Listening to Art

05.01: Sandor Ajzenstat, Stellar Algorithm I


Download: High quality (FLAC). Medium quality (MP3).


Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume five, number one: Stellar Algorithm I by Sandor Ajzenstat.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

In the preface to Listening to Art, Volumes 1–2, I wrote:

I grew up close to many artists—mother, grandfather, grandmother, uncle, cousin—and making art was understood to be something that one did.

That cousin is Sandor Ajzenstat, who is six years older than me. When I was in my early teens he was doing very interesting things and I thought he was very cool. Both are still true.

Sandor studied at the Ontario College of Art (now OCADU), where one of his teachers was Norman White. He began to make sound sculptures and in the early 1980s began exhibiting his works, for example “Tape Recorder Sculpture,” which is in effect an enormous cassette player where the tape remains stationary and the player moves around it.

In a review in the Globe and Mail on 18 July 1986 (p. D11), Robert Everett-Green said:

[It] is a machine-age essay in the genre that seems to refute Heraclitus’ axiom that the way up and the way down are one and the same. Ajzenstat has rigged up an elaborate dumb-waiter sculpture that combines mechanical repetition of motion with intentionally unpredictable sound production, by means of independently controlled tape and tape deck. The deck moves up and down in an iron framework, propelled by gravity and a pulleyed counterweight made up of a brick and a hunk of slag iron. The material on the looped tape—brief snippets of urban sound-effluvia and synthesized riffs—can be heard if and when a set of metal flaps open on the speaker box, suspended at ear level on the heavy rectangular frame.

These flaps snaps open and shut with the comic vigor of the doors in a Feydeau farce, giving Ajzenstat’s piece a crazed, assembly-line urgency. One can almost glimpse the peevish soul of the machine when they remain clamped shut as the tape machine is slowly hauled up, its sounds suppressed by an arbitrary mechanical authority.

Sandor’s later works include “Ding After Everything Off, Then Ding Before Anything On,” “Convergence Machine” and “Cumulative Interplay.” They have become more sophisticated, more beautiful and more interactive. His most recent sculptures are the size of a small table, made of fibreglass and Plexiglass with complex electronics inside, where users can turns dials to control sounds and lights.

In Fall 2006, John Armstrong wrote about “Convergence Machine” in Canadian Art (pp. 139–140) and said:

The machine looks like a biomorphic, Jetsons-era kitchen range, its paths of lights resemble the burners on a smooth-top stove and the clunky plastic knobs add a sort of 1970s stereo-amp aspect to the contraption’s retro-future chic. But the real kicker, and the reason that Ajzenstat’s piece was included in Arraymusic’s experimental sound series, is that once we have set into motion a speeding stream of lights, a voice tells us how many seconds it will be until convergence occurs. If we wish to hasten the lights’ convergence, we turn a knob and the voice speeds up until the speaker sounds like Alvin the Chipmunk. Conversely, the voice can be slowed down to a deep, sepulchral drawl.

“Stellar Algorithm I,” from 2009, however, is a smaller and different work. It hangs on a wall, small, silent and completely deterministic, not allowing user involvement.

This is the artist’s statement about it Sandor provided by email:

Ajzenstat’s works involve an interaction between various cyclic patterns, mechanical or electronic. These patterns rarely go at the same rate—the slower patterns always falling behind, out of phase with the patterns that are faster.

This is electronic art, made of Plexiglas, vinyl, LEDs and electronics, fitting into a volume roughly 30.5 cm wide, 30.5 cm high and 7 cm deep.

Now let’s listen to Stellar Algorithm I by Sandor Ajzenstat, recorded at a private collection in Peterborough, Ontario, on 24 March 2019.

Waveform of the field recording.

That was Stellar Algorithm I by Sandor Ajzenstat. I hope you enjoyed listening to it as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit listeningtoart.org.

Listening to Art is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Bibliography

All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Ajzenstat, Sandor. “Ding After Everything Off, Then Ding Before Anything On.” 16 April 2012. YouTube video, 5:08. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iiBXtUnlvo.

Armstrong, John. “Sandor Ajzenstat.” Canadian Art, Fall 2006.

Denton, William. Listening to Art, Volumes 1–2. Toronto: Miskatonic University Press, 2018.

Everett-Green, Robert. “Hypnotic Bid to Open Some Artistic Doors.” Globe and Mail, 18 July 1986.

Wikipedia, s.v. “Norman White,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_White.