The name of Peter Van Riper (1942-1998) is never mentioned in the reference books on sound art by the likes of Alan Licht, Douglas Kahn or Brandon Labelle, yet I consider him one of the most vital presence of NY’s Downtown scene in the 1970s. The fact he self-released his recordings and was not helped by a gallerist or concert venue might explain why he’s so under-documented today, but he certainly deserves to be considered on a par with other artists like Bernhard Leitner, Max Neuhaus, Marianne Amacher or Keith Sonnier. Van Riper was first a hologram specialist during the 1960s – see my Wikipedia article –, but when he turned to music in the 1970s he concentrated on the sonification of specific venues with wind instruments, small percussion, thumb piano or mere footsteps. Distinct from Minimalist music, his art lies in the resonances and acoustic properties revealed by the instrument.
♫ Published 1979, this was Van Riper’s first LP, released on his own VRBLU imprint like all his other releases – including his 2nd LP, Room Space, 1981, see previous post. Sound To Movement includes several recordings made with choreographer Simone Forti, as well as some site-specific sound experiments. The A-side offers the entire performance of Big Room, a Forti/Van Riper collaboration premiered 1975, here recorded in Oxford’s Museum of Modern Art during their 1978 European tour. In this recording, Forti is heard stomping the floor around the room, performing the kind of informal/formless dance she was known for at the time – see ps below. The score is for saxophones, plastic hose, flute and kalimba, all performed by Van Riper. The dancer’s footsteps and the room’s acoustic properties thus explored recalls Tom Johnson’s Nine Bells.
Other tracks further documents how Van Riper’s music is about revealing various rooms’ acoustic properties and how playing saxophone is just one way of making the room sound. The mesmerizing #3 Double Sound is played on plastic hose and saxophone simultaneously, creating otherworldly resonances. The last track, Moku Gyo, is for percussion, a kind of cow bell, and just about examining how the percussion resounds in the room. On other tracks, the soprano and sopranino saxophones favored by Van Riper creates shimmering sounds echoing against the walls around him.
01 Big Room (33:55)
02 Circle Song (3:19)
03 Double Sound (4:31)
04 Doppler Piece (3:40)
05 Long Note (4:14)
06 Keys Sound (1:28)
07 Bonnie & Jeff (2:37)
08 Moku Gyo (5:16)
Total time 59:00
LP released by VRBLU, New York, 1979
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Post-scriptum on Big Room (1975):
Big Room, a collaboration [of Simone Forti] with musician Peter Van Riper, permits each to do solos and both to work together. He plays repetitive, circular patterns on the kalimba, simple melodies on several pitches of saxophones, he whirls plastic hoses (bullroarers) to make a whistling sound. Forti does plant studies, lying awry on one shoulder with legs and arms spiking up into the air, or finding different places on the floor to lie quietly on her side. At one point she performs what seems to be a ritual of marking out the space. She runs from one corner, falls on her back in the center of the room and slides back a little, pulling her legs up close to her body and jabbing them sharply in and out. Then she begins from the next corner, running and, at the center, hopping with arms straight up, falling back, sliding, kicking. And so on until all four corners have been marked. When Van Riper whirls the bullroarers, she backs up into the corridor of space the hoses form, until she stands pressed against him, leaning her back against his chest. The structure of Big Room, with its blocks of music and movement material put into gear in different orders and combinations – sometimes nonverbal signals, as when one starts a certain sequence with the expectation that the other will follow, or sometimes simply when one calls out to the other the name of the desired bit – creates a sense of mutual play between the two, a sense of trust and shared exploration, relying on preferences of the moment while paying attention to the present needs of the partner. To the audience, sitting in a horseshoe surrounding the dance, the actions seem to consecrate a special space for the dance’s unfolding.
Excerpt from Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance,
by Sally Banes, first published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977 (reissued by Wesleyan University Press, 1987)