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Ethics is the Esthetics of the Few-ture

Laurie Anderson Tape Bow Violin

The tape bow violin was created by Laurie Anderson and Bob Bielecki. The horse hair of the violin bow is replaced with recording tape, and the bridge of the violin is replaced with a tape head. Early experiments included working with palindromes. My favorite piece is called ‘Ethics is the Esthetics of the Few-ture.’ The tape bow violin is similar to the loop in that its range of sound is limited to a short sample. The difference is it never loops, it moves backward and foward at varying speeds.

MP3 Two Songs for Tape Bow Violin

It took me a while to track down the phrase. And as you begin to roll it around in your mind, it reveals surprising depth and a few sharp corners. Its origin is either with Lenin, Gorky or Godard, but most certainly in Godard’s film Le Petit Soldat.

For Godard, yes, his life is film; “everything is cinema,” he says. Godard asserts that “it may be true that one has to choose between ethics and aesthetics, but it is no less true that whichever one chooses, one will always find the other at the end of the road. For the very definition of the human condition should be in the mise-en-scene itself.” Lenin (actually Gorky, according to Godard) is approvingly quoted by the protagonist of Godard’s second feature film, Le petit soldat (1960), as saying: “Ethics are the aesthetics of the future.” This character, photographer and right-wing government agent Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor), falls in love with Veronica Dreyer (Anna Karina) just as Godard fell in love with Karina during the filming.

It’s the tangle of political thought that ties ethics and aesthetics into a gordian knot. In her performance, Anderson puts the emphasis on the “few,” and so our thoughts naturally turn to Brecht. The two phrases contained in this piece “ethics is the esthetics of the few” and “ethics is the esthetics of the future” reveal a movement from scarcity to abundance. And so, from one kind of politics to its opposite. Truth and beauty have long been aligned, here we align the Good and the Beautiful. It’s a pairing that on the surface seems natural, but at its depths can strike some dissonant chords.

Published in art culture looping music performance philosophy zettel

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