call-and-response vocals, and (surprisingly)

  • Victrola Favorites and Sublime Frequencies

    MP3S CAN PROVOKE a metaphysical crisis in a record collector. If you don’t have to pack them when you move, do they exist? To my analog brain, when music is “ripped” from a disc, it enters a mysteriously disembodied space. For once digital files have shuffled off this mortal coil, they lose not only the plastic and lacquer that once housed them, but the context those materials provided. From the beginning of commercially recorded sound, packaging—the 78 label, the LP sleeve, the CD jewel case—has been a container for everything that tethers music to this world. In fact, the first copyright

  • Kenneth Goldsmith and UbuWeb

    UBUWEB (www.ubu.com) started out in 1996 much like an online fanzine devoted to concrete poetry, but it has grown to incorporate the functions of a virtual publishing house (via PDF), record company (via MP3), and, most recently, film distributor (via Flash). In its archival breadth, UbuWeb is now something like a library or museum. And since it doesn’t require a building and has nearly no overhead, its usefulness to the avant-garde seems certain to continue, uncompromised and unabated, at least as long as its creator, Kenneth Goldsmith, devotes his energy to it.

    Goldsmith credits himself as “

  • David Tudor’s Rainforest IV

    FOR ITS TWO PERFORMANCES of postwar avant-gardist David Tudor’s Rainforest IV last fall at The Kitchen in New York, the group Composers Inside Electronics suspended a single wire object in the passageway between lobby and theater. Passing under this birdcagelike construction, entrants heard a burst of electronic noise—a jolt announcing entrance into a space where ears, rather than eyes, would better guide one’s path.

    Indeed, Rainforest IV is an exercise in audio wandering—navigating a thicket of objects, each of which, on closer examination, reveals itself to be resonating with sound. A sheet of

  • Damon Krukowski


    1 Robert Wyatt, Comicopera (Domino) Written in the melancholy, self-reflective mode of Rock Bottom (1974), Comicopera includes one of Wyatt’s loveliest pop melodies, the bittersweet “Just as You Are.” A lyrical account of life in one’s sixties, to file alongside Wyatt’s indelible work from the 1960s.

    2 Caetano Veloso, (Nonesuch) In his own document of middle age, Veloso subjects his songs to plastic surgery by enlisting twenty- and thirty-something musicians as a backing band. Their wiry energy and Caetano’s coruscatingly honest lyrics make this a red convertible of a record.


  • Teiji Ito

    TEIJI ITO IS INVARIABLY LINKED to Maya Deren, since their professional and romantic relationship spanned the last decade of her career, 1952–61, and the first of his. Deren’s account of their initial encounter is as steeped in self-mythology as any of the images in her films:

    “Teiji, I have the feeling that if ever you were approached by an inquiring reporter and asked for one or two of the most important or critical moments in your life—you certainly would have to mention that one where I ran into you in front of the five and dime store.”

    “When you asked me to do the score for your film.”

    Ito was

  • Cornelius Cardew

    SOME GESTURES are so large, they cast the rest of a career into shadow. Such is the case with English composer Cornelius Cardew, whose rather spectacular conversion to a Maoist-influenced branch of Marxism in the early 1970s led him to denounce both his avant-garde mentors and his own previous compositions. The explosive title of his 1974 essay, “Stockhausen Serves Imperialism,” has reached further than the text itself and, sadly, further than Cardew’s music.

    What has been eclipsed is Cardew’s restless experimentation with serialism, Cagean chance, graphic notation, and various forms of improvisation.

  • Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour

    BOB DYLAN KNOWS a lot of songs. His own extensive—and wordy—catalogue aside, the covers he performed live between 1988 and 2000 alone take up nine CDs. This is nothing new—Dylan has been absorbing everyone else’s repertoire since before his 1962 debut album, Bob Dylan, which combined songs and arrangements he had learned from Eric von Schmidt, Dave Van Ronk, and others. In the oral history of the folk revival Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, von Schmidt describes a typical visit from Dylan back in the day: “He wasn’t much interested in playing; he wanted to listen. So I played. . . . It was something,