Market, late morning, 26 March 2012: a walk down Electric Avenue.

Horses and Pit Bulls

March 13, 2012

Throughout my life I have had many unique experiences with a variety of different animals.  From dogs and cats to horses to cattle to hawks to snakes to turtles to fox to deer, I have been involved with many different rescue and rehabilitation efforts.  This is partly due to my mother’s passion for animals with special needs (which also drives my father crazy–funny how things work).  Her, sometimes outspoken, passion for animals certainly allowed for me to actively play a role in the lives of many animals, and it was also a way for me (who was had chronic illnesses growing up) to have an opportunity to grow and heal with these animals.  And it is also helped me to develop my “spiritual” philosophies of Connectedness in regards to human and animal relationships–covering everything from food to companionship.  One might be able to label my mother as an “activist of animal rights” of sorts, however I would term her as a “practical activist” because most of what she does is thoroughly thought out and always has a practical explanation for her decisions.  unfortunately there certainly are a number of people who are overly radical and just not practical when it comes to animals and “rescuing” and often make a bad rap for “animal lovers.”  Where I stand on this issue is more of a blending of animal rights and animal welfare (both of which have choppy definitions and I won’t waste time explaining–at least now you understand a bit of my background and a general idea of my view, which is that I believe animals need to be treated in a fair way, but I realize that humans have practical uses (such as food and clothing and work) which are essential to our own survival and I will not overlook this fact).

So, a special experience that I share with an animal…. I could talk about the numerous shelter animals that I have helped my mother rehabilitate.  I could talk about my own work as an assistant vet tech at a non-kill shelter.  I could talk about the orphaned hawk that I helped rehabilitate (although it was illegal being that I do not have a license to rehabilitate wild animals–yet).  I could talk about any of my three dogs that came into the shelter through horrifying cases.  I could go in a completely opposite direction and talk about showing dairy cows and working on farms.  The list goes on and on and on.

However, there are only two instances where I felt connected to an animal beyond that of normal human-animal relationships (mostly because my mother has this gift where most of our animals trust her much more than anyone else in the house hold).  These two animals were: (1) Flyer, our 40-year-old thoroughbred horse who had an extensive career at Saratoga and hailed from “royal” blood, but his career also led to his injury and his ultimate fate as a pasture rat, and (2) Gypsy, a pit bull that I found in a chicken coop with nine puppies.

Flyer was certainly a thoroughbred.  High strung and pissy until the day he died.  However, the tactics that were noted by Patton as being damaging (ie. the cowboy way of hitting the horse to desensitize it), were clearly used on Flyer during his training.  My mother did not take Flyer in until he was long removed from the racing industry and had some years on his life.  And in the years between racing and my mother’s discovery of him, his behaviors worsened.  And until the day he died he expressed signs of nervousness, and in many cases sheer hatred of male humans (even my father and grandfather who worked with him extensively).  The only male human that he was completely comfortable around was me.  My mother jokes and says that this is because she was thrown off of Flyer while trail riding while she was pregnant with me–so we were bound to have a connection.  Nevertheless, I often, throughout my childhood, would spend a lot of my times in the barn just studying this majestic creature.  He was huge, 18 hands, jet black and powerful looking.  Even in his old age (I knew him from the time he was 25 until he was 40–my mother had him for about twelve years prior to my birth) he was a presence.  There was just a natural connection between the way we interacted, a connection that I have yet to regain with any of our other horses.  And also, his death was of significance to me because it truly was like watching an immortal die, and it made it worse that I was the only one around when it happened, and he died, still fighting with his head in my arms.  I have written numerous poems about this occasion and it is something that will stick with me for a long time.

Gypsy, is still with us today, but her story is also interesting.  Emaciated, mange riddled, full of fleas, injured, and extremely frightened was the condition that I found her in.  My best friend Marc and I were both working at the shelter and had a call about a dog in the chicken coop.  When we got there we didn’t know what to expect.  The neighbors that lived on the particular hill were scared of the dog because she was a pit bull, which is a stereotypical fear that is ridiculous.  My only fear was moving her and her puppies because the puppies were newborn and covered in mud and feces from the chicken coop, and Gypsy (we named her because that is the name of the hill in which the chicken coop was) was so frail and injured.  Eventually we were able to get them into my car (which was a small Subaru legacy at the time–the shelter van was broken down and we had to use my car).  Gypsy was so extremely shy that she often didn’t move or even look at you.  She would sit with her head buried in her paws.  After about half a year, her and her puppies were adopted out to different families.  unfortunately, her adoption was a bad adoption and she came back to the shelter.  She was even more shy and reluctant of humans than before and we soon learned that the owners had beat her after she chewed some shoes (we issued the owners a ticket to appear in court for animal cruelty).  So, it became my mom’s mission to rehabilitate this dog.  She came home to us on a “fostering” trial.  I knew that this meant she was really being adopted.  And now, three years later, there is a significant difference in the dog’s personality.  She trusts me the most out all humans she comes in contact with, and I am the only one to be able to rough house with her and our other two dogs.  But to me, she really is a case of human qualities in an animal.

Playing ruff

March 13, 2012

When I was about 12 years old, my single father and I moved away from northern California, where I’d been born and raised. My father had fallen on hard times, and my uncle had offered to let us stay with him in Long Island until we could get back on our feet. Not only did this connect us back to our East Coast family; it also gave me my first dog in my uncle’s Golden Retriever. Robert Maximillian III: a regal name for a down-to-earth personality. Robert didn’t own a leash. He went wherever we went. Most of the time, in fact, we let him out to do his business, after which he would come back and scratch on the door when he was finished. Two things I remember most about him: his smell and his voice. Those who’ve lived with a Goldie know that smell, which is somewhat foul to non-owners yet nostalgic to the rest of us. Even his weekly bathing did little to mask it. It saturated the house, became a part of our lives. His voice, on the other hand, had a variety of scents. It was full of color. Squirrels or other dogs would occasionally set him off, but for the most part he was quiet. I remember most his sounds of play. We had a favorite game, for which I’d put on my dad’s oven mitts (much to his chagrin) and initiate a play fight. I would begin by slapping Robert on the face until he started growling, and we’d wrestle for half an hour, respecting each other’s boundaries but sometimes getting pretty rough. Yet his voice—a combination of snarls, snorts, and joyful rumbles—always let me know it was okay. He spoke to me in those moments, ensuring that the script of our play was true to character. Was this violent? For all intents and purposes, I suppose so. There was plenty of physical contact that in other contexts might have been considered abusive. But we shared an agreement. Case in point: I rather naively came to believe that all dogs shared this understanding, foolishly tried to initiate our little game with a neighbor’s dog, and received my first (and last) bite in return. We’d simply never had a conversation about it. My takeaway point is this: If we’re going to talk about physical boundaries between animals, including ourselves, then we must also think about play, for it is a contract that few language barriers, if any, can nullify. -Tyran

The Question of Zoos

March 12, 2012

“From the dawn of consciousness, we’ve been trying to frame, in everything from creation mythology to zoological parks, the simultaneous sense of kinship with and irreparable separateness from animals that our consciousness calls to mind. . . .

Modern science, for its part, now repeatedly confirms our long intuited commonality with the creatures we continue to keep. Indeed, a number of major zoos have already closed down their elephant and chimpanzee exhibits because of the psychological trauma those animals have been shown to suffer in captivity. Major lawsuits are also being pursued against places like Sea World for ‘enslaving’ orcas and dolphins.

‘In 2013, we’re going to prosecute the first cases,’ Steven M. Wise, a lawyer and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, recently told me. ‘Their goal will be to use the latest science to help persuade state court judges that such creatures as whales and chimpanzees should be accorded common law personhood and rights.'”

Farewell to the Monkey House

Knee deep in Niedecker

March 8, 2012

O my floating life
Do not save love
      for things
            Throw things
to the flood

This cluster of words, from Lorine Niedecker’s poem “Paean to Place,” is the perfect Deleuzian symbiote, a map along which to trace the comportment of our reading. This soundscape consists of jewels, some tarnished and others clear enough to be invisible yet each sharing the light that shines through them. Niedecker seems to dive along with us, looking deep into the instrumental heart of foggy waters throughout which float the visages of a divided family. Deafness is evoked as a sonic choice, a condition of severance from one’s home and the comforts that reside within it. The quotidian sings, washes away the means with which to describe it with the language of phenomenological interaction (“spoon-tapped waterglass- / descending scale- / tear-drop-tittle”). Emotion is the music of the spheres (“He netted loneliness”), the law of gravity (“A hummingbird / can’t haul”), and the nature of the body (“I possessed / the high word: / The boy my friend / played his violin / in the great hall”). Everything here inhabits the edge of something unseen, felt only as one’s own weight. The air sings, yes, but only the chambers of our hearts can decipher it. -Tyran

Hail? Nary…

March 7, 2012

A few days ago, when snowflakes touched down on Ithaca at last, a hush fell over everything. And in that hush, I was able to really listen to the sounds of snow for the first time this winter, a sound I can only describe as thousands of microscopic foil candy wrappers being unwrapped simultaneously. I regretted not having equipment sensitive enough to record this sound. Others have done that very thing—most notably John Hudak and Stephen Mathieu in their album Pieces of Winter, for which they took contact recordings of snow as a basis for electronically generated compositions. Yet even as I lamented my lack of means, a sudden hailstorm unleashed its relatively recordable sounds on my apartment complex. Thinking I had an opportunity, I switched my portable recorder on and left it outside my door until the storm abated. Yet when I transferred the file to my computer, all I heard was a mechanical whine and none of the tiny flecks of sound I was hoping to explore in greater depth. It turns out that when I opened my door to place the recorder outside, the cold air rushing into the apartment had triggered my heater to kick in, and since the unit pokes out of the wall right beside my door, it was its hum that I’d managed to capture on tape. Disheartened, I quickly erased the recording and forgot about it. But then I began thinking about the sound I had discarded. Might there not have been something to hear in the voice of a machine? Was it only because it was unnatural that I rejected it? To be sure, certain recordings have turned just such sounds into immersive listening experiences (murmer’s We Share A Shadow comes to mind). Let this be a lesson to find potential in every sound. -Tyran

Sound in space

March 7, 2012

This past Monday I accompanied other members of my Video Art and New Media class to watch William Forsythe’s choreography in Rand Hall. Broc, the dancer who was performing the choreography, had what seemed to be about 50 pendulums hanging from the ceiling surrounding him. He flitted in between them utilizing the apparatuses at times and avoiding them at others. At first, I really wasn’t sure what I was watching. His movements were extremely unique. The piece itself was titled “Everywhere and Nowhere at the Same Time.” I found myself paying extra attention to how the entire piece sounded. At first, the dominate sounds were the cars passing by outside the building, people moving in their seats, the sound of the door opening and closing as people were coming and going. It was difficult to tune these out. However, I started to notice the sound of the dancer’s feet as he was moving about. With some of this movements, the noise his feet made reminded me of a basketball court and how players’ shoes squeak with every short stride. He twisted the strings suspending each pendulum together at times and when they spiraled close enough to touch each other, there were clinking sounds throughout the room at random intervals. The most interesting sounds were the ones the dancer made himself. Whenever his arms would cut through the air in short, quick movements, he would emit a swooshing sound using his vocal chords. Randomly, he would also make short high pitched sounds almost like something you would hear from a machine that beeped. I wasn’t sure why he made these noises and what they meant in relation to the piece as a whole. Did they somehow relate to the pendulums? Were the sounds part of him making the most of the space? How do they relate to the title “Everywhere and Nowhere at the Same Time”? I was extremely confused by the entire piece, though I did thoroughly enjoy it from a artistic standpoint.

On another note. A friend of mine does a radio station for Cornell. He focuses on music with a vast array of sounds that tend to be a bit more “obscure.” I wanted to share his website with you all that has links to some sound bytes that I found interesting. Some I had heard before but a lot of it I had not. It’s called SonicLandscapes. Hope you all enjoy it!

I find it very interesting how some listeners can distinguish between similar sounds, while to others the sounds are identical – and how this can also be seen in speakers, the producers of the sounds in question. Typically, this can occur when one learns a new language, and has to master the subtle differences between tones or syllables, but it can appear in one’s native language as well. I recently noticed that a friend of mine pronounces the words “pen” exactly like “pin”, and “Jenn” the same as “gin”. She believes that she is differentiating the “e” and “i” in each of these words, but anyone listening to her cannot ascertain which word she is actually saying (barring contextual clues, of course). Even more curiously, she pronounces the name “Jennifer” using the “e” sound that should be heard in “Jenn”, but thinks she does say “Jenn” using the same sound. Within her umwelt, there is a differentiation between these sounds, although she rarely pays attention to it. When she speaks these words, however, the sounds that we find entering our spheres of existence are foreign and seem to be pronounced incorrectly. But this is all based on the filtration of these words out of her mind, into her umwelt, and then into ours. What if we as listeners are simply incapable of noticing the distinction she makes? Is she “wrong” – or are we? How can she hear the difference in pronunciation by others but not notice the nuances of her own speech? Can any of us truly know how we sound to our listeners?

The metaphorical habit

March 1, 2012

Last night I attended an improvisational performance between legendary guitarist and composer Fred Frith and piano improviser extraordinaire Annie Lewandowski. The performance was sublime, and as I listened I “accompanied” it with some improvisations of my own, in the form of words (you can read them here). I noticed only after transcribing them just how often I turned to animals and natural imagery in order to describe what I was hearing, as if these very evocations were embedded in the ephemeral results of their tinkering. Is this purely a habit I have taken from literature? Am I really tapping into something essential about this music, about all music? Or do the metaphors remain only that, forever asymptotes to that being described? And why, by the same token, do we so often analogize the cries and calls of animals to the music we create with contrived instruments? This constant crisscrossing would seem to intersect at a juncture vital to life itself. I dare say it may be a juncture in which we all share, perhaps the genesis of life itself. Agamben calls it the “Open,” but it seems closed to anyone who tries to describe it. And I think this is the point. It is not an “it” at all. It simply is. We can write, sing, emote to no end about either end of an arbitrary divide, but until we listen to it we have heard nothing. -Tyran

Silence and Noise

March 1, 2012

After our encounter with Japanese noise music last class, I struggled a bit with the idea of music – and why such an apparent lack of melody and typical musical structure appeals to some listeners.  Similarly, I wondered why something explicitly called “noise”, composed of such aesthetically troubling sounds, can be considered music. But then, much music that I consider astounding has been deemed horrific by other listeners.  As I’ve been pondering this relationship and examining my own listening habits and preferences, today, in another class, a professor proclaimed that “if there were no silence in music, it would just be noise – a long scream!” I think she really hit the nail on the head (although she wasn’t talking about noise music in particular).  Her statement was similar to what was said a few classes ago, noting the relationship between sound and silence, and how the lack of one makes the other extremely disconcerting, to say the least.  I think what my professor said epitomizes the conventional view of the relationship between sound and silence, and the result if one is diminished to the point of vanishing.  In order to find the most appealing balance of sound and silence, boundaries must be pushed and combinations of the two conditions must be experimentally toyed with.  From concerts that lack deliberately produced sounds, to performances that contain screaming guitars but little to no silence, we can only locate the borders of what is we consider “musical” after having crossed them into the realm of excessive silence or chaotically noise.

On an entirely unrelated note, everybody who lives in my house is currently complaining about a faint car alarm going off on Dryden Road.  Again, once a strange and repetitive noise was drawn to our attention, we couldn’t remove it from our consciousness and relegate it to to something we hear but don’t actively listen to.  I’m a bit dismayed at how much attention this meaningless noise demands from us, and how we are unable to adapt and begin to ignore it.