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  The multimedia magazine in a box  

About Aspen


What it was and how it began

About the phonograph recordings


What's in the audio exhibits

About the films


What's in the movie exhibits


This is a web version of Aspen, a multimedia magazine of the arts published by Phyllis Johnson from 1965 to 1971. Each issue came in a customized box filled with booklets, phonograph recordings, posters, postcards — one issue even included a spool of Super-8 movie film. It's all here.

About Aspen

Aspen was conceived by Phyllis Johnson, a former editor for Women's Wear Daily and Advertising Age. While wintering in Aspen, Colorado, she got the idea for a multimedia magazine, designed by artists, that would showcase “culture along with play.” So in the winter of 1965, she published her first issue. “We wanted to get away from the bound magazine format, which is really quite restrictive,” said Johnson.


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For the audio exhibits, you will need an mp3 player (QuickTime will do) or Real Player. The movie exhibits require either QuickTime or Real Player G2.

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Two of the interactive exhibits require Macromedia's Flash plug-in. Another requires QuickTime.

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Each issue had a new designer and editor. “Aspen,” Johnson said, “should be a time capsule of a certain period, point of view, or person.” The subject matter of issue number 1 and issue number 2 stayed close to the magazine's namesake ski spa, with features on Aspen's film and music festivals, skiing, mountain wildlife, and local architecture. Andy Warhol and David Dalton broke that mold with issue number 3, the superb Pop Art issue, devoted to New York art and counterculture scenes. Quentin Fiore designed issue number 4, a McLuhanesque look at our media-made society. The next issue, a double issue number 5+6, was an imaginative, wide-ranging look at conceptual art, minimalist art, and postmodern critical theory. Issue number 6A, a freebie sent to ever-patient subscribers, was a review of the performance art scene centered at New York's Judson Gallery. Next came issue number 7, exploring new voices in British arts and culture. Issue number 8, designed by George Maciunas and edited by Dan Graham, was dominated by artists of the Fluxus group. Issue number 9 plumbed the art and literature of the psychedelic drug movement. The last Aspen, issue number 10, was devoted to Asian art and philosophy.

If Aspen was an art director's dream, it was also an advertiser's nightmare. The ads, stashed at the bottom of the box, were easily ignored. And although Aspen was supposed to publish quarterly, in reality the publication date of each issue was as much of a surprise as the contents. “All the artists are such shadowy characters,” publisher Johnson said, “that it takes months to track them down.” After issue 5+6, there were no more ads in the magazine.

Perhaps Aspen was a folly, but it was a vastly pleasurable one, with a significant place in art history. The list of contributors included some of the most interesting artists of the 20th Century. And as an examplar of creative publishing, Aspen was a wonder. Its contents, however, are all but lost: few copies of Aspen have survived. The aim of this web site is to make these contents accessible again.

About the phonograph recordings

Almost every issue of Aspen included at least one phonograph recording. In all, the magazine issued 13 flexi-discs showcasing 24 artists who ran the gamut of avant garde literature, art, and sonic experimentation. Except for two recordings — a jam by the Bill Evans Trio and a reading by William S. Burroughs — all were made expressly for Aspen. All the Aspen recordings are included here in forty audio exhibits, in both Real Audio and mp3 formats. (You will find two links to each mp3 file, “mp3” and “alt mp3”. Try both and use the one that works best for you.)

The recordings can be divided into six categories: spoken word recordings, electronic music, classical music, psychedelic music, jazz music, and avant-pop music.


All of the Aspen recordings are included here in forty exhibits. To listen to them, you will need an mp3 player (like QuickTime) or Real Player.

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SPOKEN WORD: 9 artists, 14 recordings. Recordings of the spoken voice make up fourteen exhibits. Eleven of these capture the voice of an author reading from a previously published work: you can hear the voice of artist Marcel Duchamp, Constructivist Naum Gabo, “Dada drummer” Richard Huelsenbeck, dancer Merce Cunningham, and writers William S. Burroughs, Christopher Logue, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. The other three recordings are The Young Turtle Assymetries, a one-of-a-kind performance piece for five voices, by Jackson MacLow; a text by Samuel Beckett, read by an actor; and dancer Merce Cunningham's Further Thoughts, consisting of extemporized responses to (unrecorded) questions from an interviewer.

ELECTRONIC: 6 artists, 6 recordings. Experiments in electronic music, vintage 1960s, make up six recordings. In Memoriam Edgar Varèse, by Mario Davidovsky, is accessible and amusing; Horn, by Gordon Mumma, is a daunting earful; Fontana Mix and Drift Study, by John Cage and LaMonte Young, are more enjoyable in concept than in production. Loop, by John Cale, is a clever exercise for guitar and feedback that curves back on itself in two ways: the final groove in the record is continuous, repeating endlessly, and if you restart the recording you will find that the closing, endlessly repeating riff leads off the record too. In Radio Play, John Lennon attempts to extract melodies from a radio tuner, using only the volume knob.

CLASSICAL: 3 artists, 11 recordings including 3 of commentary. Three Classical musicians are included. Fin-de-siècle Russian composer Alexander Scriabin is presented in four excerpts, accompanied by three short comments on the music. The other two Classical artists are contemporary: in Morton Feldman's The King of Denmark, long silences are punctuated by waves of percussion, while John Tavener's Three Songs for Surrealists are atmospheric works for voice and other instruments.

PSYCHEDELIC: 3 artists, 3 recordings. Three recordings drew inspiration from the 1960s craze for psychedelic drugs. White Wind features interesting raga-styled acoustic guitar playing by Peter Walker, who accompanied Tim Leary's touring expo of the expanded mind in 1966. The other two recordings are The Joyous Lake, an enthusiastic Eastern-influenced hootenanny, and Spontaneous Sound, a piece played on a collection of unusual indigenous musical instruments, sequentially and more or less at random. Both were included in the Psychedelic issue no. 9.

JAZZ: 2 groups of musicians, 2 recordings. Two recordings are in the Jazz genre, in contrasting styles: Israel exemplifies bop Jazz, while Saint James Infirmary Blues, featuring the clarinet of Peanuts Hucko, is in a more old-fashioned Dixieland style.

AVANT-POP: 1 artist, 4 recordings. The term “avant-pop” is used to make a genre into which Yoko Ono can be fitted. She sings three songs; if you're not a fan, the poignant Let's Go On Flying could make you into one. Also included is a collaboration between Ono and John Lennon (Lennon is barely audible), chanting the texts of newspaper stories about themselves.

About the films

Aspen no. 5+6 included a reel of motion picture film, in the Super-8mm format. On it were four short films by well-known artists, for about fifteen minutes of footage. All four films are included here in both QuickTime and Real Player formats. Though Aspen's film was silent, you can choose a soundtrack from among the forty audio exhibits.


To Play a Soundtrack

Though the Aspen film was silent, you can choose a soundtrack from among any of Aspen's forty audio recordings.

To play a soundtrack along with the movie, launch two media players at the same time. If your media player can't do that, get QuickTime.


Rhythm 21 is a study in geometric composition by Hans Richter, in which variously-shaded rectangles grow, shrink, and alter their proportions. For a soundtrack, I like John Cale's Loop; Mario Davidovsky's In Memoriam Edgar Varese is a good choice too.

Lightplay, by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, is a montage of shining machine parts, filmed through a faceted lens and in multiple exposures. The apparatus on display is the artist's “Light display machine,” a kinetic sculpture constructed 1922-30. For a soundtrack, Alexander Scriabin's Prelude D Flat Major, Op. 11, No. 9 and his Prelude E Major, Op. 11 No. 15 are almost equally lovely. Neatly, they are of almost the same duration as the film clip.

In Site, by Robert Morris and Stan VanDerBeek, a performer unveils a new incarnation of Manet's Olympia, and plays with a large piece of building material. For a soundtrack, play The King of Denmark, by Morton Feldman, until the film ends.

Linoleum was conceived by Robert Rauschenberg as an ad hoc experiment in dance, “pedestrian movement,” and stage design. Among its highlights was a performer scooting across the stage “encased in chicken wire, surrounded by live white chickens, while munching on fried chicken,” while Rauschenberg and another performer layed wet noodles end-to-end across the stage (Rauschenberg: Art & Life, by Mary Lynn Katz). For a soundtrack, I like John Tavener's Song for Salvador Dali. It is too short by about a minute; one solution is to replay the audio until the film ends.




Adapted for the web by Andrew Stafford.
All copyrights are the property of their respective owners.
This website is dedicated to the memory of Enrico Chandoha.

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