Ian Patrick Miller, Transistor

American, b. 1977, playing from Seattle, WA, USA

Ian Patrick Miller’s work has appeared in a number of literary journals and magazines, including Devil’s Lake, Ghost Town, War, Literature & the Arts: An International Journal of the Humanities, Confrontation, and the Massachusetts Review. As the 2013 Perfect Day Publishing Visiting Writer and a finalist in DIAGRAM’s 2013 Innovative Fiction Contest, his writing has been further recognized with fellowships from the Summer Literary Seminars, residences at the Banff Centre, and a scholarship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. Since 2009, he has been on faculty at Weill Cornell Medical College-Qatar, the international branch campus of Cornell University, where he lectures in the Writing Seminars. During his tenure, he has twice been honored with an Excellence in Education Award as selected by the student body. Ian lives in Doha and Portland with his wife and daughter.

Thoughts on the Telephone process

I started thinking about the painting like a photograph, perceiving it like a photograph by what Roland Barthes calls the studium and punctum—studium being that which I like or don’t like, and punctum as “that accident which pricks me … bruises me, is poignant to me” (Camera Lucida 26-27).

Note the stress fractures at the top of the receiver, just above the radio dial; there are two of them, jutting upwards like desiccated trees. I kept coming back to these fissures in the machine. And then, a week or so later, my friend and I were drinking. It was Thursday evening on the Arabian Peninsula, the end to a long week. We were drinking and he told me this story. He is a good friend—a large, gentle man—and I like him very much, but I didn’t know what to do with this story. He didn’t either. He held it out, naked before us. I wanted to cover it up, push it away. He grew up in a very hard place. But that didn’t explain anything. The violence transcended matter. It was fucking inexplicable. I thought of that woman on the side of the road, wailing into the bundle of cloth that had held her child. I thought of my wife and my daughter (born in July, our first). I thought of the boys in the truck. I thought of my father. I thought of that dream which I swear is real. And I thought of the stress fractures. I couldn’t turn away. I had to turn away.

Once the piece was said (and I do think of the piece vis-à-vis its orality), it became increasingly difficult to add or subtract to it. I suppose, tautologically, sound is the sound it makes. Sound as object, sound as subject—like the people in “Transistor,” object and subject.

I really appreciate the opportunity to participate in this project. And I would like to thank the artist as well as Nathan Langston and everyone at Satellite Collective. “Transistor” does not stand on its own. It’s part of a larger fabric, a patch or a thread.

Painting by Gülcan Şenyuvalı