Perambulating the Bounds

Friday, June 29, 2007

Put the blindfold on

This Sunday, the Spanish sound artist Francisco Lopez is going to do a performance at Ruby Green. Jonathan Marx’s article on it in the Tennessean did a good job of explaining the gist of the performance. Lopez constructs complex sounds from industrial and natural field recordings that he plays back in environments he plans carefully. I’ve only heard clips, but his recordings seem to push out a fluid stream of sound that takes on shifting characteristics that bring to mind various possibilities for source material but ultimately confound associations. His goal is to move towards non-representational sound. In a recent interview he described it in terms solidly rooted in cultural history:

“Ecstasy sounds good to me as one possible descriptor (there are some other possible ones) of the immersive experience in sound -not document- I'm often involved with in the work with sound, both in the solitude of the field recording or the studio, and in the live performances. I'm definitely engaged on a quest for 'losing myself' and being 'confounded' by that immersion. All of this speaks of an ineffable perception of the sonic/music experience, which was probably best described by the expression 'belle confusion' in the conception of absolute music of some poets of the Romanticism. Music/sound can be foreseen in an amazingly wide variety of ways, especially when the conception of music can include any possible sound and any possible way of using it. From all of these, I find particularly uninteresting those perspectives centered on communication and representation, and particularly appealing those focusing on the instinctive / non-rational aspect of sound. To me, this is precisely the best feature of music, to be away from language and specific meaning. It's a quality of immense potential and strength, and it is sadly dissipated very often by multiple attempts at connecting music with external purposes or unnecessary additional elements, like the multi-media fad. This is actually a historical debate that spans centuries of discussion, and I guess there's something natural in human nature that pulls music to other less-free realms. I naturally do the contrary.”

His reference to Romanticism makes a point I feel strongly about, that noise music and the like involve an extreme, almost unbearable commitment to the emotional potential of sound. To listen, you have to let yourself feel directly. You have to abandon rational guards. The music that passes for emotional, certain kinds of pop songs for instance, all involve tons of calculation and professional polish that gets in between people and sound for the most part. I think outsiders see this music in ways that the term “experimental” might suggest, pseudo-scientific and intellectualized. Of course I'm playing right into that with the picture I chose to include from the press materials. There was another one I was going to insert as well, but Blogger doesn't seem to like Tiff format.

To encourage this immersion experience, Lopez’ performances occur in darkness with the audience wearing blindfolds. This should push people to concentrate on the sound, but I would imagine it may also produce anxiety, and even some weird overtones of hostage-taking. The audience clearly has to surrender itself to the experience orchestrated by the artist. But isn’t that always the case, if a work has any power? Most of the time the art and artist take over the audience more unobtrusively, or within the bounds of familiar performance conventions.

One of the reasons to go to this show is because John Sharp is organizing it. Given the quality of his own sound work as Mr. Natural and the connections he has with musicians around the world, John is a trustworthy guide. If he thinks it is worth something, it probably is.

The show has a 9:00 PM start time, with 3 other groups on the bill, including Harmaline, Leslie Keffer and Black Natural, a collaboration between John Sharp and Graham Moore. Ruby Green is at 514 Fifth Ave. South, just off Demonbreun.

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