Stomp Box Logic extends Box Logic’s primary concern with human affect and the rhetorical method of juxtaposition to a primary concern with system feedback and a rhetorical method of looping and layering.
Feedback, in writing studies, typically means giving a paper to another human being so they can give more written (or sometimes oral) commentary on the writing so the author can use that information to revise the text. But in the examples above human beings aren’t the primary source of feedback, making the primary audience something other than human. My initial the breakdown of primary, secondary, and tertiary audiences can be approached from both theoretical and rhetorical models.
||Stomp Box Logic
- Objects, whether they are produced through nature or human techne, exist prior to the rhetorical act and must be attended to as in Ede and Lunsford’s audience addressed because they have certain material specific manipulabilities that constrain the rhetorical situation.
- Assemblages are gathered around and through the rhetorical act and operate in conjunction with human invention as in audience invoked—all of the specific manipulabilities of all of the objects in question (natural, technical, human, and textual) create the conditions of possibility for emergent lines of flight and human affects.
- Human affect ultimately becomes an instrument-effect of the complex system rather than an effect of two-dimensional juxtaposition. They are an effect of the system but also feedback into it as part of its production, gathering, and functionality, forming an unanticipatable eventual audience.
Ultimately, Stomp Box Logic takes into account more of these layered and looped system constraints and possibilities than the accidental shuffle Suquet sees in Duchamp that grounds Sirc’s Box Logic.
Björk’s Biophilia is the first ever app-album. The idea originated in 2008 as a physical building in Iceland that would function like a museum or school for kids to study music and nature. But when the iPad came out, it offered a new way to combine education, music, and interactivity in a 3D virtual world that would be workable, affordable, and available worldwide.
Björk began writing songs for Biophilia as a kind of curriculum, with lyrics about crystal formation, plate tectonics, and DNA replication, and started contacting top app developers to build iPad games for each song. Each song has a small visual toolbox that interactively combines some facet of music theory and a lesson on nature. For example:
- “Mutual Core” lets users arrange geological layers to form chords.
- “Virus” lets users fight off an army of mutating rhythms by swiping invading pathogens away from an innocent cell.
- “Hollow” lets users build a basic drum machine from DNA bases by lining up various proteins—different proteins change the rhythm, time signatures, tempo, or beats per minute.
- “Crystalline” lets users tilt and swivel the iPad to add colorful crystals to a growing aggregate as they fly through neon tunnels.
- “Dark Matter” lets users take control of a sound-creation tool, tapping pools of light to combine and mix tones and scales.
- “Thunderbolt” lets users augment the song with flashes of lightning and booms of thunder to create a kind of beat box.
- “Solstice” lets users take control of vocals and layers of harps to create their own remixes.
- “Moon” lets users play a harp-like instrument.
On the “Mother App” or main interface, a 3D galaxy unfolds that lets users twist, zoom, and pan through the digital space. Each of the 10 major stars represents a song. When users tap a star, they are given ways to explore and interact with the music and concepts. As users pan through the terrain sound loops from the 10 majors stars overlap and fade into and out of each other, creating emergent sonic compositions.
Biophilia is significant not only because it gives the stalled music industry a glimpse of a possible future, but also because it’s based on an assemblage of human agents—musicians, programmers, visual artists, and users—nature, music, and technology to co-produce an emergent, affective experience through a physical object and a layered digital environment. Most of the musical arrangements are fairly spare and unmelodic in order to allow users the ability to play with and layer the music. The game player is expected to feedback into the system to create more complex compositions and co-produce a feeling, a vision, a passion, or an idea—not just through sound and words but also through the digital-material tools.
Onyx Ashanti is a musician who is developing a genre he calls “beat jazz” through his own technological inventions. His earlier attempts displayed in his TED talk performance included two handheld controllers, or boxes, an iPhone, and a mouthpiece. Accelerometers on each hand read hand position. Colored lights on the boxes signify the instrument being played: red-drums, blue-bass, green-chords, orange-lead solos, purple-pads. The mouthpiece—a button glued onto a guitar pick with another guitar pick on top to help him click—provides another controller. And the smart phone is a display for system parameters. Here is his TED talk audition video.
He has developed some more recent controllers and physical interfaces, but I like this earlier one because the controllers are more clearly boxes. Regardless of controllers, the genre of beat jazz combines:
- Live Looping
- Jazz Improvisation
- Gestural “Sound Design”
What I like about this example is the clear object-human-digital-soundscape assemblage and its primarily improvisational and emergent mode of operation. Ashanti selects instruments with the hand controller, plays them with his mouth and hand gestures, and loops them through a digital pedal or sequencer. The audience for his gestures and “speech” is primarily the technologies. The human response to music is a tertiary after-affect of the “secondary” audience—the object-human-digital-sound assemblage. Here the body in 3D space adds another layer on to the 3D space of the soundscape. (We could make a similar “assemblage” argument for the Boss RC-30, but it is foregrounded more in this example.)
The Boss RC-30, and other pedals like it, allows musicians to record small segments of music on multiple tracks and layer them to individually create songs or add color to a band’s performance.
The Boss RC-30
This Boss pedal has two synchronized stereo tracks, three hours of recording time, 99 onboard memory presets, a rhythm guide with a selection of real drums beats, whose tempos and time signatures can be adjusted. It has multiple jacks for instruments and microphones, and a USB jack for both importing and exporting WAV files from a computer.
There are tons of demo videos online, both professional and user-generated. BOSS also hosts the Loop Station World Championships every year with many video performances online. This one, from Dub FX, is one of the most direct and succinct when it comes to showing how the loops are layered to produce songs. He hosts a number of NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) demos for Roland and Boss with the RC-30, but I like this one from the street.
What we have in these looping pedals is a physical object with a digital architecture that is based on loops and layers. So much of our thinking about digital writing is two-dimensional, or influenced by a flat visual space, whether for images or words. These kinds of technologies for digital sound open up a layered third-dimensional space that produces feedback as part of the writing itself rather than waiting for audience feedback after the text has been produced and circulated.
Sirc’s paradigmatic box is The Green Box. He cites Jean Suquet’s take on it to develop his own box logic:
Ninety-four scraps of paper bearing plans, drawings, hastily jotted notes, and freely drawn rough drafts were delivered in bulk. It was up to the reader to shuffle these cards as he or she pleased. There was no author’s name on the cover; the work appeared anonymous and as if offered to the blowing winds. In light of this, I had not the least scruple, when opening it for the first time in 1949 at the request of André Breton, in making it speak (with Marcel Duchamp’s consent) in my own voice; and out of its sparkling randomness, I began fishing words that resonated with something I felt deep inside me, something obscure yet promising illumination. If an interior journey goes deep enough, at some point it arrives where all roads meet. (qtd. 112)
Sirc reads in this an affective encounter with the box, where Duchamp’s experiences and Suquet’s meet, mix, and recombine through the shuffle of the cards—a recurring image of the emergent logic of complexity.
Geoffrey Sirc – An Affective Encounter
Box Logic, then, is a “format or method” that offers a “grammar” for transcending essayist prose by creating a space for storing and exhibiting thoughts and passions. The box, for Sirc, is a means to and end—a technology, medium, or method whose affordances create affects, both expressive and conceptual (113). In short, it is both an architecture and an approach to the production of digital texts. Students archive personal collections of texts and images, deriving textual pleasure form their arrangement, juxtaposition, and recombination (113-14).
Sirc’s Eye in a Box
Expanding on this base with a collection of other thinkers who work with the space of a box—Joseph Cornel, Walter Benjamin, George Maciunas—Sirc adds to Duchamp’s logic objects, textiles, music boxes, even sound or noise, built into collages, all arranged into compositional containers via juxtaposition and associational schemes. I’m extending his puncept into more recent digital boxes to develop a stomp box logic.
In Sirc’s essay “Box Logic,” he develops a method for writing with technology out of Duchamp’s Green Box, a collection of personal notes that functions like a prose catalogue, a collection of statements, notes, and sound-bites that make a workable larger structure.
Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Green Box) (1934) is a limited edition of notes on scraps of paper that details Duchamp’s own invention process during the conception and execution of his work The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915–23).
The Large Glass
The Large Glass is oil, varnish, lead foil, lead wire, and dust executed on two glass panels, combining chance procedures and planned studies on perspective. (It’s in the Philadelphia Museum of Art for those going to RSA.)
The Green Box contains 94 individual items that Duchamp called “facsimiles,” mostly hand-written notes from 1911 to 1915. Duchamp “published” 320 individually produced copies of the green cardboard cover, one color plate, photographs, and the ninety-four notes, each printed and torn up to match the borders of the scribbled originals. For Duchamp, The Green Box was an extension of The Large Glass more than an exposition on it.
The Green Box