Archive for April, 2011

John Hoge, The Source (1980) - 18

In my previous trilogy of earthworks posts I alluded to another earthwork that I’d stumbled onto on my own, at Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island. After working on that series of posts and becoming increasingly interested in earthworks in the Pacific Northwest I made a return visit to the park on an overcast November day. The piece in question is The Source created by sculptor John Hoge which was installed in the park in 1980. The official description of the piece from Hoge’s online portfolio is:

The Source (1980)
Earth and Stone
3 feet height
140 feet wide
220 feet depth
Earth and stone sculpture which recycles lake water abstracting the cyclical process of water. This image shows an aerial view of the sculpture in the park. Located at Luther Burbank Park, Mercer Island, WA

I include the aerial photo from Hoge’s portfolio here (on the left) because it demonstrates once again an aspect of land art that I find so fascinating: the effect of time on these pieces. The three encircling grass embankments have such definition in this photo, sharply defined and clearly outlining and demarcating the piece. While an aerial view is always  going to be different than the the view from the ground you can see in this linked photo from Hoge’s entry on the City of Kent’s Earthworks page, that it was just as clear in outline from that perspective as well.

John Hoge, The Source (1980) - 22

In the above picture you can see the current much more rounded and worn down state of those embankments; undoubtedly softened somewhat by the longer grass it also clearly has compacted and settled down in the thirty years since its creation. Luther Burbank Park is the primary (almost only) park on Mercer Island so you don’t see the neglect that I saw at some of the other King County earthworks, so this softening is clearly a product of time and use.  The other thing I find quite interesting from Hoge’s portfolio is the description:  “Earth and stone sculpture which recycles lake water abstracting the cyclical process of water“.  This earthwork, much more so than the other three I have written about, seems the most sculpturally.  Lorna Jordan Waterworks Garden and Herbert Bayer Mill Creek Canyon Earthworks were built as integrated parts of a water management systems and Robert Morris”˜ Untitled Earthwork is just as explicitly a work of land reclamation whereas this piece strikes me as using the land to make a work of art, whose inspirations are the setting it is placed in and references (as you often see) to ancient earthworks. From the City of Kent’s excellent earthworks page, Hoge makes this statement about his processes and concerns:

“In my own work, my preferred choice of materials are the natural ones: stone and other earth products. I am particularly interested in stones’ naturally occurring characteristics, formations and textures. Much of my work strives to retain, enhance and abstract naturally-occurring shapes and lines through direct carving techniques. I then use textural gradations and stone polishes to create transitions between natural surfaces and worked surfaces.” – John Hoge from the City of Kent’s earthworks essays.


John Hoge, The Source (1980) - 10

Of all of the earthworks I’ve looked at The Source has the least information online and the material linked in this post are about all I can find.  This piece was built during that the era that the King County Arts Commission (now 4Culture) was heavily promoting and investing in radical public art projects. Hoge was hired to document and liaise with Herbert Bayer during the construction of the Mill Creek Canyon earthwork and while he is perhaps not as well known (and certainly not the degree as Robert Morris) this is I think as great a piece as the others.  It is perhaps its more sculpturally nature and does not that combination of public works with works of art that is a major component of many of the well known pieces,  this but I think in many ways that adds to it.  Perhaps its form invokes Spiral Jetty a bit too closely, which is another piece that I think is more art for arts sake but also like Spiral Jetty, I think The Source fits perfectly into its environment and was clearly constructed for it. I think its form is fantastic – the whorls that end in a little basin in the central stone that like an alter has steps leading up to it; the stone lined channel that runs down to Lake Washington; the embankments that surround the stones and evoke those same whorls but also prehistoric structures like Brú na Bóinne who over time become little more than grass covered mounds. And most charmingly the little stone offset from the central structure that evokes nothing more than the heelstone at that greatest and most well known of all earthworks, Stonehenge.

John Hoge, The Source (1980) - 13

Check out all of my photos of The Source at Flickr.

“I have dreamed a dream, but now that dream has gone from me.”


Tour Abstracts - 20.jpg

aeolian filter screenshot

Figure 1: Aeolian Filter Nord Modular patch.

One aspect that is vital to understand w/r/t Network Instrument theory is that the network is made up of interconnected instruments. Confusion can be had as electronic instruments are fundamentally made up of interconnected components and something like a modular synthesizer could appear to be a Network Instrument laboratory. Now a sufficiently large modular synthesizer could be patched in such at way that it contained discrete instruments that could then be interconnected in various ways, some of which could actually be interesting beyond simply summing signals in a mixer (for instance a four quadrant multiplier would allow you to intermodulate your signals).  A large collection of individual modules, or a software based solution that works on similar principles thus can be a a Network Instrument laboratory though what particularly makes the instrument is the variety of interfaces which, especially in a soft-synth, can be severely limited.  However it is the networking of the individual instruments that  is of interest and is something that can be exploited.  This, plus the fact that “instrument” is a rather loaded word that in an idealized network instrument might not meet the basic criteria that people hold, is why in Network Instrument theory they are referred to as subnetworks.

Synthesis v. Complex Waveform Modulation

Typically what people are doing with synthesizers is subtractive , additiveFM synthesis or a combination of these  (of course there are plenty of other forms of synthesis:  Wavetable, Karplus-Strong etc). A Network Instrument can utilize any or all of these techniques in its subnetworks but it is explicitly not a form of synthesis. Synthesis is taking very fundamental parts, typically quite simple waveforms (triangle, sine, saw, etc) and altering those waveforms to create a more complicated waveform. The Wikipedia links above are actually quite informative for a basic overview of these forms of synthesis and of course there is much on the web describing these techniques in greater details. Synthesis is almost always trying to create other sounds:

Subtractive synthesis is a method of creating a sound by removing harmonics, characterised by the application of an audio filter to an audio signal. For example, taking the output of a sawtooth generator and using a low-pass filter to dampen its higher partials generates a more natural approximation of a bowed string instrument than using a sawtooth generator alone. Typically, the complexity of the source signal and the cut-off frequency and resonance of the filter are controlled in order to simulate the natural timbre of a given instrument. – from the Wikipedia article on Subtractive Synthesis


Additive Synthesis
Figure 2: Additive Synthesis

Additive Synthesis which is the process of sound generation via the combining of simplified waveforms to increase the complexity of the waveform is a bit more akin to the notions of Network Instrument theory. However it is still at a much more basic level than what is done with an Network Instrument. That is the process is still trying to create a singular sound, usually tied to a pitch. The process though is much closer and if you applied the basic concepts not toward creating single sound but on an instrumental level you’d have a simple network, however the methods of modulation between subnetworks via interfaces doesn’t limit the process in which waveforms interact to just the additive.  Additive synthesis simply as a process does create enough complexity that it is rarely used in commercial synthesizers but of course this doesn’t limit its use for those that have enough of the constituent parts to explore the technique.

Network Instrument in contrast to the various forms of synthesis has no interest in replicating the sounds of other instruments or even in creating “new” sounds. It’s concerns are for utilizing the sounds in and of themselves and to increase the complexity and unpredictably of the sounds generated through the interactions of the complex waveforms generated by complete instruments. In this regard a Network Instrument is much more akin to a musical ensemble than a synthesizer. When you see an ensemble, say a string quartet, play live there are four separate sound sources that are bounced around in a space, altered by running into other objects, reflecting from walls and finally being mixed by your brain from two separated inputs.  This is what a Network Instrument is trying to do

An Example Subnetwork

Pictured at the top of this post is is the Nord Modular patch utilized in the recording of the aeolian electrics (part of the Eleven Clouds [Hollow Earth Recordings 2010] series). This is a patch that is run on Clavia’s Nord Micromodular which is a DSP based synthesizer that basically runs a softsynth in hardware. With two inputs and two outputs (plus a headphone jack that can be used for additional output) it is a useful and quite flexable addition to a Network Instrument. I often use it as part of another instrument, as several instruments or for processing of other instruments. With it’s multiple Ins and Outs it can be setup to create feedback which it can then process itself. My first use of this synth was what I called the Feedback Synthesizer where I’d only use feedback as a soundsource (no oscillators). It also can internally create feedback from interconnecting of modules which allow for a pretty high degree of instability from a digital instrument. However I find I get the best results when I feed in an outside source into it and incorporate it as part of a network. The typical setup with the Nord is a feedback loop on one channel and the other input either bring in another instrument (in a network sense) or a signal source to be part of the subnetwork in the patch.  These two parts can be interconnected and thus form a Network Instrument. In the above example I’m using a single input source, in this case another instrument (my Chimera BC-16) and then I’m splitting its input and feed it into two subnetworks. These two networks are interconnected to increase the interactions between the complex waveforms.

Figure 3: Annotated aeolian filter Nord Modular patch.

In figure 3 we can see isolated the two subnetworks of the aeolian filter. The object used to access the inputs is in the middle of the image (the Network Input) and the two subnetworks are in the top and bottom of the image. The input coming in is split into multiple signals which are then delayed to shift their waveforms.  These signals are altered in various ways (filtering, quantizing etc) but primarily they are inter-modulated with each both internally and across the two networks.  This of course is the essence of Network Instrument theory: the interactions of complex waveforms leading to increasingly complex and unexpected behaviors. The use of delays here (all very short; the Nord doesn’t have the memory for long delays and frankly I’m not very interested in the use of delay in and of itself) is always to create a new signal which increases the complexities as the are mixed with the other signals. This network (along with the instrument that was used in conjunction with this patch) was being used to invoke the chaotic behavior of the wind; effectively I should add as Brian Olewnick on his Just Outside blog described it thusly:

“One disc involves ringing metallics (a Tibetan bowl buffeted in some manner by wind?), the other more “whistling wind” (through some aperture?).”

The ringing metallics, is one disc (which was actually two contact microphones on windchimes) of this two disc set, and it is the other disc of electronics described in this post that Brian described as “whistling wind” (through some aperture?). The goal of course was not to directly replicate natural processes but to to capture that natural randomness that doesn’t seem random since being in the world it is always around us.  Use of the cascading complexities of a Network Instrument worked admirably for this.

Aeolian electrics excerpt by spiralcage

Above is an ~18′ excerpt from the ~80′ piece which gives a fair example of the sound. It can be downloaded via SoundCloud as well as played by click on the above.