Light Forms (Music for Light Bulbs and Churches)

Steve Roden
edition: 1000

  1. Truth is the Bell (Saarbrucken)
  2. Bell is the Truth (Berlin)

in 1997, i was in sheffield england, sleeping in a small room in the home of saxaphone player mick beck. it was raining rather loudly, and i woke up out of a dead sleep in the middle of the night and wrote down the phrase “truth is the bell. bell is the truth” on a piece of paper and fell back asleep. when i awoke the next morning, i had no idea why i had written this text.

in 1998, i was in liverpool england to participate in isea 98. i was visiting a large cathedral and the bell ringer showed me a book of ‘scores’ for bell ringing by jasper snowdon. it was written in the 1880’s, (and still apparently in use). these scores were not only very beautiful; but had an uncanny connection to much of my own visual work.

in 1999 i visited berlin for the first time to partipate in the sampling rage festival at the podewil. we wandered into the singuhr – hoergalerie in parochial next door to find a very beautiful installation by julius. i hoped someday to make a work for this beautiful space.

in 2002, carsten seiffarth called me on the phone to ask about my performance for the resonanzen exhibition, and told me that the evening would have a slight theme to it –’light’. he then asked me if i would be interested in doing an installation in the singuhr – hoergalerie in parochial. a week or so later i found a 1944 edition of jasper snowdon’s book – a coincidence too rich to ignore! while looking at these drawings; the church, the notion of bells and the notion of lights collided. in developing the performance for saarbrucken i began to use the sounds of various light bulbs tapping together… to be played in total darkness…their fragile glass surfaces and tiny springs.

for the installation at the singuhr – hoergalerie in parochial, the light bulbs become the ‘bells’ as their sounds float around a space where bell sounds have always existed. the visual element is a simple abstract film, shot with my super 8 camera and transferred to video. the first and last images are a translation of the phrase ‘truth is the bell, bell is the truth’ done using my own method of alphabet translation via hand movements. the rest of the imagery was created using blue and red light bulbs and stencils following the line patterns of jasper snowdon’s bell scores.

as always, my own interest is not particularly in the bells nor the lights – rather in what these two things can inspire within myself and my own working process (the limitations of making sound with a lightbulb, the deviation from original intentions in using a ‘score’ as an aesthetic presence, the untranslatable nature of a sign language known only to the ‘speaker’, etc.). the final work is not about lights, nor is it about bells – but is an abstract presence developed through these things to simply exist as sound and visual music.

  • reviews:
  • More wonderful sound art today, with this installation piece by California-based Steve Roden (one of my favourite artists tout court). These 2 pieces are very gentle layers of tinkling light bulbs with some electronic processing. If that sounds uninteresting, you haven’t bathed in the gorgeous warmth of this audio-blanket. Released in an edition of 500 copies on Semishigure (which is basically Bottrop-Boy) in 2003, the same year as the equally wonderful ‘Speak No More About the Leaves’ (on Sirrecords). Sadly, Roden’s release rate seems to have declined sharply in the last couple of years, but in those days it was one masterpiece after the other. Explore!
    schwebeablau blog

  • Both songs consist of electronically transformed sounds of lightbulbs being handled and were inspired by the bell ringing scores of Jasper Snowdon (some bell-ringing guy from Oxford in 19th century).Ttrack 1 is a studio version of the concert piece for Saarbrucken, and track two is the soundtrack for the Berlin installation.

    Truth is the Bell

    A hollow beat that sounds like a rubber ball bouncing up and down after falling down echoes through this piece. It reminds of a bell but it doesn’t sound like one. Several buzzing sounds and what reminds me of a ring-modulator and all sorts of other tiny sounds back it. It sounds completely static as well as ever changing at the same moment. What makes it so worthwhile is the melody that kicks in somewhere at the end, that is unbelievably gorgeous. The single melody at the end of Rothko Chappel by Morton Feldman being the closest thing that I can think of in terms of emotions. Toby Driver (guy from Kayo Dot) mentioned once that he had the intent of discovering a way to create climaxes that don’t rely on 1) harmonic ascension 2) tempo increase 3) volume increase or 4) adding more layers. The typical post-rock stuff, he failed doing so in my opinion. This is it.

    Bell is the Truth

    A installation created for the Singuhr – Hoergalerie in parochial space. The space is a baroque church in Berlin’s Mitte district and exhibitions took place in the bell room, the nave, and sometimes the main chapel of the parochial church. the location inspired me to work with source materials related to light and bells.

    The 16 minute film used color imagery created with coloured lightbulbs and construction paper following the coloured paths of various 1880’s bell ringing scores of Jasper Snowdon; and black and white images of  hands “speaking” the phrase “truth is the bell, bell is the truth” using a method self invented by Steve Roden of translating the alphabet into a series of hand movements.

    The space was lit only by the light of the monitor as well as two small shafts of natural light on either end of the space. The audio was installed on 4 speaker in two opposite rooms with the film showing in between.

    The music is something albeit to a very unconventional percussion piece. A bell sound rings lounder and louder from the back of it all. The piece is situated somewhere between statistic and culminating. Sublime as all of Steve Roden’s work.

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  • Here’s one for you; I’ll take a box of light bulbs, fondle them a bit whilst recording the minutiae of noises they produce, then I’ll stick them in a computer and arrange them into something beautiful… “Will you bollocks!” I imagine you’re thinking, and you’d be right. But only ‘cos Steve Roden has beat me to it. Originally conceived as an art installation for various German galleries, Semishigure have collected the two extended pieces and released them as part of their ongoing series dedicated to the visual arts. Accompanied by a 12 page booklet featuring images of both the instillations and film, ‘Light Forms’ is a florid and surprisingly deep work that operates within similar territory to Matthew Herbert but sounds much closer to Oval. Fashioned from surface clinks, quivering springs and melodious scrapes etc., both ‘Truth In The Bell’ and ‘Bell Is The Truth’ well exceed their potential and become delicate but thoroughly irresistible aural experiments. Stick a light on would you…

  • Another sonic meditation from one of the most prolific and consistently engaging sound artists currently making noise. “Light Forms” is one of LA based artist Steve Roden’s most recent sound explorations. This time focusing on the sound of light bulbs, Roden utilizes various analog electronics to extend an already extremely tactile sound palette. The CD begins with “Truth is the Bell,” a 20-minute piece which gradually builds from silence, slowly layering the percussive chiming of various light bulbs to create a haunting melody somewhere between thumb piano and vibraphone. As the piece progresses Roden introduces some crackle and hiss as well as organ slowly shifting the listener’s focus from one element to next.

    The second track “Bell is Truth” concentrates more on rhythm. Never locking in to any sort of static groove, the piece shifts so naturally it becomes more about an overall presence rather then any sort of drastic change. Like most of Roden’s work there is a sense of ease and delicate precision that permeates “Light Forms.” Forget glitch, microsound, lowercase or whatever people choose to call something this week, this is a work that will become even richer with each new listen. Time slows down and the pieces ever so gradually move along as if they were constantly changing and not changing at all. Extremely meditative and relaxing, highly recommended.
    Other Music, website

  • Semishigure is the smallest label in the Bottrop-Boy imperium (next
    to En-Of) and deals with music and art, or art and music. The music
    can be soundtracks to films (Liam Gillicks CD) or installation music
    (Christina Kubisch CD). The third and most recent CD is by Steve
    Roden and is music from an installation he did in Berlin and a
    concert in Saarbrucken. For the Berlin installation he uses the
    sounds of lightbulb as a soundtrack to a super 8 film. Similar sound
    sources are used in the Saarbrucken concert, but here it’s a studio
    version of that concert (which involved random, blindfold mixing).
    Both of these pieces have the subtle rumbling of a couple of
    lightbulbs in both hands. The recordings are put in some multi-track
    programming and mixed. A small part is looped for a couple of times.
    Some parts are reversed. But mainly: that’s it. But all of these
    simple things lead to a beautiful work – ambient, musical, maybe even
    a bit glitch like. Since Roden’s recent work on Sonoris (see Vital
    Weekly 363), I found his work to become more and more musical and
    this is continued on this new CD. His older works are now, in
    hindsight, more static, more ambient, and now a musical element has
    come in, and his work matured overal. Another fine work.

    vital weekly, 389

    frans de waard