By Kathleen Forde, SFMOMA
Catalog, 2002 Activating the Medium Festival
KF: Your work clearly reflects the sensibility of your background and
current work as an architect. Specifically, your spatial acoustic and
immersive environments seem to render a sense of the physicality of space
and formal composition. Can you speak a bit about the influence of architecture
on your work?
SA: There is no doubt that architecture an architectural mode of thinking
permeates nearly every aspect of my work. I love right angles and simple
geometries. As a working method, I typically approach a project as an
architect would - by starting with larger abstract ideas and slowly moving
toward the details and finishes. But probably the greatest influence of
architecture is, as you mentioned, how I approach space. I tend to consider
everything in the context of how it relates to space. Both video and sound
embody two kinds of space. The most obvious is its own internal space.
This relates most directly to something's formal and compositional make
up - what something looks or sounds like. With this in mind I try to layer
the space of sounds or space of video, to create a dense composition as
it were a building or landscape. Visual and sonic windows and doors, veils
and walls, ramps and stairs - these geometries and transparencies all
work together to provide and obscure views, some sections jut out while
others recede. This layering of space is very important and with sound
and video you can do things you would never dream of doing with buildings!
The other space is less obvious and much more difficult to describe, but
perhaps more important - it is the external space that sound and video
can create and activate. By this I'm not just talking about the placement
of a projection screen, but more how the presence and content of sound
and video can completely transform a room. Sound can move about a space
or change as you move about a space. As many people have experienced,
sound is a physical phenomena that can move people or buildings. The external
space of video is more difficult, particularly because the accepted mode
of video-watching is that it represents space. It portrays places and
events, never mind that the screen is pretty flat. Its internal space
commands far greater attention than its external space. This is the problem
I've always had with TV, it does little more than portray spaces that
you're not in, but must somehow "project" yourself into. I'm
much more interested in TV and video that can affect space! this is one
of the reasons why I use static and abstractions; to erode the tyranny
of the internal, represented space, to turn video inside out, to create
space! Guess I could never escape architecture even if i wanted to.
KF: Personally, I see the transdisciplinary nature of your work as a means
to un-compartmentalize the music and visual art scenes. Is this purposeful
or even of interest to you?
SA: Merging sounds and video into a greater whole is very important to
me. It's unfortunate that the only place it consistently happens is in
the inflexible environment of a movie theatre. On of the reasons to start
7hz was to provide this kind of space where more interesting audio/visual
combinations could happen.
The Sound of Scott
An Interview by Kathleen Maloney
This interview originally published 2005 (Stretcher)
Scott Arford is a Bay Area artist whose work includes numerous performances,
installations, video screenings, and audio recordings that explore the
physical and aesthetic relationship between sound, space, and vision.
He has performed his solo audio-video work Static Room, as well as a spatial
acoustic concert created with fellow sound artist Randy Yau,Infrasound,
at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Arford worked as a sound designer
for Brian Conley's WAR project featured in the BitStreams exhibition at
the Whitney Museum of Art, and has collaborated on several international
projects, including an installation with Squid Soup at the Institute for
Contemporary Art in London and an installation with the Bureau of Low
Technology at the Salon Festival in Zagreb, Croatia. Arford has also been
integral to the development of the Bay Area media arts scene since his
arrival over ten years ago. In 1996 he founded 7hz, a warehouse/performance
space dedicated to live experimental media, hosting internationally recognized
artists such as Scot Jenerik, Kit Clayton, Francisco Lopez, and John Duncan.
Kathleen Maloney: What kind of work have you done in terms of experimenting
with the materiality of sound? Is there an aesthetic aspect to these investigations?
Scott Arford: I have a project with Randy Yau called Infrasound. That
sound has nothing to do with beauty. I don't care how it sounds.
SA: The project is about the physicality of sound, the physical experience
of sound, and the translation of sound into physical force. The device
is essentially a P.A. system with big subwoofers and tone generators (sine
waves). We use frequencies from 20 Hz to 100 Hz and generate sine tones
that are slightly detuned — we will maybe play a 30 Hz tone and
30.1 Hz tone — to create beating patterns. The sound of the beating
pattern is similar to the waving and shimmering sounds you hear when strumming
notes on a guitar that are out of tune. Essentially, this slightly out-of-tune
beating pattern creates a frequency at the beating pattern itself. We'll
get a wave of pressure occurring at the function of the beating pattern,
so we can create lower frequency beating patterns (or infrasound - a frequency
too low to be detected by the human ear) with higher frequency tones.
The project is really about activating the space and the audience in a
very physical way. When we get complex sounds going, complex in terms
of say a 30 Hz tone, a 40 Hz tone, and 60 Hz tone all at the same time,
you get this incredibly interesting and amazing interaction of waves.
Since every space has its own resonance, certain frequencies will be amplified
and certain frequencies will be attenuated. Things in the room will often
shake a little bit or people may actually feel a lower frequency, like
a 7 hz beating pattern, which can physically affect the body.
KM: Where you position yourself in the space also probably alters your
SA: It is good to move around during the show. There are resonant spots,
nodes, places where the sound cancels, and a lot of other different kinds
of things happening. The first concert was at 7hz. At the end, the sound
level was so intense that Randy and I could barely breathe or see straight.
It was bizarre; we were standing between two speakers and it was like
the air was pushing on our chests. My computer screen looked like it was
rolling. It was completely nuts. Also, the reaction to that project is
of great interest because it so physical. People often say, "Thanks
for the massage,"or something along those lines. After a show at
Aaron Ximm's Quiet American Space (San Francisco), this guy walks up to
me, grabs my hand and says, "Man thanks, that was great." He
didn't let go of my hand and said again, "That was really, really
good, you don't understand. When I came in here I couldn't walk, my knee
hurt so badly my friends had to carry me upstairs. I feel fine now. You
healed my knee." His friends were even there to confirm his experience.
KM: That is unbelievable. Perhaps you could go into business?
SA: [Laughter] I am really glad sound can have that effect. Even though
we use a similar set of frequencies in each space, every show is totally
different because the space affects how the sound works. Although I do
think the Infrasound performances sound good, that doesn't drive what
we are doing.
KM: So how do you approach sound experimentation in your work when you
do have a particular aesthetic in mind?
SA: For the last several years, I have been working on this Static Room
project. It is a video piece where the imagery is made from static that
has been incredibly manipulated and refined. The sound is generated by
the video — literally. If you were to take the video output from
your VCR and plug it into a speaker, the sound you would hear is the sound
in the piece. But it is not just a random selection of images. I work
on the images until they "sound" good. If it doesn't sound good,
I don't care how good it looks. For the most part, I don't really manipulate
the sound or put effects on it, though I do try and make it more interesting
and bring things out with a bit of equalization. What you see is what
you hear is what you get.
KM: Quite a bit of your work involves static and I hear you even have
a copyright on static or something along those lines?
SA: Yeah, it is an ongoing project, probably the most recent project I
have finished, called Total Static Takeover. It is a video project, actually
a conceptual video project, because there is no video I can show you.
Essentially it says, for instance, that anytime you turn on your TV and
get static, when a station isn't broadcasting for example, you are watching
Total Static Takeover. On the Web site (totalstatictakeover.net/) you
can find the text, in which in a somewhat humorous and very legal way,
I have written out the terms of the project. The first part states my
definition of video static. The second part states what is and is not
video static, like fakes — video art, for example, doesn't count
for this project [laughter]. The third part explains when the Total Static
Takeover video can show. For instance, anytime your VCR shows blue, I
call that an intermission, to give your eyes a break. There is also a
section about interesting or potential screening locations, like trans-continental
flights. In fact, that is where I decided to pursue the idea. I was on
a flight with Francisco Lopez and he looked at the TV and said, "Scott,
it's your video." I thought, you're right, from now on, it is my
KM: You mentioned the text is like a manifesto, is it more in order to
explain, or in order to claim?
SA: This is a project of claiming. In the last section it basically says
if you are showing this without a license, they are available for purchase
and you should buy one. I should really pursue this and send it to every
Good Guys in the city, to every store that has a big rack of TVs. "It
has come to my attention that you have been screening my video, Total
Static Takeover and I'll excuse it up until now, but I highly suggest
you buy a $20 license."
KM: Do you perform Total Static Takeover?
SA: I recently gave a presentation at The San Francisco Performance Cinema
Symposium. That is another facet of the project, this Power Point presentation
where I sit and I essentially read the text with two tiny little televisions
beside me projecting the video (static). People were probably wondering,
who is this guy? Is this a joke? It is essentially a conceptual art piece
and a performance, similar to some of the work done in the 1960s and '70s,
although certainly different in its execution.
Kathleen Maloney is a writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Hertz So Good
By Michelle Valdez
Article Published Aug 9, 2000 (SF
Inside the building known as 7 Hertz, strangers wander in darkness, their
eardrums sustaining bombardment from John Duncan's low frequencies and
harsh sound waves. The noise is intense, too much so for some. A woman
tries to leave -- the doorknob breaks off in her hand and she begins banging
frantically on the door. As the sound swells, the woman grows more and
more panicky. Finally, a man with a small flashlight arrives to fiddle
with the door, muttering about how this seems to happen a lot lately.
When the door opens, a handful of people rush out. Scott Arford, the bed-headed
28-year-old curator and handyman for 7 Hertz, watches them with a rueful
There was a time when Arford's obsession with atonal overload was shared
with a large number of local folks. That time is now past. With San Francisco's
nouveau population intent on closing down anything even remotely loud,
noise fans are becoming an endangered species, and the number of clubs
that allow even an occasional ear-splitting show have drastically declined,
making Arford's bawling baby one of the city's few remaining noise-centric
Arford developed his affinity for dissonance one day while stuck in "The
Maze," a particularly sinister slab of Highway 80. "I think,
when it really hit me was, literally, when I first moved to San Francisco,"
Arford recalls. "I was driving my car and I was in that weird traffic
zone in between Berkeley and the bridge, totally stuck in traffic. I was
tuning into a local Berkeley radio station and they were playing noise.
I was listening to it thinking, "You know, this is almost intolerable.
But, I imagine in a few years I'll probably be listening to this all the
Growing up in tiny Almena, Kan., Arford started his first band, the Dolly
Birds, when he was 5. It was a decidedly unnoisy combo, comprised of his
brother and several stuffed animals. "We had little instruments for
them all, and there was like six guitars in the band and synthesizers
and a drum set. And the best part of the drum set was that there was this
little baby chick. It was just this little round puff of stuffing with
a beak but no arms, no nothing at all. And that was the drummer."
About four years ago, Arford met Death Squad leader Michael Nine at a
Merzbow show at Bottom of the Hill. After playing together on Nine's public
access TV show, The Pain Factory, the duo thought up Fuck TV, a brutal
series of video collages of spectacular car crashes and other noisy calamities.
"Fuck TV is very complicated," Nine says. "It is the next
step in television assault. The old slogan for the show was: "It
doesn't describe television, it is television.'"
The duo plan to open up their program to other artists. "It will
become this broadcast program that features video artists, filmmakers,
performance art, installation art, everything and anything," Nine
says. He and Arford intend to sift through works from other public access
stations to compile a series of tapes that could run on different stations
around the country. Right now, they're still looking for sponsors who
can distribute the tapes, send them on to the next public access station,
and basically take care of all the paperwork.
Arford books three shows a month during the summer at 7 Hertz, giving
both well-known artists like Thomas Dimuzzio, Scot Jenerik, and Illusion
of Safety and lesser-known groups like Arford's trio TEST ample space
to explore boundaries of sound without the threat of uptight neighbors.
Arford also has a solo project called Radiosonde, through which he met
GX Jupitter-Larson. "He was amplifying static signals through some
cathode-ray tubes [under a Highway 101 exit ramp near Market Street],"
Jupitter-Larson remembers. "I really loved the minimalism of the
Jupitter-Larson is the leader of the Haters, a long-standing group that
has invaded eardrums all over the world, from an abandoned miniature golf
course in Key West to the Museum of Modern Art in Vienna. Known for their
elaborate themes and homemade equipment, the Haters recently performed
an ode to an obscure mathematician using a fan and a calculator.
"It's a piece inspired by Ross Rhesymolwaith, who lived on the windy
coast of Wales," Jupitter-Larson explains. "Rhesymolwaith would
always leave the windows of his cottage open so he could feel the wind
against his face while he did his calculations. So, in honor of him, I
balanced an amplified calculator on top of the open grill of a small desk
fan. The blades of the fan slap against the face of the calculator. All
of the resulting sounds are then processed into a throbbing pulse. As
Rhesymolwaith would want it, equal amounts of wear arise on both the calculator
buttons and the fan's blades."
Jupitter-Larson has been making noise for more than 20 years. "Back
in the late '80s there used to be this space called 455 10th Street,"
he says. "It lasted about three or four years as a noise venue. And
both the Hotel Utah and the old Kennel Klub used to have big noise shows
from time to time in the '90s. I played in almost every club in town.
And most of them were happy to have me back, even if I did get banned
from a few of them. But now that San Francisco has become a corporate
kind of town, there's only two or three places left that will willingly
hold a noise night [and] only 7 Hertz has been able to stay active for
so long doing just noise shows.
"It has to be one of my favorite venues anywhere in the world. It's
just a real fun place to play, always a good PA. Always a good turnout
of people who are really into the acts."
Still, it's only a matter of time before some loft or office space goes
up near the club's Hunters Point location. But even Arford admits to a
growing need for earplugs. "My threshold of auditory pain has gone
down considerably," he says. "Now, when I go to see a lot of
shows, my ears start ringing."