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David Grubbs - Hybrid Song Box.4

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Artist: David Grubbs

Album: Hybrid Song Box.4

Label: Blue Chopsticks

Review date: Dec. 4, 2009

David Grubbs’ new piece Hybrid Song Box.4 began as the accompaniment to installation artist Angela Bulloch’s 2008 eponymous artwork, which was part of the Guggenheim’s Theanyspacewhatever exhibit last year. It’s difficult to think of this piece then as existing wholly on its own, as its existence is rather dependent on Bulloch’s art. Releasing this work, however, gives it a dual meaning or rather, creates two points that the meaning lies between. Hybrid Song Box.4 is a song on an album that can be enjoyed sans Bulloch, without knowing anything about her art and at the same time, it is the accompaniment to an artwork of hers and is intimately entwined in her ideas and in the meaning of the Theanyspacewhatever exhibit.

Solely as a piece of music, the song is a fairly standard Grubbs guitar piece – though saying it’s “fairly standard” shouldn’t be taken as an indictment, but rather merely a note that it fits snugly within Grubbs’ body of work. Structurally, it’s rather fractal, featuring repetitions within repetitions as short segments are repeated fairly quickly and longer segments repeat more glacially. There is a pleasant feeling of movement in the piece, as the more dense parts are broken up by long sections of pulsing feedback. The sparseness plays off well against the saturated sections but is warm enough that it never feels like simple meandering. The structure is almost pop in its composition, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise, as Grubbs’ entire aesthetic is very much a dialectic between pop and more avant-garde elements.

What’s interesting as well is the way the piece is described in the liner notes, as a soundtrack to the installation. Soundtrack is a weird term. A soundtrack, at least the way most people use it, is for a film, accompaniment for moving pictures – though to be fair, there are probably soundtracks to “experimental” (read: boring) one-frame exercises. Soundtracks are used to accentuate moments of the film, to ironically comment, to reveal something, to help gloss over lethargic parts. The question is, what does this mean for Hybrid Song Box.4 to be described as such? Bulloch’s piece is a series of cubes lit from the inside with swiss cheese holes to allow the light out. If this is a soundtrack, it makes more sense to think of it as the soundtrack to the emanating light, and Grubbs’ original performance lends some credence to that thought, as it looks like the performance space was lit as if it was near a massive version of Bulloch’s piece.

There is a better way to understand this though. As the New York Times review of the show notes, theanyspacewhatever is a cinematic term taken from French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. There are ordinary objects that surround us, that we see every day, but that because they are so common are really part of the background of our experience, and theanyspacewhatever describes the way films use these objects as transition shots. These shots take these glossed-over objects and change their being from background to foreground. In this final way, perhaps the meaning of Hybrid Song Box.4 as a soundtrack makes the most sense: a soundtrack for a cinematic moment taken out of context, almost as if the installation itself is merely a transition, and the viewer – without knowing where the shot is coming from or going – is merely privy to this one moment.

By Andrew Beckerman

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Two Soundtracks for Angela Bulloch

An Optimist Notes the Dusk

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