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Cece Chapman - May 2008
March 2008 Video-Cece Chapman
Norman Ball March 2008 Video
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Fall 2007 Video - Cecelia Chapman
Norman Ball
 
The Houston Literary Review presents Norman Ball, a musician and videographer from Virginia. Like the kid in the
swing attempting to go higher and higher until swing and swinger go over the top, Ball builds "big moment" events
from the echoes he makes of momentual artifacts. Indeed, Ball cranks the volume to 11 and holds the microphone
close to the butterfly's wings. His method is quotation, whether the quotation contain image, sound, or word. His
effect is reverb, the bounce from one quotation to another with one quotation amplifying another. And the big
event? It is the kind of amplification Tesla might dream of, just not in Ball's terms of image, sound, and word.
 
 
Norman Ball on His Bones: What the Hell Is It?
 
 
Unconventional art forms must run a gauntlet of conventional inquiries: genre, context,
intention and the like. Perhaps it's the dispiriting Warholian observation, by now pablum,
that context is everything. A Jackson Pollock drip art canvas hangs in a museum. Next
door, a restaurant dumpster contains a discarded tablecloth speckled with mustard,
ketchup and coffee stains. The pattern bears an eerie resemblance to the Pollock painting.
Both are human endeavors inhabiting different poles of the intentionality scale. The sub-
genres? Art and refuse. Or is it Art and art, refuse and Refuse? Ashes to ashes, dust to
dust.

Mel Brooks' hilarious 1963 short film, The Critic, tapped into a wellspring of regular-Joe skepticism. The monologue
consists of an off-screen art museum patron questioning out loud 'what the hell is it' as various abstract art
paintings parade across the screen. At times he offers his own 'interpretations' in a frank, unassuming manner:
bugs, junk, cartoons, garbage. The rising exasperation in his voice suggests that he suspects the whole abstract
thing is an Uptown Manhattan hoodwink. His reactions are blunt, uncoaxed, and undeniably honest. Clearly this
old guy knows who he is and what he likes. With no shortage of irony, the movie is viewable on Youtube.

With a bit more aplomb, people routinely ask what the hell I'm attempting with these video presentations, often
before looking at them. Are they video-poems, music videos, multi-media, cross-media, half-nelsons or full-
montes? Mel Brooks would hate me for it, but these subtle interrogations are vaguely troubling. There is an
almost-Marxian subtext to people's preoccupation with the appropriate barcode. It's the commodification
effect arriving to lay art out in the right pine-box. The death of art leaves us no choice but to proffer death as
art.

One sad legacy of the advanced capitalist age is that people often feel they must first petition some arbiter,
trend-setter or Fuehrer to permission their enjoyment before the experience can be, well, enjoyed. I
would offer that 'premeditated enjoyment' is a first-order symptom of alienation. Part of this permissioning
process involves defining what 'it' is so that the appropriate section of the Patriot Act Aesthetic Handbook
is not run afoul of. The need for proper coordinates overrides aesthetic determinations. But that's all genre
is, a paragraph in some functionary handbook. I suspect many people have lost the human gift for spontaneous
enjoyment. Everything must now be coaxed forward with advertising, promotion and conspicuous designer
labels, which is to say nothing is authentically enjoyed. 'Tell me what I like' is the consumer mantra,
surely one more pavestone on the road to fascist compliance.

Damn it, people should swoon with pleasure despite themselves, right beneath the prying eyes of the
government telescreens if need be. Of course they can hate something too, so long as it's a visceral contempt
and not an authorized disdain. When I find people spinning their wheels over 'what something is' --poetry,
spoken word, music-- I feel they have ceded mastery over their own enjoyment. I want to hunt down their
personal Caesars, introduce them to Uncle Mel.

So, are the arbiters, notoriously slow adopters, retarding artistic advances on the Internet? I've suggested
before that the vast potential of the Internet --particularly the sound and vision dimensions as they relate
to poetry-- remains curiously underexploited. Why is this? After all a focus on sound and vision portends
only a return to poetry's origins, hardly a brave new world. In his essay, 'The Duende: Theory and
Divertissement', Lorca stresses the inherent spoken nature of poetry. Indeed the spoken word resurgence
that flourishes today (its often histrionic excesses notwithstanding) repesents on some level a healthy step
away from the crisp, starched --and ultimately silent-- pages of academe.

Perhaps Gutenberg dealt the troubadour a near-fatal blow that the latter only now recovers from --thanks
to the equilibrating effects of the Information Age. Electrons are impervious to the medium of their freight
--be it sound, vision or text. What's a few bytes between video servers? Moreover the explosion of cheap
bandwidth has also lowered once-formidable barriers to entry, expanding the feasibility of sound and visual
expressions on both technical and economic grounds.

I'm not making any particular assertions here, but am merely positing the range of performance modes available
to an artistic expression that avails itself of the Internet while wondering at the same time why such a medium
is not more roundly exploited for the breadth of its presentational range. That said, I credit The Houston Literary
Review for giving cyber-space a full-throttled forum. If nothing else, deciduous trees are immediate
beneficiaries.

As for this particular composition, Bones, it started with the evocative power of the song, "Wild is the Wind."
To my ear, few match it for sheer desolateness. Nina Simone did a masterful job singing it, as did David Bowie
in his way. Here, I take my own swing. Perhaps it's all that dead space which, like a cavernous wind tunnel,
wafts in and around a spare, dirge-like lyric, but my mind invariably drifts to the poetic terrain of wind, bones,
dead leaves and denuded trees. Art is as much for the dead as it is for the living, allowing the former to rise
for one more dance: Nina Simone, Ingmar Bergman, Dimitri Tiomkin, W. B. Yeats. The artists I invoke in this
media-collage have, in large part, exited the physical realm. Bengt Ekerot, the actor portraying Death in Ingmar
Bergman's The Seventh Seal did a pretty fair job of dying himself --what a fascinating double-negation-- in
1971. As we all will someday. Art, poetry certainly, is the stuff of flesh- stripped bones and swirling autumn
leaves. It's resurrective powers are, in the most literal sense, death-defying. Autumnal shades are as much about
eternal renewal as they are about death. We can thank the anthologists for keeping the flame
alive. Perhaps more of them in the future will be videographers. 
 
More on the Ball from Ball
 
I am a Virginia-based writer and musician who appears regularly in a number of venues on and off line.
 
"That's Why I Chose You" and "Good Books" (Mindfire; songs)

"The Next Bob Dylan" (Big Ugly Review; song)

"The Whale - Sonnet 34" (Soundzine; spoken poetry)

Niche Work If You Can Get It: The Music and Poetry of Norman Ball (Poetic Diversity; review)

An Interview with Norman Ball, Author of "Return to One: A Sonnet Odyssey" (The Vallance Review; interview)