JAMES HOFF - Shadows Lifted from Invisible Hands LP

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Shadows Lifted from Invisible Hands is an autobiographical record, comprised of four songs that Hoff refers to as ambient media. Each track is composed from sources drawn from his own involuntary aural landscape, specifically musical earworms and tinnitus frequencies.

Neither sound nor a daydream, the earworm (or stuck song) emblematizes music as a commercial form—immediate, ubiquitous, and persistent. Likewise, tinnitus is inaudible and unscrupulous, manifesting across a spectrum of frequencies at will. The cognitive swirling of these phenomena provides an ambivalent, internal soundtrack that scores a person’s movement through the world.

Those suffering from tinnitus or those who have grown accustomed to the “Tinnitus Effect” in movies will likely recognize the buzzing pitches on the record, but will likely not recognize the songs. Distorted and distilled, Shadows Lifted from Invisible Hands features altered versions of four commercial pop songs: Blondie’s “Heart of Glass,” David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” Madonna’s “Into the Groove,” and Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.”

Having been haunted by these songs on and off for years, Hoff tweaks the tracks, transposing and recomposing them for orchestral instrumentation. Speaking back to these involuntary echoes, these tracks go to great lengths to obfuscate their sources; to be sure not to simply re-introduce each earworm, as though they were samples. Otherwise, what’s the point? No one needs another stream.

Besides, earworms are not music, although we perceive them as such. They are non-cochlear and exist as an affective force that is neither subjective nor objective, which is to say they are an invasive—and alien—phenomenon. Like tinnitus, they are aggravated by economic, social, and environmental forces as well as emotional states, mental health, and aging. Hoff doesn’t underplay his own struggles with mental health in discussing the record—noting a long history of depression and its acuteness over the last few years, which serve as the backdrop to the composition of this record.

Scratch any pop song hard enough and you’ll find sadness underneath it. Subdermal, the songs on this record evoke a type of ephemeral weariness and despair. By recasting the original songs through their shadowy doubles, Hoff provides a window into the dark core of pop music. At the center of which lies capitalism’s desperate attempt to replicate itself through a cheap high built on echoing refrains. Just below the surface the listener finds a hangover of shadows dancing through the mind.

James Hoff is an artist living and working in New York. His work encompasses a variety of media, including sound, video, painting, and publishing. Hoff’s multidisciplinary approach begins at the user level—the level at which we interact with consumer technologies, media, and data. He has worked with computer viruses, inaudible data signals, ear worms, culture bound illnesses, dead zones, and hacked google maps as tools and framing devices for works that reimagine and expand the creative potential of digital and cultural networks beyond their economic and corporate-engineered use value. By exploiting and manufacturing technological and cognitive glitches, Hoff illuminates the social, political, and historical context of the software and media that we interact with on a daily basis.

Hoff co-founded Primary Information in 2006 to publish historical and contemporary artists’ books. The organization has published hundreds of titles, including facsimile editions of Art-Rite, Broken Music, Black Art Notes, Cornelius Cardew’s Stockhausen Serves Imperialism, Godzilla: Asian American Art Network, The New Woman’s Survival Catalog, and Womens Work as well as new works by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, DeForrest Brown Jr, Tony Conrad, Dara Birnbaum, Constance DeJong, Alexandro Segade, Martine Syms, and Flora Yin-Wong, among many others.

He has exhibited and performed at Artists Space, Bergen Kunsthall, the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard, Contemporary Arts Center (New Orleans), The Centre d’Art Contemporain (Geneva), Hessel Museum of Art, ICA London, The Kitchen, Kunsthall Oslo, The Royal Theatre of La Monnaie, MassMOCA, MoMA/PS1, Museum of Contemporary Art (Denver), and the Onassis Cultural Center, among many others.