Walking half of the eleven-thousand square feet of the 808 Gallery.
Walking in an oblong circle around the circumference of the exhibition, The Lightning Speed of the Present, that Accumulation is a part of. Phil Fryer is doing this four times to define the open field topography he will work within as well as to set a tempo for himself and the viewer. I thought of the filmmaker, Bela Tarr, who uses walking in this way, to literally ground the audience into real time, in order to make weary, validate, and absorb. I wondered if Fryer had asked for everyone's attention, or if we had all been aware this was the beginning? Was it the beginning? It passed, mostly unnoticed.
Those tones I noted above – I identified them in solfege, heard as melodic intervals in succession, but in their repetition an array takes shape that forms a clustered harmony; a chord. I was wondering what was making these tones; the performance also started this way. Fryer had placed a microphone directly on top of a microcassette recorder, outputting the playback through a small guitar amp. These were strange yet clear pitches, and while I was wondering what was making them, to connect a sonic image that could be relevant to an action, place, or thing, I have been on the receiving end of wrong guesses and assumptions about sounds too many times, so I'll refrain from describing them more, or to say it “sounded like,” something it was probably not. So it was a melody, that turns into a harmony, because those notes in sequence are repeated in somewhat random rhythms, and our brains also group them together as a chord. It's a kind of ambient track with a hitch, a stutter step, that in and of itself defines it with easy yet unpredictable periodicity. It goes on and on so it must be a part of this open field environment that is unfolding. It is filling one corner of the space and has an effect of orienting and situating us there. Ultimately, Fryer uses one end, width-wise, of the enormous, rectangular 808 gallery space.
At the opposite side across this end, Fryer moves a ladder near the large picture windows facing Commonwealth Avenue. He climbs the rungs joining the stringers and sits at the top step with his back to us, looking out over the avenue, the metro tracks, the turnpike, and the river, tearing off post-it notes in the shape of a left hand from a pad and flipping them so they float downward. His eyes however, seem level with the top of the window frame, so it appears that it may pose an obstruction. People gaze in as they walk by in passing interest, and the traffic flows on the other side of the thick windows, mutedly.
What is the tempo of this action? Fryer is not in a hurry, but there is more latent urgency than repose in his demeanor. As the performance went on, this characteristic and pace seemed to prevail. Is he resigned and impatient a few minutes later, when he peels off the remaining pack of notes into a few chunks and piles and flips them to the ground? Their flat landings slap echoes through the gallery.
Tempo is related to energy. At what rate are things proceeding, conveyed by the performer? Also importantly, does the performer himself, through the inner focus projected from his presence, engage the audience? Fryer came down off the ladder and introduced a new object and image. It was a small, dark blue cloth with four colored, blinking LED lights fabricated into it diagonally that he held up for us to see. The matter-of-fact pacing and demonstrative actions compel Fryer forward yet leave the viewer without much time for consideration. This is probably somewhat intentional. Fryer has a weightless, pixie-like quality in his performing manner that is endearing, yet not meant to be reliable or discerned. So I'm going to leave the question of energy as a rhetorical, floating one.
One of the things left behind in from the first Accumulation for Fryer were leather belts. There were several strewn along the ground and all seemingly the same make and style. Their prone appearance nevertheless came across a little threateningly, by their sheer numbers, like whips. I was thinking about them later and it reminded me of a friend who, on what to us appears to be an unfathomable impulse, went out to the porch to smoke a cigarette and then hung himself with his belt. Fryer took the lit cloth and draped it over his head, using the belt to secure the cloth around it, like a keffiyeh headdress, holding the belt's extra length out from his head, straight and horizontal, and pausing to stare at us. He repeated this consecutively with each belt in the vicinity. Did you ever see the original cover of Ferlinghetti's book, “Routines”? Two figures stand apart with their heads wrapped and bound, tethered by the same tie. Fryer could have been one of the characters in that routine entitled, “Our Little Trip.”
Looking back at the documentation, I learned that the performance was titled, “The Tower.” I wonder what kind of tower it was: a utopian tower we build from the finite to reach the infinite? Something referencing the performance site itself, like an academic, ivory tower? Was the tall ladder the tower? Was it an imaginary amplifier “stack” as tower, without old rockers and acid flashbacks to the 70's?
Moving along. There is not any point that the performance quality, its gravity, changes.
Broadcast - bound: an image to be espied, offered by the restricted purveyor, with a monitor held in both hands; an image on paper, unseen at this distance, on top of it, with Fryer's bound feet turning clockwise in a circle.
Changing the microphone position activates a change of pitch and harmony. The chord of cluster and timbre bringing to mind the Farben movement with its flying fish in number three of Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra. Then the amplifier was covered with a blanket. The microphone was scratched over a 45rpm vinyl record. Should it or could it have played the sound in the grooves? It didn't.
Dipping the mic on the blanket over the amplifier grill causes feedback. The tape is on again and the mic is covered with a cloth.
The microphone is then placed on the mic stand, for this declamation: “Why can't I find a job?”
I asked myself this question: was being in the largeness of this space shortening the perception of time? Before I could check to see how much time had elapsed (it was one hour), Fryer stopped. It seemed sudden. I wasn't sure whether actions were occurring closer together, thinking of it now like a stretto, ideas enjambed that come intentionally colliding during the coda of a fugue, or whether in the accumulation of actions themselves there was a possible acceleration, and we were paying closer attention?
Thinking of moment form: when a series of ideas are presented without any apparent connection to what preceded it, and relating it to Fryer's insistent succession of one thing to the next. Discovering through noting and formalizing on the page here the slight difference in tones that resulted from his handling of the microphone and tape player, a continuum that also formed in his returns, an oblique type of variation and recapitulation. And I think it is perhaps through this reckoning that there is distillation now, in a hidden intent and unseen tower of notes climbing and settling, sustained yet changing, the tempo of the actions ramified by their distinctions, differences, and reflections themselves: a fair conclusion, sensing the possibilities of reading performance art with associative musical forms that I wouldn't have expected to bring up or refer to.