FO(A)RM magazine, no. 4

Approaching its fifth edition, FO(A)RM is a interdisciplinary magazine published annually by Mathew Marble, Bethany Wright and Seth Nehil.  The text incorporates and fuses poetry, visual art, graphic scoring, scholastic essays, dialogue, fiction, and is typically accompanied by a disc of sound media, often particularly exciting given the frequency at which sound artists appear in the magazine.  Each issue has a thematic locus, this 2005 edition’s being topography, a group of ideas that should come as no surprise to those familiar at least with Nehil, whose recorded work alone and with artists like Mnortham, Jgriznich, and the Orogenetics collective draw heavily from landscape and natural spaces.


Although FO(A)RM no.4 certainly includes some intense reflections on the kind of ‘extreme’ or ‘elemental’ natural forms that find their way into Nehil’s work (see William Fox’s experience atop Mt. Limbo), the contributions are extremely varied, offering thoughtful juxtaposition. 

The issue begins on a perfect, heartwarming note with a documentation of one of Swiss artist San Keller’s actions in which a group of people essentially set out on a cold NY night to walk each other home, one by one, across the five boroughs.  As an introduction, the piece beautifully frames exhausting interaction between the outer-spaces of a mapped landscape and interiors both physical (each person’s home a resting place) and psychological (the resulting text examining emotional ‘climate’ of spaces, fatigue, even vague sociology).  Other dialogues in the issue, with artists Julianne Swartz and David Eckard, describe similar pieces involving very simple and symbolic actions within landscape, playful in their description but with profound resonance in the way they challenge thought about how so many aspects of our public landscape (landmarks, connections, distance, maintenance) get so easily ignored.   

Other contributors make their focus the invisible mapping forces that surround us.  Douglas Kahn includes a fascinating talk about “sferics,” natural and audible radio waves traversing the planet as a result of lighting storms and other electromagnetic activity, first noted by Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant, Thomas Watson (the first noise aficionado), and later used in composition by Alvin Lucier.  Academic Steven Connor offers a well-written treatise on sound art in general, the thrust of his logic being that sound is in many ways the most merciless of all mediums, its distorting power trumping the other senses’ and its potential in cognitive and phenomenological investigations still largely untapped, almost frighteningly wide-open.  

Established sound artists Marc Behrens and Eric La Casa give detailed documentation surrounding significant installation works, often large, in Behrens’ case spanning a small Italian town.  His piece is the most satisfying, beginning with something of a brief poetics that incorporates enlightening glimpses into the tender childhood experiences that have shaped such sensitive output.  Behrens includes texts from a recent work Keyholes in which interactive gallery sound environments coincide with inspirational and exploratory writings as juxtaposition and entries into the genesis of each within very specific personal experience.  The artist conflates his personal development with movement throughout the space, encouraging audience to reevaluate their own cognitive patterns along a parallel topography.  Less personal, Eric La Casa’s detail-heavy descriptions of several architectural sound works were harder to imagine on paper, but would certainly be of interest to anyone who witnessed the installations, or interested scientific, process-minded individuals.

While I found the poetry and graphic sections of the issue to be either too transparent or too forceful in their presentation (though all thematically sound and worth checking out), my last major point of interest, and the one with perhaps the most tenuous connection with “topography,” was the included audio disc with music by Phill Niblock.  Originally envisioned for release with an issue of the venerable Texan avant music mag ND, Ghosts & Others accompanies interviews with Niblock conducted by Nehil and Sedimental founder Rob Forman.  The interviews are worthwhile mainly as explanations of the process surrounding Niblock’s “monolithic” body of work, as well as interesting histories of the artist’s formative years and the founding of his arts organizations Experimental Intermedia.

While not quite Andy Warhol, Niblock is extremely hesitant to discuss theme or any subjectivity surrounding the work itself.  He outright rejects any relationship between image and sound in his works as “purely bullshit,” save an “interest in process as process” and “detail and the material itself.”  Ideas of topography are really a byproduct of Niblock’s extensive worldwide footage of outdoor manual labor work, often occurring by the sea, projected multi-channel through his intense performance pieces.  The films become, as Nehil points, “anthropological documents” of sorts, focusing on repetitive, ‘faceless’ and functional movement, certainly rhythmic and connected with the music in this sense as well, something Niblock would prefer to call “the extension in time.”

No doubt a collector’s treat, Ghosts & Others is a completely different than the singular body of work that Niblock has been developing since the late 60’s.  Four tracks of field recordings, captured primarily in Hungary and China, Ghosts presents hundreds of three-decade-old train sounds latticed with the percussive, celebratory rumblings of a Chinese funeral procession.  Probing ideas of distances and transit symbols resituated, haunting, ecstatic musical noise, elephants, conflated spiritual traveling, death and absence all connect in a way with the timelessness that exists for me in experiencing Niblock’s films and his ‘drone’ music.  Trains’ passage and the Chinese funeral’s transit in a ghost exorcism ritual point to different and the same things in our perception of passage through and among very specific mapped spaces. As is true for most everything in this fourth FO(A)RM, regardless of thematic binding, this music is incredibly dense and engaging, a perfect backdrop to a wealthy landscape of ideas.