Text Operations from the Former World, Nos. 1 & 2

By John P. Hastings

Program Notes

The Former World is a multi-media essay on ‘deep time’, geologic history, the environment, humanity, and the artist. The work uses two focal points: the life and writings of the artist Robert Smithson and the writer John McPhee’s tome on American geologic history, Annals of the Former World. The Former World manifests through a variety of means: a violin duo playing highly ordered pitches; an acoustic guitarist performing fractured, faux-Americana styled improvisations; 4 performers delivering a variety of text, from obituaries to high school text books; a 2-channel video that focuses on striations of rock and the human interaction on the landscape; mobile field recordings taken from road trips in the United States; sub-sonic frequencies that are more felt than heard. Research begets more research and ideas begin to spiral and eddy. The utter incomprehensibility of ‘deep time’ fascinated me; humans can only comprehend a length of about 5 generations. What do we make of hundreds of millions and billions of years? What becomes the lasting imprint? The Former World can be many things: the geologic record, but also the idea of “ruins in reverse”: our present day, already crumbling. Does time cycle, like people thought or is there an arrow of time? A combination of the two, perhaps. If the history of the universe is the movement toward greater intelligence, then humanity is certainly at an inflection point. Ideas, arguments, disagreements, get smoothed over time. How does the artist function? Not through object based ruination, but through thoughts and ideas and processes. This performance is a variety of operations for reading text aloud, and is an excerpt from The Former World.