John Duncan | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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John Duncan


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In an interview posted on his Web site, artist and musician John Duncan asserts that he's "not interested in provoking," which may come as a surprise to those familiar with his confrontational early work. In 1976 Duncan channeled the emotions he experienced after being assaulted on a Los Angeles street into a performance piece called Scare, for which he donned a mask, knocked at the front doors of two different friends, fired blank rounds at their faces when they answered, and walked away. While living in Tokyo in the mid-80s, Duncan undertook a project he called TVC 1, which involved commandeering a state-owned TV frequency to broadcast underground videos and, on one occasion, scenes of an oblivious couple having sex in a "love hotel." Currently he lives in Italy and concentrates on installations and sound art, the goal of which is "to make situations where I learn, as a participant"--which isn't to say that the aesthetic payoffs are his alone. On his new CD, Phantom Broadcast (Allquestions), Duncan works with one of his favorite raw materials, shortwave-radio static, transforming it into bell-like tones and flickering choral textures that seem motionless at first but, like a drop of water viewed under a microscope, teem with life. The piece he'll present here, "Infrasound-Tidal," also plays with stasis. The raw materials of this work are sound files created by Duncan's remote collaborator, Australian acoustics researcher Densil Cabrera, who translated 300 years' worth of tidal, seismic, and barometric data into audible patterns, compressing them so that every second corresponds to one year in the life of the planet. One of Duncan's aims in working with these sounds was to deduce something about Cabrera's personality--the two have never met. On that level Duncan regards the experiment as a failure, but its musical result, a wall of dark, hovering drones flecked with ephemeral sonic sparks, certainly is not. This is Duncan's first Chicago appearance in three years and his only U.S. gig this fall. Saturday, October 18, 9 PM, 6Odum, 2116 W. Chicago; 773-227-3617.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/G. Tomasini.

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