It's ironic that musicians are persistently identified as "artists" in the commercial domain, where music is likewise termed "product" and longevity is seldom a direct consequence of artistry. A liberal approach to categorization cannot mask the public's suspicion of creative individuals who attempt to branch out.
Whenever an established musician picks up a paint brush, be it Miles Davis or Paul McCartney, cynics and art snobs at large are inclined to dismiss the endeavor as a vanity project. Such mistrust is warranted by the amateurish handiwork of many popular entertainers who dare to dally in new art forms, despite their already questionable talent in the field for which they are known.
Be that as it may, artistic cross-fertilization has been the basis for noteworthy achievement throughout history, from the European Renaissance period to 20th Century movements like Dada and Fluxus. Moreover, the development of recording technology has facilitated the emergence of "sound art," a comparatively new medium that mingles visual art with music.
Eye & Ear: Artist <-> Musician contains music in the conventional sense of the word, but it functions best as a work of sound art. A Chicago gallery initially issued it as the companion piece to an exhibition spotlighting multitalented artists and performers. The suggestion of conflict in the gallery's name, Corbett vs. Dempsey, is further illustrated by the album's heterogeneity. The sheer notion of a seven-track compilation spanning 1943 to 2004, with the interdisciplinary aspirations of its contributors being the only unifying factor, is enough to elicit raised eyebrows.
Alas, Eye & Ear is something of a disappointment, not for what it includes but for what it leaves out. There are no performances by Guillermo Gregorio, Anthony Braxton, Ikue Mori or Sam Prekop, all of whom were featured in the exhibition. The tracks by the performers who do appear, while not necessarily bad, are hardly representative. Also, without graphic reproductions of the visual works discussed in the liner notes, the disc lacks a certain degree of context.
The earliest pieces are, fittingly, the most conventional. Michael Snow provides piano accompaniment for clarinetist Pee Wee Russell on a 1950 performance of "Jada," which merely whets the appetite for filmmaker Snow's more adventurous piano excursions. Sun Ra's 1956 vocal rendition of "I Don't Believe in Love" is unaccompaniedRa capella?and seems to have been included primarily for its novelty.
The track list grows more intriguing as it shifts to the 21st Century. "No. 2" effectively bridges the album's chronological gap by blending Sebi Tramontana's unmanipulated trombone work with audio artist Lou Mallozzi's scratchy lo-fi samples. Hal Rammel's "Weave & Daze" is less interesting; if there is narrative significance to Rammel's lengthy succession of toolshed sounds, it's not easy to decipher.
Eye & Ear is more than the sum of its parts. Most of the tracks are too uneventful to stand on their own, but a keen aesthetic approach to sequencing transforms this recording into a fascinatingly abstract audio documentary.