Yannick Dauby – an appreciation. Part 2

13/03/2011

Nous, les défunts [18:57] – Yannick Dauby

The sleeve notes (in French) have been translated on the artist’s site as follows (not my translation):

Seventh month of the lunar calendar. After the opening of the Gates, we come back, hungry, in their city. Their chanting for us multiply the spiritual foods. Their fortune-telling, their vehicles, their avenues. Vagrants in the afternoon storms. A procession guides us to the river. Their offerings, their cymbals. Meanwhile, cicadas just borned out of the earth, are chanting too, celebrating their death, the end of a cycle of life. Their metamorphosis, their choruses. We will reconcile, we will calm down our voices. Soon, a priest will block his ears, becoming deaf to our laments, he will trap us again in the Underground Realm.

[Field recordings from Taiwan, Summer 2008, notably in and around Longshan Temple in Taipei]

In very simple terms, this piece uses the full range of sounds captured at a public event, a procession, along with a range of environmental sounds: biophonies and meteorological phenomena. From these sounds Yannick Dauby creates a highly sophisticated narrative which succeeds in unveiling layers of meaning whilst simultaneously alluding to the temporal flow of the procession.

From the very first sounds we listening to a city space. Anyone who has worked with field recordings will recognise the texture, if that’s the right word, defined by cars, people’s voices and movements out of door. Sometimes you can even tell the time of day from various spatial and frequency cues in the recordings. Here we begin with some sort of percussion played in the urban space.

The fact that we are witnessing a procession, distinctively Taiwanese (I hesitate to say ‘Chinese’ for fear of offending) in flavour, quickly becomes obvious, primarily from the instrumentation and later from the modal nature of the melodic motifs.

Having worked on projects investigating processions and public ritual, in Great Britain and in Europe, what I find interesting about this kind of work, in which the artist takes a public ritualistic event as subject matter, is the range of approaches that can be adopted, from presentations which might seek out a sonic language or syntax integral to the event, focussing on specific ‘scenes’ in order to draw out this syntax, to the kind of spiral narrative that Dauby chooses to offer, to using the material as a base for more radical transformations, in the form of digital processing.

So, in examining the presentation of the event I wanted to investigate how the narrative unfolds, the balance struck between offering a document as such and a conscious work of art, the treatment and distribution of the material to hand. Works of narrative art such as the novel have always invited multiple ‘readings’. Dauby’s piece offers a similar wealth of possible interpretations.

The treatment of the material is unique throughout, an astonishing juxtaposition, conjunction and interpenetration of the sounds of the natural and human environments, exploiting morphological similarities to draw parallels between both realms, alluding to the symbolism of myth.

This approach seems to acknowledge the workings of the supernatural, where representative field-recordings operate in much the same way as sympathetic magic, a process (considered by Marcel Mauss in A General Theory of Magic) in which ‘the part is to the whole as the image is to the represented object’. The subtle parallels and juxtapositions between crickets and percussive shakers points to connections between the human and natural sound worlds, or ‘human-animal interactions’ as Dauby states on his website, spiralling conceptually outwards to a universal scale, with the binary pairs of thunder and drums, lightning and firecrackers, chant and high frequency iterations. 

Another reading would consider the musical and even lyrical treatment, to speak figuratively, of much of the material, where the overlapping layers are beautifully composed at the micro and macro levels.

In both readings, natural and human ritual are set side by side, brought together within a sonic matrix.

Rain from the thunder is sonically related to the crickets. Are the thunder and rain called upon by the ritual? Given that some rituals specifically acknowledge or confess our lack of effective power, one reading might be that our supposed power over nature, our security, is here under scrutiny.

There are some very inspired touches in this work, disguised as the simple workings of serendipity, such as the sound of coins dropped on the street (or possibly thrown as part of public participation, petitioning the forces of ritual) which recall previous sounds. Even the sound of the traffic is pertinent and carefully integrated into the developing narrative; figure is crafted to work effectively against the ground. The recurring general crowd noise and chatter remind us of our firm roots in the street festival.

Other sounds that follow on: acousmatic hisses, ritual or celebratory chanting, further biophonies, the siren of an ambulance, where the lack of doppler effect tells me that the fadeout is digitally edited.

Here’s a stream of consciousness which links various sound sources, to my mind at least, conceptually, morphologically and mythically.

Running water, drum/percussion beats and chanting.

Bicycle (coin-like)

A motorbike intrudes – massive firecrackers, chant, drums and reeds.

Car horns (crickets) ‘playing’

However, a stream of consciousness usually implies linearity. What we have here, temporally, is a spiral form, escaping linearity, most appropriate in the context of mythical connotation.

In line with a typically ‘primitive’ (and European medieval) view everything seems to relate to everything else, things as defined by their sounds become symbols for other things. The universal can be drawn from the particular, all the sounds of the world celebrate, held in check and directed to mysterious ends by the Absolute of the ritual force.

In the last two to three minutes we are treated to moments of exquisite musical craftsmanship, where the separate layers can be enjoyed simultaneously both as an integrated texture and as the constituent parts. In finishing with biophonies, nature has the last word.

As the procession developed with its reeds, shakers, drums, and as the complexity of the sonic matrix unveiled itself, I was drawn to a particular notion of ‘primitive art’, in which the subjects, artist and the priest, as well as the objects, the sounds are the ‘primitives’, as theorised by Dorothy Dunn:- 

For Dunn, a primitive was not a certain type of culture, but described individuals and objects indigenous to any, every, culture. The primitive subject was that gifted individual, or “seer” who was able to discern the primitive objects relevant to their culture. These objects were also primitives, and represented the signs, icons, or symbols of a culture. Thus, for Dunn, primitive art was the one to one relationship between the seer and the perceived set of primitive objects of their culture. Primitive was not a certain type of culture, but a certain set of variables occurring in every culture, and primitive art was an event that portrayed the values, or what was of importance in that culture. Thus, Dunn encouraged her students to carry on the tradition into the Modernist era.

I don’t believe that we’ve found an appropriate or adequate language to talk about this kind of work. We do have a descriptive framework, inherited from music, the visual arts and to a lesser extent from literature, and we can talk about technology all day, but we also need to investigate deeper connections with ethnography, cultural anthropology, the natural world and the study of myth. The discourse makers insist on creating their own object of investigation, which is why you end up with sound art in art galleries or in dark rooms played through multiple loudspeaker arrays, thereby achieving distinction, held up as examples of ‘maturity’ for the rest of us.

Finally, from two quite different and distinctive voices on the aesthetic:-

First, we have in Dauby’s work the antithesis of what Paul Virilio refers to, in Art and Fear, as the ‘shrillness’ of some contemporary work in its bid to be heard ‘without delay….without requiring prolonged reflection…’ In Nous, les défunts the listener is rewarded, exponentially, with each repeated listening.

Jacques Rancière in The Politics of Aesthetics refers to an important connection, which I sense in Dauby’s work, when he writes ‘…the ordinary becomes beautiful as a trace of the true. And the ordinary becomes a trace of the true if it is torn from its obviousness in order to become a hieroglyph, a mythological or a phantasmagoric figure. This phantasmagoric dimension of the true, which belongs to the aesthetic regime of the arts, played an essential role in the formation of the critical paradigm of the human and social sciences…’

Part 3 to follow…

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