Sound Art Text
All about sound art. And art with sound. And sound in art. And sometimes music, installation and film. And often Fluxus.
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James Whitney: Yantra (1958)
Music by Henk Badings
American experimental filmmaker James Whitney created Yantra over a period of eight years (1950-1958) by punching pinholes in a 5” by 7” inch card and painting tiny dots on another card below; this process was repeated for each frame. Originally conceived as a silent film, Yantra was later paired with an electronic composition entitled Cain and Abel by the Dutch composer Henk Badings. The title of Whitney’s film is a Sanskrit word with a fascinating double meaning: it can signify either “instrument,” “machine,” or a mandala-like pattern, either real or imagined, which serves as an object of focus for meditative practice. This polysemic ambiguity is fitting for Whitney’s film, which employs modern technological means to create states of spiritual ecstasy.
A yantra is an instrument designed to curb the psychic forces by concentrating them on a pattern, and in such a way that this pattern becomes reproduced by the worshiper’s visualizing power. It is a machine to stimulate inner visualizations, meditations, and experiences… (Heinrich Zimmer, quoted in Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema)
Although James Whitney and his brother John were best known as filmmakers, they were also closely involved with electronic music. In 1940, they built an instrument in which swinging pendulums traced sine patterns onto a strip of optical sound film, allowing the superimposition of simple waveforms into complex timbres. (This instrument, which constitutes a remarkable precursor to later experiments with magnetic tape, was described by John Whitney in the article “Moving Pictures and Electronic Music” in volume 7 of the German modernist journal Die Reihe.) The Whitney brothers created a series of five stunning Film Exercises using this device in 1943-44, works which feature a radical and unprecedented combination of abstract imagery and synthetic sound.
Hekura: Yanomami Shamanism from Southern Venezuela,
LP, Quartz Publications, ref.004, UK, 1979
Complete album rip from a rare LP on David Toop's Quartz label, recorded during one of Toop’s trips to South America starting 1978.
Quartz Publications LPs: