Scriptronics is the name of an art form -- new and noisy -- that last night was presented to a sweating, bemused public at the Fellus Gallery here.
Scriptronics is, well, different. It's a sound that you can see, a picture you can hear. Imagine a large painting on whose 14-foot-wide surface colored dots and lines and circles, triangles, squares and pentagons are sprinkled in profusion. That's what Scriptronics looks like.
Imagine, if you can, an inventive executioner who is patiently, percussively, beheading squawking pigeons on a kettledrum at National Airport. That's what Scriptronics sounds like. It isn't exactly music. You can hear it, but you can't hum it.
Scriptronics is the brainchild of two local artists, both of whom have often heard the sound of pen on paper, and of chalk on blackboard, and of rock 'n' roll. Robin Rose is one of them. He paints handsome abstracts pictures. He also plays bass, and synthesizers, too, with the Urban Verbs. Kevin MacDonald is the other. He makes lovely pencil drawings of unpopulated rooms, and he once sang with the Glands.
The paper on the wall was blank when the show began. MacDonald performed first. He put dark dots on the paper. The dots were small, but loud. Thud. Thud. Thudthudthud. That's the way they sounded. A small harmonic pick-up had been attached, with masking tape, to his fat felt-tip pen.
The duration of the first act was 2 1/2 minutes. Then Rose began to draw. The blue lines that he drew, when amplified, sounded like loud wind. The short ones went sweesh. The longer ones went sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesh. All of this, you understand, was being tape recorded. Sweesh. Thudthud. Sweesh. You get the idea.
MacDonald then drew circles. It is said that Raphael could draw compass-perfect circles with one swing of his arm. MacDonald is no Raphael, but his were pretty round. The sound on the looped tape was heard as MacDonald placed his circles in the silences between the sweeshes and the thuds.
This sort of art has precedents. The young Marcel Duchamp once cut up a piano score, pulled the notes out of a hat, and then played the result. Robert Morris, the New York sculptor, once exhibited a wooden box, with a tape recorder in it, called "Box With the Sound of its Own Making."
The picture on the wall, when at last completed, was rather pretty. The sound wasn't. The line sounds had been put through an echo chamber so that they seemed to go on and on and on. The triangles had been put through a distortion unit so that they sounded, well, pointed. The squares had been filtered: with their middle tones electronically removed, they sounded nicely hollow. The result was not melodic.
"We wanted to get away from melody," said Rose. "We want people to listen to spatial and rhythmic relationships." Rose, who is 34 years old today, describes himself as "a technological junkie. Just plug me in," he says.
"With Scriptronics," said MacDonald, "anything is possible. At least theoretically."
Last night the two artists wore dark T-shirts and jeans. Their performance was recorded by the television cameras of the Arts and Entertainment News Service and by still cameras as well. The television lights made a hot room hotter. The cameras went click. wClick. Click click. The performance was the first in a series called "Being Human" organized by Vivienne Wildes of the Fellus Gallery, 1800 Belmont Rd. NW. Michael Clark, the painter, will perform there Tuesday. His piece is called "The Life and Times of Gilbert Stuart."