„Ataraxia“, CD release (collection of reviews) / 1999

Works with sound, CD-Edition S Press and Plate Lunch, 1998

1. Bad Alchemy #33, January 1999,
reviewed by: Rigobert Dittmann

Der 1943 in Seattle geborene und zur Zeit in Köln lebende Klang-Installateur Terry Fox war mit Arbeiten auf den DOCUMENTAs 5, 6 und 8 vertreten. Er betrachtet sich selbst als einen „sculptor in sound“ und steht nicht nur mit seinen frühen extremen Körperaktionen sondern auch mit seinen long-string- Performances in Artaud’s Tradition eines „Theaters der Grausamkeit“. Sound, Resonanz, dient ihm als Mittel zur Transformation eines Raumes und als „Sprache“ der universellen Kommunikation. Klang zieht vorbei als Pulsieren der Luft. Er versetzt das Trommelfell in Schwingungen ohne Einverständnis des Hörers und versetzt ihn unmittelbar in ein Labyrinth als einen Theseus, der dort auf den Minotaurus stößt, der niemand anderer als er selbst ist.

„Ataraxia“ ist eine historische Retrospektive mit Sound-works von Fox aus den Jahren 1977, ’79 und ’81. „Suono Interno“, „Rallentando“ und die beiden längsten Abschnitte „Berlin Attic Wire, Beating/…Bowing“ fangen die Schwingungen ein von meist zwei parallel ausgespannten langen Pianosaiten, die Fox mit den Fingern oder der Sardinendose streicht und zupft. Bei „Lunar Rambles“ und „Culvert“ geigt er mit einem Violinenbogen über die Ränder von Eisen-und Alu- miniumschüsseln und Käseglocken. Ebenso entscheidend wie der Prozess der Klangerzeugung ist die Einbettung der Performance in einen spezifischen Resonanzraum, ob nun eine ehemalige Kirche in Bologna, das Victoria Theater in San Francisco, die Straßen von New York, ein Boot auf dem Clark Fork River bei Missoula in Montana oder der Dachboden des Künstlerhauses Bethanien.

Fox dürfte damit eine der Inspirationsquellen für Paul Panhuysen und Johan Goedhart gewesen sein. Wie bei Z’ev – die gemeinsame Berufung auf ein „Theater der Grausamkeit“ und der bei beiden ausgeprägte spirituelle-schamanistische Anstrich läßt mich diese Querverbindung knüpfen – geschieht alles rein akustisch im direkten körperlichen, auch bei Fox oft perkussiven Impuls von der Hand in den Klang. „Ataraxia“ – der Name spannt übrigens als das stoische Ideal der Seelenruhe, des Gleichmuts, über Seneca als Stoiker einen weiteren Faden zu Z’ev – enthält zwangsläufig nur Ausschnitte, denn die Fox’schen Klangmeditationen ziehen sich meist über Stunden hin, was ihren rituellen, schamanistischen Charakter unterstreicht. Mit seinen intensiven „Übungen“ appelliert Terry Fox weit über eine meditative Selbstbezogenheit hinaus – an das „kollektive Unterbewußtsein“ seiner Hörer.

2. THE WIRE #182, April 1999
reviewed by: Brian Duguid

The American ex-pat Terry Fox (resident in Europe for several decades) is probably unfamiliar to even ardent searchers after Minimalist obscurity. He’s far better known in the art world, thanks to his involvement in cathartic performance art alongside Joseph Beuys, and a longterm interest in site-specific installations. Much of his work deals with the specificity of space, drawing extensively on the geometry of the labyrinth in Chartres cathedral. A „sculpture“ in Paris saw him open fire hydrants, letting water run through the streets to augment the cobblestone textures. His very occasional recordings document a marked preference for sound art (the organisation of sound in space) over music (sound in time).

The excellent but out of print LP „Berlino/Rallentando“ includes the very site-specific sounds of an army helicopter patrolling the Berlin Wall (near Fox’s Berlin studio in 1980) and the bowing of a single steel piano wire stretched ten metres across his studio. To Fox, the wire is a sculpture rather than an instrument, and the sound it makes is that of the room (acting as a giant resonator) and not just the wire. He’s far from alone in his enthusiasm for long strings, although other enthusiasts, Paul Panhuysen, Alvin Lucier and Ellen Fullman, are all better known in the music world. Hopefully, „Ataraxia“ will gain recognition for Fox’s sound outside the gallery circuit.

3. Blow Up, Italy, July/August 1999

THE WIRE selected „Ataraxia“ by Terry Fox one of the 15 records of the year 1999 in the section „Modern Classical“ (next to records by Xenakis, Charlemagne Palestine, Feldman, Cornelius Cardew, Paul Panhuysen and others.)

In the field of the now quite famous (at least to the more attentive „Blow Up“ readers) „Wire Music“, the name of Terry Fox is probably less celebrated that the ones of Ellen Fullman or Paul Panhuysen and his rare incisions on vinyl are really hard to find, and a cult object for collectors. But this Seattle artist is a veteran of the genre, and a seminal figure for the performance and sound installation world. For these reasons, this first edition on CD is almost an event! As a true nomad, Fox has lived in various parts of the world, also in Italy (Rome, Bologna, Napoli, Firenze), realizing his installations in various strange places. „suono interno“, the first excerpt of this cd, only 2’50“, is taken from three six-hours performances that the artist gave in the former Santa Lucia Church in Bologna, 1979. In the completely empty and abandoned church, two piano wires of the church’s length were stretched from a point of the big wooden door. The audience was looking at the performance from a single hole in the door. The same door was also working as resonance projecting the sound outside. Also in the other tracks site-specificity is a key element. The almost 25 minutes of „Berlin attic Wire“ are a great example of pure sound art, this time the piano wires exploring the resonances of the attic of the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin. What seems incredible is the fantastic electronic character of the pieces, also if no electronic al all was used, except the microphone for recording! The exceptional side in the Terry Fox sculptures is all in the ability to transfigure sound sources and space, creating an art for the moment and the sound space, minimal, but with very strong emotions.

(thanks to Giuseppe Lelassi for the English translation)

4. Sound Projector # 6, UK, August 1999
by: Ed Pinsent

What solace here for a laborious
What a redoubtable and single
One might attempt here.

Threading a logic between wall
and wall,
Ceiling and floor, more accurate
by far
Than the cob-spider’s.

Breathtakingly, achingly beautiful music for the most part generated by wires, piano wires strung up inside unusual performance arenas and spaces and plucked by Terry Fox, a performance artist – the importance of whose work is only beginning to surface above the cognisance of a small elite. Fox’s installations and art-actions are perplexing, remote, inaccessible. For any who doubt the importance of executing such apparently futile and marginal actions, I refer you to a poem by Robert Graves „The Philosopher“ of which I quote a couple of relevant stanzas above. Of the extraordinary pieces on offer here, I call your attention to a few examples: „Suono Interno“ is an extract from a performance in a deserted church in Italy, infested by vermin. Fox strung two 150-feet long wires the full length of the church, attached to the door and presumably passing near the altar; from the astonishing sounds that resulted, projected out on the street outside, you might just catch the ghosts of penitent souls on their way to take Holy Communion giving voice to the Christian hope. On the other hand, you probably don’t believe in God, so forget it.
Two longer pieces closing the CD result from a slightly less transient installation in the attic of the „Kuenstlerhaus Bethanien“ in Berlin. An attic space is no less resonant than a church to the human soul, well known as a repository of memories and sad souvenirs; Fox must have found it a therapeutic ritual, entering such a space to beat or bow out a series of explorations into his inner mental-mush, utilising these wires as a novel aid to psycho-therapy…he admits after all these actions were „meant only for his private experience“. You’ve only to look at the photo of his enlightened face to gauge the sucess of these sessions. The full significance of this is probably kept quiet in the world of psychoanalysis, as it might put 100 followers of Sigmund Freud out of a day job.

It gets even more intense. „Lunar Rambles“ begins as metal bowls – iron and aluminium, bowed by the artist out on the streets of New York. Had Moondog happened to pass by, an unforgettable duet may well have resulted. „Culvert“ comes from another metal talisman, this one a rowboat model planted in the middle of a 100-foot long tunnel in the middle of a river in the USA. Fox gets his sounds by bashing the darn thing with a panoply of grotesque utensils, joined in that absurd pass-time by two other ninnyhammers he managed to persuade to join him one sunny afternoon for a live improvised session. What a striking image that rowboat presents; if there’s a more apposite metaphor for the futility and loneliness of existence, I’ve yet to find one.
As you may have gathered, I like this music immensely. Terry Fox is an American performance artist and has a string of impressive credentials in the field of of the visual arts, and his interest appears to lie primarily in weaving his sculptural webs in odd corners of the world, like some metallic spider. Whatever sound- documents may result from this activity have been issued in minuscule editions by artists‘ magazines or fine art editions, from 1970 to 1977, then fairly regularly from 1979 onwards. It would be nice to think he has no interest in music at all; his choice of sound sources is taken from his studies of John Tyndall, the 19th century scientist. Apparently this esoteric pursuit has led him to use not only wires, but also Bunsen burners, for his work. Another artist who has used wires is Alvin Lucier, but that’s a pretty fatuous observation on my part. I’m just grateful for the chance to hear something so deeply moving, and in a way a testimony to some heroic struggle against the ways in which the modern world is ordered; a bit like Christo, only Terry Fox wraps the world with sounds, not with polythene. All praise to anyone who helped release this CD, a co-edition with a German art gallery to coincide with an installation exhibition.

5. Angbase #4, USA, September 1999
by: Carlos M. Pozo

Terry Fox is an American artist living in Europe and this CD, his first widely available full-length release is a collection of recordings made of art installations between 1976 and 1981. Terry describes himself as a „sculptor“, and all sounds here are generated acoustically from real objects- long piano wires, a sardine can, wooden chopsticks, metal bowls, a metal rowboat. The fact that no electronics were used, even for amplification, is highly deceiving, as these „field recordings“ take full advantage of the acoustic properties of the objects themselves as well as the natural echoes and reverbs of empty churches, attics, theater stages, and even a metal tunnel. The first track, for example, opens with an endlessly echoed tone, highly electronic sounding, like a cascading synth note filtered through a 5 second delay. Beautiful and organic abstract sounds, full of human warmth. If you like any form of drifting, droning, mysterious sound, anything from the No Neck Blues Band to Alvin Lucier, add this CD to your want list. An important document, and another fine release on the always reliable Plate Lunch label.

Four of the six recordings on this collection employ the piano wires. On „Suono Interno“ two wires stretch 150 feet across an abandoned church (with a reverberation period that turns the building into a giant, pulsing heart) while „Rallentando“ allows three cellists to improvise overtones and harmonics over the taut, single note drone. It often sounds electronic, but the only electrical device present is the microphone. „Berlin Attic Wire, Beating“ has the same sort of bouncy, rumbling tonality as the music of Arnold Dreyblatt, while „Berlin Attic Wire, Bowing“ could be the shimmering surface of a lake of mercury. The other two pieces feature bowed metal bowls, and an aluminium rowing boat moored inside a metal culvert, with „instruments“ including a metal cheese cover and singing saw. „Culvert“ is one of the most alien sounding recordings here, its high pitched warbling coming on like an extra-terrestrial choir. As with many similar acoustic explorations, the sheer strangeness of Fox’s sounds transfigures their source enviroment completely, and the recordings make clear the rich, beautiful texture of his work.

6. Audion #43, UK, Autumn 2000
by: Alan Freeman

Apparently (reading between the lines of the cover notes) Terry Fox is of that breed of sound artist that refuses to get into technology, and instead seeks out other ways of making sound that feels electronic or unreal. As such, it is hard to believe that ‚Ataraxia‘ is all totally acoustic, with no electronic manipulation. It sounds as though tape loops, echo and reverb devices are used on most numbers, but what he uses instead are long wires, pieces of metal, cans and the like, amounting to vividly amplified acoustic sound that often defies description. Each of the six tracks explores a different sound environment. The opening ‚Suono Interno‘ explores the sonic possibilities of two 150 foot long piano wires stretched the length of a church, and ‚Rallentando‘ has a piano wire across a stage and three cellists. These are interesting at under 5 minutes each. Hereafter the duration increases: ‚Lunar Rambles‘ using bowed metallic objects is nice in a dark ambient way, and ‚Culvert‘ (an extract from a day-long sound experiment) extrapolated from objects placed in a flowing river sounds electroacustic… The two „Berlin Attic Wire“ tracks that follow, however, exhaust (this listener at least) to the point of tedium, proving that just plucking or bowing a wire isn’t enough, some sort of developed or structural approach is needed to make it interesting. As ‚a seminal figure in performance and installation art‘ Terry Fox’s sonic creations don’t really transfer to the album format that well. He’s a performer not a composer, so this should really be judged as an archival example of his work, and not a proper album. Well, that’s how I see it.