Chainsmoke (theater version)
Voice, amp. flt., keyboards, contrabass, bass guitar, live electronics
Written for De Republiek, Amsterdam
Slice: The air was saturated with a continuous fine drizzle of soot and sawdust, a blend of choice Turkish and American tobacco, asbestos and stale hemp. Each room thick with the dust of rotten plasterboard, finely shredded wallpaper and insulating foam. Tiny scraps of nylon, polyacrylic acid, dyed wool and yarn; concrete sprinkles of sand and gravel, shale and cement. The innards of that building becoming slowly coated in a lightly falling powder of pigment, ground sheetrock, brick and stone tile. Crystals of wood glue and spackle soaked in the smell of gasoline and chain oil. Tiny shards of vinyl resin, glass and lacquer, plastic, adhesive and silicon. Miniature twisted scraps of iron strapping and aluminum, copper piping and singed electrical wire. One gently swirling cloud of dried paint and polyurethane speckled with faded linoleum flakes of burlap and canvas, linseed oil and powdered cork.
I took it all up and I filled my lungs; I took it all up through my nostrils, I coated my throat with it like a milkshake, like a milkshake of coal and fire.
Mannequin: Heat so intense that it felt cool to the touch.
Slice: Cool to the touch. My tongue is a chainsaw, my saliva gasoline. My teeth set on a endless chain, I’m a polydontic Matika, I’m a chainsmoking Husky, I’m a roaring Stihl. My mouth is an air-cooled, twin-stroke motor with a membrane carburetor of cheek and bone. And when I ran my tongue over the floors of that building and I chewed up its doors, grinding broken windows and doorknobs like candy and swallowing the waste, I left a circular cut, coarse but perfect enough, from ceiling to basement. One large shaft in darkness and swirling debris.
To sing this tune you need an electric mouth. You must have a pair of iron lungs, and a little knowledge of surgery, a knack for making the right cut. The deserted tenements I love, those I lick and sever in two, engirth me in return. They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them and corrupt them, and charge them full with the chain of my tongue.
Mannequin: Noone has been home here for a very long time.
Slice: I waited, as usual, for the first minutes of morning light. The sun pierced through the ceiling, through and through those carved walls and entries, cleaved hallways and gapping floors, each freshly marked by the surgical cut of my incisors. A falling cone of daylight appears from above, reaching, in an instant, the basement floor. I pry open the shell of higher powers and light the lower depths. Am I too exposed? There isn’t much time. Am I, too, exposed? Time’s about up for the two of us. Am I too exposed?
Mannequin: A chair is still a chair even if nobody’s sitting there.
Slice: but a house is not a home…
Mannequin: but a house is not a home…but a house is not a home…
but a house is not a home…
Slice: As I sunk my circular teeth into the kitchen wall, bits of plaster, iron and spackle exploded in the air around me, in my eyes, the usual cuts on my face and hands. Little dull flashes of shredded wallpaper, yellowed ivory with soft burgundy blue roses revealed themselves from under a thin layer of cream green paint. And in a moment too fleeting, too charged to be taken in fully, it was neither day or night. I imagine it now as a personal cleavage in time; not that my watch had stopped or that people pumping gasoline at all-night stations were at once frozen, but as if I was probing a temporal split, moving among a few isolated seconds, back and forth, and sweeping them into a little pile.
There behind the kitchen wall, but not on the other side, not in the adjoining living room, not in any room, a corridor appeared. I can only describe it now as a mental corridor, nothing physical that could be found on an architect’s blueprints or among the faded snapshots taken by families long moved away, but a corridor nonetheless. The passage itself was a blur, like a light bulb burning out; the movement itself seemed to wipe out every possibility of memorizing its look. And quickly, without deliberation, I was in a tall room, square and without grace, and there were tall but heavy windows, with curtains of plain cretonne. A large television was switched on, emitting only a snowy picture of static and a low but audible, somehow pleasant, white noise. Placed directly in front of the TV was a drying rack, white and made of flimsy metal. It aired several rows of cloth diapers and many white vests and binders, long and short trousers, many white robes, jackets, little socks. Neatly snug against the far wall, two identical French layettes. A few feet in front of them, toward the middle of the room, were two rocking horses, white. Alphabet books piled on a small, white table. Against the side wall, two cradles with muslin flounces, both painted with odd, multi-colored Chilean hieroglyphics on white….I realised what a shock the color was, for everything else was white-white clothing, white cots and cradles, blankets and covers and sheets and baskets. A white painted room. A little white clock. A Sears and Roebuck Nursery Clock. White. The clock’s tick was soft and little and somehow awkward. Like a clock learning to tick. Or one that was trying to forget.
It was a far-off siren, a police car, a sound for which I must always keep my ears open, which placed me back in the kitchen. The cut, a long rectangular slit from ceiling to floor, was completed and I turned around to the swinging door in back of me to make an identical cut there. I’ve seen them before, the corridors, and other rooms, too. I’ve, on occasion, entered them. I don’t always have the
time or the urge. It reminds me of a story a singer from Brooklyn
once told me. She had just been in Marrakesh, a city where there are
musicians playing on every corner. One evening, there was a group playing on a square. She went up to one of the musicians and started singing with him. He invited her and her friend to go to a restaurant and they continued singing there. He would sing a line in Moroccan and she would imitate his sound and body movements. As time went on, the place started to fill up with more and more men. He would sing something and she would imitate him and the men would start laughing hysterically. At some point she began to wonder about the meanings of the lines she was repeating and made a quick exit.
We tend to think of any one room in isolation; it is a convenient fiction. There is no such thing as a single room, pure and simple,
unmixed with other rooms. When a landlady presents to you an apartment and she says, “”Come this way, I’ll show you the kitchen, I’ll show you the bedroom, here is this room and down the hall, that room.”” “”No,”” you must say, “”I’d like to see them all at once. All at once!”” You must shift the perspective, you want to see the whole set of rooms from above, you want to exhaust them in one look, one glance.
Slice: If only my arms were power saws, I could work more swiftly. If only I were next year’s model, if only my brain stem could fuel-inject. It’s like they say,
Mannequin: “”First come the wings and then the angel.””
Slice: And then the angel. With two power saws for arms, I could finish the other cuts. One arm would be my viola, electric, the other my bow. I’d scrape the resin from these floors, smear it along my horse hair, make a drone like a jet engine.
Mannequin: First come the wings and then ‘Sister Ray.’
Slice: One night, the families, the old woman in 2B and the youngish couple down the hall went to bed, covering their heads against thoughts of danger, only their faces sticking out of the blankets against loneliness. They awoke the next morning to find the electricity shut off. The building, as a machine, was unplugged.
The next night, the Puerto Rican stripper, the ex-mechanic, his wife and the asthmatic retiree upstairs went to bed, covering their heads against thoughts of danger, only their hands sticking out of the blankets, clutching a souvenir baseball bat, a dull kitchen knife and rosary beads. They awoke the next morning to find the mayor re-elected. The building, as a machine, was forgotten.
The following night, a bagboy and his housebound mother, the former janitor and a brandy-soaked drag queen went to bed, covering their heads against thoughts of danger, only their noses sticking out of the blankets for air. They awoke the next morning to find no water in the taps. The building, as a machine, was dead.
Man bites dogma, isn’t that news?
Man bites dogma, well, its been a long time,
been a long, long, long, long time
since I got something true from you
well, my hair was wet and the tv set was droning
back-lit guy with a salamander tie
reading stories that I could have phoned in
President’s got his back back against the wall
race car slides cross slides slides cross track against the wall
Berlin and next-of-kin selling wall against the wall
Jacob stole our souls and left the ladder against the wall
I wanna bang your talking head against the wall
to give me something I can use
well, my feet were tired, cable wasn’t wired and six o’clock rung up
sick of hanging on her call-waiting so finally I hung up
planetary economics lost the fight again today
sanitary engineers on strike again today
shock was feigned at yesterday’s news again today
it rained just like they said it would again today
reputations stained behind the pews again today
city’s finest did their best to stay outta sight again today
blind led the blind both left and right again today
I followed your v.u. light again today
hoping for something new
Man bites dogma, isn’t that news?
Man bites dogma, well, its been a long time, been a long, long time
since my rock was rolled, since my feet turned cold,
since you tossed us a bone that wasn’t made of stone
since purple days when I was so confused.
Mannequin: The latest urban environment works of Greenwood & Sons Commercial Demolition Services seem a hybrid of transplanted ‘California Light and Space’ and ‘finish fetish’ esthetics, filtered backwards through the antithetical post-Minimalist predilections for situationist integrity and material disintegration. This view is partially a result of their obvious interest in the mutual contingencies of light, form, and space and their perceptual de-signification by the use of hydraulic jackhammers, high-powered water jets and wrecking balls. Closer acquaintance with their work,
however, reveals a strategy more aligned with what disciples of avant-demolition critic Gilda Lows would call ‘multi-plosive reductionism.’ In this case, specificities, meaning this material object in this space, do not remain constant but are perpetually transformed beyond the immediate parameters of form and site through a brief, though potent sensorial and conceptual duration, as articulated by dynamite techniques and linear-shaped cyclonite charges. Each razed site triggers associations with other razed sites, each destroyed work with other destroyed works, and material waste with material waste, so that it modifies, and is in turn transformed by, an ever-increasing negative perceptual space.
Here, we are taken beyond the immediate hermeticism of the art gallery and its objects and forced to conceptualize their work as first part of, and later absent from, the larger world.
Slice: As I exit,
Mannequin: In their most recent work, 43R 7DX8, Greenwood & Sons chose four seperate locations in the Bronx:
Slice: no longer under cover of darkness,
Mannequin: Sound View Park,
Slice: I am the third and last to desert
Mannequin: Bronx Botanical Gardens,
Slice: these corrupted shells of housing and light.
Mannequin: Jerome Park Reservoir,
Slice: Abandoned first by their makers
Mannequin: and an undisclosed location on an undeveloped private lot.
Slice: second by their victims,
Mannequin: In each location,
Slice: I occupy a fleeting moment
Mannequin: they installed a lawn bowling facility
Slice: before my night’s work is met
Mannequin: substituting wrecking balls for the traditional wooden ball.
Slice: and crushed
Mannequin: While the specified locations encouraged one to see art as part of a mobile, transistory viewing experience
Slice: by other mouths.
Mannequin: (the work’s title evokes a license plate, for example),
Slice: Mouths of tractors,
Mannequin: the refusal to pinpoint the fourth site
Slice: hurling these remains of remains
Mannequin: also created a desire to multiply the work’s initial meanings-
Slice: into yellow metallic graves.
Mannequin: its suggestion of games,
Slice: The violent sweep of wrecking balls
Slice: edge us into sleep
Mannequin: and the relationship of recreation to other types of land use,
Slice: in a meticulous,
Mannequin: especially commercial development,
Mannequin: beyond those specific to the art world.
Slice: ceremony of waste.
Mannequin: In this way, the flux of a broader totality
Slice: And night comes
Mannequin: constantly folds back
Slice: when it is all over,
Mannequin: into the reading of the destroyed building itself
Slice: when so many jaws have closed upon us
Mannequin: to create a reductive, collapsing movement
Slice: that we no longer have the strength to stand,
Mannequin: in which each specificity is merely an instance
Slice: and splinters of wood and smashed brick
Mannequin: in an endless forgetting
Slice: hang upon our bodies,
Mannequin: of the sensorial and perceptual past.
Slice: as though we have been masticated by every mouth.
© 1996 voLsap Music, Amsterdam