by Nick James Scavo
Nov 14, 2016

Written and recorded in the summer of 2016 in Brooklyn, New York. Art by Sasha Popovici. Text by Alec Sturgis.


Toward Nick James Scavo’s “Vorsch” by Alec Sturgis


[since the noun “clap” denotes the percussive meeting of two hands as well as the affective sound produced, we will consider the “clap” — as something defined both by it’s activity and, recursively, by the affective sound it produces — as a metaphor for the reflexive social-environmental constitution which involves framing sound as conveying poetic valences. To emphasize the aesthetics and environmentality of social life towards advocacy of a less ego-centric view of listening (i.e. one which recognizes that listening and the conference of meaning with and upon sound is always a situated happening — a lived experience from a standpoint) we will experiment with the famous “one hand clapping” koan of Hakuin Ekaku (1686 – 1768); that is — “Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?”]


submerged, beyond the tenuous boundaries of the audial, there is one hand which claps.

“we” (listeners) constitute another, and in making contact with sound we institute the frame and, indeed, the actual medium of “music” in a manner that, while often intentional in part, is also characterized by the phenomenal inter-subjective situation and by factors of the environment within which we register “what-is,” and “what-has-happened.” as human-animals, our meaningful, intentional, anticipatory contact with the audial world – even when imbued with compositional or critical intent – is dynamic in this sense and as we listen-for music we and against the tenuous borders of “noise” and of “silence.”

So, to suggest that the sounds which constitute our aural lives in some way “meet” us halfway in the situation of music is not to say that sound has some substantive agency, but is to say that the experience of “music” is a constitutive listening-for and listening-as, within the already deeply dynamic and vibrant audial world whose phenomenal presence also constitutes our perceptual world. Of course, in many cases and traditions of listening and speech-about-listening (musicology, conversational speech, western music theory and aurally translated musical theories all) the conceptualization of listening can appear to sublimate the actuality of a given sound (and, perhaps, potential poetic valences of those things not focused upon) to anticipatory practices and the listening-for a consistency with traditional social, values.

in the sense that the sometimes our hand appears to reach for the other — to put it’s hand on the scale of listening — to sound versus projecting the anticipated sound. these affects of speech-about and discourse on/toward sound and music, as Stephan Feld suggests in his essay, “Music, Communication and Speech about Music,” are not

on this boat – our venue — we (the attending group) perceive that sound which comes from beneath and around and imbricates it’s sonic traces upon the network of our sensorial and imaginative lives. This most indelible notion of depth and time and meaningfulness – of and within the aesthetics of sound — is characterized by the recursive washing of sound in the symbolic conferences of this (our) moment.

on this boat – our venue — from around and underneath and upon the surface of tidal variations and swells in the shapes of our horizons , that limit which marks the beginning of the depths from which all great claps emerge, into the air, upon our bodies, into the landscapes of situated memory, into futures of unspeakable syntactics. we look to one another. whatwas that?

if we are to consider that sound as it may have been, beyond it’s surfacing within our physiological, social and conceptual limits of sense, what (if anything) is the aesthetic content of that sound? whatever it “was” or “may have been” becomes compressed and disappears into our inter-subjective moment and again, into memory, and again, into the encrypted horizons which surround us.

in contemplating (perhaps even imaginatively summoning) the origins — not only of physical sound, but of it’s poetic conferences in the continuity of our aesthetic lives, we locate what Gaston Bachelard calls the “intimate immensity” – “immensity with no other setting than itself.” (pg. 212)

in so doing, we may find a certain agency, a certain dialogue with each other, against each other and with the poetic life which animates, in part, our perceptions. what machine has exploded, what life speaks on the other end of this trace?

the moment of “music,” no-matter how inundated with our semiotics and with anticipations for shared cultural legibilities, is substantial in it’s medium (i.e. the real, intersubjective space/time of it’s exchange/presentation/consumption) and exists quite dynamically in our lives – with it’s own discursivity, even though it is not, itself, a language.

music is not merely a narratology of sound in this sense – it is not purely interpretive and interpretable — but constitutes a form of ephemeral sensorial/symbolic display, who’s inter-subjectively real, yet phantasmal presence conveys the fundamentally recursive, reiterative process that is entailed in identifications of any kind, no matter how “substantial.”

here, I hope to make clear that my advocacy is not for any mystification of music in a highly abstract or pseudo-religious sense (although phenomenology often seems to verge on theology); rather, in addressing some of the social-ontological grounds of musical and sonic experience, I hope to recognize that we are still quite mystical beings, despite certain auspices of technologically advanced modernity and certain “radical” pretenses of our social media.

We will encounter affective ambiguity, vague identity, the indeterminable mark, the illegible source of what reverberations are forced through deep water,

from a distance too great and through a matter too dense,

we take these for a purpose in sounding.


In distinction from the art-critical culture that is so often obsessed with a language of it’s own special, self-conscious machinations, the sounds of Vorsch intimate a brute humility most frequently expressed in those performance arts that contemplate the body itself as the extreme limit of cultural legibility; in this project, Scavo appears to suggest the horizontality of musical experience as an ontological simile for the temporality of the body. As such, Vorsch progresses in a yoga of citation — it’s recursive disappearance into the tensity of conceptual and cultural interests which constitute it’s hovering form.

This musical “body” – the composition — as such, is distinguished by a procession of culturally significant musical postures, amounting to an aural, fictive iconography. This gesture, of accelerating and deconstructing cultural tropes with playful and aggressive characterizations is distinctive of Scavo’s musical work to date; however, in Vorsch, this mode is sublimated to a larger, over-arching approach that employs the iconographic “appearances” in a less traceable manner – as specters, submerged and shifting within a luminous, pseudo-orchestral haze.

As with the walking of adorned priests through orthodox space, or in the performative dramaturgical settings of contemporary Vogue Balls, the presentation of music-cultural figures in Vorsch conveys the emotional and critical gravity of how power may be decoratively conferred, enforced and subverted.


what is the sound of one hand clapping?

Judith Butler says, “there is no power that acts, but only a reiterated acting that is power in its persistence and instability.”

the deep listeners focus together upon something that becomes a music, not because sound is inherently musical, but because the social and conceptual framing of those sounds is approached so as to reify these sounds as musical sounds. It is an affirmation of the social/political process of identifying and, as such, is also a work of collaboration – a group meditation.

This purposeful listening-for the sound of “one hand clapping” does in a sense, create or frame a hypothetical music, and, as in many, nearly inaudible works coming from the Wandelweiser Collective, the social phenomenon that occurs from a presentation of such work can be hallucinatory in it’s affect.

In the same the priests and the congregation imbibe their own performance and in doing so, invoke the mechanism by which their mode of poetic summoning becomes the very medium of power. such a collective denotation of power is a denotation of that thing which is most significant in affect and most persistence in the instability of it’s form.

we can say that the “hand which may clap,” but hasn’t, is silent, but there is still an affective substance within the anticipation of the possible.

it is the collective attention upon “that hand which may clap,” rather than the mere hearing of sound, that, in a sense, consecrates it with poetic import and the confers an immanence to sonic, valent “presence.” no matter how apparent or insubstantial in form, nomatter the dimensions and directions of it’s realization

[the presentation of the walker is a constitutive compression of the moving and fashioned signs of power and a contortion of them through their display, which is of power regardless of to what extent it suggests expressive liberty. it is within the anticipating, attending community that, not only the legitimacy of that expressive body is excited and affirmed, but also the temporal continuity of that bodily identity – a life back into it’s life, back into those pasts of convolutions where meaning is the collective settings (a collective, setting) of power. ]


The piercing, high-pitched frequency phasing that, in large part, constitutes the beginning of Vorsch suggests a musical metaphor for the cutting, differential edge – the politically real delimition of experiences between composer and audience. This “dichotomy,” while contested within many intellectual tributaries of post-Cagean philosophy, is an inevitable constitutive frame, even with the most radically subversive musics. In Cage and Tudor’s “Indeterminacy,” for instance […..] Even where “composer” and “audience” may share in their intentions for a mutual, democratic focus upon the phenomena of sounds as music (as is the implied social contract of many noise musics, practices and cultures); [still, even when grounded within this collective political sensibility, the constitutive framing of sound as music the signs that will arise, evolve, mutate as an affective career out from the locale of the composer and from the venues of presentation will, in some sense become characterized by the impossibility of music as “language.” On this point, Stephen Feld affirms the irreducibility of musical meaning from it’s real, social moment, while also advocating a defense of the discursivity of music as it is inextricably involved with and informed by the metaphorical sense-making — those parallel discourses which he calls “speech-about music.” ]

While Vorsch provides ample space for interpretive philosophical readings of this kind, the work is most affective, not due to it’s curriculum of critical salience, but because it so readily and elegantly addresses the absurdity involved in extrapolating philosophical theories to art and vice-versa. Rather than over-state his own “parallel discourse” to the music, Scavo institutes the characterization of a subtle pathetic palette that is both nuanced and persistent in the singularity of it’s gesture. What Scavo invokes with this gesture is a gestalt of failures within the media of music itself. In line with Feldman’s war-cry – “that music is not an art-form, music is a music-form” — Scavo affirms a negativity of concept in music, while broadly asserting it’s own form of discursivity.

[[more ‘review’ content to come… Audial ghosts from the performance archives of Issue Project Room (the venue of Scavo’s recent professional work) mark the oscillating texture in the beginning of Vorsch with an atmosphere of historical specificity that sits immiscibly amidst the palette of digital sound design tools …]