Steve Roden Created The Sound

Steve Roden, listen (4’33”), 2002

I’m bereft to learn that artist Steve Roden passed away, surrounded by loved ones.

I never met Roden in person, though we got close a few times, but we had a correspondence. We mostly interacted with each other through blogging. We had some mutual/overlapping interests, including John Cage, but we also enjoyed watching each other do our own things. And I was always in awe of the things Roden did, how he thought and worked, and the artworks, music, performances and words that resulted.

When Tyler Green launched his podcast, Modern Art Notes in 2011, the only suggestion I had for him was to get some sound, and there was a guy. Turns out he was already on it. A few episodes later, Steve Roden’s droning intros and outros, made from a 1970s Italian recording of Cage’s 4’33”, became a steady ringtone for me, even more than Roden’s longer recordings. [I collect but rarely listen to music, tbh, but it’s going on rotation now.]

Roden’s blog, airform archives, got quiet in 2018, a not unusual occurrence. But it was only a year or so ago that I learned Steve was experiencing very early, and increasingly severe, Alzheimer’s. My heart first sank, selfishly, for the loss of all the work and correspodence that wouldn’t come, but then it ached for the challenges of those closest to Steve, and the burdens they faced, in care and sadness. I hope they found comfort in the community they formed, and that they find peace now, and that knowing of Steve’s influence and impact in so many ways, big and small, near and far, slight and profound, helps to lift their spirits.

For some artists, or for artists in the past, their legacies were primarily objects—paintings, sculptures, drawings, sketchbooks, books, manuscripts, artifacts—that were preserved in institutions like museums, libraries, archives, unless they weren’t. Steve Roden’s practice encompassed objects like this, and they were shown, documented, and collected in art institutions. But Roden produced so much more, and those digital traces and recordings are proxies for the interactions, connections, experiences, and memories he shared with so many people all over the world.

I’m glad to have his words, voice, music, and work to reflect on as I remember him. I hope you’ll find it meaningful to do the same.

[update: Oh, I forgot that Steve bought a collection of shells owned by Martha Graham. That’s been sitting in my head for ten years, quietly changing the way I look at collections of sea shells.]

Steve talking about his MAN Podcast compositions: Ep. 19: Mark Bradford, Steve Roden, Mar. 2012
Steve & Stephen Vitiello talking about a performance in the Rothko Chapel: Ep. 40: Darsie Alexander, Steve Roden & Stephen Vitiello, Aug. 2012
Steve talking about his shows at Vielmetter & CRG Galleries: Ep. 99: James Welling, Steve Roden, Sept. 2013
airform archives []
steve roden [bandcamp]