Jason Brogan 
 
Artist-in-Residence at Digital Artist Residency 
Zombie Media Residency 
 
16th November - 13th December 2015 
 
Whilst in residence, Brogan will be working on a project Operas for Zombie Media. This was initiated with a particular focus on the repurposing not only of outdated media technologies, but also of the form of opera itself. Brogan will re-articulate the project for online video, employing both an expanded use of sound amplification and digital signal processing, and emphasising video recording techniques. As such, Operas appropriates the theoretical grounds of “zombie media” as an effective resource for developing an artistic methodology that acknowledges undead media as an integrated, unavoidable part of our experience of the world. 
 
It is no longer thought that determines the object [...] but rather the object that seizes thought and forces it to think it, or better, according to it.[1] 
 
In addition to the creation of a visual iteration of the Operas for Zombie Media project, this residency will attempt to situate my own interests (viz., with regard to the development of the project) at a nexus of artistic activity, recent trajectories of contemporary and media theoretic thought, and technology. It is along vectors of concepts, aesthetic and theoretical positions, and creative practices of which this network of influence is comprised that this contextual component is organized. 
A concept that abjures both the normative timelines of media technological progress and the finitude of anthropocentric thought, “zombie media” suggests both an experimental reconfiguration of media—via hacking, circuit bending, augmentation, or unintended use—and a re-imagination of its potential functionality. Operas for Zombie Media specifically repurposes discarded and ostensibly obsolete consumer-oriented audio electronics, exploring a renewed sonic—and specifically, instrumental—potential through unintended approaches to sound creation and re-contextualization within the domains of media and sonic artistic practice. In addition to media technologies, the project entails the repurposing of fundamental elements of the allegedly outdated (or undead) form of opera itself. 
 
 
[1] Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound: Enlightenment and Extinction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 149. 
 
Excerpt from Robert Ashley's in memoriam ... KIT CARSON (opera) (1963). 
 
Why Opera? 
 
In addition to audio electronics, Operas for Zombie Media contributes toward the repurposing of fundamental elements of the allegedly outdated (or undead) form of opera itself. Toward my own reconsideration of opera, and in addition to work by composer Robert Ashley—namely, in memoriam ... KIT CARSON (opera) (1963) [1]— and the tabletop spectacles of artist Stuart Sherman, Opera with Objects (1997) by composer Alvin Lucier has served as a point of departure. 
 
In the piece, Lucier instructs the performer to collect small resonant objects, such as jars, small cardboard boxes, or coffee cups, and set them out on a table. With a pencil held in each hand, the performer first taps a regular rhythmic pulse with only the sound of two pencils, and then with the tip of one pencil touching (and consequently resonating sympathetically) the surface of one of the objects. He writes that “the focus is on the change in loudness and timbre of the object, not on the rhythms of the tapping.”[2] The performer is also instructed to move the pencil tip over the surface of the object, “exploring small changes” in the resulting sound.[3] After playing one resonant object for a while, the performer moves to another (without ceasing to tap), varying the speed of their tapping, until all objects have been played. Sometimes objects may be placed placed on on another in order to create more complex results: “Your task is to make vivid for listeners the natural amplification inherent in physical things.”[4] Importantly, and with a nod to the earlier piece Vespers (1968), which explores echolocation, the performer is encouraged to listen for echoes of the tapping from surfaces within the performance space. Granting a certain autonomy to its central characters, Opera with Objects constitutes a dramatization, and it in this sense that it maintains fidelity to the operatic art form. 
 
 
An aria—named after the model number of the audio playback device on which it is based—constitutes the centerpiece of each opera from Operas for Zombie Media. Although “aria” is a term that has historically described an expressive operatic piece for a single voice, with or without orchestral accompaniment, in each of the Operas, an amplified audo electronics device replaces the human voice—for example, a discarded portable CD player or a first-generation iPod Touch. The sonic output of the mechanism of each device, which, in some instances, is often either comprised entirely of electromagnetic signal or mechanical vibration, is amplified by various types of microphones and extended via contemporary digital signal processing technology. Due to multiple layers of amplification and processing, the turntable used in the aria SL-Q350 therefore comes to resemble the no-input mixing board setup used by musician Toshimaru Nakamura, the tabletop guitar used by Keith Rowe, or even the amplified piano developed by David Tudor for his realization of Variations II (1963) by John Cage.[5] Within each aria movement of the Operas, the traditional orchestral accompaniment—or harmonic continuo—associated with the aria is revitalized as multiple strata of electro-acoustic sound. As they sustain throughout the duration of each aria, a stereo pair of sine tones, determined by GPS data local to the area of the device’s manufacturing, functions as the foundation of the continuo. 
 
[1] For recent writing on Ashley's work, see "CalArts Voice Class Performs Robert Ashley Opera at Machine Project." 
[2] Alvin Lucier, Opera with Objects (Frankfurt am Main: Material Press, 1997). 
[3] Ibid. 
[4] Ibid. 
[5] For details on Tudor and the amplified piano, see Tudor, Liner Notes, Music for Piano, Edition RZ 1018-19, 2007, CD. 
 
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