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David Byrne bites MassArt man

Posted by Joshua Glenn  May 7, 2008 01:25 PM

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A Paper Rad installation in progress

MassArt (Massachusetts College of Art and Design) has produced several of my favorite artists and designers. These include: leftwing illustrator and cartoonist Boardman Robinson, whose antiwar cartoons led to the suppression, during WWI, of the socialist journal The Masses; the Providence, RI-based art collective Paper Rad; Ben Edlund, creator of "The Tick"; and Tony Millionaire, creator of "Maakies." Not to mention a few taented friends: Back Bay-based graphic designer Anthony Leone, who was art director of Hermenaut; Jamaica Plain-based multimedia artist Michael Lewy; and Brooklyn-based graphic designer Carol Hayes, who coedited "Taking Things Seriously." (Sorry, I'm not a William Wegman fan.)

A Boardman Robinson illustration

Less well-known is the fact that MassArt has also produced some cutting-edge musicians, perhaps most notably the artist and DJ Christian Marclay ('80). A pioneering turntablist, Marclay started using LPs and turntables to create sound collages around the same time that hip hop artists did; one of his best tricks is to cut and rejoin different LPs into a single disc, which not only sound funny and cool but look excellent.

Marclay's other use of recording media as artworks include crocheting audiotapes of Beatles records into sculptures, and installing vinyl LPs on the floor of New York's Clocktower Gallery. Viewers of the latter installation were invited to walk on the records; Marclay called the footprint trails left behind "recordings" of movement through time and space.


Ex-Talking Head David Byrne recently previewed a Marclay-inspired project of his own. He announced via his blog that he's working on a sonic art installation for a May 21 benefit in New York that will support The Kitchen, a local arts organization. He writes:

I like much of Marclay's work, so my piece is sort of a tribute to him -- or at least it's fairly inspired by his work. My piece will be comprised of a kind of carpet of one hundred guitar pedals, which benefit attendees must walk on in order to enter the main dining and performance space. A guitar will be plugged into and run through all the pedals, and then into an amp.... Of course, the sounds are fairly random, and stepping on one or two of the distortion or fuzz pedals raises the screaming noise level pretty high, but that will be adjusted. Happily, some pedals will loop whatever is going on at the time of their activation, and so there will be constant sound changing all the time.

Here's a photo of the work in progress:

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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