EXTENSIONS | REVIEWS
“Attention must be paid,” says Linda Loman in Death of a Salesman, and though the words are uttered in reference to her husband Willy, the words could be said in reference to a great many things in our memory-impoverished age—cultural history among them. Too many of a country's great figures threaten to fade away if they're not kept alive in one way or another, and that general principle applies as much to Canada as anywhere else, given how rarely names such as Northrop Frye, Irving Layton, Margaret Laurence, and Robertson Davies form part of the current national conversation. With that in mind, we applaud the efforts of sound artist Mark Templeton and film-maker Kyle Armstrong for doing their part in keeping the memory of Marshall McLuhan alive in the form of the audio-visual production Extensions. It's eminently possible that someone, after being exposed to the thirty-seven-minute work, will be curious enough to seek out The Gutenberg Galaxy or Understanding Media as a result.
Extensions, the inaugural release on Templeton's Edmonton-based Graphical imprint and available in an edition of 300 (gatefold LP and DVD), is a physical embodiment of McLuhan's oft-quoted “The medium is the message” in one very real sense: as it was designed to be experienced as both an audio and visual experience, one's experience of it would suffer if it were broached as a purely audio work only—even if Templeton's contribution to the project certainly holds up when listened to sans visuals. But both dimensions are integral for Extensions to be appreciated in its intended form, given the degree of synchronicity between the sounds and images as well as the fact that the work's content incorporates both original and sampled film and audio.
Armstrong brings an experimental non-narrative approach to the heavily manipulated images. Vertical colour bars flow across the screen, and excerpts from McLuhan's writings (sample: “Depth means relating perfectly obvious things to perfectly obvious things”) accompany colour-treated footage of landscapes, faces, numbers, astronauts, nuclear blasts, and so on. Oft distressed, blurred, and obscured by bleaches, dyes, scratches, and moiré-like effects, the multi-layered display flickers in tandem with the music, itself a stuttering stream of voice snippets, woozy horn phrases, and glitchy, turntable-like scratching. Fleeting glimpses of McLuhan himself—the footage lifted from an old CBC interview or National Film Board profile—appear amidst the fluctuating flow, and the work concludes with the man himself asking, “Where would you look for the message in an electric light?”
Templeton's sound design is far removed from the kind featured on his 2007 Anticipate albumStanding on a Hummingbird, whose electro-acoustic material often orients itself around guitar playing. By comparison, the collage-like music on Extensions is much more abstract in character, and anything so familiar as an acoustic guitar doesn't figure into the presentation. However, the treatments he and Armstrong apply aren't gratuitous but appropriate, given McLuhan's prophetic views on technology and media and their impact on our “global village.” - textura - November 2014
8/10. In an attempt to dissuade us from ever posting on Twitter again, conceptual electronica bandits Mark Templeton and Kyle Armstrong combine forces on Extensions, an audio representation of Canadian media commentator Marshall McLuhan’s predicted ‘digital collective consciousness’. If such a thing as cerebral noise exists, this record has kicked the scene off to a great start in 2015.
Speaking of years, try to imagine music in 2014. Bring all of those cute little albums and singles together into one mental picture, and what do you get? Probably a mess. A fragmented, homogenous mess, not unlike this paragraph. There’ll be snatches of a song here, a riff there, but more often than not it’ll be a distinct patchwork containing tiny bits of them all. This is more or less what these two dudes have tried to capture on Extensions in order to pay tribute to their prophet.
It’s essentially an ambient album featuring interplay between low undulating drone loops and irregular stutters of wildly sourced samples from degraded old media. There’s quite a mechanical tone to it all, chock full of crunchy clunks, hisses, and unchanging tones arranged into a seemingly random, but ever-changing collage. Office paté enthusiast Kim was saying that it sounds very sci-fi, Ian was saying that it sounds like Crunchy Nut. What a silly boy.
Occasionally a rhythmic pattern of blips emerges, but the majority of the time it’s a murky experimental melee like Frank Bretschneider + Steve Roden’s recent release. The creepy apocalypse haze tones of some of the more abstract Boards of Canada tracks is present too, to get you worried about all of the words of humanity coalescing into one big meaningless digital cesspool. Including these. - Norman Records - January 2015
8/10. For the first release on his newly minted Graphical label, Mark Templeton presents an LP + DVD collaboration with video artist Kyle Armstrong that draws inspiration from media theorist Marshall McLuhan's ideas of the "collective digital consciousness." Templeton, whose excellent early releases tended towards complex and precise cut and paste edits of instrumental pieces, leapt into a less controlled and melodic realm with Jealous Heart in 2013. On Extensions, he continues along this organic "played rather than made" path, finding intersections of music, noise and information that perfectly suggest the background electronic saturation of our day to day.
Even (and maybe especially) without Armstrong's accompanying visual pieces (not included in the review package) Templeton's flowing collages open the floodgates to personal interpretations both emotional and cerebral. And for all the big-brained baggage packed beneath the work, Extensions is an enjoyable, meditative, listening experience you don't need a master's degree to appreciate. (Graphical) - Eric Hill for Exclaim! - January 2015
After a bit of a delay, Mark Templeton inaugurates his new label Graphical Recordings with the release of Extensions, an audio-visual collaboration with filmmaker Kyle Armstrong. A 12” LP and DVD, this fine debut draws inspirations from fellow Canadian Marshall McLuhan, whoseUnderstanding Media is now half a century old. The duo, both based in Edmonton, Alberta, use McLuhan’s aphoristic insights as catalysts for the movements that make up Extensions. Both artists explore the materiality of their respective media, treating their instruments and raw material as the eponymous extensions, favoring media specificity over conveying signified meanings. The two may also be working together as extensions of one another, the final product taking a form that is the result of the interplay of audio and visual reciprocally influencing one another. Rather than a tedious intellectual exercise in conveying McLuhan’s ideas, which would be somewhat ironic for the man who famously argued that the “medium is the message,” the pair instead use his reflections as a launching pad for a particular kind of engagement.
Templeton’s earlier work was often characterized by a very deliberate clicks-and-cuts style, approaching glitch but maintaining a dominant impressionistic electro-acoustic component. His instrumentals took form compositionally through editing, one suspects, seemingly finely wrought and carefully considered. 2013’s Jealous Heart opened things up a bit, feeling looser and perhaps more improvised. He has worked previously with Ezekiel Honig’s Anticipate Recordings, a label which also features Nicola Ratti, fittingly as Templeton’s aesthetic falls somewhere in between Honig and Ratti. Not to overstate my case, but I make note of Templeton’s association with Ratti –working with Anticipate, performing at the same festivals, on short tours, promoting each other’s records –since considering their parallel evolutions might be illuminating.
Kyle Armstrong is a filmmaker who specialized in short, non-narrative cinema, often working with super8, 16mm, and manipulated video. His techniques of altering film by hand include use of “bleaches, dyes, scratches, and paint” to transform his footage and reappropriate existing images, as exemplified by his critically acclaimed short film Magnetic Reconnection. Armstrong and Templeton have collaborated previously over the past several years, including on the short “Carved and Cared For.” Their collaboration on Extensions is certainly the most sophisticated and interesting of their projects together thus far, clearly the result of a successful and intuitive partnership.
As critics and as audiences we can (and should) engage in an analysis of media that goes beyond content, something Extensions invites us to consider. Again, for a record memorializing the man who stressed the importance of media specificity, I wonder about my ability to properly consider this vinyl record and DVD through an mp3 and streaming video press kit. That said, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to the audio from Extensions divorced from the images, on headphones and on my home soundsystem. Perhaps it is better for all of us to memorialize McLuhan by attending to the audio-visual document itself, and not over analyze the reference to Canada’s most famous media theorist.
Structurally, Extensions feels most complete as an audio-visual project. This is clearly the intention, as the two are clearly working together and neither feels quite sufficient divorced from the other. Still, this presents an opportunity to play out McLuhan’s hot/cold distinction, because inevitably we will listen to the vinyl or digital files divorced from the intended context.
Sonically, we’re not miles away from Handcut, the critically praised Bellows LP that Nicola Ratti and Giuseppe Ielasi produced through live improvisation with old LPs and contact microphones. I even hear echoes of Ielasi’s Stunt series, in the rhythmic and textured loops that comprise this record. That said, Extensions is unique, more thoroughly composed and structured while incorporating the freedom of improvisation and happy accidents of its media being exploited for aesthetic gain.
At times Extensions is operating in very abstract territory, full of noise, static, and blurred sounds and images. Other places tend to be more minimal and electronic, with reverb and saturation extending each moment into one another. There is recognizable use of samples, in the audio as well as the visual. A brief descending melody of looped brass pitched down, the extraneous sound of vinyl or tape, the grain of film, images of the sky, a field, numbers counting down. Excerpts of McLuhan lecturing occasionally emerge, fragmented and decaying as they stutter and disappear before expressing a full thought. The images run the gamut from abstract and oversaturated to realistic. Moving bars of light become abstract color clouds, flashing lights, a pastoral view through a window frame and back again. In between movements, epigraphs from McLuhan frame the various ‘scenes,’ adding an additional sense of narrative.
Extensions is fairly loosely related to some of McLuhan’s ideas, especially the notion of technological devices as processes which extend our abilities, rather than just conceives them as mere instruments or tools. The binary of the audio and visual also calls to mind contrasting “Hot” and “Cold” media. To oversimplify what is a rather open-ended and dynamic process, McLuhan’s conceived of some media as being “hot” when they emphasize one sense in high definition, requiring little audience participation. On the other hand, a medium is considered “cold” when it necessitates more audience engagement, utilizing multiple senses and often containing less data. Hot media engenders fragmentation while cold media produce holistic patterns. One might fruitfully contemplate this concept when considering the difference between experiencing the DVD compared with solely listening to the LP alone. In the end, McLuhan has identified a shift in thinking about media in terms of their effects and not their intended meaning, and Extensions is no doubt successful in affecting its audience. - Joseph Sannicandro for A Closer Listen - January 2015
‘Extensions’ is the inaugural release on Templeton’s new Graphical label, and man, right out of the gate they are killing it. This 12” + DVD combo release is a tribute to Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian author and media theorist. As with last year’s ‘Jealous Heart’ LP, Templeton has this fantastic way of utilizing tape manipulation and found sound that makes the memories of a bygone time drip right out of your speakers. Kyle Armstrong’s visual component of the release is comprised of warped film and blurred imagination that is the perfect compliment to both the audio and to the underlying themes of technology and over-extension present in the release.
Check it out at Graphical. The LP is available to pre-order in an edition of 300 (and currently at a discount) and first 100 copies come with a limited edition postcard, with 20 different postcards in all. - OMG Vinyl - December 2014
Last December, Steve gave us a heads-up about Extensions, the collaborative LP+DVD release from Graphical Recordings, which is a new work of sound and vision from sound-ist Mark Templeton and visual-ist Kyle Armstrong, all based on the writings of famed media theorist Marshall McLuhan. Today, we’re privileged with the opportunity to share a full selection from the piece. “Circumnavigation” provides an expertly rendered patchwork of dark imagery — a series of overlain and effected stock-footage clips that seems to represent a hazy view of the natural world as suffocated by technology. Templeton’s eerie backdrop of audio is the perfect companion here, brooding and building textural digital noise that surrounds an undercurrent of soft synthetic plains to provide both a kind of forlorn, ambient stasis as well as an uncanny sense of forward motion and narrative. - Crawford Philleo for Secret Decoder - January 2015
I’ve opened a door I shouldn’t have. The world is now rushing at me quicker than my brain can process it, with magma flow flickering out of hue as I stall under the weight of information in excess. Sensory data hits me like the pressurised output of a hose. Horizons lines fracture and fold into eachother, rocket thrusters pour light into my eyes, submarine sonar dialogues occur over seas of vinyl scratch and misplaced breath. The planet is a shattered mosaic. This collaboration between Mark Templeton (audio) and Kyle Armstrong (video) is based on the work of media scholar Marshall McLuhan, whose quotes appear throughout the film as black, interjectory stills coupled by silence and urgently red or blue text:
“In an age of multiple and massive innovations, obsolescence becomes the major obsession.”
This particular quote flashes up after a string orchestra is heard flickering, like a dying light bulb, to the inevitable end of its lifespan. Throughout much of the piece I feel as though I’ve been catapulted into the sky, where the passing of time and my sense of location are ruptured by an onslaught of motion and sudden weightlessness; lens flare dances with faint human silhouettes and a background of dimly burning moonlight, soft and disturbing, while estranged locked grooves ride the rims of toppling metal pans.
“Myth is truth in hyperspeed.”
Perhaps this is what the world feels like when the connection between technology and human perception thickens before the body is ready for it. Extensions is a melancholic, technicolor force-feeding – a catalogue of things dying or falling into horrible lifeless limbo, of natural life repainted beyond recognition, of sonic artefact falling down a funnel of tampered chronology and fictitious acoustic space. And yet it’s not only the sounds and images that scare me. The piece is riddled with the blemishes of analogue mediums, be it vinyl pops or the alien bacterium that scatter upon degrading film reel. I fear that these blemishes still exist in the digital age, albeit insidiously closer to our skin. - ATTN: MAGAZINE - January 2015
Ambient musician Mark Templeton and filmmaker Kyle Armstrong are the latest to pay tribute to McLuhan, who died in 1980. Their collaboration, Extensions, is a haunting abstract of original and sampled sound and video. Shuddering rhythms, chopped vocals and snippets of spoken-word dialogue intermingle with shots of wires, blurry figures, clouds, rocket ships and some of McLuhan’s quotes, including: “To say that ‘the camera cannot lie’ is merely to underline the multiple deceits that are now practised in its name.”
Some of Armstrong’s multiple deceits include shots of what could be seen as either a field or a lake, wafts of smoke or underwater shadows, an upside mountain or the underside of a whale. Such duplicity also extends to the ambient soundtrack, partly composed of manipulated audio from stock film footage. “Kyle would send me sound files from films and I’d use them as sources,” says Templeton. “He wouldn’t tell me where the footage came from, but I didn’t really want to necessarily know in case it subconsciously affected how I approached it.”
The pair first performed their work at one of the Art Gallery of Alberta’s Refinery parties in 2014. As of Jan. 28, Extensions will be available on DVD (and LP), the first release on Templeton’s new label, Graphical Recordings, or graphicalrecordings.com. - Sandra Sperounos, Edmonton Journal - January 2015