List of Residencies, Commissions & Collaborations

Development of 8 speaker / 10 screen audiovisual installation “Gone, Gone Beyond” with Recombinant Media Labs [2016/2017/2018++]

Can’t Stop What’s Coming” video for THE THE [2017]

Curation of radio station and artist residency (with John Kilduff) Optimized! on WFMU funded by National Endowment for the Arts [June 2016]

No One Is An Island radio commission for WDR to be broadcast 9 April 2016 on WDR 3 [Summer 2015-Winter 2015]

Curation of films for Concert of Collage, Watershed, Bristol [September 2015]

Nothing Can Turn Into A Void, editing a feature length doc film by Carl Abrahamsson about Vicki Bennett/People Like Us [Spring 2015]

Arts Council England award creating a new live a/v performance Citation City and new short films with artist soundtracks pdf [Spring 2014-Spring 2015]

Book collaboration with Gregor Weichbrodt The Fundamental Questions [Summer 2014]

Those Who Do Not T Shirt Commission [Summer 2014]
Printed in a light blue and white on an electric blue T-shirt with The Wire logo and Vicki Bennett Those Who Do Not printed in light blue on the back of the neck. Limited edition of 100 shirts.

Solo gallery show Shutter at Leeds College of Art pdf [Winter-Spring 2014]

Touring award from Sound and Music for Notations [Autumn/Winter 2013]

Two short animation films for Animate Projects/Channel 4 television, UK as part of their Random Acts Series [March 2013-July 2013] broadcast on national television in Autumn 2013 pdf

Creation of online film with 7 artist soundtracks Gesture Piece, commissioned by Pixel Palace at Tyneside Cinema pdf [Spring/Summer 2013] Continue reading

Cutting Across Media book and “Mixtape” by People Like Us

CUTTING ACROSS MEDIA by Kembrew McLeod & Rudolf Kuenzli

We highly recommend this book, which Vicki Bennett has written the back of book blurb for. More info about it here.

Download at UbuWeb http://www.ubu.com/sound/plu_collarge.html

Accompanying the book is a “mixtape” (in digital form!) of our favourite sample or sampled music. Take an epic six hour survey of audio collage with People Like Us’ Collarge, a mixtape commissioned for Kembrew McLeod’s co-edited Cutting Across Media: Appropriation Art, Interventionalist Collage, and Intellectual Property Law, which serves as a companion volume to Creative License. http://creativelicense.info/mixtape.php

Smiling Through My Teeth CD curated by Vicki Bennett

Sonic Arts Network is proud to announce the release of our latest CD publication. Vicki Bennett (People Like Us) curates “Smiling Through My Teeth”, a compilation exploring the use of humour in music and sound art and bringing together an assortment of humorous songs, amusing ditties and deranged sound works. Buy the CD or get it free by joining Sonic Arts Network today. The CD contains an essay by American journalist, artist, activist, and professor of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa, Kembrew McLeod.

Download Kembrew McLeod’s essay here or link to it here.

Smiling Through My Teeth 

It is relatively unusual to find humour in sound art, even less has been written on the subject. The avant-garde can be a dry and humourless area (and is therefore perceived as such), both in writing and practice. It is not unusual for writers and audience alike to dismiss anything to the contrary; the catch is humour sometimes isn’t taken seriously, although the reality is a practitioner has to be extremely serious and accomplished in order to carry off a good piece of humorous work.

Humour and music are commonly perceived as an unlikely pair. But the removal of this expression from the pleasure and appreciation of creative art is impossible. Inflections of wit can be found in the most unlikely places, from John Cage’s 4’33’ (using silence in the way Tony Hancock used dead radio air to implicate his own boredom) through the parody of Erik Satie and Charles Ives, the metric disruptions and misquotations of John Oswald or Stock, Hausen and Walkman, and the mixing of genres by Ground Zero’s Revolutionary Pekinese Opera. The more popular end of sound manipulation is also inflected with avant-garde playfulness, for instance Carl Stalling’s cartoon music, the cut up manipulations of Spike Jones, the chaos and disorder of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and the ruination of the classics by Portsmouth Sinfonia.

If the receiver isn’t intimidated by the sort of extreme surreal humour presently found in TV and radio production, there isn’t a reason why they cannot open up to the same categories of humour apparent within the work of, for instance, Runzelstirn and Gurzelstock, Otomo Yoshihide or the Nihilist Spasm Band. This isn’t to say that they would necessarily listen to this art form in the same way as pop music, but it is possible to shift the barriers between “popular” and “obscure”. Humour transcends the confines of language and metaphor, opening the receiver’s mind to new ways of experiencing art, and a comprehension of something that may previously have been obscured.

It is interesting when my work succeeds in a humorous context, then I research and discover that it fits into all of kinds of psychological categories of humour and music that I didn’t know existed. It is true that one doesn’t need to know anything about art or cultural history to be able to make good art, but it enriches the context in which one is working, and is very inspiring to take the time to look into this history and try to also apply it to the art of one’s contemporaries.

Having considered all this, I’ll throw it all away and just say that I love the music and sounds found on this CD, for the pure energy and enthusiasm found within, and may sparks fly when you press play.

Vicki Bennett, People Like Us 2008

Scans of REVIEWS here:
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Machina (November 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Bad Alchemy (November 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Hair Entertainment (October 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Orkus (November 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Rumore (October 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Westzeit (October 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Ox (October 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Le Son Du Grisli (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Sound Projector (May 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Frieze magazine (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Octopus Record Of The Week (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Rock Delux(September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – D Side(September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Titel Magazine (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Schlendrian (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – Vital Weekly 162 (September 2008)
Smiling Through My Teeth review – The Wire (August 2008)

TRACKLIST:
01. 3:15 Spike Jones and his City Slickers “William Tell Overture”
02. 2:51 Raymond Scott “Girl at the Typewriter”
03. 2:17 Paul Lowry “I Got Rhythm”
04. 2:53 Leif Elggren & Thomas Liljenberg “9.11 (Desperation Is The Mother of Laughter)” (edit)
05. 1:54 Komar & Melamid and Dave Soldier “The Most Unwanted Song” (edit)
06. 0:58 Ground Zero “China White”
07. 3:16 John Oswald “Pocket”
08. 1:04 Nurse With Wound “You Walrus Hurt The One You Love” (edit)
09. 2:13 Rudolf Eb.er’s Runzelstirn & Gurgelstøck “Eel Dog Rap Mix” (edit)
10. 0:28 Nihilist Spasm Band “It’s Not My Fault” (edit)
11. 3:53 ‘The Freddy McGuire Show’ with Anne McGuire, Don Joyce & Wobbly “Dark Days Bright Nights”
12. 4:00 Vomit Lunchs “Total Pointless Guidance Mix” (Stock, Hausen+Walkman)
13. 0:07 Gorse “Interlude”
14. 3:40 Rank Sinatra “Take On Me”
15. 0:51 DJ Carhouse & MC Hellshit “Motha Fuck Mitsubishi”
16. 2:56 DJ Brokenwindow “Kit Clayton vs. Roscoe P. Coltrane”
17. 3:01 Christian Marclay “Maria Callas”
18. 2:35 Viennese Seven Singing Sisters “William Tell Overture”
19. 1:55 M.A. Numminen, Tommi Parko, Pekka Kujanpää “Eleitä Kolmelle Röyhtäilijälle”
20. 3:18 Justice Yeldham and the Dynamic Ribbon Device “Berlin, Germany, 270104” (edit)
21. 1:34 Adach i Tomomi “Lippp”
22. 1:02 Bill Morrison “Single Breath Blow”
23. 0:51 Zatumba “Natchung”
24. 1:12 Nihilist Spasm Band “Going Too Far” (edit)
25. 7:21 People Like Us & Ergo Phizmiz “Air Hostess”
26. 0:44 Christian Bok “Ubu Hubbub”
27. 1:14 Gwilly Edmondez “Cock!”
28. 1:47 Spaz “Spaz”
29. 1:34 Komar & Melamid and Dave Soldier “The Most Unwanted Song” (edit 2)
30. 4:20 Xper. Xr. “Ride On Time”
31. 8:49 Richard Lair and Dave Soldier “Thai Elephant Orchestra Perform Beethoven’s Pastorale Symphony First Movement”
32. 0:10 Nurse With Wound “You Walrus Hurt The One You Love” (edit 2)

Download at UbuWeb

Smiling Through my Teeth is a beautifully presented CD and book, with the musical side of the collection put together by Vicki Bennett, who’s a Sound Projector favourite in long standing for her work as People Like Us. It includes a few early ‘novelty’ records from Raymond Scott and Spike Jones, but the bulk of the CD is made up of contributions from assorted well-known (and some lesser-known) names in the world of extreme avant and experimental music, and the selections (if lined up in a row, as they are here) do indeed create an escapade of jet-black humour scaped from the laughing lips of the lunatic fringe: step forward Nihilist Spasm Band, Otomo and Eye, Christian Marclay, Lucas Abela, John Oswald, and Xper.Xr. Plus of course a couple of cuts by Nurse With Wound performing in his vaguely nutsoid cut-up mode. In fact most of Bennett’s selections reflect aspects of her own chosen way of working – layering, editing, turntabling, and the collaging of an eclectic selection of ‘funny’ vinyls. I’ve got mixed feelings about the deeply intellectual essay written by Kembrew McLeod (once read, the last thing you’ll feel like doing is smiling, let alone laughing), but the red skull cover graphic and anatomical engravings on the inside make this an attractive proposition from Sonic Arts Network. Few people can match Bennett’s skill for setting forth warped humour laced with a deep undercurrent of constant menace, to chilling effect. If played end to end, I think this 32-track CD can certainly guarantee an unsettling and mixed experience which will slowly turn your cheery smile into a rigor sardonicus. – Sound Projector

Humor in Music by Kembrew McLeod

Humor in Music

Frank Zappa once asked, via album title, “Does humor belong in music?” The iconoclastic musician surely believed this was a rhetorical question, to be answered with an emphatic “YES!” After all, pop music and comedy have coexisted for centuries, for as long as there has been a so-called “popular music.” Zappa’s potty-mouthed provocations, Weird Al Yankovic’s fun-loving parodies, and Blowfly’s X-rated proto-rap songs have continued a tradition that goes back centuries.

From this vantage point, there is definitely room for humor in music. However, “serious” or avant-garde music is another story, a place that appears to be an inhospitable environment for cultivating laughter (with the notable exception of classical music court jester P.D.Q. Bach). If we follow this stereotype, we should assume that an aficionado’s answer to Zappa’s query would be a resounding and condescending “no.” However, this compilation demonstrates that it is a false assumption, illustrating through numerous examples that the sound of (art) music can be quite funny.

Ever since Sigmund Freud published Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, the study of humor has largely been confined to psychology. Scholars of music and media have rarely broached this subject, though other disciplines, such as philosophy, have tried. Ludwig Wittgenstein suggested that one could write a serious philosophical work composed of nothing but jokes—because jokes magnify the fundamental paradoxes that constitute our language and logic systems. Murray S. Davis explains in his book What’s So Funny? that Wittgenstein’s “Viennese contemporary Freud also thought jokes, like dreams, use methods of inference that are rejected by logic.’”

In the same way that a joke (conveyed with words) can disrupt the linguistic systems that structure our daily lives, musical jokes (like the ones found on this compact disc) work similarly. A song may sound “funny”—both funny ha ha, and funny strange—when it disrupts expected tempos, mixes musical genres, uses excessive repetition, abruptly shifts keys, delays an anticipated resolution, and so on.

Before Freud or Wittgenstein, in the late eighteenth century, Kant wrote in his Critique of Judgment that, “Laughter is an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing.” Kant argued that incongruous ideas, words, or sounds provoke laughter, though he didn’t follow up on this line of thought in any sustained way. From Kant’s kernel of wisdom emerged “incongruity theory,” which explains humor as reaction stemming from the surprise of the unexpected. It has dominated theories of humor in cognitive psychology, as have relief theory and superiority theory. Relief theory assumes that the release of laughter stems from the need to reduce physiological tension, resulting in the release of nervous energy. Superiority theory, on the other hand, is much older than modern psychology, and it frames humor as primarily having an emotional function.

As Plato and Aristotle argued, something later expanded upon by Thomas Hobbes, people feel a humorous release by ridiculing someone they see as lesser or who deviates from social norms. Superiority theory might be applied to explain people’s reaction to what they consider “bad” music—unintentionally funny music that prompts laughter, even though the original composer or performer did not intend that reaction. Take, for instance, War to End All Wars, a 2000 album by Swedish guitar virtuoso Yngwie J. Malmsteen. “Prophet of Doom,” the album’s first song, opens with a blast of rumbling double bass drums and a caterwauling guitars firing off rocket-fueled solos that just sound, well, funny, at least for someone who doesn’t fetish high-speed heavy metal fretwork.

“Prophet of doom/ the end is coming soon,” go the goofily growled lyrics—which are echoed by the exclamation, “Of Doom! Of Doom! Of Doom!” It’s an absurd song, as is “Arpeggios From Hell,” an instrumental that is truly filled with arpeggios from hell. The five minute and thirty second track is stuffed with as much ludicrous virtuoso gobbledygook as the combined discographies of prog-rock pioneers Yes, Genesis, and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. All in less than six minutes. Because Malmsteen is the perennial butt of jokes in the worldwide music community, perhaps superiority theory has a ring of truth. However, I don’t really buy that explanation. To me, the source of amusement can be found in the Swede’s incongruous melding of classical music techniques, heavy metal thunder, surreally speedy guitar riffing, and utter seriousness—as if he were carrying the weight of the world on his guitar strap.

Music that doesn’t try to be funny, but is, often produces its humor through the unexpected juxtaposition of genres. Take William Shatner, a classic example. In an utterly earnest move at the time, Shatner attempted to capitalize on the popularity of Star Trek by releasing his first full-length LP, 1968’s Transformed Man. A head-scratching tour de force, it consisted of Shakespearian monologues mixed with dramatic readings of then-current pop hits like The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” (the latter of which ended with Shatner screaming in an echo chamber “MR. TAMBOURINE MAN!!!”). This mixture of high and low popular culture—combined with his completely sincere, melodramatic takes on frivolous pop songs like “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds”—still baffles today (as does his rendition of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” performed by three chroma-keyed Shatners at the 1978 Sci-Fi Film Awards).

For our purposes—studying sound—the most useful perspective I have found is incongruity theory. Media psychologists Buijzen and Valkenburg explain that, according to this theory, “it is the violation of an expected pattern that provokes humor in the mind of the receiver.” Instead of locating the function of laughter in the physiological (relief theory) or emotional (superiority theory), incongruity theory emphasizes cognition. Buijzen and Valkenburg explain that experiencing humor requires the ability to recognize and process improbable sounds or out-of-place acts. They write, “Absurdity, nonsense, and surprise are vital themes in humor covered by this theory.” Or, as Murray S. Davis puts it, humor’s epicenter can be located in an “incongruous element that shatters an expectation system into nothing.”

Because music is constituted by a system, or several systems, we can apply similar lessons about language, logic, and humor to the realm of sound art. Paul Lowry’s version of the jazz standard “I Got Rhythm,” from this compilation, appropriates horn honks, machine gun fire, alarm clocks, and other bizarre sounds in the service of rhythm and melody. In doing so, Lowry violates our expectations of instrumentation and timbre in quite unpredictable and bewildering ways. The same is true of the recent phenomena of mash-ups, which are simple homemade digital collages that mix the vocals from one pop song with the instrumentation of another.

One classic example is “Smells Like Teen Booty,” a smirky track that hammers Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” into “Bootilicious,” by Destiny’s Child. Everything is business as usual when Nirvana kicks off with that familiar riff, until you hear the voices of Destiny’s Child coo, “Kelly, can you handle this? Michelle, can you handle this? Beyoncé, can you handle this? … Woooooooooo!” It’s a marriage made in hell, and it sounds heavenly. One of the underlying motivations of bedroom computer composers who make mash-ups is to undermine the arbitrary hierarchies of taste that rule pop music. Those hierarchies are often gendered, with the “raw,” “real” rock representing the masculine and the “soft,” “plastic” pop representing the feminine.

By blurring high and low pop culture (Nirvana representing the high and Destiny’s Child the low), these mash-ups humorously demolish the elitist pop cultural hierarchy that rock critics and music collecting snobs perpetuate. With mash-ups, Nirvana and Destiny’s Child can sit comfortably at the same cafeteria table, perhaps showing holier-than-thou arbiters of cool that legitimate pleasures can be found in both varieties of popular music. Or, if not, it at least holds the potential to provoke laughter. “I think mixing Busta Rhymes with a House tune will make people dance,” says Jonny Wilson, a member of the British mash-up group Eclectic Method. “But mixing Britney Spears with NWA [Niggas Wit Attitude] will make people dance and laugh.”

“The simplest way for humorists to wrench rationality is to reverse the traditional ways it has joined things,” writes Murray S. Davis, an observation that can easily be applied to music that sounds comical. “If reason requires us to connect things one way, the humorist will reconnect them the opposite way.” An example of this is Rank Sinatra’s take on “Take On Me,” one of my personal favorites from this collection. It begins as a faithful keyboard-driven cover of the 1980s hit by A-Ha—blipity bleeps and all—but its pop charms are quickly subverted by the distorted death metal vocals that intrude on the proceedings.
These examples highlight how musical humor is most definitely contextual; for instance, if you aren’t familiar with the original two songs that form a new mash-up, the comedy will probably be lost on you. We are also reminded of the importance of context by the sarcastic and satirical blog, Stuff White People Like—which is dedicated to explaining, and skewering, “White people culture.” Striking a mock-anthropological tone, the blog’s author writes, “One of the more interesting things about White people is that they love singing comedians.…[W]hen you have jokes that aren’t that great and music that isn’t that great, you can mix them together and create something that will entertain White people.” The author cites Weird Al Yankovic, Tenacious D, Flight of the Conchords, and Adam Sandler—though one could easily go back to the Smothers Brothers, or even earlier to Vaudeville.

Parody is a form of musical appropriation whose humor often erupts from the collision of genres, like when the foul-mouthed rap group 2 Live Crew covered Roy Orbison’s white bread 1960s pop hit “Oh, Pretty Woman.” A slightly more obscure example is Clarence Reid, better known in the 1970s as an outrageous masked Black man called Blowfly. On his 1971 debut, he took Otis Redding’s posthumous hit “(Sittin’ On) the Dock of the Bay” and rendered it as—you guessed it—“Shittin’ On the Dock of the Bay.” This strategy was nothing new; spontaneous lyrical parody has been part of the folk song tradition for centuries. For instance, the classic bawdy ballad “How the Money Rolls In,” was set to the music of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” The lyrics for “How the Money Rolls In,” developed and tweaked by several anonymous singers over the ages, were a bit more edgy than in the song’s original incarnation. (Sung to the tune of “Bonnie”: “Grandmother makes cheap prophylactics/ She punctures the end with a pin/ Grandfather performs the abortions/ My god, how the money rolls in!” )

Murray S. Davis observes, “humorists also ply their trade by interpolating an element congruous with the other elements of one system into another system where it is less congruous or even incongruous.” So, even though the lyrics of 2 Live Crew’s “Pretty Woman” aren’t very funny, the disconnect caused by hearing Orbison’s tune (which is nearly syncopation-free) used in a rap song is nevertheless amusing. Davis continues, “Comics need find only one element that ambiguously connects two seemingly different systems to raise a laugh” (like turning the word “sitting” into “shitting”).
As I suggested earlier, sound art complicates the simplistic equation serious music = humorlessness as much as it blurs the line between “pop” and “art.” This is true of sound collage composer John Oswald, also represented in this collection. Similarly, the 1950s novelty sound collage recordings of Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman illustrate how avant-garde techniques can be deployed in the service of humor. In their 1956 hit “The Flying Saucer,” Buchanan & Goodman composed this “break in” record on a reel-to-reel magnetic tape recorder.

They crafted a skit about an alien invasion—as told through then-current rock ’n’ roll hits that were spliced together into an absurd aural narrative. Imitating the tone of contemporary radio news broadcasts, but with a twist, Buchanan & Goodman create a jarring, goofy world of sound. “Radio Announcer: The flying saucer has landed again. Washington: The Secretary of Defense has just said…” Then Fats Domino cuts in, singing, “Ain’t that a shame.” Elvis appears, as do many others. It works because, at least on the first listen, one’s expectation is heightened during those split seconds before each song/punch line breaks into the news report.

Anticipation, subversion, confusion, laughter. That pretty much sums up the experience of much of the recorded songs and sounds found on this compilation.
Kembrew McLeod
Iowa City, March 2008

This essay was commissioned by Sonic Arts Network for a CD curated by Vicki Bennett entitled “Smiling Through My Teeth” [2008]