"Duet for Alto and Tenor Televisions" Joshua Rosenstock: An Interview  
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Joshua Rosenstock’s latest work is a diversion of sound, vision, machine, movement and time. Recently performed at the PAC/edge fest and last month at the Ann Arbor Film Festival, “Duet for Alto and Tenor Televisions” combines real time performance, selectively pilfered images and manufactured sounds. Witnessed is an atmosphere of fun but historically relevant spectacle by an artist with boundless talent and a sincere reverence for the machine.

In a kind of Alan-Lomax-Meets-Alan-Rath-Showdown that leaves everyone shaking there heads, the metaphorical context of the club, or stage, is obvious. At the same time, Joshua Rosenstock has managed to find a wide audience that can respect the multiple facets that go into his production - a commendable feat. That same kind of respect is evident in the images used, sounds created, and even the old remote- less televisions being brought back to life.

I asked Joshua some questions about Duet, the following is what transpired:
BB: So Josh, some basics here… your performance consists of two found televisions, multiple snippets of found musical images and custom built electronic mixing equipment. And you “DJing” for lack of a better word?

JR: This piece is certainly inspired in large part by DJing. I’m a huge admirer of Turntablists such as Kid Koala and Cut Chemist who are not only pop culture archaeologists extraordinaire and wonderful collage/montage composers, but also rock the house in live performance.

I would also characterize the piece as my response to “VJing.” I’ve been a passive observer of the VJ scene for almost ten years now, and, while I’ve always been excited by the possibilities of live video mixing, I’ve also often been disappointed by most of what I’ve seen. In the typical VJ scenario, you have a DJ or band providing sound content while the VJ performs alongside them. While there may be thematic or stylistic similarities between the music and the visuals, all too often the relationship between the two is totally random. Some artists such as Emergency Broadcast Network have succeeded in creating really compelling music/video collages where the sound and video elements are truly interdependent, but not really for live performance.

So I wanted to create a piece that had the spontaneous, improvised energy of live performance, but also one where the sound/image relationship was very clearly articulated.

BB: And these images – where do you find them and how are they selected?

JR: I spend a lot of time digging up interesting video samples. Since I generally ignore copyright, I probably shouldn’t go into too much detail about the provenance of my clips – but let me just say that the public library has always been my friend!

BB: It seems that the visual moments that you do select are really unflattering without you manipulating them. In other words, these are sonic and performative moments that would go really unnoticed, or blocked out, if one were a live witness. Is this an aesthetic resurrection?

JR: I do like to highlight those “micro-narratives” of musical performance that normally fly by and are lost, and bring them to the surface. I’m looking for moments that contain both a sonic and visual gesture that is interesting, that I can put under the microscope, draw out, and obsessively re-examine. We do refer to the process of digitizing video as “capturing” it…

BB: You manipulate the found images with rebuilt equipment, yet your presence is really not felt. Is this a self-deprecating attitude or a reverence to the machine you built?

JR: The question of my physical presence is one I’ve thought a lot about. I think it IS important that I am there – otherwise the piece doesn’t really read as a performance and loses the element of excitement and risk of it being live. I am situated right between the two televisions, so I think it’s pretty hard to ignore my presence, even if my manipulations of the machine involve fairly subtle movements. Like most other instrumental performance, most of the virtuosity occurs at the level of fingertips. I experimented with other kinds of gestural interfaces, but ultimately concluded that they were unnecessary as the videos themselves have plenty of visual dynamics. I’m actually working on a new piece right now that is a related video-sound collage machine that will function without me, autonomously. I’m looking forward to seeing how that one will end up in comparison to the Duet.

BB: The deconstruction, visually and musically, amounts to a kind of historical memory enhancement. Managing, literally and figuratively, machine and sounds to your own device is a conscious decision. Would you call this a sort of exploitation?

JR: One could definitely argue that there is an element of the “puppet master” in the way I manipulate the videos. I hope that it’s irreverent and not exploitative. There is clearly a tension inherent in this piece – the ridiculous facial expressions that I extract from the video performers make some people uncomfortable. But I think those people miss the aspect of homage in the piece. I’ve included many of my favorite musical heroes. Anyone who is a devotee of live music knows that when a musician is fully absorbed in the inspiration of the moment, his face reflects that uninhibited intensity.

As far as the consequences of juxtaposing samples that have been removed from their original contexts goes, I think that rather than being a flattening of history, this piece celebrates the richness of the historical representations that comprise it. It fundamentally enacts a kind of absurd fantasy – how wonderful it would be to have Chico Marx and Gilberto Gil jamming together with a traditional Shakahuchi master!

For more information on Joshua Rosenstock and to watch a clip of Duet visit his website
Joshua Rosenstock

(Britton Bertran is a writer on art and curator in Chicago)

  Replies: 4 comments  
"I recently brought Josh out to Ann Arbor for our 42nd A2film festival to perform in one of the SuperSonicScreen screenings (consisting of live performance and films & videos concerned with the sound-image relationship)-- WHAT A TREAT!!! definitely one of the highest points of the whole festival for me! He performed the duet in the packed 250-seat screening room, but with 2 video projectors instead of TVs so that everyone could see the extravaganza! Yay! & Thank you again Josh!"
"Wow, I've seen this video piece, but I did not notice that the artist was a cat! I did notice that the duet was brilliant and amazing. This cat is one smarty pants! Even if he were human I would say the same thing."
"This cat is my son, and I cannot believe that this is the outcome of all those violin lessons I paid for! Bravo, Josh!!"
"God damn, that Rosenstock cat is one fine artiste!! When canI get some more of that?"
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