Jack Straw New Media Gallery

Fragments of the Story
An installation by Robert Millis

February 18 - April 22, 2011

Gallery Opening:
Friday, February 18, 7pm

Artist Talk:
Friday, March 18, 7pm

Jack Straw New Media Gallery
4261 Roosevelt Way NE
Seattle 98105

Gallery Hours: Monday - Friday, 9 - 5

Click the play button above to listen to our interview with Robert Millis. Click here to download the interview.

"What is human memory?" Manning asked. He gazed at the air as he spoke, as if lecturing an invisible audience - as perhaps he was. "It certainly is not a passive recording mechanism, like a digital disc or a tape. It is more like a story-telling machine. Sensory information is broken down into shards of perception, which are broken down again to be stored as memory fragments. And at night, as the body rests, these fragments are brought out from storage, reassembled and replayed. Each run-through etches them deeper into the brain’s neural structure. And each time a memory is rehearsed or recalled it is elaborated. We may add a little, lose a little, tinker with the logic, fill in sections that have faded, perhaps even conflate disparate events. In extreme cases, we refer to this as confabulation. The brain creates and recreates the past, producing, in the end, a version of events that may bear little resemblance to what actually occurred. To first order, I believe it’s true to say that everything I remember is false."
–Arthur C. Clarke

It’s surprising how much of memory is built around things unnoticed at the time.
–Barbara Kingsolver

We live in the mind, in ideas, in fragments. We no longer drink in the wild outer music of the streets - we remember only.
–Henry Miller

Fragments of the Story is in part an audio rendering of a novel by Allen Frost called The Mermaid Translation (Bird Dog Publishing, 2010). All the sounds and words of this installation are derived from this book. Actually it is less a precise rendering and more a remembering of the events this novel recounts and as such the novel provides the framework on which to hang the ideas explored in the installation. I would hazard that most of us do not simply remember things verbatim from start to finish, as a story. Rather there are fragments: snatches of dialog, sounds, interpretations, improvisations, smells, tastes, emotions, memories on top of memories, that our brains put together to form some sort of whole. This process can and often does go partially or fully awry.

I collect very old 78rpm records. To play them I have an old wind-up Victrola. To adjust the “volume” on this purely acoustic sound reproducer you must pull a knob which literally opens and shuts a door to block or muffle the sound. 78rpm records are, in a way, old memories. Victrolas store and replay these memories. This installation has almost nothing to do with Victrolas and 78rpm records but that was the starting point. From there, somehow, the leap to filing cabinets—each with their own potential resonant qualities—and to the idea of filing away memories and to the thought that viewers could open and close drawers full of auditory memories to create their own narrative or soundscape. As a composition is mediated through a performer and an audience, so sound is mediated through the equipment used to record it and the equipment used to reproduce it, just as memories are mediated and abstracted through the process of remembering.
-Robert Millis

Robert Millis is a founding member of Climax Golden Twins, Messenger Girls Trio, and AFCGT. Solo or in collaboration he has composed soundtracks, worked with choreographers, created sound installations and released numerous CDs and LPs, including the soundtrack to the horror film Session 9 (directed by Brad Anderson), the recent 120 on Etude Records, and AFCGT on Subpop. He performs solo utilizing field recordings, 78rpm ambiance, collage, guitar, old murder ballads and half remembered drones. Rob works extensively with the Dust-to-Digital and Sublime Frequencies record labels on archival projects that document traditional and folk music, including Victrola Favorites (released on the Dust-to-Digital label) and the documentary film Phi Ta Khon: Ghosts of Isan, about a Thai Buddhist ghost festival (released on DVD by Sublime Frequencies). For these and other projects he has worn several hats - cameraman, film editor, designer, etc. An experienced sound and recording engineer, he has produced several documentary CDs of music and ambiance from Asia, recorded "in the field." He received an Artist Trust Fellowship for music in 2005.

Jack Straw Productions gratefully acknowledges The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation, City of Seattle’s Office of Arts and Cultural Affairs, 4Culture King County Lodging Tax Fund, Washington State Arts Commission, National Endowment for the Arts, PONCHO, ArtsFund, and individual contributors for their support of Jack Straw Artist Programs.

The Jack Straw New Media Gallery, located in Seattle's University District at Jack Straw Productions, opened in 1999 to support artists working with visual and installation art, with an emphasis on sound. Click here to learn more about the gallery, the residency program, and previous artists.


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