Linea de abandono excerpt
The convergence of music and sculpture through a process of interactive collaboration and the use of digital technology in making the sound piece "Ligne d'abandon".
Ligne d'abandon is a sound piece I produced in collaboration with the Mexican Artist Gabriel Orozco. It was shown at the Chantal Crousel Gallery in Paris during Orozco's exhibition in December-January of 1993-94.
As I discuss this sound piece and the process I undertook in collaboration with Orozco, I would like to place emphasis on the term "convergence." The word denotes two lines that lead toward the same point; the action of heading toward a common goal. The term is also applied when referring to the resemblance among different species that do not descend from the same ancestral species. This last definition, employed in the theory of evolution, explains how two disciplines as different as music and sculpture can converge at a point that reflects a single concern and the same content.
The primary difference between music and sculpture is the temporal aspect of each discipline. In the former, time is disclosed by the artist; in the latter, time is disclosed by the public. In conceiving the piece, I asked myself if it would be possible to find a middle ground between these two different approaches to time, and by working interactively with Gabriel Orozco, I discovered that one thing we achieved was finding this middle ground. I think that this is reflected in our work, which features compositional structure and different possibilities as to interacting with the public. These interactions take place by using silence as an important element, but the final result - the structure of sound and silence in the piece - was determined by our mutual emphasis on the conceptual characteristics of the "sound object" (Schaeffer, 1966) which served as a central factor in our work. In order to be developed, these concepts were necessarily linked to an action that could only take place in the domain of technology. The action was the manipulation or transformation of a natural sound object through digital means.
We know that at present various digital techniques have been developed so as to work with sound in the way an artist uses different tools to work with stone or other materials to create a sculpture. This new approach to sound has narrowed the gap between the disciplines of music and the visual arts, and it has also refigured the notion of creating music by way of noise. The Futurist Luigi Russolo first developed these ideas at the beginning of the century. Later on, composers such as Edgar Varese and John Cage were crucial in extending music so as to include a variety of noises. But it wasn't until the appearance of the tape recorder that concrete musicians in France began to work with noise in a systematic way. Finally, the ideas developed by Murray Schafer about interacting with and being aware of our "soundscape" (Schafer, 1964) at last dispelled any remaining doubts about using a wide range of sounds in music.
Accepting noise as a musical element has forced music to converge with other disciplines such as poetry, theater, architecture, performance, and other forms of art, which use sound as an important element. Also, composers have had to address conceptual ideas related to noise. The sound of a water stream, in addition to being a physical timbre, is also the concept of water, which conveys the ideas and symbols related to it. This has forced composers who use noise in music to think in ways not unlike visual artists who constantly work with signs and symbols.
At present, the computer has given way to an extremely rich and innovative potential for transforming sound. It has also opened up the possibility of altering the symbolic meaning of sound. On this account, composers run the risk of getting lost in technique, instead of focusing on what they mean to communicate by transforming a specific sound object. Through my experience as a sonic designer, I have found that every concrete sound can be disclosed in time by exploiting its physical qualities (timbre) and symbolic resonance (Rocha, 1995). In this sense, not every kind of manipulation is favorable when aiming to express the essence of the original sound. In other words, not every transformation can make germinate the seed which contains the hidden and potential characteristics of that sound.
In reading the work of Carl Jung, I have found that just as we can find archetypal symbols in the images of our dreams (Jung, 1964), we can also find these type of symbols emerging from our internal sound images. Naturally, we don't usually dream with sound, but daily environmental sounds plunge into our unconscious even if we fail to notice, and some of the archetypes created by these sound images have been transmitted to us genetically since prehistoric times. One of these ancient sound symbols could well be the sound of an earthquake, which can reflect a sense of imbalance and destruction. Other sound images, such as machine noises, have come to us in more recent times. If I have brought up Jung's theory about the psyche, it is because art often has been produced through the use of archetypal symbols.
But returning to the issue of technology as a means of transformation, what happens when we manipulate a physical sound object? In addition to transforming the timbre, we alter the archetypal symbols that belonged to it. By so doing, metaphors emerge together with new symbols related to the original. We can always make all kinds of transformations that give way to new and interesting sounds, but if they are forced out of their matrix, these new sounds can also lose the imprint of their original ancestor. This is why I believe in discovering the intrinsic characteristics of a sound without losing sight of its essential physical quality (timbre) and symbolic nature, in the way an individual would have to find the true archetypal symbols related to his or her dreams in order to find the missing link between the conscious and unconscious worlds.
The process that takes place in the dreamer suggests an analogy that can be established in an artwork. The eternal quest for any discipline is the search for balance and connection between form and content. Through my personal experience I have come to the conclusion that emphasis should always be placed on content and that only then can we find the proper container or form for it. Perhaps I should speak of discovering form, because when there is a concentration on content, form arises in a natural way. In the case of our sound piece, the form resulted from working with content through technological means. Gabriel Orozco and myself wrote the remaining text that follows. It addresses the genesis and structure of the sound piece Ligne d'abandon in order to clarify the ideas I have exposed so far.
"Ligne d'abandon is a sound piece based on the noise generated by the screeching wheels of a car. This noise and its relationship to a possible accident intrigued us. The uncertainty as to what can happen afterwards: the screeching noise generates a range of feelings related to the void, suspended time, or total collapse.
We were also drawn to the characteristics of its source, and the possibility of expressing this aurally: the friction of the car wheel on the pavement, the rubber tire grazing against a hard surface, being eroded and leaving its imprint (as related to Orozco's work Piedra que cede and La extension del Reflejo). Moreover, we chose this noise because of its intrinsic quality in terms of timbre: its high frequency, which is piercing, can also produce anguish.
We decided to extend the physical and metaphoric qualities of the screeching wheel by manipulating the sound with a computer. By stretching and contracting it into different lengths with a "Phase Vocoder," and by also multiplying the unmodified sound (Convolution), the spectral characteristics were strengthened. The sound was then filtered to lighten the presence of high frequencies. From the original sound, which lasted seven seconds, and the longest stretching, which lasted forty seconds, we chose seven different transformations of various lengths that span from forty seconds (the longest) to two seconds (the shortest).
We then structured the piece by using two series of time durations. One of the series consists of five sounds in decreasing order, the last always altered into one of three possibilities. The other series consists of eight durations of silence in decreasing order, each silent duration coupled with a sound. As a result, we initiated a process that begins with long sounds and silent durations being reduced. Since there are eight silent durations and only five sound durations, at a certain point the sounds begin to drift out of phase as they combine in an "accidental" way. When this mechanism comes to an end, it begins again with the five isolated sounds in decreasing time order. The whole process lasts for thirty minutes.
In the sway of sounds drifting out of phase and the silent durations, there are long moments in which nothing is heard, and others in which all sounds are combined together. "Accident" and "Chance" generate their own orbit. On the other hand, the static qualities of the sound give the piece stability and a sense of continuum, even if at certain moments there is a strange simultaneity of events. During the actual playing of the piece in a specific space the long periods of silence are relevant, since people can come in and out of the space without knowing at what point the piece is playing. (The piece is played continuously, so we advise you to activate the repeat function of your CD player.) However, Ligne d'abandon can also be listened to in linear form, from beginning to end, thanks to five isolated sounds that mark the beginning.
It might be worth mentioning that this sound work was developed parallel to the process of making La DS. In that piece, a Citroen DS was spliced lengthwise along two parallel lines, removing the center space (62 cm.). The two halves of the automobile were then reassembled. This intervention produced further contractions and extensions of the car's inherent characteristics as an object made for movement.
Finally, we should add one final note. Under normal circumstances a car moves in one direction; when the car loses this impetus, it skids. After this skid the car can either return to its earlier orbit or come to a halt (by way of collision). But what happens when this skidding becomes a continuum? A new orbit is generated. The new ellipse after the abandonment; a new possible orbit of infinite screeching".
A CD of Ligne d'abandon has been edited by the Chantal Crousel Gallery in Paris, 40 RUE QUINCAMPOIX 75004, PARIS. Fax (331) 42 77 59 00.
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