center for contemporary non-objective art

earwitness

Sam Ashley 2004

Ashley has devoted his life to the invention of an experimental trance-mysticism. He has been experimenting with and developing applications for trance since childhood, and for more than 25 years he has used trance in music and art. Sam’s work is often about hallucination, coincidence and luck. Much of Sam’s work over more than 20 years has been about authentic "spirit possession". ’Everyone Laughed When I Sat Down At The Piano’, ’A Fish Clinging To Water I’d Rather Be Lucky Than Good’ and ’Harry The Dog That Bit You’ each feature a different form of spirit possession as a vocal/performance technique, for example. ’Swept Off My Feet’, ’Every Heaven Is The Best One’, ’The Truth About Matter’, ’Ghost Detector’, and ’Listening For Bats’ among others, would be recent examples of instrumental, ambient or installation works expressing a mystical orientation. Sam brings the mystical theme into collaborations too; since the early ’90s he has been performing on occasion his solo works in parallel with the work of fellow artists. He also co-founded the California based ensemble Very Important Now. Sam has been singing for 20 years, with an unusual Animal Magnetism technique derived from trance. He has had principal roles in eight contemporary operas by Robert Ashley, with whom he regularly performs and records, among others. Sam co-founded the Cactus Needle Project, which was acclaimed as a computer and electronics ensemble and which performed around the USA for five years, and AA Bee Removal, an experimental Lo-Fi electronic duo, which worked for more than ten years.

His audio work ’Listening For Bats - experiments in the amplification of imaginary sound’ was part of the CCNOA experimental audio program ‘Earrwitness’ 2004.
’Listening For Bats’ is an extremely soft synthetic sonic environment. It was first conceived as an installation, and was commissioned by and developed during an artist residency at Spritzenhaus in Hamburg, Germany, July-August, 2002. "In ’Listening For Bats’ what I’m trying to do is to offer an experiential metaphor. By that I mean an experience that is a metaphor for another experience. I’m interested in this sort of thing because, as a mystic, I’m interested in the fact that what we call "reality" is, more accurately speaking, just such a metaphor; a kind of "vision" approximately or symbolically describing the true nature of things. I have tried to create low volume, in fact barely audible, sonic textures that have a tendency to evoke "hallucinatory" versions of themselves, or that can be easily imagined after they have disappeared. At very low volume real sounds don’t disappear into silence, of course—contrary to what people think when they don’t actually check—instead they merge into a noise floor of imaginary sounds. In my experience an extremely soft real sound and an imaginary version of that sound can occasionally be so identical that it is not possible to tell them apart. When that happens one can become aware that a kind of feeling-attention or intuition, or let’s say a kind of knowing that one doesn’t understand; that feeling is how one tells the difference between such real and imaginary sounds. The same intuition that knows whether one is well, or that occasionally evokes prophetic dreams, or that guides one’s decisions transcendentally. In ’Listening For Bats’ I hope to create a situation in which one might pay close attention to the feeling that can see into the future or contact a friend at a distance or see a ghost. It is a musical experiment in the experience of trance."


Listening For Bats (photo GDB)

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