Text: Ko yu jia
Before participating in Listen 49, we first arrived at the construction site of a performance venue to lend a hand. While setting up the performance space, there were sounds of chatting voices, of hammers, drills and nail guns at work. When all these were silent, there was still the hum of the air conditioning. Sound implies the existence of objects; we often hear it, but remain unaware of it. When the annoying sound of drilling begins again, everyone grimaces at the same time. The sound saturated throughout the space out of control, and suddenly, we began feeling hot and over-crowded.
Afterward, we arrived at the Nanhai Gallery to participate in Lacking Sound Festival Listen 49. This regular event focusing on sound art has been active for four years now. Of all of the events over the four years, these two performances were expected to provide quite the spectacle. The list of performers included a local and a foreigner, perhaps providing an opportunity to contrast and compare the performance concepts of domestic artists with their foreign counterparts.
First up was Dino, who had been producing noise using analog feedback for some time now: “Emptied and Exhausted” as he privately refers to his own work – Dino did not bring any new creations. (There are some critics who believe he rarely comes up with anything new.) Dino continued his method of using analog tapes to pre-record sound and radio sources, with the addition of mixers and sound effects, he uses the feedback that people ordinarily find frustrating as a creative medium. Sticking with this method for over a decade might be a stubborn persistence, or it might be a tpe of habit, or a rebellion against digitized sound, or perhaps it is simply a way of toying with something others have too quickly dismissed and discarded. Where “Methods of feedback cancellation in large-scale network voices” might be the topic of a master’s thesis at some department of computer science at a university, Dino's performance insists on releasing the demons out of Pandora’s box in order to tame them.
Even though I’ve listened to a number of sound performances, I would be ill-equipped to tell you whether the sounds Dino plays are good to listen to. Or perhaps, I can’t say anything hypocritical: that is some nice noise. (Though some of the audience members that day did use the word “nice” to describe Dino’s work.) Dino’s sound (noise) imagination and creativity is undeniable, and even if I find that sound to be ultimately unpleasant, under the artist’s manipulation it is no longer the frustrating loss of control of sound looping between the microphone and the speakers at a KTV, but a carefully manipulated sound that is difficult to distinguish and which has layes. Or perhaps I should mince my words here and say, the artist has created an ambiguous state of sound that is simultaneously out of control (an uncontrolled echo effect created by feedback), and yet controlled (the artist has used equipment to produce the layering and control the volume).
Perhaps it is like the idea of a Matador. Those who have not lived among traditional Latin cultures may have a difficult time comprehending the motivation behind the matador’s intimate provocation of a raging bull, while hovering around the bull; but Dino manipulates reverb in the same way. The tenseness between control and loss of control is quite possibly one of the most exciting elements about it. Perhaps this is one of the reasons Dino has always been passionate about this creative method, and has not explored other concepts.
In the second performance, Jamie Allen also uses analog noise as a basis, using an analog oscillator accompanied by a bullhorn embedded with white LED lights in his performance, except, Jamie Allen’s makes a stronger effort to manipulate, and the human element is stronger; he goes as far as to put himself bodily into the arena. In a state of amalgamation between the flesh, sound, light and electrical current, he proceeds with what he calls “Discover & Design”. From the perspective of a performance, Jamie Allen’s work embodies more of an experimental quality and spirit of adventure.
To further the bovine analogy, if Dino is a bullfighter, Jamie Allen is the cowboy riding the bucking bronco.
During his performances, Jamie Allen does not exclude the human voice (Vocal). This alone is enough to move me for the rest of the evening. In Taiwan, discourse and narratives about sound (noise) art almost always exclude human voices. Is the hushed chatter or cheers and jeers of the crowd not noise too? Or is “voice” reduced to a talent for mimicking the sounds of birds or insects, and cannot be identified as sound art? Or, are creators afraid of confronting the issue, that once “vocals” are included, then there would be some entanglement with erroneous imaginings associated with music? Hence, when Jamie Allen layered sporadic human sounds of chewing, of breathing along side the analog audio stream (and synchronized flashing lights), I was moved as though I had experienced salvation.
Following that, he proceeded to explore and sense (the afore mentioned “Discover & Design”) the venue space like a snake, using his eyes (flashing lights) and his hissing (sound waves) from the interior to the exterior and then back to the exterior, to complete the performance. This cycle of “inside-out and outside-in” seems to echo Dino’s strategy of loop circulation in the earlier performance, except the process of circulation occurs between the eyes-ear (discovery) and the mouth-nose (design), and the other occurs between the speakers (PA system) and microphone (radio). They are materially different, but along the same lines.
In the artists’ panel afterward, Jamie Allen expressed that he was not motivated by in mimicking sounds of life, but please allow me to use the description of an animal’s exploration of the environment as a metaphor for this performance. After all, using “sound, light, frequency and waves” to explore and respond to space is quite similar to the survival instincts of many types of wildlife (for instance, bats and whales). Though the artist created the sound and lights using machines and electrical current, but the mode of performance still retains a rich biological quality (for instance, human sounds and flesh poised for discovery within the space.)
Two spectacular performances for Lacking Sound Festival Four – have made their mark – a mark like the very large comma on the publicity posters for this event, suggesting that that Taiwan’s sound art is to be continued. The reality is that there is infinitely more sound. Aural imagination is boundless, whether in discussions triggered by films such as “Sound of Noise” or agitation for Beatbox made with Goodgle Translate – these examples are reminders that sound is fun, and that there is still much to explore and develop.